Only about one-third of the 38 countries that have agreed to prosecute foreign bribery cases under the Organization for Economic Development’s Anti-Bribery Convention have sanctioned individuals or companies since the Convention was adopted 10 years ago, according to a report issued by the OECD.

The OECD Anti-Bribery Convention establishes legally binding standards to criminalize bribery of foreign public officials in international business transactions.

BribeThirteen countries have sanctioned a total of 148 individuals and 77 companies since adoption of the Convention in 1999, the OECD said.

Leading the list of enforcers was the United States, which has aggressively prosecuted bribery and corruption cases under the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977.  In the 10-year-period of the OECD survey, the U.S. sanctioned 40 individuals and 20 companies, with another 28 having agreed to deferred prosecution agreements or non-prosecution agreements.

Of other countries, Italy sanctioned 21 individuals and 18 companies, Germany sanctioned 26 individuals and 4 companies, Hungary sanctioned 27 individuals and South Korea sanctioned 13 individuals.

While the number of bribery cases prosecuted was low among countries other than the U.S., OECD officials have said they believe the pace of enforcement efforts is increasing.   As of the end of 2009, approximately 280 investigations were ongoing in 21 countries that are signatories to the Anti-Bribery Convention, according to the OECD.

The United Kingdom – which sanctioned only one individual and one company in the 10 years of the OECD survey – recently adopted a comprehensive Bribery Act that is considered one of the most aggressive in the world.

Attorneys with experience in bribery and corruption cases said the relatively low number of cases cited in the OECD report was not surprising.  “The roll-out of anti-corruption programs is a process, and some of the offices – like the Italians and the Germans – are more sophisticated and equipped than others to deal with it,” said Patrick Brady, a former prosecutor in FCPA cases and now a partner in the law firm of Barnes & Thornburg.

With more focus and attention on bribery and corruption internationally, Mr. Brady suggested, countries are likely to devote greater resources to enforcement.  “The numbers of cases will go up as prosecutors get more in tune with doing it,” he said.

Earlier this month, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told an audience of officials from OECD countries that more than one trillion dollars in bribes are paid each year out of a world economy of 30 trillion dollars, according to World Bank estimates.  “That’s a staggering three percent of the world’s economy,” he said.  “And the impact is particularly severe on foreign investment. In fact, the World Bank estimates that corruption serves, essentially, as a 20-percent tax.”