UK - The £30bn (€33.5bn) Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) and Railpen Investments, which manages £18bn in assets for the Railways Pension Scheme, warned the UK's standing as a leading financial market was under threat by incoming legislation that aims to combat bribery in business transactions.

In an open letter to the Financial Times - also signed by F&C Investments, Aviva Investors, the International Corporate Governance Network and Newton Investment Management - the asset owners and managers said plans to "exempt certain overseas issuers" from the government's incoming Bribery Act would disadvantage domestic companies.

The letter argued that the "integrity" of London as a financial market was one of its greatest advantages.

The letter said further: "A potential carve-out of overseas issuers from the Bribery Act's purview would challenge this reputation and disadvantage UK companies that are prohibited from corrupt activities under the act."

Frank Curtiss, head of corporate governance at Railpen, told IPE that allowing for an exemption would result in a "double standard".  

He was keen to stress Railpen's longstanding opposition to corporate corruption and its problems with the Bribery Act, which it first expressed in a letter to the Ministry of Justice in November last year.

"Quite frankly, bribery and corruption not only have a detrimental effect on people and citizens in developing countries, but it is also bad news for companies and investors," he said. "It's about good business ethics, but it's also good for business."

The six signatories voiced their concern that the government's current proposals would put UK investors on the defensive, leaving the burden on companies to "explain how capital raised in the London market would not directly or indirectly be channeled into corrupt activity".

Under the legislation, it is an offence if a company does not avoid a bribe being paid on its behalf.

However, the Ministry of Justice noted that companies could defend themselves by putting in place adequate procedures to prevent bribery. Guidance on how the Act applies will be published tomorrow.