House of Commons

22 Feb

Secretary of State for Justice Kenneth Clarke recently spoke before the House of Commons.  As an aside, I just love the House of Commons.  I remember watching it when Prime Minister Thatcher was in office.  She was tough.

Anyway, Clarke spoke on, among other things, hospitality.  He said, answering a question about “legitimate and proportional” hospitality:

Ordinary hospitality, to meet customers to network with customers to improve relationships is an ordinary part of business and should never be a criminal offence.

He then expressed some opinions about the compliance industry. He said the guidance to be issued will allay

Fears sometimes aroused by the compliance industry, the consultants, the lawyers who will of course try to persuade companies that millions of pounds must expended on new systems which in my opinion no honest firm will require to comply with the act

Hospitality is a sticky wicket. The easiest thing will be if the Guidance that will be issued gives a bright-line limit amount for what’s “reasonable.” And if you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you. It actually connects the island of Manhattan with the borough of Brooklyn. And after that, some beachfront property in Arizona I can get you cheap. In other words—and in case the sarcasm didn’t penetrate—the guidance will most likely say that hospitality won’t be a criminal offense if it’s reasonable. Maybe, if we’re lucky, it’ll give some examples. But I’d bet all the money in my pockets that the examples won’t be hlepful.

The FCPA also allows reasonable hospitality. The exact wording allows a “payment…was a reasonable and bona fide expenditure, such as travel and lodging expenses, incurred by or on behalf of a foreign official…that was directly related to (A) the promotion, demonstration, or explanation of products or services; or (B) the execution or performance of a contract with a foreign government or agency thereof.”

Here’s what I recommend (again, this not legal advice directed at you. If you want legal advice, hire a lawyer): set a limit. Enforce it. It doesn’t really matter what the limit is, $100 per person, $250 per meal, it doesn’t matter. Just pick something, and stick with it. You also need a policy that deals with events, conferences, that kind of thing. Again, make the choices and stick with it. Some things are easier: no family members get flown. No first class unless it’s Minister level. No cash, pay the vendor not the traveler, etc. These are ground balls that your lawyer should tell you about.

We’ll see what the UK Bribery Act guidance says.

The video is here.

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