Aziz Rahman of Rahman Ravelli Solicitor
In light of Manchester United's record-breaking transfer coming under scrutiny for possible corruption, Aziz Rahman, of award-winning business crime solicitors Rahman Ravelli, examines what those in football – and anyone else in business – must do to prevent such problems.
Recent weeks have seen reports that FIFA is investigating the exact terms of the deal that saw football’s most expensive player, Paul Pogba, move from Juventus to Manchester United for £89m.
The question of payments made as part of the deal have been widely reported as being the subject of the investigation; with Pogba’s agent allegedly set to receive a huge £41m from the deal.
It is not the first time that top-level football has been under scrutiny over suspicions of corruption. Ironically, it was FIFA itself that saw many of its senior figures arrested two years ago, following raids in Zurich coordinated by the FBI and Swiss authorities looking for evidence of corruption.
Behind the headlines and the frenzied media coverage of all matters football, however, some pertinent questions need to be asked:
How do such major organisations and individuals find themselves in such trouble?
What could they have done to prevent it happening to them?
And what approach should someone take if they end up in such a situation?
The chances are that if you know and heed the answers to the first two questions then you may never need the answer to the third.
The football investigations show that an international approach is increasingly being taken to corruption, as such activity often transcends borders. As an example, the UK’s Bribery Act gives the authorities power to prosecute a company with a UK connection for any bribery-related activity that has been carried out in its name anywhere in the world. The Act can make a senior figure in a company personally responsible for the bribery. With punishments including assets seizure, unlimited fines and up to 10 years in prison, this is a responsibility that cannot be taken lightly.
As a blunt answer to our first question, people and organisations find themselves in trouble because they failed to keep an eye on the way their personnel operate around the globe. To avoid this problem, they need to design it out the problem. This involves taking careful steps to reduce the potential for anyone within a company to indulge in bribery and corruption.
Companies have to examine what areas of its activities offer the possibility for bribery and which of its management, employees or representatives could be vulnerable to either the giving or receiving of bribes. Procedures must then be amended or introduced to ensure that the organisation’s working practices no longer offer such potential for corruption.
For example, changes can be made to the working practices of individuals or departments and the way they interact with other companies and their representatives. The ways in which staff are encouraged to report any suspicions of wrongdoing and the way any such reports are acted upon are also crucial factors when it comes to a company preventing and tackling potential corruption.
Some people reading this may feel they would not know where to start when it comes to designing out the potential for corruption. Many specialist legal firms advise companies and organisations both here and abroad on how to prevent corruption. Help is available for the companies and organisations that want to be bribery proof.
Some companies will argue that bribery is an essential part of business in certain parts of the world. Others will quietly say that if you “get away with it’’ then there’s nothing to worry about. But try telling that to FIFA, as investigators were going through years of its paperwork and computer records. Or to Rolls-Royce, GlaxoSmithKline, Siemens, Petrobras or any number of major companies who have become the subject of major corruption investigations relating to bribery allegations dating back years or even decades.
In such a situation, the third question we asked earlier in this article needs to be answered. Should you come under investigation over allegations of bribery, a number of factors are vitally important.
You have to be aware that an investigation can prove costly in terms of time, money and reputation. It is in your interests, therefore, to minimise the likelihood of there ever being one by taking the steps we have outlined in this article.
But if investigations are commenced into a company or organisation then it has to have access to the right legal advice. Specialists in business crime cases will have experience of dealing with investigators from the likes of the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), National Crime Agency (NCA) and Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). They can anticipate what questions are likely to be asked and will know what evidence should be produced to rebut allegations or minimise the scope of accusations.
The need for strong, proactive legal representation starts from the very moment it becomes apparent the authorities are taking an interest in a company.
In business, as in football, success can only be built on smart tactics and, when needed, a sound defence.