Aziz Rahman of Rahman Ravelli
With a major corruption investigation into world athletics having led to charges being brought, Aziz Rahman of business crime solicitors Rahman Ravelli explains what those in business must do to prevent bribery.
Corruption is back in the headlines, with one of world athletics’ most influential figures set to be tried in France.
Lamine Diack, who was head of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) for 15 years, is facing charges of corruption, influence-trafficking and money laundering. He was arrested after stepping down as IAAF President in 2015, amid revelations that included athletes being told that failed drug tests could be hidden if they paid a fee.
There is little doubt that the trial, whenever it comes to court, will create headlines. No doubt we will learn how the corruption was carried out and the new IAAF regime will make it clear that changes have been made to prevent any repeat of what happened.
But there is little doubt that the IAAF has suffered as a result of its failure to prevent corruption under its roof. And the same damaging outcome will be likely for any business or organisation that fails to ensure it has fit-for-purpose procedures in place to prevent bribery and corruption.
Bribery can take many forms. It is rarely, if ever, some crumpled notes handed over in a brown envelope to “grease the wheels’’. Everyone in business must understand this, be aware of the dangers and know what to do to prevent either themselves as individuals or their company becoming involved in bribery.
And here’s the reason why: the Bribery Act 2010 allows for any company or individual with a UK connection to be prosecuted in the UK for bribery carried out anywhere in the world on their behalf by staff, an intermediary, a third party or trading partner. It is a far-reaching piece of legislation and it carries significant penalties.
The Act makes it an offence to offer or receive a bribe. It also creates the specific offence of bribing a foreign official and makes it possible to prosecute a company for failing to prevent bribery being committed on its behalf – even if the company knew nothing of the bribery being carried out. The penalties are a maximum of 10 years' imprisonment for individuals involved and unlimited fines.
There is little doubt that the Act is the strongest piece of anti-corruption legislation in the world – and the reason why nobody in business can be complacent when it comes to bribery.
So what exactly is bribery? Bribery is defined in the Act as the giving or receiving of a financial or other advantage in order to encourage improper performance of a position of trust. Bribery can take many forms: cash, goods and services and various types of preferential treatment.
The scope of the Act, the size of any penalties that can be imposed and the fact that ignorance is no defence under the Act are compelling reasons for those in business to do all they can to make sure they do not fall foul of it. And this means devising proper preventative procedures.
Such procedures do not need to be complex. But they need to be carefully thought out and introduced, regularly reviewed and, when necessary, amended.
Thorough due diligence checks need to be made on any companies and individuals you do business with - or are likely to – to ensure their background is bribery free and that they themselves are acting to prevent bribery.
But a company must take a close look at how it works. Its senior figures need to be familiar with all aspects of the Bribery Act. A company’s working practices need to be analysed to see what improvements can be made to reduce the potential for bribery. In-depth checks have to be made on a company’s staff but also on agents and any third parties representing it anywhere in the world. Anyone representing the company in any capacity has to be made aware of the Bribery Act and proper channels need to be in place them to report any bribery-related concerns they may have.
Such procedures are not merely a bureaucratic exercise that many in business could do without. They can be the difference between a company preventing bribery and being ignorant of it being carried out in its name. Or, to put it in starker terms, the difference between a conviction (and the resulting penalties) and an unblemished trading reputation.
That is why companies need the right procedures in place. If they are not sure what to do, they must seek legal help.
Corruption in athletics is currently making the news. But nobody in business can afford to be slow out of the blocks in trying to beat bribery.
Aziz Rahman is founder of Rahman Ravelli; a top-ranked business crime law firm in national and international legal guides.
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