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Update on OECD Anti-Bribery Convention adoption in Argentina, Finland, UK and Italy

Progresses on anti-bribery laws are being made albeit slowly, according to recent publication by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

In the last few weeks, the OECD has published separate updates on implementation status in Argentina, Finland, UK and Italy of its Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions (OECD’s Anti-Bribery Convention).

The Anti-Bribery Convention proposes a set of core standards that signatory countries have to implement into national law.

Recent updates by the OECD Working Group on Bribery said that all four countries require improvements in their implementation of regulation to combat corruption, but particularly Argentina. Finland, the UK and Italy have all received praise in their efforts in comparison, but have yet to take further actions.

Argentina has received recommendations by the OECD Working Group to improve by reducing the delay in complex crime, to investigate and prosecute all foreign bribery cases, to reduce the high number of judicial vacancies, and ensure judges and prosecutors are adequately resourced.

Argentina joined the Convention 16 years ago and has since remained in serious non-compliance. The Corporate Liability Bill, introduced into Congress in 2016, should be enacted to rectify this, as currently neither companies nor citizens can be held liable for foreign bribery or be prosecuted. Argentina will report in October 2017 and March 2018 on progress made.

The evaluation report of Finland's implementation has praised the detection and investigation efforts to combat foreign bribery, however, efforts are being jeopardised by a high acquittal rate. Recommendations included ensuring that foreign bribery cases are heard by specialist courts or judges with detailed information for the training of judges, prosecutors and investigators, and to enact clear and comprehensive legislation to protect whistle-blowers. 

The UK’s strong anti-corruption drive was welcomed as there has been strong progress made against foreign bribery, even though there is uncertainty over the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) role. The enforcement against bribery has increased because of the SFO and therefore the SFO role should be maintained by the government according to the Convention.

Italy has been commended by the OECD Working Group for adopting a Bill on 15 March to extend the statute of limitations, allowing more time to prosecute and sanction foreign bribery cases. While alleged foreign bribery offences are actively investigated and prosecuted in Italy, most cases have ultimately been dismissed as time barred. Italy should now ensure that this Bill is promptly adopted.

 

Analysis

Overall the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention’s effectiveness has often been questioned. While it is one of the most prominent legal frameworks internationally to combat corruption along with the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC), the ability of the OECD to enforce implementation of its standards has often been criticised.

Notably, Transparency International, which publishes a report every two years monitoring progress made, has published telling statistics. According to the 2015 report, half of the convention countries have failed to prosecute any bribery case since 1999. Four countries representing 22.8% of world exports have active enforcement levels.  Six countries representing 8.9% of world exports have moderate enforcement levels, 9 countries representing 12.6% of world exports have limited enforcement levels. 20 countries representing 20.5% of world exports have little or no enforcement.

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