Nazir Karigar’s prison sentence shows Canada is finally taking steps on foreign bribery

Canadian businessman Nazir Karigar is going to jail. This a small but important victory for citizens of developing nations across the globe.

Karigar’s been sentenced to do three years in prison for his role in a conspiracy (dating back to 2005) that tried — but failed — to land a $100-million contract to provide security for Air India.

This is an important case for Canada. For years Canadian officials have been criticized for their lax approach to overseas bribery, and to white-collar crime in general. As RCMP Assistant Commissioner Gilles Michaud put it, “It was felt that we weren’t doing enough.”
(I had the pleasure of meeting Michaud at an event I co-hosted with Canadian Business back in October. At that time, Michaud assured the crowd in no uncertain terms that the RCMP is now emphatically on the job.) The Karigar case is a small but significant move toward remedying Canada’s reputation for having a lax attitude toward enforcement, since it marks the first time an individual has been sentenced under Canada’s 1999 Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act.

But it’s more than just an important case for Canada. It’s important for the developing world, where bribery and other forms of corruption are far more common than they are here.

Bribery is a scourge. It distorts markets, saps economies, and encourages decent people to violate their sworn duty. It’s a problem wherever it occurs, but it’s particularly corrosive in developing economies. Bribery is illegal everywhere, but sadly common in some places. And local efforts at changing that are not at all helped by businesspeople from affluent countries — with supposedly sophisticated markets and best-in-class business practices — show up with briefcases full of cash.

Chris MacDonald is director of the Jim Pattison Ethical Leadership Education & Research Program at the Ted Rogers School of Management.

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