Bribery includes the offering, demanding, giving and receiving of any payments or gifts to a public official or other public person in connection with his official functions, with the intention of improperly influencing a governmental decision. Unlawful rewarding of a public servant is making or receiving payment for an official action or violating a legal duty in the past. This is similar to a bribe but follows the act rather than preceding it. Payment for past favours implies the possibility of reward for future favours and as such corrupts officials. Bribery is sometimes disguised as (illegal) political contributions, payment of royalties, favours, or irregular loans. Investigation of bribery charges are exceptionally difficult, as illicit payments can be committed under the guises of various legitimate transactions; for example giving an extra percentage of profit or interest, or other soft terms. It is a crime against legal justice, according to which an official is bound to promote the common good of the community. It is also against distributive justice, by which rulers are bound to act toward persons and groups in accord with their merits, needs and capacities. Elected public office holders are the usual offenders, though the injustice may be committed by those who are appointed to public office rather than elected.
Bribery in some form is a traditional method of dealing with some bureaucracies. In the early period of the Spanish and Portuguese colonies this was even formalized with baroque formalities and intricate laws as a way to bypass administrative hurdles. Integrity of behaviour is part of the tradition in well-established civil service systems. In some countries and cultures less importance is attached to such integrity with the result that laxity in ethics, bribery and corruption are often a major bureaucratic problem. This is particularly serious in some developing countries where the temptation is great and administrative control is lower, but the problem also exists in the developed countries, often in more sophisticated or institutionalized forms. In 1993 the USA planned to negotiate an international agreement banning the use of bribery in business dealings with in foreign countries because it placed corporations from the USA at a competitive disadvantage whether in the case of government or private-sector contracts. Companies from other industrialized countries were not restrained by criminal penalties as in the USA.