First SFO UK Bribery Act Convictions
Two businessmen, Gary West and Stuart Stone, were sentenced for Bribery Act offences yesterday at London's Southwark Crown Court as a result of the Serious Fraud Office’s ("SFO") investigation and prosecution of Sustainable Growth Group ("SGG"). The prosecution arose from the selling and promotion of investment products based on "green biofuel" plantations in Cambodia.
The SFO investigation had uncovered serious accounting irregularities within SGG. In addition to false representations being made to investors Gary West and Stuart Stone conspired to produce false sales invoices of over £3m, allowing Stuart Stone, a sales agent, to obtain commission rates of 65% on investor's funds.
These transactions were disguised using false e-mail addresses, Swiss bank accounts and overseas companies registered in the Seychelles and British Virgin Islands. Gary West received bribes for his role in the false invoices submitted by Stuart Stone.
Mr Stone was found guilty on two counts of bribery contrary to s. 1(1) and (2) of the Bribery Act 2010, and was sentenced to 6 years imprisonment for those offences. Mr West was found guilty on two counts of bribery contrary to s. 2(1) and (2) of the Bribery Act 2010, and was sentenced to 4 years imprisonment for those offences. Both were also sentenced for other fraud related offences, together with another businessman, James Whale.
Yesterday's sentences are the first for the SFO under the UK Bribery Act. It is likely that they will mark the start of a new era of anti-corruption enforcement in the UK. Although yesterday's sentences were for individuals who had paid and received bribes, the Bribery Act extends to businesses that become involved in corruption, and the UK authorities have made no secret of their desire to secure a corporate conviction. For corporates, this case reinforces the desirability of having in place up to date anti-corruption procedures which can operate as a defence to Bribery Act liability.
The length of the sentences also demonstrates how seriously the Court views corruption offences, and indicates how the Courts will interpret the Sentencing Council Guidelines for Fraud, Bribery and Money Laundering offences, which came into effect on 1 October 2014. It is interesting to note that although the Guidelines treat active bribery (section 1 offences) and passive bribery (section 2 offences) in the same way, the Court in this case imposed a longer custodial sentence in relation to the former.
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