BAE given just weeks to file a guilty plea

DEFENCE giant BAE Systems has until the end of the month to plead guilty to international bribery allegations or face a lengthy and damaging criminal trial, industry sources have said.<br /><br />It is understood that the allegations, part of a six-year Serious Fraud Office (SFO) investigation, involve contracts worth over &pound;2.5bn for the sale of equipment to South Africa, Tanzania and the Czech Republic.<br /><br />BAE would be expected to pay out tens of millions of pounds of fines if it pleads guilty, with the possibility of incurring further criminal action if it is suspected of committing similar offences in the future.<br /><br />&ldquo;Our view is that the interests of the company as well as all of its stakeholders, including the general public, are best served by allowing the ongoing investigations to run their course,&rdquo; BAE said in a statement yesterday. <br /><br />&ldquo;The company is working with regulators towards that end and is providing access to people, information and premises whenever requested. It wholeheartedly supports a rigorous approach, in the hope that it brings to a conclusion enquiries which are now in their sixth year.&rdquo;<br /><br />The SFO did not respond to calls seeking comment.<br /><br />In December 2006, the SFO dropped an investigation into similar allegations surrounding bribes paid by BAE to Saudi Arabian officials, following concerns that the probe could prove a threat to national security. <br /><br />The current inquiry is connected to the Saudi probe in that bribery allegations between BAE and other countries remained under investigation, some of which were also subsequently dropped.