Contract fraud probes pile up: North Sea contracts have figured in the SFO's investigations

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CONTRACTS awarded by British Petroleum are at the centre of charges of alleged corruption against Shigeki Furatate, a London-based executive of the Japanese conglomerate C Itoh, next month at Southwark Crown Court.

The case will be followed by others in the wake of a number of separate investigations by the Serious Fraud Office and Metropolitan Police into alleged abuses of contract tendering involving large British and overseas companies. The volume of cases being investigated by the SFO may suggest that bribery and corruption is more widespread in British industry than previously thought.

Three men, including John Napier, a former marketing manager with Amec subsidiary Matthew Hall, face trial on alleged corruption charges in the award of a contract for a North Sea accommodation vessel for Shell UK.

Thomas East, formerly a procurement supervisor with engineering company Humphreys & Glasgow when it was owned by US group Enserch, has been charged with various offences relating to contracts awarded by H&G for valves and other equipment used in the Channel tunnel. At the time, H&G was acting as managing contractor for Transmanche Link, the Anglo-French group building the tunnel. In a more recent development, three men, including Robert Wilcox and Colin Read, two former senior executives with NEI Thompson Kennicott, were charged last month with conspiracy to corrupt over contracts awarded by the company, which specialises in water treatment.

In February 1992, after investigations going back more than a year, the former managing director of a Wrexham- based engineering company pleaded guilty to corruption involving contracts awarded by the chemicals division of Exxon, the US oil giant.

Some of the inquiries have centred on the role of 'information brokers', middle men who passed on information helpful to companies in winning big contracts. In some cases, a company bidding for a contract would put in a tender that was allegedly deliberately deficient in some way. The company hoping to award the contract would then open discussions to clarify the tender and enough information would then filter out via middle men to enable a bidding company to make crucial last- minute alterations, including its price, to win the contract.

Last week, two businessmen who bribed senior BP staff were found guilty of seven charges of conspiracy. They will be sentenced later this month.

Josef Szrajber, 71, a Mayfair-based commissioning agent, and Paolo Sorelli, of Bayswater, sold information to foreign engineering companies, which then won contracts from BP worth pounds 100m.

The two men received commissions of between 2 and 3 per cent from tendering companies between 1988 and 1990 and netted a total of pounds 1.7m between them. (Photograph omitted)