Last month, EY published its 15th Global Fraud Survey, Integrity in the Spotlight – the future of compliance. The results are damning. Despite more active enforcement, amounting to over $11bn of penalties imposed by regulators and law enforcement agencies worldwide, there has been no improvement in the scale of bribery and corruption since 2012. In the UK, levels seem to be on the rise, even though the UK Bribery Act, which introduced much stronger anti-bribery laws and has been described as one of the toughest pieces of anti-corruption legislation in the world, came into force in 2011.
Yet these findings do not mean enforcement agencies are giving up the fight against fraud and corruption. As the report notes, there is often a lag between new legislation and more active enforcement. This certainly seems to be the case in the UK, where there has been a huge increase in activity by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) – so much so that the SFO’s work targeting fraud and bribery has drawn praise from the intergovernmental Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). This bears out in my experience. I’m seeing an increase in investigations and prosecutions, with more individuals and businesses contacting me for assistance in defending against allegations of bribery and corruption and looking for help to mitigate the financial and reputational risks.
In this blog post, I take a broad look at how the UK’s law and law enforcement agencies seek to tackle bribery and corruption. If you or your company may be facing investigation, are being investigated or facing prosecution, and you are in need of guidance and representation from an expert, please contact me as soon as possible – the earlier you get the right legal advice, the better the outcome is likely to be.
The Bribery Act 2010
Bribery, corruption, fraud, money laundering, embezzlement and more – as a signatory to many international anti-corruption conventions, the UK has a particularly robust framework for combatting many different types of financial misconduct by individuals and businesses. Much of this is covered in the Bribery Act 2010, a landmark piece of legislation that has near-universal jurisdiction and particularly harsh penalties. An individual or company with a close connection to the UK may face prosecution even if the alleged crime was committed abroad; while conviction can attract up to 10 years’ imprisonment, an unlimited fine and confiscation under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.
Although the Act covers all forms of bribery, its focus is on commercial bribery. Two of its four offences are business-related, including the new offence of a commercial organisation failing to prevent bribery by persons associated with it. A defence to this is ‘adequate procedures’, which seeks to act as an incentive for companies and organisations to have anti-bribery policies and practices in place. The other offences include the general offences of bribing another person (offering, promising or giving of an advantage), being bribed (requesting, agreeing to receive or accepting an advantage) and bribery of a foreign public official.
Corruption and fraud investigations
Many different agencies are responsible for investigating corrupt practices and fraud. Perhaps most notable are the SFO, the National Crime Agency (NCA) and its International Corruption Unit (ICU), although the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC), police forces and regional organised crime units can also be involved. If the alleged misconduct has an international element, it is highly likely foreign investigative and enforcement bodies will also be working closely with the UK’s agencies.
The seriousness of bribery, and the strong public interest in tackling it, means agencies and prosecuting authorities are encouraged to pursue investigations and cases robustly and with rigour. This means investigative teams are often made up of experts who have vast resources at their disposal, helping them to detect and uncover criminality, particularly wrong-doing by ‘professional enablers’, such as accountants and solicitors.
A corruption or serious fraud case usually starts once the SFO or other agency receives information about a possible criminal activity, usually from a company’s competitor, whistleblower, other law enforcement agency, or even from the company itself if it has self-reported. Subsequent research and investigations are carried out by analysts and intelligence officers working closely with lawyers. This co-operation between investigators and lawyers is a unique feature of corruption and bribery investigations and makes the need for expert representation particularly strong – those suspected of corruption or bribery will be being investigated by some of the best investigators and prosecutors the UK has to offer, and they will need the best possible advice and assistance throughout the process.
Mark Kelly Corruption Defence Barrister in London, UK
My clients benefit from representation by a trusted professional and highly experienced barrister who is known for his strategic thinking, transparency and unwavering attention to detail. A member of the Criminal Bar Association, Bar European Group, European Lawyers Bar Association and Proceeds of Crime Lawyers Association, I’ve vast experience successfully defending both individuals and businesses accused of serious fraud, bribery and corruption. With this expertise and experience, and a reputation and track record that is second to none, you can be sure you are in safe hands.
I regularly assist clients in Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, London, Bristol and the rest of the UK. If you have any queries about issues raised in this blog, or if you want to discuss how they impact you or your business, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me directly on 020 8108 7186, or fill out the contact form and I will get back to you as soon as possible.