Diaries lead to 11 bribe convictions: Extraordinary trail of corruption uncovered by SFO shocks engineering world - Six men jailed

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The Independent Online
THE DISCOVERY in August 1990 of hundreds of pages of handwritten diaries led this week to the eleventh and final conviction in an extraordinary network of corruption in the engineering industry.

Robert Wilcox, of Colchester, pleaded guilty to conspiring to receive gifts in connection with contracts awarded to a subsidiary of NEI for the Sizewell B nuclear power station.

The guilty plea was the last link in a chain of bribery uncovered by the Serious Fraud Office in one of its most important recent investigations. But during the court cases, reporting restrictions prevented the whole picture being put together.

The corruption spread from BP and Shell's North Sea oilfield contracts through nuclear power stations as far as the Channel tunnel. It has now led to 14 prosecutions, 11 convictions, confiscation orders of pounds 1.2m to retrieve the proceeds of bribery, and jail sentences for six men totalling nearly 11 years. Three other men, including Wilcox, are awaiting sentence next month.

The investigations have rocked the engineering and oil industries, which fear they may prove to be the tip of an iceberg of malpractice.

The diaries belonged to Josef Szrajber. They were found after investigators bugged two meetings at the Inn on the Park hotel in London at which an attempt was made to bribe an Exxon engineer, Robert Wanstall. The approach, over lunch, had been made by Colin Stuart, managing director of Dutton Engineering. But Mr Wanstall tipped off his employers and a trap was laid at subsequent meetings. Mr Wanstall was wired for sound.

Szrajber appeared at the third of the meetings. Just beforehand, he had used his Barclaycard to withdraw pounds 7,000, which he handed to Mr Wanstall. As a result, Stuart was jailed and Szrajber given a suspended sentence.

But the key event was a search of Szrajber's files that turned up his diaries, showing he worked closely with Paolo Sorelli, a specialist in obtaining secret contract information by bribery. The diaries, along with Swiss bank statements and filched documents, also showed a network of information brokers.

Their most valuable commodity was secret details of the amounts submitted on contracts put out by BP, Transmanche Link, Shell and the Central Electricity Generating Board - information immensely valuable to any bidding company.

The diaries, and search warrants at companies named in them, led to charges against Shigeki Furatate of the Japanese company C Itoh, who was acquitted; and against Szrajber - for the second time - and Sorelli, who were convicted and jailed on seven counts of conspiracy to defraud.

In all, the case involved 11 of BP's North Sea contracts worth more than pounds 100m. The contractors were Mannesman, acting as agent for Thyssen, C Itoh, Marubeni, Sulzer and Borzig Valves. There were no charges against any companies.

The other prosecutions were not linked to Szrajber, but the trails started from his diaries.

A search at the home of a Mr X named in the diaries led to a raid on a Midlands engineering firm which turned up the name of three agents. One, Don Richards, is about to be sentenced in the NEI case.

A search of the home of the second, who was not charged, found a fax of a list of bids for valves for the Channel tunnel's piping which had come from the home address of Thomas East, a procurement manager with Humphreys and Glasgow who has been jailed for two years.

East had a cut from Terence Richmond, an agent with an agreement with Hoesch, a contractor, who got a suspended sentence of two years. And a search of Richards' premises showed he had an agreement with Wilcox and Colin Read, the other two awaiting sentence in the NEI case.

Finally, a separate trail led from the Szrajber diaries to bribery on a Shell contract for a floating accommodation platform for the Gannet field. John Napier had obtained contract information from Francis Hemsworth, a Shell employee, and both pleaded guilty and were jailed for a year. Roger Helm and Ronald Tuckey were acquitted.