Foreign Corrupt Practices Act

Foreign Corrupt Practices Act

January 11, 2011 | By Keith Martin in Washington, DC

Foreign Corrupt Practices Act prosecutions have stepped up noticeably in the United States.

Greg Andres, acting deputy attorney general in the criminal division at the Justice Department, told a Senate subcommittee hearing on November 30 that the US has collected more fines in the last two years for FCPA violations than in any previous period. The statute dates back to 1977 and makes it a crime for US companies and individuals to offer anything of value to foreign government officials in an effort to win or retain business or secure any improper advantage.

The World Bank estimates that more than a trillion dollars in bribes are paid each year, or about 3% of the world economy.

Senator Arlen Specter (R.-Pennsylvania) used the hearing to urge the government to try to send more individuals to jail. He said that fines become simply a cost of business and end up being borne by the shareholders. (Specter was defeated for reelection in November.)

One of the other two Senators at the hearing—Amy Klobuchar (D.-Minnesota)—expressed concerns that it is not always clear to US companies where lines are drawn. The other Senator, Chris Coons (D.-Delaware), said more needs to be done to get other countries to prosecute bribes so that American companies are not at a disadvantage.

Two former US prosecutors, one representing the US Chamber of Commerce, said the statute should be clearer about who is considered a foreign government official. The Justice Department treats employees of state-owned enterprises as such officials. The witnesses said Congress did not intend for them to be covered.

The Chamber of Commerce also urged Congress to amend the law to allow companies that turn themselves in to avoid prosecution. Currently, companies that turn themselves in after finding wrongdoing by employees have no guarantee this will not lead to prosecution. The Justice witness said the government does not believe a bank robber who confesses should be let off. The Chamber witness urged that there be a distinction between companies whose culture encourages or turns a blind eye to bribery and those that actively discourage it, but discover rogue employees and inform the government.