The first person to have the dubious distinction of being charged with an offence under the 2010 Bribery Act is Munir Patel. “Who is he, and what has he done”? I hear you ask.
Well, the first thing to make clear is that, in spite of the number of times that I have talked about corruption in India, Mr Patel is as British as you or I (that’s assuming you are British, of course, and not a part of my wider global readership). In discussing the new legislation, there has been a lot of emphasis on the fact that, like the FCPA, the Bribery Act allows the UK authorities to pursue people in other countries and extradite them to face trial in England. There has also been a great deal of speculation that the authorities will pursue headline cases, involving large amounts of money and requiring lengthy and in-depth investigation, in order to send messages to the Corporate World about responsibility and liability under the new law.
Imagine my suprise, therefore, to discover that the charge relates to a bribe of £500 paid to Mr Patel, in return for which he agreed to avoid putting details of a traffic summons on a court database (he is a court clerk). Clearly this is unlikely to instill fear and trembling into the hearts of dodgy-dealing multinationals, and perhaps it’s not quite the dramatic debut that the authorities had hoped for, but there’s a strong case for saying that, in its own way, this is just as important a case.
Mr Patel is, of course, innocent until he is proven guilty but, should he be convicted, I’d say that it’s just as important for the public good that a corrupt court official is convicted and punished as it is that Corporate Britain is discouraged from gaining business through bribery. The high profile cases will no doubt follow, but maybe it’s no bad thing that the first prosecution is a modest one.
There’s also a nice little irony attached to this story. The prosecution was brought following an investigation by the Sun, which apparently filmed the defendant accepting the bribe. A NewsCorp paper conducting a bribery investigation? You couldn’t make it up…..