In a major sting operation, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has arrested 22 executives of military and law enforcement suppliers, including an Indian-origin British national, on charges of attempting to bribe the defence minister of an African country.

In what is being described as the largest ever corruption expose of its kind in the US, 43-year-old Pankesh Patel, managing director of a UK firm that acts as a sales agent for companies in law enforcement and military products industries, was arrested with 21 others.

Two more Britons, Lee Wares, 43, chairman and director of a British company that markets armoured vehicles and David Painter, 56 were among the arrested, the US Department of Justice announced Tuesday.

The indictments unsealed before a US court on Tuesday allege that these arrested individuals engaged in a scheme to pay bribes to the defence minister of an unnamed African country.

The scheme was part of the undercover operation, with no actual involvement from any minister. The defendants allegedly agreed to pay 20 percent “commission” to a sales agent who they believed represented the defence minister of an African state in order to win a portion of a $15 million deal to outfit the country’s presidential guard. In reality, the “sales agent” was an undercover FBI agent.

The unsealed 16 indictments represent the largest single investigation and prosecution against individuals in the history of Department of Justice’s enforcement of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), a law against bribing foreign government officials for the purpose of obtaining or retaining business.

“This ongoing investigation is the first large-scale use of undercover law enforcement techniques to uncover FCPA violations and the largest action ever undertaken by the Justice Department against individuals for FCPA violations,” Assistant Attorney General Lanny A Breuer said.

“The fight to erase foreign bribery from the corporate playbook will not be won overnight, but these actions are a turning point. From now on, would-be FCPA violators should stop and ponder whether the person they are trying to bribe might really be a federal agent,” he said.

The maximum prison sentence for conspiracy and bribery charges is five years for each count. The maximum sentence for the money laundering conspiracy charge is 20 years in prison.

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