The UK Serious Fraud Office said Monday it has launched a formal investigation of survey and construction services firm Sweett Group.
A notice on the SFO website dated July 14 said:
The SFO confirmed today that the Director has opened an investigation into Sweett Group in relation to its activities in the United Arab Emirates and elsewhere.
The Telegraph said the SFO is investigating allegations that a Dubai-based former employee of Sweett asked a firm of architects to bribe officials to secure a $100 million contract.
Sweet Group said Monday on its website:
As was reported on 2 April 2014, evidence came to light that suggests that material instances of deception may have been perpetrated by a former employee or employees during the period 2009 – 2011. One of the former employees refused to answer questions asked of him by the independent investigators.
The former employee 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, according to the company’s statement.
Sweett said it is cooperating fully with the SFO.
It hired Mayer Brown for an internal investigation and is in talks with the SFO and U.S. Department of Justice, the Telegraph said.
The investigation was triggered when the Wall Street Journal reported allegations last year 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 a 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.
Richard L. Cassin is the publisher and editor of the FCPA Blog. He can be contacted here.