The Long Arm of the U.K. Bribery Act

By O'neill, Laura; Navarro, Lisa et al. | National Defense, December 2010 | Go to article overview

The Long Arm of the U.K. Bribery Act


O'neill, Laura, Navarro, Lisa, Bombach, Kara, National Defense


For U.S. companies, particularly those active in foreign countries or engaged in high-profile markets such as the defense industry, maintaining ethical operations and avoiding corruption is essential. Many U.S. companies have in place policies designed to maximize compliance with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). The expanded breadth of the anticipated U.K. Bribery Act 2010 should trigger a revisit, perhaps even an overhaul, of existing corporate anti-corruption policies and procedures, even by U.S. companies with minimal connections in the United Kingdom.

U.S.-based companies should heed this U.K. legislation because of the Bribery Act's broad jurisdictional thresholds. In addition to all relevant acts of bribery occurring in the United Kingdom, it also covers acts of bribery, wherever committed, to the extent the offending party has a "close" U.K. connection--for example, a British citizen or corporate entity.

Even broader, however, is the reach of the "corporate offense" provision, which criminalizes "relevant commercial organizations" for failing to prevent acts of bribery by its employees, agents, subsidiaries and joint venture partners. The definition of a relevant commercial organization is widely drafted to catch any company that does business in the United Kingdom, as well as all U.K. incorporated entities.

Whilst this might not sound too onerous on its face, to be subject to the Bribery Act, offenses need not be committed in the country, and need not be committed by the part of the U.S. business with connections to the United Kingdom.

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As such, a non-British entity could find itself prosecuted under the Bribery Act for acts committed outside of the country by non-U.K. subsidiaries, simply because part of its business takes place in the nation. As a strict liability offense, it will be no defense to claim ignorance, or even negligence. The only defense is to demonstrate that adequate procedures had been put in place to try to prevent the bribery from happening. What is considered adequate, however, will be a matter for the courts to determine.

If the Bribery Act offenses mirrored the FCPA, its impact would merely be to increase the number of potential international prosecutors. The Bribery Act, however, goes much further than the FCPA or any other national equivalent, including the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's Convention against Corruption.

Existing rules criminalize bribery of foreign public officials. The Bribery Act also bars bribery of private individuals and businesses, and bribery involving domestic governmental officials. The FCPA criminalizes offering or paying bribes whereas the Bribery Act also criminalizes receipt of bribes.

These additional offenses require a reassessment of corporate attitudes, market strategies and vulnerabilities. For example, robust due diligence of international partners and payments to and from third parties--already integral to an effective FCPA-compliance program--is now key. …

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