Efforts by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) to bring corruption charges against BAE Systems could be delayed until 2010 as the SFO’s leading counsel and the attorney-general struggle with the case.

BAE is alleged to have bribed officials in arms deals with South Africa, Tanzania, the Czech Republic and Romania.

The SFO is thought to be focusing its investigations on bribery and corruption allegations in the foreign arms deals won by BAE ten years ago, to streamline the case for prosecution.

Legal sources believe that the attorney-general is unlikely to request outside legal advice before December.

The contracts include a £2.3bn deal to supply Hawk trainers and Gripen fighter aircraft to South Africa, a £28m air traffic control system sold to the Tanzanian Government, a £1bn deal to supply Gripens to the Czech Republic and two refurbished Royal Navy frigates sold to Romania.

BAE denies the allegations, but could face a fine of £300m if it admits malpractice over the arms deals. The company is said to have ruled out a settlement of over £30m.

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