LONDON (Reuters) - Lawmakers called on Tuesday for a proposed new law against bribery to be toughened by making it easier to prosecute a company for failing to prevent a bribe being paid.
The government put forward a draft law in March that would make it a criminal offence for British-based companies or people to offer or accept a bribe anywhere in the world, including attempts to bribe foreign public officials.
The proposed new law follows criticism by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) that existing law could not prevent corporate bribery abroad and fell short of international standards.
A committee of legislators from the main political parties and from both houses of the parliament, set up to examine the draft law, said the legislation was overdue.
The law creates a new corporate offence of failing to prevent bribery. For a company to be found guilty, prosecutors would have to show that a “responsible” person working for the company had been negligent by failing to prevent a bribe being paid.
The committee called for the removal of the need to prove negligence, saying the focus should be on a company’s collective failure to stop bribery rather than on an individual.
The law would still allow a company to defend itself by showing it had adequate anti-bribery procedures.
PERMANENT BAN QUESTIONED
The committee urged the government to tackle the “injustice” that, under existing law, a company convicted of corruption is automatically barred from competing for public contracts forever.
Lawyers told the committee that losing government contracts could cause some companies’ businesses to collapse overnight and gave firms no incentive to uncover bribery.
The committee urged the government to scrap a proposal to exempt British intelligence services from the anti-bribery law.
“We heard no persuasive evidence that the domestic intelligence agencies needed an authorisation to bribe, and we also question whether the proposals are compliant with the UK’s international obligations,” it said.
Rees Ward, director general of the Defence Manufacturers’ Association, said the draft law was welcome. “It will hopefully give a clearer legal base for tackling corruption both at home and abroad,” he said in a statement.
The government says Britain is one of the least corrupt countries in the world, standing third among G8 countries, behind Canada and Germany. But Britain achieves far fewer prosecutions for bribery than the United States and Europe.
One of the highest-profile recent fraud investigations in Britain, into an arms deal between Saudi Arabia and Europe’s biggest defence company BAE Systems, was halted by then Prime Minister Tony Blair in 2006.
Blair said pursuing the inquiry could have jeopardised national security, bringing criticism by rights groups and the OECD, which said authorities could and should have done more to investigate.
Editing by Myra MacDonald
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