Justice on demand

  • Mon, 7 August 2023


        We’re still reeling from last week’s court loss in a case to stop Ghana from selling its future gold royalties to a company in the notoriously secretive Jersey. In case you missed it, judges rejected our plea to act pre-emptively before corruption and rights violations can occur. That’s unfortunate because accountability for corruption is hard, especially when it stretches across borders.   

Photo: SeventyFour/Shutterstock

        Let’s take the Glencore bribery case, for example. Following a long-running probe in Brazil, UK and the US, the company last year admitted that between 2007 and 2018 it paid nearly US$80 million in bribes to public officials around the world. Among others, Glencore confessed to paying bribes in connection with deals involving the purchase of oil and petroleum products from Nigeria’s state-owned company. 

        While Glencore is facing repercussions, the same cannot be said for public officials on the receiving end of the bribes. The executive director of our Nigerian chapter, Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, doesn’t think this is fair. When commenting on Glencore’s convictions and fines abroad, he demanded that Nigerian authorities pursue their own investigations and hold perpetrators accountable.  

        But more often than not, even after companies are convicted, officials involved in the very same corruption schemes escape scrutiny. According to a 2018 survey, only in 20 per cent of such cases was there evidence that government officials faced some kind of criminal sanctions in their home countries. One solution for breaking this cycle of impunity: Countries that are already meant to sanction companies 'supplying' the bribes should also punish officials on the 'demand' side of the schemes. 

        That is why our Nigerian chapter and 10 others are now urging US lawmakers to adopt the Foreign Extortion Prevention Act (FEPA).  

        If it sounds familiar, that’s because the bill was originally proposed in late 2021. President Biden’s Administration took notice, committing soon after to work with Congress to accomplish the bill’s purpose – criminalising demand-side bribery – in the first-ever US anti-corruption strategy. And while the bill stalled in Congress, authors worked to tighten its scope and win more support from congressional leaders. 


Photo: Vitaly Taranov/Unsplash 

        This week, the bill got a second life. A bipartisan group of lawmakers reintroduced FEPA, proposing to extend anti-bribery laws to foreign officials who demand or accept bribes from US citizens or companies. Transparency International US is fully behind it, urging Congress to pass FEPA without any further delay. 

        Several countries – such as Germany, France and the UK – already criminalise both the supply and demand sides of foreign bribery. Promisingly, the recently proposed EU anti-corruption directive would require countries across the bloc to make demand-side bribery a crime.  

        We also need to have a bigger conversation about enforcement. Merely having laws on the books isn’t enough. Sadly, countries with laws similar to FEPA rarely – if ever – move against foreign officials.  

        Major trading countries are failing even when it comes to prosecuting companies that pay bribes abroad, despite having had an international obligation to do so for 25 years now. Our Exporting Corruption 2022 report shows that enforcement of supply-side anti-bribery laws is at a historical low.  

       As it happens, with some room for improvement, the US is one of only two countries that actively investigate and punish bribe-paying companies (the other is Switzerland). While these efforts are commendable, they often lead to incomplete justice – and FEPA is an important opportunity to fix that.


        Top trading countries doing even less than before to stop foreign bribery (October 2022) 

        Our Exporting Corruption 2022 report shows that multinational companies bribing their way into foreign markets go largely unpunished. It finds that leading global exporter countries have serious inadequacies in their laws and institutions, which hamper enforcement against foreign bribery.

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