Founder of British seismic equipment firm acquitted of bribery

LONDON (Reuters) - The founder of a British seismic equipment company has been acquitted of charges he plotted to bribe a South Korean public official more than $1 million over 13 years.

A jury at London’s Southwark Crown court on Friday acquitted Guralp Systems Ltd (GSL) founder Cansun Guralp, sales head Natalie Pearce and former finance director Andrew Bell of conspiracy to make corrupt payments.

The company itself has accepted charges of conspiracy to make corrupt payments and failure to prevent bribery.

GSL has secured a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) with the Serious Fraud Office under which it has been fined about 2 million pounds ($2.61 million) and has agreed to take steps to improve its internal controls.

“The DPA with Güralp Systems Ltd ensures that the company will pay the price for the wrongdoing that occurred under its roof,” Lisa Osofsky, SFO director said in a statement on Friday.

The SFO had alleged that Guralp, 67, and Pearce, 47, conspired to bribe Heon-Cheol Chi -- who worked at the Korea Institute of Geoscience and Mineral Resources -- to help secure contracts for GSL between 2002 and 2015.

A new GSL executive chairman became suspicious about the payments and notified the SFO and U.S. Department of Justice in 2015. Chi was convicted in the United States of laundering bribes through the U.S. banking system in 2017 and the SFO charged the three GSL defendants in 2018.

Guralp, who founded GSL in 1987 and established the company’s relationship with Chi, told the court that he thought payments to Chi represented fair remuneration for valuable technical advice and assistance.

Bell said he never spoke to Guralp about Chi and that no “red flags” were brought to his attention. Pearce said she did not believe payments were corrupt.

Reporting By Kirstin Ridley and Lawrence White, additional reporting by Carolyn Cohn; editing by David Evans and Jane Merriman