Smith & Ouzman denies paying over £400k in bribes in 'chickengate' case

Simon Nias
Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Smith & Ouzman (S&O) has denied making corrupt payments of more than £400,000 in order to win contracts in four African countries.

Smith
Smith

The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has charged S&O, together with two of its directors, one employee and an agent of making corrupt payments totalling £433,062.98 to officials in order  to "influence the award of business contracts to the company" and ensure repeat business in Ghana, Kenya, Mauritania and Somaliland.

The alleged offences took place between November 2006 and December 2010.

The case against the Eastbourne security printer and its former chairman Chris Smith (70), sales and marketing director Nick Smith (42), international sales manager Tim Forrester (45) and the firm's agent, Abdirahman Omar (37), began on 10 November at Southwark Crown Court.

According to the SFO, the defendants used inflated commission payments to overseas agents to mask bribes that were to be passed on to public officials involved in the award of print contracts for ballot papers, examination papers and certificates.

The largest of these alleged bungs was £337,993, which the SFO believes was paid by S&O's agent in Kenya, Trevy James Oyombra, to corrupt officials at the Interim Independent Electoral Commission (IIEC) of Kenya in relation to seven printing contracts awarded to S&O in 2009 and 2010.

According to the prosecution this sum was agreed between the defendants and paid to the officials by Oyombra out of his £380,859 commission on the £1.4m worth of print contracts. Emails presented as evidence in the case contained repeated references to "chicken", which the SFO said was "the word used...for bribe".

"If all the commission payments were to be retained by Trevy he did very well in the 18 month period that these transactions took place," the prosecution noted.

The four accused individuals deny corruptly agreeing to make payments. Both Chris and Nick Smith said that the term "chicken" was a loose term that could mean "money, cash, payment, facilitation payments" or "subsistence payment" (such as for travel expenses) and that "S&O do not pay bribes".

African media outlets have dubbed the case "chickengate" due to the repeated references to "chicken" in the email evidence between Oyombra and Chris and Nick Smith. One such email, which the prosecution cited as evidence for the meaning of "chicken" was sent to Chris Smith by Oyombra in December 2008 in relation to business he was trying to develop with the National Registration Bureau in Kenya.

The email [verbatim as provided by the SFO] said: "Hes anice guy smith he is in my pockets now, lets use em to get the contract and as i promised em we get the order he gets chicken.......Smith these peoples problem is chiken after award and I told them as lond as we get the tender and after looking at our margins then will definately give them the chicken..."

The trial continues.

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