Canadian engineering consulting firm Acres International has been found guilty by the Lesotho High Court of paying bribes to win contracts on a multi-billion dollar dam project, with sentencing expected in early October 2002.
Acres had been charged with passing US$260,000 as a bribe to the chief executive of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project, Masupha Sole. In June 2002, Sole was convicted of 13 counts of bribery and of accepting more than US$2M. He was told he would serve 18 years of a 57-year prison sentence.
Acres claimed that it was not responsible for the payments to Sole as these were made via an intermediary through a representation agreement.
The company said it was shocked by the decision of the Lesotho judge and would immediately begin an appeal. ‘Acres continues to strongly declare its innocence and will take vigorous action to protect its name,’ said an Acres spokesperson. ‘Acres is proud of its efforts to assist in developing countries around the world and is also proud of its 78 year unblemished record for ethical business practice and high reputation for integrity and honesty in International development.’
If the appeal by Acres fails however, it has been suggested that the judgement could have a serious impact on the company’s other building activities.
The company is involved in two more projects, the Bujagali dam in Uganda and Nam Thuen 2 in Laos, which are expected to receive World Bank funding. Since 1999, the World Bank has promised to bar any company from development projects if it is found to be involved in corruption. Over 70 companies and individuals have been excluded so far.
A World Bank committee, which conducted a two-year investigation into Acres International, but found no evidence of wrongdoing, is expected to reopen its case soon.