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BPCC seminar: UK Bribery Act 2010

The UK Bribery Act 2010 comes into force on 1 July 2011. It equips the UK courts and prosecutors with some of the most up-to-date and robust anti-bribery legislation in the world.

The BPCC together with members White & Case and PwC organised a seminar at the British Embassy on 1 June to raise awareness of the new law and what British – and indeed global – companies with operations in Poland should be doing to avoid falling foul of the new law.

The Act is recognised by the business community as an extremely significant landmark in the global fight against corruption. It shows companies, their directors and shareholders, that the UK Government has a zero-tolerance approach to bribery. The new legislation, which in some regards is tougher than the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, will affect any business that carries on part of its business in the UK, and encompasses any corrupt activities in which officers or representatives of that business may engage anywhere in the world.

Attempting to influence foreign public officials through illegitimate benefits – even through a third party – will be treated as a criminal offence in the UK, and company directors can face up to ten years imprisonment and unlimited fines if at board level they have turned a blind eye to bribery.

The effect this can have on business globally is potentially extremely serious. Companies with a global footprint need to be aware of the new law, and what they need to do to ensure that if bribery occurs on their behalf – which can happen in the best run companies – they cannot be accused of failing to take adequate steps to manage their employees, agents or subsidiaries.

The Bribery Act sends a clear signal that corruption is not something that the UK is prepared to countenance wherever it may appear. It is evident from comparing global rankings of corruption and human development that the more corrupt a country is, the poorer its citizens are. For the good of the world economy, the legal weaponry in the fight against corruption must be enhanced.

For companies, it will be important to show that all relevant steps are being taken to ensure that the zero tolerance of corruption message is communicated, understood and acted upon across all their operations worldwide. The seminar gave delegates the chance to learn how the new law will affect their businesses in Poland and around the world, and review their current policies and procedures to ensure compliance with the new legislation.

The keynote speaker, Charlie Montieth, who while Head of Legal and Operational Assurance

at the UK’s Serious Fraud Office was one of the co-authors of the UK Bribery Act, outlined the scope of the new law, defining the offences (active and passive bribery, bribing a foreign public official, failure to prevent bribery at the corporate level and senior officer’s liability for conniving or consenting to bribery). Mr Montieth, now at law firm White & Case in London, also explained what companies could do to defend themselves in situations where they may be accused of bribery offences.

Edwin Harland, a director of PwC in London, presented several hypothetical scenarios of bribery occurring in Poland, where the company or individual doing the bribing was linked to the UK. He then explained whether or not they were falling foul of the UK Bribery Act. Mr Harland then outlined what companies should be doing to put into place procedures that would send show that they are complying with the new law.

The key message of both speakers was that this is a boardroom issue – that the main board must communicate that it does not tolerate bribery wherever it may be taking place.