In-house teams must strengthen anti-corruption processes, as most bribes are falling below the company radar, according to an analysis of bribery prosecutions against UK businesses.

The Bribery Digest report from accountancy firm Ernst & Young (EY) claims that many corrupt payments made by UK companies are relatively when compared with contract gains. 

Jonathan Middup, head of anti-bribery and corruption at EY, said in-house teams must have strong compliance functions in place, as bribes are often too small for the finance department to detect.

Bribes can be disguised under "consultancy" payments, “marketing”, or “local taxes”, he said.

‘In-house teams need to ensure they have experienced people in place who are able to identify the red flags. They should seek views of other parts of the business, and speak to people about where they face the risks,’ he said.

Peer networking could also help to ensure their benchmarks are not out of kilter with what others are doing, he said.

‘If companies do face charges, they need to be able to point to an adequate defence and prove that strong processes were in place.’

Of the 27 bribery prosecutions analysed, one-third of bribes paid out were between £83,000 and £300,000 leading to contracts wins of up to £16m, according to the research.

The Middle East was the region where most bribes occurred, followed by Africa and Asia.

Whistleblowing was the main route by which bribes were discovered by enforcers, the report says.