Sweett Group Plc has been given the dubious ‘honour’ of being the first corporate conviction under the Bribery Act 2010 for failing to prevent bribery.
According to the announcement of the conviction by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), Sweett Group, a construction and professional services company, pleaded guilty in December 2015 to a charge of failing to prevent an act of bribery committed by its subsidiary, Cyril Sweett International Limited. That act of bribery had been intended to secure and retain a contract with Al Ain Ahlia Insurance Company for the building of the Rotana Hotel in Abu Dhabi.
The conviction cost Sweett Group Plc £2.25 million, made up of a £1,400,000 fine and a £851,152 confiscation order. In addition £95,031 of costs were awarded to the SFO.
A commercial organisation is guilty of an offence if a person associated with it bribes another person to obtain or retain business or other advantage for that organisation.
A person is associated with a commercial organisation if he/she/it performs services for or on behalf of the organisation. This includes agents, employees, subsidiaries, intermediaries, joint venture partners and suppliers.
The consequences of being convicted of a bribery offence are considerable with individuals liable to a jail sentence of up to 10 years and/or an unlimited fine. Commercial organisations face unlimited fines.
Particular risk areas for commercial organisations include public procurement, corporate hospitality and gifts and facilitation payments.
What should organisations do?
A commercial organisation has a defence to a claim for failing to prevent bribery if it has adequate procedures in place to prevent bribery.
Guidance from the Ministry of Justice sets out six principles for commercial organisations to consider in relation to adequate procedures:
- Proportionate procedures
- Top level commitment
- Risk assessment
- Due diligence
- Communication (including training)
- Monitoring and review.
What does this mean in practice?
Practical examples of the adoption of the principals set out in the Guidance include:
- Conducting a complete risk assessment of the commercial organisation and any other companies in the group
- Conducting a review of anti-corruption policies and procedures
- Reviewing the commercial organisation’s employee code of conduct
- Conducting due diligence on all individuals and entities who could be considered an associated person
- Appointing a compliance officer
- Publishing an anti-corruption statement and displaying the anti-corruption policies to ensure that they are accessible by all.
Commenting on the conviction David Green, director of the SFO, said:
“Acts of bribery by UK companies significantly damage this country’s commercial reputation. 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.”
The SFO’s investigation into the individuals concerned in the Sweett case continues.