Bribery is a crime that occurs when a person offers, gives, receives, or accepts something of value in exchange for influence over, or alteration of, another person’s behavior. The bribe itself is the gift of money or other assets, given on the basis that the recipient will act in a certain way that is contrary to what he would do in ordinary circumstances. To explore this concept, consider the following bribery definition.

Definition of Bribery


  1. The act or practice of giving or accepting a bribe.


1350-1400; Middle English briberie

What is Bribery

Bribery often occurs when a person offers money or something else of value to a public official for the purpose of gaining influence over him or her. The purpose of bribery is to exert influence or pressure over the official’s actions. Bribery is a crime for which both parties may be charged. For example, a boxer’s promoter in a largely publicized fight pays the opposing boxer to throw the match. Even though this involves a sporting event, rather than government officials, both of these individuals may be charged with bribery. It is not a requirement for the act of bribery to cause public harm for it to be charged as a crime.

Bribery in Business

Globally, it is a common practice for employees, managers, and other people involved in a business to offer money or gifts to potential clients for the purpose of securing their business. This is not considered bribery in business, but simply the giving of gifts to sway customers to a business deal. If, on the other hand, a company official offered to have $10,000 transferred into an offshore account belonging to an OSHA inspector in order to obtain a favorable inspection report, both the company officer and the OSHA inspector would be guilty of bribery in business offenses.

Bribery and Corruption

Bribery and corruption are commonly though of in relation to politics and governmental corruption. The truth is, bribery and corruption raise their ugly heads in a broad range of circumstances, from governmental contracts, to obtaining privileges, services and favors. Sports is another arena in which bribery and corruption commonly occur. Because the very nature of bribery and corruption is secretive, the general public learns only of those few schemes in which the parties have been caught.

For example:

In May 2014, 14 high-ranking officials of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (“FIFA”) were arrested and charged with 47 counts of crimes including racketeering, money laundering, and wire fraud conspiracies, among other similar crimes. Enforcement officials claim that the group of defendants engaged in a 24-year scheme of enriching themselves through bribery, kickbacks, tax evasion, and other corruption in international soccer. The defendants, who hail from the U.S. and South America, committed these illegal acts to obtain lucrative marketing and media rights to international soccer tournaments all over the world.

As in the above example, bribery and corruption often occur simultaneously, and have the potential to create a major imbalance in trade industries and emerging markets. Due to the prevalence of bribery and corruption, countries around the world have enacted laws with the goal of reducing the incidence of bribery and corruption.

The U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which is enforced by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, and the U.S. Department of Justice, makes it illegal for a person to make payments to foreign officials in exchange for their business. The Act also requires U.S. companies to employ certain accounting methods and reporting that meet specific anti-bribery provisions.

Punishment for Bribery

Giving and receiving bribes are both criminal offenses, usually felonies, which are often punishable by imprisonment of more than one year. Punishment for bribery often also includes fines, restitution, community service, and probation. Additionally, public officials, or employees of public agencies, who accept bribes may have to leave office, or be dismissed from their jobs for accepting bribes. They may find themselves ineligible to work in public service, or unable to work for government agencies in the future.

Bribery Cases

Bribery has been used as a method of getting things done throughout history, and around the world. The United States and other civilized countries have enacted laws prohibiting the use of bribery to manipulate business, government, and public interest decisions. A number of bribery cases have made their way into the public eye throughout U.S. history.

Ralph Lauren Corp.

In 2013, Ralph Lauren Corp. discovered that one of its South American subsidiaries had paid bribes to certain Argentinian officials to the tune of about $568,000, to ensure prohibited goods were cleared for import, to be allowed to important certain items without the requisite documentation, and to avoid inspections. When The SEC praises the Ralph Lauren Corp. for responding quickly in reporting violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, and for cooperating fully in the investigation. The company agreed to pay more than $8.6 million in penalties and interest.

Judge Martin Manton

In 1916, Martin Manton, a 1901 graduate of Columbia Law School, became the youngest federal judge in U.S. history. In 1939, Manton gained a second dubious title, as he became the first U.S. federal judge to be convicted of accepting bribes while in office. During the Great Depression, Manton experienced the financial woes faced by most Americans, and began accepting money from people and businesses that were set to appear in his court.

When Manton discovered that the Manhattan District Attorney was investigating him, and shortly before being indicted by the U.S. District Court, he resigned his position. Manton was convicted at trial of accepting bribes. The conviction was affirmed by a special panel of judges, before Manton was sentenced to serve two years in the Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary. With time off for good behavior, Martin Manton spent only 17 months in prison.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Assets – Property or finances owned by an individual or entity, and regarded as having value.
  • Defendant – A party against whom a lawsuit has been filed in civil court, or who has been accused of, or charged with, a crime or offense.
  • Jurisdiction – The legal authority to hear legal cases and make judgments; the geographical region of authority to enforce justice.
  • Money Laundering – The process of making the proceeds of criminal activity appear legal.
  • Racketeering – Criminal activity operated by an organized crime syndicate, such as extortion, loan sharking, money laundering, and other activities.
  • Tax Evasion – The illegal non-payment of taxes.
  • Trial – A formal presentation of evidence before a judge and jury for the purpose of determining guilt or innocence in a criminal case, or to make a determination in a civil matter.
  • Wire Fraud – Financial fraud that takes place over phone lines or other electronic means of communication or transfer.