In the world of foreign anti-bribery law, there has been much discussion (including on this blog – see here and here) about whether to adopt a so-called “compliance defense” that would allow corporate defendants to escape criminal liability for bribery committed by their agents if the corporation can show that it had an adequate compliance system in place. Some countries’ foreign bribery laws – most notably the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act – do not have such a defense; others – most notably the UK Bribery Act – do (though the UK Act combines the defense with strict corporate liability not only for the acts of employees, but also of other agents). Spain recently joined the latter group of countries with an amendment to its criminal law (Article 31 bis) that went into effect last month (see summaries here and here). That amendment (which covers not only Spain’s foreign bribery offense, but also domestic bribery and other corporate criminal offenses) allows the corporation to avoid criminal liability if it can establish that, prior to the commission of the crime, the board of directors implemented an adequate compliance program that meets certain requirements laid out in the statute.
Proponents of the compliance defense cheered. And a report on the new law from the law firm Miller & Chevalier predicted that this legal change “should encourage companies doing business in Spain to adopt a rigorous compliance program”—a claim that presumably would also apply to Spanish companies doing business abroad, given that the provisions also apply to Spain’s foreign bribery offense.
I’m not so sure, for reasons I’ve discussed before, but I do think the change in the Spanish law might provide an interesting opportunity to test the hypothesis. Continue reading