A substantial fine of £1.4 million in addition to costs and a confiscation order of £851,152.23 has been made against The Sweett Group plc following its conviction under section 7 of the Bribery Act 2010. The company had pleaded guilty to failing to prevent an act of bribery.
The act complained of involved a payment by a subsidiary to a third party company to secure a building contract. Referring to Sweett's ignorance of the payment, the judge said: "The whole point of section 7 is to impose a duty on those running such companies throughout the world properly to supervise them. Rogue elements can only operate in this way – and operate for so long – because of a failure properly to supervise what they are doing and the way they are doing it." (See the Serious Fraud Office press release.)
The conviction is a stark warning to other companies: failure to take action to prevent bribery is just as much a punishable criminal act as being complicit in bribery. Companies can defend themselves against such allegations if they can show that adequate procedures were put in place to prevent bribery but, as of yet, there is little guidance on what would constitute an "adequate procedure".
A full analysis of the Sweett case can be found here.