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Amid OECD Criticism, A Breakthrough In Britain

The U.K.’s failure to prosecute its multinationals for overseas bribery, while other European countries and the U.S. are stepping up enforcement, threatens the integrity of the international anti-bribery effort. That’s what a fed-up OECD Working Group on Bribery says in its just-released report.

The 37-member OECD anti-bribery group launched an investigation into Britain’s enforcement practices after the U.K.’s Serious Fraud Office quashed a corruption investigation into BAE Systems in December 2006. The military equipment supplier had been accused of funneling £1 billion in secret payments to the former Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar bin-Sultan, in exchange for help selling jet fighters to the Saudi government. Both BAE and the Prince have denied breaking any laws.

The OECD was blunt. It said in its report:

The Working Group is disappointed and seriously concerned with the unsatisfactory implementation of the [OECD Anti-bribery] Convention by the UK. The continued failure of the UK to address deficiencies in its laws on bribery of foreign public officials and on corporate liability for foreign bribery has hindered investigations. . . . The Working Group also strongly regrets the uncertainty about the UK’s commitment to establish an effective corporate liability regime in accordance with the Convention, as recommended in 2005, and urges the UK to adopt appropriate legislation as a matter of high priority.

Meanwhile, the U.K. government is celebrating two well-timed maiden anti-corruption victories. The breakthrough prosecutions are reported in a briefing from a Fulbright & Jaworski team led by Washington partner William B. Jacobson. Billy — who joined Fulbright last month after serving with distinction as the Assistant Chief for FCPA Enforcement at the Justice Department’s Fraud Section, Criminal Division — graciously consented to our liberal use of the material. We’re happy about that. For the past few days we haven’t had a spare minute due to the ALCS — i.e., planning to watch the games, watching the games, then talking about what happened in the games.

Here, then, is an abridged version of Fulbright’s report:

In the course of just a few weeks, the UK has brought two separate foreign bribery cases to conclusion – the first such cases brought by UK authorities.

First, in late September, the Overseas Anti-Corruption Unit (“OACU”) of the City of London Police announced that both an employee of CBRN Team Ltd (“CBRN”), a UK security consulting firm, and an official of Uganda pled guilty to bribery charges stemming from a scheme in which CBRN paid the Ugandan official in order to receive a contract to advise the Ugandan Presidential Guard. While the CBRN employee received a suspended sentence, the Ugandan official was sentenced to twelve months’ incarceration.

Second, on October 6, 2008, the UK’s Serious Fraud Office (“SFO”), in a case the SFO was investigating for evidence of foreign bribery, announced that it had reached a £2.25m (US$3.9m) settlement with major construction firm Balfour Beatty plc for alleged unlawful accounting in connection with certain ‘payment irregularities’ which it self-reported. While the SFO acknowledged that there were no grounds for criminal prosecution of either the company or any individual, this marks the first time a company has reached this type of civil settlement as part of a foreign bribery investigation. This is a significant event in the UK’s enforcement of anti-corruption laws and comes only 6 months after the SFO was given the powers to make a civil recovery of the proceeds of crime.

The SFO’s Powers

The SFO is a UK investigation and enforcement authority established to deal with serious financial crime and has the power to investigate any suspected offence appearing on reasonable grounds to involve serious or complex fraud. In the course of an investigation, the SFO may give notice to the subjects of the investigation, or to anyone else that the SFO thinks may have relevant information, to answer questions or to provide information or specified documentation, and in appropriate circumstances may issue warrants to compel production. The SFO may also commence and conduct criminal proceedings relating to that fraud. The SFO’s powers to obtain civil recoveries in relation to the proceeds of crime are relatively new. In April 2008, the Serious Crime Act 2007 transferred the civil recovery powers formerly vested in the Assets Recovery Agency to a number of agencies including the SFO.

The CBRN Team Case

The prosecution of the managing director of CBRN and the Ugandan official who received the bribe is noteworthy in many respects. First and foremost, it represents the first convictions for foreign bribery in UK history. Second, having been investigated by the City of London Police’s OACU, it also marks the first successful foreign bribery investigation by that recently-formed unit. Third, the prosecution was handled by the Crown Prosecution Service and not the SFO, which usually investigates foreign bribery with the OACU.

Additionally, the UK’s ability to prosecute the foreign official who took the bribe sets the UK’s legislation apart from the United States’ foreign bribery law, the Foreign Corrupt Practice Act (“FCPA”). Under the FCPA, only the giver of a bribe, and not the foreign official who received the bribe’ may be prosecuted. For all the criticism that the UK’s foreign bribery legislation has received in recent years, those laws are, in this respect, stronger than the FCPA.

View Fulbright’s full briefing on the cases here.

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