Bribery is the act of giving or receiving something of value which influences the actions of a government or public official, employee or one who has a legal duty. The recipient of the bribe facilitates or smooths the way to a desired outcome by removing existing obstacles and uncertainty. This crime is frequently associated with political and government corruption.
Forms of BriberyThe act of bribery requires an intentional act of “corrupt influence” and can take many forms. A bribe may involve cash payments but the exchange of money is not required. Receiving anything of value is sufficient, such as obtaining a favorable loan, a debt payment made to a third party, illegal gifts and gratuities, donations made to a cause or charity on the recipient's behalf, paid vacations, free use of resort facilities, sexual favors and the ability to purchase property or real estate below market value. The person who receives the bribe returns the gesture with some specified favorable treatment that is typically not in the best interests of his or her employer. This might include an award of a government contract to a lesser bidder, dismissal of criminal charges where a conviction is warranted, a modification or waiver of existing law when none should be granted and the payment of unlawful commissions and kickbacks.
Elements of the CrimeA written agreement is not necessary for a bribery charge. Evidence of an oral agreement and an exchange of value is generally sufficient. A prosecutor will usually be required to prove that the act was one of corrupt intent. Both the person who pays and the person who receives a bribe may be charged with a criminal offense.
Actions performed with corrupt influence will constitute a bribery offense, regardless of whether the outcome results in actual harm to the public or to an employer. For example, if a public official is illegally paid a sum of money to award a government contract, it does not matter whether the person paying the bribe ultimately succeeds as the high bidder and would have been awarded the contract.
Commercial BriberyWhen an employee acts against the best interests of an employer in exchange for money or other compensation, the crime of commercial bribery occurs. While there is no federal law that covers this situation, some states have enacted their own commercial bribery offenses.
Bribery in SportsA boxer who agrees to “throw” a fight will intentionally loose a fight that he or she should have been won in exchange for a payment of money or other benefit. In the world of sports gambling, a player may “shave points” by purposefully failing to score so that his or her team will lose by a larger margin than stated odds. These actions are illegal under federal law (Title 18 U.S.C. § 224 - Bribery in Sporting Contests).
Bribery SentencingUnder federal law, a public official convicted of receiving a bribe can be fined up to three times the value received and/or a term of up to 15 years in prison. A witness who is found to have wrongfully altered their testimony in court faces the same punishment. (18 U.S.C. § 201 – Bribery of Public Officials and Witnesses) Sports officials and referees who are convicted of a bribery offense may receive significant fines and up to five years in prison. (18 U.S.C. § 224)
Federal Law: Foreign Corrupt Practices ActIt is unlawful under the federal Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977 for any citizen or specific foreign issuers of securities to pay off a foreign official in order to facilitate a business relationship with any person or entity. A 1998 provision prohibits foreign firms or foreign born individuals from undertaking any action that furthers a corrupt payment while in the United States.
Lobbying and Campaign FinancingIt is often said that there is a fine line in distinguishing unlawful bribery and legitimate lobbying and campaign financing. In most instances donations made to a political campaign are limited by law and disclosure is required. Some donors are rewarded with meetings to discuss an issue, not with a guarantee how the political candidate or government official will act.
- Criminal Law & Procedure:
- Criminal Charges - Bribery, Extortion
- Criminal Charges:
Fraud, ID & Money Bribery Charges: Types, Elements & Penalties
By Michael M. Wechsler |
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