By Simon Miller

Risk management and insurance intermediary Willis Limited has been fined £6.89m over failings in its anti-bribery and corruption systems and controls.

The Financial Services Authority (FSA) found that the failings had created "an unacceptable risk that payments made by Willis Limited to overseas third parties could be used for corrupt purposes".

According to the FSA, between January 2005 and December 2009, Willis made payments to overseas third parties who assisted it in winning and retaining business from overseas clients, particularly in high risk jurisdictions. These payments totalled £27m. The FSA investigation found that, up until August 2008, Willis failed to:
• ensure that it established and recorded an adequate commercial rationale to support its payments to overseas third parties;
• ensure that adequate due diligence was carried out on overseas third parties to evaluate the risk involved in doing business with them; and
• adequately review its relationships on a regular basis to confirm whether it was still necessary and appropriate for Willis to continue with the relationship.

In its ruling, the FSA found that "these failures contributed to a weak control environment surrounding payments to overseas third parties and gave rise to an unacceptable risk that these payments could be used for corrupt purposes, including paying bribes".

In addition, between January 2005 and May 2009, Willis failed to adequately monitor its staff to ensure that each time it engaged an overseas third party, an adequate commercial rationale had been recorded and that sufficient due diligence had been carried out. Although Willis improved its policies in August 2008, it failed to ensure that its staff were adequately implementing them.

Lastly, throughout the period, Willis’ senior management did not receive sufficient information about the performance of Willis’ relevant policies to allow them to assess whether bribery and corruption risks were being mitigated effectively.

During the FSA investigation, Willis identified as suspicious a number of payments totalling $227,000 which it made to two overseas third parties in respect of business carried out in Egypt and Russia. These were subsequently reported to the Serious Organised Crime Agency.

Tracey McDermott, acting director of enforcement and financial crime, said:
“Willis Limited failed to take the appropriate steps to ensure that payments it was making to overseas third parties were not being used for corrupt purposes. This is particularly disappointing as we have repeatedly communicated with the industry on this issue and have previously taken enforcement action for failings in this area.

She added: “The involvement of UK financial institutions in corrupt or potentially corrupt practices overseas undermines the integrity of the UK financial services sector. The action we have taken against Willis Limited shows that we believe that it is vital for firms not only to put in place appropriate anti-bribery and corruption systems and controls, but also to ensure that those systems and controls are adequately implemented and monitored.”

The FSA said Willis had taken "significant steps to address the failings identified by the FSA and has committed to carrying out a review of past payments made to overseas third parties to identify any inappropriate payments".

The company co-operated with the FSA and agreed to settle at an early stage of the FSA’s investigation, qualifying for a 30% discount under the settlement discount scheme. Without the discount the fine would have been £9.85m but is still the biggest fine imposed by the FSA in relation to financial crime systems and controls to date.

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