Private sector graft becomes a new target

The government yesterday approved a bill which seeks for the first time to make corruption in the private sector illegal and could see people found guilty of bribery or the peddling of influence receive up to five years in jail. Justice Minister Anastassis Papaligouras said the draft law would improve the «state’s legal arsenal» after the Inner Cabinet gave the bill a green light. Under the proposed law, anyone found guilty of offering a bribe to someone working in the private sector could face between one and five years in jail. Employees of private firms who accept bribes will also face a jail sentence of up to five years, which is the same penalty that civil servants face. The bill also makes it an offense, for the first time, «to offer to exercise influence.» This means that anyone found to have promised to influence people involved in a decision-making process or the drawing up of a contract in exchange for a reward could face between three months and five years in jail as well as a fine. The prospective law decrees that someone does not have to carry through with his or her promise – simply offering to influence the process will be classified as an offense. If the offender holds a managerial position, he or she is also liable to be fined up to three times the amount of the bribe that has been offered or accepted by them. The bill seeks to clamp down on companies or individuals who deliberately issue invoices, receipts or other documents with incorrect data to cover up bribery. Bribing an MP or a member of local government will also become an offense under the law and will be punishable with one to two years in jail. Papaligouras said private sector corruption had to be combated even though corruption in the public sector had not been eradicated because «corrosive elements often become entangled.» The minister added that changes to the law to tackle graft in the public sector had already had «tangible» results. He also defended a cleanup of the judiciary in the wake of trial-fixing scandals, saying that 90 judicial officials had already faced charges. Haris Pamboukis, a professor at Athens University’s Law School, told Kathimerini that the draft law is a «positive step» but not enough to stamp out corruption on its own. He said that more transparency was needed in the transactions between the private and public sector to convince people that graft was not involved. Pamboukis added that the finances of companies in the public eye, such as TV stations, should also be transparent.