A tycoon who helped fund Boris Johnson’s Tory leadership campaign secured lucrative contracts by paying more than £2million in bribes, court papers allege.
Conservative Party donor Giuseppe “Joe” Ricotta was accused of handing monthly payouts to two businessmen, or firms or people linked to them.
They were claimed to be in positions to secure deals for his transport business or help him secure its sale to a rival at a “significantly inflated price”.
BFS Group, part of giant Bidvest, claims it bought Mr Ricotta’s PCL for £45million in 2015 when its true value was allegedly “negligible or nil”.
BFS sued and in court papers alleging “fraud, concealment, dishonesty and/or deliberate non-disclosure”, the firm said: “Mr Ricotta has the propensity to make secret payments to those in a position to influence business decisions.”
The case against Mr Ricotta, 53, and his wife and daughters was settled out of court. He denied any wrongdoing and it is not thought the authorities were alerted to the alleged crimes.
But Labour MP Andy Slaughter has now passed the claims to the Serious Fraud Office, saying: “These are serious allegations.
“I don’t know if they are true but they should be examined and a full investigation launched if merited.”
Mr Ricotta, from a Sicilian family, is a patron of Westminster Italian Conservatives. He donated £10,000 to Mr Johnson’s war chest in July and previously gave the party £30,000.
The two individuals Mr Ricotta is accused of bribing quit their posts shortly after the claims surfaced.
He set up PCL in 2009 and the papers allege that “from incorporation, the substantial majority of turnover came from one client: Arla Foods Limited”.
BFS claimed Mr Ricotta or his firms made “secret payments” to a senior Arla employee and people linked to him “to secure a lucrative contract”.
This allegedly included a villa in Marbella or a “contribution to the cost of it”, regular cash payments and money paid into a firm owned by the Arla employee’s wife.
Alleged funds handed over from 2013 to 2015 were said to total £745,000.
The papers state it can also be inferred they were “to ensure Arla’s approval to the change of control of PCL”.
Arla said: “There is no allegation that anyone else in Arla was aware of the alleged payments and no conclusive evidence of wrongdoing by [the employee] was found. [The employee] left in 2016 shortly after these allegations came to light.”
The final payment to the wife’s firm was on April 1, 2015. On April 4, Mr Ricotta finished PCL’s sale to BFS Group.
BFS alleges he also sent cash to their former managing director of logistics, Shaun Foley, and firms linked to him.
BFS alleged it was Mr Foley’s idea to buy PCL and he “was primarily responsibly for dealing with Mr Ricotta”.
Its claim says: “Mr Foley and Mr Ricotta failed to declare their interests and Bidvest acquired PCL on false pretences for a significantly inflated price of £45million. The true value was negligible or nil.”
Among the alleged bribes were monthly payments of £3,000 to £7,500 from May 2010 to March 2014, totalling £213,300.
Other one-off sums allegedly included £210,000, £518,400 and £531,600 to a firm owned by Mr Foley’s associates.
Mr Foley quit in October 2015 after he was confronted with the bribery claims, which he “vigorously contested”.
In his defence statement, Mr Ricotta’s lawyer said in April 2017: “The claims are entirely denied… there were no bribes.”
He said Mr Ricotta agreed to pay Mr Foley two monthly retainers for project advice and that PCL also paid a monthly fee for advice on a tourism website, plus a one-off £175,000.
The statement added: “It is admitted Mr Ricotta did not tell senior officers at Bidvest about the payments to Mr Foley or discuss with them the extent of his relationship with him.”
BFS declined to comment.