Brazil's slippage in corruption index clouds OECD membership, report says

SAO PAULO, Oct 11 (Reuters) - Brazil slipped in its global corruption positioning due to government interference in the work of law enforcement agencies that has caused serious consequences for anti-graft efforts, Transparency International (TI) said on Tuesday.

The South American country has gone from a status of 'moderate' to 'limited' on the implementation of the mechanisms established by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) against the payment of bribes in commercial transactions abroad, according to a new report from the Berlin-based non-governmental association.

The slippage could set back Brazil's hopes of joining the OECD soon, said Guilherme France, TI's Brazil consultant, told Reuters.

The OECD Anti-Bribery Convention, which Brazil signed up to in 2002, aims to combat the payment of bribes by multinational companies or exporters to foreign public officials to favor their business in the global market.

The report said the loss of independence of institutions in Brazil, mainly the office of the top public prosecutor and the federal police, as well as little transparency on investigations against trans-national bribery, were "worrying setbacks."

The situation is "truly disappointing," as Brazil has been through a period of significant legal improvements and institutional development, TI's France said.

"As a result of these advances, Brazil had become one of the few emerging economies in the world to hold its companies accountable for bribes paid overseas," France said. "However, President (Jair) Bolsonaro has dealt numerous setbacks to the country's legal and institutional anti-corruption framework since taking office in 2019."

France said Brazil's slippage shows how political interference in law enforcement agencies not only threatens the rule of law, but also jeopardizes these agencies' abilities to counter corruption, both domestically and globally.

The top public prosecutor's office, the PGR, dismissed TI's report for having "biased conclusions ... not supported by concrete facts or figures," adding that in recent years Brazil has stepped up efforts to fight corruption.

Neither the OECD nor Brazil's presidential office replied immediately to a request for comment.

Brazil began talks with the OECD about membership at the end of January. The OECD said Brazil's progress in that respect would depend on the country's adherence to the intergovernmental body's best practices.

"President Bolsonaro's biggest foreign policy goal - joining the OECD - is farther out of his reach as we expect the Working Group on Bribery to impose strict conditions in order to approve Brazil's accession to the organization," France said.

Reporting by Steven Grattan; Editing by Paul Simao

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