In the light of mounting corporate corruption cases, many anti-corruption experts in the US and Europe have urged Australia to sharpen its laws and empower the anti-bribery regime to prevent the country from becoming a “dumping ground” of dirty money from Asia.
They said the lack of resources, ineffective laws and wrong priorities between the federal police and corporate watchdog ASIC have led to a paralysis of sorts in solving many corruption cases. The latest scandal to hit Australia is Unaoil.
The Coalition government has been more vehement in targeting union corruption but is looking reluctant to fill the major gaps in Australia’s anti-corporate corruption regime, reports The Sydney Morning Herald.
In 1999, Australia declared bribing of foreign officials to win overseas contracts as illegal. In the Unaoil scandal, names of many Australian firms and executives, including the offshore arm of Leighton Holdings and WorleyParsons have tumbled out.
Quite recent was the revelation about a Tabcorp payment to Cambodia that forced the company’s former CEO, Elmer Funke Kupper, heading the Australian Securities Exchange, to resign.
There is a feeling that part of the problem lies in the failure of Australia’s corporate watchdog, ASIC, to play a meaningful role in the fight against foreign bribery. Overseas officials are deeply critical of it.
Senior OECD anti-corruption official William Loo said the federal police of Australia seems under-resourced to handle so many major investigations.
“How on earth will they [the AFP] do all these cases they have opened? Whether they [AFP agents] have the resources is a big question mark. We see a lot of enforcement in the US. But where are the corporate criminal liability cases in Australia?” he asked.
The chief of the US Securities and Exchange Commission’s corporate bribery unit, Kara Brockmeyer said the AFP’s anti-corporate corruption team has a good police commander. But that is not enough.
“You need a discrete unit. That’s why you see the big spike [in cases in the US],” Brockmeyer said.
Meanwhile, The Age reported that many companies in Australia have been urging for tough anti-corruption laws to meet the international best-practice standards set by the UK Bribery Act and the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
The report noted that Australia’s 17-year old anti-corruption laws are replete with loopholes that allow the guilty to go unpunished. As an example, it noted that the Australian anti-corruption statute has no provision to make failure to report bribery an offence unlike in the UK and the USA.