On Boxing Day 2012, in an attempt to strengthen and clarify the criminal sanctions available in bribery cases, China's top judicial authorities released a new "Interpretation" of the existing bribery law.
The “Interpretation of Several Issues Concerning the Specific Application of the Law in the Handling of Criminal Bribery Cases” (the Interpretation) became law on 1 January 2013. The Interpretation has provided much needed guidance on how the criminal sanctions contained in article 390 of the PRC Criminal Law (the Law) should be applied in practice. The sanctions provided for in the Law range from a custodial sentence of up to 5 years, to life imprisonment for those guilty of "very serious" acts of bribery. The Interpretation has introduced a series of financial thresholds – related to both the level of the bribe and the direct economic loss it caused – to help guide the application of enforcement measures in particular cases. In addition, provision has been made for increased penalties to be handed out in the presence of aggravating "circumstances", such as the giving of multiple bribes, or the giving of bribes from illegally held funds.
Finally, the Interpretation actively encourages whistle-blowing. In the event that bribery comes to light as a result of having been voluntarily reported, sanctions can be reduced, in respect of individual actions and those of an "entity".
It is hoped that the Interpretation will be a major step in the road towards reducing bribery within the People's Republic.