The SFO this week issued revised policies on facilitation payments, business expenditure (hospitality) and corporate self-reporting to signal a new, tougher approach to dealing with companies suspected of using bribery to secure work. The policies are in stark contrast to previous guidance which intimated that the SFO would only pursue criminal prosecutions in the most contemptible of cases.

The revised policies relate to:

Facilitation payments

The example of how facilitation payments are used by the SFO is where a government official is given money or goods to perform (or speed up the performance of) an existing duty.

Business expenditure

Businesses should not be concerned about bona fide corporate hospitality which is recognised as an established and crucial part of doing business. However, bribes that are disguised as legitimate business expenditure will be prosecuted if, in applying the Full Code Test, the SFO concludes that there is an alleged offender that should be prosecuted.

Self-reporting corruption

The new guidance makes it clear that, while the SFO encourages corporate self-reporting, it provides no guarantee that a prosecution will not follow any such report. For a corporate body’s self-reported corruption to be taken into consideration, it must form part of a 'genuinely proactive approach adopted by the corporate management team when offending is brought to their notice'.

What does it mean?

It means that the SFO is stepping up its anti-bribery scrutiny and taking a tougher line on corruption. The indications are also that, even if a business self-reports (and the SFO relies heavily on them doing so), it may well not escape prosecution.