Clampdown on foreign bribes

UK accountants will have to ensure that their financial reports do not conceal bribes paid to foreign officials, under a new anti-bribery convention which has been drawn up by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

It will become a criminal offence for business executives to bribe foreign officials, according to the convention, which has been ratified by the major trading countries including the US, Japan, Germany and the UK.

The penalties will be the same as if the executive bribed an official at home, although the convention will still have to be put into effect domestically by a change in UK law.

Companies will have to ensure financial statements do not omit or falsify cases involving bribery. They will also have to ‘prohibit the establishment of off-the-books accounts for the purpose of bribing foreign public officials or of hiding such bribery’.

Forensic accountants have warned the convention could cause problems for exporters. ‘Companies will have to look at their codes of conduct and policies,’ said Sarah Evans, a partner in Ernst & Young’s fraud investigation group.

‘This may cause problems for some. Exporters to Africa sometimes find they can’t get their ships into harbour without bribing the harbourmaster.’

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