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Why your air cargo supply chain is probably corrupt

Do you know what constitutes an air cargo bribe?

AS international legal bodies and government departments increasingly take a zero-tolerance approach to taking a bribe – a main tenet of corruption – the air cargo industry has much to fear given its outmoded way of conducting business transactions around the world, writes Thelma Etim.

Serious fraud specialists have already claimed a number of big scalps in spectacular fashion, meting out billions of dollars in penalties.

Air cargo has historically operated along ‘old-school’ rules – but the legal net is closing and pleading ignorance is no defence for breaking international business laws, warns Aziz Rahman, an award-winning corporate crime defence solicitor.

“Even though it’s common for people to accept bribes without realising it, ignorance is never a suitable defence,” he asserts.

It is well-known – and even expected – that lavish entertainment, dinners and free-flowing bubbly are a long-established integral part of air cargo exhibitions and conferences.

But what about backhanders and other ‘incentives’ paid out to secure new air cargo business deals?

Rahman, a senior partner at serious and corporate crime defence specialists Rahman Ravelli, believes many organisations and businesses are failing to ‘adequately brief their staff on what does and doesn’t constitute a bribe’.

To raise awareness among decision-makers and their staff to avoid unwittingly landing themselves in legal hot water, Rahman proffers five warning signs regarding what the international authorities might constitute a bribe:

1) Gifts: Should you really be accepting them?  

“Much depends on the timing,” explains Rahman. “If your staff are receiving gifts right at the time that you’re about to award contracts, alarm bells should be ringing.”

Assuming a small gift is ‘safe’ – as opposed to large, expensive items – is a mistake. Sometimes, an accumulation of small gifts over time can be interpreted as bribery, he warns.

2) Hospitality: Is this the first time you’ve been taken out by a client?

As the Financial Conduct Authority sets its sights on companies that use perks, such as trips to sporting events, or fine dining as a means of bribing somebody, Rahman questions: “Is the hospitality timed to coincide with a business decision being made? Is it the first time the person has offered such hospitality? Is it being offered only to the people who are making a particular business decision? If the answer to all these is yes, it could be considered bribery.”

3) Be wary of clients offering services for free

Rahman warns alarm bells should ring if a current, or potential client offers to provide any service for free, or at a reduced rate.

He proffers a plausible scenario: “You’re looking to procure some new technology services. While you’re still in the decision-making process, one such company has offered to provide your staff with some free equipment.

“Is this a gesture of goodwill to cement a strong relationship, or is it a bribe?” he questions.

4) Are they really doing you a favour?

Someone offering to ‘sort out a problem’, proffer free advice, or put you in touch with someone who can assist you – these can all be favours offered with the best intentions, surmises Rahman.

“But these are not favours if the person giving them expects something specific in return,” he warns. “Is the timing of the favour linked to any business decision?”

Sometimes it is difficult to differentiate between a ‘nice turn’ and a bribe, underscores the corporate crime defence solicitor.

5) Do ‘mates rates’ exist, or are they just an elaborate bribe?

If you are receiving goods, or services, for a so-called ‘knock-down’ price, you need to raise a flag and ensure there’s nothing untoward happening, advises Rahman.

“Everyone loves a bargain. Often people doing business with each other tend to ‘look after’ each other. This can be a genuine attempt to help out an acquaintance – but it could also be bribery.”

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