Britain to enforce new bribery laws by July

LONDON Mon Mar 28, 2011 3:47pm BST

Justice Secretary Ken Clarke speaks at the Conservative spring forum, in Cardiff March 6, 2011. REUTERS/Toby Melville

Justice Secretary Ken Clarke speaks at the Conservative spring forum, in Cardiff March 6, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Toby Melville

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LONDON (Reuters) - Tough anti-corruption laws that companies fear will expose them to unlimited fines will come into force in late June or early July, a spokesman for justice secretary Ken Clarke said Monday.

The rules were due to be implemented by April but Clarke delayed their introduction after companies complained the legislation was too strict and created uncertainty for multinationals and firms seeking business abroad.

Lawyers say the Bribery Act, approved by parliament last year, is more draconian than already tough U.S. rules.

Wednesday Clarke will publish guidance, originally expected in January, detailing how companies can comply with the rules and avoid prosecution.

"We have been working with business on the guidance to make it practical and comprehensive," the spokesman said.

Anti-corruption groups and charities had criticised the delay but the government denied it planned to weaken the legislation.

The government will allow a three-month notice period after publishing the guidance before implementing the act, meaning the rules will come into force in late June or early July, the spokesman added.

Many companies fear the rules will bar them from offering normal hospitality to customers and will require staff to attend expensive compliance training courses.

Under the act, companies with any British interest face unlimited fines if they cannot show they have made "adequate procedures" to prevent bribery.

In February, Clarke denied he was watering down the legislation and said the "compliance industry" was creating unnecessary concerns. "There is no backing down from the principles of the (Bribery) Act at all," he told parliament.

He said normal corporate hospitality would not become a criminal offence and that "honest firms" would not need costly compliance systems.

(Editing by David Cowell)

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