A corruption hypothetical.

When people claim the UK is “clean” (usually while denigrating somewhere else) it always makes me angry. Because corruption creeps in everywhere, and never more so than where when people are convinced it doesn’t exist…

Imagine the following synopsis of a news story:

  • A property developer in a legendarily corruption-prone country – let’s call it Bribeia for the sake of argument – wants to build something that needs planning permission.
  • So he donates a chunk of cash to the coffers of the ruling party. As part of this donation, he gets to come to a rubber-chicken, thousands-a-plate fundraiser and hobnob with ministers.
  • He ends up sitting next to one such minister, and tells him about the development, urging that it be approved. The minister is non-committal, but they swap mobile numbers.
  • They then exchange multiple text messages. The minister continues to be carefully non-committal in his text messaging, but the developer tells him that he needs the approval by a deadline to avoid paying a whopping tax bill to the local government – coincidentally run by the main opposition party.
  • The non-committal communications notwithstanding, the minister tells his civil servants not only to approve the development, but to make sure it’s done in time to avoid the tax.

You’re all smart people, so you’ll all have instantly recognised that this is the Jenrick-Desmond affair, albeit transplanted elsewhere.

But tell me honestly. I mean it: do tell me, whether on Twitter, LinkedIn or otherwise. If this chain of events happened in a country in the bottom half of the TI CPI, would you hesitate for all that long before regarding both the developer’s conduct and that of the minister as potentially corrupt?

And if that’s the case for Bribeia, why’s it any different here?

(I’ll leave it as a thought exercise for the reader to analyse Desmond’s conduct in the context of Section 1 of the Bribery Act, pausing only to note that the person who is given or promised the advantage doesn’t have to be the same person as the one who performs a function improperly, but also noting that it might be tricky to prove intent. Similarly, an interesting academic exercise is to imagine that Desmond was indeed dealing with a Bribeian minister (that is, a foreign public official) rather than a UK one, and assess his conduct in the context of section 6. Although from what I’ve read, the test at s6(3)a)(ii) looks unsatisfied.)