The Serious Fraud Office is hoping tougher penalties will be brought in this year for people found guilty of corruption in the private sector.
During a presentation at the 2013 Forensic Conference yesterday, SFO general manager of fraud and corruption Nick Paterson said under the Secret Commissions Act 1910 "you might as well be fining people a peppercorn and sending them off on their horse".
Paterson said he was hoping the 103-year-old law, which carries maximum penalties of two years' jail or a $2000 fine for those convicted of corruption, would be updated this year.
"A term of two years, particularly in the white collar area, is no longer two years in jail, it's 12 months' home detention at best and it comes down from there. You can carry out a corrupt act in the private sector, get charged, get found guilty and spend six or seven months' home detention with your feet up on the sofa watching TV," he said.
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"Don't underestimate home detention but nonetheless, it [corruption] is a serious serious crime. Two years' jail time coming down to 12 months' home detention as a maximum is far too low to my mind, it's not consistent with the rest of the world," Paterson said.
He also said the SFO received a report two weeks ago of a New Zealand individual or company paying a bribe overseas - only the second complaint of this type it has been alerted to in recent years.
"[There was] one last year, one this year. The one last year went nowhere. The one this year, maybe. It will be extremely hard to investigate. We haven't got much experience, well I mean clearly none, at investigating these sorts of allegations."
Although no investigation had been launched into New Zealanders engaging in this sort of practice, Paterson said "we must be paying bribes".
New Zealanders were doing business in the same jurisdictions as US and British organisations where people were "pinged" for bribery, he said. "How can we, organisations and individuals, operate in the same jurisdictions and not be paying bribes ... it doesn't make any sense," he said.
"The World Bank estimated a few years back that a trillion dollars US in bribes are paid around the world [annually] ... and none is what we get told are paid by New Zealanders or New Zealand companies. I'm absolutely staggered and actually, worse than that, simply don't believe it."
The Forensic Conference, organised by the New Zealand Institute of Chartered Accountants and the New Zealand Chapter of the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, continues today.