Scots firms ‘unaware of new laws on bribery’

Many Scottish companies remain poorly set up to protect themselves from prosecution under the UK’s Bribery Act, even as investigators prepare cases under the nine-month-old law.

David Lister, head of fraud, investigations and disputes at Ernst & Young in Scotland, said that although only one minor case had so far come to court, he understood that authorities both north and south of the Border were currently preparing a series of cases for prosecution.

Under the legislation, commercial organisations that fail to prevent parties associated with them from bribing another person on their behalf can be liable for unlimited fines – and the law applies to the actions of British firms abroad.

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Having “adequate procedures” in place provides a defence, but Ernst & Young says 71 per cent of companies in Scotland have not informed their middle managers about the law. Of the 29 per cent of middle managers who had heard of the Bribery Act, only half felt they had received adequate training to ensure compliance.

Lister said: “With the Bribery Act only three months from its first anniversary, it is alarming to see the overwhelming majority of those at managerial level are still unaware of it, given it is applicable to all Scottish businesses.” He said the lack of reported cases may have “lulled organisations into a false sense of security”.

Although initial concerns were raised over whether corporate hospitality might be classed as a bribe, this now looked unlikely to lead to prosecutions, Lister said. Instead, it is exporting companies that are most likely to fall foul of the law because of the difficulties they faced in ensuring that buyers or sellers acting on their behalf were not bribing people.

Lister said the UK may eventually take a self-reporting approach to bribery issues, as the US has done, but would almost certainly bring prosecutions first to persuade firms to take part.