A bung can cost more than a fistful of dollars
Last week Sweett Group PLC became the first company to be sentenced for the crime of failing to prevent bribery by an associated person (s7 Bribery Act 2010). One of its overseas subsidiaries paid bribes to secure a contract concerning an hotel in Abu Dhabi: Sweett Group is an AIM-listed construction consultant.
An English court imposed a fine of £1.4 million and a confiscation order of £851,000, plus costs.
A number of lessons can be learned:
- The Bribery Act has not gone away: the noise made by law firms when it came in has abated, but the Serious Fraud Office will prosecute British companies for failing to stop corruption overseas
- Co-operating with the authorities will not always avoid prosecution – Sweett Group reported itself after it got media attention, but the SFO did not even offer a “plea bargain” deferred prosecution agreement
- Penalties can be swinging
- Professional practices are not immune
- UK companies must take precautions: demonstrable adequate procedures to avoid bribery, and an anti-bribery culture must exist before the problem arises.