THE MAGAZINE

The U.K. Bribery Act, Year One

By Raymond L. Sweigart

Another significant issue involves self-reporting of corruption. Under its initial guidance, the SFO had reassured companies that they would normally face only civil law sanctions if they uncovered and reported their own wrongdoing. The new rules are far less comforting, with this plain statement: “If on the evidence, there is a realistic prospect of conviction, the SFO will prosecute if it is in the public interest to do so…. Self-reporting is no guarantee that a prosecution will not follow. Each case will turn on its own facts.”

Many observers had predicted the first prosecutions under the Bribery Act would signal the government’s serious dedication to anticorruption enforcement against big companies and high-ranking corporate officers. However, the first person to be charged and convicted was a lowly court clerk who was given a six-year prison sentence for requesting and receiving a £500 (approximately $788) bribe to fix speeding tickets. The court described the offense as “very serious” and a “very substantial breach of trust.” But the law has only been in force about a year, and its full impact has yet to be felt.

Meanwhile, the SFO is seeking monetary sanctions for corruption under different statutes. It obtained a recent court order requiring Mabey Engineering (Holdings) Ltd to pay £131,201 (approximately $206,850) plus costs of £2,440 ($3,846) under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, reflecting gains it derived from contracts won through unlawful conduct by officers of a subsidiary. An even more striking example involved the £1.9 million (approximately $3 million) fine the SFO obtained against Oxford University Press in 2012, in relation to dividend income it received through the unlawful conduct of subsidiaries in Tanzania and Kenya to win public tender contracts for educational publications.

While the enforcement record to date is somewhat sparse, the consequences under the Bribery Act can be considerable. Compliance professionals for companies that are listed, headquartered, have operations, or conduct any business in the United Kingdom should carefully review their existing anticorruption compliance policies and programs for adequacy in light of this new statutory regime.

Raymond L. Sweigart is a partner at the law firm of Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman in Washington, D.C. He practices in the United Kingdom as well as in Virginia and Washington, D.C.

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