WASHINGTON - A new report by Transparency International suggests foreign bribery is alive and well.
The report, by the Berlin-based, anti-corruption watchdog, says little has changed in recent years in the way governments enforce their anti-bribery laws. Today, only seven major exporting countries actively crack down on companies that offer bribes to foreign officials in exchange for favorable business deals.
The United States is one of the seven countries, which together account for 27 percent of world exports, Transparency International said. The others are Germany, Israel, Italy, Norway, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.
2016 a record year
Between 2014 and 2017, the United States launched at least 32 investigations, opened 13 cases and concluded 98 cases involving foreign bribery, according to the report. Enforcement activity surged in 2016, resulting in a record $2.5 billion in penalties levied by U.S. authorities.
Among several high-profile foreign graft cases adjudicated in the United States, the report cited a case in which British aircraft engine maker Rolls-Royce payed law enforcement authorities in the United States, Britain and Brazil $800 million in 2017 to resolve allegations of bribing officials in at least a dozen countries over more than two decades
The report rated the performance of 44 major exporting countries, including 40 nations that have signed the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development's (OECD) Anti-Bribery Convention. The 1997 compact requires signatories to make it a crime for companies and individuals in their countries to bribe foreign officials.
Transparency International's last report on the topic, released in 2015, listed just four countries with active anti-foreign bribery law enforcement: Germany, Switzerland, Britain and the U.S.
But the elevation of Israel, Italy and Norway to the ranks of countries with vigorous anti-foreign bribery enforcement was offset by declining levels of enforcement in four other countries: Austria, Canada, Finland and South Korea.
"Disappointingly, there has been little change in the overall enforcement level (taking the share of world exports into account) since the last report," the report said.
Of the 44 countries examined by Transparency International, four — Australia, Brazil, Portugal and Sweden had "moderate" anti-foreign bribery law enforcement; 11 had "limited" enforcement, while 22, including Russia and China, had "little to no" enforcement. Argentina, Brazil and Chile were among countries that improved their enforcement.
For the first time, Transparency rated the performance of China, Hong Kong, India and Singapore — all non-OECD members that have not signed the organization's anti-graft convention — and put them all in its lowest rung of enforcement.
Concern about Chinese corporate bribery of foreign officials has heightened since Beijing rolled out its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative in 2013. But Transparency said there were no known foreign bribery cases or investigations brought by the Chinese government between 2014 and 2017.
The watchdog said that China has recently "signaled" that it may focus more on foreign bribery enforcement, noting that Beijing and the World Bank held a symposium last year that focused, in part, on corruption risks associated with Belt and Road projects.
To close the enforcement gap, Transparency recommended that all four sign the OECD convention.
Stuart Gilman, a former head of the United Nations global program against corruption, called the recommendation "naive."
For China and Russia, "corruption and whatever way they can influence other governments is, in effect, part of their foreign policy," Gilman said. "I think in my discussions with Chinese officials — not officially but reading between the lines — they see it as one among many tools to extend the influence of China around the world, from the Silk Road to Africa to other areas of the world."