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If you have been forced to pay a bribe to a public official or to someone else, you will want to recover that money. But you may have suffered even greater losses resulting from corruption: perhaps property was taken from you, or you lost a business opportunity. You may also want to ensure that the wrongdoers are punished, so that they are less likely to act corruptly in the future.
There is a wide range of people and entities against whom you may be able to pursue claims arising from corrupt activities. You can of course make a claim against the wrongdoer. However, you may also have remedies against other people who benefited from the corruption. In addition, you may be able to claim against anyone who assisted a public official to obtain a bribe, or who held it on their behalf or laundered the proceeds.
Naturally you will want to consider action against the person that did the corrupt act. Bear in mind that this is not limited to an individual person. There may be a number of people involved in the corrupt act, and you may well be able to take action against all of them.
Alternatively, it may be that corrupt act was done by a company, a government department or some other entity. In principle you may well be able to sue an entity for committing a corrupt act – though note that there are special rules in many countries that govern claims against public bodies. It may also be necessary to prove corrupt intent on the part of the organisation which did the corrupt act. This is likely to be more complicated than showing corrupt intent on the part of an individual wrongdoer. However, it is far from impossible; it will likely involve identifying the human person(s) who lead the organisation, and proving that at the time of the bribe, they had corrupt intent that is relevant to the act that took place.
EXAMPLE: In the 1990s senior employees of Rolls Royce, a leading UK manufacturer of aero engines, agreed to pay $2.25m and to give an executive car to an agent of the President of Indonesia, apparently in order to secure a contract with an Indonesian airline for the supply of RR aircraft engines. Rolls Royce later admitted liability for the acts of these senior employees and agreed to severe sanctions for this corrupt conduct.
What if the individual wrongdoer has disappeared, or has no money with which to compensate you?
If this has happened, you may nonetheless be able to obtain a remedy, particularly if the corruption took place in the wrongdoer’s workplace. In many countries the individual’s employer may also be held responsible for not preventing the corrupt act. Sometimes the employer will be an individual, but often it will be a company. If you can show the employer that corruption took place, you may find that the employer is prepared to agree that corruption took place, and that you then receive an offer of compensation without the need to take legal action.
EXAMPLE: Between 1996 and 2007 employees at Siemens, Europe’s largest engineering company, arranged for the company to pay bribes to win contracts from Iraq’s government in the United Nations oil-for-food program. Corrupt payments were also made to ensure that the company won bids for commuter rail projects in Venezuela, mobile-phone networks in Bangladesh, power plants in Israel and traffic-control systems in Russia. In 2008 Siemens pleaded guilty to the violation of international anti-corruption laws, and agreed to pay civil and criminal penalties amounting to $1.6bn.
If the corrupt acts were done by public officials, you may find that they were employed by the local or state government, or by another state agency.
As a last resort, in some countries the state can also be made liable for not protecting the rights of individuals to conduct their affairs free of corrupt acts. This type of argument is generally only available in cases brought under the human rights legislation that may be applicable in your country.
If the corrupt act comprised an administrative decision by a state agency, the laws in your country may entitle you to launch an appeal or challenge against the grant of the decision. This appeal or challenge would often be heard by the state agency or by a related appeal body, and not by a court.
As part of this challenge, you may be able to produce evidence of any corrupt act which gave rise to the decision under challenge. Often it is difficult to prove that a state decision was reached amid corruption, but if you have evidence of this, then you may be able to use it in powerful manner by pursuing an appeal against the decision.
The advantage of pursuing an appeal against an administrative decision is that it is often quicker and cheaper van court proceedings. In fact, some court proceedings in relation to the challenge of administrative decisions require you to exhaust all administrative avenues of challenge and appeal before going to court.
If you find that you do not have evidence of corruption in relation to the original decision, you may nonetheless be able to pursue an administrative appeal or challenge if you can show that the decision was based on irrational or improper grounds, or that it was reached following an inappropriate procedure.