Corruption & bribery cases
Significant ongoing cases
Unaoil, a Monaco-based consulting firm in the oil and gas sector, has been under investigation by the UK SFO since March 2016. Three defendants are accused of facilitating payments to an Iraqi government official in return for confidential information, which Unaoil would then use to influence the tender process of two major oil projects in Iraq and help Western companies win multi-million Dollar contracts.
This case is a key test of whether the SFO can:
Successfully prosecute employees of an intermediary company that is charged with paying foreign bribes on behalf of large Western corporations
Establish the culpability of lower-ranking staff members, in the absence of higher ranking co-conspirators
Efficiently navigate cross-jurisdictional investigations and establish effective working relationships with foreign law enforcement agencies, particularly in the United States
Below is our related blog post, court monitoring notes taken by Spotlight on Corruption, as well as a case summary with links to essential reading.
Iraqi case in UK courts brings bribery in the oil industry to the surface”, by Spotlight on Corruption
GPT Special Project Management
GPT Special Project Management is a subsidiary of Airbus (link to Airbus page) that has been under investigation by the UK SFO since August 2012 as a result of allegations aired by a whistleblower. The company is accused of making sub-contracting payments for which no obvious services were provided – a common method used to funnel bribes. The payments were made on a UK Ministry of Defence-backed government-to-government military contract with Saudi Arabia.
This case is a key test of whether the SFO can:
Undertake investigations in sensitive cases without political interference.
Get access to evidence held by government departments.
Launch a successful prosecution where it is unlikely to get cooperation from the foreign jurisdiction concerned.
Letter to the UK Attorney General – October 2019
Spotlight on Corruption and Transparency International letter sent to the Attorney General raising concerns about the potential use of national security arguments to stop a prosecution in the GPT Special Project Management case.
State-sponsored bribery? Airbus’ Saudi Saga and the UK’s Ministry of Defence – October 2017
Corruption Watch report outlining the allegations of corruption raised by a whistleblower and the role of the UK’s Ministry of Defence. It compares the case to the BAE/Al Yamamah bribery scandal which was controversially closed down in 2006 on grounds of national security.
Significant concluded prosecutions
Airbus, the global aerospace and defense giant, has been under formal investigation by the UK Serious Fraud Office since July 2016. It faces allegations of bribery involving secret commission payments via intermediaries to win airplane and military equipment contracts in multiple jurisdictions from Austria to Kuwait. The case is also being investigated by the French and US authorities.
The case will be an important test of the UK’s ability to:
Bring a multi-jurisdictional resolution in a case involving global and multi-sectoral bribery allegations.
Bring a successful case against a company of strategic economic and political importance.
Protect the integrity of its Deferred Prosecution Agreement regime where other countries’ regimes may have different and less stringent rules.
Letter from NGOs to prosecutors demanding that any resolution with Airbus meets fair justice standards – April 2018
NGOs from various countries where Airbus is being investigated wrote to prosecutors in the UK, France and US urging them to ensure that any enforcement action taken against Airbus meets certain criteria that would ensure that justice is achieved and the harm caused by any proven wrongdoing is properly compensated.
Airbus: an ever-growing corruption scandal – April 2018
Corruption Watch report giving an overview of the multiple allegations of corruption facing Airbus.
Smith and Ouzman
The first successful contested corruption prosecution for overseas bribery in the UK.
Smith and Ouzman was convicted under the Prevention of Corruption Act of paying bribes to win contracts, including the printing of electoral ballot papers, in Kenya and Mauritania.
Adequate Procedures or PR Stunt? – January 2015
Corruption Watch blog looking at the company’s attempts to show it had reformed and whether they were genuine.
Chickens come home to roost: the Smith and Ouzman African bribery case – January 2015
Corruption Watch blog detailing what the company was being charged of, and the issues arising from the trial.
The first company to plead guilty to a failure to prevent bribery (section 7 of the Bribery Act). Sweett pleaded guilty to failing to prevent bribery through a sham consultancy agreement on a construction project involving a luxury hotel development in Dubai. The case illustrated when companies might and might not be eligible for a Deferred Prosecution Agreement.
SFO plays hardball: Sweett case sets new standards for cooperation in corruption cases – February 2016
Corruption Watch blog analysing the Sweett case and its implications for enforcement.
A case that raises important issues about the effectiveness of court-imposed sanctions. F.H. Bertling and senior employees pleaded guilty to Prevention of Corruption Act charges. They were accused of paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to the head of the Angolan state-owned company, Sonangol.
F.H. Bertling was fined £850,000 in June 2019 for the bribery scheme after winning $20 million worth of contracts through corruption and the payment of $350,000 in bribes. F.H. Bertling employees were also convicted in January 2019 of paying bribes to win a £16 million contract in the North Sea from ConocoPhillips.
The Bertling case shows that pleading guilty may sometimes bring too sweet a deal – November 2017
Corruption Watch blog looking at whether the company got off lightly.