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Europe

Britain, Italy Accused of Ignoring Corruption

Italy and Britain would rather not aggressively go after companies involved in bribery schemes, according to a report. Transparency International released a survey of 34 nations' corruption-fighting efforts.

Scale with money

Countries often ignore bribery abroad

Japan and Canada were also cited as among the four worst in the Transparency International report as being lax about investigating bribery of national companies. The report was released Tuesday, June 24 in Berlin.

The report said that using bribery to win contracts damages free competition at the international level. That's also the view of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The OECD has taken a leading roll in the issue, monitoring bribery on both the national and regional levels.

In Italy, Japan, Britain and Canada there were "practically no investigations or extremely few," into bribery, according to Transparency International. That sets a bad example, said Max Dehmel, a Transparency expert.

"If countries backslide, they undermine the efforts of the other countries," he said.

Germany, US doing well

Siemens building

German prosecutors have gone after Siemens managers

Many countries of the 34 nations studied seemed to lack a political will to tackle the bribery issues, Dehmel said.

By contrast, Germany and the United States had been at the forefront in applying an OECD anti-corruption convention. German prosecutors had secured nine court convictions last year, after securing none at all from 2001 to 2006.

Germany has been aggressively pursuing an anti-corruption case against Siemens executives. Siemens acknowledged that 1.3 billion euros ($2 billion) disappeared into various funds following an internal probe that began in late 2006.

"National security" no excuse

Graphic of managers behind bars

Sometimes businessmen get mixed messages on bribery

The report singled out Britain for a decision to abandon an investigation into alleged corruption by BAE, Britain's top arms company, on national security grounds.

The company has been accused of giving more than 1 billion euros in illegal bribes to Saudi Prince Bandhar bin Sultan and others in the 1980s. Bandar formerly served as a Saudi ambassador to the United States and later headed Saudi Arabia's national security council.

Wrongful payments were allegedly made to help secure the arms deal known as al-Yamamah, or "the Dove," in which Tornado fighter jets and other military hardware were sold to Saudi Arabia.

Britain's Serious Fraud Office dropped an investigation into the matter in December 2006. Then-Prime Minister Tony Blair said the investigation would damage national security.

Transparency said it worries that other countries will follow suit and use a "national security loophole" to avoid bribery investigations in the future.

Berlusconi worries group

In its report Transparency noted that Italy has no readily available statistics on foreign bribery prosecutions and investigations.

The group was also concerned about a recent law passed by conservative Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's government to suspend trials for crimes committed before mid-2002.

Berlusconi is not seen as an anti-corruption champion, particularly given his own legal troubles. Berlusconi, along with British tax lawyer David Mills, has been on trial since March last year for allegedly paying Mills $600,000 in exchange for false testimonies in two of his trials in the late 1990s.

DW.DE