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Breakthrough In Britain

British firm Mabey & Johnson Ltd was sentenced last week by an English court for overseas corruption and violations of the U.N.’s oil-for-food program. The bridge-building specialist will pay £6.6 million in criminal fines and related assessments. It pleaded guilty in July to bribing officials in Jamaica and Ghana to win public contracts, and paying more than £123,000 to the pre-war Iraqi regime in violation of U.N. sanctions. As part of its sentence, the privately-held company is also required to retain and pay for an SFO-approved monitor to review its internal compliance program.

The SFO’s director Richard Alderman said: “This is a landmark outcome. The first conviction in this country of a company for overseas corruption and for breaking the U.N. Iraq sanctions and, satisfyingly, achieved quickly. . . . I urge other companies who might see some parallels for them, to come and talk to us and have the matter dealt with quickly and fairly.”

Mabey & Johnson self-disclosed its illegal overseas conduct to the SFO in 2008. It said the bribery occurred between 1993 and 2001. In Jamaica and Ghana, the prosecution said, Mabey & Johnson “knew that its agents were involved in corrupt relationships with public officials with influence over M&J’s affairs in those jurisdictions. M&J accept that they agreed with their agents to pay bribes directly to public servants in those jurisdictions. Those bribes were deducted from the overall commission due to the agents.”

The company’s guilty plea has led to the resignation of Jamaica’s junior minister of transport and works after he was linked to the corrupt business practices.

In its submission to the sentencing court, the SFO’s statement about Mabey & Johnson included this message on the nature of public bribery:

The SFO is committed to the interests of the victims of overseas corporate corruption. Overseas corruption is not a “victimless crime.” As the present case demonstrates only too well, the victims are all or any of the proper interests of the governments of the countries where such practices are carried out, the integrity of their civil services and public officials, and – more generally – the peoples of those countries, particularly the poorer and poorest sectors of those populations.

The Serious Fraud Office was lambasted after its 2006 decision to drop the investigation of BAE Systems for bribery. It said then it had no choice because Saudi Arabia threatened not to buy Typhoon aircraft or continue sharing anti-terrorism intelligence. The High Court in London called the episode an outrage, an abject surrender to threats, and a capitulation. On the government’s appeal to the House of Lords, five law lords decided the SFO’s action was legal but “extremely distasteful.” Former SFO director Robert Wardle left his post in April 2008.

View the Serious Fraud Office’s September 25, 2009 release regarding the sentencing of Mabey & Johnson here.

Download the text of the prosecution’s opening statements for (a) the corruption offenses in relation to Jamaica and Ghana and (b) breaching U.N. sanctions in the oil-for-food program here.

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