The Serious Fraud Office reveals its intention to prosecute BAE over foreign bribery. BAE says it will fight the case in court if necessary.

The UK’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has announced its intention to prosecute BAE Systems for overseas corruption offences in Africa and Eastern Europe.

The SFO said it was seeking consent from the Attorney General’s office to proceed with the case.

BAE said it was prepared to fight the case in court if necessary.

The defence contractor is one of Britain’s largest companies with approximately 105,000 employees worldwide and sales last year of £18.5 bn.

The company has been dogged by allegations of bribes paid to foreign officials to secure lucrative contracts.

In 2006, British Prime Minister Tony Blair forced the SFO to halt its investigation of alleged corruption surrounding BAE's massive £43bn Al Yamamah arms deal with Saudi Arabia. The PM said it was a threat to national security.

The company then ordered its own internal inquiry into ethics, which found that top management were not paying sufficient attention to ethical standards.

The UK has been under pressure to toughen its stance on bribery and corruption.

A criminal conviction for corruption could cut BAE off from bidding for crucial contracts in the US and EU.

In a statement the defence contractor said: ‘BAE Systems has at all times acted responsibly in its dealings with the SFO, taking into account the interests of its shareholders and employees and the legal advice it has received.”

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