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Bribery law 'did not lead to rise in prosecutions'

A LAW firm says legislation to halt bribery and corruption has failed to result in an avalanche of prosecutions in Scotland.

HBJ Gateley said the Bribery Act, introduced on July 1 last year, has been used in just one major Scottish case.

Aberdeen-based oil and gas firm Abbot Group brokered a settlement after self reporting under the Bribery Act as having benefited from payments made in connection with a contract between 2006 and 2007, which was entered into by one of its overseas subsidiaries.

The £5.6 million payment to the Civil Recoveries Unit under Proceeds of Crime legislation represented the profit on the contract with Abbot saying none of the personnel involved in the payments was still with the business.

HBJ said only one other UK Bribery Act case, where a clerk in an English Magistrate's Court accepted a £500 bribe to overlook a speeding ticket as part of an undercover newspaper investigation, had been recorded.

Andrew Walker, partner at the firm, said: "It was previously thought that oiling the wheels with a well-placed envelope full of cash was part of working in certain countries, but with this legislation the Government sent a pretty clear signal that it wouldn't accept any kind of attempts to gain an unfair advantage.

"It is significant that there has only been one case since the laws came into force, and while the financial penalty was considerable, there's a sense that the Ministry of Justice or Serious Fraud Office haven't quite yet had the opportunity to bare their teeth."

Other penalties for breaches of the act can include prison sentences, and Mr Walker said it appears Scottish firms have been operating correctly even in foreign markets where bribery is common.

He added: "It might appear the Bribery Act has been a damp squib, but companies made sure they were prepared for it since the penalties could be severe.

"Scottish businesses should be proud of the fact there has only been one offence since the laws were introduced.

"Lots of companies we work with are active overseas, breaking into new markets or expanding their reach among an established customer base.

"Bribery is often a fact of life in some emerging markets, but authorities in the UK will not see that as an excuse."

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Business

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