Southwark Crown Court orders firm to pay £1.4m fine and £851,000 confiscation fee

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Consultant Sweett Group has been ordered to pay £2.3m for a bribery offence related to its Middle East division.

Southwark Crown Court today sentenced the firm, ordering it to pay a £1.4m fine and a further £851,152 confiscation fee.

The confiscation is to be paid within three months; 50% of the fine is to be paid by February 2017, with the remaining sum paid by February 2018.  The company has also been instructed to pay £95,000 to cover the prosecution’s legal costs.

The sentencing follows the company’s admission in December of an offence under the UK Bribery Act, regarding two related contracts within the Middle East entered into in 2013 which were identified by the group and reported to the Serious Fraud Office.

Douglas McCormick, CEO of Sweett Group said: “Sweett Group’s Middle East legacy issue is closed and this marks an important step in the delivery of the company’s new strategy.

“Over the last year, the company has been transformed with the appointment of a new leadership team, which has successfully addressed key issues facing the business. The group has delivered on a number of strategic objectives including the sale of the APAC and India business, resolution of the SFO investigation, withdrawal from the Middle East market and the re-organisation of the business into five regions.

“We have strengthened our internal systems, controls and risk procedures, and refined our strategy, focusing on profitability and cash flow. We are excited by the opportunities we see ahead in our core markets the UK, Europe and North America, and we look to the future with confidence.”

The charge was brought under section 7(1) of the UK’s Bribery Act 2010 - “failing to prevent an associated person bribing another to obtain or retain business for the company”. The nature of the offence does nor result in debarment from public sector tendering under EU or UK law.

In December, the firm also disclosed it has decided to exit the Middle East and restructure into five new divisions, as it posted an increased half-year pre-tax loss of £548,000 for the six months to September 2015.

In this earlier statement Sweett said the Serious Fraud Office’s (SFO) investigation into the firm - prompted by bribery allegations first published in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) in June 2013 - was “at an end”.

Building understands the bribery offence Sweett disclosed to the SFO is unrelated to the original WSJ allegations.

Neil O’May, a partner at law firm Norton Rose Fulbright, commented: ““This is the first case where a company has been prosecuted to conviction by the Serious Fraud Office for failing to put in place adequate measures to prevent bribery.

“The SFO will hope that the outcome will reinforce its position as an effective prosecuting agency as David Green enters the next two years of his tenure in charge, and support its recent request to the government for more funds to prosecute corporate wrongdoing.”

Nimisha Agarwal, senior associate at law firm Taylor Wessing, said: “Corporates who have become apathetic over the years due to a lack of section 7 prosecutions will be reminded of the SFO’s intention to use this piece of armoury to hold companies responsible for unethical behaviour.

“The Sweett case also highlights the long arm reach of the Bribery Act - the bribe in this case was given by Sweett’s UAE subsidiary to secure a contract in Dubai.”