France to probe Vinci corruption allegations over Russia contract
7 October 2013, Financial Times
French prosecutors announced they will look into allegations of bribery involving Vinci, which is building a 43km stretch of toll road linking Moscow to St Petersburg.
Russian activists allege that the French company bribed officials to win the contract, which they have valued at up to $1.5bn.
The company has denied the allegations. “We are at the full disposal of the judicial system to provide all the answers it deems necessary,” it said.
The company also pointed out that it was only a preliminary inquiry that had been opened in France, where the court tells the police to collect more evidence in response to a formal complaint being filed.
The appointment of a judge to lead the investigation would come at a later date and the case could be dropped altogether in the mean time.
French anti-corruption group Sherpa, which along with partner NGOs filed a complaint against Vinci Concessions’ Russian unit on June 24, said that it welcomed the opening of the preliminary investigation.
“We are reminded on this occasion of the gulf between the virtuous rhetoric of large multinational companies . . . and the reality thousands of miles from Paris, far from the eyes of shareholders,” said Sherpa on its website.
Research by Princip and Bankwatch, two NGOs, alleged that the tender process that Vinci won in 2008 was manipulated by the Russian government so that Vinci could not lose.
Research into the complicated shareholding structure of the road project, published by Princip and Bankwatch, also referred to a holding by industrialist Arkady Rotenburg, who is a long-time friend of President Vladimir Putin and who has an interest in Mostotrest, the Russian construction company that in 2012 took a 50 per cent interest in the project.
Mr Rotenburg could not be reached for comment. He told the Russian edition of Forbes in 2012 that he had an interest in the project and that he convinced Vinci to participate.
“We convinced Vinci of the attractiveness of the project” he told Forbes. “For us it was important to have a partner like them.”
Vinci is one of the world’s largest engineering and construction groups with activities that span from toll road, airport and parking concessions to major construction projects, such as bridges, tunnels, roads and sports.