Britain enacts new bribery law, reassures foreign firms

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Britain said Wednesday that a new bribery law would be implemented in July, offering new guidelines to calm business concerns and an assurance that it would not apply to foreign firms listed in London.

The Bribery Act, which updates Britain's decades-old laws on corruption, was passed in April 2010 but its implementation was delayed following concerns from business, including about what it meant for corporate hospitality.

Justice Secretary Ken Clarke announced Wednesday that the new legislation would come into force on July 1, and he unveiled new guidelines on how it will be enacted.

"I have listened carefully to business representatives to ensure the Bribery Act is implemented fully and in a workable, commonsense way," he said.

The law creates new offences of offering or receiving a bribe, bribing foreign public officials or failing to prevent a bribe being paid on behalf of an organisation.

British-based companies can be prosecuted under the new law regardless of where the offences occurred.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Clarke said it would apply only to companies "carrying on a business in the UK" but reassured foreign firms that a listing in London did not automatically bring them into the law's reach.

However, he stressed that the question of jurisdiction would be left to the British courts to decide.

Adam Marshall, director of policy at the British Chambers of Commerce, said it was "encouraged" by efforts to make the law clearer with the guidelines, particularly its assertion that corporate hospitality would not be scrutinised.

"We must avoid creating a situation where companies choose not to trade in fast-growing overseas markets because they are afraid it of getting it wrong," he said.

"Legitimate businesses must be able to operate in foreign markets, engage agents, and entertain potential clients without fear of falling foul of the law.

"Meanwhile, the full force of the law should be brought to bear on the unscrupulous."

However, anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International UK suggested the guidance "undermines the act and will limit its effectiveness".

"Parts of it read more like a guide on how to evade the act than how to develop company procedures that will uphold it," said executive director Chandrashekhar Krishnanm.

© 2011 AFP

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