"As foreign investment continues to flow into Saudi Arabia, the risks of corruption will increase. It is important for businesses to have clear anticorruption policies and procedures in place so they are well equipped to deal with challenges that may arise."

Tim Taylor QC

1. What is bribery?

Bribery in Saudi Arabia is a criminal offence which can be committed by public officials or private individuals according to the Combating Bribery Law (the “CBL”).

The CBL penalizes the offering of any promise or gift to a public official to perform or cease to perform or neglect any of the public official’s duties (of his function or claimed to fall within his function), even where the act is lawful, or to use the public official’s powers to obtain from any public authority an order, decision, commitment, authorization, supply contract, job, employment, service or any other kind of privilege, or to use the public official’s powers to follow up on a transaction in any governmental department. The prohibition applies regardless of the intention of the public official not to perform the act.

However, the CBL makes no distinction between foreign and domestic public officials and the Saudi government criminalises the bribery of foreign public officials by Saudi nationals.

For foreign companies, Saudi Arabian courts generally do not accept jurisdiction over a foreign company if the elements of the bribery take place entirely outside Saudi Arabia. Foreign companies doing business in Saudi Arabia, with or without a formal legal presence in the country, are also subject to the CBL with respect to their acts within Saudi Arabia.

2. What are the exceptions/defences?

The briber or any middleman will be exempt from prosecution under the CBL if they voluntarily inform the relevant authorities with respect to a crime before the crime is discovered.

3. What are the sanctions?

Sanctions for individual violators (including public officials and principals of companies) vary depending on the case and may include:

  • up to 10 years imprisonment;
  • fines of up to SAR1 million.