Brazil: A Model for International Cooperation in Foreign Bribery Prosecutions

Much ink has been spilled celebrating the extraordinary crackdown on corruption in Brazil over the past few years (including on this blog). Headlined by the massive Operation Car Wash (Portuguese: Lava Jato)—in which officials received nearly $3 billion in bribes to overcharge Petrobras, Brazil’s state-controlled oil company, for construction and service work—high-profile corruption investigations have swept through Brazil, threatening to upend its reputation as a bastion for unchecked graft. Although corruption in Brazil remains a serious problem, the extensive investigations have worked to elevate the nation as an inspiration for countries looking to address their own corrupt political systems and hoping to become “the next Brazil.”

In addition to the headline-grabbing investigations targeting the upper echelons of the Brazilian government, Brazilian authorities have also worked closely with U.S. authorities investigating bribery activity in Brazil, leading to significant penalties both under Brazilian law and under the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). This is a significant development, because it demonstrates the possibility for close collaboration on cross-border bribery cases between a developed country (usually on the “supply side” of transnational bribery cases) and a developing country (on the “demand side”). Commentators have complained that too often supply-side enforcers like the United States take an outsized role in transnational bribery cases, with the countries where the bribery takes place doing too little. Other commentators have cautioned that an increase in prosecutions by other countries, in the absence of some sort of global coordination mechanism, may lead to races to prosecution or to over-enforcement. China’s nearly $500 million fine of British pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline in 2014 for bribing Chinese doctors and hospitals was emblematic of these fears, providing an example of an aggressive, unilateral approach to demand-side enforcement – while putting DOJ in the unfamiliar position of pursuing FCPA violations as a cop late to the scene.

Through its recent enforcement actions, Brazil has provided a different model. While there have been successful joint enforcement actions in the past—such as the Siemens case—the recent series of coordinated U.S.-Brazil actions exhibit how developed and developing countries can work together in anti-bribery enforcement, sharing in the investigative responsibilities, negotiations with companies, and even the financial returns.

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The Crucial Role of Corporate Boards in Ensuring Corporate Integrity

Volkswagen’s diesel emissions cheat has cost the company dearly. Last October, Volkswagen reached a US$16.5 billion dollar settlement with the US government, and the value of Volkswagen’s stock today is worth about 50% of what it was before the scandal – a US$60 billion drop in the company’s valuation. Criminal charges against several senior managers, including chairman Hans Dieter Poetsch, are still pending. Countless customers are furious, while many employees fear for their jobs as Volkswagen scrambles to cut its costs. (Some background on the scandal, as well as a regularly updated timeline, can be found here.)

What started as a “simple cheat” became a slippery slope for the whole company. Volkswagen failed to create a culture of corporate integrity; the institutional checks and balances that are supposed to prevent something like this from happening were purposefully or ignorantly subverted, and the company created all the wrong incentives. As Alison Taylor has argued on this blog, these are the perfect ingredients for a corrupt corporate culture.

Who to blame for this mess (and, similarly, many other corporate messes)? Just as “a fish rots from the head down,” a company’s board of directors must take responsibility for creating or allowing a toxic corporate culture that permits cheating and other unethical and illegal behavior. Continue reading

Guest Post: Fighting Corporate Corruption in Thailand, Part Two — Private Initiatives

Karin Zarifi, an independent consultant to the Securities and Exchange Commission Thailand, contributes the following post (the second in a two-part series on combating corporate corruption among Thai public companies):

In my last post, I discussed how the Thai Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) was undertaking innovative measures, in conjunction with private sector initiatives, to fight corruption and encourage good corporate governance in Thai public companies. One of the SEC’s most important partners in its efforts is the Stock Exchange of Thailand (SET), on which approximately 600 companies are listed. The SET and the SEC have been promoting their own and each other’s initiatives, as well as those of private sector organizations like the Thai Institute of Directors (IOD) and the Thaipat Institute, in ways that are encouraging, and seem to be helping Thailand to become a corporate sustainability leader among Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member countries.

The role of the SET in fighting corruption cannot be overlooked. Stock exchanges are uniquely positioned to use their listing and disclosure requirements to encourage sustainable practices, including anticorruption, by listed companies and allow consideration by investors. The role of stock exchanges in wealthy countries — most notably the New York Stock Exchange — in imposing ethics and disclosure requirements on listed companies is already well-known. The SET’s recent initiatives demonstrate that stock exchanges in developing countries can also play this role. Although a stock exchange’s anticorruption initiatives cannot substitute for appropriate action by government regulators, they are a vital complement to government efforts to prohibit bribery and corruption. Continue reading

Guest Post: Fighting Corporate Corruption in Thailand, Part One — Securities Regulation

Karin Zarifi, an independent consultant to the Securities and Exchange Commission Thailand, contributes the following post (the first in a two-part series on combating corporate corruption among Thai public companies):

In Thailand, despite increased focus on anticorruption, corporate governance and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) improvements in the private sector (see, e.g., here and here), the Thai business community does not seem convinced that anticorruption is in its interest, at least short-term. Only last April, companies listed on the Stock Exchange of Thailand (SET) were telling the Thai Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that they were unwilling to stay away from paying “tea money” (that is, bribes), for fear of losing out to competitors. Yet the last nine months have seen considerable progress on this front.

Some of the progress has been driven by private sector initiatives, including initiatives spearheaded by the SET. I will discuss these in my next post. But much of the progress has been driven by the Thai SEC. As Jeena Kim pointed out in a recent post on this blog (in the context of South Korea) securities regulators are well-positioned — and often better-positioned than public prosecutors — to take effective action against corporate corruption. But whereas Ms. Kim highlighted the Korean securities regulator’s ability to enforce South Korea’s foreign anti-bribery laws, the Thai example illustrates how securities regulators can encourage the development of a culture of compliance, good corporate governance, and corporate social responsibility more generally, using tools beyond simply enforcing the securities laws. Continue reading