Businesses can collectively breathe a sigh of relief as David Green, who was appointed Director at the Serious Fraud Office in April, has explained that he is not interested in pursuing businesses involved in corporate hospitality such as Wimbledon tickets or bottles of champagne for breaching the Bribery Act 2010. The Act came into force in 2011 and made businesses responsible for anything that could be perceived as a bribe being offered on their behalf anywhere in the world. The Act gave the UK the strictest bribery laws of any country. The Act remains in force unchanged, but its enforcer – the SFO – has given a clear message that it is interested in big ticket items only.
Green said the SFO, which is undergoing budget cuts, is keen to focus on cases that see a bidder mysteriously selected for a contract. The SFO would also not be issuing guidance as there was plenty of that already; but it would concentrate on prosecutions. Green was very critical of American law firms that had sought to generate a huge industry and make lots of money out of the uncertainty that had arisen out of the Bribery Act.
Paul Gershlick, a Partner at Matthew Arnold & Baldwin LLP, comments: “This is excellent news for business. Although this does not involve a change in the law, what businesses have to fear is a prosecution. The Act remains and is potentially very strict because of the way it was written. But this statement of intent from the enforcers gives the clearest sign yet that it is business as normal for corporate hospitality. In reality, our own advice has not changed – which is that ordinary corporate hospitality continues as normal; but beware of doing anything or allowing anything to be done on your behalf that could influence or reward a person for acting improperly.”