On 12 and 13 March I attended the 10th Annual International Bar Association Conference on “Lawyers in the fight against corruption – views from the frontline” at the OECD Conference Centre in Paris. The conference was well attended by lawyers and professionals from 42 countries, including from as far afield as Costa Rica, Jordan and Nigeria. Speakers included both prosecution and defence lawyers, as well as representatives of companies who spoke about the practical difficulties they face in their attempts to combat corruption in the supply chain.
The first session concerned the overlap between anti-competitive and corrupt conduct. Suzanne Rab highlighted how with the introduction of the Bribery Act the overlap between competition and anti corruption laws in the UK may be greater than elsewhere, including the United States, as the UK authorities could now prosecute individuals and corporations under the Bribery Act for making payments to other companies to enter into anticompetitive agreements, such as paying a competitor to exit a business or to fix prices.
The second session dealt with the highly topical subject of corruption in the Middle East and North Africa and developments since the Arab spring. Osama Al Bitar from the Jordanian firm, International Specialized Lawyers in Amman, spoke about perceptions of corruption in the region and the key importance of bringing corrupt high profile individuals to trial. He discussed two controversial corruption investigations that are ongoing in Jordan involving a former intelligence chief, a former prime minister and seven ministers. He highlighted how asset recovery is a major practical difficulty, because Jordanian law does not allow prosecutors to recover money that is hidden abroad.
Among the many senior prosecutors present at the conference was the director of the Serious Fraud Office, Richard Alderman. In a session on asset recovery and repatriation, Mr Alderman was keen to highlight the SFO’s recent success in negotiating a Memorandum of Understanding with the Government of Tanzania, BAE Systems and DFID, enabling the payment of £29.5 million by BAE Systems to educational projects in Tanzania pursuant to the settlement concluded last December. Mr Alderman disagreed strongly with those in the UK who had been critical of the SFO’s determination to return the money to those who had suffered as a result of the corruption. However, he acknowledged that there were many practical issues surrounding the distribution of the money and confirmed that one of the SFO’s major concerns was that the money visibly went to the benefit of schools, rather than being swallowed up in administrative fees or simply disappearing.
In a session on asset recovery and repatriation, a Costa Rican prosecutor, Criss Gonzalez-Ugalde, and US defence attorney, Edward H Davis Jr, spoke about criminal and civil proceedings involving the company Ice Alcatel in their respective countries. The Costa Rican authorities succeeded in prosecuting the individuals involved, leading to long sentences of imprisonment and a $10million settlement with the company for “social damages” caused by corruption. The company also signed a deferred prosecution agreement with the US Department of Justice, consisting of a $45 million disgorgement penalty to the Securities & Exchange Commission and a $92 million criminal penalty to the US DOJ.
The highlight of the conference was a lively session which brought prosecutors from the UK, Italy, France, Slovenia and Canada together to discuss their experiences. Both the Italian prosecutor, Fabio de Pasquale and the Slovenian prosecutor, Goran Klemencic, spoke interestingly about the challenges of bringing politicians in office to trial. In Italy the main hurdles the prosecutor faced resulted from Parliament’s repeated amendments to the law, necessitating proceedings before the Constitutional Court, ultimately leading to the expiry of the limitation period. In Slovenia Mr Klemenic felt the danger of being drawn into party politics was their greatest challenge. He believed that a purely domestic corruption investigation would not have survived and it was the transnational nature of the corruption, involving a company in Finland, intermediaries in Austria and Slovenian Ministry of Defence officials and Prime Minister in office, which allowed charges to be brought.
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