28 October 2010 | Lindsay Clark
A man has been sentenced to 21 months in prison for bribing officials in Costa Rican state-owned companies in a case relating to re-insurance contracts.
Julian Messent, a former director of London-based insurance business PWS International, admitted making or authorising corrupt payments of almost US $2 million (£1.26 million). Payments were made to Costa Rican officials in state insurance company Instituto Nacional de Seguros (INS) and the national electricity and telecommunications provider Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad (ICE).
He was ordered to pay £100,000 compensation within 28 days to the Republic of Costa Rica or serve an additional 12 months’ imprisonment if he fails to do so.
Messent pleaded guilty at Southwark Crown Court to two counts of making corrupt payments between February 1999 and June 2002, following a joint investigation started in 2006 by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) and the City of London Police.
In his role as head of the property (Americas) division at PWS, Messent was responsible for securing and maintaining contracts for reinsurance in Central and South America. Between 1999 and 2002, PWS acted as broker on behalf of INS, which in turn was the insurer for ICE. Both were state institutions of the Republic of Costa Rica.
During this time, Messent sanctioned 41 corrupt payments to be paid to Costa Rican officials, their wives and associated companies, as inducements or rewards for assisting in the appointment or retention of PWS International as broker of the lucrative reinsurance policy for INS.
Following elections in Costa Rica in 2002, officials in INS and ICE were replaced. Enquiries were made into the contract with PWS and questions were raised about payments made under it. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office referred the case to the SFO in October 2005 and the case was accepted for investigation in August 2006.
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.”
Lord Pearson, who was non-executive chairman of the PWS group companies until 2008, told the Financial Times that he wasn’t involved in the day-to-day running of PWS International but had commissioned an independent investigation into the corruption allegations as soon as he heard about them.