It was recently reported that FIFA was investigating the terms of the deal that saw Paul Pogba move from Juventus to Manchester United for £89M; making him the world’s most costly player.
At the same time, the former head of Guatemalan football has admitted his part in a bribery scandal that has seen more than 40 people charged. And allegations persist about the role bribery may have played in securing the next two World Cups for Russia and Qatar, respectively.
Football is a global game and a massive, money-making industry. It is, however, not unique in being vulnerable to bribery. Bribery is an issue that affects all types of business in all parts of the world.
Many such businesses do not have the excitable media coverage that accompanies “the beautiful game’’. But everyone in business needs to look at the issue of bribery, wherever it has been reported and ask themselves some pertinent questions:
How did that organisation or individual find themselves in such trouble?
What could they have done to prevent it happening to them?
What approach should someone take if they end up in such a situation?
If you know the answers to the first two questions, the chances are that you already know the answer to the third.
While the football allegations hog the headlines, they do at least illustrate one point very clearly: that an international approach is being taken to corruption more than ever before. It is often the case that bribery and corruption extends beyond one country’s borders. The allegations of FIFA corruption involve many countries while the Pogba transfer involves an English club, an Italian one, a French player and his Italian-born Dutch agent.
This is reflected in legislation. For example, the UK’s Bribery Act gives the 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. This 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 all people in business have to be aware of.
Which brings us to a blunt answer to the first question that we posed above. People and organisations find themselves in trouble over bribery because they are unable or unwilling to monitor the way their personnel operate in the UK and abroad.
This is not only careless, it is extremely dangerous. If those in business want to avoid running the risk of the punishments available under the Bribery Act, they need to design out the problem. This means taking careful, considered steps to reduce the potential for anyone within a company to indulge in bribery and corruption. This is also the answer to the second question.
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.
Such changes can be made to:
- The working practices of individuals or departments.
- The way those individuals or departments interact with other companies and their representatives.
- Encourage staff to report any suspicions of wrongdoing.
- Devise an official whistle blowing procedure for staff to raise those suspicions.
- Make sure any reported suspicions are investigated and, if necessary, acted upon.
Such procedures do not have to be immensely detailed or complex. Yet it is possible that some people reading this may feel they would not know where to start when it comes to designing out the potential for corruption.
Specialist legal firms, such as ourselves, regularly advise companies and organisations here and abroad on how to prevent corruption. Advice is available for the companies and organisations that want to be bribery proof.
There is an argument that is often made that bribery is an integral part of doing business in certain parts of the world. Those making this argument often add the claim that if you can get away with the bribery you shouldn’t see it as a problem.
It is an argument that has been made (and agreed with) by many over the years. But it seems to seem less and less convincing with each passing year. For example, it may not have many supporters in FIFA at the moment, as investigators go through years of its paperwork and computer records. And it will probably find little backing at Rolls-Royce, GlaxoSmithKline, Siemens, Petrobras or any number of major companies who have become the subject of major bribery investigations in recent years – many of which relate to allegations dating back years or even decades.
It is doubtful whether people in such organisations still believe – if they ever did – that bribery is an important part of business that never brings legal problems.
In such a situation, the third question we asked earlier in this article needs to be answered. An investigation can cost you time, money and your reputation. It is in your interests to minimise the chances of you being investigated by taking the steps already mentioned.
But if you or your company is investigated, you must have access to the right legal advice. This cannot be a knee-jerk reaction whereby you use your in-house lawyer, if you have one, or the nearest local solicitor.
You need to be using specialists in business crime cases who are used to dealing with organisations such as 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 what evidence can be produced to rebut allegations or minimise the scope of the investigation.
If you do find yourself in such circumstances, you need a legal team that is capable of mounting a robust and proactive defence and challenging the allegations being made.
This involves ensuring investigators do not exceed their legal powers when carrying out raids, making sure the person under investigation has full access to all relevant material that could be used as evidence and mounting every possible challenge to the claims that are being made by investigators.
In such cases, going on the attack can be the very best form of defence.