News & what's on - Written by on Monday, June 25, 2012 13:47 - 2 Comments

Victim of bribery? You have rights too. Damages claims, void(able?) contracts & more: the civil consequences of bribery

Print Friendly

In the United States, as sure as night follows day, a class action law suit will follow the announcement of a Foreign Corrupt Practice Act investigation.

In the UK civil actions can be directed at both the briber and the receiver of bribes by the principal of a bribed agent, who has entered into a contract as a result of the bribe being paid to that agent.

It is important not to lose sight of this.  There are three key advantages to civil actions:

  1. They could mitigate potential losses if an organisation discovers corruption and self reports to the SFO, as organisations are being encouraged to do.
  2. Money recovered could also offset the cost of any investigation necessary to be in a position to self report.
  3. They send a powerful message to those involved in corrupt behaviour that it will not be tolerated.

We are criminal law specialists but we often work with our civil law colleagues.  In this post our colleague and friend of thebriberyact.com Will Christopher gives the heads up on civil remedies.

By Will Christopher, Partner Pinsent Masons

More stringent anti-corruption policies being implemented and more internal investigations into corruption arising from the Bribery Act are likely to lead to the discovery of more bribery and corruption.

What many people and companies do not realise is that civil actions can be directed at both the briber and the receiver of bribes by the principal of a bribed agent, who has entered into a contract as a result of the bribe being paid to that agent.  This means that the principal, who is the victim of the bribe, can recover compensation.  It is also possible for the principal of the briber who does not know of their agent’s corrupt activities (and also arguably a victim) to recover the bribe and damages.

What is a bribe?

The criminal and civil definitions of a bribe are different.

A bribe in civil law is where a person makes or agrees to make a payment to an agent, or other fiduciary, without the knowledge and consent of the principal.  It is necessary to show the briber knew he was dealing with an agent, and that the principal was being deprived of the agent’s disinterested advice.  It is of crucial importance that the bribe was kept a secret from the principal.  Partial disclosure will be enough to mean the commission is not secret and is therefore not a bribe within this definition.

Another important distinction is that knowledge of the briber that he is dealing with an agent is sufficient – it is not necessary to show that he was dishonest in giving the bribe.

Once the criteria above have been established a number of important consequences follow:

  • the motive of the briber is irrelevant;
  • it is immaterial whether either the briber or the bribed agent thought they were doing anything wrong; and
  • there is an irrebuttable presumption that the agent was influenced.

Civil remedies

Once a bribe is established, both the principal of the bribed agent and potentially the principal of the briber have remedies in the civil courts:

  • rescission of the contract;
  • refusing to perform on the basis it is an illegal contract, alternatively on the basis it was void for want of authority;
  • a claim against the bribed agent, in damages for fraud; and
  • a claim against the briber for the amount of the bribe.

Additionally, by the innocent principal of the briber:

  • a claim against the agent who made the bribe as a proprietary claim;
  • a claim against the receiver of the bribe, again as a proprietary claim.

Claims by the principal of the bribed agent

If the decision is to perform the contract rather than rescind, damages will still be available against both the briber and the bribed agent for at least the amount of the bribe, which is assumed to be the value of the claim. Damages in fraud for more than the bribe will also be available, but anything over and above the amount of the bribe would have to be proven and be a direct consequence of the bribe, although not necessarily foreseeable.  This could include the costs of an investigation, necessary in order to self report, or a claim for damage to reputation.

Void or voidable?

It may be in the principal’s interest instead of rescinding the contract, to allege that it is void and likely that the principal of a bribed agent will be able to claim that the transaction is void rather than merely voidable.  It is not difficult to imagine situations where this could be hugely advantageous to the principal.

An election between the various claims which the principal can bring against the bribed agent must be made, but it is not necessary to do so until immediately before entering judgment.

Claims by the innocent principal of the briber

A principal whose agent uses the principal’s money to pay a bribe without the principal’s knowledge or consent can recover this from the agent. This could either be where an organisation has paid a commission to an agent, who has utilised that money to pay a bribe, or where a company director pays bribes on behalf of the company.  In this case it will be the company with the proprietary claim against the director, or against the recipient of the bribe.  It will also have a claim against anyone who has dishonestly assisted in the payment of it.

The Bribery Act again comes into play here.  It will no doubt strengthen the case against the agent that the bribe was concealed, by showing that the commercial organisation has adequate procedures in place to prevent bribery, so as to provide it with a defence in criminal proceedings.

If you are a victim of bribery you have rights too!  If you would like to know more please email: barry.vitou@pinsentmasons.com or william.chirstopher@pinsentmasons.com

Share Button


2 Comments

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

High Tide: From South Korea’s Iran Oil Halt to Conflict Diamonds in … | Rishwat – Campaign against Corruption in India
Jun 26, 2012 12:48

[…] non-banks facing enforcement for money laundering and other regulatory risks. Thebriberyact.com says victims of bribery have rights, […]

High Tide: From South Korea’s Iran Oil Halt to Conflict Diamonds in India | Rishwat – Campaign against Corruption in India
Jun 29, 2012 0:51

[…] non-banks facing enforcement for money laundering and other regulatory risks. Thebriberyact.com says victims of bribery have rights, […]

Brought to you by...

Barry Vitou &
Richard Kovalevsky Q.C.

The views expressed on this website are those of Barry Vitou & Richard Kovalevsky QC and/or our guest authors from time to time. Please see our terms of use

in association with...

Our Tweets

Tuesday, October 3, 2017 9:26

Opinion: Bertling convictions another notch on SFO bedpost-sentencing will provide a sibling to guilty plea disposal https://t.co/ZMjnhIzaah

Friday, August 11, 2017 20:40

Former DoJ chief Sally Yates on being fired by Trump https://t.co/lmCjHKXJBj via @FT

Sunday, June 11, 2017 8:18

Opinion: As debate shifts from future of SFO to future of Theresa May we say: At last, fund the SFO properly. https://t.co/PwuCqHPkTq

Friday, June 9, 2017 12:21

SFO cat uses up another life! SFO set to stay after Theresa May's authority is seriously undermined.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017 11:44

Opinion: Conservatives must answer two basic questions about the plan to merge the SFO into the NCA https://t.co/OREkjacH2H