The recent FIFA arrests shine a spotlight on the reputational damage bribery and corruption allegations can cause to an organisation whose officials are accused of bribery offences. The timing of the arrests to maximise their impact and (as reported) the involvement of a whistle-blower are typical of the investigation of corruption. Did FIFA not see this coming? Apparently not, even though the media had trailed allegations for several years. Perhaps FIFA had denied such allegations so many times that it was in denial, believing that the authorities would not take action. Nevertheless, such a high profile investigation will be a catastrophe for the authorities if nobody is prosecuted and those arrested will now be under pressure to tell all.
Whilst most businesses do not have the media profile of FIFA, the impact on brand reputation is just as damaging if bribery is investigated. The focus of the FIFA investigation has been on individuals rather than FIFA itself. Under the Bribery Act, an investigation will target the individuals involved, the managers who may have connived or consented to the bribery and the organisation which should have taken steps to prevent bribery. Wherever bribery occurs around the globe, a UK business which does not have adequate procedures in place to prevent bribery is open to prosecution if an employee or associated person offers or requests a bribe.
Having put in place procedures after the Bribery Act came into force some years ago, many companies have not updated or audited their protection against a bribery offence. Training may not have been refreshed. To extend a football analogy – it is easy to take your eye off the bribery prevention ball. If you have not audited and refreshed your adequate procedures programme recently, the FIFA investigation serves as a reminder to do so. Having procedures is not enough to avoid prosecution – your procedures need to be adequate by reference to the Ministry of Justice guidance. The investment in these procedures will pay dividends if they provide a defence under the Act and the stigma of corruption charges can be successfully avoided.