News & what's on - Written by on Wednesday, October 23, 2013 14:10 - 0 Comments

Corporate charged with corruption in UK

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david-bio“A UK based printing company specialising in security documents such as ballot papers, as well as four individuals, appeared in court on corruption charges today.

Smith & Ouzman Limited, two of its directors, an employee and one agent have been charged by the Serious Fraud Office with offences of corruptly agreeing to make payments totaling nearly half a million pounds, contrary to section 1 Prevention of Corruption Act 1906.  It is alleged that these payments were used to influence the award of business contracts to the company.”

Said an SFO Press release issued today.

On its website, Smith & Ouzman describes itself as having “a history in print dating back to 1845. Originally based in the city of London, our heritage lies in security and financial print.

Still independently owned , over the years the business has continued to invest, develop and expand and now employs over 100 highly skilled and trained staff and the latest technology in our secure purpose built site on the South Coast.

The family business is now in its fourth generation and has grown into a multi-million pound organisations serving clients ranging from FTSE 100 companies to Banks, high street retailers, examining bodies, local authorities and government departments across the world.”

We have, on occasion been told by SME’s that there is less concern about the Bribery Act and anti-corruption laws where they are concerned.  The SFO are only after the big fish. They are small fry.

The SFO charges today serve as a reminder that they are 110%, WRONG.

Of course, time will tell and a court will decide in this case.

But. The charges today serve to illustrate that contrary to popular belief the SFO are *VERY* interested in the conduct of SME’s.

David Green CB QC  the SFO Director (who we shall be interviewing tomorrow at our conference) is often quoted as saying that it is amazing that the email trail goes cold before it gets to the main Board.  This, he argues is why the UK corporate crime laws should be updated to make it easier to prosecute corporates.

There is an argument here when it comes to large corporations with many layers of management and diffuse operations around the globe.

But for SME’s the risks are much much higher.

Management structures are flat, Directors are hands on and there are few if any layers between the coal face and the Board.  In these circumstances it’s much easier for a prosecutor to allege there is a direct link from the Board to wrongdoing.  They don’t have the limitless resources of Fortune 500 companies to tie investigators and prosecutors up in knots either.

Put another way, if SME takes the view that it can get away with murder because law enforcement is focussed on the big fish think about this:

The first corporate prosecution in the UK on overseas corruption related matters was against an SME family owned business not a corporate monolith.

If you are an SME, please do not kid yourself.

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