Prosecuting bribers: Canada (finally) steps up to the plate

G20: Leading on anti-corruption? The view from civil society

Last month, Canada was the worst performing G7 country in Transparency International’s OECD Anti-Bribery Convention Progress Report. James M. Klotz, President of Transparency International Canada, writes about the country’s landmark first foreign bribery case.

Until recently Canada had a dismal record of enforcing its anti-corruption legislation. In the 12 years since the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act was passed, there had been only one conviction, accompanied by an insignificant fine of C$25,000.

That changed on June 24th, when Niko Resources, an oil and gas company, pleaded guilty to bribing a Bangladeshi official in 2005 and agreed to pay a fine of C$9.5 million.

Transparency International Canada welcomes this first major conviction and fine under the anti-corruption legislation, but we strongly believe that much more needs to be done.

A new task force set up by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Canada’s national police force, has been working hard at investigating Canadian companies suspected of bribery abroad and revealed in March that it was pursuing 23 investigations. With the investigation into Niko Resources resolved, there are at least 22 active files, so we expect more charges against companies or individuals.

The fine of $9.5 million isn’t enough, but it’s a start.  While it pales in comparison to fines in the US , under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, it is significant, compared with Canada’s only other conviction. And it sends a strong message to corporate Canada. It is likely companies will think more carefully before participating in bribery.

However, government action is also required in order to improve Canada’s record. We are hampered, in Canada, when it comes to prosecuting Canadians alleged to be involved in corrupt practices outside the country.

At the moment, prosecutors must prove that the crime has a ‘real and substantial connection’ to Canada, whereas most OECD countries have jurisdiction based on nationality of their citizens.

If we close this jurisdiction loophole, prosecutors will be able to pursue Canadians who engage in corrupt practices anywhere in the world. The government did try to make this change in 2009, when it introduced legislation to amend the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act. But this bill died, when the government ended the session before it was passed.

That was a year and a half ago, and it still has not been re-introduced. TI-Canada is urging the Canadian government to act swiftly and re-introduce those measures. We need to have every possible tool, if we are to successfully combat corruption.

Photo credit: flickr /  Joe Gratz

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