Israel 'Turning Blind Eye' to Citizens' Bribery Abroad

The fact that no Israelis have been investigated for bribery of foreign officials over the past four years does not mean that it hasn't happened.

It is likely that Israel turns a blind eye to bribery of foreign officials by its citizens, Transparency International officials claimed on Monday. Over the past four years, no Israelis have been tried for bribery of foreign officials and no investigations into possible offences have been launched, according to the nongovernmental organization that monitors international corporate and political corruption.

The fact that no one has been tried does not mean that no Israelis are committing such offenses, Transparency International-Israel CEO Galia Sagy said Monday, at a joint conference on corruption held with law firm GKH. Sagy and attorney Efrat Barzilai of GKH said they suspect that there are Israelis, even if only a few, who are bribing foreign public officials, but that the Israeli authorities are turning a blind eye to it.

In 2009, as part of the process of being accepted to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, Israel joined the organization’s international treaty for preventing bribery. Transparency International’s annual report, which was released at the conference, looked into implementation of the treaty for the years 2009 to 2012.

The report found that only four countries are actively and effectively implementing the treaty: the United States, Germany, Britain and Switzerland. Those countries, which account for 26.2% of global exports, have launched dozens of investigations against local companies suspected of committing bribery abroad. Another 10 countries, which include Canada, France and Sweden and account for 11.3% of global exports, have launched a limited number of investigations.

Transparency found that another 20 countries, which account for 26.9% of global exports, launched no investigations into suspected violations of the treaty. This group includes Israel, Russia, Greece, Spain, Mexico, Japan and Turkey.

The report notes that enforcement in general decreased between 2009 and 2012 due to the global recession.

Regarding Israel, Barzilai and Sagy agreed that existing laws are adequate, but enforcement is totally lacking. When Israel joined the international convention, it committed to stiffening its law criminalizing international bribery in order to meet OECD standards. That was done in 2010, with new legal definitions of the terms “foreign country” and “foreign public official” and increased penalties of up to 10 years in prison.

Barzilai said she believed that the lack of enforcement was a temporary situation. “The assumption is not that Israelis aren’t committing bribery abroad, but that there’s no enforcement in Israel regarding this offense,” she said. “We can also presume that enforcement will begin soon. The law was changed in Israel due to international pressure. The OECD would not have accepted Israel as a member nation otherwise.” She noted that similar adaptations to laws on money laundering and human trafficking were later accompanied by enforcement.

“So far, no investigations have been carried out in this field, because it takes time and it’s hard to institutionalize a new law,” she said. “It’s also hard to investigate these kinds of things, because they happen outside Israel. But once there’s pressure from OECD member nations, it’ll happen here, too.”

Sagy, who called on Israel to start enforcing the law, said that the prevailing view that what happens abroad doesn’t affect Israel, resulted in a lack of political motivation to enforce the law. “Israel lacks the understanding that we’re one global community. It’s like the message behind environmentalism – you can’t dump your trash in Africa without paying the price in pollution later,” she said. “You can’t bribe people abroad and think that it won’t happen in Israel, too.”

The Israeli economy would suffer from government ineffectiveness in addressing the issue, she added.

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