International Regulatory Enforcement (PHIRE)

Saudi Arabia Amends its Anticorruption Law: A New Kid in Town?

January 27, 2022

Nicola Bonucci, Jalil El Khanchoufi, and Daniel Holman

On October 22, 2020, under the Saudi Arabia Presidency, the G20 ministers met for the first time ever on the fight against corruption.  This opportunity to discuss the commitments of the G20 members in the global fight against corruption led to the adoption of a Ministerial communiqué reaffirming the importance of the international anti-corruption architecture and setting out the groups priorities for anti-corruption efforts going forward. One of the highlights of this meeting was Saudi Arabia's initiative towards the creation of a Global Operational Network of Anti-Corruption Law Enforcement Authorities, the so-called “The Riyadh Initiative,” which established a number of new mechanisms and fora for communications among national law enforcement agencies with anti-corruption mandates.

However, another important step was relatively unnoticed.  Indeed Saudi Arabia took advantage of the occasion to announce that it had taken a first step towards joining the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention by officially requesting to join the OECD Working Group on Bribery.

Over the course of 2021, Saudi Arabia’s Oversight and Anti-Corruption Authority (Nazaha) proceeded to conduct thousands of onsite inspections that led to hundreds of arrests, most recently on January 4, 2022.

Within this fluid context, it is worth noting that Saudi Arabia amended its anticorruption law by royal decree, No. “m”/38, dated December 3, 2021, to extend the existing laws that criminalize corrupt acts targeting Saudi Arabia officials to apply to foreign government officials, as well as certain officials of international institutions and international organizations as defined under the law.

The royal decree also amends two pre-existing provisions. First, it modifies the offence of “influence peddling” by extending its scope to from “any public official” to “any person” with actual or alleged power to influence. Second, it broadens the scope for restitution of benefits derived from any type of corruption to include the rewards of such benefit, when it is possible.

This amendment is in line with the 2020 G20 Ministerial that included the following language: “We commit to ensuring that each G20 country has a national law in force to criminalize bribery, including bribery of foreign public officials and to bolster efforts to effectively prevent, detect, investigate, prosecute and sanction domestic and foreign bribery.”

By establishing a full-fledged foreign bribery offence, Saudi Arabia not only complies with its obligations as a party to the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) but also fulfils a basic requirement for joining the OECD Anti Bribery Convention. It also gives a political signal to the next two G20 chairs, Indonesia (2022) and India in (2023), both countries having yet to join the OECD Working Group on Bribery and the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention.

It remains to be seen how this legislative advance will translate into practice, but we are may be witnessing the opening of a new front in the international effort against corruption.

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Image: Daniel A. Holman
Daniel A. Holman

Associate, Litigation Department

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