The risk of Greek companies bribing foreign officials is substantial, and yet Greece has not given the same priority to fighting foreign bribery as it has to domestic corruption, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The “Phase 3bis Report on Greece” by the OECD Working Group on Bribery evaluates and makes recommendations to Greece on its implementation of the Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions. The report results from the Working Group’s decision to conduct a supplemental Phase 3bis evaluation of Greece. It examines issues that the Working Group was unable to fully assess in the previous Phase 3 evaluation in 2012. The report also examines Greece’s implementation of the Working Group’s 38 Phase 3 recommendations that were made in 2012, and new developments in Greece that time.

Since 2012, Greece has “significantly enhanced” some aspects of its implementation of the Convention, but ample room for improvement remains, according to the OECD. “Greece has made efforts to tackle domestic corruption in the country, but it needs to give much higher priority to fighting foreign bribery,” the report stated.

The report continued: “Greece does not fully appreciate that its companies are at substantial risk of committing foreign bribery. The National Anti-Corruption Action Plan and other government policies continue to only address ‘corruption’ generally, which is interpreted as referring only to domestic corruption.

“This sends an unfortunate message that foreign bribery is an acceptable means to win overseas business and improve Greece’s economy during an economic crisis,” the OECD stated. “Greece must, therefore, urgently raise the priority of fighting foreign bribery and explicitly address foreign bribery in its national anti-corruption strategies.”

The OECD also expressed concerns about Greece’s lax investigation efforts. Although Greece has seven ongoing foreign bribery investigations, one case was closed without a thorough investigation. “Investigations initially were not opened into several other allegations, despite investigations or convictions in foreign jurisdictions against foreign officials for receiving bribes from Greek nationals,” the OECD stated. “Most of the allegations that led to investigations were provided by the Working Group and were not detected by the Greek authorities.”

To improve Greece’s fight against foreign bribery, the Working Group recommended that Greece:

Raise awareness of foreign bribery, especially among exporting, shipping, and small- and medium-sized companies;

Develop and implement a strategy to detect foreign bribery;

Assess and investigate all credible foreign bribery allegations seriously and without delay;

Provide prosecutors and investigators with sufficient resources; and

Better protect whistleblowers from retaliation.

The OECD did note some positive elements in its review of Greece. For example, the country has reduced duplicate legislative provisions and clarified ambiguities in its foreign bribery offense. It also raised maximum fines for foreign bribery—albeit further increases are necessary, the OECD stated.

The Public Prosecutor against Crimes of Corruption has been given an important role in investigations and prosecutions. Greece has clarified how foreign bribery investigators can obtain information protected by tax secrecy.

The Working Group also praised the establishment in January of a new Ministry of Anti-Corruption. The Working Group said it plans to follow up on whether and how this Ministry affects Greece’s fight against foreign bribery.

More to Come

Following the signing of a cooperation agreement on March 12, the OECD Secretariat announced that it’s providing technical assistance “to help Greece with the design and implementation of a broad range of structural reforms, including the promotion of a culture of transparency and integrity.” 

Greece will submit a report in one year on progress made in implementing certain recommendations. As with other Working Group members, Greece also will submit a written report to the Working Group within two years on steps it has taken to implement all of the recommendations. This report will be publicly available.