A whistleblower who was sacked last year by a subsidiary of the FTSE 100 caterer Compass Group after making repeated allegations of corruption has won the right to have his employment tribunal heard in the UK.
The decision will potentially allow a fuller airing of claims that the group’s Kazakhstan offshoot bribed government officials and comes after Compass attempted to block the case from being heard in Britain.
However, the tribunal ruled that it has jurisdiction over a case brought by Karim Pabani, who was finance director of Compass’s Kazakh subsidiary ESS Support Services and was sacked in the UK by two immediate subordinates of Compass chief executive Richard Cousins. Claims made directly against the group holding company were struck out.
In his judgment, Judge Fowell wrote: “The dismissal took place in the UK, to a UK citizen and resident. In deciding that claim it is not relevant to decide whether the whistleblowing allegations are true; the focus is on whether they were made in good faith and that the claimant had reasonable grounds to believe that the respondent had committed a relevant breach. These allegations were all explored in the UK … Accordingly I find the claims have a stronger connection with the UK than Kazakhstan.”
A spokesman from Compass Group said: “We have received today’s tribunal judgment and we are considering our options.”
In its letter dismissing Pabani, Compass said his allegations were “found to be unmerited”.
Pabani says that between 2011 and 2013 profits at a related Compass Kazakh subsidiary were inflated and that he was asked to “falsify accounting records”. He also claims that a Kazakhstan government official and his family enjoyed a $19,000 (£12,000) holiday in Dubai at the expense of a Compass venture in Kazakhstan called Kaz Munay Gaz Services Compass (KMGSC); another official is said to have had his son’s US university fees paid by the firm, while the business also stands accused of “circumvent[ing] government procedures to supply luxury vehicles to KMG, a related government entity”.
Pabani was dismissed by Compass’s general counsel, Mark White, and its human resources director, Jane Kingston, after repeatedly raising concerns, including reporting a “financial exposure [of] £5.4m” in a “major risk assessment report”. Both White and Kingston report directly to Cousins and sit on Compass’s executive board, a committee made up of the group’s most senior full-time staff.
Last month Cousins was appointed a non-executive director of Tesco and has been widely tipped to become the next chairman of the embattled grocer when Sir Richard Broadbent steps down.
Cousins became Compass chief executive in 2006 to resolve a scandal involving a UN contract, which ended with the caterer agreeing to pay up to £40m to settle two lawsuits brought against it for allegedly bribing a UN official to win contracts worth millions of pounds to supply UN peacekeepers. Compass did not admit liability in the case.
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