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Martin Kenney: The SFO has a big stick and is ready to use it

I had to catch my breath when I read the the speech by Ben Morgan, joint head of the UK Serious Fraud Office Bribery and Corruption Unit.

His message to the Annual Anti-Bribery and Corruption Forum in London last month will have ruffled more than a few feathers. Indeed I would imagine that there was a degree of panic among some of the delegates and those who have subsequently become aware of it.

His speech — advocating that companies that might have paid overseas bribes come forward early to the SFO — was designed to drive home the fact that the SFO is now gunning for those who have knowingly engaged in corrupt practices, or have discovered that their staff have done so in their name.

Morgan’s words pulled no punches and carried with them a degree of threat that most lawyers would feel very uncomfortable about. In a nutshell, Morgan told companies to volunteer their misdemeanors or face the full might of the SFO’s prosecution.

There will be a lot of directors now wringing sweaty palms and scratching furrowed brows. Their instinct may be to bury a matter, swear people to secrecy, deal with it internally and sack those involved. But Morgan stressed that such an internally-driven procedure would fall short of what the SFO is demanding: full and early disclosure.

“If a company comes to us and alerts us to conduct about which we otherwise didn’t know, it is hard to see how it would be in the public interest to prosecute,” he said. This is a classic use of carrot and stick.

As a lawyer whose firm specializes in the investigation of fraud, corruption and the resultant money laundering, I am impressed by the SFO’s stance. Corruption and bribery devalues and undermines not only the reputations of the companies concerned, but the economies of the countries afflicted. Compliant companies that will not engage in flawed tendering processes lose out, and ordinary folks can lose their livelihoods as a result.

It falls to law enforcement agencies such as the SFO to police these scenarios, and to civil asset recovery firms such as ours to ensure that wherever possible, the perpetrators do not go on to enjoy their ill-gotten gains.

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Martin Kenney is Managing Partner of Martin Kenney & Co., Solicitors, a specialist investigative and asset retrieval practice based in the British Virgin Islands and focused on multi-jurisdictional fraud cases. Kenney is the exclusive representative in the British Virgin Islands of FraudNet, a specialist global network of 69 leading fraud recovery and business crime lawyers in 62 countries. www.martinkenney.com | @MKSolicitors.

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