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.