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What is a bribe?

Is it OK to accept a gift from a supplier? Is it OK to accept free tickets for a sports event? It’s not always easy to decide whether something can be considered a bribe. LiU has now published new guidelines.

Bild: Kvinna bär på ett fint inslaget paket. Foto: IstockphotoNewspaper headlines about suspected bribery by both large companies and government agencies crop up at regular intervals. Recent cases have involved generous hunting trips, travel in a company private jet, and accommodation for family and friends.

“Guidelines Relating to Bribery” is a new document designed to make it easier for LiU employees. It combines two previous web pages, clarifying the previous information and presenting some new details. The new guidelines make the definition of bribery clearer, and present the definition of bribery used in the Swedish Penal Code. No monetary amounts are, however, specified, since there are, in fact, no definite limits. And it makes no difference if an employee accepts a bribe before or after an event.

“What the law looks at is the risk for influence: it’s not necessary that any influence has actually taken place,” explains Jenny Wäsström, legal specialist at the Legal Division.

Is there a simple rule of thumb about what can be considered a bribe?

“If a gift has a low value and if it’s a perishable item, such as flowers or something to eat, the risk that it can be suspected to be a bribe is lower,” says Jenny Wäsström. “And when participating in an event, you should think about whether it has a clear coupling to your duties at LiU. The higher the value of a benefit, the greater is the risk for influence, and the risk that it can be considered a bribe also increases.”

It’s clear that flowers and boxes of chocolates can seem trivial when compared with the type of bribery reported in the newspapers.

“But it’s a case of creating a healthy culture around these issues,” Jenny Wäsström points out.

Which professional groups at a university are most liable for bribery or suspected bribery?

“The procurement office is in general particularly vulnerable at all workplaces, not just at LiU. A university must take extra care in the aspects of its operations that involve the exercise of public power, which in this case are admission and examination.

Does the Legal Division receive questions from employees about bribery?

“Occasionally, but not very often,” says Jenny Wäsström. “The questions we receive deal with participation in an event and accepting gifts. We can give advice, but it is the individual employee who must take the final decision about whether risk is involved or not, even after asking for advice from a manager or colleague. If it ends up with legal proceedings, an employee is individually responsible.”

Is it sometimes difficult for an individual to realise that what is offered is actually a bribe? “I’m just doing what everyone else does.”

“I’m sure it can be, particularly if it’s a case of a low-value gift or an event. It’s difficult to draw a line, and a person may not consider that a gift has had an influence. But the most important question to ask yourself is whether it can be considered to be a bribe. The person offering the gift may also be committing a crime when offering a gift that can be considered to be a bribe.

What should an employee do if in doubt about, for example, accepting a gift or participating in an event?

“Read the new guidelines and go through the questions in it. Discuss the matter with your manager and colleagues. The Legal Division cannot make a final decision, but we can give advice,” says Jenny Wäsström.

A new networking group has recently been formed to act as a platform for learning and exchanging experience, under the auspices of Statskontoret (The Swedish Agency for Public Management). Over 200 government agencies have joined the network, where Jenny Wäsström is LiU’s representative.

The new guidelines (in English) relating to bribery are available at:



Elisabet Wahrby 2017-08-23

Page manager: elisabet.wahrby@liu.se
Last updated: 2017-09-06