What is bribery?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 15, 2021

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Under most state criminal codes, bribery is a crime involving the corruption of public officials. Anyone who gives a public servant money or other valuables in exchange for services in a specified way or any public servant who accepts money or other valuables to act in a specified way is guilty of bribery. The public servant can be any government official or employee, including the mayor, a councilman, a city controller, police officer, or judge, who provides a service beyond what is expected or required in the normal performance of his duties in exchange for the valuable. For example, a city controller who accepts money from a construction company in exchange for awarding it a contract that would otherwise go to the lowest bidder, as required, is guilty of bribery.

What Constitutes Non-Monetary Bribery?

For bribery to be charged, the valuable exchanged does not have be money. Anything that has value to the recipient, including personal favors, all expenses paid vacations, and cars, to name a few, count. To conclusively establish the charge, the valuable has to be given with the understanding that a service will be performed. Bribery is different in this regard from a gift, which is given without any expectation of a service being provided in return. It is also different from a tip that is given in recognition of good service.

Many companies offer training to decision makers and other employees to stay out of trouble. They educate workers at all levels on active bribery and passive bribery. Out of an abundance of caution, large corporations might recommend employees not give or take gifts that cost more than $5 or another nominal amount. Classes often use examples such as a foreign official or government official, but this is extended to all potential customers.

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How Does Bribery Work between Private Parties?

If you talk to large corporations, anti-bribery training that includes mention of customers and other private parties has been going on for decades. The law is late to the game. The crime of bribery has recently been extended in some jurisdictions to include exchanges between private individuals. For example, a boxer who is paid to throw a fight can be found guilty of bribery. Likewise, corporate officers can be found guilty of bribery if they accept money to act in a manner inconsistent with their company’s interests.

If you witness bribery, you may even have a legal duty to report it. At the very least, many multinational companies require employees to report incidents as part of their official duties under the threat of termination.

What Should You Do If Accused of Bribery?

Prosecution of bribery has become increasingly aggressive in some forms. It could involve an employee selling a lucrative contract for a few free golf games or a vacation. It could also include more passive methods. The consequences of bribery are as diverse as the act itself. It comes with a negative connotation for many reasons.

The best way to avoid this breach of trust with your employer or other parties is to stay above reproach and avoid the appearance of corrupt practice. Even on holidays, avoid gifts worth more than a few dollars, if even that. If in doubt about if something could be seen as a violation of bribery and anti-corruption laws, bring in a second set of eyes or turn the decision over to someone else. Don’t be afraid to tell important parties what the issue is.

Most importantly, as they say, if you see something, say something. If you have reason to believe allegations of bribery, speak up and let the appropriate parties investigate. If you’re unsure and want an expert opinion, don’t be afraid to call a lawyer. For best business practices, make sure to get an attorney familiar with the laws against bribery in your jurisdiction or the jurisdiction you’re working in. Successful prosecutions can land you in a world of trouble both financially and otherwise. If you act early, you can avoid all of this.

If charged with bribery, suspecting bribery, or offered a bribe, contact an experienced criminal attorney for assistance.

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