Freshfields probe into OUP ends with £1.9m bribery fine

A joint UK and US Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer team carried out the internal investigation into Oxford University Press (OUP) which has led to £1.9m in fines against subsidiaries for making improper payments to win government contracts.


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Geoff Nicholas

A joint UK and US Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer team carried out the internal investigation into Oxford University Press (OUP) which has led to £1.9m in fines against subsidiaries for making improper payments to win government contracts.

The firm was instructed by OUP in May 2011 to conduct the internal probe after the World Bank alerted the publisher to the possibility of irregular payments to government officials for contracts to supply school textbooks during tenders in East Africa.

The deals, between 2007 and 2010, were financed by the World Bank whose investigators raised the alarm.

The Freshfields team worked with forensic accountants and presented its report to the WB and SFO, which this week issued a £1.9m fine and barred the subsidiaries for three years.

London partner Geoff Nicholas, head of the international commercial disputes group and co-head of the global investigations practice and senior associate Jonathan Brook worked in parallel with Washington duo, partner Tim Coleman and senior associate Jonathan Ware.

OUP chief executive Nigel Portwood said the publisher was “deeply concerned” at the wrongdoing.

On top of the fine, OUP is contributing £2m to non-profit organisations for teacher training and education in sub-Saharan Africa in “recognition” of the misconduct.

The case was taken to the High Court but was heard as a civil claim under the Proceeds of Crime Act, rather than a criminal Bribery Act prosecution.

This is because the allegations were between 2007 and 2010 – before the new Bribery Act came into force – as well as other factors such as OUP compliance, no knowledge of the misconduct at board level, potential difficulty with overseas evidence and witnesses and pressure on resources which a criminal prosecution would bring.

SFO director David Green QC said: “This settlement demonstrates that there are, in appropriate cases, clear and sensible solutions available to those who self report issues of this kind to the authorities.  The use of Civil Recovery powers has been exercised in accordance with the Attorney General’s guidelines.  The company will be adopting new business practices to prevent a recurrence of these issues and these new procedures will be subject to an extensive and detailed review.”