Posted 15th July 2011

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The Bribery Act came into force on the 1st July and there has been what I consider to be a great deal of scaremongering by commentators in the media about what you can and cannot accept by way of corporate hospitality without committing an offence.

Maybe it´s just that I don´t get invited to the types of corporate hospitality which could in any conceivable way be considered bribery, but to think that the authorities have the resources and inclination to start investigating modest hospitality is of course nonsense. But before I risk offending those who wine and dine me, I consider that it is all jolly nice!

In order to be illegal, the ´´corporate hospitality´´ must provide an advantage and be offered with the intention of inducing the person to perform a function improperly. This can be a fairly fine line, which translates into ´´fairly difficult to prove´´ and it will be interesting to see how the enforcement of this new legislation develops.

Whilst it is illegal to offer or accept a bribe (duh?) the sting in the tail is the controversial corporate offence of failing to have systems in place to prevent bribery.  The potential penalty is a fine or prison sentence of up to 10 years.  But again, let´s keep this in perspective.  We have all read the headlines about alleged bribery for billion pound contracts – this is a slightly different pool to one which most of us are swimming in. 

A large oil company is reported to have been fined $48M where they are said to have admitted condoning the payment of bribes in Nigeria (never!) and falsely recorded bribes as business expenses.  Seriously – I can´t see that my odd day at the races or a day´s shooting is going to land me in the cross hairs of investigators!

Many will say that ´´inducements´´ are victimless, the way of the world, always have been and always will be.  The contrary argument is that bribery diminishes free and fair competition, weakens the rule of law and damages social and economic development.  

The government has issued flexible and outcome focused guidance which involves top-level commitment, assessment of risk, due diligence, training and review.  So make sure that you have a policy in place (which we will happily assist you with!) but most importantly, keep it in perspective and don´t get too excited about it – we have enough to worry about.