MEDIA RELEASE: Australia needs to do more to tackle foreign bribery

13 October 2020

Transparency International’s latest Exporting Corruption report* finds that active enforcement against foreign bribery significantly decreased since 2018 in the world’s major exporting countries. Only four out of 47 countries, which make up 16.5 per cent of global exports, actively enforced legislation against foreign bribery.

‘Too many governments choose to turn a blind eye when their companies use bribery to win business in foreign markets’ said Delia Ferreira Rubio, Chair of Transparency International.

‘Foreign bribery is not a victim-less crime. It impacts government revenue – revenue that could be invested in essential services like healthcare and education. It also undermines people’s trust in their government, which once lost, is hard to rebuild’ said Serena Lillywhite, CEO of Transparency International Australia.

‘Between 2016-2019, only three foreign bribery cases in Australia concluded with sanctions – but it’s not a rare crime.

‘It’s clear that our laws – both international and national, processes and policing are not stopping the crime of foreign bribery.

‘Tackling foreign bribery is hard work and made harder by weak laws that have not kept pace with the scale and complexity of the problem.

‘Investigations are often complex and involve gathering evidence across borders, posing great challenges for investigative agencies in dealing with multiple legal systems.

‘We need a smarter mix of prevention, detection and enforcement to tackle foreign bribery.

‘The Australian Parliament needs to stop delaying and pass the much-needed 2019 Crimes Legislation Amendment (Combatting Corporate Crime) Bill, which aims to enhance the tools available to enforcement agencies and prosecutors to tackle corporate crime – including the new offence of failing to put in place adequate procedures to help prevent the likelihood of foreign bribery occurring, and a deferred prosecution agreement scheme.

‘Companies need to be alert to the warning signs of foreign bribery throughout all aspects of their business and they need to put stronger due diligence and detection measures in place. The soon-to-be-launched Bribery Prevention Network will assist with this. **

‘The Australian Federal Police must be properly resourced to carry out cross-border investigations. Their job would be made easier with more effective legal and evidence gathering collaboration; if Australia mandated disclosure of beneficial ownership; and established a publicly accessible central register to increase transparency around corporate beneficial ownership.

‘Additional reforms that would help combat foreign bribery include:

  • Publishing statistics on foreign bribery investigations, prosecutions and case outcomes
  • Developing a database of foreign bribery investigations and enforcement outcomes
  • Abolishing the facilitation payments defence
  • Introducing a debarment regime granting agencies the power to preclude companies found guilty of foreign bribery offences from being awarded contr­acts
  • Expanding the scope of international legal cooperation (Mutual Legal Assistance laws) to allow countries to more effectively investigate, prosecute and sanction this crime.

‘Australia can and should be a better global citizen. With a greater commitment to transparency and by actively establishing and enforcing stronger rules against foreign bribery, we can put a stop to it.’

Transparency International’s 2020 report, Exporting Corruption, rates the performance of 47 leading global exporters, including 43 countries that are signatories to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Anti-Bribery Convention, in cracking down on bribery of foreign public officials by companies operating abroad. The report shows how well – or poorly – countries are following the rules.

** Launching 21 October by the Global Compact Network Australia, the Bribery Prevention Network will bring together business, civil society, academia and government with the goal of supporting Australian business to prevent, detect and address bribery and corruption. The portal will be accessible on the 14 October.

Photo by History in HD on Unsplash