An extortion offence is committed where a person makes threats of adverse consequences unless some demand is met.  This demand is usually for an illicit payment of money.  The “adverse consequences” which are threatened could be personal harm, or financial or reputational damage, and could be aimed at the person to whom the threats are communicated or at a third party.


A policeman who is manning a roadblock is carrying a gun and aggressively demands an illicit cash payment in order to let you through the roadblock.  You pay him, as you are afraid of personal harm. The policeman consequently lets you through. 

Defence for party making the extorted payment:

In many countries, paying an extorted payment to a policeman or government official may be a criminal offence.  However, many countries’ laws do not criminalise such payment if the payer makes the payment only because she/he feared imminent personal injury or death to her/himself or to another person.  So, in the above example of the police roadblock, it is reasonable for you to fear imminent personal injury or death, and therefore to make the payment to avoid such risk.  The policeman would be guilty of extortion, but, in countries where the safety exception is permitted, you are unlikely to be liable for an offence.

However, the situation would be different if the policeman stopped your car because you were driving dangerously and did not threaten you or demand an illegal payment, but you offered the policeman a personal payment so that you could avoid a fine.  In this case, there would be no extortion offence, but you are likely to be liable for bribery and the policeman is also likely to be liable for bribery if he accepts the payment. 

Dealing with extortion: 

If someone tries to extort money from you, but you in no way fear imminent physical harm to yourself or to another person, do not make the payment.  If you fear imminent physical harm to yourself or to another person, it is generally safer to make the payment. 

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June 2022