BAE sign
BAE sign - 
Listen To The Story

Steve Chiotakis: And now to the global perspective, what's happening in business at the intersection of the U.S. and the rest of the world. Today a new anti-Bribery law takes effect in the U.K. The British government says it's the most draconian anti-corruption measure in the world. But some folks in the U.S. might disagree with that.

From London, Marketplace's Stephen Beard reports.

Stephen Beard: The new British law looks severe: up to 10 years in jail and an unlimited fine for giving or receiving a bribe in Britain or abroad. A company can be prosecuted even if one of its subcontractors offers a kickback. It does seem pretty rigorous.

Alexandra Wrage: Very rigorous, very scary on paper. But what will matter much more is what happens when they begin to enforce.

Alexandra Wrage of the U.S. anti-corruption group TRACE doubts that the new British law will turn out to be as tough as the British government claims.

Wrage: And whether they really have the resources to investigate cases outside the country. It's a question of both resources, of course, and political will.

The main British body that investigates bribery has just had its budget cut. And there are lingering doubts about Britain's commitment to crack down on corruption, especially in the murky world of arms dealing.

Britain sells some $5 billion worth of weapons every year. Five years ago, U.K.'s biggest arms company -- BAE -- was under investigation for allegedly bribing the Saudi royal family. Under pressure from the Saudis, the British government halted the probe.

Neil Stansbury advises British companies on how to stamp out bribery.

Neil Stansbury: BAE investigation and the way the British government stopped it is shameful and embarrassing. So that has been a big black mark on the British enforcement.

U.S. campaigner Alexandra Wrage claims it's highly unlikely the Department of Justice would cave in under Saudi pressure. Worldwide, she says, the U.S. is perceived to be tougher on corruption.

Wrage: We talk to companies and say -- these are companies in Europe, companies in Asia, comapnies operating in Africa -- which law they fear the most, even with this very draconian U.K. bribery act coming into effect, and it's invariably the U.S. law.

But Britain may have slightly less need of an anti-bribery law than the U.S. According to Transparency International, the Brits are seen as marginally less corrupt than Americans.

In London, I'm Stephen Beard for Marketplace.