AUSTRALIAN law firms are stepping forward to warn their clients about the risk of falling foul of international and anti bribery and anti-corruption laws.
Clayton Utz litigation and dispute resolution partner Andrew Morrison spoke at a seminar in Melbourne yesterday, arguing that in the absence of clear and rigorous polices to ensure those who engage with foreign government officials on their behalf companies risk breaking these laws.
Morrison said Australian companies with a presence or engaged in business dealings in foreign countries faced large financial penalties, and in the case of individuals, possible jail time, if they failed to employ systems or keep proper records to ensure their compliance with international anti-bribery and corruption regimes.
"Over and above Australia's own, but relatively untested, legislative regime, the formidable US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and, from next month, the UK Bribery Act, apply far more broadly than Australian companies may realise," he said.
"In particular, under the UK Bribery Act, which comes into force on 1 July 2011, a company with a connection to the UK such that it falls within the UK regime can be held to account for negligently failing to have systems in place to prevent acts of bribery by those acting on its behalf.
"This underlines the importance of companies – particularly those doing business in high-risk regions such as Africa – completing stringent due diligence examinations of their offshore interests. Australian companies need policies that clearly set out the permitted ways in which employees and agents can engage with governments and foreign officials overseas, and what steps they should take if they believe they may be at risk of breaking the law."
The Clayton Utz lawyer said the heightened focus by international regulators in prosecuting breaches of anti-bribery and anti-corruption laws meant that Australian companies doing business overseas must continually assess their activities and the behaviour of their business partners and local agents against conduct which they might not have previously thought unlawful," he said.
THE NEW LAWYER will continue a report on this issue next week. see www.thenewlawyer.com.au or subscribe to the FREE e-newsletter to stay up to date.