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What happens if my business does not take active steps to prevent foreign bribery?

Implementing adequate procedures to prevent foreign bribery and corruption is critical to avoiding potential enforcement action and reputational damage.

Australian businesses including those operating overseas are subject to legal and ethical obligations to take active steps to ensure that their compliance frameworks are able to effectively prevent, detect and address bribery and corruption. This collection of resources provides information about cases that have involved civil and criminal enforcement action against companies and senior corporate office holders. These cases highlight the serious consequences that can result when businesses do not take active steps to prevent foreign bribery.

Relevant resources

The bribery of a public foreign official (foreign bribery) is a serious criminal offence that carries significant penalties. This webpage provides information about the federal foreign bribery offence, previous foreign bribery convictions in Australia and proposed reforms including a new corporate offence for failure to prevent foreign bribery. This webpage also includes fact sheets and an online learning module.

Self-reporting is a significant first step in addressing suspected foreign bribery. This Guideline is designed to provide companies with information about how self-reporting will be taken into account by the CDPP when determining whether or not to commence a prosecution, and highlights the reasons why a company may choose to self-report including to comply with directors’ duties and limit liability. Information about early guilty pleas is also provided.

The Australian Government is proposing reforms that will require companies to implement and maintain adequate procedures to prevent an associate (such as an employee, agent or subsidiary) from bribing foreign public officials. This draft principles-based guidance sets out the types of measures companies should consider implementing and includes case studies to demonstrate how these measures could be applied in practice.

In 2011, two subsidiaries of the Reserve Bank of Australia plead guilty to charges of bribing foreign officials in relation to a Malaysian bank during the period of 1999-2004 and were fined over A$22 million. Four employees, including the CEO and CFO of Securency, pleaded guilty to charges of conspiring to bribe and/or false accounting, each receiving between 6-24 months imprisonment.

Company directors and senior managers who are put on notice of possible bribery and corruption issues have a positive duty to make appropriate inquiries. Failure to do so can lead to civil, or even criminal penalties and being banned from managing corporations. This case establishes the duty of officers to investigate when corruption concerns are aired.

In January 2020, Airbus entered into a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) which included a fine of €991m in the United Kingdom (UK), as part of a total €3.6bn settlement across France, the UK and the United States for five counts of failure to prevent bribery. The conduct took place across Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Indonesia, Taiwan and Ghana between 2011 and 2015.