Are cohecho and soborno the same?

What we might call “legal synonyms” can sometimes be a source of errors in legal translation. Cohecho and soborno are synonyms that can usually be appropriately rendered as “bribe” or “bribery,” but in Spanish criminal law there is an important difference. Soborno is simple “bribery” or a “bribe,” sobornante being the person who offers a bribe (“briber;” “bribe-giver”), and sobornado the person who takes or accepts a bribe (“bribee” or “bribe-taker”). In contrast, cohecho is a criminal offense (one of the Delitos contra la Administración Pública) involving the bribery of a public official or civil servant (autoridad o funcionario público), cohecho activo being the expression for “offering a bribe to a public official,” while cohecho pasivo refers to the “acceptance of a bribe by a public official.” Although cohecho is sometimes associated with judges, the Spanish Criminal Code (Article 422) likewise specifically mentions jurors, arbitrators and expert witnesses among the persons included in this category of offense (jurados, árbitros, peritos, o cualesquiera personas que participen en el ejercicio de la función pública). Thus, if a public official accepts a bribe he is guilty of the criminal offense of cohecho while, for example, “bribing a witness” is soborno a un testigo.

Cohecho is defined in the Criminal Code as solicitar o recibir dádiva o presente o aceptar ofrecimiento o promesa para realizar una acción u omisión constitutivas de delito u otro acto injusto (soliciting, receiving or accepting compensation or gifts or the offer or promise thereof in exchange for doing or refraining from doing something that constitutes a criminal offense or other unfair conduct). Spanish criminal law distinguishes between cohecho propio (bribery in which in exchange for a bribe the bribee commits acts that constitute a criminal offense) and cohecho impropio (bribery in which in exchange for a bribe the bribee commits acts that are not prohibited by law).

Cohecho is sometimes translated simply as “corruption,” a term that is perhaps too broad. Indeed, in many Anglo-American jurisdictions “corruption” and “corruption offenses” are umbrella terms that not only include bribery (cohecho), but also other corrupt practices committed by public officials such as embezzlement (malversación), misappropriation (apropiación indebida) or influence peddling (tráfico de influencias), among others.

Vocabulary recap:

  • cohecho; soborno—bribe; bribery
  • cohecho activo; cohecho de particular—bribing; offering a bribe
  • cohecho pasivo; cohecho de funcionario—soliciting/accepting/receiving/taking a bribe
  • sujeto activo del cohecho; cohechador activo—briber; bribe-giver
  • sujeto pasivo del cohecho; cohechador pasivo—bribee; bribe-taker

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