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Defining unlawful gifting

Given New York City’s deep connections with the corporate world, it is not uncommon for locals to hear stories of businesses executives getting in trouble for either giving or receiving gifts from those with whom there is the potential to do business. Most would refer to such actions with a single word: bribery. Yet does the fact that this activity can invite legal scrutiny mean that any form of corporate or professional gifting is unlawful? The answer to that question depends on the unique circumstances of each case. 

The Cornell Law School defines bribery as offering, giving, receiving or soliciting an item of value as a means of influencing the actions of an individual or party in regard to a public or legal duty. This shows that it is the ultimate goal of one’s actions that makes them criminal. If any gifts exchanged between professionals, officials or organizations are expressly meant to create a sense of indebtedness towards the giver (where the debt is to be repaid through some legal or professional favor), then said giver may open themselves up to accusations of bribery. 

Yet as the online publication Smart Business points out, it is human nature to feel indebted to one who has given a gift. How, then, are professionals and public officials to ensure that whatever they give or receive is not viewed as a bribe? It is recommended that any gifts given in such a context be formally recorded and reported so as to ensure transparency (with the exact monetary value of and reason for the gift documented). Smart Business also suggests offering socially responsible gifts (e.g. donations made on behalf of the intended recipient) rather than money, goods or services. 

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