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Business Comment

Jim Armitage: Agents of their own destruction – at last?


Outlook As British firms pour back into corruption-prone Iran in the hope of an imminent end to sanctions, a little-noticed Supreme Court judgment brings some cheer to their stressed compliance departments.

The case involved an agent used by a group of investors to buy them a luxury hotel in Monaco. Unbeknownst to the buyers, the seller of the property paid their agent a secret €10m (£8m) “fee” to get the deal done. When the new owners found out about the bung, they sued the agent’s company for the cash. The trouble was, only the chap who’d taken the money was liable to pay it back. That was no good: he’d already gone bust and spent the money.

But now the investors have won the right in the Supreme Court to go after the agent’s employers and dig the fee back from its deeper pockets.

With a bit of luck, the ruling will make foreign agents’ employers all look a bit more closely at how their operatives ply their trade.

And that will make it safer for British firms winning business in racier parts of the globe.