Big firms often ''misrepresent" their financial performance in a desperate attempt to meet growth and profit expectations, according to the annual Ernst & Young Fraud survey.

Nearly half of all board members and senior managers polled by the survey, which spanned 35 countries, said that sales or costs had been manipulated at their company with the knowledge of their bosses.

The study found that businesses across Europe, the Middle East, Africa and India, home to several rapid-growth markets, often 'cooked the books.' According to the survey, 42% of the directors and senior management are aware of some type of irregular financial reporting in their companies.

More than half of all respondents (67% in rapid-growth economies) were of the opinion that bribery and corruption were common in businesses in their countries including the financial services sector.

Nearly 94% of respondents in Kenya said that bribery and corruption were common in the country's business landscape - more than any other country surveyed by E&Y. In Nigeria, 68% of respondents said that companies resorted to inaccurate reporting, the highest in the list.

In the UK, 75% of respondents agreed that managers were under increased pressure to deliver good financial performance over the next 12 months. Though 37% of UK respondents believed that bribery and corruption were common in business in the country, only 27% of the respondents said that British companies resorted to cooking the books.

In India, nearly third of the respondents agreed that bribery and corruption were commonplace in the country's businesses, with 54% agreeing that Indian companies resorted to cooking the books.

The survey's results suggest that firms could fare better if they revisited their anti-bribery and anti-corruption (ABAC) policies as nearly half of the sales staff across the board do not consider existing policies relevant to their role.