The US sees honest conduct as ‘pro-business’.

When US diplomatic communications were published through the Wikileaks website, one of the more arresting memos related to a US ambassador’s heartfelt shock at hearing special UK trade representative Prince Andrew rail against British anticorruption investigators.

‘Prince Andrew took up the topic with gusto,’ her excellency Tatiana Gfoeller noted. The prince was not reflecting official government policy, but the incident appeared to illustrate the distance between the UK and US mindset on bribery and corruption.

That distance was meant to close with the enactment of the Bribery Act in 2011. But as we note in this week’s feature the risks of investigation and prosecution still appear to be low in the UK. Four individuals, who deny wrongdoing, are on trial at Southwark Crown Court and there has not yet been a corporate prosecution.

When the Bribery Act was passed, it sent shockwaves through our boardrooms. More than three years on, the fear is that compliance may be slipping down the agenda of UK plc.

Absent more prosecutions, the impression - and it may be a false one - remains that the US sees honest conduct and enforcement as ‘pro-business’, while the UK views them as a business burden. It is in part this impression that seems likely to prevent deferred prosecution agreements becoming an effective tool for the SFO.

In this context, planned reforms of the Bribery Act look superfluous when what is needed is more clear evidence of tough enforcement.