Aziz Rahman outlines why allegations of corruption in
football should act as a warning to everyone in business about the need to
It was recently reported that FIFA was investigating the
terms of the deal that saw Paul Pogba move from Juventus to Manchester United
for £89M; making him the world’s most costly player.
At the same time, the former head of Guatemalan football has
admitted his part in a bribery scandal that has seen more than 40 people
charged. And allegations persist about the role bribery may have played in
securing the next two World Cups for Russia and Qatar, respectively.
Football is a global game and a massive, money-making
industry. It is, however, not unique in being vulnerable to bribery. Bribery is
an issue that affects all types of business in all parts of the world.
Many such businesses do not have the excitable media
coverage that accompanies “the beautiful game’’. But everyone in business needs
to look at the issue of bribery, wherever it has been reported and ask
themselves some pertinent questions:
How did that organisation or individual find themselves in
What could they have done to prevent it happening to them?
What approach should someone take if they end up in such a
If you know the answers to the first two questions, the
chances are that you already know the answer to the third.
While the football allegations hog the headlines, they do at
least illustrate one point very clearly: that an international approach is being
taken to corruption more than ever before. It is often the case that bribery
and corruption extends beyond one country’s borders. The allegations of FIFA
corruption involve many countries while the Pogba transfer involves an English
club, an Italian one, a French player and his Italian-born Dutch agent.
This is reflected in legislation. For example, the UK’s
Bribery Act gives the power to prosecute a company with a UK connection for any
bribery-related activity that has been carried out in its name anywhere in the
world. This Act can make a senior figure in a company personally responsible
for the bribery. With punishments including assets seizure, unlimited fines and
up to 10 years in prison, this is a responsibility that all people in business
have to be aware of.
Which brings us to a blunt answer to the first question that
we posed above. People and organisations find themselves in trouble over
bribery because they are unable or unwilling to monitor the way their personnel
operate in the UK and abroad.
This is not only careless, it is extremely dangerous. If
those in business want to avoid running the risk of the punishments available
under the Bribery Act, they need to design out the problem. This means taking
careful, considered steps to reduce the potential for anyone within a company
to indulge in bribery and corruption. This is also the answer to the second
Companies have to examine what areas of its activities offer
the possibility for bribery and which of its management, employees or
representatives could be vulnerable to either the giving or receiving of
bribes. Procedures must then be amended or introduced to ensure that the
organisation’s working practices no longer offer such potential for corruption.
Such changes can be made to:
- The working practices of individuals or departments.
- The way those individuals or departments interact with
other companies and their representatives.
- Encourage staff to report any suspicions of wrongdoing.
- Devise an official whistle blowing procedure for staff to
raise those suspicions.
- Make sure any reported suspicions are investigated and, if
necessary, acted upon.
Such procedures do not have to be immensely detailed or
complex. Yet it is possible that some people reading this may feel they would
not know where to start when it comes to designing out the potential for
Specialist legal firms, such as ourselves, regularly advise
companies and organisations here and abroad on how to prevent corruption. Advice
is available for the companies and organisations that want to be bribery proof.
There is an argument that is often made that bribery is an integral
part of doing business in certain parts of the world. Those making this
argument often add the claim that if you can get away with the bribery you
shouldn’t see it as a problem.
It is an argument that has been made (and agreed with) by
many over the years. But it seems to seem less and less convincing with each
passing year. For example, it may not have many supporters in FIFA at the
moment, as investigators go through years of its paperwork and computer
records. And it will probably find little backing at Rolls-Royce,
GlaxoSmithKline, Siemens, Petrobras or any number of major companies who have
become the subject of major bribery investigations in recent years – many of
which relate to allegations dating back years or even decades.
It is doubtful whether people in such organisations still
believe – if they ever did – that bribery is an important part of business that
never brings legal problems.
In such a situation, the third question we asked earlier in
this article needs to be answered. An investigation
can cost you time, money and your reputation. It is in your interests to
minimise the chances of you being investigated by taking the steps already
But if you or your company is investigated, you must have
access to the right legal advice. This cannot be a knee-jerk reaction whereby
you use your in-house lawyer, if you have one, or the nearest local solicitor.
You need to be using specialists in business crime cases who
are used to dealing with organisations such as the Serious Fraud Office (SFO),
National Crime Agency (NCA) and Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). They can
anticipate what questions are likely to be asked and what evidence can be
produced to rebut allegations or minimise the scope of the investigation.
If you do find yourself in such circumstances, you need a
legal team that is capable of mounting a robust and proactive defence and
challenging the allegations being made.
This involves ensuring investigators do not exceed their
legal powers when carrying out raids, making sure the person under investigation
has full access to all relevant material that could be used as evidence and mounting
every possible challenge to the claims that are being made by investigators.
In such cases, going on the attack can be the very best form