Canada has legislation in place making it illegal to bribe foreign officials, but before the Niko case it had only been used to convict a Canadian company in a single case.
The Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act was passed in 1998 and entered into force the following year. It was born out of a 1997 meeting of the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development that sought to create an anti-bribery convention to be signed by member countries who would in turn create companion legislation.
Twenty-nine countries signed the agreement to criminalize bribery of foreign officials; now 38 countries are included. In Canada, the convention came into force in February of 1999. The OECD convention sought to bring international anti-bribery laws in step with the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which had been in place since 1977.
Three offences are outlined as part of Canada’s Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act. Bribing foreign officials is the primary offence, but the act also criminalizes laundering property and proceeds as well as possessing bribes and laundered cash and goods. In 2008, the RCMP established an International Anti-Corruption Unit with dedicated officers to investigate such matters.
While the Act appears to be a pragmatic attempt to cut down on international bribery, its use has been limited. The only case of successful prosecution under it came in 2005, when Hydro Kleen, a company based in Red Deer, Alta., pleaded guilty to bribing a U.S. immigration official.
Canada has been accused of poor adherence to the convention. In May, 2011, the non-profit organization Transparency International ranked Canada among 21 countries – and the only G7 nation – with “little or no enforcement” of the OECD convention.
Earlier this year, the OECD itself released a report calling Canada’s approach to anti-bribery “problematic,” noting its concern over a lack of committed resources to cope with upcoming prosecution cases.