The Bribery Act of 2010 finally made the UK compliant with its international anti-corruption obligations, and added to the UK’s arsenal of anti-corruption legislation. But laws are only as good as their enforcement, of which there has been far too little.
David Green, the Serious Fraud Office’s director since April 2012, has been saying all the right things after the disastrous tenure of Richard Alderman. Alderman swept aside years of painstaking hard work by SFO investigators on bribery cases to reach untransparent civil settlements with companies, such as the one with BAE. This minor wrist slapping seriously damaged the SFO’s reputation and morale. But has Green got the staff, the capacity, the resources and the prosecutorial zeal to deliver? And will the new Deferred Prosecution Agreements become an overused form of wrist-slapping and a means of keeping difficult cases out of court, or a genuine tool to deal with genuinely contrite and cooperative companies? Unless companies face a real risk of prosecution, the law’s deterrent effect is rapidly going to wane.
The statistics aren’t encouraging. In January 2012, the OECD reported that the SFO had 11 active cases, 18 cases under consideration and 28 “self-reports” from companies. Since Green took over, there have been two civil recovery orders and one failed prosecution. The SFO now only lists 4 corruption cases in its current workload. Where did the missing cases go?
Meanwhile, as with his predecessors, a politically sensitive arms case is going be the real test of Green’s mettle. The SFO opened an investigation in 2012 into bribery allegations, based on very strong insider evidence, in Saudi Arabia involving EADS subsidiary, GPT, on a Ministry of Defence supported contract. The SFO needs to bring that case to prosecution, which it will have to do under old corruption laws, in order to resuscitate the SFO’s reputation and standing.