The bosses of a ballot paper printing company allegedy paid more than £400,000 in bungs to public officials in campaign of corrupt payments across Africa, a court heard today (Tuesday, November 11).
Christopher Smith, 71, the chairman of Smith & Ouzman Ltd, and his son, sales and marketing director, Nicholas Smith, 42, allegedly lined the pockets of overseas officials to score lucrative contracts.
International sales manager, Tim Forrester, 47, and company agent, Abdirahman Omar, 38, are also said to be involved in the alleged plot, between November 2006 and December 2010.
They paid £433,000 worth of bribes to public officials in Mauritania, Ghana, Somaliland and Kenya, Southwark Crown Court was told.
Among the organisations targeted were the Independent Electoral Commission of Kenya, the Kenyan National Examination Council, the Mauritanian Ministry of the Interior and the National Electoral Commission of Somaliland, it is alleged.
The publicly funded bodies, which are financially supported by their taxpayers or foreign aid, ended up paying inflated prices for the printing work from the company.
Prosecutor Mark Bryant-Heron QC said, “This is a case about corruption. It is a case which centres around a company called Smith and Ouzman Limited.
“Smith and Ouzman is a specialist printing firm, it is based down on the south coast in Eastbourne. They print secure documents, by which I mean if somebody, a public body or somebody... wants secure documents printed, such as ballot papers, examination certificates printed, that sort of thing,’ he added.
“The company does trade in the UK but Smith and Ouzman have substantial interests abroad, including substantial business interests in a number of Africa states and this case concerns Smith and Ouzman’s business transactions in four African states or territories - Kenya, Ghana, Mauritania, Ghana, and Somaliland.
“The prosecution’s case is that in each of these countries directors and senior employees at Smith and Ouzman and agents employed on the ground, in this case agents to make corrupt payments to officials and employees working for institutions in these countries in order to obtain printing contracts and to ensure business in the future.
“That is the heart of the Crown’s allegations - that is the corruption.”
Mr Bryant-Heron said the scale of the corrupt payments ranged from about £330,000 relating to deals in Kenya to about £12,000 for bargains struck in Ghana.
“The total level of corrupt payments alleged in this case is in the order of £433,000,” he added.
In return the company won lucrative contracts, in one case securing contracts worth £1,377,257, jurors were told.
“In each of these countries Smith and Ouzman employed agents to assist them in making tenders for business, in pitching for business and in sorting out the details that needed to be sorted out in any normal commercial relationship and there is, of course, nothing wrong with that. Those agents worked on commission.
“The prosecution’s case is that the defendants used commission payments to those agents to mask criminal payments to public officials.
“Those public officials working in the countries I have mentioned were in a position to influence the outcome of the tender for business.
“As in this country, legally when contracts awarded are awarded work for publicly funded institutions such as examination bodies or election institutions, the tender process, the bidding process, was supposed to be open and competitive.
“What these payments did, the prosecution suggest, was to make it far more likely that the business and importantly for Smith and Ouzman any future business would be awarded to Smith and Ouzman.
“The evidence shows, we suggest, commission payments artificially inflated to include payments to public officials.”
Email evidence shows discussions of the bribes in code, the court heard. One Kenyan agent referred to the underhand cash deals as ‘chicken’, jurors were told.
“That is, we say, the main way the defendants achieved their aim,” said Mr Bryant-Heron.
“But there is also evidence in particular when we come to the country Mauritania of direct payments to relatives of government, to government officials in the form of bribes.
“These institutions that have been referred to are funded by their governments and therefore their taxpayers, or in some case by international aid or a combination of both.
Christopher Smith had looked after the business in a number of African countries but had more recently passed the bulk of the responsibility to his son Nicholas Smith, it was said.
Nicholas Smith was the sales and marketing director and said he had a ‘strategic role’ as opposed to a front line sales man, jurors were told.
He supervised co-accused Forrester who worked as a sales manager and was ‘engaged in securing business with the assistance of corrupt payments’.
Fourth defendant Omar was an agent in Somaliland and acted as the ‘conduit for the payments’ to public officials.
‘There were other agents for other countries because, the prosecution say, that the agents were party to these offences - they just don’t happen to be in the dock,’ explained Mr Bryant-Heron.
Smith and Ouzman is also a defendant in the court case as its limited liability status means it is treated by law as having a ‘legal personality’
The company was established in 1939 under a different name and has traded with its current name since 1946.
Christopher Smith, of Ripe, Nicholas Smith, of Cavendish Avenue, Forester, of Victoria Drive and Omar, of Sandymount Avenue, Stanmore, northwest London, deny corruptly agreeing to make payments.
The trial continues.