S&O woes

Jo Francis
Friday, February 13, 2015

Jo Francis ponders the aftermath of the Smith & Ouzman corruption trial.

It may be Friday 13th, but it was Thursday 12th that caused a dark cloud to hover over these parts.

Yesterday was a black day indeed. Smith & Ouzman sales and marketing director Nick Smith was jailed for three years after being found guilty on three counts of corruptly agreeing to make payments.

I’ve followed the case with a mixture of feelings, including despair that this SFO ‘landmark’– the first time a company has been successfully prosecuted for foreign bribery, after a contested trial – would revolve around a printing company.

Nick Smith is someone I’ve spoken to many times over the years in pursuit of Help Line answers on security printing topics. Jail is something I associate with 1970s sitcoms or hard-faced hardened criminals, not with that helpful bloke from Eastbourne.  

But there is no getting away from the facts: Nick, his father Chris, and the company were all found guilty. Smith & Ouzman’s international sales director Timothy Forrester and sales agent Abdirahman Omar were both acquitted.

I imagine the whole sorry affair has been watched with interest/alarm by all sorts of businesses, not just printers, who export to countries where corruption is effectively normal business practice.

One only needs to look at the amount of red on Transparency International’s annual corruption perception survey to see the extent of the potential problem. How to carry out business ethically, and legally, in such territories is something I’ve often wondered about in respect of UK exporters.

When the Smith & Ouzman charges first emerged, I spoke to AN Other printco involved in a similar field, and asked them how they approached these delicate matters. How, I wondered, is it possible to avoid becoming ravelled up in dodgy dealings?

The response was as follows: “We sell to our agent and everything is strictly above board. What our agent then has to do to satisfy their client is none of our business.”

Whether that approach satisfies the folk at the SFO, I do not know. After recent events at Southwark Crown Court I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person scrambling to find out.

 

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