On 23 September 2013 the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) brought its first prosecution under the Bribery Act 2010 at Westminster Magistrates Court. The charges were brought against four individuals who are former employees of the bio fuel investment
promoter Sustainable ArgoEnergy Plc. The charges relate specifically to an SFO investigation in to the promotion and sale of bio fuel investment products, involving Jatropha tree plantations in South East Asia, by Sustainable ArgoEnergy Plc and Sustainable
Wealth Investments UK Ltd and associated companies to UK investors between April 2011 and February 2012. Sustainable ArgoEnergy Plc is a subsidiary of the Sustainable Growth Group, which went into administration in March 2012.
The four individuals, who are all British nationals, are charged with conspiring to commit a £23 million fraud by false representation and conspiracy to furnish false information contrary to section 1 of the Criminal Law Act 1977. Of the
four individuals charged, two directors and an independent financial advisor have also been charged with making and accepting a financial advantage contrary to sections 1(1) and 2(1) of the Bribery Act 2010.
Under the legislation the SFO has the power to prosecute either a company or an individual regardless of whether the bribe in question took place in the UK, as long as they have a link to the UK. Individuals can be sentenced to 10 years in
prison and companies face an unlimited fine for breaching the Bribery Act.
It may have taken the SFO some time to use its powers of prosecution but the current case should serve as a reminder for both officers of and corporate bodies that the Act is very much in force. The need to have adequate procedures in place
to avoid the prosecution by the SFO is becoming increasingly apparent.
The information and opinions contained in this article are not intended to be comprehensive, nor to provide legal advice. No responsibility for its accuracy or correctness is assumed by Berg or any of its partners or employees. Professional
legal advice should be obtained before taking, or refraining from taking, any action as a result of this article.