Many might assume that business leaders would welcome the recent announcement that the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has not conducted a single raid for the year to March 31. A sure sign that they were not, in fact, under the anti-corruption spotlight and could stop worrying about the 10-year jail sentence and unlimited fines that could be imposed following the passing of the Bribery Act last year.
However, quite the reverse is true. Many leading UK businesses recognise that strong anti-corruption systems are not just about staying out of jail but can be key to winning work, especially as public sector buyers and large corporates are focusing increasingly on the ethics of their suppliers. Consequently, a significant number of top UK companies are investing in anti-corruption programmes and training to reduce the risk of corrupt practices occurring in their organisations. Businesses are therefore taking a dim view of prosecutors who fail to tackle the venal. If laggards are not pushed to adopt good anti-corruption systems, the unethical can continue as if it is business as usual. Prior to the Act being passed, Britain’s antiquated corruption laws came in for repeated criticism form organisations such as the OECD and from countries as diverse as France, Germany and the USA whose own legislation was considerably more robust. Britain will remain a soft touch for corporate corruption if the SFO fails to demonstrate that it has an effective system in place for investigating those suspected of malpractice. The passing of the Bribery Act last year should have made it easier for prosecutors to catch those guilty of corruption. The fact that no searches have been conducted at all does call into question the effectiveness of the SFO and whether or not they have sufficient resources to do their job properly. Having made a real effort to bring our anti-corruption legislation up to date, we now need to ensure that the implementation of those laws is truly effective.