UK company admits bribing officials

The first major British company to be prosecuted for paying bribes abroad confirmed that it would plead guilty to corruption offences and pay reparations for its misconduct.

Mabey and Johnson, a bridge-building company, said it would pay compensation to Jamaica, Iraq and Ghana after admitting it had paid bribes to win contracts in the three countries.

The prosecution by the Serious Fraud Office comes five years after the Guardian first revealed allegations of foreign bribery by the Reading-based company.

The British authorities have been subject to sustained criticism for failing to prosecute companies which pay kickbacks to foreign politicians and officials to win export orders, while telling poor countries to stamp out graft.

The government pledged 12 years ago to crack down on British bribe-payers, but its credibility was severely damaged in 2006 when Tony Blair's government abruptly halted the SFO investigation into alleged bribes by BAE in Saudi arms deals.

Nick Hildyard, of anti-corruption campaigners The Corner House, which initially raised suspicions about Mabey and Johnson in 2004, said: "This is a good start, but the UK still has a long way to go before the public at home and abroad can have confidence that it is serious about combating corruption."

Peter Burrell, for Mabey and Johnson, told Westminster magistrates court in London today that the firm intended to plead guilty to the corruption offences. A preliminary hearing is to be held next Friday at Southwark crown court, London.

The firm, owned by one of Britain's richest families, is accused of corruptly paying €422,000 (£363,000) to Saddam Hussein's regime between May 2001 and November 2002. This is also the first time the British authorities have prosecuted a company for breaking the sanctions against Iraq.

The firm, which donated regularly to the Tories, is also accused of conspiring to make corrupt payments in Jamaica between 1993 and 2001. The SFO and the Jamaican authorities have been investigating "questionable payments totalling several million US dollars" by Mabey. Joseph Hibbert, a Jamaican government minister, denies receiving money.

The firm is also accused of seeking to corruptly influence politicians and officials in Ghana between 1994 and 1999 to land build-bridging contracts.

The case is also significant as it was agreed through a US-style plea bargain which the SFO hopes could become a template for future prosecutions. This enables a quicker result for the SFO, while the firm is able to put past wrongdoing behind it.

Mabey and Johnson agreed to admit corruption after a year of private negotiations with the SFO.

Yesterday, Peter Lloyd, Mabey's managing director, said: "We deeply regret the past conduct of our company and we have committed to making a fresh start, wiping the slate clean of these offences." New managers have been installed at the firm.

At a hearing later this year, the firm is expected to be penalised with a fine. It has agreed to pay for a monitor who will ensure bribery is not repeated.

Lloyd also said that "as a further expression of our regret" Mabey had agreed to pay a form of reparations to the governments of the three countries.

Richard Alderman, director of the SFO, said: "These are serious offences and it is significant Mabey and Johnson has co-operated with us to get to this landmark point." Allegations of improper payments in Jamaica emerged when Mabey and Johnson traded allegations of wrong-doing with former sales executive Jonathan Danos in a civil case. Mabey refused to say how it had settled that case.The firm Mabey has also been accused of corruption in the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, the Dominican Republic and Panama.


Go back | Date: 11 Jul 2009
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