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SFO fines FH Bertling $1 million for freight contract bribes

The UK Serious Fraud Office fined FH Bertling Ltd £850,000 ($1 million) Monday for bribes to secure contracts in Angola. 

The investigation and prosecution focused on Germany-headquartered FH Bertling’s involvement in an oil project in Angola and employees bribing a local state oil company official to secure $20 million in shipping contracts, the SFO said

The SFO’s criminal investigation into corruption at FH Bertling began in September 2014. The first charges were announced in July 2016 and involved the two separate “Jasmine” and “Angola” cases, according to the SFO. 

In total, 13 individuals were charged as part of the SFO’s investigation into the company. Nine were convicted of one of more charges, and four were acquitted.

In January, three executives FH Bertling Group pleaded guilty to paying around $445,000 in bribes to help Bertling win a freight forwarding contract with ConocoPhillips worth $20 million for the “Jasmine” North Sea oil project. Bertling executives bribed ConocoPhillips employees to approve and pay Bertling’s inflated invoices.

The Sonangol bribes helped Bertling win and keep a freight and forwarding contract from 2004 to 2006 worth about $21 million.

Stephen Emler, FH Bertling’s former CFO, was sentenced to 12 months in prison for the North Sea bribery plot and concurrently to 18 months for bribery at Angola’s state oil company, Sonangol. Elmer was also fined £15,000 ($19,300).

Giuseppe Morreale, Bertling’s managing director for London, was sentenced to 15 months for the North Sea bribery plot and concurrently to two years in prison for the Angola schemes. He was fined £20,000 ($25,700).

Colin Bagwell, FH Berling’s former managing director and chief commercial officer, was sentenced to nine months in prison and fined £5,000 ($6,430).

Christopher Lane, the former logistics lead at ConocoPhillips, was sentenced to six months in prison and placed under a 28-day electronic curfew order.

The prison sentences for Emler, Morreale, Bagwell, and Lane were all suspended for two years.

In October 2017, three other former Bertling executives each received 20-month prison sentences and £20,000 ($25,700) fines. The prison sentences were suspended but the defendants were disqualified from serving as directors of UK companies for five years.

Bertling’s UK unit, FH Bertling Ltd, pleaded guilty in August 2017. The UK unit stopped doing business and went into liquidation.

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Harry Cassin is the publisher and editor of the FCPA Blog.

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