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Wednesday
Dec022015

SFO: Sweett Group admits overseas bribery

The Serious Fraud Office said Wednesday that Sweett Group plc has admitted an offense under Section 7 of the Bribery Act 2010 for conduct in the Middle East.

The SFO didn't announce penalties it might impose.

Sweett told the Evening Standard it expects a fine, “the quantum of which cannot be ascertained at the present time.”

On Monday, the SFO used its first deferred prosecution agreement to end an investigation of overseas bribery. ICBC Standard Bank paid $33 million for the UK resolution, It also paid $4.2 million to resolve charges in the United States by the SEC based on the same facts.

The SFO said the ICBC case was also the first use by any UK prosecutor of Section 7 of the Bribery Act 2010 (Failure of commercial organizations to prevent bribery).

In the Sweett Group case, the SFO announced in July 2014 that it had opened an investigation into the engineering and construction firm.

Sweet Group said in 2014 the alleged bribery occurred from 2009 to 2011.

The company said the allegations involved a former employee who operated from an office in Dubai under contract with Cyril Sweett International Limited -- a company registered in Cyprus and wholly owned by Sweett Group plc.

The investigation was triggered when the Wall Street Journal reported allegations in 2013 that a former Sweett Group employee offered to award design work on a $100 million hospital construction contract in Morocco to a New York-based architecture firm, if the architects agreed to bribe a United Arab Emirates official.

The WSJ said the target of the bribe was an official inside the United Arab Emirates president's personal foundation, which was funding the Morocco project.

Sweett's "experiences trying to win the contract are documented in a memo drafted by . . . lawyers at Crowell & Moring LLP," the Wall Street Journal said. "They were hired in September 2010 to advise the firm on whether making a payment to foundation officials violated the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act."

The lawyers told Sweett in the memo that the payment "likely violated the antibribery law and recommended that [Sweett] adopt internal policies that would restrict giving anything of value to foreign officials," the WSJ report said.

Donations to charities can violate the FCPA if they benefit a specific foreign official and are intended to win or keep business.

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Richard L. Cassin is the publisher and editor of the FCPA Blog. He can be contacted here.