Taking on the Demand Side of Foreign Bribery: How U.S. FCPA Settlements Can Facilitate Foreign Prosecutions

Laws like the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) target what is sometimes referred to as the “supply side” of transnational bribery transactions—the firms and individuals of offer or pay bribes to foreign officials in order to secure a business advantage. But what about the demand side? All too often, the government officials who demand or receive these bribes escape accountability—even when the bribe-paying firms are forced to pay substantial penalties for FCPA violations. Years ago, some U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) prosecutors floated the theory that bribe-taking officials could be charged as abettors to, or co-conspirators in, FCPA violations, but that theory, though legally plausible, failed to gain traction in the courts. On occasion, the DOJ has prosecuted bribe-taking foreign officials for money laundering. And more recently, Members of the U.S. Congress have introduced a new bill, the Foreign Extortion Prevention Act (FEPA), which would make it a crime under U.S. law for a foreign public official to seek, demand, or accept a bribe. FEPA’s chances of enactment are uncertain (the vast majority of bills fail, after all); moreover, even if enacted, FEPA’s impact may be circumscribed by the practical and political difficulties of arresting and trying foreign public officials, particularly those that do not have any contact with U.S. territory.

What about the bribe-taking public official’s own government? Shouldn’t that government take the lead in prosecuting its own public officials when they behave corruptly? There would be a nice symmetry—and a great deal of practical advantage—to a system in which the supply-side government (say, the United States) goes after the bribe-paying company, while the demand-side government goes after the bribe-taking public official. But often this doesn’t happen: In the majority of cases where the U.S. government imposes FCPA sanctions on a company for paying bribes in a given country, there is no parallel or subsequent prosecution by that country’s government of the corrupt officials involved.

Sometimes the explanation is political: the public officials involved are sufficiently powerful and well-connected to escape domestic accountability in their home countries, even when their misconduct is known. That’s a big problem, and one that statutes like FEPA are designed to address. But there’s another reason that demand-side governments often fail to hold their own officials accountable: a lack of capacity and an associated lack of evidence. In a great many cases, even when a bribe-paying firm settles an FCPA case with the US government, and in doing so admits to certain facts and provides evidence about the misconduct to the DOJ, the demand-side country government does not receive sufficient evidence to identify, let along prosecute, the corrupt officials involved—either because the company did not supply that information to the DOJ, or the DOJ did not turn that information over to the demand-side official’s government. True, FCPA settlement agreements are usually public, but the official statements of facts in these agreements are often not sufficiently precise and detailed to give a foreign enforcement agency what it needs to make out a case.

The U.S. government can and should fix this problem. Doing so would not require new legislation. Rather, it could be accomplished through a straightforward and easily implementable change in DOJ policy. Continue reading

China Should Go After Bribe Takers in FCPA Cases

As other contributors to this blog have noted (see here, here, here, here, and here), in transnational corruption prosecutions there is a huge disparity in the enforcement of corruption laws against bribe-givers (the “supply side”) and bribe-takers (the “demand side”). For example, corporations have been penalized under the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) for bribes they allegedly paid to foreign officials, but the foreign officials implicated in these enforcement actions have largely remained untouched under their respective countries’ legal and political regimes. The reasons why demand-side governments have not stepped up and investigated officials who have been implicated in FCPA cases may include the lack of political will, the lack of capacity, and lack of inter-governmental cooperation. The particular reasons likely vary from country to country.

The People’s Republic of China is one of the demand-side countries that has demonstrated such a disparity. In 2016, for example, the SEC concluded 26 FCPA-related enforcement actions, 14 of which were related to corruption in China. In the same year, the DOJ published 24 FCPA-related enforcement actions as well as five declinations under its pilot program, and ten of these cases involved China. (Note that there were some overlap between the DOJ and the SEC’s enforcement actions.) Yet there has been no report about China initiating investigations into any of the officials implicated in these cases. This suggests a failure, or missed opportunity, in China’s otherwise aggressive and wide-ranging anticorruption campaign. If the government officials who take bribes can escape without any consequences, even as the bribe-paying firms are penalized, it will be very hard to effect fundamental changes to corrupt business and cultural norms, which eventually will become roadblocks to the Chinese economy’s healthy and sustainable development. Furthermore, unlike other countries, China does not seem to face significant structural obstacles that prevent it from acting on these FCPA cases. It has the political will and capacity, and it has been collaborating with the U.S. government on other matters, such as bringing back corrupt fugitives from the U.S. It seems to be just a matter of awareness or choice. This post urges the Chinese government to take a look into the government officials implicated in the FCPA cases.

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