Three individuals have been convicted following a Serious Fraud Office (SFO) investigation into the promotion of unregulated pension and investment products based on green biofuel by Sustainable Growth Group (‘SGG’) including its subsidiary companies, Sustainable AgroEnergy plc (‘SAE’) and Sustainable Wealth (UK) Investments Ltd (‘SWI’). The investments were sold to UK investors primarily via self-invested pension plans (SIPPS). The charges and convictions against two of the individuals under the Bribery Act 2010 were the first secured by the SFO since the Act came into force in 2011. Other individuals have been convicted of breaching the Bribery Act in separate cases brought by the Crown Prosecution Service. Sentences in the case were handed down on 8 December 2014 in Southwark Crown Court:
- Gary Lloyd West, former Director and Chief Commercial Officer of SAE was sentenced to a total of 13 years’ imprisonment;
- James Brunel Whale, Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of SGG was sentenced to a total of 9 years’ imprisonment; and
- Stuart John Stone, of Shropshire, a sales agent of unregulated pension and investment products was sentenced to a total of 6 years’ imprisonment.
Both Mr West and Mr Whale were disqualified from being a director for 15 years whilst Mr Stone was disqualified for 10 years.
As noted in our earlier blog post, the Bribery Act offences appeared, in this case, secondary to the principal charges of conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation and to furnish false information, and of fraudulent trading. The bribery was referred to by HHJ Beddoe as an aggravating feature. Having said this, the case is notable as the first prosecution under the Bribery Act to be brought by the SFO. Offences were committed under sections 1(1) and 1(2), and sections 2(1) and (2) – both the “active” and the “passive” offences. Sentences of six years (to run concurrently with sentences for other counts) were given for each of the active offences, and four years (again, to run concurrently) for the passive offences.
Spectators continue to await a first corporate prosecution with interest. In particular, any prosecution under section 7 of the Act may bring further clarity on the scope of the adequate procedures defence – an area where the current lack of case-law means a heavy reliance upon the non-binding statutory guidance of the Ministry of Justice.