Swiss urged to step up fight against corruption

The Swiss could do more to fight corruption, says the OECD swissinfo C Helmle

Switzerland needs to increase efforts to combat bribery and to encourage “whistleblowing”, according to a report published on Tuesday.

This content was published on February 1, 2005

The study by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) claims small companies and civil servants lack awareness of anti-corruption rules.

The team of experts that compiled the report also criticised the Federal Prosecutor's Office for being slow in bringing cases of corruption to justice.

But there were top marks for measures taken to prevent bribery, as well as praise for the “exemplary” stance adopted by Swiss multinationals.

Jean-Daniel Gerber, state secretary for economic affairs, said Switzerland had fared better than some of the 14 nations already audited by the international body.

“Compared with many other countries, Switzerland is among the leaders when it comes to fighting bribery,” said Gerber on Tuesday.

Mark Pieth, a Basel University law professor who leads the OECD working group on corruption, placed Switzerland in the same boat as France and Germany.

“These states can all be criticised, but there is nothing fundamentally wrong about the way they deal with bribery of foreign public officials,” he told swissinfo.

According to Pieth, Britain and Luxembourg were found wanting, while Japan refused to be evaluated.

Could do better

The audit examined Switzerland’s potential to prevent, pursue and prosecute cases of bribery involving foreign officials abroad.

“The OECD has noted that officials in the cantons, towns and villages of Switzerland are still not aware of the potential for bribery,” said Gerber, who admitted that there was still room for improvement.

The working group said Swiss civil servants should be obliged to denounce cases of corruption.

The OECD added that more attention should be paid to anonymous tip-offs and better protection given to whistleblowers.

“Today, we can only act after a crime has been committed,” said Philippe Lévy, president of anti-corruption watchdog, Transparency Switzerland.

“To fight bribery, we need preventive measures, such as protecting whistleblowers.”

Small and medium-sized businesses working abroad could also do more to fight corruption, said the report.

It noted that while major companies had taken steps to tackle illegal payments, their smaller counterparts needed to be made more aware of corruption-related issues.

Greater transparency

Other measures suggested by the working group included improved presentation of company accounts and greater use of independent auditors.

The OECD recommended that Swiss firms implicated in bribery cases should be excluded from public tenders and refused government export guarantees.

The report also urged the Swiss authorities to speed up the processing of requests for international judicial assistance in cases involving corrupt foreign officials.

It cited the Federal Prosecutor’s Office as one of the weak links in the Swiss legal system.

“Out of 12 corruption cases we have handled since last year, only two have been through the courts, and just one led to a conviction,” admitted Marc-André Fels, spokesman for the federal prosecutor.

Swiss officials said they would now go away and analyse the OECD’s findings before proposing any new measures.

“Corruption is an issue in every country, Switzerland included,” Gerber told swissinfo. “That’s why we must fight it with every means at our disposal.”

swissinfo, Scott Capper

In brief

The OECD has been evaluating the fight against corruption in Switzerland and other countries.

A team of experts visited the country last May and conducted more than 100 interviews with officials and business figures.

The report found that the Swiss could do more to fight corruption involving cases of bribery with foreign officials.

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