Developing nations pose biggest bribery risk for CFOs, executives

The 2018 TRACE Bribery Risk Matrix covering 200 countries and territories found that Somalia, Libya, Venezuela, Chad and Turkmenistan are riskiest.

North Korea and South Sudan are among the developing countries that pose the biggest risks for executives being involved in bribery, according to a report that can serve as a guide for private equity firms that do business internationally.

Somalia, Libya, Venezuela, Chad and Turkmenistan are the five riskiest of the 200 countries and territories covered in the 2018 TRACE Bribery Risk Matrix. The report was conducted by TRACE International, a non-profit dedicated to providing compliance against bribery. African nations made up seven of the 10 riskiest countries, followed in number by Asia. The five least risky countries to do business in are New Zealand, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland.

Based on Trace’s report, private equity firms looking for a safe place to do business should be looking at European countries. On a grading scale of one to 100, with 100 being the riskiest, Europe had an average score of 32 and was the least risky continent. The riskiest continent, Africa, had an average score of 62.

Within North America, Canada ranked 9th, the US 18th and Mexico 133rd.

Executives who hold top positions are often targeted for bribes. Chief executives and chief financial officers are among those most at risk of being charged for bribery crimes, according to a June report by Arent Fox, a Washington DC-based law firm.

According to Arent Fox’s compilation, more than half of the 180 individuals found in violation of the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act from 2005 to 2017 were the CEO, president, vice-president or managing director/director. An organization’s CFO was just as likely as the owner to be targeted for bribery.

Among the key takeaways of Arent Fox’s report was that “the higher the value of the bribes, the more likely it is an individual will be charged – and charged criminally.” The law firm pointed out that the C-suite has been, and will continue to be, in the crosshairs of the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission. It also noted that more individuals were charged when the alleged bribes occurred in Nigeria, China, Mexico, Venezuela and Argentina than in other countries.

Indeed, regulators have been vigilant regarding the business practices of private equity firms overseas. In 2016, Och-Ziff Capital Management settled with the SEC after the agency accused the firm of using “intermediaries, agents and business partners to pay bribes to high-level government officials in Africa.” That included allegations that two Och-Ziff employees influenced the Libyan Investment Authority sovereign wealth fund to invest in Och-Ziff managed funds. The fund settled with the SEC and had to pay a civil penalty of almost $200 million and a criminal penalty of $213 million.

Och-Ziff CEO Daniel S. Och agreed to pay nearly $2.2 million to settle SEC charges that he caused certain violations along with CFO Joel M. Frank, who also agreed to settle the charges.

In 2017 alone, the DOJ charged 20 individuals for violating FCPA, which was the second-highest number of individual prosecutions in a year since 1977, according to Arent Fox.