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Petrofac admits failing to stop staff paying £32m in bribes to secure contracts

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Petrofac in London (Stefan Rousseau/PA) (PA Archive)
Petrofac in London (Stefan Rousseau/PA) (PA Archive)

Oil and gas services firm Petrofac has admitted failing to stop employees paying 44 million dollars (£32.6 million) in bribes to secure contracts in the Middle East.

The bribes won the company, whose biggest shareholder is a major Tory donor, business worth 3.66 billion dollars (£2.7 billion) in Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Southwark Crown Court heard.

Clare Montgomery QC, representing Petrofac, entered pleas to seven counts of failing to prevent bribery between October 2011 and May 2017 on the firm’s behalf on Friday.

Jonathan Kinnear QC, for the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), said: “The total contracts reflected in the seven counts were worth approximately 3.66 billion dollars and bribes of approximately 44 million dollars were paid by Petrofac to secure those contracts.”

Former Petrofac executive David Lufkin, 53, earlier pleaded guilty to 14 counts of bribery relating to payments of about 81 million dollars (£60 million) for contracts worth around 8.4 billion dollars (£6.24 billion).

Mr Kinnear said statements given by Lufkin to the SFO set out “in considerable detail the corruption he was involved in while employed by Petrofac” and the role of other employees at the firm over a six-year period.

Former global head of sales Lufkin was responsible for negotiating and paying bribes to corrupt agents in a “complex process to ensure the right payments were made to the right people at the right time”, he added.

The court heard, in one case, false invoices for non-existent Toyota Land Cruiser 4×4 vehicles were produced to pay the bribes.

Contracts secured through bribery included a 341 million dollar (£253 million) deal with Gazprom in Iraq after Lufkin was told in an email by an agent: “You won’t be successful without my help,” Mr Kinnear said.

Petrofac and Lufkin, from Tadworth, in Surrey, will be sentenced by Judge Deborah Taylor on Monday following the four-year probe by the SFO, which said it had reached an agreement with the company.

The court heard the parent company obtained a maximum of 24.5 million dollars (£18 million) from its subsidiaries as a result of, or in connection with, the offending and saved six million dollars (£4.5 million) by not having an effective compliance system.

The prosecution and defence have agreed a confiscation order should be made of £22,837,985 within three months.

Mr Kinnear suggested the judge could fine the firm 131.5 million dollars (£97 million) but said Petrofac cannot pay an immediate penalty because it would breach an agreement with the Treasury to repay money leant to the company during the Covid-19 crisis.

Ms Montgomery said Petrofac will have to re-finance but could raise between 90 and 110 million dollars (£66 million and £81 million), meaning it could pay a fine of £44 million after costs and confiscation of around £30 million.

She said the firm’s three most senior executives in court did not bear “personal responsibility” but accept “personal responsibility for making right what went wrong”.

She said the case had harmed Petrofac’s customers, the countries where it has done business and “the reputation of the UK”.

“There has been a profound change in the company and a change that is ongoing,” the barrister said.

“The SFO has accepted this is in essence a different company from the one that committed the offences.”

Tom Allen QC, representing Lufkin, said his client should be spared an immediate prison sentence.

He had shown “a real backbone when it came to facing up to the reality of the situation” and through his cooperation had “singlehandedly” provided the SFO with the material to bring the prosecution against Petrofac, said the lawyer.

The firm said in a statement last week all employees involved in the corrupt payments have left the business.

Chairman Rene Medori said: “This was a deeply regrettable period of Petrofac’s history.

“We are committed to ensuring it will never happen again.

“We have fundamentally overhauled our compliance regime, as well as the people, and the culture that supports it.

“Our comprehensive programme of corporate renewal has been acknowledged by the SFO.”

Petrofac, one of the world’s largest service providers to oil and gas producers, was formerly run by Ayman Asfari, a Conservative donor who with his wife has given about £800,000 to the party.

Former prime minister David Cameron promoted the company during a two-day stay in Bahrain in 2017, flying back from the country on a plane owned by Mr Asfari, the Guardian reported in 2019.

While serving as prime minister, Theresa May wrote to her Bahraini counterpart to support Petrofac’s bid for a contract in the country.

Shares in Petrofac rose about 24% following the news, boosting the value of the 19% of shares owned by Mr Asfari and his family by more than £16 million.

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