Although 41 countries have signed onto the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention, the United States remains the most active enforcer—by a lot. Two salient facts about the U.S. strategy for enforcing its Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) are often noted: Sanctions against corporations are more common than cases targeting individuals, and most of these corporate cases are resolved by settlements—often pre-indictment diversionary agreements known as deferred prosecution agreements (DPAs) and non-prosecution agreements (NPAs). Both of these facts are sometimes exaggerated a bit: According to the OECD’s most recent composite data (for enforcement actions from 1999-2014), the U.S. imposed sanctions on 58 individuals (compared to 92 corporations or other legal persons), and of those 92 legal persons sanctioned, 57 reached a settlement via a DPA or NPA (meaning that 35 of them were sanctioned through a post-indictment plea agreement or—much more rarely—a trial). Still, it’s true that the U.S. enforcement strategy makes extensive use of pre-indictment settlements with corporate defendants, and that fact has attracted its share of criticism.
While most of that criticism (at least in the FCPA context) has come from the corporate defense bar and others opposed to aggressive FCPA enforcement, the use of DPAs/NPAs has been questioned by anticorruption advocates as well. Recently, the UK-based anticorruption NGO Corruption Watch (CW) published a report entitled “Out of Court, Out of Mind: Do Deferred Prosecution Agreements and Corporate Settlements Fail To Deter Overseas Corruption”; shortly thereafter, CW, along with several other leading NGOs (Global Witness, Transparency International, and the UNCAC Coalition) sent a letter to the OECD expressing “concern that the increasing use of corporate settlements in the way they are currently implemented as the primary means for resolving foreign bribery cases may not offer ‘effective, proportionate and disuasive’ sanctions as required under the Convention,” and “urg[ing] the OECD Working Group on Bribery to develop as a matter of priority global standards for corporate settlements based on best practice.” Last week, here on GAB, CW’s policy director Susan Hawley provide a succinct summary of the case for greater skepticism of the practice of resolving foreign bribery cases through DPAs/NPAs, and the need for some sort of global standard.
I disagree. While I have the utmost respect for Corruption Watch and the other NGOs that sent the joint letter to the OECD, and I sympathize with many of their concerns, I find most of the criticisms of the DPA/NPA mechanism, particularly as deployed by U.S. authorities in FCPA cases, wide of the mark. I also remain unconvinced that there is a pressing need for “global standards” for corporate settlement practices, and indeed I think that pushing for such standards may raise a host of problems. These issues—whether DPAs/NPAs are sufficiently effective sanctions, and whether we need common global standards regulating their use—are quite different, so I will address them separately. In this post, I will respond to the main criticisms of the U.S. practice of using DPAs/NPAs to resolve FCPA cases, focusing on the concerns emphasized in the CW report. In my next post, I will turn to the question whether the OECD, the UN Convention Against Corruption, or some other international agreement or body ought to try to establish global standards regulating the use of corporate settlements.
So, what’s wrong with the analysis in the CW critique of corporate settlements? Lots of things—so many that it’s hard to know where to begin. But before turning to my criticisms, it’s worth starting out by re-stating some of the main reasons why it might make sense to resolve some anti-bribery cases via corporate settlements: Continue reading