OECD urges tough action on bribery

21 July 2004
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22 July 2004

UK purchasers should pressure the government to collect information on foreign officials and companies that try to bribe them, according to a major international advisory body.

The Business and Industry Advisory Committee (BIAC) of the Organsation of Economic Co-operation and Development, said too much emphasis was placed on criminalising people who pay bribes and not enough on those who ask for them.

Alexander Boehmer, senior policy manager at BIAC, told SM: "It is not enough to criminalise the supply side of corruption - the one who pays the bribe. Public officials who demand bribes should also be penalised."

Boehmer said there should be a UK government contact to whom purchasers could go in cases of bribery so the UK can act to get it stopped. "We want purchasers to pressure their governments for a single point where they can turn to in cases of bribe solicitation," he said.

He added that all governments should use this information to put pressure on foreign governments to prosecute nationals who solicit bribes. British government officials told SM that the business sections of embassies and consulates could be approached with information about bribery.

Boehmer's call comes as the effectiveness of the UK's anti-bribery legislation is scrutinised by the OECD this week.

Representatives from Canada and France are gathering opinions and evidence from UK prosecution officials, civil servants, non-government organisations, local authorities, police, private companies and business groups.

The Anti-terrorism Crime and Security Act 2001 outlaws the paying of bribes overseas, including controversial "facilitation payments" made ostensibly to speed up administration processes already under way (see News, 28 February 2002).

But many charities and pressure groups claim the UK laws fail to stop bribery because few prosecutions have resulted.

Andrew Berkeley, a barrister and consultant to the multinationals group of the International Chamber of Commerce UK, said: "Purchasing people are some of the most vulnerable to the giving and solicitation of bribes. The trouble is that many countries have legislation against the taking of bribes, but it isn't always enforced."

Berkeley, who helped to draw up the OECD Convention Against Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions in 1999, and who has given evidence to OECD members, said Britain's prosecution record was no worse than other OECD members.

"There just hasn't been sufficient evidence to justify a prosecution," he said.

Boehmer agreed. "The aim of anti-bribery legislation is not to have more convictions," he said. "It is about what companies have done in the way of compliance, employee education and ethical codes, and that has been a lot."


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