Africa

PRESS RELEASE: Landmark bribery verdict for accused Canadian firm expected tomorrow

September 12, 2002

The verdict in the case against a Canadian engineering firm accused of bribery in Lesotho, a country in southern Africa, is scheduled to be delivered Friday, September 13.

Acres International of Oakville, Ontario stands accused of paying some US$260,000 to Masupha Sole, the former Chief Executive of Lesotho’s Highland Development Authority, through an agent, to secure contracts in an $8- billion dam building scheme. Acres is the first of 12 international engineering companies and consortia accused of bribing Mr. Sole to be tried. The case against Lahmeyer of Germany began a month ago and cases against other firms are in the pipeline.

Mr. Sole was convicted in an earlier trial this year of accepting over US$1 million from 1988 to 1997 from the various firms. He was sentenced to a total of 57 years in jail, to be served over 18 years. He is appealing that decision.

In Lesotho, a country with an annual average income of US$560, the government is determined to get rid of corruption. “It takes two to tango,” says Pakalitha Mosisili, Lesotho’s Prime Minister. “It takes a corruptor and a corruptee to practice corruption. They are equally culpable. That is why we are prosecuting both, the officer and the multinational company.”

At its own trial, Acres vigorously denied any wrongdoing. Though its local agent, Zalisiwonga Bam, often passed on 60% of the payments he received from Acres, he did so without its knowledge, Acres maintains. The Crown, meanwhile, alleged that the “representative agreement” that Acres struck with Mr. Bam’s company was an alibi designed to cover-up covert payments that went into Swiss bank accounts.

(See our Web site for full accounts of the Crown’s Heads of Argument and, in response, Acres’ Written Argument)

The Lesotho trials represent the most important corruption cases in the world today. The trials involve a who’s who of the world’s engineering firms as well as the world’s pre-eminent development agency, the World Bank, which is funding the project.

Acres International is a well known Canadian engineering firm founded more than 75 years ago, with roots in the Niagara Falls hydroelectric generating facility. Today Acres has offices across North America and has received $100 million from Canada’s bilateral aid agency, CIDA, to work on projects throughout the Third World.

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For further information, CONTACT:
Patricia Adams, Executive Director
Tel.: (416) 964-9223 (ext. 227)
E-mail: PatriciaAdams@nextcity.com

Categories: Africa, Lesotho, Odious Debts

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