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Australian firms say proposed anti-bribery laws may hamper overseas investments
May 17, 2017 / 11:00 AM / in 6 months

Australian firms say proposed anti-bribery laws may hamper overseas investments

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Anti-bribery law reforms that Australia recently proposed risk discouraging overseas investments by firms, some of the nation’s top companies said.

Australia’s national government last month proposed tougher rules that would widen the definition of bribery and create some new offences with lower burdens of proof. It sought feedback on the reforms from companies.

In submissions to the government, oil and gas major Woodside Petroleum and explosives maker Orica said much stricter anti-bribery laws may dissuade overseas deals.

Woodside said a proposal to introduce a lesser offense of “reckless” bribery, where prosecutors would not be required to prove a payment influenced a public official, might stop Australian companies from investing in some foreign countries altogether, for fear of violating the law.

“Such companies may feel compelled to decline legitimate investment opportunities out of concern that if a foreign public official was indirectly and unintentionally to receive an improper benefit from the company, then the company could still face criminal liability,” Woodside said in its submission of May 4.

Anglo-Australian miner BHP Billiton, in its submission dated May 10, said reforms should also allow companies to make deals with investigative authorities and avoid prosecution where appropriate.

The submissions were posted online by the government. Woodside and BHP were not immediately available to comment. Orica spokeswoman Sam Stevens said the company has nothing to say beyond what it said in the submission.

Australia has been reviewing its foreign bribery laws since 2015 and has not set a timeline for introducing reforms in parliament.

The latest proposals come as Anglo-Australian miner Rio Tinto is embroiled in probes over payments totaling $10.5 million to a consultant in Guinea, which have already resulted in the sacking of two executives.

Rio has alerted U.S., British and Australian regulators about the Guinea payments, but there is no suggestion that the officials or consultant acted illegally.

BHP in 2015 agreed to pay $25 million to settle charges arising from a U.S. Department of Justice investigation into possible corrupt practices over the company’s handling of sponsorship arrangements at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

Reporting by Tom Westbrook; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman

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