The UK has announced the closure of its probe into corruption charges against senior executives of British aerospace and defence major Rolls-Royce in India and six other countries.
Serious Fraud Office (SFO), the UK government’s investigation authority, which also closed a long-running probe against pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, said in a statement on Friday that the cases had little chance of a successful prosecution and were being closed after nearly six years.
Rolls-Royce had become embroiled in allegations of bribery and corruption to win business in seven countries, including India, Indonesia, Thailand, Russia, Nigeria, China and Malaysia.
The SFO’s inquiry had already been underway for around four years when it reached a plea deal with the company in 2017, which resulted in the company paying out a fine of nearly 500 million pound for misconduct spanning three decades.
“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,” SFO director Lisa Osofsky said in the statement.
“In the Rolls-Royce case, the SFO investigation led to the company taking responsibility for corrupt conduct spanning three decades, seven jurisdictions and three businesses, for which it paid a fine of 497.25 million pound,” she said.
The investigation into Rolls-Royce Plc resulted in a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA) with the company and one of its subsidiaries.
The DPA, used for fraud, bribery and other economic crime in the UK, is an agreement which allows prosecution to be suspended for a defined period provided the organisation meets certain specified conditions.
The charges relating to India in the case involved “concealment or obfuscation of the use of intermediaries” to facilitate the company’s defence business in India between 2005 and 2009, at a time when the use of intermediaries was restricted by the Indian authorities.
It also involved charges that a “corrupt payment” had been made in 2006-2007 to recover a list of intermediaries in India.
However, the SFO concluded this week that “following further investigation, a detailed review of the available evidence and an assessment of the public interest, there will be no prosecution of individuals associated with the company”.
A UK-based Indian-origin father-son businessmen duo, Sudhir and Bhanu Choudhurie, arrested as part of the investigation into bribery allegations at Rolls-Royce back in 2014 and then released without charge, said they were “delighted” by the final outcome.
“We have always maintained our innocence and today’s announcement vindicates us,” they said in a joint statement.
“For five long years we have had this hanging over us and it has had a huge impact on us, on our families and on our business interests. We now look forward to getting on with the rest of our lives with our reputations intact,” the statement added.
Alongside the Rolls-Royce investigation, the SFO also announced the closure of another long-running probe into the “commercial practices” of pharmaceutical major GlaxoSmithKline, stating similar reasons.
The UK’s anti-corruption body, Transparency International, described the SFO’s move as “absurd”.
“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,” said Robert Barrington, Executive Director, Transparency International UK.
“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, can buy their way out of punishment giving impunity to those who flagrantly broke the law,” he said.