Tony Blair is at the centre of growing public anger in South Africa about alleged corrupt dealings between the ruling African National Congress (ANC) and BAE Systems over South Africa's controversial £5.2 billion arms deal with European manufacturers.

South Africa's FBI-style National Prosecuting Authority - known as the Scorpions - confirmed yesterday that it has agreed to co-operate with the UK's Serious Fraud Office (SFO) to help track down sums totalling more than £100 million which are alleged to have been paid by BAE to ANC politicians.

The payments are alleged to have been designed to help secure a deal for British warplanes worth as much as £2bn. Scorpions spokesman Makhosini Nkosi told the Business Day newspaper: "We are in the process of effecting the process of co-operation with the SFO investigation."

Meanwhile, as other South African newspapers named front companies through which the alleged bribes had been paid, the MP who first blew the whistle on corruption at the heart of the arms deal confirmed yesterday that she will soon fly to London to help the SFO with its investigations.

Patricia de Lille, leader of the small opposition Independent Democratic Party, released a confidential dossier in parliament in 1999 alleging that kickbacks had been paid to top ANC officials by European arms companies. De Lille subsequently received death threats, and the parliamentary inquiry she demanded was quashed by then vice-president Jacob Zuma, leader of government business.

Andrew Feinstein, an ANC MP and chairman of parliament's watchdog public accounts committee, put his career and safety on the line by supporting de Lille. He resigned in disgust as an MP and fled into exile in Britain when he got no support from his own party. Zuma poured scorn on Feinstein at the time, accusing him of "besmirching the good name" of the world's leading arms manufacturers and of showing contempt for the foreign governments who underpinned their deals.

Zuma was sacked as vice president in June 2005 amid allegations he had solicited a £50,000-a-year retainer from French arms company Thomson-CSF - since renamed Thint - to advance its interests in the South African inner cabinet in relation to the arms deal.

Zuma has denied the allegation and counter-alleged that he has been targeted as a scapegoat for wider and higher corrupt dealings. The suspected bribes detailed in the SFO dossier dwarf the amounts featured in the Zuma case.

De Lille's arrival in London will spell real danger for Tony Blair. After seven years of unsuccessful campaigning, her meeting with the SFO will have particular poignancy, not least because sources close to the British investigators seem to have leaked details of their South African inquiries in reaction to Blair's decision to block the SFO's inquiries into BAE's £43bn Al Yamamah (the Dove) arms deal with Saudi Arabia.

The Al Yamamah contract is alleged to have been oiled with pay-offs and "douceurs" - sweeteners - to the Saudi royal family and government officials. But the long-running Saudi investigation was controversially halted by Blair in December last year when the Saudis threatened to pull out of the Al Yamamah deal with BAE. The prime minister cited reasons of "national security", and there were claims that the Saudis had threatened to end intelligence sharing about al-Qaeda and other issues if the SFO probe continued.

From her home in Cape Town, de Lille said yesterday that she would share her "de Lille dossier" on the arms deal with the SFO in London. She said much of the information in her dossier had been given to her by ruling party ANC MPs who were concerned about irregularities in the deal.

"I am not going there to bash the South African government but to assist with information, the same information I have given to our National Prosecuting Authority," de Lille said. "The idea is to maintain pressure here in South Africa. I am not seeking revenge, but those who have wronged and embarrassed the country should be brought to book."

Following the revelations of the SFO investigation, de Lille said the "smoking gun" in the arms scandal had at last been found. She added that if BAE and German arms companies were truthful in their claims that the mysterious payments made under the headings of "commissions", "useful expenditure" and "success fees" were all above board, then there should have been no problem for the companies to say openly who got the money.

She also revealed she had scheduled meetings in London with Liberal Democrat leaders and Andrew Feinstein.

BAE's Al Yamamah contract with Saudi Arabia was concluded under the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher, but its additions and extensions have been vigorously pursued by Blair's administration.

Contents of the formal application by the SFO to the Scorpions for help with the British investigators' inquiries into the sale by BAE to South Africa of 24 Hawk fighter-trainers and 28 BAE/Saab Gripen fighter planes have been published online by the South African newspaper, the Mail & Guardian.

The SFO document sets out its case against BAE in relation to the South African deal in great detail, running to around 100 pages. It names BAE "consultancy agreements" with eight little-known South African companies through what is described as a "highly secretive unit within BAE", known as Headquarters Marketing.

The SFO document discloses that BAE's main front company used for commission transactions is a mysterious offshore entity registered in the British Virgin Islands as Red Diamond Trading. The document goes on to state: "Hardly any funds were paid to bank accounts within South Africa. The vast majority of payments were made to offshore accounts."

The SFO request to the Scorpions has thrown several sticks of dynamite into relations between London and Pretoria. The Scorpions are known to have put their own criminal investigations into the BAE deal on hold to concentrate on the allegations against Jacob Zuma, who is likely to go on trial this year. The ANC government has remained silent - with the exception of a short statement by President Thabo Mbeki - on the Mail & Guardian revelations.

De Lille's talks with the SFO could make it impossible for the British and South African governments to prevent further revelations and demands for action. Important though South Africa is - historically and economically - to Britain, Blair cannot invoke the same level of important "national security" concerns as in the case of Al Yamamah and Saudi Arabia to crush this SFO probe. If he dares to do so, the media fallout will be massive in South Africa, where there was already heavy circumstantial evidence and criticism of unorthodox dealings between the ANC, BAE and other European weapons manufacturers.

From London, de Lille will fly to Dusseldorf for talks with Germany's National Prosecuting Authority about allegations that German arms manufacturers paid millions of pounds in bribes to secure the sale of submarines and corvette warships to South Africa as part of the wider arms deal.

BAE has always argued it pays "normal" commissions and not bribes. However, the SFO dossier submitted to the Scorpions states: "The whole commission-paying system is maintained in such conditions of secrecy that there is a legitimate suspicion concerning the real purpose of the payments."

It also notes that "the failure of BAE to produce documentation believed to be located in office locations in Switzerland" adds to the suspicion that "underlying documents which govern the payments cannot withstand scrutiny".

The SFO names obscure companies as the suspected channels for BAE's South African "commissions". They include FTNSA Consulting, Kayswell Services, Osprey Aerospace, Huderfield Enterprises, Brookland Management and Hlongwane Consulting. FTNSA, for example, is a company registered in the West Indies whose chief, according to the SFO document, is Basil Hersov, the former chairman of South Africa's powerful First National Bank and a member of Mbeki's strategic economic advisory panel. Hersov is described as a man "with considerable influence". Agreements with him "allow access to the very top", according to BAE documents quoted by the SFO.

British investigators say documents disclosed to them by BAE show FTNSA was incorporated in the West Indian island of Nevis in April 1992. Two months later FTNSA entered into a consultancy agreement with BAE in relation to the procurement by South Africa of Hawk fighters.

In 1992, the South African government was still led by the white-dominated National Party, with FW de Klerk as state president. But, in a historically important insight into the former UK Conservative administration's long-time courting of the ANC - even thogh it had denounced it publicly as a terrorist organisation - the SFO says BAE expected FTNSA/Hersov's influence would continue to allow "access to the very top" and help secure the Hawk contract after the first all-race elections and the installation of an ANC government led by President Nelson Mandela in 1994. By the time the Hawk contract was completed in 2005, the SFO says FTNSA had received £5.5m from BAE.

The South African media and political opposition have been sniffing vigorously around the arms contract for years. But until the revelation this month of the SFO investigation and its request for help from the Scorpions, nobody had been able to pin down the alleged scams in much proven detail. One of the few concrete allegations they dared make followed the death in 2001 of former defence minister Joe Modise, who had commanded the ANC guerrilla army in exile, Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation).

Numerous published reports said Modise took a bribe of £500,000 to drop a bid from the Italian aircraft company Aermacchi to supply trainer jet fighters in favour of British Hawks. The reports said the Hawks were twice as expensive as the Italian planes and were chosen despite a warning by South African air force commanders that operating costs would be considerably higher.

The British armaments firm was also alleged to have donated five million rand - more than £1m at the exchange rate of the time - to the ANC guerrilla veterans' association, of which Modise was a steering committee member.

The SFO dossier names Hlongwane Consulting, incorporated by Modise's adviser Fana Hlongwane, as the channel through which suspected BAE bribes were paid to Modise. Hlongwane - who has declined to comment on the allegations - and Modise seem to have been at the centre of a particularly complex web of relations with BAE and British government officials from as early as. The Mail & Guardian reported on Friday that Modise was a frequent guest at the Johannesburg home of BAE representative Guy Jackson.

Richard Charter, who also represented BAE in South Africa in the sanctions years, was often seen at the side of Modise and Hlongwane. The SFO dossier says Charter registered Huderfield Enterprises in the British Virgin Islands and the company was paid £25m by BAE in relation to the arms deal. The SFO also notes that Charter died in a canoeing accident on the Orange River in January 2004, so it is not clear who benefited from BAE's final settlement with Huderfield Enterprises.

More revelations are inevitable in the coming weeks and months. President Mbeki, in a rare interview, hastened last week to deny any top-level corruption in his administration in relation to the arms deal. He told the state-owned South African Broadcasting Corporation that the process of granting the arms contract was "not affected by any corruption. That conclusion will stand whatever investigation the British are doing."

Last year, German newspapers reported that Mbeki's name had come up in investigations by authorities into the dealings of ThyssenKrupp, which is supplying submarines and warships to South Africa.

Meanwhile, the Johannesburg Star newspaper last Friday interviewed David Leigh, a Guardian investigative reporter, who recently alleged that Blair had supported the sale of a controversial military radar system by BAE to Tanzania, one of the world's poorest countries. The Guardian alleged that BAE secretly paid a commission of more than £6m into a Swiss account to secure the deal.

"He Mr Blair has travelled to South Africa to sell Hawk planes," Leigh told the Star. "He has promoted the sales of military radar to Tanzania. He promoted Hawk aircraft to India. And he even bullied the Czech government into buying Gripen planes which BAE was marketing.

"And basically everywhere he has gone there has been a trail of corruption in his wake The truth of the matter is that BAE has influence with a large number of politicians. For example, Lord Charles Powell is on BAE's payroll. Powell's brother, Jonathan, is Tony Blair's chief of staff. Now, you draw your own conclusions."