Firm led by Tory donor admitted failing to prevent corruption by executives between 2011 and 2017
Last modified on Mon 4 Oct 2021 11.29 EDT
A multinational firm that was headed by a Tory party donor has been fined £70m after admitting it used “systemic” bribery to secure large contracts.
The fine was imposed on Petrofac on Monday after it admitted to paying bribes to land multibillion pound contracts in three Middle Eastern countries.
Prosecutors told the court the corruption was directed by senior executives and involved an intricate and opaque system of fake invoices to channel bribes through secret agents.
Judge Deborah Taylor said the corruption was “systemic, serious and grave” when she imposed the penalty at Southwark crown court in London. She also ordered Petrofac to pay a further £7m in legal costs.
Petrofac had pleaded guilty to seven counts of failing to prevent senior former executives from offering or paying bribes to obtain the contracts in Saudi Arabia, Iraq and UAE between 2011 and 2017.
The firm was headed by Ayman Asfari during those years. He and his wife have donated almost £800,000 to the Conservative party in a personal capacity.
Official documents have detailed how David Cameron, after he had stepped down as prime minister, and Theresa May, while she was in Downing Street, had lobbied the Bahraini royal family to give Petrofac a contract.
Another Conservative minister, Liam Fox, had also lobbied for the firm after it was announced in 2017 that it was being investigated by the Serious Fraud Office for bribery and money laundering.
David Lufkin was the only senior Petrofac executive who admitted being involved in the bribery. The 54-year-old former global head of sales pleaded guilty to 14 counts of bribery to win contracts worth £5.5bn in the three Middle Eastern countries between 2012 and 2018.
The judge accepted that he had cooperated with the SFO and supplied important information to prosecutors. This included evidence that Petrofac had paid bribes in 12 unidentified countries to win contracts. Lufkin was given a two-year jail sentence, which was suspended.
John Kinnear, the SFO’s QC, had told the court that Lufkin had helped organise the payment of bribes totalling £57m on the instructions of two senior Petrofac executives.
One cannot be identified by the media. The other was Maroun Semaan, Petrofac’s co-founder who has since died. His family has denied that he was involved in corruption.
Clare Montgomery, QC for Petrofac, argued that the multinational firm, which designs and builds facilities for the oil and gas industry, had admitted the corruption and was now a different company under new management.
She told the court that the new management accepted responsibility for the corruption, but that a large number of employees “don’t accept any responsibility and are not willing to be identified”.
After legal representations last week, Taylor ruled that a number of individuals linked to Petrofac could not be identified by the media.
The SFO said its investigation was continuing. After the sentencing, George Havenhand, of the campaign group Spotlight on Corruption, said: “While we welcome the fact that the SFO has successfully prosecuted Petrofac, it would be a travesty of justice if those who directed and most profited from the bribery scheme do not face a robust investigation and prosecution.”
Asfari and Semaan co-founded Petrofac in 1991. Asfari was its chief executive for nearly two decades until he stepped down at the end of last year. He is currently a non-executive director and its largest shareholder.
In May 2017, the SFO arrested and interviewed Asfari along with others. He was released without charge.
Whitehall documents obtained by the Guardian showed how Cameron promoted Petrofac during a two-day visit to Bahrain in January 2017 where he met the state’s crown prince. He was flown back to Britain on a plane belonging to Asfari.
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