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New British anti-bribery laws to have global impact

With Britain introducing new anti-bribery laws covering overseas operations of companies doing business in the UK, Business RT spoke with Robert Amaee of Covington & Burling, formerly Head of Anti-corruption at the UK Serious Fraud Office.

RT:  Is the law a challenge for Russian companies with London links and why?

RA:  “Well it certainly can be a challenge, for Russian companies, and really, any other company linked to the UK. The law says that any company which carries on a business, or even a part of a business, in the UK, can be subject to the new corporate offence.And that really is quite a significant shift from where we were yesterday, in fact, the law coming into effect today, and the law is really giving the prosecutors an extended reach.And the serious Fraud Office in the UK, the prosecutor for the Bribery Act has come out and said, even this morning, that they will be looking to make it a priority to go after foreign companies that disadvantage British business interests overseas.”

RT:  Will the law help Russia fight with corruption?

RA:  “Well I think it may well play its part, but the Bribery act is only one part of a long list of obligations that companies have internationally, and these obligations are there to ensure that the companies act transparently, ethically, and with integrity, both in their own countries and internationally, including in Russia.So if a company with activities in Russia put it in conflict with those obligations, well that company will have to sit back and think whether that company can do business in Russia.And that isn’t where Russia wants to be.You want to be able to say that Russia is a great place to do business, and I know that Russia, of course as your viewers will be aware, passed a new law banning bribery of public officials and it is also being embraced by the OECD.And that of course is very welcome, but I think that the key here is that in order to remove an impediment to investment, Russia really needs to tackle any domestic corruption first, before it goes after the foreign public officials.And if it can do that, then I think that companies will have much more confidence in investing in the country and without fear that they are going to be criminally prosecuted back home.”

RT:  Will the law make the UK market less attractive for companies from emerging economies?

RA:  “No, I don’t believe that it will.Companies with the right risk mitigation policies and procedures in place will really have little to worry about.There is a defence in the Act, of having adequate procedures, that protects you, as a shield against wrongful actions from employees or third parties.But if you are asking me whether the Bribery Act makes the UK less attractive for corrupt companies from those emerging markets, well in that case the answer is a resounding yes."

RT:  Can the law spur anti-corruption wave across Europe?

RA: “Well, rather than spurring a wave I think the Bribery act really is injecting momentum into what has already started.  There has been a growing recognition now for some time that the really serious damage that corruption does to companies, to countries and companies, both on a human level, where citizens don’t get their basic needs met because of the greed of corrupt officials, but also from the country’s perspective where the rule of law is undermined, where economic prosperity is stilted because of corruption – no one can claim a legitimate interest in seeing foreign officials pocketing their nation’s wealth, while their fellow citizens live in abject poverty, that is simply not right – and I think that is where the Bribery Act comes into its own.  It’s really a new chapter in what is already happening across the board.  In enforcement across Europe, Germany, the UK – we have seen a real upswing – but across the world, if you look at Canada they have had a corruption commission which they can boast about and obviously the US for the last 7 or 8 years has really been blazing a trail in this field – last year taking $2 billion in fines from these companies, and having their first criminal conviction of a company. And really this is a trend that will continue.”