The Daily Telegraph reported on 15th March that last week the Chief Executive of BP, Robert Dudley, received a letter from a whistleblower describing himself as a BP employee alleging that corruption has been going on at BP over the last five years.  As reported, the allegation centres on the relationship between a senior BP employee and one of the company’s suppliers.

The author of the letter, who does not identify himself or herself, apparently sets out precise details of how the bribes were paid.  The writer also offers to supply BP with further evidence to back up these allegations once BP has launched an internal investigation.

The Daily Telegraph reports that the central allegation is that there was chartering of tankers at preferential terms for the supplier in return for cash payments to the senior BP employee.

What is certain is that BP will be communicating with the SFO and that BP will conduct its own internal investigation, most likely with the assistance of external lawyers.

The issue of self-reporting does not arise here as the SFO has already been made aware of the allegations as they had been sent a copy of the whistleblower’s letter by the whistleblower himself.

If these allegations turn out to be correct, it may well be that they are capable of being prosecuted under both the old corruption legislation and/or the Bribery Act 2010, if some of the instances of the alleged corruption have taken place since 1 July 2011, when the Bribery Act came into force.

As we understand them, the allegations made to date centre on the receipt of bribes by a BP employee, which on its own would not give rise to an offence by BP under section 7 (“failure to prevent bribery”).  Section 7 is only concerned with the active offence of giving bribes, it does not cover receipt.  There may, however, be grounds for prosecution under Section 2 (the offence of being bribed), although unlike Section 7, this would require a far greater hurdle for the SFO to overcome in order to secure a conviction against the company itself.  While we are not aware of any allegations that BP employees have been paying bribes, should such allegations emerge it may be that Section 7 will become relevant, as will the question of whether BP has failed to put in place “adequate procedures”.

The SFO has repeatedly said that it has been looking for a large, high profile international company to pursue in order to send a message around the world that it is serious about its enforcement under the Bribery Act.  Could this be one of those cases?  Is this the one they have been waiting for? We will have to wait and see. We will return to this story as and when there is any further news.