Sweett Group fined £2.3m in first Bribery Act prosecution

Consultant Sweett Group has been ordered to pay £2.3m after it pleaded guilty to offences under the 2010 Bribery Act – the first successful prosecution under the Act. The offences relate to Sweet Group's operations in the Middle East, involving payments made by the company to secure work on projects including a luxury hotel in Dubai. Sweet Group admitted the offences after an initial investigation by the Serious Fraud Office in 2014.

"The prosecution of Sweett marks the first time a company has been sentenced under section 7 of the Bribery Act, which is big news," said senior associate Nimisha Agarwal at international law firm Taylor Wessing. "Corporates who have become apathetic over the years due to a lack of Section 7 prosecutions will be reminded of the SFO's intention to use this piece of armoury to hold companies responsible for unethical behaviour. The Sweett case also highlights the long arm reach of the Bribery Act - the bribe in this case was given by Sweett's UAE subsidiary to secure a contract in Dubai."

Sweett Group pleaded guilty in December 2015 at Southwark Crown Court to an offence under Section 7 of the Bribery Act relating to its activities in the Middle East. The firm was handed a £1.4m plus ordered to pay a £851,000 confiscation fee and £96,000 in costs.

"Companies can mitigate the risk of an overseas subsidiary committing bribery by ensuring effective supervision, including engaging with the company's auditors. This is where Sweett feel short," Agarwal said. "If a company finds that corruption has been committed, self-reporting offers valuable currency for softening the sentence; it was worth up to £1.2 million in Sweett's case, arguably. Bribery offences can carry a fine of up to 400% of the profit of the contract, but making reference to the fact that Sweett had self-reported, the Judge only imposed a fine amounting to 250% of the 850K benefit of the contract."

Sweett Group CEO Douglas McCormick, said: “Sweett Group’s Middle East legacy issue is closed and this marks an important step in the delivery of the company’s new strategy.

“Over the last year, the company has been transformed with the appointment of a new leadership team, which has successfully addressed key issues facing the business. The group has delivered on a number of strategic objectives including the sale of the APAC and India business, resolution of the SFO investigation, withdrawal from the Middle East market and the re-organisation of the business into five regions.

“We have strengthened our internal systems, controls and risk procedures, and refined our strategy, focusing on profitability and cash flow. We are excited by the opportunities we see ahead in our core markets the UK, Europe and North America, and we look to the future with confidence.”