Press release 17th Oct 2008

OECD report deplores UK anti-bribery record

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The OECD Working Group on Bribery has completed a special review of the UK’s record in fighting foreign bribery. Transparency International (UK) today calls on the UK Government to stop procrastinating and address the fundamental weaknesses identified in the OECD’s recommendations. None of these are new. For many years the UK has failed to act on them.

17 October 2008 - The Government promised in June 2000 to introduce a law to criminalise foreign bribery. Eight years later, it is still promising to do so "next year". The Government must now commit to present an anti-bribery law that is fit for purpose in the 4th session of this parliament. For several years the OECD has been urging the UK to reform its laws.

The Working Group’s Report concludes a special review of the UK's performance undertaken in April 2008. The review was provoked by years of inaction by the UK authorities; but partner States were particularly incensed by the decision to terminate the Serious Fraud Office's investigation of allegations of bribery involving BAE Systems and the UK-Saudi Al Yamamah arms deal. The Report makes it clear that the UK continues to be seriously delinquent in enforcing the 1997 OECD Anti-Bribery Convention which the UK signed in December 1997. The UK will continue to be on ‘probation’ and subject to further reviews if the OECD Working Group considers this necessary.

The SFO’s termination of the Al Yamamah investigation, citing barely credible ‘threats to national security’, continues to undermine the Convention, opening the door for other investigations to be abandoned without result. With its abysmal record of prosecuting bribery, the UK now has a reputation as a place where corrupt resources-resources-business is done.

Chairman of Transparency International (UK), Laurence Cockcroft, said:

“The Government’s claim that the UK is leading the way in tackling corruption is fiction. The recent injection of extra resources cannot disguise years of inaction and the need for reform. There have been only two cases in the UK since the 1997 OECD Anti-Bribery Convention came into force. In contrast, there have been 103 cases in the USA, 43 in Germany, and 19 in France. The facts are plain to see, more prosecutions of companies and individuals are needed to send the right message to resources-resources-business.

“Today’s OECD Report comes as no surprise and highlights the UK’s complacency over its failure to take international corruption seriously. Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index published last month showed the UK's rating dropping from 8.4 to only 7.7 in 2008”.

Executive Director of Transparency International (UK), Chandrashekhar Krishnan, added:

“It is time the UK Government accepts its failings and commits to urgent and robust action. The role of Anti-Corruption Champion seems to be one of the least favourite appointments in the Government. We must hope that Jack Straw, as the new Champion, will now deliver. Eight years ago, he promised as Home Secretary that the Government would have a new anti-bribery law in place as a matter of urgency. We still don't have one.

The Law Commission will be recommending a new Bill next month. The Government must get its act together and fast-track the Bill’s adoption by Parliament in the 4th session. If it fails to do this, we will continue to see the lack of enforcement that the OECD Working Group deplores and see further damage to the UK’s reputation”.