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OECD Has ‘Grave Concerns’ with Argentina’s Anti-Bribery Efforts

Joe Mont | December 18, 2014

Government officials in Argentina may say they take corruption seriously, but a report released on Thursday by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Working Group on Bribery says its investigators “doubt Argentina’s commitment to fight foreign bribery.”

Argentina has no law to punish companies for foreign bribery or prosecute individuals who commit the crime abroad. Widespread delays continue to plague complex economic crime investigations, the report says, adding that executive contact with judges and prosecutors threatens their independence. “Urgent action is needed,” it concludes.

The Working Group on Bribery is comprised of the 34 OECD member countries, plus Argentina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Colombia, Latvia, Russia, and South Africa. The  Anti-Bribery Convention, adopted in 1997, was a pledge by signatory countries, accounting for approximately two-thirds of world exports, to make foreign bribery a crime and hold both individuals and enterprises culpable. Thenew  report assessed Argentina’s implementation of its Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions.

“The Working Group is gravely concerned about Argentina’s commitment to fight foreign bribery and how little progress it has made since previous evaluations,” the report says. “Argentina has not implemented the Working Group’s longstanding recommendations since 2001 to introduce corporate liability for foreign bribery, provide nationality jurisdiction to prosecute this crime, and rectify several shortcomings in its foreign bribery offence. Systemic deficiencies in Argentina’s criminal justice system… persist. Widespread delays in economic crime cases continue to plague the criminal justice system.”

Judicial investigations into foreign bribery allegations “have progressed very slowly.” Authorities have not reacted promptly to foreign bribery allegations reported in the media and in most cases do not seek the co-operation of foreign authorities, the report says, expressing concerns about judicial independence. Those concerns include undue influence from executives and a high number of judicial vacancies.

“Argentine law enforcement authorities’ inconsistent and convoluted rules hinder and delay the reporting of crime by public officials,” the OECD Working Group claims, adding to its list of concerns. “Few Argentine companies have anti-foreign bribery measures beyond limited codes of ethics. Argentina has not adopted appropriate measures to protect whistleblowers in both the public and private sectors from discriminatory or disciplinary action.”

The Working Group made several recommendations for improving Argentina’s fight against foreign bribery, including:

  • Prompt implementation of a new Criminal Procedure Code;
  • Reducing the high number of judicial vacancies and use of surrogate judges;
  • Seriously investigating and prosecuting all foreign bribery cases as appropriate;
  • Encouraging companies to adopt measures to prevent and detect foreign bribery;
  • Better protect whistleblowers from retaliation.

The report does note several positive developments that officials can build upon. They include legislative reforms, new agencies for investigating economic crimes, improvements to the reporting of suspicious money laundering transactions, stronger accounting and auditing standards, and awareness-raising efforts by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Argentina will be evaluated again by the end of 2016 to assess progress. As with other Working Group members, Argentina will also submit a written report within two years on steps it has taken to implement the all of the recommendations.