Sweett Group Told to Pay $3.3 Million in U.K. Bribery Case

  • Company is first convicted under new U.K. bribery laws
  • Penalties include 1.4 million-pound fine, return of profits

Sweett Group Plc, the first company to be convicted under new U.K. bribery laws, was ordered to pay about 2.3 million pounds ($3.3 million) at a sentencing hearing in London.

The U.K. construction company was accused of paying bribes to win contracts in the Middle East and pleaded guilty to the charge in December. The penalties issued by Judge Martin Beddoe Friday included a 1.4 million-pound fine and the return of about 850,000 pounds in benefits derived from the illegal payments.

The outcome is a rare victory for the U.K. Serious Fraud Office, which had faced criticism in recent years for failing to secure any corporate convictions under new U.K. bribery laws enacted in 2011. The change saw all major businesses invest millions of pounds on revamping their compliance procedures.

Judge Beddoe said when issuing the ruling that while Sweett Group had self-reported the issue to the SFO in December 2014, there was no admission that bribes had been paid and the company tried to divert prosecutors’ attention away from certain parts of its business. It also emerged the company had failed to take action on KPMG reports in 2011 and 2014 that highlighted weaknesses in its systems and controls, he said.

“The conduct of Sweett Group is a textbook example of how not to cooperate with the SFO,” said David Corker, a London lawyer who wasn’t involved in the case. The sentence shows “what can happen when a company under SFO investigation appears to cooperate but covertly seeks to frustrate it.”
 
Douglas McCormick, Sweett Group’s chief executive officer, said the sentence marks the end of the investigation.

“We have strengthened our internal systems, controls and risk procedures, and refined our strategy, to ensure this company should never again fall victim to such conduct,” McCormick said in a statement.

The case centered on allegedly corrupt payments made to Khaled Al Badie, an executive of Al Ain Alia Insurance Company, to win a project management contract for building a hotel in Abu Dhabi. Al Badie said in a statement he denies any wrongdoing and has never been interviewed or approached by the SFO.

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