Fix­ers purged in a crack­down on for­eign deals

As in­ves­ti­ga­tors take aim at bribery around the world...

Daily Mail - - City & Finance - by Rachel Mil­lard and Vic­to­ria Ibitoye

AN IN­ter­NA­tIONAL crack­down on us­ing fix­ers who bribe gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials and firms to win for­eign con­tracts has led to ma­jor shake-ups at some of Bri­tain’s big­gest com­pa­nies.

the Se­ri­ous Fraud Of­fice and other law en­force­ment agen­cies are tar­get­ing the ac­tions of mid­dle­men who have been used by UK firms for decades to help set up deals in Asia and Africa.

the use of agents who un­der­stand lo­cal busi­ness cul­tures and can in­tro­duce com­pany rep­re­sen­ta­tives to key gov­ern­ment fig­ures has long been viewed as part and par­cel of do­ing trade in some parts of the world.

All too of­ten com­pa­nies were pre­pared to turn a blind eye to the tac­tics used in or­der to open doors. But the in­tro­duc­tion of new bribery laws and a clam­p­down on cor­po­rate be­hav­iour has thrown their ac­tions un­der the spot­light.

ear­lier this month, the SFO in­formed Bri­tish Amer­i­can to­bacco that it had opened a for­mal in­ves­ti­ga­tion into its deal­ings fol­low­ing al­le­ga­tions in a BBC Panorama pro­gramme that it paid bribes in east Africa in an ef­fort to un­der­mine anti-smok­ing laws.

A whis­tle-blower who worked for the com­pany in Kenya for 13 years claimed il­le­gal pay­ments were made to politi­cians and civil ser­vants in or­der to win their sup­port.

the in­ves­ti­ga­tion has prompted firms which op­er­ate in emerg­ing mar­kets to re­view or cut back on their use of agents, al­though the prac­tice is not gen­er­ally il­le­gal in it­self.

In a sep­a­rate case, the SFO is ex­am­in­ing claims of bribery, fraud and money-laun­der­ing at Mona­cobased engi­neer­ing group Unaoil. In­ves­ti­ga­tors are now look­ing into eight com­pa­nies with al­leged links to Unaoil, in­clud­ing Lon­don-listed Amec and Petro­fac.

It comes af­ter rolls- royce agreed a £671m set­tle­ment with the au­thor­i­ties for pay­ing bribes to win busi­ness around the world, in­clud­ing lav­ish­ing gifts on mid­dle­men in rus­sia, Nige­ria and In­dia. the engi­neer­ing com­pany has now cut agents for its aero­space di­vi­sion more than 90pc, re­plac­ing them with its own staff.

Firms are in­creas­ingly go­ing to for­eign em­bassies in­stead, or di­rect to fu­ture clients.

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