LONDON (Reuters) - The first person to be convicted under new bribery laws was jailed on Friday, and lawyers said his sentence sent out a warning message to business.
Munir Patel, 22, a court clerk who worked at Redbridge Magistrates’ Court in east London, had pleaded guilty to accepting 500 pounds to “get rid” of speeding charges by keeping the details off a court database.
He was given three years in prison for bribery offences and six years for misconduct in a public office, with the sentences to run concurrently, the Press Association reported.
“The sentencing ... demonstrates the significant sentences that the courts are willing to impose on individuals who commit an offence under the (Bribery) Act,” said Angela Pearson, a partner with international law firm Ashurst.
“It is only a matter of time before the SFO (Serious Fraud Office) bares its teeth and prosecutes the first corporate or its directors under the Act. In the meantime, the business community collectively hold their breath.”
The Bribery Act, which came into force in July, makes failure to prevent bribery - whether committed by staff, subsidiaries or “associated persons” anywhere in the world - a criminal offence.
It also clamps down on so-called “facilitation payments,” often used to oil the wheels of business by speeding up services such as visa applications, and “disproportionate” hospitality.
Southwark Crown Court heard Patel had helped at least 53 individuals evade prosecution for driving offences, and that he had advised people on how to avoid being summoned to court.
His salary was 17,978 pounds, but the court heard that 53,814 pounds in cash was deposited in his bank account while another 42,383 pounds was transferred into the same account, both without explanation.
“It hardly needs saying that these were very serious offences,” Judge Alistair McCreath said.
“A justice system in which officials are prepared to take bribes in order to allow offenders to escape the proper consequences of their offending is inherently corrupt and is one which deserves no public respect and which will attract none.”
Reporting by Michael Holden; editing by Andrew Roche