International Organisation's Findings Described As ‘Uninformed'
A leading lawyer at national law firm, Irwin Mitchell, has criticised a report by the OECD which calls for the UK to further improve transparency when resolving foreign bribery cases.
The international body’s working group on bribery criticised the “opaque process and low level of information available about settlements” and said this could fail to inspire public and judicial confidence.
The report asks the UK to move towards a zero-tolerance approach for companies operating abroad and urges the maintenance of the Serious Fraud Office’s role and resources.
In a statement, the OECD added: “The report also highlighted the positive aspects of the UK’s efforts to fight foreign bribery. The Serious Fraud Office has significantly increased foreign bribery enforcement.
“The UK Government, including through its overseas missions, has made substantial efforts to raise awareness of the Bribery Act and the foreign bribery offence.
“Coupled with the publicity surrounding the enactment of the Bribery Act, this has led to heightened awareness of foreign bribery-related issues in the UK.”
Kevin Robinson, Partner at Irwin Mitchell and a leading expert on bribery law, said: “It’s the sort of comment to be expected from the OECD, a general criticism that tries to be balanced.
“The difficulty is that there cannot be transparency about the process leading to Civil Settlements. The process by definition involves matters of sensitivity and commercial confidence. The factors that feed into Civil Settlement discussions are the evidence about the level and nature of criminal culpability and who, as an individual is responsible for that criminal activity and whether that individual has acted at a level within the organisation which fixes the organisation itself with criminal liability.
“It also involves issues which are commercially sensitive about contracts and fiscal performance. It is unthinkable for a number of reasons that any of that could be made public, not least for the reason that if it were part of the process no company would ever enter into it. To that extent it is an uninformed criticism.”
Mr. Robinson added: “There is the second issue about the effectiveness of the Government’s efforts to fight foreign bribery.
“Almost a year on from the introduction of the Bribery Act there has only been one prosecution, and that was brought by the CPS not the SFO as a consequence of a newspaper setting up a Court Clerk to accept a bribe - not exactly what the Government promised when the Act was being introduced.
“The reality is that the Bribery Act has been a damp squib. There is no evidence whatsoever that any thing other than a handful of businesses have taken steps to make themselves Bribery Act compliant.
“The general attitude is we are already an ethical company so it won't affect us, or the Act is so heavily loaded against British commercial interests abroad that if we were compliant, we could not do business. Those are the two responses heard everywhere.
“In both limbs of their statement the OECD could not have got it more wrong.”