Page last updated at 09:47 GMT, Friday, 2 October 2009 10:47 UK

Goldsmith 'applauds' BAE action

Lord Goldsmith
The right action is being taken, the former law chief believes

Ex-attorney general Lord Goldsmith has backed attempts to prosecute defence firm BAE Systems on corruption charges.

Allegations that BAE paid bribes to win contracts in several countries were "serious" and ought to be pursued with "vigour", he told the Guardian.

But he said comparisons with the probe into BAE arms deals with Saudi Arabia, controversially dropped in 2006 on security grounds, were "misleading".

The Serious Fraud Office intends to prosecute BAE unless it pays a fine.

It had been in negotiations with the company, but the sides could not agree what the firm would admit or the appropriate financial penalty.

The SFO will now seek approval from the current attorney general, Baroness Scotland, to begin legal proceedings.

'Tough stance'

The case refers to allegations BAE paid bribes to win contracts in Tanzania, South Africa, Romania and the Czech Republic.

It is right that a tough stance is taken
Lord Goldsmith

Writing in the Guardian, Lord Goldsmith - who left office in 2007 and is now chairman of a leading law firm - said these were "serious cases" which merited prosecution if there was sufficient evidence.

"I applaud Richard Alderman, director of the Serious Fraud Office, for his vigour in pursuing corruption cases in Africa and eastern Europe against BAE," he said.

While not briefed on the current state of the investigation, Lord Goldsmith said it was clear from his time as attorney general that the cases were serious.

"It is right that a tough stance is taken," he added.

But he dismissed comparisons between the current investigation and that into allegations over BAE arms deals with the Saudis in the 1980s and 1990s, which were dropped by the SFO in 2006.

Critics believe the decision to abandon the probe was politically motivated and that Lord Goldsmith came under heavy pressure from then prime minister Tony Blair to close the case.

But Lord Goldsmith said the circumstances surrounding the Saudi probe were totally different.

"As the then director of the SFO repeatedly stated, it was their decision - and not one they had been ordered to take - that national security considerations and the risk to UK security interests meant the case should not be pursued."

BAE says it is still trying to resolve the current case, but will deal with matters in court "if necessary".

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