BERLIN - A new study that shows laws forbidding companies from paying bribes to win or influence foreign contracts have resulted in a rising number of prosecutions, anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International said Thursday.
The Berlin-based agency said that, of 37 countries that have signed on to the OECD's Anti-Bribery Convention, Germany and the United States — two of the world's three largest exporters — have been most aggressively pursuing investigations and prosecutions.
The convention, which went into effect in 1999, commits countries to making foreign bribery a crime.
The 37 countries that were part of the study had prosecuted 708 cases in total by the end of 2011, compared with 564 by the end of 2010, and have 286 ongoing cases, the study showed.
More than 250 individuals and about 100 companies were sanctioned for foreign bribery cases to the end of 2011, while 66 people had gone to jail for bribing overseas officials in business deals.
But Casey Kelso, advocacy director at Transparency International, cautioned against too much optimism, saying there was still much work to do.
"The 144 foreign bribery cases prosecuted last year are just the tip of the iceberg," Kelso said in a statement to The Associated Press. "Debt-stricken Greece just settled a bribery case that cost it $2 billion. More governments need to step up investigations of global corporate crime, to make sure bribery does not pay."
Signatory countries account for two-thirds of the world's exports and three-quarters of foreign investment. China — the world's largest exporter — has not signed the convention though last year it passed national legislation against foreign bribery. Russia signed the convention in 2011, and was not included in this year's report.
"China, India and Russia are passing new laws to make sure their companies do not grease the palms to win business, but will they take the next big step of taking the world's biggest exporters to court?" Kelso asked.
"The U.S. and Germany have shown it can be done, but too many wealthy nations are still holding back."
Other than Russia, the only other signatory to the convention not included in the study was Iceland, where Transparency did not have the capabilities to carry it out.
By 2011 the U.S. had brought 275 cases against companies, adding 48 new cases since 2010. Germany had 176 total prosecutions, up 41 over the previous year.
Japan was the biggest economy to have brought fewer than 10 major cases — with only two reported by the end of 2011 — and Transparency International said that while France had brought 24 cases, there were "concerns about the slow progress of cases initiated and lack of deterrent sanctions."
Several countries, including Ireland, Greece, Israel and South Africa showed no enforcement at all.