Are cohecho and soborno the same?

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Cohecho and soborno are synonyms that can both usually be appropriately rendered as “bribe” or “bribery,” but in Spanish criminal law there is an important difference. Soborno is a generic term for “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) specifically involving bribery of a public official or civil servant (autoridad o funcionario público). In that regard, 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  constituting a criminal offense or other unfair conduct). A distinction is made between cohecho activo (offering a bribe to a public official), and cohecho pasivo (acceptance of a bribe by a public official). Spanish criminal law likewise distinguishes between cohecho propio (bribery in which in exchange for the bribe the bribee commits acts constituting a criminal offense) and cohecho impropio (bribery in which in exchange for the bribe the bribee commits acts that are not prohibited by law and that may simply fall within the official’s normal duties).

Although cohecho is sometimes associated with judges, the Spanish Criminal Code 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 bribery involving private individuals might simply be referred to as soborno.

Cohecho is sometimes translated as “corruption,” a term that is perhaps too broad. Indeed, in many Anglo-American jurisdictions “corruption” and “corruption offenses” are umbrella terms that include not only 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—bribing; offering a bribe
  • cohecho pasivo—soliciting/accepting/receiving/taking a bribe
  • sujeto activo del cohecho; cohechador activo—briber; bribe-giver
  • sujeto pasivo del cohecho; cohechador pasivo—bribee; bribe-taker

Read more here.

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