Businesses in Bristol could fall foul of new bribery laws if they put their clients up in swanky hotels, legal experts in the city have warned.
The Bribery Act, which takes effect from this Friday, will cover corporate hospitality and if deemed excessive firms could potentially end up in court.
Under the new rules businesses will also need to ensure that none of the organisations or individuals involved in supply chains are involved in bribery – including third parties based overseas.
Individuals found guilty under the new law will face up to 10 years in prison and an unlimited fine. Companies also face unlimited fines.
Matthew Starling, a regulatory solicitor for South West law firm Clarke Willmott, said it was vital that Bristol businesses prepared for the introduction of the new law.
“Many organisations are not aware that this Act covers corporate hospitality and assume it just concerns the more obvious forms of financial bribery,” he said.
“However that is not the case and from now on the responsibility will lie with the business to prove that it had adequate procedures in place to prevent any of its staff engaging in corporate hospitality that could be interpreted as a bribe.
“For example, taking a client to the rugby would still be fine but putting them up in the most expensive hotel in London for several nights might not look so good.
“Context is key of course – it all depends on the nature and size of the business and reason behind the business expenditure.
“We would urge firms to conduct an anti-corruption risk assessment of all their business practices to minimize the risk of falling foul of this new law.
“Don’t wait for things to go wrong or assume that ignorance of bribery within your business or by persons performing services for your business is a defence in a court of law. It isn’t.”
Bristol firms with links overseas needed to pay particular heed to the new legislation. Starling added: “Businesses need to examine their entire supply chain for evidence of bribery.
“For instance a firm incorporated in the UK may be totally above board but if one of its suppliers in the developing world has been bribing port officials, the UK firm could be liable under the new law.
“It’s potentially quite a headache for firms as some supply chains can be very long and ensuring accountability at all levels requires thorough due diligence.”