Sweett Group, a surveyor for international construction and infrastructure projects, will be prosecuted by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) after admitting to bribery in connection with two related contracts entered into in 2013 in the Middle East.
The company, listed on the AIM stock exchange, admitted that it failed to prevent an associated person bribing another to obtain or retain business for the company, breaching the UK Bribery Act 2010.
This follows allegations made in the Wall Street Journal in 2013 that a Sweett Group executive told a representative from architecture firm HLW International in Abu Dhabi in 2010 that they would win the contract to design a $100 million hospital in Morocco if they paid 3.5 per cent of the contract’s value to the UAE president’s personal foundation, which was funding the project.
In a statement at the time the Sweett Group said the “historical allegations are something the company knew nothing about”, and it ordered independent investigations into the matter at a cost of £1.6 million.
It found evidence that “suggested material instances of deception may have been perpetrated by a former employee or employees of the group during the period 2009–2011”.
The SFO cleared the company of the newspaper allegations, but opened a separate investigation in 2014 into Sweett Group’s activities in the UAE and elsewhere. On 2 December it charged the group under the Bribery Act.
Sweett Group’s CEO Douglas McCormick, said the company welcomed the latest development, “which brings closure on the Middle East legacy issues a step closer, allowing the group to progress unencumbered in the future”.
“This is an important next step in the strategic turnaround of the business,” he added. The company stated that because the case refers to an incident in UAE in 2013, it does not attract a mandatory debarment from public sector tendering under EU/UK law, and no public bodies have yet banned the company from bidding for EU and UK contracts while the case is ongoing.
The SFO said a court date had yet to be determined.