Bribery and Corruption Law

What is Bribery and Corruption Law?

Bribery and corruption law consists of the criminal rules for dealing with people who attempt to buy influence with public officials and other decision-makers. The crime of bribery encompasses a broad scope of wrongful conduct. It covers bribes of cash, assets, services, favors, or anything else of value, whether delivered presently or in the future. Bribes can occur directly, or indirectly through third parties in an effort to disguise the true nature of the transaction. Even if a transaction is never completed, the mere offering or soliciting of a bribe is enough to incur criminal liability.

Laws prohibiting bribery can be used to punish both the person offering the bribe, and the person receiving it. These laws are designed to root out corruption in the public and private sectors. Defendants accused of taking bribes can include elected representatives, government officials, police officers, board members, labor union officers, sports referees and umpires, and business leaders. Cases involving judges, district attorneys, witnesses, and jurors can lead to particularly severe consequences, as corruption of these individuals is viewed as a direct threat to the integrity of the judicial system.

Common Issues in a Bribery Case

Those accused of bribery are often confused about the nature of the crime, especially since a number of similar offenses exist in every jurisdiction. While bribery statutes are worded in various ways, the most fundamental element concerns the defendant’s intent. To be convicted of bribery, the defendant must have intended the benefit conferred to have an influential effect, leading the person receiving it to take action (or refrain from taking action) in the course of his or her official duties.

Gifts, loans, and other contributions to public officials can create the false impression of a corrupt motive. As long as the item was not intended to influence the recipient’s conduct, then bribery has not occurred. Of course, a bare assertion of a legitimate purpose by the defendant at trial will not be persuasive in light of surrounding circumstances that suggest a wrongful intent. The law permits the jury at a bribery trial to infer the defendant’s intent from the other facts and evidence in the case.

Even if the defendant has acted inappropriately, there is the possibility that the conduct does not amount to bribery, but rather some other related offense. To avoid confusion, focus on the specifics of the transaction. Bribery requires that property changed hands in an effort to influence a decision. By contrast, the crime of illegal gratuities is committed by conferring a benefit as a reward for past favorable conduct. Extortion is designed to compel future action through the use of a threat, blackmail involves paying someone to keep information concealed, and kickbacks are the return of a portion of a benefit received. Finally, the offense of graft is a form of political corruption that, unlike bribery, does not require the participation of anyone other than the elected official.

Federal Bribery Crimes and Statutes

Two major pieces of legislation exist to punish bribery of public officials at the federal level. Bribery of U.S. officials is covered by 18 USC §201. This section defines the crime of bribery in expansive terms, and it contains harsh penalties for offenders. Conviction on a single count can result in fines up to triple the amount of the bribe, as many as 15 years in prison, and a sanction disqualifying the defendant from holding public office in the future. The second piece of federal legislation, known as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), is a similar statute aimed at bribery of foreign officials by Americans.

Criminal Defense Strategies

Bribery convictions often depend upon surveillance recordings or other surreptitiously gathered evidence. While engaged in collecting this evidence, the police must act within the restraints of the 4th Amendment, and if they do not, the evidence can be suppressed. Suppression means the judge will enter a pre-trial order stating that the evidence cannot be used against the defendant. This affords defendants and their attorneys an opportunity to systematically attack improperly collected evidence on constitutional grounds. If enough of the evidence against the defendant can be suppressed prior to trial, the prosecution will have no choice but to dismiss the case.

The other primary source of evidence in a bribery case is the testimony of individuals who were involved in the scheme or have firsthand knowledge of the events. Thus, another common defense strategy in bribery cases is to discredit a witness’s testimony. Defense attorneys accomplish this most effectively through a rigorous cross-examination. If the witness has made prior inconsistent statements, harbors a bias against the defendant, or is otherwise untrustworthy, a skilled cross-examiner will expose such issues in front of the jury.

Hiring a Lawyer to Defend Your Rights

Allegations of bribery can ruin your career and professional reputation. If you are convicted, you can face fines and jail as well. To ensure the best possible resolution, you need an attorney to protect your interests and negotiate with the government on your behalf. Schedule a consultation today.


Bribery Law - US

  • 18 U.S.C. § 201 - Bribery of Public Officials and Witnesses
  • Bribery - Definition

    The offering, giving, receiving, or soliciting of something of value for the purpose of influencing the action of an official in the discharge of his or her public or legal duties.

  • Bribery - Modern Law

    Modern statutes, state and federal, have four common characteristics. (1) They apply equally to receivers and givers. (2) They are comprehensive, including as officials all employees of government and those acting in a government capacity, such as jurors and legislators. More recent statutes include party officials and even party employees. (3) They treat bribery as a crime that can be committed by the briber even though the bribee is not influenced. (4) They treat bribery as a felony.

  • OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions

    The OECD Anti-Bribery Convention establishes legally binding standards to criminalise bribery of foreign public officials in international business transactions and provides for a host of related measures that make this effective. The 30 OECD member countries and eight non-member countries - Argentina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Chile, Estonia, Israel, the Slovenia and South Africa - have adopted this Convention (Entry into force and Status of ratification).

  • Office of Government Ethics (OGE)

    The Office of Government Ethics (OGE), a small agency within the executive branch, was established by the Ethics in Government Act of 1978. Originally part of the Office of Personnel Management, OGE became a separate agency on October 1, 1989 as part of the Office of Government Ethics Reauthorization Act of 1988. The Office of Government Ethics exercises leadership in the executive branch to prevent conflicts of interest on the part of Government employees, and to resolve those conflicts of interest that do occur. In partnership with executive branch agencies and departments, OGE fosters high ethical standards for employees and strengthens the public's confidence that the Government's business is conducted with impartiality and integrity.

  • The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act - Department of Justice

    The Department of Justice is responsible for all criminal enforcement and for civil enforcement of the antibribery provisions with respect to domestic concerns and foreign companies and nationals. The SEC is responsible for civil enforcement of the antibribery provisions with respect to issuers.

Bribery Law - Europe

  • Bribery Bill - UK

    The purpose of the Bill is to: Reform the criminal law to provide a new, modern and comprehensive scheme of bribery offences that will enable the courts and prosecutors to provide a more effective response to bribery in the 21st century at home and abroad.

  • Criminal Law Convention on Corruption - Council of Europe

    The Council of Europe has developed a number of multifaceted legal instruments dealing with matters such as the criminalisation of corruption in the public and private sectors, liability and compensation for damage caused by corruption, conduct of public officials and the financing of political parties. These instruments are aimed at improving the capacity of States to fight corruption domestically as well as at international level. The monitoring of compliance with these standards is entrusted to the Group of States against Corruption, GRECO.

  • Law on Bribery - UK

    On 20 November 2008 we published our final report on bribery. Our recommendations include replacing the existing law with two general offences of bribery and one specific offence of bribing a foreign public official. We also recommend a new corporate offence of negligently failing to prevent bribery.

  • OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions - Europe

    In recognition of the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions and the 1997 Revised Recommendation (OECD Convention), the Members of the OECD Working Party on Export Credits and Credit Guarantees (ECG) agreed in November 2000 on the Action Statement on Bribery and officially supported Export Credits (Action Statement).

Bribery Law - International

  • Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act (CFPOA) - Canada

    Within Canada, the federal government seeks to prevent and prohibit potential domestic corruption by a combination of federal statutes, parliamentary rules and administrative provisions. The Criminal Code includes offences which prohibit bribery, frauds on the government and influence peddling, fraud or a breach of trust in connection with duties of office, municipal corruption, selling or purchasing office, influencing or negotiating appointments or dealing in offices, possession of property or proceeds obtained by crime, fraud, laundering proceeds of crime and secret commissions.

  • Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) - UHY Advisors

    As international trade has increased, so too has the importance of complying with laws governing international business. Combating corruption has become an international priority with all governments maintaining a vigilant stance to weed out the corruption that has historically been endemic in international business practice. In the past, a company was able to shield itself from prosecution because bad actors were merely contractors or other indirect agents of the company. However, amplified enforcement of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act makes that approach no longer viable.

  • United Nations Convention against Corruption

    In its resolution 55/61 of 4 December 2000, the General Assembly recognized No Bribes that an effective international legal instrument against corruption, independent of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (resolution 55/25, annex I) was desirable. As a result, it decided to establish an ad hoc committee for the negotiation of such an instrument in Vienna, which is where UNODC headquarters are located.

Organizations Related to Bribery Law

  • BRIBEline: Business Registry for International Bribery and Extortion

    BRIBEline's purpose is to collect information about the official or quasi-official entities - governments, international organizations, security forces, state-owned enterprises, etc. - around the world that solicit bribes. BRIBEline focuses on demand-side bribery only; we do not request or collect information about those who pay, or offer to pay, bribes.

  • Council of Europe - Group of States against Corruption (GRECO)

    Ever since antiquity, corruption has been one of the most widespread and insidious of social evils. When it involves public officials and elected representatives, it is inimical to the administration of public affairs. Since the end of the 19th century, it has also been seen as a major threat in the private sphere, undermining the trust and confidence which are necessary for the maintenance and development of sustainable economic and social relations. It is estimated that hundreds of billions of Euros are paid in bribes every year.

  • Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC)

    The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) was created by the ICAC Act 1988. Its aims are to protect the public interest, prevent breaches of public trust and guide the conduct of public officials.

  • TRACE International, Inc. (TRACE)

    TRACE International, Inc. (TRACE) is a non-profit membership association that pools resources to provide practical and cost-effective anti-bribery compliance solutions for multinational companies and their commercial intermediaries (sales agents and representatives, consultants, distributors, suppliers, etc.).

  • Transparency International

    Transparency International, the global civil society organisation leading the fight against corruption, brings people together in a powerful worldwide coalition to end the devastating impact of corruption on men, women and children around the world. TI’s mission is to create change towards a world free of corruption.

  • U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission

    The mission of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is to protect investors, maintain fair, orderly, and efficient markets, and facilitate capital formation. As more and more first-time investors turn to the markets to help secure their futures, pay for homes, and send children to college, our investor protection mission is more compelling than ever. As our nation's securities exchanges mature into global for-profit competitors, there is even greater need for sound market regulation.

  • United Nations Action against Corruption and Bribery

    Several questions arise in connection with the increased interest in action against corruption at both the national and international levels. In such interest due to the higher occurrence of corrupt practices, higher detection rates or lower levels of (public, official and business) tolerance? The available evidence suggests that the answer may lie in a combination of these explanations. If each of them is examined separately, it will be easier to understand not only the eruption of scandals, but also the explosion of anti-corruption sentiments and how the two can be mutually reinforcing.

Publications Related to Bribery Law

  • Business Link - Ethical Trading - Avoid Corruption and Bribery Overseas

    An essential element of corporate social responsibility is honest and transparent trading. Bribery and corruption create a disincentive to trade as well as uneven trading conditions that can damage economic systems and the individuals within them.

  • Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) - Publications

    The Independent Commission Against Corruption publishes investigation reports and corruption prevention resource materials on a variety of topics. ICAC publications and other resource materials are available on this site and can be downloaded free of charge. For information on the outcome of ICAC investigations, including recommendations relating to prosecution, disciplinary action and corruption prevention, go to Investigation outcomes.

Articles on Related to Bribery Law

  • When Does Bribery Result in Federal Charges?
    Bribery is a crime that may cause someone to spent time in jail, have fines issued or more severe punishments because the individual has offered or accepted something of value for an exchange in influence over or with a governmental or public official, employee or other person of power.
  • What Is Blackmail?
    Blackmail is characterized as a crime and in some cases a tort that involves revealing personal information about someone as a threat or threatening other conduct to get the person to do something that the offender wants completed. Like extortion, blackmail seeks to remove a person’s free will to conduct some action. Committing black mail can carry significant criminal and civil consequences.
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    America's largest banking institution is facing charges under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act for a practice of hiring the children of foreign officials. The case will test how broadly the federal law can be applied to practices as common as hiring an influential person's children in order to gain a small advantage in negotiations.
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