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Hannibal: The deals that smell too sweet

Posted on Monday, 22 March 2010 11:18

Plea-bargains do not compensate the victims of corporate crimes

Corporate corruption, like love, it seems, means never having to say you are sorry. At least that is the case with Britain’s biggest arms manufacturer BAE Systems, which has been trying to negotiate a get-out-of-jail card with the British and US fraud investigators probing the company’s extraordinary multi-billion-dollar arms deals. BAE’s lawyers say it will never admit corruption, only accounting errors. Such was the company’s muscle that it persuaded Prime Minister Tony Blair that the anti-corruption investigation into its $40bn Al Yamama arms contract with Saudi Arabia would not be in Britain’s national interest.??

However, investigators at Britain’s Serious Fraud Office continued to probe BAE’s deals in Europe and Africa, including the sale of a squadron of superfluous jet fighters to South Africa and a sophisticated $36m military air-traffic control system to Tanzania, something of an extravagance given that Tanzania does not have an air force. US investigators at the Department of Justice, too, pressed on with their own investigation of BAE’s deals in Saudi Arabia.??

After seeing the evidence against it, BAE sued for peace. On 5 February, British and US authorities announced that BAE had offered to pay $450m in fines in a plea deal to shut down the investigations into its affairs. This followed similar deals between the US authorities and Halliburton and between the German courts and Siemens. In those, the companies admitted that their agents had inflated the price of contracts in Nigeria and diverted the profits into their own accounts and those of their Nigerian friends.??

Yet the fines attached to these plea bargains are just about 10% of the cost of the inflated contracts. Until now, no one has compensated the victims of these corporate crimes: the citizens in Africa and other developing regions. The new director of the Serious Fraud Office, Richard Alderman, wants to change that. He insisted that the $36m fine in the plea agreement on the Tanzania case should all be paid to the Tanzanian government for development projects. If approved by the British courts, it will mean at last that the real victims of corruption see some benefit from the costly litigation ?conducted in their names.

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