23 March 2018
The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has published a press release announcing it has charged four men with offences of conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation and conspiracy to furnish false information, contrary to section 1 of the Criminal Law Act 1977 (CLA 1977). It has also charged three of those four men with offences of making and accepting a financial advantage, contrary to sections 1(1) and 2(1) of the Bribery Act 2010 (Act). These are the first charges to be brought by the SFO under the Act.
The charges relate to an SFO investigation into the promotion and sale of bio fuel investment products, involving Jatropha tree plantations in South East Asia, by Sustainable Agroenergy Plc and Sustainable Wealth Investments UK Ltd and associated companies to UK investors. The value of the alleged fraud is approximately £23 million and the offences are alleged to have taken place between April 2011 and February 2012. The Sustainable Growth Group group of companies was placed into administration in March 2012. As yet there is no information as to the value of the alleged bribe, or as to the nature of the “improper performance,” but the current assumption is that the allegations relate to commercial and domestic bribery.
The case also provides an important reminder that the Act is not limited to overseas public sector bribery, and company directors, members of company boards, and financial advisers can all be held accountable for their actions.