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Corruption is rare and is not an obstacle for doing business in Belgium. Overall, Belgium has a well-developed legal framework, and the Criminal Code criminalises both public and private bribery, passive and active bribery, and bribery of national and foreign public officials. Facilitation payments are illegal under Belgian law. Gifts and hospitality are permitted only below a certain, undefined threshold, but they do not impede business in the country. Corruption prevention efforts greatly vary between the country's regional governments. The Flemish government has anti-corruption policies that are more developed than the Wallonia government.
Last updated: October 2015
The Belgian judiciary is independent and is not affected by corruption (HRR 2014, GRECO 2014). Nevertheless, certain risks are noted for judicial independence, such as judgments being potentially affected by the media or public, and occasional political interference (NISA 2012). Businesses consider the judicial system an effective means for resolving commercial disputes and challenging government regulations (GCR 2014-2015); however, a growing backlog of cases and shortages of judges can cause significant delays in the courts (ICS 2015). This lack of resources is identified as a hurdle to the effective implementation of anti-corruption legislation, leading to the dismissal of investigations, indefinite postponing of cases, and the expiry of the statute of limitations for certain transnational bribery cases (PVB 2014).
No citizens report paying a bribe when interacting with the courts in Belgium, despite a quater perceiving corruption as being widespread (European Commission, Feb. 2014). Belgium is a member of the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), and contracts regularly contain an ICSID arbitration clause. Belgium is a signatory to the New York Arbitration Convention 1958.
Businesses consider the Belgian police to be very reliable, indicating a very small risk of corruption within the police service (GCR 2014-2015). No citizens report having paid a bribe to a police official, despite over one-third perceiving corruption and bribery as being widespread among the police force (European Commission, Feb. 2014). There is a strict civil control of the police at local and federal levels, and the government has enacted the necessary mechanisms for corruption investigations and enforcements (HRR 2014). A shortage of resources in the police service has impeded effective investigation into financial and economic crimes (GRECO 2014).
There is a very low risk of encountering corruption in Belgium's public services sector. The country's administration is predictable and reliable, despite complaints concerning cumbersome procedures and unnecessary red tape (ICS 2015). Businesses rank inefficient government bureaucracy as a problematic factor to doing business in Belgium (GCR 2014-2015). No citizens report paying a bribe to officials issuing licences, even though more than one-third perceive corruption as being common among officials and inspectors (European Commission, Feb. 2014)
Nepotism and favouritism are sometimes found within public service companies (inter-communales), as reflected in the lax and opaque system of appointments (CiTB 2015). Criteria other than merit or qualifications may motivate appointments in the public administration (GRECO 2014).
Due to Belgium's well-functioning court system, property rights are generally safeguarded (ICS 2015). Nevertheless, the real estate, land and construction industries have been identified as areas where corruption (more specifically, money laundering) crimes are most likely to occur (RICS, Feb. 2014). Companies report property rights are well-protected (GCR 2014-2015), but almost half of citizens believe bribery and corruption are widespread among officials in the land administration (European Commission, Feb. 2014).
The Belgium tax administration does not represent a corruption risk for companies, although companies rank tax rates and regulations among the most problematic factors to doing business in Belgium (GCR 2014-2015). The complicated tax regime is an impediment to foreign investors (ICS 2015).
Corruption-related tax violations are enforced in Belgium. In one case, the CEO of the UBS Belgium bank, Marcel Bruehwiler, was investigated for tax fraud and money laundering of billions of Euros, after former UBS compliance employees reported the fraudulent activities (DW, June 2014).
Belgium's border administration is transparent; corruption does not affect business in the sector (GETR 2014). Despite this, more than one-third of citizens believe bribery and corruption are widespread among customs officials (European Commission, Feb. 2014).
Public procurement is the sector most susceptible to corruption in Belgium (ICS 2015). The diversion of public funds rarely occurs, and the country ranks well in relation to avoiding favouritism in government decisions on policies and contracts (GCR 2014-2015). Officials awarding public tenders are perceived to be among the civil servants most involved in illegal financing and bribery (GRECO 2014). Some identified corruption risks arise from the lack of transparency in the procurement process (CiTB 2015). In 2013, 47 individuals and 24 firms were indicted for manipulating public procurement contracts from 1998 to 2008 at the Belgium Buildings Agency (CiTB 2015).
The Belgian Criminal Code criminalises public and private bribery, passive and active bribery, and bribery of national and foreign public officials, and anti-corruption offences are enforced. Belgian courts have wide jurisdiction in corruption cases, including offences committed in Belgium or abroad, and by Belgian citizens or foreigners (CMS Legal, Sep. 2014). However, Belgium has been criticised as not one prosecution or conviction of a foreign bribery case has been made (Transparency International, Feb. 2014). Bribery of a public official carries a maximum penalty of up to ten years imprisonment and a fine of up to EUR 1.1 million, and up to EUR 2.2 million for companies. Private commercial bribery by an individual may lead to a prison sentence of up to three years and a fine of up to EUR 275,000. For companies and other legal entities, the maximum fine is EUR 550,000. The penalties for both public and private bribery may include further sanctions, such as debarment and asset forfeiture.
In 2014, the government established a system for the declaration of donations, assets, official appointments and other positions held, as well as codes of conducts, and a Federal Ethics Committee (GRECO 2014). Facilitation payments are not permitted in Belgium. Gifts and hospitality are permitted but only below a certain, undefined threshold. Regulations governing gifts and other benefits are not effectively enforced (GRECO 2014). Belgium is a signatory to the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention, the United Nations Convention against Corruption, the Criminal Law Convention on Corruption and the Civil Law Convention on Corruption. Access the Lexadin World Law Guide for a collection of Belgian legislation.
Freedoms of assembly, of association, of speech and of the press are protected by the Constitution, and the Belgian government respects these rights (HRR 2014). The media is largely free and independent, but interdependent connections between politicians and journalists exist, and commercial pressure is exercised (NISA 2012). Journalists' codes of ethics and mechanisms to monitor their integrity are in place (FotP 2014).
- World Economic Forum: Global Competitiveness Report 2014 - 2015.
- World Bank & IFC: Doing Business 2015.
- US Department of State: Investment Climate Statement - Belgium 2015.
- GRECO: Fourth Evaluation Round Belgium, 28 August 2014
- World Economic Forum: Global Enabling Trade Report 2014.
- Freedom House: Freedom in the World - Belgium 2014.
- European Commission: EU Anti-Corruption Report - Belgium 2014.
- CMS Legal: CMS Guide to Anti-Bribery and Corruption Laws, September 2014.
- United Nations: E-Government Survey 2014.
- DW: 'UBS Belgium CEO Brewhiler charged in tax fraud case', 20 June 2014.
- Populi Vox Belgica: Het Manifest, 18 April 2014.
- RICS: 'Tackling Corruption in the Real Estate Sector', 6 February 2014.
- Transparency International: 'We have an EU-Anti Corruption Report: So Now What?', 3 february 2014.
- European Commission: Eurobarometer Special Surveys 2013.
- Freedom House: Global Press Freedom Rankings 2013.
- US Department of State: Human Rights Report – Belgium 2013.
- Transparency International: Country Enforcement of the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention Progress Report 2013.
- Transparency International: Global Corruption Barometer 2013.
- Transparency International: National Integrity System Assessments - Belgium 2012.
- Lesior: ‘Achat d’armes pour la police: enquête pour corruption’, 18 April 2012.
- McDermott Will & Emery: Anti-bribery and Corruption Law Multi-Jurisdiction Client Guide 2012.
- AmCham Belgium: ‘Fighting fiscal fraud brings Belgium €456m’, 19 January 2012.
- HeliHub: 'Corruption investigation at Belgian Police Air Support unit', 14 February 2011.
- The Belgian Central Office for the Repression of Corruption