The Bribery Act came into force on 1 July 2011 and yet, until December 2015 there have been no convictions under Section 7- The Failure of Commercial Organisations to Prevent Bribery.
Under section 7 companies could be guilty of a criminal offence if persons associated with it are involved in bribery. It is a defence if the company can show it had adequate procedures in place to prevent persons associated with it from undertaking such conduct.
The ostensible corporate veil was punctured last week when Sweett Group PLC was sentenced. It was ordered to pay a £1.4m fine, £851,152.23 in confiscation and £95,031.97 in costs after pleading guilty to a Section 7 offence relating to bribes made to secure a contract to build a £63m luxury hotel in Abu Dhabi. An SFO investigation into individuals suspected of being involved in the bribery continues.
The successful prosecution reinforces a perception that the SFO, under David Green’s leadership, is improving its reputation, one success at a time. It is progressively defending its role as the correct organisation to combat large scale frauds and corruption cases. It follows a year of improvement for the SFO: 2015 saw the first Deferred Prosecution Agreement in addition to the conviction of LIBOR trader Tom Hayes.
These successes may well go some way to vindicate the SFO, but do not fully refute its position as an organisation which must justify its relevance and suitability following a very public lack of faith in its abilities by Theresa May, who has previously moved to abolish it.
The Sweett win for the SFO signals growing strength, despite the fact that it is its first successful prosecution under this legislation since its inception over four years ago.
For David Green, he appears to have justified his two year contract extension in the role as he demonstrates that the SFO may well in fact have brawn beneath its bravado; when exercised correctly.
The ruling signals that the SFO is gaining momentum and serves as a reminder that UK companies must be accountable for their actions and act in accordance with the law. A position that David Green clearly intends to demonstrate:
“Acts of bribery by UK companies significantly damage this country’s commercial reputation. This conviction and punishment,the SFO’s first under section 7 of the Bribery Act, sends a strong message that UK companies must take full responsibility for the actions of their employees and in their commercial activities act in accordance with the law.”
Sweett Group, the AIM-listed surveyor, has become the first company to be sentenced for bribery over corrupt payments it made to an influential Arab executive to secure work on a luxury hotel project in Dubai. The company was hit with a fine of £1.4m and an £851,000 confiscation order at Southwark Crown Court after it admitted that it had failed to prevent the bribery of Khaled Al Badie.