Compliance Glossary

Active Bribery

The notion of a bribe refers to any illegal gift that is given to influence the actions of the recipient, usually a public official. A bribe may consist of money, property, physical goods, preferential treatment, political support, or the promise of favors in the future. Bribery is defined as the act of offering, giving, receiving, or asking for a bribe.

What is Active Bribery?

When a bribery is committed, there are always at least two parties involved: the individual(s) who pay the bribe and the individual(s) who accept the bribe. Establishing a legal distinction between these two parties allows for each party to be punished appropriately according to their role in the corruption that transpired. 

This distinction exists in the United Kingdom where the UK Bribery Act (UKBA), passed in 2010, creates four different bribery-related offenses:

  1. Failure by a commercial organization to prevent bribery.
  2. Active bribery – the offense of offering, promising, or paying a bribe.
  3. Passive bribery – the offense of soliciting, agreeing to receive, or accepting a bribe
  4. Bribery of a foreign public official

It is important to remember that the terms “active” and “passive” used here do not necessarily reflect which party initiated the bribe. An individual who initiates a bribe by requesting or solicitation is committing passive bribery, though we might not characterize their actions as “passive”. By the same token, a person who reluctantly pays a bribe to placate a corrupt public official is committing active bribery, even if they’re acting under some level of coercion. 

While the UKBA addresses both active and passive bribery, anti-corruption legislation passed in other jurisdictions may be more narrow in its focus. The United States Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), for example, prohibits United States citizens and business entities from bribing foreign officials. As a result, this act covers only active bribery not passive bribery.

What are Examples of Active Bribery?

In some countries, bribery is considered the height of corruption. In others, bribery is both legal and a routine part of doing business or engaging with public servants. We can point out several recent and high profile examples of active bribery, such as:

  • The SNC-Lavalin affair, a Canadian political scandal where government officials attempted to intervene in the prosecution of a major construction firm accused of paying bribes to Libyan officials in exchange for lucrative public sector contracts worth billions of dollars.
  • The 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cup tournaments, which were awarded to Russia and Qatar respectively. It was later found by the United States Department of Justice that representatives of those nations had secured the hosting rights by paying millions in bribes to FIFA officials.
  • The Mark Ciavarella Jr. case, where a Pennsylvania judge was convicted of accepting over $1 million in bribes from operators of juvenile detention centers. In return, the judge used his office to systematically abuse the constitutional rights of young offenders, sending high numbers of them to these same juvenile detention facilities.

Examples of active bribery can also include bribing police officers to escape fines or criminal persecution, bribing customs officials to enter a country with prohibited goods, or bribing public officials to award an undeserved license or bias the public sector procurement process.

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