- guardian.co.uk, Friday 25 September 2009 17.50 BST
A string of foreign politicians and officials were named as having received corrupt payments from a British firm today, as the company admitted it had systematically paid bribes around the world to win contracts.
The bridge-building firm, Mabey and Johnson, is the first major British company to be convicted of foreign bribery. Many of its contracts were financially supported by the British taxpayer.
The conviction by the Serious Fraud Office comes as the fraud agency turns its attention to a bigger target, BAE, Britain's biggest arms firm.
The SFO has given BAE until Wednesday to decide whether to bow to an ultimatum and agree to some version of a plea bargain over long-running corruption allegations.
Richard Alderman, the agency's director, has put his credibility on the line, and, according to Whitehall sources, is committed to asking law officers for consent to prosecute the arms giant if it fails to accept multimillion-pound penalties.
Today, at Southwark crown court, London, John Hardy QC for the SFO, revealed the names of 12 individuals in six countries alleged to have received bribes from the Reading-based Mabey and Johnson.
He said the company paid "a wide-ranging series of bribes" totalling £470,000 to politicians and officials in Ghana.
He identified five who travelled to Britain to collect sums of money from £10,000 to £55,000 from bank accounts in London and Watford.
Ministers and officials in Angola, Madagascar, Mozambique, Bangladesh, and Jamaica were also bribed, Hardy told the court.
Hardy said that over eight years, the firm gave £100,000 "to buy the favours" of Joseph Hibbert, a key Jamaican official in awarding contracts, one of them worth £14m.
The court was told how the firm, owned by one of Britain's richest families, paid bribes totalling £1m to foreign politicians and officials to get export orders valued at £60m to £70m through covert middlemen.
The Mabey family built up a fortune of more than £200m by selling steel bridges internationally.
The company also broke UN sanctions by illegally paying £363,000 to Saddam Hussein's government from 2001 – 2002.
This first conviction has been hailed as a landmark by the British government, which has been heavily criticised for failing to prosecute any UK firm for foreign bribery. Campaigners said the failure rendered the 1997 pledge to crack down on corrupt exporters worthless.
The firm will pay out more than £6.5m, including fines and reparations to foreign governments.
It pleaded guilty to corruption in a pioneering deal with the SFO. It is the first time the agency has concluded a US-style plea bargain with a firm accused of corruption overseas.
The company said it had reformed itself, stopped making corrupt payments, and got rid of five executives. Timothy Langdale, the firm's QC, said: "This is a new company. It is not the one which made these payments."
The SFO investigation continues to look into whether individuals should be prosecuted.
Overseas politicians and officials named as recipients of bribes from Mabey and Johnson
Ato Qarshie (former roads minister) £55,000
Saddique Bonniface (minister of works) £25,500
Amadu Seidu (former deputy roads minister) £10,000
Edward Lord-Attivor (chairman inter-city transport corp) £10,000
Dr George Sepah-Yankey (health minister) £15,000
Zina Andrianarivelo-Razafy (permanent representative at the UN) $5,000
Lt-Col Jean Tsaranasy (former public works minister) £33,000
Joseph Uriah Hibbert (former works minister) £100,0000
Antonio Gois (former general manager state bridges agency) $1.2 m
Joao Fucungo (former director state bridges agency) $13,000
Carlos Fragoso (former head of DNEP, directorate of roads and bridges) £286,000
Khandaker Rahman (chief engineer, roads & highways dept)