Net closing on DRC gunrunners as millionaire UK arms merchant raided by anti-fraud investigators
The British home and headquarters of a millionaire arms broker have been raided by the Serious Fraud Office, which is investigating corruption allegations against Britain's biggest military exporter BAE.
John Bredenkamp is BAE's agent in southern Africa, and is understood to have received large sums in confidential commission payments. One of the African deals the SFO is investigating is the government-backed £1.6bn sale of Hawk aircraft to South Africa in 2001.
Sources close to Mr Bredenkamp denied last night that he played any role in the South African sale. They said the SFO search warrant related to a Bredenkamp-controlled company with which BAE has had dealings, and a number of other companies. The sources said Mr Bredenkamp's Knightsbridge town house in London and his Berkshire offices were raided by a joint SFO-Ministry of Defence police force, and computers and files were taken away.
Mr Bredenkamp was said to be abroad at the time. The 66-year-old South African born tobacco farmer and rugby player, who has a fortune estimated at more than £700m, has been a close associate of the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe. He is variously claimed to hold British, Zimbabwean, South African and Dutch passports.
The raid marks a switch of focus by the long-running SFO inquiry into secret payments by BAE. The investigation began with inquiries into claims of a £60m "slush fund" used by BAE to pay off Saudi Arabian dignitaries. The SFO moved on to investigate evidence alleging BAE paid more than £1m to Chile's ex-president General PInochet and then, earlier this year, to investigate claims that more than £7m of secret commission had been paid via an agent to cement the sale of two second-hand Royal Navy frigates to Romania.
The disclosure that the SFO is now investigating arms deals in southern Africa will be sensitive for the government. Tony Blair personally threw his weight behind the Hawk deal, and ministers insisted no corruption was involved. The Guardian disclosed more than three years ago that millions of pounds in secret commission had been paid by BAE.
Yesterday, Whitehall sources disclosed that BAE, which received government-backed loan guarantees for the sale to President Mbeki's ANC administration, admitted at the time that it intended to pay commissions totalling 12%, almost £200m. After the trade department's export credit agency refused to cover such large payments, BAE reduced the level of commissions to 7%.
The Serious Fraud Office said yesterday: "As part of an ongoing investigation into suspected corruption relating to defence contracts where BAE Systems is the prime contractor, four premises were searched on October 17 2006. They were two business addresses in Berkshire, a business address and a residential address in London. No one was arrested." Last night BAE said: "As this matter is an ongoing investigation we can make no further comment at this stage."
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