Bribery overseas will be offence in Britain

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The Independent Online
BRITISH businessmen will face fines or imprisonment for using bribes to win big contracts abroad under new laws contained in an anti- sleaze Bill to be unveiled in the autumn by Jack Straw.

The Home Secretary will seek to clean up sleaze in Westminster and town halls across Britain with a package of measures in the wake of the "cash for questions" scandal involving Tory MPs in the last parliament. It will become an offence to bribe MPs.

The Independent has learned that it will also become an offence for British citizens to engage in bribery abroad. The international anti-corruption laws will be targeted at big overseas arms contracts involving British companies, and civilian projects such as dams and airports. In future, it will make it a criminal offence for a UK resident or company to bribe public officials in another country.

Clare Short, the Secretary of State for International Development, pushed for the measure with the backing of Margaret Beckett, the President of the Board of Trade. Britain signed a Treaty in December in Paris by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) which is to be ratified by the end of the year on outlawing international bribery and corruption.

Mr Straw is taking the lead in bringing the OECD declaration into UK law through the Home Office legislation. He told a joint select committee on parliamentary privilege in January that the Government would rout out dishonesty in public life and increase trust in those who held public office.

He said that the Government saw a review of the corruption laws as they applied to MPs as being an integral part of the domestic and international fight against corruption. A new single offence of corruption covering both the public and private sectors is expected to be introduced. Mr Straw is also studying the Nolan committee recommendation that anti-corruption legislation should be extended to cover behaviour that amounted to misuse of public office.

The pressure for government action against international corruption was stepped up by a ministerial aide, Hugh Bayley, MP for York, who introduced his own backbench Bill last month to promote the case for new laws against international bribery and corruption.

He was opposed by the Tory MP for Lichfield, Michael Fabricant, who warned that if bribery was made illegal for British companies, "it would probably rule many British companies out of applying for contracts abroad which would simply fall into the hands of French, German, Japanese, American and other competitors".

Mr Bayley said bribery was legal as long as the act of bribery took place offshore, and in some instances it was still a tax- deductible activity.

He said: "When bribery takes root, people start buying things that they do not need. Last year, the chief of naval staff in Pakistan resigned amid allegations of bribery in connection with a pounds 580m purchase of submarines." Mr Bayley estimated that the global sums paid in bribery by some of the poorest countries in the world totalled pounds 50bn, roughly the same as the sum needed to eradicate world poverty.