Police and prosecutors are generally responsible for investigating and prosecuting crimes. A crime is committed when the actions of an individual, a business or other organisation break a criminal law. Corruption or acts that are related to corruption are considered crimes.
If you report corrupt activity to the police or a prosecutor, this could lead to a criminal investigation. This is an investigation into whether a wrongdoer’s suspected corrupt activity involved a crime being committed. For example, bribery, a type of corruption, is considered a crime in most countries. If bribery is effectively detected and punished, it can deter other crimes related to corruption.
If, after investigation, there is evidence a crime has been committed, this could lead to a criminal prosecution where the prosecutor brings a criminal case to court against the wrongdoer.
Police are generally the primary authority responsible for guaranteeing our security and investigating crimes. However, there can be other investigative bodies in your country that have the responsibility to investigate corruption, such as the tax authority, customs investigators or a specialised anti-corruption agency.
Prosecutors are public officials often responsible for initiating legal proceedings against a wrongdoer for a crime and, if the case has sufficient evidence, for bringing it to Court. Often exclusively prosecutors or magistrates have the authority to investigate suspicious activities of high level public officials, such as members of parliament, judges or high level elected officials.
In some countries, criminal investigations are in the hands of investigative magistrates or juge d’instruction, a continental institution that is in charge of the criminal investigation and preparing cases for trial, acting not in the interest of prosecution or defence but rather, in the interest of the State. In many jurisdictions of Latin legal culture, they have both prosecutors and magistrates.
Below are potential advantages and disadvantages of reporting corrupt activity to the police:
|Cost. The process should not cost you anything. In many countries, the police take your report forward, they will be responsible for investigations and it is the responsibility of a public prosecutor to represent the victim’s interests throughout the entire process. In some jurisdictions direct victims of corruption can have their own representatives in the procedure.
|Confidentiality. It may be hard for you to remain anonymous, particularly if the prosecution will rely upon evidence from you in relation to what the wrongdoer did. However, there may be legislation protecting witnesses or whistleblowers in your country. If that is the case, they may help to protect you from pressure or reprisals.
|Assistance for gathering evidence. The gathering of evidence and the legal analyses are done by the law enforcement authorities, saving you a lot of time and effort.
|Duration. Due to the complexity of the case and backlog of documents, criminal investigations can take a long time. You may have to wait a long time before a criminal case is brought / presented before court.
|Less contact with the wrongdoer. The law enforcement authorities are responsible for dealing with the wrongdoer. Reducing your contact with the wrongdoer can make it safer to challenge corruption.
|Standard of proof. Criminal cases have a higher standard of proof than other mechanisms (usually “beyond a reasonable doubt”). This means that more evidence usually has to be gathered to bring a successful criminal case in Court. Because of this, police/prosecutions will not take cases forward unless they have evidence to make them confident the case will succeed.
|Sanctions. Reporting to the police could lead to a criminal prosecution and criminal sanctions, such as fines and imprisonment. This can provide a powerful deterrent, preventing future corruption. Once criminal responsibility is established there is a better chance that victims will also get remedies.
|Corruption within criminal justice. Criminal investigations rely on law enforcement bodies. If the law, the police or prosecutions in your country are under-resourced or corrupt, this can make it difficult and even dangerous to start a criminal investigation and it can be even counterproductive in case the police tips off the perpetrator, concerning any detail of the investigation.
|Bringing more actors involved in the case. Within the investigation more actors involved in the corruption case can be added to the initial criminal investigation.
Before reporting a corrupt act to the police or a prosecutor, ask yourself the following questions:
If the answer to these questions is yes, reporting to the police or prosecutors may be appropriate for you.
An advantage of criminal cases is that the police and/or prosecution are responsible for investigating a case before trial. This means you will not be solely responsible for gathering evidence. BUT, you will often need to have and provide some good evidence to convince the police/prosecutor that you have a case they should investigate.
It is only if they think there is a reasonable prospect that a crime has been committed that they will investigate further.
Practical Tip: Provide the police and/or the prosecutor with as much evidence as possible
The prosecutor will need detailed evidence from you about the wrongful acts. It will be necessary for you to provide a very careful account of exactly what happened, what was said, when the various events took place, and so forth. Since the wrongdoer will probably try to contradict your version of events, it will also be important for you to produce any documents which can help to prove that your recollection is accurate.
Therefore, it is important for you to write down a detailed account of exactly what happened as soon as possible, and to include as much detail as you can. Make sure that any diaries, notes, messages, photographs, recordings, bank statements or other supporting evidence are kept safe, as the prosecutor will need to see these in due course. They may well be very important for your case.
For more information, see How Can I Prove Corruption?
An advantage of criminal cases is that the prosecution is responsible for preparing the legal arguments if a prosecution is brought. This means you will not be solely responsible for gathering evidence and you do not need to have carried out an in-depth legal analysis on what criminal laws have been broken (this is the job of the police and prosecutors).
However, if you want to know more about criminal law and corruption or are thinking about taking a “private prosecution”, see Criminal Cases and Corruption in this Guide.
In some countries, reporting to a public prosecutor could also result in an administrative or public law case being brought against the individual wrongdoer or the company/body involved in corruption.