Iceland should step up efforts to detect and enforce its foreign bribery offences

Detection of foreign bribery, as well as awareness of related risks, are still lacking in Iceland. In spite of having been one of the original signatories to the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention, Iceland has only recently commenced its first foreign bribery investigation. Detection of foreign bribery by the Icelandic authorities needs therefore to be significantly improved.

The 44-country OECD Working Group on Bribery has just completed its Phase 4 evaluation of Iceland’s implementation of the Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions and related instruments.  

The Working Group made a range of recommendations to Iceland to improve its capacity to combat foreign bribery, including to:

  • ensure that all credible allegations of foreign bribery are properly and thoroughly assessed and, as appropriate, proactively investigated, particularly against legal persons, using all available investigative techniques and mutual legal assistance;
  • address some key elements of its legal framework, including that the limitation period for legal persons should be increased to be the same as for natural persons;
  • increase awareness raising across a whole range of areas, including the new Whistleblower Protection Act, the obligation of public officials to report to law enforcement authorities suspected acts of foreign bribery, the obligation by auditors to report foreign bribery and general awareness raising with private sector;
  • increase the level of training for law enforcement officials, judges, tax officials and officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to ensure that Iceland effectively detects, investigates and prosecutes foreign bribery cases.

The report also highlights positive developments, such as the integrated approach to the investigation and prosecution of foreign bribery cases and the availability of special investigative techniques. The Working Group welcomes legislative changes to the foreign bribery offence and the increase in the maximum prison sentence for active foreign bribery. In addition, the new Whistleblower Act should increase detection of foreign bribery in Iceland. The Working Group will follow up on these issues and how they work in practice, in particular with the ongoing investigation. 

On 10 December 2020 the OECD Working Group on Bribery adopted the Iceland Phase 4 Report. The report lists the recommendations the Working Group made to Iceland on pages 49-52, and includes an overview of recent enforcement activity and specific legal, policy, and institutional features of Iceland’s framework for fighting foreign bribery. Within two years (December 2022), Iceland will submit a written report to the Working Group on the implementation of all recommendations and its enforcement efforts. The follow-up report will also be made publicly available.

The report is part of the OECD Working Group on Bribery’s fourth phase of monitoring, launched in 2016. Phase 4 looks at the evaluated country’s particular challenges and positive achievements. It also explores issues such as detection, enforcement, corporate liability, and international cooperation, as well as covering unresolved issues from prior reports.