Sweett Group Admits Bribery Offense in Win for U.K. Prosecutor

  • Offense relates to 2013 contracts in Middle East, company says
  • Building company first to face conviction under bribery laws

Sweett Group Plc is set to become the first company to plead guilty under new U.K. bribery laws after admitting to an offense related to contracts in the Middle East.

The U.K. construction company will appear in court to be charged in the coming weeks, the Serious Fraud Office said Wednesday. The conduct relates to two contracts entered into in 2013, Sweett Group said in a statement.

The development is a major milestone for the SFO, which has faced criticism for not securing any company convictions after the U.K. overhauled its bribery laws in 2011. The laws saw all major businesses invest millions of pounds on compliance procedures out of fear there would be a swathe of prosecutions that never emerged.

"Today’s announcement brings closure on the Middle East legacy issues a step closer, allowing the group to progress unencumbered in the future," Douglas McCormick, chief executive officer of Sweett Group, said in a statement. "This is an important next step in the strategic turnaround of the business."

Sweett Group is expected to appear before London’s Westminster Magistrates’ Court this month to be charged and the case will then be transferred to a higher court, a spokeswoman for the SFO said.

The expected plea marks a second win for the SFO this week after the agency also secured its first deferred prosecution agreement with ICBC Standard Bank Plc, after receiving new powers last year. Under a DPA, prosecution for the offenses -- which also contravened the new bribery laws -- were postponed for three years and the bank paid a $33 million penalty.

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