Earlier this month, the U.K.’s Serious Fraud Office released the UK Bribery Act, including new policies related to enforcement. The agency issued more stringent guidance around facilitation payments, business expenditure (hospitality) and corporate self-reporting. The director of the SFO, David Green, said the latest changes were intended to restate the SFO’s primary role as an investigator and prosecutor of serious and/or complex fraud, including corruption, to ensure consistency with other prosecuting bodies, and to take on recommendations by the OECD Working Group on Bribery.
Whereas the SFO’s previous director took a more laissez-faire approach to instituting compliance, Green came in as the new sheriff in town, determined to restore order. The intended crackdown has had little impact to date. In two years, the SFO has yet to prosecute anyone under this law, which has led to many senior executives taking a flippant attitude toward the legislation. The SFO has cried wolf number of times, threatening those that break the law without actual indictment. Because of this, the department is losing both credibility and muscle within the corporate world.
It doesn’t help the SFO’s case that several lawyers publicly stated their belief that not much has changed with the new laws and the guidance issued last year. The primary departure has been a shift in tone—most notable in the self-reporting policy. Previously, the SFO stated that companies who self-reported misconduct would receive lesser charges (civil vs. criminal) as an incentive. The new policy states that self-reporting would be a consideration in whether the SFO decides to prosecute. The benefits of self-reporting have been obscured in the new policy, and many organisations are weary to bolster their efforts in that area without greater certainty of the outcome.
The companies that ignore the new policies are essentially painting themselves into a corner. To fully comply, companies should conduct a thorough review of their compliance programmes and anti bribery training systems to ensure they meet the new requirements. Considering the eager new director and the reputation mending the SFO has to do, savvy organisations will quickly begin taking a long, careful look in the mirror.