GSK… may be on British Serious Fraud Office’s hit list

GSK, Rolls-Royce may be on British Serious Fraud Office’s hit list

Glaxo and Rolls-Royce may be on the hit list as a new policy will make it easier to deal with cases involving malpractice overseas efficiently

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 February, 2014, 10:53am
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 February, 2014, 12:05am
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GlaxoSmithKline may be one of the likely targets in the bribery probes launched by Britain’s Serious Fraud Office. Photo: AP

Britain’s Serious Fraud Office plans to prosecute or fine some companies for engaging in bribery overseas, and analysts said some cases might involve mainland China, with GlaxoSmithKline and Rolls-Royce as likely targets.

“We have a number of cases in mind but need to look at all the facts,” a spokesman with the fraud office told the South China Morning Post.

The Bribery Act seeks to punish Britain-linked firms for bribery overseas, and a new policy by the office announced this month could make it easier to deal with such cases efficiently.

We are investigating cases that risk being overlooked as too difficult

The timing of the prosecutions and fines would depend on the circumstances of individual cases, the spokesman said.

In a speech in November quoting Chinese President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption slogan “Striking tigers as well as flies”, Ben Morgan, the joint head of bribery and corruption at the office, said: “We are investigating the types of cases that risk being overlooked as too difficult or too sensitive.”

Rob Elvin, a Britain-based managing partner of law firm Squire Sanders, said: “We assume this includes GlaxoSmithKline and Rolls-Royce.”

Beijing is probing GSK, the largest British drug firm, for alleged bribery in mainland China.

In December 2012, Rolls-Royce, which makes civil and military jet engines and power generation equipment, said it had passed information to the fraud office relating to bribery, in response to the office’s request for information about allegations of malpractice in Indonesia and mainland China.

The British company said it had identified “matters of concern” in mainland China, Indonesia and other countries.

A Rolls-Royce spokesman declined to comment on media reports that businessman Sudhir Choudhrie and his son Bhanu were arrested in London this month as part of the office’s investigation into alleged bribery in Indonesia and mainland China by the firm.

The spokesman also declined to comment on reports in London’s Daily Telegraph that the fraud office’s probe included contracts won by Rolls-Royce after the Bribery Act came into force in 2011.

“If any investigation [by the fraud office] did uncover problems after July 1, 2011, they could be covered by the Bribery Act, which makes it easier to prosecute,” said Barry Vitou, a partner at law firm Pinsent Masons, referring to the Rolls-Royce concerns.

Analysts said the office’s new deferred prosecution agreement policy would speed up prosecution of corruption cases. From Monday, these agreements for economic crimes would be available to British prosecutors, the office said last week.

A deferred prosecution agreement is one between the prosecutor and a company that allows prosecution to be suspended for a period of time, provided the firm meets certain conditions.

The fraud office’s director David Green said such an agreement sought to avoid damaging the company too much, which would hurt employees and shareholders.

The new policy was significant as it provided additional tools for prosecutors, said Andrew Dale, a partner at law firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe.

These agreements would potentially enable the fraud office to resolve more investigations more efficiently, said Keith Williamson, head of forensic and dispute services for Asia at Alvarez & Marsal, an international professional services firm. “We may see a [spate] of resolutions, either settlements or prosecutions,” he said.

Deferred prosecution agreements would encourage companies to voluntarily report corruption within their ranks to the fraud office, Williamson said.

Elvin said: “[These] agreements are most certainly significant. They allow commercial organisations to settle allegations of criminal economic activity without being prosecuted and without any formal admission of guilt. [They] provide a cost-efficient and quick means of addressing financial crime by corporates.”

However, British authorities were likely to still prosecute the most serious economic crimes, he said.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as UK fraud office probes firms over bribery

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