Sweett Group plc becomes the first corporate to be convicted under the Bribery Act
On 19 February 2016 at Southwark Crown Court HHJ Beddoe imposed a total penalty of £2.35 million against Sweet Group plc for committing an offence contrary to section 7 of the Bribery Act 2010.
Section 7 of the Bribery Act provides that a company will be guilty of an offence if an “associated person” (someone who performs services for on behalf of a company) bribes another person intending either to obtain or retain business, or an advantage in the conduct of business, for the company.
In December 2015 Sweett pleaded guilty for failing to prevent nearly £700,000 in bribes being paid through a subsidiary, Cyril Sweett International, in order to win and retain a contract related to the building of a £63m luxury hotel in Dubai.
Sweet was unable to avail itself of the only available statutory defence: to prove that the company had in place “adequate procedures” designed to prevent the prohibited conduct.
In sentencing Sweet, HHJ Beddoe noted the length of the offending, that Sweet had seemingly not responded to the implementation of the Bribery Act in 2011, that Sweet had "wilfully ignored" accountants' concerns and that there had been an attempt by individuals to mislead the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) during the investigation.
The judge considered that Sweett’s culpability was in the highest culpability category.
This penalty figure comprises a fine of £1.4 million, a confiscation order of £850,000 and SFO costs of £95,000.
The first conviction against a corporation under the Bribery Act 2010 is a significant milestone for the SFO. Many commentators had suggested that the Act was ineffective against corporates. This conviction follows the recent "deferred prosecution agreement" reached with the British arm of South Africa's Standard Bank in respect of allegations contrary to the Bribery Act.
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