Against the odds: Salmon, barbecues & Maersk deal-making
The spectrum of what’s discretionary and truly necessary inexorably narrows.
Two cases of companies in trouble. First, the UK’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has charged project logistics specialist FH Bertling Ltd, and seven of its staff, with corruption.
The SFO has accused staff based in the UK, Italy, Germany and Africa of conspiring to bribe an agent of the Angolan state oil company, Sonangol, to advance FH Bertling’s business operations in Angola.
The staff concerned comprise a former managing director, four former directors, the sub-Saharan regional director and the CFO, according to media.
An investigation began in September 2014 into activities alleged to have taken place between January 2005 and December 2006.
Angola is the 12th most corrupt country in the world, according to Transparency International, and its state oil company accounts for half of the country’s GDP. Oil sales comprise 95% of Angola’s foreign exchange earnings.
At the time, Sonangol was headed by Manuel Vicent, who told the Financial Times in 2012 that he was not concerned if company policy put foreign companies in danger of breaking their own domestic corruption laws.
“It is their problem; they have to resolve it,” he said.
In June, Africa’s richest woman, the billionaire daughter of the president of Angola, Isabel Dos Santos, took the helm of Sonangol.
Bertling would not comment, but its website proclaims that it is “committed to conducting its business in an ethical manner, in accordance with the values and principles set out in its values and code of conduct”. It even offers an Ethics Helpline, open 24/7, to report violations.
The seven men facing charges will appear at London’s Westminster Magistrates Court next month.
Meanwhile, the second firm in the dock, Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics, has pleaded guilty to price-fixing and bid-rigging charges and agreed a $98.8m fine with the US Department of Justice.
The DoJ claimed that from 2000 to 2012, WWL and others conspired to fix prices for the shipment of automobiles to and from the US port of Baltimore.
Three other ro-ro carriers – K Line, CSV and NYK – have already settled in the car-carrying antitrust case – which is also being investigated by several other governments.
WWL chairman Håkan Larsson said in a statement: “It is with great regret that I conclude that our policies were not always followed as they should have been. We have supported this investigation throughout, and whilst it is a sad day, I am pleased to have reached this settlement with the DoJ.
“We will continue our work to meet the highest ethical standards. It is what we owe our customers as well as ourselves.”