The threat from bribery, corruption and sanctions evasion

Bribery is a pervasive form of corruption which facilitates serious criminality, such as the laundering of stolen assets, and includes the trafficking of people, drugs and firearms across national borders. Bribery of public officials erodes public confidence in the judiciary and government, and undermines the rule of law. Where UK companies or individuals are involved it can undermine the UK’s ability to promote sustainable growth and to meet our international obligations. Corrupt payments to secure contracts distort markets and endanger fair competition, contributing to economic hardship, social inequality and loss of jobs.

Corruption by foreign public figures or 'politically-exposed persons' can have devastating consequences for developing countries. The scale of corruption can be vast, with individuals often siphoning billions of pounds from state funds. In many developing nations endemic corruption can be a key factor in civil disturbance and regime changes. Corruption increases poverty and inequality, undermines good business and threatens the integrity of financial markets.

The UK, and especially the London property and financial markets, is a favoured destination to launder and invest the proceeds of international corruption, posing significant reputational and financial risks to the UK.

The ease of opening UK companies means they are often used to enable corrupt activity. UK-registered companies pay bribes overseas in order to conduct business while companies based in large financial centres are used to disguise ownership and to conceal corrupt payments.

The involvement of UK nationals or companies in financial sanctions evasion damages our international reputation and undermines the foreign policy goals of the UK and our partners.

Bribery, corruption and sanctions evasion are facilitated by the abuse of legitimate processes and services. Accounting and legal professionals, and estate agents, can be criminally exploited – this is sometimes complicit, sometimes negligent, and sometimes unwitting – and this small minority of people can pose a very significant threat. They can act as intermediaries and use their skills, knowledge and abilities to draft documentation, disseminate funds, and allow highly complex structures to be created that move and store large amounts of criminal money and conceal ownership effectively.

Our response

We lead UK law enforcement’s response to bribery, corruption and sanctions evasion, working with partners to tackle the threat. We provide regular support to partners by developing intelligence and by providing specialist operational capability. We liaise with partners to de-conflict work, with the objective to make sure each case wherever reported is appropriately assessed by the relevant authority.

Corruption at the border is a key vulnerability and therefore a major focus for law enforcement, which we provide support to. We also work closely with other government departments to tackle wider public sector corruption.

Our reach is not limited to the UK. We work to increase protection against corruption overseas by engaging with foreign law enforcement agencies to improve their response to this threat.

International Corruption Unit

Our International Corruption Unit (ICU) investigates international bribery, corruption and related money-laundering offences. Its key role is to investigate:

  • money laundering in the UK resulting from corruption of high-ranking officials overseas.
  • bribery involving UK–based companies or nationals which has an international element.
  • cross-border bribery where there is a link to the UK

The ICU also traces and recovers the proceeds of international corruption. 

Other functions include:

  • Supporting HM Treasury with the enforcement of financial sanctions
  • Supporting foreign law enforcement agencies with international anti-corruption investigations
  • Engaging with government and business to reduce the UK’s exposure to the proceeds of corruption
  • Working with businesses to support increased compliance with the Bribery Act 2010

Conventions and Statutes

The ICU works to a number of different Conventions and Statutes.  The main ones are:

International Anti-Corruption Coordination Centre

We are a member of the International Anti-Corruption Coordination Centre which brings together specialist law enforcement officers from agencies around the world to tackle bribery and corruption at a global level.

International Foreign Bribery Taskforce

We are also a member of the International Foreign Bribery Taskforce, made up of specialist bribery investigators from the UK, Australia, Canada and the USA. It strengthens the law enforcement response to foreign bribery on an international scale by providing a platform for police experts to share knowledge, skills, methodologies and case studies from international bribery investigations, ensuring an appropriate international co-ordinated approach amongst the agencies.