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Sweett Group could face large fine as sentencing on Middle East bribery case set to be heard

Sweett Group will today discover the size of the fine it has to pay after a Serious Fraud Office investigation uncovered bribes paid by its Middle East subsidiary to a local company in relation to a luxury hotel development in Dubai.

The consultancy, which closed its Middle East business earlier this year, admitted to an offence under the Bribery Act last December following a year-long SFO probe.

Sweett has already agreed to pay around £830,000 in confiscated profits from the deal to which the offence relates.

However, the additional fine to be handed down by Judge Martin Beddoe at Southwark Crown Court later today could be as high as £2.5m.

Sentencing was expected last week, but the case was adjourned after the court heard details of the offence.

According to prosecutors, the bribes were paid to a firm known as North Property Management, operated by local businessman Khaled Al Badie.

A spokesman for Mr Al Badie said he “strongly denies any wrongdoing”.

He added: “Any engagement [with Sweett Group] was under a properly constituted legal contract. Mr Al Badie has not been interviewed or indeed approached by the SFO. He has no knowledge of the motivation behind the agreement between Sweett Group and the SFO.”

Sweett Group has undergone wholesale changes since 2013, when the incident took place.

In addition to the closure of its Middle East office, it has also sold its Asia Pacific and India businesses to construction consultancy Currie & Brown in a deal worth £9.3m.

Speaking to Construction News last year, chief executive Douglas McCormick said the group was keen to draw a line under the SFO probe.

“There’s a great deal of work we have done already in terms of governance and compliance,” Mr McCormick said, who took over as CEO in March 2015 following the retirement of predecessor Dean Webster. “There’s a new look to the board and a new feel to it.”

In its half-year financial results covering the period to September 2015, the group revealed a pre-tax loss of £500,000 including £900,000 on expenses relating to the SFO investigation. Revenue for the half year was £30.2m.

In its full-year 2014/15 results, the group revealed a loss of £1.1m on the back of revenue of £88.3m.

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