Entrance view from the inside of the building.

Those who live in glass houses... UK's anti-bribery controls to be subject to UN peer review

11 August 2011

Timing is everything.  Just as the Bribery Act 2010 beds in, it has been announced that the UK will be subject to peer review under the UN Convention against Corruption.

The review will take place over the next year, reporting in the spring of 2012, just as the SFO's Director, Richard Alderman, a champion of the Bribery Act, retires.  The review will concentrate on the UK's compliance with two chapters of the Convention: Chapter III on Criminalisation and Law Enforcement and Chapter IV on International Cooperation.

Perhaps the only 'get out of jail free' card is that the UK's reviewers will be Israel and Greece.  As they say, those who live in glass houses should not throw too many stones. Research by the anti-bribery organisation Transparency International suggests: i) lengthy proceedings and short statutes of limitations pose significant problems for prosecuting corruption in Greece; and ii) that Greeks named political parties as the institution they perceived to be the most corrupt. Whilst the review will not have an immediate impact on UK businesses, greater international scrutiny of the UK's enforcement of its new anti-bribery laws can only add to pressure on the SFO to take robust (but hopefully not premature) action.

Confirming my expectation that the FSA would take the lead in anti-bribery controls in the City, just three weeks after the Act came into force, the FSA fined Willis Limited £6.895m for failings in its anti-bribery and corruption systems and controls. Although the relevant conduct pre-dated the Bribery Act 2010, the timing is significant given the emphasis on anti-bribery and corruption within the City. With the advent of the Bribery Act, all regulated firms must beware the increased political and regulatory focus on systems and controls to prevent bribery and corruption. The FSA has, for example, signalled that it will now look at anti-bribery and corruption controls within investment banks.

Any regulated firm that is not up to speed with its anti-financial crime systems and controls or (in the language of the Bribery Act) does not have ‘adequate procedures’ to prevent bribery, could now feel the full force of the FSA and, for conduct since 1 July, face criminal proceedings. It will have to be all hands on deck if such systems are not yet in place.

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