Israel among handful of big exporters enforcing global anti-bribery pact

Increasing number of investigations against businesses operating abroad sees country jump from worst OECD ranking to best in under 3 years

Illustrative photo of foreign currencies. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of foreign currencies. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

Israel for the first time is among a handful of major global exporters that are strictly enforcing a worldwide pact against foreign bribery, a report published Wednesday by watchdog Transparency International found.

TI charged that 22 countries — accounting for 39.6 percent of global exports — practice “little or no enforcement” of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) 1997 Anti-Bribery Convention, which requires signatories to criminalize bribery of foreign public officials.

The list of slackers includes non-signatories like China and India, but also members of the pact such as Mexico, Japan or Finland.

That compares to just seven countries, weighing in at 27% of global exports — the United States, Germany, the UK, Italy, Switzerland, Norway and Israel — classed as “active” enforcers of the agreement, the highest rating.

Since TI’s last report in 2015, eight countries improved their level of enforcement, with Israel shooting from the lowest to the highest bracket as it successfully concluded its first-ever foreign bribery case and opened a slew of new ones.

In December 2016, the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court charged Israeli security company NIP Global of bribing a government official in Lesotho, and levied a fine of NIS 4.5 million ($1.15 million) on the firm.

The headquarters of the Israel Police’s Lahav 433 anti-corruption unit in Lod. (Flash90)

State prosecutor Jonathan Tadmor at the time said the first-ever ruling against an Israeli company operating abroad sent a message that the country was dedicated to “fight[ing] against economic delinquency and the phenomenon of corruption worldwide.”

Later that year, Israel arrested diamond-mining magnate Beny Steinmetz on suspicion of money laundering and bribing public officials in Africa, but he was later released. Authorities in the US, Switzerland, Guinea and Israel suspected that Steinmetz bribed the president of Guinea and his wife for metal mining licenses that generated hundreds of millions of dollars in profits for his company, BSGR Resources.

In 2018, the Israel Police opened investigations into two Israeli companies operating in Africa over suspicions that they had bribed local government officials to advance business interests.

Police’s Lahav 433 anti-corruption unit and the Israel Tax Authority are also investigating senior officials from Israel Shipyards who are suspected of bribing a Nigerian public servant to ensure the shipbuilder won defense tenders worth tens of millions of dollars.

Israeli tycoon Beny Steinmetz seen at the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court, August 14, 2017. (Flash90)

Lahav 433 is also investigating construction company Shikun & Binui, whose senior executives are suspected of having paid millions of dollars to African government officials to advance their construction projects there.

The Transparency International report also found that four countries slid back in the classification, while China — rated for the first time — entered at the lowest level.

“The convention’s fundamental goal of creating a corruption-free level playing field is still far from being achieved, due to insufficient enforcement,” the authors wrote.

As the world’s doughtiest exporter at 10.8% of the global total, they singled out China as a country with “special responsibility.”

“China’s performance regarding international anti-corruption standards influences attitudes and behavior in other major exporting countries,” the authors wrote.

AFP contributed to this report. 

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