With football’s world governing body FIFA at the centre of allegations of corruption and bribery on a huge scale, Aziz Rahman examines how senior figures in any organisation can avoid such problems – and what they must do if faced with such allegations.
The claims against FIFA appear to be increasing by the day. With a large number of senior figures having been arrested and taken for questioning following raids in Zurich coordinated by the FBI and Swiss authorities, FIFA’s activities are under immense scrutiny.
The dramatic events follow years of rumours and allegations regarding the way FIFA was run. While the raids indicated that matters are now being investigated, we have to look behind the news to ask a few important questions. How has such a major organisation found itself in such trouble? What could it – and any other large company or organisation – do to prevent it happening to them? And what approach should anyone take if they find themselves in such a difficult 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 FIFA raids show that an international approach is increasingly being taken to corruption, as such activity often transcends borders. This country’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, FIFA is in trouble because it has failed to keep an eye on the way its personnel have operated around the globe. So what can organisations do to avoid a FIFA-style problem? Putting it simply, they need to design out the problem: take careful steps to reduce the potential for figures within a company to indulge in bribery and corruption.
Potential for bribery
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 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. That is not a problem or an excuse for doing nothing. As specialists in business crime, we advise companies and organisations both here and abroad on how to prevent corruption having a role in the way they function. 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 go 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. Many will have thought they had got away with it only for the facts to surface and investigations to begin.
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. A bi-product of this is that you will be in charge of your affairs; able to record, retrieve and interpret company information at any given time – including any time when investigators may come calling.
If investigations are commenced into a company or organisation then it has to have access to the right legal advice. This is not simply a reflex defence mechanism. 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). Such specialists will be able to anticipate what questions are likely to be asked, what evidence can be produced to rebut allegations or minimise the scope of accusations.
In such circumstances, anyone under investigation has to have access to solicitors who can mount a robust and proactive defence to challenge the authorities making the allegations. Such a defence starts from the very moment it becomes apparent the authorities are taking an interest in a company. It involves important issues such as making sure investigators do not overstep their legal powers when conducting raids, ensuring a person being investigated has full access to all relevant material that could be used as evidence and challenging, where possible, each and every assumption being made by investigators.
Only then can someone mount the best possible defence.