Businesses need to be more proactive in their attempts to prevent bribery and as punishments include up to 10 years in prison – as per the UK’s Bribery Act 2010 – it’s crucial that accountants, auditors and finance officers are extra vigilant, says law firm Rahman Ravelli.
Aziz Rahman, senior partner at the London, UK-based serious and corporate crime defence specialists says that many organisations fail to adequately brief their staff on what does and doesn’t constitute a bribe.
“Even though it’s common for people to accept bribes without realising it, ignorance is never a suitable defence,” comments Rahman. “By granting additional funding to the Serious Fraud Office [SFO] to aid its investigation into accusations of bribery at Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation (ENRC), the [UK] government recently demonstrated that it is stepping up its attempts to prevent this kind of wrongdoing.”
To raise awareness of the issue, and to ensure that businesses aren’t unwittingly accepting bribes, he offers five tips:
1. Should you really be accepting that gift? “Much depends on the timing. If your staff are receiving gifts right at the time that you’re about to award contracts, alarm bells should be ringing,” says Rahman. It doesn’t have to be big or expensive; an accumulation of small gifts over time may be interpreted as bribery.
2. Hospitality: is this the first time you’ve been taken out by a client? UK regulator the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) is putting the squeeze on companies that use perks such as trips to sporting events or meals out as a means of bribing somebody. “Is the hospitality timed to coincide with a business decision being made? Is it the first time the person has offered such hospitality? Is it being offered only to the people who are making a particular business decision? If the answer to all these is yes, it could be considered bribery,” adds Rahman.
3. Be wary of clients offering services for free “It may be that you or your colleagues need some extra workplace resources. If a current or potential client offers to provide any of this for free or at a reduced rate, you have to ask why they are making this offer,” says Rahman. There can be cases where it is difficult to distinguish between a gesture of goodwill to cement a strong relationship and a bribe.
4. Are they really doing you a favour? “Someone offering to sort out a problem, give free advice or put you in touch with someone who can help can all be favours offered with the best intentions,” says Rahman. “But these are not favours if the person giving them expects something specific in return. Is the timing of the favour linked to any business decision?”
5. Do “mates’ rates” exist or is it just an elaborate bribe? “Everyone loves a bargain. Often people doing business with each other tend to ‘look after’ each other,” says Rahman. “This can be a genuine attempt to help out an acquaintance. But it could also be bribery”. Goods or services offered for a knock-down price need to be flagged, to ensure there’s nothing untoward happening.
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