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UK enforcement: Sweett Group fined £2.25 million after Bribery Act conviction

Construction and professional services company Sweett Group plc was sentenced Friday in London and ordered to pay £2.25 million ($3.15 million) for bribing an official in the United Arab Emirates.

The company pleaded guilty in December 2015 to a charge of failing to prevent an act of bribery intended to secure and retain a contract with Al Ain Ahlia Insurance Company (AAAI), contrary to Section 7(1)(b) of the Bribery Act 2010.

The offenses occurred between December 2012 and December 2015.

SFO director David Green said Friday: “This conviction and punishment, the SFO’s first under section 7 of the Bribery Act, sends a strong message that UK companies must take full responsibility for the actions of their employees and in their commercial activities act in accordance with the law.”

The SFO announced in July 2014 that it had opened an investigation.

The investigation found that a Sweett Group subsidiary, Cyril Sweett International Limited, made corrupt payments to Khaled Al Badie. He was then the vice chairman of AAAI and chaired AAAI’s real estate and investment committee.

The payments were intended to secure a contract with AAAI for the building of the Rotana Hotel in Abu Dhabi, the SFO said.

Abu Dhabi owns part of AAAI.

The court Friday fined London-based Sweett Group £1.4 million ($2 million), and assessed about £851,000 ($1.2 million) in confiscation. The court also award the SFO costs of about £95,000 ($136,000).

The SFO said its “investigation into individuals continues.”

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In a report in June 2013, the Wall Street Journal said Sweett’s “experiences trying to win [a contract for construction of a $100 million hospital in Morocco] are documented in a memo drafted by . . . lawyers at [U.S. law firm] Crowell & Moring LLP.”

“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.

Sweett Group hasn’t disclosed any investigation by U.S. authorities. The DOJ doesn’t comment on FCPA investigations.

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

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