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Bribery is a crime involving a sum of money or an item given in order to alter the behavior of the person in ways not consistent with the duties of that person. Bribery is common in many areas of everyday life, including politics, the legal system, business, the entertainment industry, medicine, and sports. Gifts are generally distinguished from bribes, as being unconditional and without expectation of particular action on the part of the received. The distinction may be blurred, however, when gifts are given as rewards for behavior or achievement, and the distinction varies from culture to culture. While in the West, bribery (with the intention of influencing official actions) is unacceptable and illegal in all spheres, in many cultures it is normal practice to offer "gifts" to those with whom one is doing business, and in others it may be necessary in order to persuade government officials to approve any transactions. Although authentic gift-giving is a natural and healthy part of human relationships, the obligation (that comes with bribes) of the receiver to act in the interest of the giver is not conducive to the best relationships among individuals nor is it beneficial for society as a whole.


Bribery is defined by Black's Law Dictionary as the offering, giving, receiving, or soliciting of any item of value to influence the actions as an official or other person in discharge of a public or legal duty. The bribe is the "gift" bestowed to influence the receiver's conduct, and is distinguished from a true gift which involves no such obligation on the part of the recipient. A bribe may be any money, property, preferment, privilege, emolument, object of value, advantage, or any promise or undertaking to induce or influence the action, vote, or influence of a person in an official or public capacity. For example, a motorist may bribe a police officer not to issue a ticket for speeding, a citizen seeking paperwork or utility line connections may bribe a functionary for faster service, a construction company may bribe a civil servant to award a contract, or a narcotics smuggler may bribe a judge to lessen criminal penalties.

Bribery is a form of political corruption and is generally considered unethical. In most jurisdictions it is illegal, or at least cause for sanctions from one's employer or professional organization.

Expectations of when a monetary transaction is appropriate can differ: tipping, for example, is considered bribery in some societies, while in others the two concepts are entirely distinct. In Spain, bribes are referred to as la mordida (literally, "the bite"), in middle eastern countries they are Backshish (or Bakshish).

Bribery in Different Cultures

Though widely condemned in the modern western world, actions that could be classified as bribery are considered normal and even necessary in many places. It is considered to be simply another cost of business practices in some parts of Asia, such as Thailand or the Philippines.[1] Bribery takes other forms in Japan and Korea. In Japan, there is a long tradition of wairo, in which a person gives a gift to another person they would like to take some action that is of benefit to the giver. Oftentimes, the receiver of the gift acts out of gratitude, and thus this is not usually seen as bribery by the Japanese.[2] In 2000, North and South Korea came together for a historic peace summit, which was facilitated by South Korea secretly giving the North Korean government a large sum of money. The gift was described as an act of "brotherly love," rather than bribery.[3] Russian society has long relied on unofficial "give-and-take" as part of normal transactions, including both bribery (the use of public office for direct, private gain) and blat (the informal, indirect exchange of favors between members of a social network).[4]

In some parts of Africa, corruption of governments and business can make survival impossible without bribery.[5] Transparency International, an anti-corruption watchdog, says "The combination of abundant natural resources, a history of autocratic and unaccountable government, as well as conflict and crisis throughout the continent have posed particular challenges to governance and the fight against corruption in Africa to the point that several countries have become virtually synonymous with graft."[6]

Types of Bribery

Although originating in the interference of justice by influencing judges, bribery has expanded beyond influence over all types of government officials into commercial and even private transactions in all spheres.


Employees, managers, or salespeople of a business may offer money or gifts to a potential client in exchange for business. In some cases where the system of law is not well implemented, bribes may be a way for companies to continue their businesses. For example, customs officials may harass a certain firm or production plant, officially to check for irregularities, which may halt production and stall other normal activities, causing significant losses. Bribing the officials is a common way to deal with this issue in countries without a clear system of reporting these semi-illegal activities. A third party, known as the "White Glove," may be involved to act as a clean middleman.


A grey area may exist when payments to smooth transactions are made. Politicians receive campaign contributions and other payoffs from powerful corporations or individuals when making choices in the interests of those parties, or in anticipation of favorable policy. However, such a relationship does not meet the legal standards for bribery without evidence of a quid pro quo.

United States law is particularly strict in limiting the ability of businesses to pay for the awarding of contracts by foreign governments; however, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act contains an exception for "grease payments." Very basically, this allows payments to officials in order to obtain the performance of ministerial acts which they are legally required to do, but may delay in the absence of such payment. In some countries, this practice is the norm, often resulting from a developing nation not having the tax structure to pay civil servants an adequate salary.

In some countries, government corruption is so pervasive, nothing can be accomplished without extra payments to government officials to either perform work they are already paid by the government to do, or to circumvent existing legislation and regulation. In some developing nations over half of the population reports paying bribes over the course of a year.[7]


In legal situations, lawyers, judges, and others with power may be subject to bribery or payoff for making a decision that benefits the individual making the payment. Operation Greylord revealed that bribery was rampant in the bench and bar community of Chicago in the early 1980s. In Jagdeo Singh v. The State of Trinidad and Tobago (2005) UKPC 35, the Privy Council considered the conviction of a lawyer retained to represent a drug trafficker. It appeared that the client wished the lawyer to secure his release on bail by any means, including the bribery of the magistrate, the prosecutor, and any other public officer who might help. It was not suggested that the lawyer had ever made an improper approach to any public officer. However, in a complicated police operation, the lawyer was paid the large fee he had asked for. There was no doubt that the client and his agent had intended a part of that money to be used "corruptly" and would be liable. In Cooper v Slade (1858) 6 HLC 746, a case which concerned the bribery of voters under the Corrupt Practices Prevention Act 1854, Willes J. said:

I think the word 'corruptly' in this statute means not 'dishonestly', but in purposely doing an act which the law forbids as tending to corrupt voters, whether it be to give a pecuniary inducement to vote, or a reward for having voted in any particular manner. Both the giver and the receiver in such a case may be said to act 'corruptly'.[8]

Further, it was not necessary to prove that any member, officer, or servant of a public body was in fact aware of what was going on when the improper offer was made or the bribe was passed, provided that the apparent purpose of the transaction was to affect the conduct of such a person corruptly at some time in the future. Whether the lawyer might or might not have used the money corruptly was not relevant.


Pharmaceutical corporations may seek to reward doctors through gifts for frequent prescription of their drugs. The American Medical Association has published ethical guidelines for gifts from industry which include the tenet that physicians should not accept gifts if they are given in relation to the physician’s prescribing practices.[9] Doubtful cases include grants for traveling to medical conventions that double as tourist trips.


"Payola" is the commonplace practice where record companies buy air time from radio and television stations for songs they are promoting. The term "payola" derives from a contraction of the words "pay" and "Victrola" (LP record player).[10] It can take a number of forms including vacations or electronics for radio show hosts, giveaways for the stations listeners, or payments to cover station operating costs.[11] This practice is deemed illegal because it is a manipulation of consumer interests.


Referees and scoring judges may be offered money, gifts, or other compensation to guarantee a specific outcome in an athletic competition. A well-known example of this manner of bribery in sport is the 2002 Olympic Winter Games figure skating scandal, where the French judge in the pairs competition voted for the Russian skaters in order to secure an advantage for the French skaters in the ice dancing competition.[12]

Additionally, bribes may be offered by cities in order to secure athletic franchises, or even competitions, as happened with the 2002 Winter Olympics.[13] It has been common practice for cities to "bid" against each other with stadiums, tax benefits, and licensing deals to secure or keep professional sports franchises.

Athletes themselves can be paid to under perform, generally so that a gambler or gambling syndicate can secure a winning bet. A classic example of this is the 1919 World Series, better known as the Black Sox Scandal.

Finally, in some sports, elements of the game may be tampered with—the classic example being horse racing, where a groom or other person with access to the horses before the race may be bribed to over-feed an animal, or even administer a sedative to reduce a horse's chances of winning. A similar type of bribery may be done for financial gain through gambling—bet against a clear favorite, and ensure that the favorite has an "off day."

Solutions to Bribery

Due to the pervasive nature of bribery in many countries, and the refusal of some cultures to see their practices as bribery, eliminating this form of corruption can be difficult.

Thus far the solution to bribery has taken two forms: legal action and public shaming. In countries where entire governments are not corrupt, those who accept bribes are often dealt with fairly under existing legal traditions. In the United States, corrupt congressmen (or other officials) have faced prison or removal from office for accepting bribes and peddling influence.[14] Public shaming is performed by the publication of reports detailing the level of corruption that exists in certain countries. This shame is created for both the host countries and the businesses offering bribes. Transparency International, a global civil society organization against corruption, releases information about those countries in which bribery is most common and about those countries from which bribes are most likely to originate.[15]

In a call for greater efforts to enforce the Anti-Bribery Convention of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Transparency International's Jacques Terray warned:

Globalisation will be rejected by citizens if it is synonymous with criminal elements, money laundering and corruption in business and public affairs.[16]


  1. RISKY BUSINESS CFO Asia. Retrieved May 6, 2007.
  2. Why the Wicked Sleep: The Prosecution of Political Corruption in Postwar Japan Japan Policy Research Institute. Retrieved May 6, 2007.
  3. North Korea says bribe was 'brotherly love' for Seoul Daily Telegraph. Retrieved May 6, 2007.
  4. Stephen Lovell, Alena Ledeneva, and Andrei Rogachevskii, Bribery and Blat in Russia: Negotiating Reciprocity from the Middle Ages to the 1990s. (Palgrave Macmillan 2001 ISBN 031223127X)
  5. Bureaucratic Corruption in Africa: The Futility of Cleanups Cato Journal. Retrieved May 6, 2007.
  6. Sub-Saharan Africa Transparency International. Retrieved May 6, 2007.
  7. Global Corruption Barometer 2005 Transparency International. Retrieved May 6, 2007.
  8. State v Slade North Carolina Court of Appeals. Retrieved May 3, 2007.
  9. Gifts to Physicians American Medical Association. Retrieved May 3, 2007.
  10. Payola History of Rock. Retrieved May 3, 2007.
  11. SONY SETTLES PAYOLA INVESTIGATION Office the New York State Attorney General. Retrieved May 3, 2007.
  12. Canadian skaters not surprised by arrest CNN. Retrieved May 3, 2007.
  13. Olympic Games Encarta. Retrieved May 3, 2007.
  14. Crooked congressman going to prison CNN. Retrieved May 6, 2007.
  15. Anti-Corruption Watchdog Transparency International Documents Bribe Offers in Africa News VOA. Retrieved May 6, 2007.
  16. TI Calls for action against bribery OECD Ministerial meeting, Berlin, 15 May 2007, Retrieved May 17, 2007.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Breuning, Loretta Graziano. Greaseless: How to Thrive without Bribes in Developing Countries. System Integrity Press, 2004. ISBN 0974464201
  • Lovell, Stephen, Alena Ledeneva, and Andrei Rogachevskii (eds.). Bribery and Blat in Russia: Negotiating Reciprocity from the Middle Ages to the 1990s. Palsgrave Macmillan, 2001. ISBN 031223127X
  • Mitchell, Richard H. Political Bribery in Japan. University of Hawaii Press, 1996. ISBN 0824818199
  • Pieth, Mark, Lucinda A. Low, and Peter J. Cullen (eds.). The OECD Convention on Bribery: A Commentary. Cambridge University Press, 2007. ISBN 978-0521868174
  • Wrage, Alexandra Addison. Bribery and Extortion: Undermining Business, Governments, and Security. Praeger Security International General Interest, 2007. ISBN 978-0275996499

External links

All links retrieved November 20, 2023.


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