The corporate watchdog has rejected criticism that it has been slow to investigate allegations of foreign bribery by big Australian companies.
Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) chairman Greg Medcraft says the regulator does not have the legislative jurisdiction to investigate foreign bribery.
That responsibility lies with the Australian Federal Police (AFP), he told a business lunch on Friday.
The Australian Greens are among those critical of ASIC, questioning whether it is working closely enough with the AFP in relation to bribery allegations, and whether federal agencies are investigating white collar crime with adequate seriousness.
That criticism was sparked by allegations of corruption in note printing companies owned by the Reserve Bank of Australia, and in construction company Leighton Holdings.
Mr Medcraft said ASIC was liaising with the AFP over the Leighton matter.
“We don’t need to create a formal investigation if the AFP are undertaking that process, getting the information in relation to the allegation,” Mr Medcraft told reporters.
The AFP has superior resources to undertake investigations into foreign bribery, including a dedicated fraud and anti-corruption centre, officers in foreign jurisdictions, forensic accountants an lawyers, and access to international intelligence, he said.
ASIC’s role is limited to investigations related to corporate law.
Where a company is involved in bribery, the directors of the company may be liable for breaches of their directors’ duties, under the Corporations Act.
But an ASIC investigation into a potential breach of directors’ duties would usually occur after the criminal investigation.
The maximum penalty under civil proceedings for a breach of directors’ duties under the Corporations Act is a $200,000 fine and a ban as a director.
“The main game is a criminal bribery prosecution,” he said.
“Losing your liberty, rather than paying a fine, is a far greater penalty,” Mr Medcraft said.
This article originally appeared on theage