Corruption among some European and Ukrainian officials remains a very serious problem. In the civil service system, it threatens security and the successful development of a country and society in general. Therefore, actions against this international and anti-social phenomenon are an important issue for any state.
The most widespread crime in the sphere of corruption is bribery, which is sure to reduce trust in power. Bribery is generally defined as the offering, giving, receiving, or soliciting of something of value for the purpose of influencing the action of an official in the discharge of his or her public or legal duties . Here it is defined as «any gift, advantage, or emolument offered, given, promised to, or asked or accepted by, any public officer to influence his behavior in office» .
In many European states the prevalence of these crimes and civil service corruption is forcing legislators to take especially severe measures to crack down on bribery and to lay special emphasis on the not less dangerous and even more widespread crime of officials, i.e. receiving a low-value gift. It is the act of taking gifts, even inferior ones, that can become the first step to corruption. The area between gifts and bribery is too narrow, and for that reason we could conclude that in all countries it is not possible to accept gifts when they seriously affect the public official’s independence .
Most European countries have strengthened their anti-corruption legislation and are aiming to identify corruption prevention mechanisms. Among the most important anti-corruption instruments is the ban on civil servants accepting gifts.
Demanding or accepting an improper advantage that might influence the exercise of official duties or decisions that the civil servants might take is considered quite inappropriate and is an offence punishable under the Criminal Codes in most European countries. For example, the Criminal Codes of Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, and the Netherlands – all specify that offering and accepting gifts, presents or advantage of any kind by a civil servant must be undue and shall be liable to imprisonment or, in mitigating circumstances, to a fine.
Moreover, the ban on accepting gifts by a civil servant is carried out not only by means of recognition of such an act as a crime, but by prescribing moral rules of conduct to the public servants under different Codes.
The Civil Service Code (the UK), the Code of Civil Servants (Greece), the Code of Conduct for Government Employees (Italy), the Civil Service Code of Ethics (Poland), the Civil Service Code of Standards and Behaviour (Ireland) and others «reinforce the idea that civil servants must have higher standards of conduct than others in society» and «emphasize the avoidance of conflict of interest, attitudes towards gifts and other benefits» .
Thus, bans on accepting gifts by a civil servant and other anti-bribery legislation do exist in many European countries. Among these are the Penal Codes, criminalizing the receipt of gifts by civil servants, and the Codes of Conduct, regulating the taking of gifts and other advantages and giving a value-based guideline for striving to reduce corruption and build an atmosphere of ethics.
In October 2014 the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine adopted and the President of Ukraine signed a number of laws against corruption, including the Law of Ukraine «On Prevention of Corruption» (took effect on 26 October 2014 to become effective on 26 April 2015) .
The Law of Ukraine «On Prevention of Corruption» provides for a comprehensive reform of the anti-corruption framework to be developed in line with international standards and best practices existing in the foreign states. This shall include (but not limited to): (1) introducing the new terminology, including "gift"; (2) altering the limit for cost of the one-time gift, as well as the total cost of gifts allowed to be obtained from a single source within the year; (3) providing for an algorithm for preventing acceptance of unjustified benefits and gifts, and for dealing with them when provided.
Under Article 1 of the Law of Ukraine «On Prevention of Corruption», the notion of a “gift” is defined as money or other property, advantages, preferences, services, intangible assets provided/received free of charge or at a price lower than the minimum market price . This legal definition of a gift is rather broad and the only clear test for distinguishing between a gift and an unjustified benefit seems to be the pecuniary nature of the gift. Analysis of the relevant provisions of the Anti-Corruption Law allows another test for differentiating between a gift and an unjustified benefit, being the illegitimate ground for providing/receiving unjustified benefits. Finally, a gift is something that can be given/received, while an unjustified benefit is something that can also be promised/offered.
Based on the above, a company or an individual presenting a gift to an Official may bear a risk of such gift being treated as a corrupt payment or provision of unjustified benefits (i.e. commit corruption crimes punishable under the Criminal Code), depending on the value of the gift, intent of the gift giver, circumstances and the timeframe.
Article 23 of the Anti-Corruption Law bans Officials, as well as Public Entity Officers and Public Services Officials (the “Restricted Individuals”) from demanding, asking and receiving, either directly or through closely associated persons, gifts from legal entities and individuals: (1) with respect to conducting activity related to the implementation of state or municipal government functions by liable individuals; and (2) from subordinates of such persons .
An Official can be held criminally liable for receiving unjustified benefits only if s/he received those unjustified benefits for performance (non-performance) of actions, which could have been performed only by using his/her powers or duties in his/her capacity as an Official or related to his/her position.
An Official can be charged for committing the act of corruption notwithstanding his/her actual performance or non-performance of any actions (their consequences) for the benefit of a person who provided this Official with the valuables, services, preferences or other benefits (i.e. the mere fact of the receipt of benefits is sufficient for bringing the charges).
Notwithstanding that the abovementioned prohibition on Officials and Restricted Individuals receiving gifts from companies and individuals, these individuals may accept personal gifts consistent with the generally recognized ideas for hospitality. The Anti-Corruption Law establishes a value threshold for such gifts. The value of a one-time gift may not exceed one minimum subsistence level amount established on the date of a particular gift acceptance. The aggregate value of gifts from the same person (group of persons) within a given year should not exceed two minimum subsistence level amounts established for individuals capable of working as of 1 January of the year during which the gifts were received.
The above «group of persons» notion is a recently introduced amendment. Therefore, there is no official or any commonly accepted interpretation of it yet. The «group of persons» can mean either several persons visiting an official and presenting a gift to him/her at the same time, or just people from the same organisation presenting gifts to such official during a given year. In the latter case, this amendment appears to be a more precise equivalent of the “same source” notion under the previous anti-corruption statute. Therefore, until there is more clarity on this issue, it is recommended to interpret the «group of persons» as people from the same organisation.
It should be emphasised that not only the gift’s value, but also the circumstances under which it is presented are important for determining the corporate policy for giving gifts to Officials. Under certain conditions, even a gift of the equivalent of €20 or a private lunch with an Official could raise the suspicion of the law enforcement authorities and result in allegations of corruption. Therefore, in addition to the value/timeframe established by the Anti-Corruption Law, it is always important to consider circumstances under which each particular gift is presented. Otherwise, there is a significant risk of prosecution against responsible Officials, a company’s officers or a company itself.
Adoption of the aforesaid law is very welcomed for two reasons. First, it is important in the context of the fulfilment of Ukraine's obligations to the international organizations and the implementation of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement. Second, it harmonizes the Ukrainian legislation with European standards and thus improves overall investment climate in Ukraine.
1. Sten Bоnsing & Lars B. Langsted, ‘Undue’ Gifts for Public Employees: An Administrative and Criminal Analysis, 21(2) European Journal of Crime, Criminal Law and Criminal Justice 163 (2013), available at <http://www.langsted.dk/artikler/ECCL_2025_ bonsing_langsted.pdf>
2. Henry C. Black, Black’s Law Dictionary: Definitions of the Terms and Phrases of American and English Jurisprudence, Ancient and Modern 191 (6th ed., West Pub. 1990), available at https://archive.org/stream/BlacksLaw6th/Blacks%20Law%206th#page/n203/mode/2up
3. Manuel Villoria Mendieta, Conflicts of Interest Policies and Practices in Nine EU Member States, in Corruption and Democracy: Political Finances – Conflicts of Interests – Lobbying – Justice 85, 95 (Council of Europe Pub. 2008).
4. Michiel S. de Vries & Pan Suk Kim, Conclusions, in Values and Virtue in Public Administration: A Comparative Perspective 275, 281 (Michiel S. de Vries & Pan Suk Kim, eds.) (Palgrave Macmillan 2011).
5. Закон України «Про запобігання корупції» від 14.10.2014 № 1700-VII // Відомості Верховної Ради. – 2014. – № 49. – ст. 2056.