Industry doubts Bribery Act enforcer's appetite for prosecution

The lack of a corporate prosecution under the UK Bribery Act has caused businesses to question the Serious Fraud Office's appetite for enforcement, Ernst & Young has found.

Industry doubting SFO's enforcement appetite, says Ernst & Young
Industry doubting SFO's enforcement appetite, says Ernst & Young

The Ernst & Young Global Fraud Survey found that only 26% of businesses surveyed consider that UK enforcers are willing to prosecute cases of bribery and corruption. This is lower than Western Europe, despite the passing of the Act that came into force a year ago today

Ernst & Young also said that its contacts had begun to re-examine the level of investment in their anti-bribery and corruption compliance measures after noting the lack of high profile prosecutions.

Jonathan Middup, UK head of Ernst & Young’s Anti-Bribery Corruption team said: "The delay in seeing prosecutions under the Act has led some businesses to begin quietly questioning the SFO’s appetite for enforcement. After the hiatus of the Act being debated, passed and finally becoming enforceable, a year without a corporate prosecution has left some feeling like it’s a phoney war.  

"However despite the lack of cases, the Bribery Act has had a far-reaching effect with the Act becoming embedded in compliance programmes. It has meant that businesses have paid attention to facilitation payments, third party relationships and corporate entertainment, and it has seen allegations of bribery and corruption treated far more seriously than in the past."

Though there have been no prosecutions under the new Act, five completed cases of bribery and corruption against UK companies under old laws have occured this year, according to Ernst & Young’s UK Bribery Digest, released next week.

The analysis finds that four of those five completed cases this year involved domestic wrongdoing. The Digest also shows that despite businesses focus on monitoring their contact with public officials, three of the five cases involved ‘business-to-business’ bribery.

Jonathan Middup continues: "There has not been the headline corporate prosecution under the Bribery Act that many foretold but there have been some interesting and instructive cases. The cases we have seen clearly show that bribery and corruption is happening on home soil, that private sector bribery is a major risk for companies, and that individuals are exposed.

"Those who point to the lack of prosecutions under the Bribery Act should be cautious. We are most often asked to undertake bribery and corruption investigations for incidents which happened years ago. Businesses not taking the right action now to encourage a culture of integrity are only likely to be storing up difficulties for the future."

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