What messages are bribery settlements sending out to would be briber givers and receivers?

Influential, wealthy and ‘lawyered-up’ entities are settling bribery cases with prosecutors by throwing money at the case in order to avoid admitting guilt or proving innocence. What message does this send out to the world?

Smith & Wesson, a US handgun manufacturer, agreed to pay a USD2m fine to the Securities and Exchange Commission this week to settle FCA- cartoonsmoking gunallegations of bribery. The SEC charged Smith & Wesson with breaching the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act when employees and representatives made improper payments to foreign officials in Indonesia and Pakistan to secure contracts. Further alleged attempts at the same in Bangladesh, Nepal and Turkey, failed. S&W has neither admitted nor denied the allegations, it just paid to make it go away.

In a non-Asian related case, reports in the press claim that Bernie Ecclestone’s legal team is trying to settle a bribery case by paying GBP20m in return for the charges to be dropped, reported The Telegraph.

Meanwhile in Laos, where corrupt politicians are accepting bribes from Vietnamese‘land-grabbers’ to uproot communities whose homes are on the land.  The Laotian communities have no resources to fight a case, so they deal with the awful consequences of losing their homes.

Over in Australia, a court issued a suppression order (aka a super-injunction) prohibiting anyone in the country from mentioning details related to a multi-million dollar bribery probe implicating public officials from Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam. Wikileaks chose to publish the order which reveals how the case reaches to the highest echelons of Asia-Pacific’s leadership. The order follows the indictment of seven employees from the Reserve Bank of Australia, who, by nature of their work are politically exposed persons. ‘National security’ is cited as the reason for the blanket ban.

Australia and the US are in the top 20 group of least corrupt countries in the world, as per Transparency International’sCorruption Perceptions Index 2013. Malaysia and Turkey linger mid table while Bangladesh, Indonesia, Nepal and Pakistan are all between 100-150 out of 175. Laos is in the same group. The jurisdictions who are perceived to be the most corrupt have fewer defences available to protect themselves from unscrupulous bribe offerers. Sure, the public officials offered money in exchange for using their political clout could always say no, but why should they when the messages coming from their less corrupt peers is to buy your way out of it?

There is always time to celebrate anti-corruption efforts. The Global Organisation of Parliamentarians Against Corruption (GOPAC) has launched an award for anti-corruption action. Cast your votes before October 31st here.

This article first appeared on the International Compliance Association blog.

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