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Officials and experts produce recommendations to curb foreign bribery within ASEAN

Siem Reap (Cambodia), 12 November 2014
- With the creation of the single market within the ASEAN Economic Community in 2015, it is crucial to ensure a fair level playing field in the region for companies and economies. Bribery of foreign public officials has become a major concern as a result of the regional economic growth and the increasing level of trade and investment in the region.

The implementation of the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) provides countries with an opportunity to adopt and enforce their foreign bribery policies within a broader national anti-corruption framework. As UNCAC States Parties in Southeast Asia have undergone or are currently undergoing review for compliance, provisions on bribery of foreign officials and on mutual legal assistance have emerged as areas that are not fully implemented in many countries.

In addition to legal reforms, when it comes to a vigorous enforcement, a lot remains to be done. As recently highlighted by a Transparency International report, only four out of the 41 Member States of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) --United States, United Kingdom, Germany, and Switzerland--are actively investigating and prosecuting companies for bribery and corruption violations.

In response, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), in collaboration with the Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) of the Kingdom of Cambodia and with the financial support of the government of Japan, invited eleven South-East Asian economies to a two-day "Regional Meeting on Curbing Foreign Bribery in ASEAN Economic Community" at the beginning of October.

The Regional Meeting brought together different stakeholders who shared their experiences and expertise. Participants included senior officials from national Anti-Corruption Authorities and Central Authorities for Mutual Legal Assistance of ASEAN countries and Timor Leste, as well as experts from Australia, Japan, Switzerland and USA, and international organizations such as the OECD and representatives of regional fora, civil society groups, multinational companies and international law firms.

"The regional meeting on the particular subject of foreign bribery cannot come more than timely than now as we the ASEAN Community prepare for our long-planned integration of the Economic Community starting from 2015," said H.E. Top Som, President of the National Council Against Corruption (NCAC) of the Kingdom of Cambodia in his opening remarks. As Ms. Wan-Hea Lee, United Nations Resident Coordinator a.i. for Cambodia, pointed out, "Without properly addressing foreign bribery in ASEAN region, the economic integration is doomed to fail."

The objectives of the meeting were two fold: to trigger foreign bribery investigations by clarifying the process of investigation and prosecution of foreign bribery in the region; and to improve international cooperation in foreign bribery cases.

With these objectives in mind, participants discussed challenges and good practices through exchanges and group discussions and produced the "Siem Reap Statement on Curbing Foreign Bribery", a set of recommendations to effectively curb foreign bribery within the ASEAN region. This statement will be presented at the Sixth Session of the State Parties to the United Nations Convention against Corruption in 2015.

These recommendations touch on four key areas: enforcement, legal framework, international cooperation and prevention. "The recommendations are designed to be a resource tool to aid States to carry out their anti-corruption efforts as they embark on revising existing foreign bribery and mutual legal assistance laws and policy frameworks," said Mr. Shervin Majlessi, UNODC Regional Anti-Corruption Adviser. "Enhanced international cooperation in the region is crucial to the fight against foreign bribery, which is why UNODC is planning to build on this conference to produce a guidebook for practitioners to facilitate mutual legal assistance and international cooperation in foreign bribery cases within and with ASEAN region," he continued.