Aircraft engine maker Rolls-Royce is to pay penalties of more than £670m, plus interest and costs, to avoid prosecution over corruption allegations in the largest deferred prosecution agreement to be approved by English courts. Sir Brian Leveson QC, president of the Queen’s Bench Division, is expected to approve the agreement at a High Court hearing this morning.

In a statement last night, the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) said that the agreement will result in a payment by Rolls-Royce PLC in the UK of £497,252,645 plus interest over five years, as well as a payment of the SFO’s full costs. Other payments will be made to the US and Brazil, adding up to a total of £671m. This is the third, and by far the largest, deferred prosecution agreement to be reached in the UK since the procedure became available in 2014.  

Rolls-Royce said it has co-operated fully with the authorities. 'These agreements relate to bribery and corruption involving intermediaries in a number of overseas markets, concerns about which the company passed to the SFO from 2012 onwards,’ it said in a statement. 'These are voluntary agreements which result in the suspension of a prosecution provided that the company fulfils certain requirements, including the payment of a financial penalty.’

Jonathan Pickworth, partner at global firm White & Case, said: 'This is a very significant penalty, and far greater than anything we have seen in the UK before. We will know more after the hearing, but assuming that the DPA is approved, this will be a feather in the cap of the director of the SFO David Green and the SFO.’

Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan partner Robert Amaee, a former head of anti-corruption at the SFO, said: ‘This is the third and most significant DPA secured by the SFO. It is by far the largest penalty that has ever been levied by the SFO in a bribery matter, and the first time that the UK’s portion of the global settlement is higher than that of the US. With this DPA, the SFO is now playing in the big leagues.’

However campaign group Corruption Watch said the deal showed that the UK was not willing to prosecute large, politically connected companies.

Barry Vitou, DPA expert and head of global corporate crime at international firm Pinsent Masons, described the deal as ‘one of the Top 10 enforcement actions of all time.’

Vitou noted that the penalty ‘dwarfs any amount previously contemplated by a UK court in the context of criminal law enforcement.’ While Rolls-Royce will welcome the resolution, he added that ‘the decision represents a win for the SFO and reinforces the idea that DPAs are here to stay. More will undoubtedly follow.’

New York and London firm Debevoise & Plimpton said it had advised Rolls-Royce in its agreement with the SFO. The firm also advised Rolls-Royce as it reached a DPA with the US Department of Justice and a Leniency Agreement with Brazil’s Ministério Público Federal. 

Update: Today's High Court judgment in Serious Fraud Office v Rolls-Royce has been published