The Serious Fraud Office (the SFO) has secured its first convictions under the UK’s Bribery Act 2010 (the Act).

The Bribery Act 2010

The Act came into force on 1 July 2011 and repealed previous statutes in relation to bribery. The aim of the Act was to modernise and simplify the law on bribery to allow prosecutors and the courts to deal with it more effectively.

Section 1 of the Act creates the offence of bribing another person whereby, in certain circumstances, a person is guilty of an offence where they offer, promise or give a financial advantage to another person.

Section 2 of the Act creates offences relating to being bribed whereby the recipient or potential recipient of the bribe is, in certain circumstances, guilty of an offence.

The charges

The SFO’s investigations centred on the promotion and sale of ‘green biofuel’ products by Sustainable Growth Group (SGG) and in particular, one of its subsidiaries, Sustainable AgroEnergy plc (SAE). The products were sold to investors in the UK primarily investing via self-invested pension plans (SIPPs). In December2014, the Southwark Crown Court found that investors were deliberately misled into believing that:

  1. SAE owned land in Cambodia;
  2. the land was planted with Jatropha trees; and
  3. insurance policies protecting investors against failed crops were in place.

In total three men were convicted, with SAE’s former director and CCO and the director of a sales agent of unregulated pension and investment products used by SAE both receiving convictions relating to offences of making and accepting a financial advantage, contrary to sections 1(1) and 2(1) of the Act. Bribery was an aggregating feature in the cases and the defendants we also convicted of various other offences including conspiracy to commit fraud, conspiracy to furnish false information and fraudulent trading. They were sentenced to between 6 and 13 years imprisonment.

These were the first charges to be brought by the SFO under the Act.

In addition to the convictions under the Act, all three defendants were disqualified from being a director for 10 and 15 years respectively. The SGG group of companies was placed into administration in March 2012.

By Charlotte Baker