BAE Systems Plc, Europe’s biggest military contractor, will pay around $450 million in fines in the United States and Britain, settling long-running corruption investigations on both sides of the Atlantic.
In the United States, BAE, the Pentagon’s fifth largest supplier by sales, will plead guilty to one charge of conspiring to make false statements to the U.S. government. The company will also pay $400 million in fines, one of the largest penalties against a defense contractor and comparable to the $402 million KBR Inc agreed to pay in February 2009 in a Nigerian bribery case, Reuters reported.
BAE Systes also has a significant South African footprint in the armoured vehicle business and has in recent years delivered Saab Gripen D and BAE Systems Hawk Mk120 fighter aircraft to the country.
According to a criminal charge filed in the U.S. District Court in Washington, BAE had gains of more than $200 million on the business related to the false statements, including deals in Saudia Arabia.
BAE will also plead guilty in Britain to one charge of breach of duty in relation to records of payments made in Tanzania. It will pay 30 million pounds ($48 million), the largest penalty imposed by Britain’s Serious Fraud Office.
SFO wraps up probe, US to continue
“While it’s a substantial figure, it’s less than the worse case scenario,” said analyst Tina Cook at brokerage Charles Stanley, noting initial media reports had suggested a figure of up to 1 billion pounds from the SFO alone, later revised down to between 200 million and 300 million. A statement by the SFO said its decision ended its investigations into BAE’s defence contracts.
U.S. Department of Justice officials, however, said their investigations were ongoing. They declined to elaborate.
BAE Chairman Dick Olver said in a statement: “The company very much regrets and accepts full responsibility for these past shortcomings. These settlements enable the company to deal finally with significant legacy issues.”
“In 2000, the Company gave a commitment to the U.S. Government that it would establish and comply with defined U.S. regulatory requirements within a certain period and it subsequently failed to honour this commitment or to disclose its shortcomings,” Olver added in a statement received by defenceWeb.
The U.S. court filing outlined a number of BAE’s dealings, including the sale of fighter aircraft and other defense material to Saudi Arabia and the lease by the Swedish government of Saab Gripen fighter aircraft to the Czech Republic and Hungary. Because the leased jets contained U.S.-controlled defence components, Sweden needed to secure an arms export license from the U.S. Department of State.
“BAE Systems did not subject these payments and benefits to the type of internal scrutiny and review that BAE Systems had represented it would subject them to” in previous undertakings to the U.S. government,” the court document said.
Prince Bandar and Saudi Arabia
A previous investigation by the Serious Fraud Office into reports BAE paid about 1 billion pounds over a decade ago to Prince Bandar bin Sultan in connection with the Saudi al-Yamamah arms deal had been halted in 2006 by former Prime Minister Tony Blair after the probe angered Saudi Arabia.
The U.S. court filing alleged the company “provided substantial benefits” to a Saudi official “in a position of influence” and to the official’s associates. But the filing did not identify the individual.
In connection with the Saudi fighter deals, BAE agreed to transfer 10 million pounds and more than $9 million to a bank account controlled by an intermediary, according to the complaint. BAE “was aware that there was a high probability that the intermediary would transfer part of these payments to the KSA official,” the complaint states.
BAE’s U.S. subsidiary, BAE Systems Inc, was not accused of wrongdoing by the Justice Department. As a result, it may escape suspension or debarment from doing business with the U.S. government. The company supplies products and services to the Defense Department, U.S. intelligence and Homeland Security. The U.S. accounts for more than half of BAE’s sales.
Transgression in Tanzania
The settlement BAE reached with the SFO of Britain relates to the sale of an air traffic control system in Tanzania, a contract worth 30 million pounds, according to an SFO spokesman. Part of the 30 million pound penalty will be a fine, to be decided by a court, with the remainder as a charity payment.
“In connection with the sale of a radar system by the Company to Tanzania in 1999, the Company made commission payments to a marketing adviser and failed to accurately record such payments in its accounting records,” Olver said. “The Company failed to scrutinise these records adequately to ensure that they were reasonably accurate and permitted them to remain uncorrected.”
After the settlement was announced, the SFO said it had withdrawn a corruption charge it filed on January 29 against Count Alfons Mensdorff-Pouilly, a BAE agent involved with BAE contracts in Eastern and Central Europe.
In London, BAE shares closed up 1.6 percent, as the market welcomed news of the settlement.
In a conference call with reporters on Friday, BAE Systems Chairman Dick Olver said the activities addressed by the settlement were all legacy issues. “We are now seen as a company of good standing and a responsible company to do business,” he added.
He noted that the settlement amounts were non-tax deductible and would be included in BAE’s 2009 results.
Gavin Cunningham, head of corruption investigations at accountancy firm BDO Stoy Hayward, said the SFO penalty “sends out a powerful message to UK business that corruption is going to be investigated and prosecuted.” Some lawyers have said the SFO wanted to show it had teeth by following the examples of Germany and the United States in dealing with international corruption. In late 2008, for example, German industrial conglomerate Siemens agreed to pay just over $1.3 billion to settle corruption probes.
SFO director Richard Alderman said in a statement: “I am very pleased with the global outcome achieved collaboratively with the DoJ. This is a first and it brings a pragmatic end to a long-running and wide-ranging investigation.”
Pic: An al-Yamamah Eurofighter in Royal Saudi Air Force livery