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SFO Plea Plans Hit as Judge Jails Exec

Global Glimpses | April 15, 2010

Efforts by the U.K.’s Serious Fraud Office to use plea bargaining as a way of dealing with financial crime were dealt a further blow this week when a judge jailed an executive who had cooperated with the agency.

Robert Dougall, a former marketing director at Johnson & Johnson subsidiary DePuy International, admitted that he was involved in making corrupt payments of £4.5m ($6.9 million) to people working for the Greek state health system.

The SFO requested a suspended sentence for Dougall, arguing that he was the first “cooperating defendant” in a major corruption investigation and “provided substantial assistance” to the agency, which is still investigating others suspected of involvement.

But the judge in the case, Mr, Justice Bean, ignored the SFO and jailed Dougall for 12 months, making him the first U.K. executive to get a prison sentence for overseas bribery.

The judge said he accepted the public policy interest in encouraging cooperation from defendants, but added, “It does not justify a suspended sentence in a case where corruption was systemic and long term and involved several million pounds in corrupt payments.”

Efforts to create a US..-style system of plea bargaining are a key part of the SFO’s strategy for getting tougher on corruption and serious financial crime.

But last month an angry judge heavily criticized the SFO for a plea deal it reached in a case involving Innospec, a chemicals company that pleaded guilty to paying bribes in Indonesia. In a landmark ruling, Lord Justice Thomas, the U.K.’s deputy head of criminal justice, said the SFO "had no power to enter into the arrangements made, and no such arrangements should be made again.”