Two former directors of engineering firm Mabey & Johnson received custodial sentences today, having been found guilty earlier this month of inflating the prices paid under humanitarian contracts to provide steel bridges to ensure that kickbacks of over Euros 420,000 could be paid to Saddam Hussein’s government.

The directors, Charles Forsyth and David Mabey, who were respectively the Managing Director and Sales Director of the firm, were found guilty of making the illegal payments in 2001 and 2002. Another employee, Richard Gledhill, had pleaded guilty to offences relating to breaching United Nations sanctions and subsequently gave evidence for the prosecution.

Forsyth was sentenced to 21 months imprisonment for his role, disqualified from acting as a company director for five years and ordered to pay £75,000 towards the costs of the prosecution.
Mabey was sentenced to eight months imprisonment, disqualified from acting as a company director for two years, and ordered to pay costs of £125,000.

Gledhill, in recognition of his guilty plea and the assistance that he gave the prosecution, received a lesser sentence of eight months imprisonment, suspended for two years (which means that he will not spend any time in prison, so long as he remains out of trouble for the next two years). Details of the convictions and sentences are now available on the SFO website.

These sentences send a strong message that, even before the Bribery Act comes into force later this year, the enforcement authorities in the United Kingdom are taking acts of corruption and bribery by individuals very seriously. This was emphasised by the judge who said, as he was passing sentence, that if “a director of a major company plays even a small part, he can expect to receive a custodial sentence” and was echoed by the SFO Director Richard Alderman, who emphasised the SFO’s determination to go after individuals who break the law in this way. However, it is interesting that although Mabey & Johnson Ltd admitted being involved in paying bribes in Ghana and Jamaica, no individual has been charged with involvement in paying those bribes.

It could be that it is easier for the prosecution to secure a conviction against an individual for breach of UN sanctions than it would be to get a conviction under the present antiquated UK laws that criminalise corruption.