With the Bribery Act set to come into effect, it will have serious repercussions for any company within the UK found to have any links with any kind of bribery.
Leading fraud solicitor Aziz Rahman, of Rahman Ravelli Solicitors, is currently assisting companies to ensure they comply with the terms of the Act.
He has taken time out to give us a quick, ten-point guide to the Act:
- The Bribery Act comes into effect from July 1 and affects companies of all sizes.
- It covers the activities of all companies that are based in the UK, have premises or staff in the UK or any other "close connection" to the UK.
- Such companies can be prosecuted in the UK for bribery that took place on their behalf or in their name anywhere in the world.
- Prosecutions can be brought against a company if the bribery was carried out by a member of their staff or even an intermediary, third party or trading partner acting on the company's behalf.
- A company will not escape prosecution if it says, or even if it can prove, that it was unaware of the bribery.
- Companies will be under a duty to show that they had "adequate procedures" in place to identify the risks of bribery and to prevent it happening.
- Punishments under the Act include unlimited fines and up to ten years imprisonment.
- A senior figure within a company who turns a blind eye to bribery will be prosecuted personally. For that reason, the management boards of all companies must make sure they are fully engaged in complying with the Act.
- Companies have to be fully informed of the risk of bribery in the business sectors and geographical locations they trade in and of the risk among their staff, business associates and potential or existing trading partners.
- Company training to eradicate risk of bribery must be thorough, ongoing, regularly monitored and applied across all levels of staff.
Rahman Ravelli solicitors are currently acting for a number of companies and individuals under investigation for alleged offences of bribing overseas public officials; Aziz Rahman, the firm's principal says; "we are certainly seeing an increasing willingness on the part of the authorities to take on these sorts of cases. The worry is that with the new Act the trend will increase and will catch business people whose intentions were not to, for example, 'obtain or retain' a business or an 'advantage' but simply to maintain a business relationship with a foreign local official, rather than secure some specific concrete reward." What is of even more concern is the new offence of failing to prevent bribery under s7 of the Act. Aziz Rahman worries for his clients; "whilst the aim of the section is laudable the burden of proof in establishing the defence of having adequate anti-corruption procedures in place is on the company. This risks criminalising companies who are doing their best but their best is not seen as good enough for a jury who maybe unimpressed by arguments about proportionate responses to risk. Even if there is a good defence being dragged through the Courts may cause reputational damage that innocent companies simply cannot afford."
The Act is due to come into force next month and will be a reality for all businesses, large and small.