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9 November 2017

Two former Rolls-Royce executives have pleaded guilty to charges in the United States that they organised international bribes for more than a decade.

The case, which also involves three other people, relates to the company’s attempts to win a $145 million contract to power a gas pipeline from Kazakhstan to China. It comes 10 months after Rolls-Royce agreed to pay a total of $800 million to resolve bribery investigations in the UK, US and Brazil.

James Finley, formerly responsible for energy sales at Rolls, has pleaded guilty to two charges, including conspiring to violate the foreign corruption laws. Fellow former senior executive Keith Barnett has admitted a single conspiracy charge.

Rolls-Royce said it’s committed to “full ongoing co-operation” with the U.S. Department of Justice but cannot comment on actions against individuals.

Two of the other accused – an employee of a Rolls-Royce subsidiary and a gas consultant – have pleaded guilty to charges relating to the bribery. A fifth man, an oil and gas adviser, is facing 19 charges; including bribery and money laundering.

Investigations into Rolls-Royce began five years ago, when allegations of bribery emerged. Rolls-Royce started an internal inquiry and cooperated with the UK’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO).

Earlier this year, the SFO offered it a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) instead of prosecuting the company. The fact that a company is offered a DPA does not prevent its past or present employees being prosecuted for the wrongdoing.

Aziz Rahman, founder of Rahman Ravelli, said the US prosecution of former Rolls-Royce executives emphasises why obtaining a DPA can be so vital to a company.

He added: “For a company that is facing prosecution, a DPA is an attractive alternative. But to obtain one requires the right degree of cooperation and negotiation with the authorities – and a genuine will to put right the wrongs. The authorities have to be convinced that the company is genuinely keen to prevent any more illegal activity.

“This, however, does not mean that individuals working for the company will also escape prosecution. Which is why it is vitally important that anyone working for a company that comes under investigation must seek expert legal advice for themselves the moment they feel they may be implicated in the wrongdoing.

“It is an issue of corporate liability versus individual liability – and it is often the case that the individuals need to take the right steps to protect themselves while the company looks after its own interests.

“The fact that Rolls-Royce is not facing charges while its staff are shows the value of negotiation to secure a DPA. Rolls-Royce took steps to convince the UK authorities that prosecuting it was not the best option – and it paid off.’’


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