Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg

Death Penalty Fears Slow U.K. Response to Thai Rolls-Royce Probe

  • U.K., U.S. officials haven’t provided documents for Thai probe
  • Thai attorney general will agree not to seek death penalty

The U.K. Serious Fraud Office is stalling the handover of information from its corruption investigation into Rolls-Royce Holdings Plc to Thai authorities because of fears the country may pursue the death penalty against individuals.

The situation highlights the challenges prosecutors face in global probes. Sharing information across borders is essential but also often problematic as authorities are forced to tread the line between cooperation and the protection of human rights.

U.K. authorities told the Thai government that it has to confirm capital punishment won’t be an option if the Asian investigation leads to prosecutions before any evidence or other information is shared, the Thai Office of the Attorney General’s International Affairs Director-General Amnat Chotchai said at a press conference in Bangkok. Thai officials may still pursue life imprisonment for anyone convicted, Amnat said.

Thai authorities opened an investigation after Rolls-Royce paid 671 million pounds ($830 million) and entered into deferred prosecution agreements with U.S. and U.K. authorities in January to resolve bribery and corruption probes. The fine also included a sanction from Brazil. Among the allegations against the jet-engine maker were examples of bribes paid to Thai agents and employees of Thai Airways International Pcl.

Indonesia, China

Indonesia and China -- home to state-owned PT Garuda Indonesia and China Eastern Airlines Corp., which were implicated in the SFO investigation -- both impose the death penalty in some incidents of graft. Indonesia’s anti-graft agency, which last month named former Garuda CEO Emirsyah Satar as a suspect in its probe, could also be affected by the U.K.’s reluctance to assist the case.

"It’s no secret that agencies speak to one another, and often share information, both formally and informally," said Robert Amaee, a London lawyer at Quinn Emanuel and former head of anti-corruption at the SFO. "Underpinning all of this is the need for the agencies to balance their desire to assist each other with their fundamental obligation to safeguard the human rights of suspects."

Shares of Rolls-Royce fell as much as 1.4 percent and were trading down 1 percent at 775 pence at 10:34 a.m. in London. That pared its gain this year to 16 percent, giving the company a total value of 14.3 billion pounds.

The U.K. has so-called mutual legal assistance treaties, which set the parameters for information sharing, in place with a number of countries. Britain entered into an MLA treaty on criminal matters with Thailand in 1997, according to the U.K. Home Office.

Human Rights Law

The DPA with Rolls-Royce states that one reason individuals are given anonymity in the agreement is because in some countries it could “lead to action or the imposition of a penalty which, in this country, we would regard as contravening Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights."

“We will comply with our obligations to co-operate under the agreements reached in the U.K., U.S. and Brazil and cannot comment further on any actual or potential investigations in other countries," a Rolls spokesman said by email. A spokeswoman for the SFO declined to comment. Nicole Navas, a Justice Department spokeswoman, declined to comment.

The SFO is still investigating a number of individuals in the Rolls case, including former Chief Executive Officer John Rose, who was among a number of former executives interviewed under caution by the SFO at the end of last year. Interviews under caution are generally conducted with possible suspects and mean that anything a person says can be used in court.

Bribes were paid to secure Thai Airways contracts between 1991 and 2005 and make up three of the British 12-count Rolls indictment. The payments, sometimes described as a “success fee,” ensured the airline chose the U.K. manufacturer’s engines over the competition. Rolls made at least $118 million in profits as a result of the Thai contracts, the largest amount from all of the corrupt deals listed in the DPA, which span three decades in about a dozen countries.

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