Sweett victory for the Serious Fraud Office
In the first of its kind, the Sweett Group PLC (Sweett), a UK-listed provider of professional services for the construction industry, was sentenced and ordered to pay £2.25million recently as a result of an investigation conducted by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) into alleged bribery and corruption.
The case highlights the importance for all businesses to ensure they have suitable anti-corruption and anti-bribery policies in place. It is also important to note from this case that a holding company is responsible for the actions of any subsidiary companies, highlighting the need for UK companies to take full responsibility for the actions of their employees and in their commercial activities.
What do I need to do?
· Review your policies – take time to review and consider your anti-corruption and anti-bribery policies, if you have them, to ensure that they are adequate.
· Self report – if acts of bribery are found to have taken place, businesses are encouraged to self report them to the SFO (in a similar case where ICBC Standard Bank Plc self reported they avoided conviction by entering into a Deferred Prosecution Agreement, although they were still liable for disgorged profits, penalties and the SFO’s costs);
· Introduce policies - if you do not have policies in place, consider introducing them as soon as possible; and
· Train your staff – ensure your staff are trained and understands the implications of both bribery and corruption.
Why was Sweett convicted?
Sweett pleaded guilty to a charge of failing to prevent an act of bribery, contrary to section 7(1)(b) Bribery Act 2010.
It was a subsidiary of Sweett that was found to have committed the bribery. The bribe was in relation to securing and retaining a contract with Al Ain Ahlia Insurance Company in the United Arab Emirates.
This is a significant case for a number of reasons:
· this was the first conviction under section 7(1)(b) Bribery Act 2010;
· an offence under section 7(1)(b) requires no consent or even knowledge on the part of the guilty company; and
· whilst there is a specific defence to this offence (that the company can demonstrate that there are adequate procedures in place to prevent persons from undertaking such conduct) Sweett was unable to rely on this defence.
For more information on bribery and corruption, please contact Debbie Venn, Partner and Head of Technology, Media and Telecommunications.
Published: 6 Apr 2016