British companies operating civil engineering contracts abroad are under investigation by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), NCE learned this week.
The SFO confirmed that they are looking at allegations made against 50 British companies and a number of these investigations relate to civil engineering contracts abroad. The UK, as a signatory to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's (OECD) anti-bribery convention is obliged to prosecute UK-based companies that engage in corrupt practices abroad.A spokesperson for the SFO said: 'Certainly it is the case that as a result of new legislation it is illegal to offer bribes or an inducement, for example, to win a contract. We have a register of allegations and some of these have evolved into fraud cases.' Engineering or construction companies are among those under investigation. Companies may legitimately win a contract, but find themselves blackmailed into paying cash to allow normal business to proceed. 'Many leaders remain who are corrupt,' says Transparacy International's Neill Stansbury. 'To bribe to win is one thing, but on site there may be extortion. Responding to the extortion is also a crime,' he said. Paul Tayor, from ICE's Professional Conduct Department, wants to ensure members do not mistakenly engage in corrupt practices. 'This is something we need to address - attitudes to corruption. There may be practices members are carrying that they may not realise are illegal. The code of professional conduct now lists corruption as an offence. Any form of involvement, either direct or indirect, would breach this rule. We want to stress the malign effect of bribery in these countries, and take a very hard line,' Tayor said.