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Oct. 22 (Bloomberg) -- Julian Messent, the former chief executive officer of PWS International Ltd., pleaded guilty to paying about $2 million in bribes to win contracts in Costa Rica.

Messent admitted to two counts of corruption for funneling money to at least three Costa Rican officials to retain reinsurance contracts from a state-owned telecommunications and electricity company.

“These were very large government contracts with high premiums and large amounts of money being funneled back,” Hodge Malek, a lawyer for the Serious Fraud Office, which prosecuted the case, told a London court today. Messent profited 265,011 pounds from the payments, Malek said.

PWS, a London-based reinsurance company founded by Lord Malcolm Pearson, was bought by THB Group in 2008. Pearson, a member of the House of Lords and the former head of the U.K. Independence Party, founded PWS in 1964.

Messent’s lawyer, David Perry, asked for a reduced sentence because his client cooperated in the probe and agreed to plead guilty.

Messent joined PWS in 1995 and became a director in its Latin America group the following year. He was promoted to CEO in 2003, Perry said. The bribes “first surfaced” in 2005, and after an internal investigation, Messent stepped down from his post in 2006.

‘Inherited’ Arrangements

“The corruption was neither planned nor originated by PWS,” Perry said. The bribes had been requested by the Costa Rican officials and Messent “inherited the arrangements that existed” when he joined the company.

“Of course he accepts his responsibility, but a fair and balanced reading show the corruption could not have been carried on by the defendant alone,” Perry said.

Messent is scheduled to be sentenced at a later hearing.

Costa Rican prosecutors are investigating 10 people for accepting bribes in the case, SFO spokeswoman Katie Winstanley said. The SFO has also been contacted by prosecutors in Panama and the United States about the case, Malek said.

The SFO is not prosecuting anyone else in the case and declined to file charges against PWS, Malek said.

To contact the reporter for this story: Lindsay Fortado in London at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Anthony Aarons at

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