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Spain makes significant advances in the fight against foreign bribery

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Transparency International Spain

Transparency International presents the latest edition of Exporting Corruption Report 2020: Assessing Enforcement of the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention, which evaluates the progress of states in combating bribery of foreign public officials in international commercial transactions and rates the performance of 47 exporting countries, including 43 countries that are signatories of the Organization for Cooperation and Economic Development (OECD) Convention.

According to the report, for the first time in recent years, Spain made significant advances in enforcement against foreign bribery, including a small improvement in prevention and detection measures.

Towards more transparency thanks to a registry of beneficial ownership

Among the measures that allow these improvements is the establishment of the Registry of Beneficial Ownership (RETIR) by the Spanish Land Registrars Bar, under the Ministerial Order 319/2018 of March 21.

The RETIR manages and publishes the beneficial ownership of individuals, who, directly or indirectly, are holders of more than 25 per cent of its capital stock, as well as the so-called assimilated real owners, who are the directors of the company.

The existence of public registries is necessary to provide access to reliable and updated information on the entire chain of beneficial owners in order to prevent capital of illicit origin from hiding behind trusts or shell companies.

However, pending the full transposition of the EU’s 5th Anti-Money Laundering (AML) Directive access to the RETIR is still restricted to legally obliged entities to collaborate in the prevention of money laundering and terrorist financing. It is of singular importance that this information is made accessible to any interested third party and not only those parties under agreement with the Spanish Land Registrars Bar.

Well-trained professionals to safeguard transparency

Another major improvement to note is the responsibility of the Centralized Body for the Prevention of Money Laundering (OCP) of the General Council of Notaries (CGN). The OCP must train the CGN staff and other professionals in the sector on the preventive measures that they must comply with when faced with potentially risky transactions, through online courses and innovative audiovisual resources.

These professionals also now benefit from a tool called the Real Ownership Database which allows them to identify and verify the identity of the real owner of a property.

A better prosecution of foreign bribery cases

In addition to this, many foreign bribery cases, including Duro Felguera, OHL, FCC, Defex, Canal de Isabell II Grup Maritim TCB or Banco Santander, among others, that have come to light have been investigated or are being prosecuted and significant judgements have been rendered, revealing that Spain explicitly rejects impunity for those crimes.

This is one of the main reasons why Spain is the only country that advanced two levels, from Little or No enforcement to Moderate enforcement, according to this new report.

However, we must not lose sight of the many issues that must still be addressed in order to fight foreign bribery, including:

  • More disaggregated data and statistics on foreign bribery;
  • Greater visibility of results and activities from the Asset Recovery Office;

Transparency International Spain, along with other civil society organizations, closely monitors the government’s actions in order to guarantee an adequate and full transposition of these issues in Spain.

It is clear that corruption in international business transactions undermines government institutions and economic development: it diverts public resources, rewards the corrupt, and damages international trade and investment.

In a year marked by a global health crisis, these opaque cross-border practices could cost additional lives. It is therefore even more crucial now to promote preventive measures of corruption, reinforce accountability and raise awareness about the risks that corruption and foreign bribery pose for both the public and private sectors, and for society in general.