Korea must enhance detection and reinforce sanctions to boost foreign bribery enforcement

Seoul 2019

This is the scenery of Seoul, capital of South Korea (Unsplash, 2018)

This article is brought to you in association with OECD.


Korea must step up enforcement of its foreign bribery laws and strengthen the capacities of law enforcement agencies to proactively detect and investigate the offence, according to a new report by the OECD Working Group on Bribery.

Enforcement of foreign bribery has weakened since 2011 and the enforcement rate does not correspond to the significant level of exports and outward investment by Korean companies in countries and sectors at high risk for corruption. Korea needs to address key elements of its legislative framework, in particular a longstanding recommendation to increase the level of sanctions for foreign bribery, notably for companies, and ensure that application of its foreign bribery law is not subject to a restrictive interpretation by its law enforcement and judiciary. Korea must also be more proactive in using international cooperation in foreign bribery cases.
The 44-country OECD Working Group on Bribery has just completed its Phase 4 evaluation of Korea’s implementation of the Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials and related instruments.
The Group further recommends that Korea:

  • Improve coordination, information-sharing and cooperation in foreign bribery investigations within and between prosecutorial and police agencies
  • Vigorously enforce related offences of false accounting and money laundering predicated on foreign bribery
    • Ensure the current investigation time limit and the timeframe for prosecuting companies for foreign bribery are sufficient to allow for effective foreign bribery enforcement
    • Enhance its detection capacities by mobilising government agencies and private sector professionals with particular potential for detecting foreign bribery

The report also notes positive aspects of Korea’s anti-bribery framework, notably the recent passing of legislation to close the loophole concerning bribes paid to third party beneficiaries, and its comprehensive legal and institutional framework for whistleblower reporting and protection. This is an example of good practice among the member countries of the Group in this area, and constitutes a potentially strong asset for detecting foreign bribery. Korea’s positive response to foreign counterparts in transnational bribery cases is another encouraging feature: Korea has responded efficiently to intenational cooperation requests by foreign countries, and investigated foreign bribery reports referred to it by foreign authorities.
Korea’s Phase 4 report was adopted by the OECD Working Group on Bribery on 13 December 2018. The report, available at www.oecd.org/corruption/anti-bribery/OECD-Korea-Phase-4-Report-ENG.pdf, lists the recommendations the Working Group made to Korea on pages 70-75, and includes an overview of recent enforcement activity and specific legal, policy, and institutional features of Korea’s framework for fighting foreign bribery. Korea will submit an oral report to the Working Group in December 2019 on progress made to increase foreign bribery sanctions, in particular for legal persons, and a written report within two years (December 2020) on its implementation of all recommendations and its enforcement efforts. This report will also be made publicly available.
The report is part of the OECD Working Group on Bribery’s fourth phase of monitoring, launched in 2016. Phase 4 looks at the evaluated country’s particular challenges and positive achievements. It also explores issues such as detection, enforcement, corporate liability, and international cooperation, as well as covering unresolved issues from prior reports.

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