The UK-based building consultancy Sweett Group was hit with a £2.25 million (Dh11.9m) fine after being convicted of a bribery offence which took place in the UAE.
The company pled guilty to a charge of failing to prevent an act of bribery in December relating to securing a contract with the real estate arm of a local insurance company to build a hotel in Abu Dhabi.
The charge came following an investigation by the UK’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) into its activities in the UAE following the publication of an article by the Wall Street Journal published in July 2013. It alleged that a Sweett Group official had sought a kickback from a US-based architectural practice in return for the award of a contract to design a hospital in Morocco.
David Green, a director of the Serious Fraud Office, said: “Acts of bribery by UK companies significantly damage this country’s commercial reputation. This conviction and punishment sends a strong message that UK companies must take full responsibility for the actions of their employees and in their commercial activities act in accordance with the law.”
The affair has been a costly one for Sweett Group. Alongside the £2.25m in fines and confiscation orders imposed by the court, the company had incurred £2.6m (Dh13.8m) in costs relating to the SFO investigation and written £500,000 off the value of its Middle East business.
Earlier this month, it also announced that it is closing all four of its Middle East offices (in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Doha and Riyadh), employing a total of 90 staff, meaning further write downs and restructuring costs are likely.
Following the court’s sentencing, Douglas McCormick, the chief executive of Sweett Group, said the company’s “Middle East legacy issue is closed”.
He said that over the past year a new leadership team — including a new chief executive, chairman and finance director — had “addressed key issues” relating to the business including the withdrawal from the Middle East and the sale of its Asia Pacific and Indian businesses.
“We have strengthened our internal systems, controls and risk procedures,” he said.
The SFO said that its “investigation into individuals continues”.
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