August 27, 2003
Lesotho’s High Court has fined a German company more than $1m for bribing its way into a massive dams project.
The company, Lahmeyer International, says it will appeal against both the conviction and the 10.45m maloti ($1.46m; £930,000) fine.
Lahmeyer is the second firm to be convicted in connection with the Lesotho Highlands Water Project.
Acres International, a Canadian construction firm, was convicted last year, although the Court of Appeal on Monday reduced its fine from 22m maloti to 15m, by releasing it from one of the charges.
Off the list
Cases where a company is actually convicted of bribery remain relatively rare.
Often, the local middlemen and facilitators are locked up while the companies allegedly on the other side of the deal never face prosecution.
When Acres was convicted, it insisted that it had paid its local representative, the now-deceased Zalisiwonga Bam, in good faith, and had no idea that he was passing on hundreds of thousands of dollars to former LHWP boss Masupha Sole.
Mr Sole is serving a 15-year sentence for his part in the affair.
Lahmeyer is also protesting its innocence.
“The course of the trial gave rise to the expectation of a verdict of not guilty, especially in view of the fact that the World Bank had closed the case which they had started on the same issue against our company more than a year ago,” it said in a statement.
The Bank has not placed any of the companies involved on its list of firms banned from bidding after corruption convictions.
It only does so if bribery is proved on a project segment which it directly funds, rather than simply within a project that it has approved and supported.
But Lesotho’s director of public prosecutions, Leaba Thetfane, told BBC News Online that there was no doubt the company was guilty.
“I must say that the fact we managed to score a conviction means we’ve succeeded in following the trail of the money,” he said.
“That’s the heart of the case.”
Other trials, of France’s Spie Batignolles and Dumez International, come up in October.
After that, Mr Thetfane said, Lesotho will have to consider whether it can afford further trials – despite the fact that another half-dozen companies have been accused of involvement.
“This kind of trial is very expensive for a small country, and we’ve been doing it on our own,” he said.
But he insisted that it was important to show “zero tolerance” of corruption.
“We have demonstrated to the international community . . . that corruption is not just a Third World problem,” he said.
“It has been demonstrated that it was not Mr Sole who solicited bribes. Huge sums of money were deposited in his bank accounts.”