We used to have this part of the law the right way around. Bribery, in Britain, of Britons, was something seriously illegal. It was also something rare – not just for the illegality but for cultural reasons. That’s just not the way we did things, brown envelopes and all that.
What foreigners did in foreign, well, that’s doing as Romans, isn’t it? If you’re in a part of the world where bribes are just the way things happen then that’s what you’ve got to do to be there.
Then we changed matters, in the past couple of decades. We should be as pure there as we are here. It became a crime, in British law, for someone here to bribe someone there:
A former oil executive has pleaded guilty to five counts of corruption in relation to bribing officials to secure contracts in the oil industry in Iraq. Basil Al Jarah, who is based in Hull, was oil services company Unaoil’s partner in Iraq. He pleaded guilty to conspiring to make corrupt payments in connection with contracts to supply and install moorings and oil pipelines in the southern part of the country. Al Jarah entered the plea on Monday, but the court only permitted it to be reported on Friday. The case is one of the biggest bribery investigations ever conducted by the Serious Fraud Office.
Jailing someone here for bribery in the Iraqi oil business isn’t going to stop bribery in the Iraqi oil business. It’s only going to mean that no one here is involved in that business. It’s not obvious that this is an advance.
For the avoidance of doubt, yes, I have indeed paid a bribe or two in my time. Even asked how I should treat it in the company accounts – the tax ones – and was told to mark it down as a bribe paid. Because, yes, HMRC is bright enough to know that in certain parts of the world that’s just what is done. Precisely the same with petty bribery, the cash douceurs necessary to complete daily life in some places. Sure, we know all about that, just give yourself a per diem and no receipts, she’ll be fine. We know about this, have estimates of roughly what that should all cost for different places.
Quite apart from the practicalities, isn’t it rather colonial to insist that all the darkies out there must live by our moral and legal standards?