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U.K. Bribery Charges in the Offing for France's Alstom

Roberta Holland | February 26, 2014

Bloomberg News reported last week that French train manufacturer Alstom SA will be charged with violating U.K. bribery laws following a five-year investigation, citing two sources with knowledge of the investigation.

The sources, who requested anonymity, told the news outlet that the U.K.'s Serious Fraud Office may seek charges to be approved by the attorney general in the next few weeks.

No official statement has been made by the SFO, but its director hinted in a recent interview that charges might be in the offing in the Alstom investigation, which began five years ago.

“We inherited this investigation,” SFO Director David Green, who took the reins of the agency in 2012, told Bloomberg earlier this month. “It has been given resource and tight focus. I anticipate significant developments in due course.”

Officers with the SFO raided Alstom offices and residences of company directors in 2010, when three Alstom board members in the U.K. were arrested on suspicion of bribery and corruption, conspiracy to pay bribes, money laundering, and false accounting, according to a press release issued by the SFO at the time. The SFO said it suspected companies within the Alstom group of paying bribes to win contracts overseas, in conjunction with money laundering and other violations. Bloomberg reported that one of the three directors arrested has since died, and a defense lawyer reported that charges were dropped against the other two.

The U.K. Bribery Act covers offenses committed both within and outside of the U.K. if the offending company or individual has a strong U.K. connection.

Based in Levallois-Perret, France, Alstom is a leading manufacturer of trains and power generation equipment with offices around the world. The company has faced other corruption investigations elsewhere, including in Switzerland and Brazil. In 2011, Alstom was fined 38.5 million Swiss francs for lapses in its compliance program. The Swiss attorney general said those lapses, including a lack of enforcement and adequate compliance staffing, allowed company officials to commit bribery in Latvia, Tunisia, and Malaysia, according to reports in the Wall Street Journal.

In Brazil, Alstom is facing an ongoing probe into charges the company paid $10 million in bribes to win contracts for the Sao Paulo metro system. Last week a judge signaled the start of criminal proceedings in that case. Judge Marcelo Costenaro Cavali told Agence France-Presse he has begun criminal proceedings against 11 former public and Alstom officials and consultants for corruption and money laundering in connection with the case. Assets worth $26 million have been frozen during the investigation, which also involves other companies in a purported price-fixing scheme, including Germany's Siemens and Spain's CAF, AFP reported.