How is corruption viewed as a social crime

Difficult fight against the corruption swamp

Law enforcement problems

There is no corruption paragraph in German criminal law. Crimes that fall under corruption can be found in the Criminal Code under the headings "bribery of voters", "bribery of parliamentarians", "taking and granting of advantages" or "bribery and corruption in business dealings".

Since the consequences of corruption can often not be quantified and there is often no directly injured party, one speaks of a "victimless crime".

In many cases, criminal proceedings are discontinued or terminated with a fine. In addition, acts that have a maximum penalty of five years in prison become statute-barred after five years. That is very short for the often complex offenses of white-collar crime.

Many violations only come to light when, for example, employees leave the company and talk about corruption in their company afterwards.

Germany lagged behind for a long time

In 2003, the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) was the first worldwide treaty to combat corruption. It contains guidelines for the recruitment of administrative officials, the prosecution of corruption, suggestions for dealing with the profits from corruption and the demand for an independent judiciary.

To date, 186 states have ratified this convention (as of 2020) - Germany only in November 2014. For a long time, the point of contention was the bribery of political representatives, which has only been punishable by a more stringent law in Germany since 2014.

Exemplary initiatives

To curb bribery in the public administration, numerous municipalities issue anti-corruption concepts as a catalog of guidelines for their employees. The concept of the bribery city of Wuppertal often serves as a model. A network of companies, politicians, media and church representatives had systematically plundered the municipal non-profit housing association (GWG) and caused damage of 50 million Deutschmarks.

In order to prevent something like this in the future, the city of Wuppertal was one of the first cities to write concrete instructions against corruption in 2003. A year later, North Rhine-Westphalia passed an anti-corruption law that included the creation of a register of corrupt companies. This is to prevent corrupt companies or people from getting public contracts.

There is a dilemma with all anti-bribery laws: Corruption is a control offense. Law enforcement agencies can only expose what they have checked. No suspicion of corruption is reported where the formation of clergy is not seen as an injustice. And if there is no suspicion, there is no control.

That is why the fighters against corruption rely on education and awareness-raising: It must be anchored in the general awareness that corruption is not a trivial offense, but criminal behavior that harms the general public.

It is also important that processes that take place in secret are transparent. This applies to donations, sponsoring and, above all, to work within public authorities.

Whistleblowers are essential

In order to be able to fight corruption, the law enforcement authorities depend on informants who pull the corrupt behavior out of the dark in the first place. Such informants are also known as "whistleblowers" (in German, for example: someone who blows a whistle like an arbitrator).

Without a whistleblower, corruption could not be uncovered, as it is an offense of secrecy that only those involved and people in their immediate vicinity know about.

When a whistleblower reports grievances in his organization, party or company, he is often taking significant personal risks. He can be punished for violating his duty to maintain confidentiality about company secrets, and as a "polluter" and "denunciator" has to reckon with bullying or even the loss of his job.

That is why many people do not dare to report corruption. Informants must therefore be supported and protected. Many municipalities and companies have ombudsmen for this purpose.

An ombudsman is a kind of confidant, if possible an impartial outsider (often a lawyer or a former judge) to whom suspected cases can be reported and who should then deal with them accordingly. He must be secretive and protect the informants.

Some companies also refer to their ombudsmen as "compliance officers", who ensure that the company's ethical principles are adhered to - a position between internal auditing and the complaints office.

There are now also technical systems that allow anonymous reporting of corruption processes. The Lower Saxony State Criminal Police Office, for example, has set up a reporting system on its website that can be used to report anonymously if one has the impression that something is going wrong in a company or in an authority.