Thursday, July 19, 2007

Global: Effort to root out corporate bribery is flagging

Middle East envoy and former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair arrives for a meeting with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, in Brussels, Belgium, on Tuesday, July 17, 2007. (Paul O'Driscoll/Bloomberg News)

A global effort to root out corporate bribery is flagging
By Doreen Carvajal
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
PARIS: A decade-long global effort to root out corporate bribery in major exporting nations is flagging, with numerous countries failing to enforce the anti-corruption measures that they have signed, according to an annual report released Wednesday.
More than half of the 34 countries surveyed have failed to act on international commitments to combat bribery, according to Transparency International, an anti-corruption group based in Berlin.
In particular, it singled out Britain, where the previous government, under Tony Blair, recently quashed an investigation against BAE Systems on national security grounds.
"The reason that we identify is lack of political will," said Gillian Dell, the co-author of the third annual study, which monitored the progress of countries that signed a 10-year-old accord to combat bribery of foreign officials.
"Our main message is that there's been some progress, but it's not enough, and more needs to be done. Foreign bribery is a big problem," he said.
Among the big eight exporting nations, the study notes that France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and the United States have stepped up their enforcement. Canada, Japan and Britain have not conducted any significant prosecutions.
The United States prosecuted 67 cases in 2007 and conducted 60 investigations, according to the study, while Britain pursued 15 investigations.
Since anti-bribery measures can level the playing field for rival companies, Dell said, the transparency group fears that Britain has set a troubling precedent with its intervention to halt a bribery investigation of BAE's £43 billion, or $88 billion, arms contract with Saudi Arabia.
Blair cited concerns that a review would wreck bilateral relations.
That opens "a dangerous loophole that other parties could assert when investigations may offend powerful officials," according to the report.
The report also cited a number of East European countries that have not pursued bribery prosecutions, including Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovenia and Slovakia, where in March the minister of the economy, Lubomir Jahnatek, was quoted during an interview labeling bribes as "non-traditional forms of sale that really work."
The group surveyed corruption experts in the 34 countries to get a sense of how politics influences bribery investigations. All of the countries have signed an accord under the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, pledging that national economic interest will not affect bribery investigations.
A number of the experts, according to the report, said there was evidence of political control. As one New Zealand official put it, "there seems to be an attitude which abhors the bribery and corruption of officials within New Zealand, but accepts a different or lower standard with respect to bribery and corruption offshore."
Mark Pieth, chairman of the OECD's working group on bribery and a criminal law professor at the University of Basel in Switzerland, said he took a more optimistic view of the global effort to combat bribery.
"First of all we have knowledge of about 150 investigations running at the moment," he said, noting that he divided performance into three categories: "One-third is really fine. One-third is middle of the road. And one-third is just not performing."
In November, the OECD will be the host to a meeting of ministers and prosecutors in Rome to mark the 10-year anniversary of the anti-bribery accords and to evaluate potential change.

No comments: