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Bridge designer and manufacturer fined £3.5m over bribes

International bridge designer and manufacturer Mabey & Johnson has been fined £3.5M for breaching UN sanctions against Iraq and systematically bribing foreign officials with so-called “white man’s handshakes”.

Mabey & Johnson’s “culture of kickbacks” was said to have struck at the very heart of the United Nations’ oil-for-food programme designed to make life easier for Saddam Hussein’s people.

Their backhanders to the state, combined with those from other companies “all over the world could be used for purposes severely detrimental to the proclaimed interests of the UK and, indeed, the UN”, said Judge Geoffrey Rivlin QC.

London’s Southwark Crown Court heard that altogether the specialist bridge-building firm - which was also ordered to pay a £1.1M confiscation order and a prosecution costs contribution of £350,000 - parted with sweeteners totalling £1 million. It is thought to have helped it harvest contracts worth £60M.

The court heard that the company first started paying backhanders in Jamaica in 1993. Later it bribed ministers and others with a specially set up “slush fund” in Ghana.

One official alone received £100,000, effectively doubling his salary, while the son of another - a university student in Britain - was given a £500 cheque. Finally, the Reading-based company - owned by one of the wealthiest families in Britain - began breaching the oil for food programme.

The practices came to light when Mabey & Johnson confessed its wrongdoing to the Serious Fraud Office. It triggered the first prosecution of its kind in Britain and the first US-style plea bargaining negotiations.

The subsequent investigation showed that it had also paid bribes to “individuals of influence” in Madagascar, Angola, Mozambique and Bangladesh.

The company admitted two counts of conspiracy to corrupt in Ghana and Jamaica between January 1, 1993, and January 31, 2001. It also pleaded guilty to “making funds available” - more than £365,000 - to Iraq between May 1, 2001, and November 1, the following year.




Readers' comments (3)

  • Well done, I guess, for confessing.

    This is only the tip of the ice berg. More companies should come forward.

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  • This didn't just start in 1993, it has been going on for years. Its right that it should stop but when I was working in the overseas construction market in the early 80s we were frequently told that the Italians, French and Japanese were the top payers. Are they being reigned in as well?

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  • Welcome to the real world!!
    This goes on almost in every corner on this planet, or as one comment suggests, the Italians, French and Japanese are top payers. If british companies want to compete for jobs they have to follow the same practice
    It is ignorant to suggest that large infrastructure projects around the world are won purely on merits, be it with british contractors or not.
    And where does the money goes in now? to the people of the countries who lost out on value because of the corruption or to the UK goverment? If it goes to the goverment then what is the whole point of the fines?

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