It might be the way “it’s
done here,” but bribing foreign officials is one very big
risk. Willing to spend 10 years behind bars?
Greasing the palms of the right people can make things
happen. Slip the maître d’ a $20 bill, and you may
get the table by the window. But one man’s gift is
another’s bribe. Slip a government official a few
thousand dollars, and you might get a lucrative contract. Get
caught, however, and you could pay a big fine or even go to
The U.K. is getting tough on bribery and the scope of its
new law scheduled to go into effect April 2011 will snag anyone
doing business in Great Britain or with a British citizen.
Bribes have long been viewed as a cost of doing business
around the globe. Considering the state of the world economy,
perhaps it’s not surprising that bribery is epidemic. In
its latest Corruption Perceptions Index, Transparency
International, an organization that monitors corruption around
the globe, noted that “nearly three quarters of the 178
countries in the index scored below five, on a scale from 0
(perceived to be highly corrupt) to 10 (perceived to have low
levels of corruption), indicating a serious problem.”
The most squeaky-clean countries are Denmark, New Zealand
and Singapore, followed closely by Finland and Sweden. The U.S.
ranked 22nd—its lowest ranking in 15 years (just below
What’s the problem? Some of the most corrupt nations
are the developing economies that many companies see as
lucrative markets for their products—and that lure is
sometimes worth the risk.
Billions are paid to public officials every day, and
billions are paid in fines for violating corrupt-practices
laws. Google “bribery” to see the scale of the
problem. The list of bribery charges reads like a Who’s
Who of corporate business.
But even a small businessman can be swept in if he gives a
border guard a “fee” to clear a passport or
customs. The common defenses given when caught: “local
practice” and “promotional expenses.” Neither
holds hold much water with law enforcement.
Bribery is not just a bag full of cash furtively handed to
public officials. Under the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act,
for example, giving “anything of value” to a public
official—trips, entertainment, college tuition,
charitable donations, etc.—constitutes bribery.
Bribery may grease the wheels of commerce, but it also
interferes with the free flow of trade. At a time when
exporting is critical to the global economy, governments are
stepping up enforcement of anti-bribery laws. In the U.K., a
sweeping new law that takes effect in April has broad
ramifications for anyone doing business in the U.K. or with a
British citizen, whether or not they are domiciled there. The
act also applies to private individuals, not just public
officials—a major difference between British and U.S.
The bribery offenses fall under two general principles:
· Bribing another person by offering, promising or
giving a financial or other advantage to another person either
directly or through an intermediary
· Being bribed by requesting, agreeing to receive, or
accepting a financial or other advantage, directly or through a
third party for a person’s or someone else’s