Now this nation has a proud tradition of buccaneers and warrior-merchants, audacious men who broke the rules to achieve personal wealth and economic advantage for the nation; from Drake to Rhodes such men have bestrode the globe and a little bribing of corrupt foreigners was no more than oiling the wheels of trade. So we shouldn't be all holy and prissy about this. But those days were before globalisation, and things have changed.
Just as the international mobility of capital means that the wealthy want their libel cases heard in Britain but their divorces in America, so firms will shift their operations to take advantage of local laxity in legal areas that provide competitive advantage. Firms that do business by corruptly enriching the buying decision-makers of less transparent nations will find advantage in locating in Britain. And this is what is bugging the OECD.
The FT reports:
The BAE case aside, I think there's a case to answer. An international reputation for a tolerance of corporate corruption cannot be in the UK's long term interest. The probity of our merchant laws and courts is at the heart of the trust that is essential for business to thrive. Labour's laxity in this area, perhaps not unexpected in a party that has indulged itself in the most shameful decade of political corruption in over a century, must be rectified.
The letter attacked Britain over its failure to bring a single overseas bribery case or to deliver on a years-old pledge to update its anti-corruption laws. It also raised concerns that the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) would downgrade its commitment to tackling corporate foreign bribery, because of plans for it to focus more on public education and consumer crimes such as share scams.
The letter was approved by all the anti-bribery group’s 37 members except Britain, people familiar with its contents said. Those members include the US, Japan and Europe’s leading economies. Anti-corruption campaigners and lawyers say Britain has fallen behind other previously poorly-performing nations such as France and Germany, which have launched investigations into leading companies such as Siemens and Alstom, the engineering groups.
The US has brought dozens of corruption cases over the past 30 years and companies under investigation include Halliburton, the oil services group formerly headed by Dick Cheney, the vice-president.
British campaigners say the undoubted commitment of some anti-corruption investigators is being neutered by archaic laws and a lack of political will to pursue cases that – as with BAE – are seen as potentially damaging to British strategic and commercial interests. The OECD anti-bribery group’s October meeting will review the results of a probe it launched last year into London’s efforts to tackle corruption, after the scrapping of the BAE-Saudi probe in 2006 caused an international outcry.