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September 15, 2019
JUSTICE

Neil McGregor, British commercial solicitor, Vice-Chairman of the British Chambers of Commerce: ‘Romania has focused on punishing corruption. Other countries place much more emphasis on prevention’

Corruption is like an elephant – it is hard to describe it in detail, but you can recognize it when you see it. This is the way Neil McGregor, the Vice-Chairman of the British Chambers of Commerce and the Managing Partner of McGregor & Partners SCA describes this phenomenon which is present everywhere, especially in Romania, a country in which the fight against corruption seems to be running everything and no day goes by without a new case of a politician or businessman caught giving or taking bribe. But although things seem to be going in the right direction in our country, McGregor thinks that this cleaning could be done in another way.

‘DNA is very active, especially with denunciations and we see a lot of people which are taken in handcuffs to the DNA, but the UK approach is a bit different’, said McGregor who, helped by his team, assists companies in establishing and confirming that they have adequate procedures in place to prevent bribery, as required by UK’s Bribery Act 2010.

“The reform in the UK in 2010, the whole law regarding corruption was remade. In the UK we don’t see that many people walking around with handcuffs in front of the DNA’s counterpart institution, but very high fines are issued. Moreover, self-report is encouraged. Thus, accused companies are obligated to pay back the money taken, to pay a very hefty fine and to take the commitment of not doing it again. The company gets away without problems, and the business sector and employees are not affected,” Neil McGregor stated on Tuesday at a press conference in Bucharest.

“Romania has focused on punishing bribery and corruption when it is detected, and also places emphasis on matters which affect the State Budget. Other countries (e.g. the UK) place much more emphasis on prevention of bribery and corruption through effective compliance programmes. This includes official programmes which encourage the self-reporting of bribery and corruption, in return for lighter penalties. Other countries also recognise that bribery and corruption are major problems in the private sector, particularly where their companies lose business to competitors through corruption,” said McGregor.

 

“People want to be straight and clean and it is important that the state should support them”

 

And this man knows what he is talking about. Not only is he running a campaign of informing businesses in Romania on how they can be affected by the UK’s new foreign corruption legislation, organising events all over the country, but his experience with the Romanian bribe system started 20 years ago when he arrived here by train and a custom worker took one of his tea bags from his luggage. Since then McGregor has helped many companies with their compliance obligations and in dealing with the problems caused by corruption, fraud and other ‘white collar’ crime. Also, his expertise is now required by the Romanian Ministry of Justice on Romania’s new Anticorruption Strategy, which is currently in the public consultation process.

Regarding this matter, McGregor said that Romanians’ mentality about corruption has to change. Also there is a big need for better legislation.

“You need to combine crimes such as passive bribery, active bribery or influence peddling in a single law that is clear. And not just for the public sector,” the specialist warned. He revealed that the Justice Ministry did not show interest in the inclusion of the private sector in the drafting of the Anticorruption Strategy despite the fact that, as he puts it, “the engine of the economy is the private sector.”

In McGregor’s opinion, the new law should also contain clear regulations on prevention, self-reporting, a policy for prosecutors and adequate measures against those who are found guilty.

“People want to be straight and clean and it is important that the state should support them,” the British specialist pointed out.

Moreover, the specialist pointed out that in the British legislation there is no such thing as attempted bribery and if one offers someone a bribe and it is refused it is also considered bribery and it is treated as such by the law. Likewise, McGregor explained that in the UK companies are also responsible if one employee is caught receiving bribe and that the responsibility should be that of the owner of the company.

 

‘Foreign businesses are likely to be very sensitive about working with Romanian businesses’

 

Neil McGregor also says that Romanian businesses which work, or which want to work with international businesses need to be aware that their business partners can be affected in other countries by what the Romanian businesses, or their staff, may do.

“Romania – despite the actions taken by the DNA and other agencies – does not have the cleanest reputation, compared to some other EU countries – e.g. Denmark. This means that foreign businesses are likely to be very sensitive about working with Romanian businesses. This is particularly so where businesses operate in sectors which are regarded as ‘high-risk,” the British specialist warned.

 

‘Parties are in the same position as companies’

 

Referring to Liberal Ludovic Orban’s case, which had to pull out of the race for the Bucharest City Hall on Tuesday after he was remanded on conditional bail for allegedly asking for money for his campaign, we asked Neil McGregor for his opinion on the situation in which a politician that is not an independent candidate collects money from businessmen for his election campaign, without filling in paperwork that would point out the donation, is caught and accused of asking for and receiving a bribe. The British specialist opined that theoretically the situation is similar to the one in which the company is responsible if an employee is caught doing that. However, McGregog admits that the situation is far from so in reality, in the absence of clear legislation. And this is not happening only in Romania. “Parties are in the same position as companies. However, I believe I would grow old before seeing MPs persuaded of passing a law that would spell out that parties should be held responsible for the illegal actions of a politician.” Nevertheless, he added that in the UK “parties are nothing special, they are just associations of people for a particular purpose,” unlike what he saw in Romania where parties are seen as powerful and influential entities.

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