This week has seen a trio of significant "firsts" from the UK's Serious Fraud Office.
On Monday, November 30, the SFO announced that its first-ever Deferred Prosecution Agreement had been approved by the Southwark Crown Court. Pursuant to the DPA, Standard Bank Plc (now known as ICBC Standard Bank Plc) agreed to a suspended indictment for failure to prevent bribery contrary to section 7 of the Bribery Act 2010. The SFO noted that the charge under section 7 of the Bribery Act was a first, as well.
Today, the SFO announced that Sweett Group plc has admitted to an offense under Section 7 of the Bribery Act 2010 regarding conduct in the Middle East. This is the first admission the SFO has secured to date for failure to prevent bribery.
Section 7 has been perhaps the highest-profile provision of the Bribery Act 2010 since it was enacted. As I discussed back in 2012, Section 7 goes well beyond the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act to create a new strict liability for corporate entities that fail to prevent corruption (unless the company can demonstrate that it maintained “adequate procedures” to prevent bribery). Until this week, however, the SFO had not brought a single matter under Section 7. Barry Vitou, an attorney with Pinsent Mason and co-author of the excellent blog, thebriberyact.com, stated today that "[i]n spite of (some) hollow claims to the contrary law enforcement is actively seeking to enforce [the Brinbery Act]. These first cases are just the beginning."
With respect to the DPA with Standard Bank, SFO Director David Green CB QC said that it was a "landmark" that will serve as a template for future agreements. The judgment from Lord Justice Leveson provides very helpful guidance to those advising corporates...."