Two Anti-Corruption Items of Note

Good news for anti-corruption enthusiasts looking for something to read — we have two fresh pieces of literature this week that you can study and shoehorn into your compliance programs. 

First, Transparency International just released its 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index, which is one of the go-to benchmarks to help compliance officers perform a corruption risk assessment. The short version: lots of countries are backsliding into more corruption.

Second, Britain’s Serious Fraud Office has quietly released its in-house guidance for how investigators should assess corporate compliance programs, akin to the U.S. Justice Department’s own guidance on how to evaluate compliance programs. The SFO material is much shorter and probably less informative, but still, it’s now available to the public. 

Source: Transparency International

Let’s start with the Corruption Perceptions Index. The CPI ranks 180 countries by their perceived levels of public sector corruption, drawing on 13 expert assessments and surveys of business executives. It uses a scale of zero (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean).

As usual with these anti-corruption rankings, the Nordic countries and New Zealand crowded near the top. Denmark and New Zealand tied for first place with scores of 87, followed by Finland (86), then Sweden, Singapore, and Switzerland tied with 85 points each. Norway was right behind with a score of 84.

That lineup is quite similar to what TRACE International published two months ago in its own anti-corruption rankings: New Zealand topped that list, followed by all four Nordic countries. Singapore and Switzerland weren’t in the top 10 for that one, but overall the same countries keep emerging near the top for both lists.

The United States ranked 23rd on the CPI list with a score of 69, down two points from last year’s score. Britain’s score also fell (down three points), as did Canada (down four) and France (down three). Australia’s score fell by eight points. 

The CPI report emphasized money in politics as a corrupting force, so to little surprise it also flagged the United States as a “country to watch” for 2020. As the report diplomatically stated— 

While President Trump campaigned on a promise of “draining the swamp” and making government work for more than just Washington insiders and political elites, a series of scandals, resignations and allegations of unethical behavior suggest that the “pay-to-play” culture has only become more entrenched.

That’s all true, but compliance officers mostly use the CPI rankings to help inform your corruption risk assessments: which countries are more risky than others, that you should devote more time and resources to those places. Anyway, now you have the latest rankings. Risk assess to hearts’ content!

SFO Guidance on Program Assessment

Meanwhile, the Serious Fraud Office just released its internal staff guidance on how to evaluate a compliance program to the public. The document was added with little fanfare to the SFO’s Operational Handbook on Jan. 17 — and in fact, all you get is a PDF that looks like it was photocopied and uploaded by the office interns. Whatever, let’s take a look. 

The guidance is all of eight pages long, clearly intended for SFO prosecutors. It instructs them to assess the state of a company’s program at the time of the relevant offense, its program as of today, and possibly even the future state of a compliance program if prosecutors are considering a deferred-prosecution agreement. 

OK, fair enough — but after that instruction about assessing the compliance program at different periods of time, this document doesn’t actually say much about what the prosecutor’s assessment actually should cover. For example, it doesn’t include potential questions an SFO prosecutor might ask, that compliance officers could use to plan potential answers. 

Instead, this guidance only rehashes the “Six Principles” guidance published by the Ministry of Justice in 2010 as a complement to the U.K. Bribery Act. There’s nothing new in this latest guidance that would make a compliance officer change what you’ve already been doing (or should have been doing) for Bribery Act compliance. 

For the record, the Six Principles are worth reading and understanding. They’re much more extensive than this eight pages of PDF piffle, with ideas and advice compliance officers could put to good use. Incidentally, the six principles are:

  • Proportionate procedures
  • Top-level commitment
  • Risk assessment
  • Due diligence
  • Communication and training
  • Monitoring and review

In one form or another, all those principles are also somewhere in the U.S. guidance for effective compliance programs, and the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, and the compliance guidance for Sapin II in France — and, well, you get the picture. It’s all the stuff we’ve been talking about for years. 

So we can applaud the SFO for publishing this guidance, and devotees of the genre can read it if you want. Then again, this particular pronouncement won’t be a bestseller, either. 

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.