On 26 October, reinsurance broker Julian Messent, former head of PWS Holdings, was convicted of bribery in Costa Rica and was disqualified as a director, sentenced to a jail term, and ordered to pay £100,000 in compensation or have his sentence increased by one year.
Southwark Crown Court passed down a 21-month prison sentence after he pleaded guilty to corrupt payments of £1.3m to win overseas contracts. Judge Revlin said, "It is clear that you orchestrated these third party payments that amounted to almost $2mn in total…You are not the 'fall guy' in these proceedings". PWS had created a 'slush fund' to receive 'ceding' and 'third-party' commissions from the Costa Rican government, which in turn would be used to bribe government officials. The judge said, "In short the state of Costa Rica was made to fund the corruption of its own official". In total, PWC had arranged up to £2.6bn of reinsurance cover for Costa Rica's state-owned hydroelectric power plants. In all, 41 payments were made between 1999 and 2002, and were routed via the wives of government officials, bank accounts in Panama and a Floridian travel agency. Prosecutors in Costa Rica stated that they were investigating 10 individuals believed to have received the bribes, including high-ranking government officials and the president of the country's power generation and infrastructure agencies. PWS Holdings is now in administration.
Messent will be disqualified from acting as a company director for the next five years, and has to pay £100,000 compensation through the Serious Fraud Office to the Costa Rican government within the next 28 days.
In passing sentence, the Judge also said, "It is no mitigation to say others do it [pay bribes] or that it is the way of doing business…anyone minded to do it should be deterred from doing so".
SFO Director Richard Alderman said, "This case shows how determined we are to pursue businessmen who bribe. Working with agencies in other countries is a key feature of our approach which can result in action being taken against both sides of the bribe. This case is also a good example of how an early plea agreement can bring a swift resolution."