13:02, February 22 257 0 theguardian.com

2019-02-22 13:02:06
Campaigners condemn closure of Rolls-Royce bribery inquiry

Anti-corruption campaigners have criticised prosecutors for closing a long-running investigation into the payment of multimillion-pound bribes by Rolls-Royce, Britain’s leading multinational manufacturer.

The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) announced on Friday that it had shut down its investigation to establish which senior executives were responsible for paying huge bribes to secure export contracts for Rolls-Royce, without charging anyone.

Two years ago, the multinational apologised and paid £671m in penalties after admitting large-scale bribery across three continents over three decades. However, the SFO continued investigating whether senior executives should be prosecuted.

A leading judge had found that the “truly vast corrupt payments” had, on the face of it, implicated senior management. One of those whom the SFO had interviewed under caution was Sir John Rose, the former chief executive. He had denied wrongdoing.

Campaigners at the anti-corruption group Transparency International said the closure of the investigation meant justice had not been served.

Robert Barrington, its executive director, said: “It is absurd that yet again a company can admit to bribery and yet neither the bribe payers nor the management team that allowed the crime to happen are held responsible.

“It is hard to believe that the interests of justice have been served or that there has been proper acknowledgement of the victims of the crime.”

The SFO also announced on Friday that it was closing down another major investigation into alleged corruption, by Britain’s biggest drugmaker, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).

Lisa Osofsky, the SFO’s director, said: “After an extensive and careful examination I have concluded that there is either insufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction or it is not in the public interest to bring a prosecution in these cases.” She gave no further details of her decision.

In January 2017, Rolls-Royce had agreed to pay the penalties after admitting that it had systematically used intermediaries to pay bribes to foreign politicians and officials to secure export contracts.

Sir Brian Leveson QC, the president of the Queen’s bench division of the high court, approved the terms of the agreement between Rolls-Royce and the SFO, which had been investigating for five years.

Leveson had found what he called “egregious criminality over decades”, adding that some of it “implicated senior management and, on the face of it, controlling minds” of Rolls-Royce.

The multinational admitted paying bribes in Indonesia, Thailand, India, Nigeria, Malaysia, China and Russia between 1989 and 2013. An investigation by the Guardian and the BBC reported in 2016 that Rolls-Royce had hired intermediaries to help it secure high-value contracts in at least 12 countries.

Under the agreement reached with the SFO – known as a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) – Rolls-Royce admitted wrongdoing and submitted to various measures to monitor its conduct over a specified period, and in return avoided being prosecuted as a corporate body.

Transparency International said that such DPAs were only successful when followed up with individual prosecutions against those responsible for the wrongdoing.

Barrington said: “This case is in danger of sending a message to companies that DPAs are a soft option for those engaging in serious corruption and that, at the right price, they can buy their way out of punishment, giving impunity to those who flagrantly broke the law.”

Rolls-Royce reached similar agreements with prosecutors in the US and Brazil in 2017. In contrast to the UK, the US Department of Justice announced two years ago that it was prosecuting five individuals for bribery, including two former Rolls-Royce executives.

The SFO’s investigation into GSK started in 2014 and had centred on payments to Chinese doctors to use its drugs. The firm had been earlier fined 3bn yuan (£342m) by Chinese authorities over the payments.


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