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SFO chief on BAE investigation: 'We could have done better'

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Thu, 10 Feb 2011 18:11 GMT
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The head of the UK's Serious Fraud Office (SFO) says his agency could have done better in its long-running investigation into BAE Systems but that he wished that the sentencing judge had been more positive in his evaluation of the agreed settlement in December.

SFO director Richard Alderman said the investigation could have been quicker but that he thought that the settlement was hard-hitting.

“With BAE, if I look back, we could have done it better," he told the Evening Standard in an interview this week.

"That’s like a lot of things in life. Like how we managed the discussions with the company – the discussions about the figures – and we could have been quicker. When I arrived in 2008, my belief was that we could have had a decision during 2008. In the event, it took two more years.”

The SFO launched a probe in 2004 into claims that BAE ran a slush fund that offered sweeteners to officials in return for lucrative contracts.

The defence contractor has always denied bribery and agreements it reached with Britain and the U.S. authorities did not include an admission it had made any corrupt payments.

“The company made a joint agreement with the US and UK, under which it paid fines totalling more than £280 million. Plus it agreed to change its culture in relation to central and eastern Europe and Tanzania. I thought that was a tough settlement,” Alderman said.

However, Alderman said that he would have liked the judge to have expressed approval of the agreement.

“People trust judges. If a judge says a settlement is right, then people are reassured,” he said.

In sentencing BAE Systems in December 2010, the judge, Mr Justice Bean, expressed dissatisfaction with the agreement reached between the SFO and BAE.

"The structure of this settlement agreement places moral pressure on the court to keep the fine to a minimum so that the reparation is kept at a maximum,” the judge said.

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