The Serious Fraud Office, has had its recent fair share of problems. Not only have there been a significant number of changes of key personnel including the recent appointment of new Head, David Green, but it has also had to battle against doubts about its future and its funding. To cap it all, it has drawn some unwelcome headlines in relation to tactics used in its investigation involving the Tchenguiz brothers. The brothers (not being short of a penny or two) have sensibly retained Lord Goldsmith, the former Attorney General, to protect their interests.
With the Bribery Act’s main prosecuting authority thus distracted, it is perhaps not surprising that the only successful prosecution involving the Bribery Act so far in the UK has been one not brought by the SFO but instead by the Crown Prosecution Service against an individual Court Official. Munir Patel, a former magistrates’ court administrative officer, was sentenced to a three-year prison term for bribery offences and a concurrent six-year prison term for misconduct in public office.
To take up any slack in the system, the UK’s financial regulator, the FSA, has been busy issuing a range of guidance about required anti-bribery/crime systems and controls, coupled with damning reviews of present industry practice.
What Bribery Act?
Even allowing for this regulatory activity, there seems little doubt that the absence of a high-profile prosecution one year since the implementation of the Act has had a deadening effect on people’s awareness of the issues. According to a recent Ernst &Young survey of 1,000 UK middle managers, almost three-quarters (72%) of those questioned had still never heard of the Bribery Act. More worrying still, of the 28% who had heard of the Act, only just over half felt they had received adequate training to ensure compliance.
This rather suggests that there are interesting times ahead with a lot at stake when the first high-profile prosecution does take place as it inevitably will. Indeed it is more than likely that investigation and enforcement activity is already well under way below the parapet.
Current Investigations Likely
The Serious Fraud Office’s 2010 arrest of the finance director, legal director and head of Alstom’s UK operations for suspected payments of bribes should have served as a salutary reminder that these issues remain very live—even though the arrests pre-dated the implementation of the Bribery Act.
Although the men were released without being charged, it seems the investigation is still on going. It also appears that other investigations both in Switzerland and in France are also going ahead. Indeed, the original arrests were made at the request of the Swiss Federal Justice Ministry and show further evidence of the close links between international prosecuting authorities. Even if, as may well be the case, the investigation is not pursued, one can reliably infer that a substantial amount of legal fees will have been incurred in dealing with the demands of the various authorities.