Federal Laws On Bribery


Bribery is the practice of offering, giving, receiving, or soliciting something of value for the purpose of influencing the action of an official in discharge of his/ her public or legal duties.  Bribery is a gain to an illicit advantage.  Federal statutes refer to two classes of offenses: graft and bribery.  The word graft means the fraudulent obtaining of public money unlawfully by the corruption of public officers.  Graft is an advantage which one person by reason of his peculiar position of superiority, influence or trust extracts from another.  Charging an official with graft is to charge him/her for lack of integrity[i].  Graft includes the fraudulent obtaining of public money by the corruption of public officials[ii].

The General Federal Bribery Statute punishes the offence of bribery in the U.S[iii].  According to 18 USCS prec § 201(b), whoever directly or indirectly, corruptly gives, offers or promises anything of value to any public official with intent to influence that person’s official act will be fined for the offence of bribery.  The punishment prescribed by the statue is a fine of an amount not more than three times the monetary equivalent of the thing of value, or imprisonment for not more than fifteen years, or both.  Additionally he/she can be disqualified from holding any office of honor, trust, or profit under the U.S government.

The General Federal Bribery Statute punishes the following acts of bribery:

  • Any public official influencing the performance of any official act in violation of official duty;
  • A person bribing a public official with the intent to influence his/her testimony under oath or affirmation before any court, or any committee;
  • A person demanding bribery in return for being influenced in testimony under oath or affirmation as a witness in a trial or proceeding or in return for his/her absence from such appearance;
  • Any person offering bribery for the performance of a public duty;
  • Any person demanding bribery for the discharge of public duty;
  • Any person giving anything of value personally for testimony under oath to be given by such person as a witness upon any trial; and
  • Any person demanding anything of value personally for testimony under oath to be given by such person as a witness upon any trial.

However, the General Federal Bribery Statute does not prohibit the payment or receipt of witness fees provided by law.  This includes payment to experts for giving testimony in courts also.  Moreover, offenses and penalties laid down in the General Federal Bribery Statute are in addition to those prescribed in the federal statutes relating to obstruction of justice.

In addition to the General Federal Bribery Statute, there are several special bribery statutes in the U.S.  For example, statutes prohibiting bribery of a bank examiner, bribery incident to appointment to a public office, bribery incident to various loan and bank transactions, bribery in connection with the sale or distribution of alcoholic beverages.  The existence of special bribery provisions does not affect the enforcement of the General Federal Bribery Statute.

Moreover, in the federal statute which prohibits travel in interstate commerce with the intent to engage in unlawful activity, bribery is defined in terms of violation of the laws of the state in which the defendant’s actions are committed or of the laws of the U.S..  Thus, in a state in which commercial bribery is prohibited, bribery of private employees constitutes a violation of this statute.

Commercial bribery is the giving or offering to give, directly or indirectly, anything of value to any private agent, employee, or fiduciary, without the knowledge and consent of the principal or employer, with the intent to influence such agent’s, employee’s, or fiduciary’s action in relation to the principal’s or employer’s affairs.

Additionally, the Travel Act provides that whoever travels in interstate or foreign commerce or uses any facility in interstate or foreign commerce with the intent to promote, establish, carry on, or facilitate the promotion, establishment, or carrying on of any unlawful activity and thereafter performs or attempts to perform any unlawful activity shall be guilty of a crime[iv].  Unlawful activity includes bribery in violation of the laws of the United States[v].

[i] Smith v. Pure Oil Co., 278 Ky. 430, 434 (Ky. 1939)

[ii] Smith v. Pure Oil Co., 278 Ky. 430 (Ky. 1939)

[iii] 18 USCS prec § 216

[iv] 18 USCS prec § 201

[v] United States v. Biaggi, 674 F. Supp. 86 (E.D.N.Y. 1987)