UK consultancy Sweett Group has been ordered to pay $3.2m (£2.25m) for bribing a prominent United Arab Emirates (UAE) businessman in return for work.
The AIM-listed company is the first UK firm to be punished under the country’s recent bribery law. Serious Fraud Office (SFO) director David Green, pictured, said the sentence would send a "strong message" to other companies.
The company pleaded guilty in December 2015 to a charge of failing to prevent an act of bribery intended to secure and retain a contract with Al Ain Ahlia Insurance Company (AAAI), contrary to Section 7(1)(b) of the Bribery Act 2010.
It was sentenced in a London court on Friday, 19 February.
This conviction and punishment… 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– Serious Fraud Office director David Green
The judge ordered Sweett Group to pay a $2m fine (£1.4m), and ordered $1.2m to be confiscated. The company must also pay $135,000 in legal costs.
An investigation by the UK’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) began in July 2014 and found that Sweett Group’s subsidiary, Cyril Sweett International Limited, had made corrupt payments to Khaled Al Badie, the Vice Chairman of the Board and Chairman of the Real Estate and Investment Committee of AAAI to secure the award of a contract with AAAI for the building of the Rotana Hotel in Abu Dhabi.
The SFO said the relevant conduct occurred between December 2012 and December 2015.
Handing down the sentence, His Honour Judge Beddoe described the offence as a system failure and said that the offending was patently committed over a period of time.
SFO director David Green said the sentence would send a message to other companies.
"Acts of bribery by UK companies significantly damage this country’s commercial reputation," he said.
"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."
The SFO added that, contrary to announcements made by Khaled Al Badie, there had been no agreement between Sweett Group and the SFO.
Sweett Group’s chief executive Douglas McCormick said the sentencing marked the closure of the company’s "Middle East legacy issue" and was "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," he said.
"We have strengthened our internal systems, controls and risk procedures, and refined our strategy, focusing on profitability and cash flow," he added.
The company has now withdrawn from the Middle Eastern market altogether, and has sold its Indian business, to focus on UK, Europe and North America.
It pointed out that the sentence does not exclude it from tendering for public sector work under EU or UK law.
Photograph: SFO director David Green said the sentence would send a message to other companies (SFO)