After more than 2 years since the Bribery Act 2010 came into force the Serious Fraud Office’s (SFO) first prosecution under the Act finally began on Monday of this week. The charges were brought against four individuals who are former employees of the bio fuel investment promoter Sustainable ArgoEnergy Plc and not the company itself. Sustainable ArgoEnergy Plc is a subsidiary of the Sustainable Growth Group, which went into administration in March 2012.
The four individuals are now on trial at Westminster Magistrates Court charged with conspiring to commit a £23 million fraud by false representation and conspiracy to furnish false information. The charges relate specifically to the marketing and sale of bio fuel investment products to UK investors between April 2011 and February 2012. Of the four individuals charged, two directors and an independent financial advisor have also been charged with making and accepting a financial advantage contrary to the Bribery Act 2010.
Under the legislation the SFO and the Scottish Crown Office each has the power to prosecute either a company or an individual regardless of whether the bribe in question took place in the UK, as long as they have a link to the UK. Individuals can be sentenced to 10 years in prison and companies face an unlimited fine for breaching the Bribery Act. With David Green of the SFO highlighting earlier this month that his team has eight active cases under investigation, it is highly likely that we will soon see the first corporate body charged with offences under the Bribery Act.
Whilst it may have taken the SFO some time to use its powers of prosecution, the current case should serve as a reminder for both officers of and corporate bodies that the Act is very much in force. The need to have adequate procedures in place to avoid the prosecution whether by the SFO or the Scottish Crown Office has never been more apparent.