The Serious Fraud Office ("SFO") has issued revised Bribery Act policy statements in relation to facilitation payments, business expenditure and self reporting.

The short statements highlight that:

  • Facilitation payments (i.e. payments made to "grease the palm" of government officials) are bribes under English law, and are illegal regardless of their size and frequency;
  • Genuine hospitality or promotional expenditure is an important part of doing business, but that bribes can be disguised as legitimate business expenditure;
  • Self reporting acts of bribery and corruption will not automatically avert prosecution, although if the report is made as part of a "genuinely proactive approach" it may be a public interest factor tending against prosecution.

The SFO also indicated it will consider pursuing civil recovery in appropriate cases using its powers under the proceeds of crime legislation, either in addition to, or instead of prosecution. Finally, the SFO noted that even where it does not prosecute a company that has self-reported offending, it reserves its rights to prosecute the same company for any unreported violations and to provide information on the reported violation to other bodies, such as foreign police forces.

These statements highlight a shift in focus for the SFO, which is keen to present itself as an investigating and prosecuting authority, rather than as a regulator. They are also intended to ensure consistency with other prosecuting bodies and implement certain recommendations from the OECD (the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development).

Practical advice

  • These new policies should not alter existing anti-bribery and corruption policies and procedures.
  • Companies should continue to take a proactive approach when they uncover or are informed of potential illegal acts of bribery or corruption.