British companies that use bribes to win contracts could face tougher penalties, following new guidelines set out by the Sentencing Council. The guidelines recommend that judges consider the harm done to victims rather than focusing on what they have lost financially.
The guidelines will come into force from October 1 and replace the current ones. The previous guidelines made no reference to the impact the offence may have on an individual or corporation and this was considered only an “aggravating factor”.
Companies found to be bribing foreign officials, misleading investigators, involving others through pressure or coercion and abusing a dominant market position or position of trust, will now be placed in the highest culpability bracket. As a result, these companies could face fines of up to 400% of their illegal profits.
Speaking to the Financial Times, Jonathan Fisher QC, who specialises in financial crime cases, explained the change would bring the UK’s penalties more in line with those in the US.
He added, “Because of the cross-border element to fraud and bribery investigation, it was really key in the UK that we get fines that have some sort of accord with what is going on in the states.”
The guidelines are part of a wider review looking at how people convicted of fraud, money laundering and bribery should be sentenced. Fraud is a hugely varied offence that affects individuals, businesses, public money and charities.
The Sentencing Council also recommended that judges consider the impact of fraud on victims when deciding on the level of punishment imposed on fraudsters. As a result, criminals involved in a range of activities, such as deceitful investment schemes, could face longer jail sentences.
Sentencing Council chairman Lord Justice Treacy said, “Fraudsters are in it to make money, but for their victims it can mean more than losing money. Our research with victims showed the great impact it can have on them, so the guidelines puts this impact at the centre of consideration of what sentence the offender should get.”
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