Countries are doing too little to try to tackle bribery overseas, with enforcement at its lowest level since 2009, according to the latest report from Transparency International (TI).
The anti-corruption campaigner said only the United States and Switzerland can be considered “active enforcers” due to their efforts to investigate, charge, and impose meaningful sanctions as a deterrent.
Countries previously seen as strong enforcers—such as the United Kingdom and Israel—are now regarded as “moderate” enforcers, a group that also includes Germany, France, Norway, Latvia, and Australia.
TI’s “Exporting Corruption 2022” report, released Tuesday, assessed the enforcement records of 43 signatories to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) Anti-Bribery Convention, along with China, India, Hong Kong SAR, and Singapore—four of the world’s largest exporters that are not yet signatories.
The report found most of the surveyed countries have limited or no enforcement at all. This group included China, the world’s top exporter, and India, which does not have legislation criminalizing foreign bribery. Other countries with zero case histories since 2018 included Russia and Mexico.
In 38 of the 47 countries surveyed, a group accounting for more than 55 percent of all global exports, TI said foreign bribery abuses go largely unpunished. Few countries publish sufficient information on ongoing, pending, or completed foreign bribery cases.
Only two countries, Latvia and Peru, have improved their level of enforcement since TI’s 2020 report.
While the pandemic might have slowed progress and set back some investigations, TI said the downward trend in enforcement began in 2018. It blamed the lack of enforcement on “serious inadequacies” that exist in laws and justice systems in all countries, some more than others.
For example, France in 2021 introduced legislation that limits the duration of preliminary investigations for corruption-related offenses to five years. Meanwhile, in a handful of countries that are signatories to the OECD convention, including New Zealand, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Greece, Portugal, and Slovenia, there are weaknesses in the definition of what constitutes a foreign bribery offense.
The TI report also cited lack of resources, training, and independence for law enforcement and investigative agencies and lack of effective whistleblower protections or speak-up mechanisms as barriers to effective enforcement.
The report added compensation for victims of foreign bribery and corruption is rare, and international cooperation still faces significant obstacles due to “incompatible” legal frameworks and the slow processing of mutual legal assistance requests to enable access to data and key evidence.
“Even in countries that do enforce, foreign bribery continues to be treated as a victimless crime,” said Gillian Dell, TI’s head of conventions and lead author of the report, in a press release. “… It is time to recognize victims’ rights by developing transparent and accountable mechanisms to compensate those harmed, including foreign states, business competitors, and whole populations suffering from foreign bribery. This is essential to achieve justice and deter future violations.”
The report indicated some positive developments, namely international efforts to promote transparency through greater use of registers of beneficial ownership so the true owners of companies can be identified.
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