Yesterday Matthew noted the success of the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention in curbing the bribery of public officials by individuals or firms subject to the laws of the 40 countries that have now ratified it. The enforcement data is surely impressive. Reports by Transparency International show a steady increase in investigations and prosecutions by the parties to the convention, and the latest OECD data, from 2012, disclose that since the convention took effect in 1999 over 300 individuals and 200 enterprises have been convicted or pled guilty to bribery-related charges with cases pending against another 150 persons and 20 plus firms.
One effect of greater enforcement by so-called “supply-side” countries against bribe payers is that it should help “demand-side” governments go after the bribe taking public officials. Although investigating and prosecuting a transnational bribery case from scratch is often a costly and complex undertaking, nailing the bribe-taker is vastly simplified when the bribe payer has either been convicted or admitted guilt. Evidence showing who received what and when will have already been compiled. One would think, then, that the several hundred prosecutions of bribe payers would be matched by several hundred cases against the takers. But one would be quite wrong.
Prosecution of the bribe taker in the wake of a conviction or guilty plea by the bribe payer is a rare event; the more usual reaction is either a studied silence or outright denial by authorities in the bribe taker’s country that anything wrongful occurred. Bangladesh’s Finance Minister said there was no evidence of corruption in the award of a contract to Canadian engineering firm even though company executives were charged in Canada with paying one. Ghanaian officials went even further, refusing to accept the $1 million plus in reparations a British company was ordered to pay when it pled guilty to bribing Ghanaian public employees. The reason: acceptance would be an acknowledgement that a bribe was paid.
It’s not hard to find reasons why developing country enforcement agencies have prosecuted so few bribe recipients. One is lack of capacity. In the poorest countries, the Haitis and Southern Sudans of the world, enforcement agencies are so thinly staffed, and the staffs so poorly trained, that collecting and using the information unearthed during the bribe payer’s prosecution can still be a stretch. A second reason is political interference. In South Africa the anticorruption agency was abolished after it charged the head of the ruling party with taking bribes, while in Nigeria the chief corruption fighter was transferred for being too willing to pursue bribe takers.
That said, there have been some efforts to go after the bribe takers, including some by developed countries: the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.K.’s Serious Fraud Office have both invoked domestic money laundering laws to prosecute bribe takers in their courts, and non-governmental organizations have stimulated similar cases in France, Spain, and the United States. But this doesn’t seem like much given the interests involved and the potential gains from more systematic efforts. In subsequent posts, I will suggest what could be done and by whom.