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« The Week In Review | Main | All The News That Fits The Prince »
Wednesday
Apr162008

SFO Chief Calls For US-Style Reforms

U.K.-based Ethical Corporation magazine has just released its 2008 anti-corruption special report. The 22-page publication (available by request here) is packed with Foreign Corrupt Practices Act compliance advice, descriptions of best practices from GE and others, and lots of news and analysis about enforcement trends.

It's all great content from this first-class publisher and compliance-event organizer (they draw a staggering 75,000 visitors a week to their website). But what caught our eye is managing editor John Russell's interview with U.K. Serious Fraud Office director Robert Wardle, who leaves his post at the SFO on April 21.

Wardle was interviewed before the High Court ruled last week that his decision to stop an investigation into BAE over the Al-Yamamah arms deal with Saudi Arabia was unlawful. He was criticized for his role by the High Court, which said: "It is the failure of government and the defendant [Wardle] to bear that essential principle in mind that justifies the intervention of this court."

In the interview, Wardle makes it clear that the U.K.'s anti-corruption effort needs to be reformed before it can be effective. That's apparent, given that the Serious Fraud Office, the U.K. body that investigates and, where possible, prosecutes U.K. companies or indi­viduals for corruption, hasn't brought a single prosecution after more than ten years of the U.K. having been party to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials. How should the U.K. reform its anti-corruption efforts? By being more like the United States and its Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, Wardle says.

"[T]he UK should further emulate the US," Wardle says, "by making use of plea-bargaining agreements, which grant suspects in corruption cases a reduced sentence in exchange for their co-operation. He believes that there should be a specific accounting rule prohibiting companies from taking steps to cover up suspicious trans­actions, like the books and records provision of the FCPA. He explains: 'We would benefit if companies knew it would be a specific criminal offence to conceal bribes.' Wardle would also like to see UK companies face greater liability for crimes committed by their employees. 'We should be looking at making a company responsible when a reasonably senior manager has been responsible for the offence or the payments,' he says."

Wardle ends his frustrating tenure at the SFO lamenting that U.K. companies still lack sufficient deterrents to bribing foreign public officials. He says: "One of the problems we have is that companies need to know that there is a price to be paid for corruption overseas."

Without doubt, American companies -- still waiting to see a level playing field for global anti-corruption enforcement -- will share Wardle's hope for long over-due reforms in the U.K.

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