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Wednesday, 11 December, 2002, 16:18 GMT
Lesotho court suspends bribery fine
Katse Dam
Dams exploit Lesotho's one natural resource: Water
An appeals court in Lesotho has suspended a $2.2m (1.4m) fine against the Canadian engineering firm at the heart of an alleged bribery scandal.

Acres International has been vigorously defending itself in the high-profile corruption case, denying any knowledge of bribes allegedly paid in the 1990s.

It has now won a suspension of the landmark fine while the controversial case goes through the appeals court.

Acres was among several Western firms facing charges of paying bribes to win contracts for a project to pump water from the mountain kingdom to neighbouring South Africa.

Case unfolds

The Canadian firm was found guilty and fined for its role in bribing Masupha Sole, the former chief executive of the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority who now faces a 18-year prison sentence.

According to Acres, the bribery was entirely the initiative of their in-country representative, who was hired in 1985 and paid through a handful of Swiss bank accounts.

The representative, Zalisiwonga Bam, died in 1999, but the court heard that he had paid Mr Sole 60% of the $436,000 he had received from Acres.

Black-listed?

It is the first time that bribe-givers, as well as takers, have found themselves in the dock over a high-profile international project.

In theory, that should put those found guilty on the World Bank's list of so-called ineligible firms, currently numbering 74.

Acres has rejected any suggestion that it might be disbarred from other projects funded by the World Bank.

The Bank said it would examine the evidence presented at the trial for new information, to see whether it would revisit its February decision that none of the 14 Western multinationals accused in the case should be put on its blacklist.

The appeal hearing is expected in April.

See also:

29 Oct 02 | Business
20 May 02 | Business
15 Mar 02 | Business
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