Plea bargaining used to be one of those strange American customs, like tickertape and turkey in November.
But this week it’s all the rage. First, there was the Mabey & Johnson case, where the bridge-building company was ordered to pay £5m following a groundbreaking deal with the SFO where it admitted corruption.
And now it’s the focus of the BAE story. As we report, the SFO fired an opening shot when it tried to persuade the arms dealer to accept a plea bargain over allegations that it had bribed officials in Africa and Eastern Europe
BAE, which is retaining Allen & Overy and Linklaters, has blasted the offer of a plea bargain and decided to take its chances in court.
The politics of this investigation are explosive. As the article by Lawrence Graham partner and anti-corruption specialist Eoin O’Shea makes clear, yesterday’s developments should make anyone who thinks they can cut legal corners overseas sit up and take notice.
But calling the current dispute a show trial, as the Daily Mail is doing - is probably going too far.
Show trials tend to have only one possible outcome, whereas the SFO is taking a big risk pushing this to court, given its prosecution record.
Small wonder - as SFO director Richard Alderman said to The Lawyer’s conference on Fraud Prosecution conference two weeks ago (see story) - the education and disruption agenda is equally important to the agency.