United Arab Emirates Bribery & Corruption
1. What is the legal framework (legislation/regulations) governing bribery and corruption in your jurisdiction?
The UAE does not have a singular, all-encompassing piece of legislation governing bribery and corruption. Instead, multiple laws and regulations, at both a federal and local level, overlap to administer this area. On a federal level, the New UAE Federal Penal Code (Federal Law No. 31 of 2021, as amended through Federal Decree – Law No. 36 of 2022) serves as the key legislation on bribery and corruption (henceforth, the ‘New Penal Code’). Historically, bribery and corruption have been criminalized in the UAE since 1987 through the previous Federal Penal Code (Federal Law No. 3 of 1987), which has since been repealed and replaced by the new law.
The emirates of Dubai and Abu Dhabi have their own supplementary regulations in this area. For the emirate of Dubai specifically, the Human Resources Management Law No. 27 of 2006 includes guiding provisions concerning bribery. Abu Dhabi, on the other hand, has Abu Dhabi Law No. 6 of 2016, certain provisions of which (including Article 53) serve to curb corrupt practices.
Additional pieces of legislation that govern this area can include:
- Federal Decree Law No. 11 of 2008 on Human Resources in the Federal Government;
- The Regulations governing the declarations by travellers entering or leaving the UAE carrying cash or negotiable instruments;
- Federal Law No. 7 of 2014 regarding the Combating of Terrorism Crimes; and
- Dubai Law No. 4 of 2016 on Financial Crimes.
It is worth mentioning that certain financial free zones within the UAE, such as the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) and the Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) have their own governing regulations based around English common law principles. Nevertheless, these jurisdictions remain subject to all provisions of UAE federal law, including the New Penal Code.
2. Which authorities have jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute bribery in your jurisdiction?
The main federal authorities which have jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute bribery include the police and public prosecution offices. While the latter are the authorized body for the prosecution of bribery, the police are tasked with obtaining initial statements as well as carrying out any functions assigned by the prosecution offices. Financial irregularities in federal organizations may also be investigated by the State Audit Institution’s Anti-Corruption Department.
State authorities such as the Abu Dhabi Accountability Authority, the Dubai Financial Audit Department and the newly established Economic Security Centre of Dubai (ESCD) also have jurisdiction to examine potential violations in this area. The ESCD specifically, has jurisdiction over local government entities, entities receiving financial aid from the government, establishments and charitable associations, among others. It strives to combat corruption, fraud and bribery, monitor abuses and financial irregularities, in addition to following up on cases including transnational crimes in coordination with the judicial authority.
3. How is ‘bribery’ (or its equivalent) defined?
Although no piece of UAE legislation gives an official definition of bribery, one can be inferred from Articles 275-287 of the New Penal Code. As such, bribery can be understood to include a public official (including foreign public officials and employees of international organizations), or a manager/employee of any capacity in an organization in the private sector, directly or indirectly demanding, accepting or receiving, an undue gift, benefit or grant in order to perform or omit from performing an act within or in breach of the duties of their office.
4. Does the law distinguish between bribery of a public official and bribery of private persons? If so, how is ‘public official’ defined? Are there different definitions for bribery of a public official and bribery of a private person?
UAE law distinctly distinguishes between bribery of a public official and that of a private person. This contrast is made clear through sections 275-287 of the New Penal Code, which describe an individual who may be convicted of bribery in the public sector as a ‘public official, a person assigned to a public service, a foreign public official, or an employee of an international organization’. Further, Article 5 elaborates on the definition of a ‘public servant’ to include any individual, appointed or elected, holding a federal or local position, carrying out legislative, executive, administrative, or judicial functions. This is clarified to include employees in ministries, government departments, armed forces, security bodies, chairmen and members of legislative, consultative and municipal councils, as well as any directors, managers or other employees of public organizations. In this context, bribery would consist of such an individual accepting for himself or for others any grant, undue gift or benefit of any kind or a promise thereof in return for performing or abstaining from performing an act in breach of, or under the duties of their office. The law expressly extends the applicability of these provisions to foreign public officials, defining the latter as individuals, whether appointed or elected, permanently or temporarily holding a legislative, executive, administrative or judicial office in another country.
A private person, on the other hand, may be an individual managing an entity within the private sector, or an employee in any other capacity thereof. Such an individual would be committing an offence in accepting an undue benefit for himself or others in exchange for performing or abstaining from performing an act in violation of, or within the duties of his office.
It is important to note that in the case of bribery occurring in both the public and private sectors, the recipient of the bribe, the offeror of the bribe as well as any facilitator acting as a mediator or contact between the recipient and offeror, would all face legal consequences.
5. What are the civil consequences of bribery in your jurisdiction?
Upon the issuance of a criminal judgement, the complainant, or the innocent party who obtained a firstdegree criminal judgement of a conviction of bribery, can seek to file a civil compensation case in front of the civil court, relying on the criminal judgement.
6. What are the criminal consequences of bribery in your jurisdiction?
A public servant (including foreign public officials), or an employee of an international organization accepting a bribe will face imprisonment for a term of up to 5 years, a fine equivalent to the value of the benefit accepted (provided this exceeds AED 5,000) and a confiscation of the actual benefit accepted, as per Article 281.
An individual who accepts a bribe to exert influence over a public officer faces imprisonment for a minimum term of one year, either in conjunction with, or as an alternative to a monetary fine of up to AED 20,000, per Article 281.
An individual offering a bribe to a public servant faces imprisonment for a term not exceeding 5 years (Article 280), as well as a fine equivalent in value to the benefit offered/given.
In the private sector, both an individual accepting a bribe, and an individual offering a bribe, per Articles 278 and 279 respectively, face imprisonment for a term not exceeding 5 years, a fine equivalent in value to the relevant bribe, and a confiscation of the actual bribe.
In any circumstance, any individual acting as an intermediary between the briber and bribe-taker in demanding, offering, receiving or promising the bribe, shall be sentenced to imprisonment for a period of up to 5 years as well (Article 282), in addition to receiving a fine equivalent in value to the relevant bribe.
Deportation can also be a criminal consequence of bribery, applied by the court on a case-by-case basis.
7. Does the law place any restrictions on hospitality, travel and entertainment expenses? Are there specific regulations restricting such expenses for foreign public officials? Are there specific monetary
Although UAE law does not specifically place a statutory monetary limit for such expenses, there are certain factors that can be considered in relation to these courtesies, including the value of such offerings, the frequency with which they are offered, the intention behind them as well as the relevance of such offerings to both the recipient and the offeror. On a general basis, offerings which are exclusively in the benefit of the recipient are likely to be considered improper, while an offering which is directly concerned with the position of the relevant official is less likely to be considered as such.
In accordance with Articles 275-277 of the New Penal Code, the acceptance by a public official of a privilege of any kind, or a promise thereof in return for performance of an act in breach of, or within, their duties would constitute bribery. These provisions are explicitly applied to foreign public officials. It follows that the acceptance of such privileges, if excessive and given with the intention of influencing the conduct and impartiality of the public official in the performance of their public duties would likely be unlawful. A notable exception exists in the case of corporate gifts carrying the name and emblem of the offeror provided through an assisted government unit, as these would constitute offerings of a promotional nature per Federal Decree Law No. 11 of 2008 on Human Resources in the Federal Government.
As a further example, expenses associated with a training program with a direct link to an individual’s position and competencies would not be considered improper. Entertainment expenses, on the other hand, including attendance to sporting events, the theatre, social functions and club memberships would likely fall on the opposite end, being considered inappropriate in association with public officials.
8. Are political contributions regulated? If so, please provide details.
The UAE applies a specific system related to contributions.
9. Are facilitation payments regulated? If not, what is the general approach to such
Facilitation payments, which are payments to public officials to speed up administrative government processes, are regulated by UAE law. Specifically, such payments would fall under Articles 275, 276, 280 and 281 of the New Penal Code, as any such facilitation payments to ‘public officials’ under the definition of the code, would constitute bribery and yield the same criminal and civil penalties previously outlined.
10. Are there any defences available to the bribery and corruption offences in your
Article 275 of the New Penal Code provides that all legal consequences of bribery continue to apply even where the individual accepting the bribe intends not to perform or abstain from performing the act in breach of, or within their duties. It follows that a lack of intention cannot be considered as a defence to bribery in the UAE jurisdiction.
Pursuant to Article 284 of the New Penal Code, a briber or bribe-acceptor who takes the initiative to self-report the crime to the authorities before it is discovered shall be exempted from the penalty. Self-reporting, therefore, would go a long way in absolving an individual from penal consequences in the context of bribery.
There are also several defences contained within the New Penal Code for criminal offences more generally, which can be relevant in the context of bribery and corruption. These include a lack of mental capacity or volition at the time of committing the incriminating act (Article 62), lack of discernment and young age (Article 64), necessity and duress (Article 65).
11. Are compliance programs a mitigating factor to reduce/eliminate liability for bribery offences in your jurisdiction?
It is possible for the courts to consider the implementation of anti-corruption compliance programs in the context of companies as a mitigating circumstance on a case-by-case basis. The court is delegated wide discretion in determining the applicability of such alleviations, as the New Penal Code itself does not make any provisions in this area. Relevant features viewed positively by the court would include the existence of a company-wide, strictly enforced anticorruption compliance program with clear policies, an accessible pathway of communication between employees and those overseeing the program, as well as a shown willingness to take corrective action in the case of detected breaches. In practice, the judiciary has shown a willingness to reduce liability for bribery offences upon being presented with sufficient evidentiary support of such systems in private companies.
12. Who may be held liable for bribery? Only individuals, or also corporate entities?
Both individuals and corporate entities can be held liable for bribery under UAE law, with a variation existing in the applicable penalties for each. While a private individual will face criminal imprisonment for their crimes in addition to a fine, a corporate entity is likely to be confronted with a monetary fine and confiscation. As outlined in Article 66 of the New Penal Code, entities shall be held criminally liable for crimes perpetrated by their representatives, directors and agents for their account in their name. Companies may, therefore, have action brought against them and be held liable for the conduct of their employees and officers in the context of bribery, facing fines of up to AED 5 million.
Notably, such vicarious liability would not arise for government bodies, official departments and public authorities as expressly clarified in Article 66, being limited to entities in the private sector. Additionally, such corporate liability would in no way prevent the implementation of statutory punishments against the individual perpetrators of the crime.
Significantly, these penalties are not limited to local companies, and foreign corporate entities can also face these liabilities, provided the perpetrator or victim is a UAE national and the crime was committed inside the UAE or involved UAE public property.
13. Has the government published any guidance advising how to comply with anticorruption and bribery laws in your jurisdiction?
The UAE government makes a continuous positive effort to provide thorough guidance for both private corporate entities, as well as public officials in this area, to ensure their compliance with all anti-corruption and bribery regulations.
For companies, Federal Decree – Law No. 32 of 2021 on Commercial Companies sets out certain requirements and expectations, including the prohibition on any loans being issued to members of the board, their family members, or companies owned by either (Article 153). Per these regulations, all companies are also required to appointing an independent and registered auditor with more than 5 years of experience in their field (Article 246). In practice, corporate entities tend to issue their own policies covering this area, communicating this to all employees and officers, to ensure a company-wide scale of compliance with the law.
Public officials in governmental departments also receive meticulous training and guidance upon their appointment to ensure their comprehension of all aspects of anti-corruption and bribery regulations in their relevant function and department.
14. Does the law in your jurisdiction provide protection to whistle-blowers?
Whistleblowing involves an individual disclosing information about a suspected illegal activity occurring within a private or public organization. Generally, UAE law places a positive obligation on all individuals for the reporting of crime and legislation such as Dubai Law No. 4 of 2016 on Financial Crimes (the Financial Crime Law) serve to protect whistle-blowers against prosecution and disciplinary action provided their claims are true, relate to activity that may affect the economic security of Dubai and are made to the Dubai Centre for Economic Security.
In the context of bribery, Article 284 of the New Penal Code expressly grants a full exemption from punishment to a briber or bribe taker who reports the crime to judicial or administrative authorities prior to the crime being discovered. This is a generous provision, the confines of which remain to be determined through judicial interpretations of the new law. It remains to be seen whether this provision would grant a full exemption in all self-reported cases of bribery, irrespective of circumstances such as the bribery being a single or repeating occurrence, the volume of the amount offered or accepted, the stage at which the report is being made and so on.
Several UAE free zones, including the Dubai International Financial Centre, the Dubai Multi-Commodity Centre, as well as the Abu Dhabi Global Market also generally regulate whistle blowing within their jurisdictions. The DIFC, for example, issued its Operating Law No. 7 of 2018 which makes specific provisions for whistle-blower protection in Section 64. It protects individuals making disclosures of information in good faith, relating to a reasonable suspicion of a contravention of law from legal liability for making the disclosure and dismissal/detriment at their place of employment.
15. How common are government authority investigations into allegations of bribery? How effective are they in leading to prosecutions of individuals and corporates?
From experience, such investigations into allegations of bribery are both common and very effective. The enforcement authority commissioned with such powers is the Criminal Investigation Department (CID). The investigative processes of the CID involve a verification of any reported or suspected occurrences of bribery, followed by the authorization of a trained law enforcement agent to carry out a covert operation in examination of the speculated transgression. The CID has been given a very broad mandate in carrying out its investigative procedures, which has led to this authority building a consistent track record of effectively detecting breaches and bringing forward complete cases in front of the prosecution office.
16. What are the recent and emerging trends in investigations and enforcement in your jurisdiction? Has the Covid-19 pandemic had any ongoing impact and, if so, what?
The establishment of the Economic Security Centre of Dubai in 2016 brought with it significant developments in this area of the law. The centre’s duties and powers have included combatting corruption more fiercely (including crimes of fraud, bribery, embezzlement, forgery and Public Funds abuse), detecting financial breaches, combatting any untoward practices affecting the economy and resources of Dubai, as well as conducting specialized studies on the financial and economic standing of the emirate.
In the years that have followed, the Centre has remained committed to its goals and has acted as a crucial supplementary mechanism combatting financial crime in the emirate of Dubai. It has notably acted as a leading authority for identifying and prosecuting cases of corruption and bribery during the course of the Covid19 pandemic. The pandemic revealed a compelling need for more effective monitoring and a firmer approach to tackling financial illegalities and corrupt practices in all spheres. In response, the Centre has recently strengthened its procedural systems, focusing on attacking financial crime with a renewed force, monitoring the allocation and use of funds more closely and promoting greater transparency and integrity of financial management in all sectors.
17. Is there a process of judicial review for challenging government authority action and decisions? If so, please describe key features of this process and remedy.
Judicial review refers to the authorization of a court to review executive, legislative and administrative actions by the government. It can be observed in practiced within jurisdictions such as those of the United Kingdom and United States. Such processes of judicial review have not been established or implemented in the United Arab Emirates in any way.
18. Are there any planned developments or reforms of bribery and anti-corruption laws in your jurisdiction?
The UAE is continuously developing its anti-bribery and corruption laws, as best observed through the issuance of the New Penal Code in 2022. New reforms, therefore, are frequent and conventional. Although no specific developments have been indicated by the government at present, such enhancements are certainly not uncommon in UAE law.
19. To which international anti-corruption conventions is your country party?
The United Arab Emirates is a party to the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC), having signed and ratified the Convention in August 2005 and February 2006 respectively. The Convention was adopted in the UAE by means of Federal Decree No. 8 of 2006. In cooperation with 139 other signatories to this convention, which is considered the only universally binding anti-corruption multilateral treaty, the United Arab Emirates has committed itself to addressing corruption on a global scale. Several forms of corruption are covered by the treaty, including bribery, drug trafficking, money laundering, fraud, cybercrime as well as abuse of functions.
The UAE also signed the Arab Convention to Fight Corruption (the Arab Anti-Corruption Convention) on the 21 December 2010, which aims to prevent and repress all forms of corruption through the reinforcement of Arab cooperation in the extradition of criminals, mutual legal assistance and asset recovery. This convention includes 21 Arab Countries, acting as a key legal mechanism for combatting issues and concerns relating to corruption specific to the Arab region, which may differ from those around the world. The Arab Anti-Corruption Convention acts as an important uniting mechanism in this way, allowing the Middle East to identify, regulate and oppose corruption on a local scale more thoroughly.
Finally, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime recently launched its Abu Dhabi Declaration Program to further the implementation of the UNCAC through highlighting the role of supreme audit institutions and anti-corruption bodies in tackling corruption.
20. Do you have a concept of legal privilege in your jurisdiction which applies to lawyer-led investigations? If so, please provide details on the extent of that protection.
Legal privilege refers to the protection granted to communications occurring between a lawyer and their client from being publicly disclosed without the consent of the client. Such a right has been recognized in common law jurisdictions such as the United Kingdom, with the intention of maximizing public access to professional legal services and advice. United Arab Emirates Law does not have an explicit concept of legal privilege as understood in other jurisdictions, however similar conceptions can be inferred from different sources of law and convention.
On a general basis, information exchanged between a lawyer and their client is viewed as confidential and protected from mandatory disclosure, save for circumstances in which a court judgement demanding such a disclosure is ordered, or the relationship between the client and lawyer gives rise to professional misconduct allegations on the part of the legal professional. The information may also, of course, be disclosed with the client’s written consent. Article 3(c) of the Ministerial Resolution No. 666 of 2015 on the Rules of Professional Conduct and Ethics of the Legal Profession in the UAE can be highlighted in support of the above.
Further, Article 45 of Federal Decree – Law No. 34 of 2022 regulating the Legal Consultancy Profession states that a lawyer is prohibited from divulging a secret entrusted and communicated to him via his profession, unless such divulgation would prevent the perpetration of a crime. Certain protections, therefore, do exist for lawyer-led investigations and disclosures between clients and legal professionals in the UAE with the exceptions outlined above.
21. How much importance does your government place on tackling bribery and corruption? How do you think your jurisdiction’s approach to anti-bribery and corruption compares on an international scale?
The United Arab Emirates government is dedicated to tackling bribery and corruption on an acute scale. By way of comparison, the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) may be observed, which ranks countries by the perceived degree of corruption existing within their public sector. As of the 2022 annual snapshot, the UAE ranks 27th out of 180 countries worldwide on this index, remaining the highest scorer in the Gulf region.
The CPI uses a scale from 0 to 100 in their analysis, with 0 reflecting a ‘highly corrupt’ state, and 100 representing a ‘very clean’ one. On this basis, the UAE has earned a score of 67, outperforming neighbouring Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia (51) and Bahrain (44). It can be concluded that the United Arab Emirates is a leading figure in the fight against corruption in the Middle East.
22. Generally how serious are organisations in your country about preventing bribery and corruption?
UAE authorities and all concerned organizations have shown a serious determination to fighting bribery and corruption on a nation-wide scale. Within the past 10 years, the government has consistently enforced new legislation, continuously monitoring and regulating this area and keeping up to date with evolving trends. One must look no further than the recently implemented reinstatement of the law through the New Penal Code, which not only brought clarity to this area in terms of applicability and penal consequences, but also served to reorganize the government’s efforts against incidents of bribery with a new vigour. The New Penal Code is very advanced, especially having demonstrated a progressive approach to protecting whistle-blowers, showcasing the conformation of the UAE jurisdiction with international standards in this legal area.
23. What are the biggest challenges enforcement agencies/regulators face when investigating and prosecuting cases of bribery and corruption in your jurisdiction?
A significant challenge posed to the police and prosecution offices is the difficulty in detecting bribery to begin with. Those engaging in such crimes in the UAE that have not yet been caught, are likely to be doing so with a practiced covertness and dexterity, making it more difficult for the authorities to suspect any signs of misconduct from the outset.
Furthermore, upon receiving intel on potential violations, the prosecution office must carry out an initial assessment to verify whether such accusations are reasonably likely to be true and pose grounds for an allocation of resources towards conducting further inspections. The authority, therefore, is faced with the challenge of accurately analysing reported activities and knowing when to move forward with further inquiries into a situation.
24. What are the biggest challenges businesses face when investigating bribery and corruption issues?
The biggest challenges faced by businesses when investigating instances of bribery and corruption include an appropriate allocation of budget and resources for the conduction of effective investigations into potential violations. Most importantly, businesses must implement appropriate channels of communication between senior management and employees, ensuring that individuals are made aware of any whistle-blower protection policies, and are making sure to report all suspicious financial activity in an appropriate manner.
Another key challenge is for businesses to have in place appropriate preventative measures, including thorough compliance training for all employees (especially those with financial functions), the execution of background checks and comprehensive monitoring mechanisms for all financial activities. In the case of the latter, businesses are faced with finding an appropriate balance in supervising affairs and conducting inspections in a manner that is not too intrusive towards workers and their functions.
25. What do you consider will be the most significant corruption-related challenges posed to businesses in your jurisdiction over the next 18 months?
Most significantly, as the New Penal Code goes through implementation and judicial interpretation processes over the coming months, the scope and applicability of the law will become clearer for corporate entities. Contingent upon the judicial precedent to be observed, businesses will face the challenge of implementing appropriate internal compliance systems and procedures, balancing this with the need to maintain a fluent and undisturbed administration of business activities.
26. How would you improve the legal framework and process for preventing, investigating and prosecuting cases of bribery and corruption?
As stated, the UAE already adopts advanced and continuous regulations in this area. The implementation of more rigorous compliance frameworks, backgroundcheck procedures for employees and arrangements for greater financial transparency (e.g. in private organizations) would go far in the fight against bribery and corruption from a preventative viewpoint. With proper systems in place, any individual engaging in, or considering engaging in financial crime would face greater difficulty in shielding their actions.
As an example, if a company conducts audit reports on a yearly basis, this would leave a longer period of ‘unchecked’ time between each report, making it difficult to detect any financial irregularities. On the other hand, an employee in such an agency engaging in corrupt practices would find much greater difficulty in concealing his actions in the case of more frequent auditing procedures being made. The execution of more thorough background checks on newly appointed individuals in all organizations would also go a long way in improving internal mechanisms in prevention of financial crimes.
This article was published by The Legal 500. To review the full article, please follow the link here.