The Serious Fraud Office launched a formal inquiry into one of the UK’s oldest surveying firms yesterday following bribery claims about a $100m (£58m) project to build a hospital in Morocco. The investigation centres on claims that a Sweett director told architects HLW, which was chasing the $5.6m contract to design the hospital in 2010, it would have to pay 3.5 per cent of the contract to officials inside the personal foundation of the United Arab Emirates president Khalifa bin Zayed al Nahyan.
HLW initially paid but then stopped the payment on legal advice, according to The Wall Street Journal, where the claims emerged a year ago.
Sweett hired law firm Pinsent Masons last year to investigate but closed the original inquiry in January with allegations “unproven”. But a second inquiry, this time by the legal firm Mayer Brown, found “material instances of deception may have been perpetrated by a former employee or employees”, between 2009 and 2011.
The former employee was based in Sweett’s Dubai office. It is “co-operating fully” with the SFO, although it is understood no senior staff have yet been interviewed.
Sweett’s latest accounts show the firm has had to pay £490,000 for the two investigations. It has yet to make any provision for potential fines related to the bribery claims, saying as yet there was insufficient evidence.