Brussels calls for drive to combat corruption

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A continent-wide crackdown on corruption is being urged by the European Commission, with member-states being asked to stiffen criminal sanctions against those giving and taking bribes. The proposals, which include preparation of a list of corrupt people and businesses, were welcomed by the Government. Home Office minister Joyce Quin told MPs recently that it "shares ...concern felt here and abroad about the extent and depth of corruption at many levels."

European ministers have agreed to take criminal action against bribery involving national and European officials to the detriment of EU financial interests. A Corruption Convention was accepted by ministers in May, extending that agreement to cover circumstances where EU financial interests were not affected.

The Commission now suggests member-states should introduce a new criminal offence of corrupting a foreign officials, thus covering EU citizens who bribe officials of non-member- states. It also favours the criminalisation of private-sector corruption, which is being considered by the Council of Europe. Laundering of the proceeds of corruption, already an offence in Britain, is also urged by the Commission, and the Home Office welcomed a proposal that other EU member-countries should ban tax deductibility for corrupt payments.

Ms Quin said: "UK tax law already denies relief for any payment which constitutes the commission of an offence by the payer. Thus all bribes which are contrary to the Prevention of Corruption Acts would not be entitled to tax relief. In addition, tax relief is denied to any gift, hospitality or business entertainment, whether or not corruptly provided." But that is not the case throughout the EU and Ms Quin said EU-wide action would create a more level "playing-field".

The Commission proposals recommend protection for employees of corrupt firms who alert authorities to their company's activities. Ms Quin said: "The Government agrees that employees should not be deterred from disclosing matters of concern because of fear of victimisation ..."

Jack Straw, Home Secretary, has followed up a proposal of his Conservative predecessor, Michael Howard, for a "clarification" of the law relating to the bribery of MPs - on which a discussion paper was issued in December.

The Royal Commission on Standards of Conduct in Public Life, chaired by Lord Salmon, pointed out in 1976 that the bribery of an MP was not covered either by statute or common law, and it recommended "that Parliament should consider bringing corruption, bribery and attempted bribery of a Member of Parliament, acting in his parliamentary capacity, within the ambit of the criminal law." Mr Howard said in December: "The issue does not seem to have been followed up by Parliament in the intervening years." Referring to that loophole, Ms Quin said: "A possible extension of the legislation is currently under consideration."