Anticorruption Tools in the Anti-Trump Toolkit: A Primer

[Kaitlin Beach provided helpful research and thoughtful contributions to this post.]

Since Donald Trump’s election, critics have asserted that his presidency presents unprecedented risks of corruption, cronyism, and conflict of interest. Many argue that President Trump and members of his administration are already engaging in conduct that is not only unethical, but also illegal. Because it can be hard for non-specialists to keep track of the myriad rules that have been referenced in the context, this post provides a brief, non-technical overview of the most important federal laws and regulations that are designed to prevent corruption, conflict-of-interest, and self-dealing in the U.S. government, focusing on those that have been most widely or most creatively discussed in relation to fighting a purportedly corrupt Trump administration.

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Guest Post: Rolling Back Anticorruption

Laurence Cockcroft, a founding board member of, and current advisor to, Transparency International, contributes today’s guest post:

The global campaign against corruption has become a cornerstone of Western foreign and development policy for the last 25 years. This campaign built on a number of earlier measures, most notably the 1977 enactment of the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), which criminalized foreign bribery by companies under US jurisdiction, but the campaign really accelerated beginning in the late 1990s. For example, while European countries had resisted adopting legislation similar to the FCPA for 20 years, this changed with the adoption of the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention in 1997, which was followed a few years later by the 2002 UN Convention Against Corruption. International financial institutions like the World Bank have become more aggressive about debarment of contractors found to have behaved corruptly, and we have also seen the proliferation of corporate-level ethical codes, promoted by organizations like the World Economic Forum and UN Global Compact, designed to prevent corrupt behavior.

More recent initiatives have pushed for greater corporate transparency. For example, in the United States, the Dodd-Frank Act ended the aggregation of corporate income across countries; an EU Directive promulgated shortly afterwards imposed similar requirements. More recently, an initiative to disclose the true beneficial owners of corporations and other legal entities, pushed by former British Prime Minister David Cameron, has already taken legislative form in the United Kingdom; beneficial ownership transparency is also the subject of an EU Directive, and was being promoted by the Obama administration. And although the so-called “offshore centers” have yet to embrace similar transparency of beneficial ownership, regulatory systems in these centers have been significantly improved. There have also been a number of important sector-level initiatives, particularly in the resources sector. These include the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI)—which requires participating governments of mineral and energy exporting countries, as well as companies in the extractive sector, to commit to a process of revenue transparency—as well as national-level laws, such as Section 1504 of the Dodd-Frank Act, which impose so-called “publish what you pay” obligations on extractive firms.

Even more encouragingly, this gradually improving regulatory environment has been accompanied by growing public opposition to corruption, as reflected in large-scale demonstrations around the world. Crowds on the streets, for example, have recently supported the proposed prosecutions of the current and past Presidents of Brazil, and opposed weakening of anticorruption laws in Romania.

But in spite of public opinion, the forces opposed to anticorruption initiatives have never gone away. The arrival of President Trump has let many of them loose both inside and outside the United States: Continue reading

Did the Trump Organization’s Azerbaijan Deal Violate the FCPA?

Adam Davidson’s New Yorker piece from earlier this month, “Donald Trump’s Worst Deal,” has been getting a lot of attention, and deservedly so. The article, which focuses on the Trump Organization’s involvement in a hotel deal in Baku, Azerbaijan, does a very nice job highlighting the troubling background of the Trump Organization’s Azeri business partners and the Trump Organization’s casual approach (to put it charitably) to due diligence. However, the piece also suggests that the Trump Organization’s involvement with the Baku hotel deal may have violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), and many of the follow-up discussions of Mr. Davidson’s piece have repeated this claim (see, for example, here and here). On this point, not everyone agrees. Professor Mike Koehler, for example, wrote a lengthy critique of Mr. Davidson’s discussion of the FCPA issues, concluding that nothing in the facts as reported in the article suggests that the Trump Organization violated the FCPA – and that many of the article’s assertions to the contrary are based on incomplete and misleading representations of the statute and prior case law.

After having finally had a chance to read Mr. Davidson’s article carefully, it seems to me that Professor Koehler has the better of the argument—mostly. Much of the discussion of potential FCPA violations in Mr. Davidson’s article is confused and potentially misleading. That said, I do think there’s at least one plausible basis for the claim that the Trump Organization may have violated the FCPA in this case.

Here’s my take: Continue reading

France’s New Anticorruption Law — What Does It Change?

GAB is pleased to welcome back Frederick Davis, a lawyer in the Paris office of Debevoise & Plimpton, who contributes the following guest post:

The ineffectiveness of French efforts to combat overseas bribery is well-known if not entirely understood. Put most simply, in the 17 years since France adopted comprehensive anti-bribery legislation, essentially similar to the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), France has not convicted a single corporation of classic overseas bribery under that legislation. This shortfall has been regularly documented in periodic reports by the OECD, and by NGOs such as Transparency International and others. Its causes are complex. They may include a simple deficit in willpower, but as others as well as I have pointed out, French criminal procedures, and in particular the difficulty of demonstrating corporate responsibility under French criminal law, impede effective prosecution.

Stung by the fact that four very large French companies entered into a variety of guilty pleas or deferred prosecution agreements (DPAs) with US authorities, pursuant to which these companies paid well over $2 billion in fines and other payments to the US treasury, in December 2016 the French legislature finally adopted a long-pending law, known as the Loi Sapin II, which progressively goes into effect during 2017. The law is unmistakably a reaction to US success in prosecuting French companies under the FCPA: it only applies to corporations, and only to allegations of overseas corruption or other crimes very similar to those prosecutable under the FCPA.

Several of new law’s provisions are unexceptional: it creates a new Anticorruption Agency, called the AFA, to replace an existing agency, known as the SCPC, which was widely viewed as ineffective; the law requires medium- and large-sized companies to adopt compliance programs pursuant to criteria to be developed by the AFA. (While the AFA can impose administrative sanctions for absent or deficient compliance programs, it will have no criminal investigative authority). The new law also slightly extends the territorial reach of French anti-bribery laws to make them applicable to companies that “carry out all or part of their economic activity on French territory,” and enhances whistleblower protection available under existing laws. But the Loi Sapin II’s most ambitious innovation by far is a series of amendments to the French Code of Criminal Procedure to permit negotiated outcomes generally similar to DPAs as practiced for many years in the United States, and since 2014 in the United Kingdom, that result in the payment of fines and other penalties but not in a criminal judgment. Under the new provisions, a French corporation may enter into an agreement, known as a “Judicial Convention in the Public Interest” (JCPI), under which the firm admits facts sufficient to show the commission of a relevant crime, and agrees to a fine that may be as high as 30% of the company’s annual turnover for the prior three years. The company may also agree to the imposition of a corporate monitor, to be supervised by the AFA. Continue reading

Guest Post: The Case for Greater US Deference to Foreign Anticorruption Prosecutions–A Response to Maruca

GAB is pleased to welcome back Frederick Davis, a lawyer in the Paris office of Debevoise & Plimpton, who contributes the following guest post:

Last fall, I published two posts in which I raised concerns about overlapping jurisdiction in foreign bribery cases, and about the appropriate role of US enforcement authorities in such cases. My first post noted that the US is not bound by the outcome of criminal processes in other countries, but can—and sometimes does—bring FCPA cases against foreign companies that have already resolved investigations for the same conduct brought initiated by their home countries. (As I also observed, the absence of any such constraint on US authorities creates an asymmetry with respect to countries that endorse an international ne bis in idem/double jeopardy bar, which can block such countries from pursuing a corporation or person that has already been pursued in the US.) My second post urged that the US Department of Justice (DOJ) should be more transparent in articulating when it will defer to non-US prosecutions in the corruption area.

A few weeks back, Michael Maruca posted an interesting critical commentary on my posts. The main thrust of Mr. Maruca’s very thoughtful comment was that the DOJ should not unnecessarily defer to non-US counterparts, partly because he worries about downgrading the effectiveness of US FCPA enforcement efforts, and partly because he envisions competition among national authorities as encouraging a “race to the top” in achieving optimal enforcement of foreign bribery laws. He proposes that the DOJ, rather than being more deferential to foreign resolutions of conduct that might violate the FCPA, the DOJ should go further in sharing the monetary outcomes of multinational investigations, and he provides commonsense principles for how it might do so.

Mr. Maruca’s intervention usefully advances the discussion on a very important issue. I agree with much of what he says. Nonetheless, I continue to view the lack of sufficient US deference to foreign resolutions of foreign bribery cases as a problem, and I have the following concerns about the points Mr. Maruca’s makes: Continue reading

Why the Repeal of the U.S. Publish-What-You-Pay Rule Is a Major Setback for Combating Corruption in the Extractive Sector

Bonnie J. Palifka, Assistant Professor of Economics at Mexico’s Tecnológico de Monterrey (ITESM) contributes today’s guest post:

Last Friday, following the U.S. House of Representatives, the Senate voted to repeal a Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) regulation that required oil, gas, and minerals companies to make public (on interactive websites) their payments to foreign governments, including taxes, royalties, and “other” payments. The rule was mandated by Section 1504 of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, but had only been finalized last year. President Trump’s expected signature of the congressional resolution repealing the rule will represent a major blow to anticorruption efforts, and a demonstration of just how little corruption matters to his administration and to Congressional Republicans.

The extractive industry had lobbied against this rule, arguing that having to report such payments is costly to firms and puts them at an international disadvantage. Some commentators have supported their efforts, arguing, for example, that the Section 1504 rules are unnecessary because the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) already prohibits firms under SEC jurisdiction—including extractive industry firms—from paying bribes abroad. This argument misses the mark: The extractive sector poses especially acute and distinctive corruption risks, which the FCPA alone is unlikely to remedy if not accompanied by greater transparency. Continue reading

Why Does the SEC Enforce the FCPA?

Donald Trump’s nomination of Jay Clayton to chair the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has attracted some attention and concern from the anticorruption community. That concern is due mainly to a report issued by a New York Bar Foundation committee, chaired by Mr. Clayton, which criticized the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) for its alleged adverse and asymmetric impact on U.S. corporations. Though it remains to be seen how strongly committed Mr. Clayton is to the views expressed in the report, the concern is understandable given that the SEC is one of the two agencies—along with the Department of Justice (DOJ)—that is responsible for enforcing the FCPA. This controversy also highlights another, broader question that some FCPA critics have raised: Why is the SEC even involved in FCPA enforcement in the first place?

Congress created the SEC in 1934 through the aptly named Securities Exchange Act to enforce federal regulations regarding the trade of securities after they have been issued. The main impetus for the SEC’s creation was the belief that an under-regulated securities market helped drive the 1929 stock market crash. However, over the past 80 years, the SEC has expanded into other areas of enforcement—such as FCPA enforcement—that seem tentatively tied to the SEC’s original mandate. Some have argued that due to resource limitations, it does not make sense for the SEC to pursue vigorous FCPA enforcement at the expense of diverting resources from protecting investors. In pushing this point, some critics also point out that the SEC’s major regulatory fumbles of the past decade coincide with the escalation of FCPA enforcement activity—which perhaps suggests that expanding the SEC’s responsibilities beyond its original mandate has indeed weakened the agency.

The reasons for the SEC’s involvement in FCPA enforcement are partly historical, as explained further below. But beyond that, despite the critics’ complaints, in fact FCPA enforcement remains a valuable use of the SEC’s resources in the 21st century.

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