The U.K.'s Financial Services Authority said yesterday that it has fined Aon Ltd £5.25 million ($8.05 million) for failing to recognize and control the risks of overseas payments being used as bribes. The fine is the largest the FSA has levied for financial crimes. Aon Ltd is the principal U.K. subsidiary of Chicago-based Aon Corporation, the world's biggest insurance broker.
Aon Corporation disclosed in November 2007 an internal investigation into possible violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and non-U.S. anti-corruption laws. Aon said then in its Form 10-Q that it had self-reported the investigation to the Department of Justice, the Securities and Exchange Commission and others, and that it had already agreed with U.S. prosecutors to toll any applicable statute of limitations. The U.S. investigations are still pending.
This is now the third case brought by U.K. authorities involving overseas bribery by U.K. companies. In September 2008, the Overseas Anti-Corruption Unit of the City of London Police said an employee of CBRN Team Ltd, a U.K. security consulting firm, and an official of Uganda, had pleaded guilty to bribery charges. The CBRN employee received a suspended sentence and the Ugandan official was sentenced to twelve months in jail. And in October last year, the U.K.'s Serious Fraud Office reached a £2.25 million civil settlement with construction firm Balfour Beatty plc for alleged unlawful accounting in connection with overseas "payment irregularities" which it self-reported.
Apparently to emphasize the new willingness of her agency and other U.K. authorities to prosecute overseas bribery, Margaret Cole, the FSA's director of enforcement, said:
The involvement of UK financial institutions in corrupt or potentially corrupt practices overseas undermines the integrity of the UK financial services sector. The FSA has an important role to play in the steps being taken by the UK to combat overseas bribery and corruption. We have worked closely with other law enforcement agencies in this case and will continue to take robust action focused on firms’ systems and controls in this area.According to its website, the Financial Services Authority is an independent non-governmental body with statutory powers under the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000. It has a range of rule-making, investigatory and enforcement powers intended to "promote efficient, orderly and fair financial markets and help retail financial service consumers get a fair deal." The Treasury appoints its 12-member board.
Between January 2005 and September 2007, according to the FSA, Aon Ltd didn't properly assess or control the risks involved in its dealings with overseas firms and individuals who helped it win business. "As a result of Aon Ltd’s weak control environment, the firm made various suspicious payments, amounting to approximately US$7 million, to a number of overseas firms and individuals." The payments were made in Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Burma, Indonesia and Vietnam.
The FSA said Aon cooperated fully and agreed to settle early in the investigation, qualifying for a 30% discount under the FSA’s settlement discount scheme. Without the discount the fine would have been £7.5 million.
View the FSA's January 8, 2009 release here.
Download the FSA's Final Notice (January 6, 2009) here.
View Aon's January 8, 2009 statement here.