It took over three years but the UK's Serious Fraud Office finally obtained its first convictions under the UK Bribery Act this week.
The U.K. Bribery Act became effective in July 2011, with considerable hype about how its strict rules might affect companies not only in the U.K. but also in the U.S. and globally. Until this week, however, the primary enforcer of the UK Bribery Act--the SFO--still had not obtained a single conviction under that law.
On Friday, December 5, the SFO announced that two men had been found guilty that day of offenses under the Act. The convictions related to the SFO's investigation into a company called Sustainable Growth Group and certain of its subsidiaries. According to the SFO, the case focused on a subsidiary known as SAE and the selling and promotion of SAE investment products based on "green biofuel" Jatropha tree plantations in Cambodia. The green biofuel products were sold to UK investors who invested primarily via self-invested pension plans (SIPPs). These investors were deliberately misled into believing that SAE owned land in Cambodia; that the land was planted with Jatropha trees, and that there was an insurance policy in place to protect investors if the crops failed.
The SFO noted that in addition to these false representations, two men named Gary West and Stuart Stone conspired to use false e-mail addresses to produce bogus sales invoices of over £3m. According to the SFO, Stone obtained commission rates of 65% on investor's funds from the invoices, and West received bribes for his role in causing the false invoices to be created. Both men were convicted under the UK Bribery Act, as well as other criminal statutes.
West, Stone and another defendant will be sentenced at Southwark Crown Court on Monday, December 8, 2014. The SFO stated that it will pursue confiscation orders against all three defendants.
Barry Vitou, a partner at law firm Pinsent Masons LLP who is the author of thebriberyact.com blog, told the WSJ that the case represented "an early Christmas present for the SFO.” Vitou said that in 2015, he expected the SFO to seek to (a) bring a criminal prosecution against a corporate defendant, or (b) enter into a deferred prosecution agreement under the UK Bribery Act.