Approaches to Anti-Bribery: US, UK and Canada

Canada’s track record of prosecuting overseas bribery cases might invite the criticism that it simply does not handle the problem.

Posted by Joe Gerard in Ethics & Compliance on June 23rd, 2011

Canada’s track record of prosecuting overseas bribery cases might invite the criticism that it simply does not handle the problem, says Anthony Cole, a UK lawyer practicing in Calgary with Christine Silverberg, retired Chief of Police and lawyer of the firm Wolch, Hursh, deWit, Silverberg & Watts. This criticism may be about to change, however, given the establishment of the two RCMP overseas anti-corruption teams in Ottawa and Calgary. “This is especially so in light of the statement by representatives of those teams that they have over 20 active investigations,” he says.

Cole compares the situation in Canada to that of the UK several years ago, when law enforcement agencies in the UK, led by the Serious Fraud Office, realized that the UK Proceeds of Crime Act, and in particular the civil recovery powers created under that Act, could be a powerful tool in tackling corruption.

A New Enforcement Tool

“The new UK Bribery Act will provide UK law enforcement authorities with a far more effective means of ensuring the successful criminal prosecution of companies and individuals who engage in, or indeed fail to prevent, bribery overseas,” he says. “It will be interesting to see whether the Proceeds of Crime Act will continue to be used frequently in overseas bribery cases, or whether the favoured approach will be to prosecute solely under the Bribery Act whenever possible. I think that, at least initially, there will be a desire to use the new Bribery Act, but what happens in the long term will probably be determined by the success of the prosecutions in the early stages of the Act being in force”, says Cole.

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Another fundamental difference between the UK and US legislation governs overseas corruption: in contrast to the US, the UK Bribery Act is not restricted to the corruption of public officials, but also applies to purely private sector bribery. “In this regard, its scope is significantly wider than the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA),” says Cole. “That said, the US has a remarkable track record in handling overseas anti-corruption cases, and is, at present, the unquestioned global champion in the fight against corruption. The means through which the US handles such cases, though, is different.”

Criminal vs Civil Prosecution

Cole explains that most overseas corruption cases handled by US authorities do not result in criminal convictions following trial, but rather are dealt with as civil violations or are resolved by plea agreements or deferred prosecution agreements at a very early stage.

“The favoured approach of US law enforcement agencies dealing with corporate overseas corruption cases seems to be to encourage self-reporting and an early plea or settlement by the corporation, resulting in a huge fine or disgorgement, but often allowing the corporation the opportunity to issue a face-saving joint press-release with the relevant law enforcement agency,” he says. Law enforcement agencies, in this way, can secure a high-profile victory without committing vast resources to each case, so they can deal with a much larger number of cases.

The settling of bribery and corruption cases by what might be described as plea bargaining, and the frequent  use of civil settlements of civil recovery proceedings (which might involve a joint press-release), was adopted by the Serious Fraud Office in the UK, says Cole, but it received withering criticism from one of the UK’s most senior criminal judges, who appeared to suggest that the criminal justice procedure applied to perpetrators of serious bribery should be no different  from that applied to burglars or rapists. The Serious Fraud Office vowed to change its practices, reflecting the preference of the English Courts to see serious bribery and corruption dealt with by criminal process, rather than by civil process and plea bargaining, as appears to be favoured by US authorities.

Anthony Cole Anthony dot cole at silverberglegal dot com

Christine Silverberg christine at silverberglegal dot com


Joe Gerard
Joe Gerard

CEO, i-Sight

Spend my days showing off the i-Sight investigative case management software and finding ways to help clients improve their investigations. Usually working with corporate security, HR & employee relations, compliance and legal teams.

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