A Coca-Cola manager who took more than £1.5 million in backhanders that saw favoured companies handed lucrative contracts in a nine-year corruption scandal has been spared jail.
Noel Corry, 56, handed out vastly inflated contracts and took bribes in exchange for confidential information while working as a senior engineering manager at the US soft drink giant.
His role included responsibility for identifying electrical contractors for bottling plants across the UK, but in some cases he handed out ‘fresh air’ contracts where no actual work was ever undertaken.
Corry also accepted executive season tickets at Manchester United and made sponsorship payments to his local non-league football team Droylesden FC – owned by his brother-in-law.
But he was spared jail after being handed a suspended sentence for corruption and bribery offences at Southwark Crown Court Friday.
The two bosses of his favoured companies Gary Haines, 61, and Peter Kinsella, 58, were also sentenced to suspended prison terms.
James Mulholland QC, prosecuting, said the case concerned ‘corruption and bribery involving Coca-Cola Enterprises UK Limited (CCE) and related companies’ between January 2004 and August 2013.
He told the court: ‘Corry was the creator of the dishonest scheme and was at the heart of the offending until his dismissal on August 6, 2013, upon discovery of his conduct.
Noel Corry, 53, pictured as he arrived at Southwark Crown Court last week, where he was sentenced for bribery and corruption offences
Peter Kinsella would receive emails from Corry providing confidential information that would assist his company the Boulting Group with bidding for Coca-Cola contracts – including Coca-Cola’s views on each rival bidder’s strengths and weaknesses
Gary Haines, the director of Tritec Systems and Electron Systems, had a similar relationship with Corry to that of Kinsella
‘He ensured that a large volume of work at Coca-Cola premises went to various companies including Boulting Group Ltd, Tritec Systems Ltd and Electron Systems Ltd in return for large sums of money paid directly or indirectly to him.
‘Mr Corry had the power to award general contracts directly or through a tender process. He would determine which work needed to be done and by whom.
‘The way the scheme worked is that Mr Corry would ensure that companies were awarded genuine CCE contracts at inflated rates or contracts were raised in their names for bogus work never intended to be completed.
‘The companies would invoice and then be paid. The extra money generated created a slush fund held on behalf of Noel Corry.’
Corry was paid the bribes via a network of shell companies including Trojon and Alpha Windows, while a slew of bogus invoices were provided to support the crooked payments.
In 2011 Coca-Cola changed the rules on how contracts for large projects were issued so they had to be put out for tender.
A company named Boulting, whom Corry had worked for before joining Coca-Cola in 1996, were regularly involved in the bidding process.
He would email Peter Kinsella, 58, then contract manager at Boulting, to provide confidential and advantageous information about the bid – including Coca-Cola’s views on each rival bidder’s strengths and weaknesses.
The scheme was uncovered when Boulting accidentally included a price comparison with another rival when asked to provide a breakdown of travel expenses in February 2013, but Corry denied responsibility.
Suspicions were further raised when Corry pressed to be involved in Coca-Cola’s commercial meetings, the court heard.
The drink giant subsequently began investigating Corry in July 2013 and he was dismissed a month later.
He was arrested at his luxury £1m home Ashton-under-Lyne, Greater Manchester, in November 2013.
Police officers seized his laptop and found a spreadsheet document, labelled ‘slush’, which detailed Boulting’s income from Coca-Cola and how much was due to Corry.
It shows that, as time passed, the number and amounts of the bogus contracts increased.
Boulting Group benefited from contracts with Coca-Cola worth more than £13m, while Corry received at least £950,000 in bribes, the court heard.
Mr Mulholland continued: ‘From time to time, Mr Corry would get people to submit fake invoices to the company to make it appear that it used electrical subcontractors for work at Coca-Cola sites.
‘A man who did various jobs for Noel Corry at his home and at Droylsden FC with various companies was told that, in order to be paid for this work, he needed to provide invoices to Trojon Ltd stating that he had conducted highly technical electrical work at Coca-Cola premises on its behalf.’
Trojon was a shell company that did not appear to do any work, the prosecutor explained.
The court heard wages were never paid to staff, it operated from a PO box and had no email address of functioning phone number.
Fake invoices were sent purporting to show work done by Trojan on behalf of Tritec at Coca-Cola sites in Wakefield and East Kilbride.
Corry had a similar relationship with Gary Haines, 61, the director of Tritec Systems and Electron Systems.
‘These followed the same order numbers, amounts and descriptions provided by Haines,’ said Mr Mulholland.
‘No work had been done in relation to any of them. They were simply a means of extracting money whilst providing some form of audit trail for Tritec Systems Ltd.’
By the time Coca-Cola uncovered his corruption, Corry had received at least £950,000 from Boulting and £600,000 in bribes from Tritec Systems and Electron Systems, the court heard.
Two invoices found on Corry’s computer showed that Boulting had transferred money to Droylsden FC, owned by his brother-in-law Dave Pace.
Corry also accepted executive season tickets to Manchester United during his time working for Coca-Cola
All three men were sentenced for corruption and bribery offences at Southwark Crown Court (pictured)on Friday
Coca-Cola issued High Court proceedings against Boulting, Tritec and Electron in September 2013 and later settled with the companies after they accepted ‘responsibility of wrongdoing’.
Christopher Harding, defending, said Corry agreed a settlement of more than £1.7m with Coca-Cola in 2013 which has led to nine years of difficulties with his family.
The court heard how his arrest in 2013 had led to the breakdown of his 26-year marriage and he suffered a mini stroke.
Corry, of Lymm, Cheshire, was handed 20 months’ imprisonment, suspended for 21 months, having earlier admitted five counts of corruption.
Judge David Tomlinson said: ‘That we are dealing with serious crime here cannot be an issue.
‘Noel Corry…was a pivotal operator and seems to have treated his employer as a source which could be routinely tapped at will. Crucially, he remained privy to inside knowledge.
‘He encouraged other Coca-Cola UK employees to award work to [the specific companies]. He provided confidential information.
‘He generated purchase orders…for work which would not be performed. He generated purchase orders…at rates which reaped inflated prices.’
Haines, of Market Drayton, Shropshire, was handed the same sentence after pleading guilty to two counts of corruption
Kinsella, of Manchester, admitted three counts of corruption and three counts of conspiracy to bribe. He was sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment suspended for 21 months.
Tritec Systems Ltd and Electron Systems pleaded guilty to one count of corruption and one count of failure to prevent bribery.
WABGS Ltd (previously Boulting Group) admitted failure to prevent bribery.
Tritec and Electron Systems were fined £70,000 each and WABGS was fined £500,000.
The three companies were also ordered to pay £10,000 each towards prosecution costs.
Corry, Kinsella and Haines were ordered to contribute £5000 each.
Detective Superintendent John Roch, Head of Economic Crime said: ‘Corry, Haines and Kinsella worked hard to present themselves as reputable, reliable and genuine businessmen but in fact they were the exact opposite.
‘Each played a different part in the corruption and bribery that amounted to around £1.5 million in financial gain for Corry.
‘Corry’s role was one of power; he was the subject matter lead within Coca-Cola Enterprises UK and although he did not make the final decision on competitive tenders, his opinion carried considerable influence with both the project managers and procurement team.
‘I’d like to thank Coca-Cola Enterprises UK for assisting and supporting this investigation; we have worked closely with them throughout the case and I am pleased we were able to provide justice through today’s sentences.
‘This is the first time the Met has charged and convicted a company with failure to prevent bribery and sends a strong message to individuals out there who seek to create an advantage for their business.’