First Corporate Conviction under the Bribery Act

Sweett Group Plc (Sweett), a UK-listed provider of construction services, has become the first company to be convicted of an offence under the Bribery Act 2010 (Bribery Act). The conviction comes as result of a Serious Fraud Office (SFO) investigation into the activities of Sweett’s subsidiary in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). It serves as an important reminder for UK companies that their activities anywhere in the world will fall under the scope of the Bribery Act.

Sweett has been ordered to pay £2.25 million after pleading guilty to an offence under section 7 of the Bribery Act. The case against Sweett concerned corrupt payments made by its subsidiary in the UAE, Sweett International Limited, to a senior official at Al Ain Ahlia Insurance Company in order to secure a hotel development contract. Under Section 7 of the Bribery Act, a company is guilty of an offence if an associated person commits a bribe with the intention of obtaining or retaining business or a business advantage for the company. An “associated person” is anyone who performs services for or on behalf of a company and, in this case, the associated person was Sweett’s subsidiary. A company’s only defence against a section 7 prosecution is that it had in place ‘adequate procedures’ designed to prevent any such illegal activity from occurring. Sweett was unable to demonstrate this defence and pleaded guilty to the offence.

The case is the SFO’s first corporate conviction under the Bribery Act and shows that it is serious about enforcing, and where required prosecuting under, the legislation. To avoid committing an offence under section 7, companies should ensure that they have ‘adequate procedures’ in place to prevent corruption and bribery in their businesses. Companies should also ensure that they capable of demonstrating what these procedures are and how they are enforced.

For more information on any of the issues raised, please contact a member of the commercial team at Stevens & Bolton.

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