Guest Post: How Will Nationalist Election Outcomes in the US and UK Affect Foreign Anticorruption Enforcement?

Professor Rachel Brewster of Duke Law School and Mat Tromme, Project Lead & Senior Research Fellow at the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law, contribute today’s guest post, which is based on discussions at a recent Bingham Center-Duke Law School FCPA Roundtable:

In the past year, we have twice seen voters make a significant turn toward nationalism. In June 2016, in a move that was largely motivated by protectionist views, the UK voted to leave the EU, and in November, the United States elected Donald Trump, who campaigned on an “America First” promise. What do these developments mean for US and UK enforcement of their respective laws against overseas bribery (the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and UK Bribery Act (UKBA), respectively)? Many worry that, insofar as government leaders view anticorruption laws as harming their country’s international competitiveness (a dubious assumption), then nationalistic fervor can lead to weaker enforcement. This is a reasonable concern in both countries—but a more careful analysis of the situation suggests uncertainty is greater in the UK than it is in the US.

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Can the OECD Convention Prevent FCPA Backsliding?

A little while back I expressed some concern (perhaps excessive) about the possibility that we might be seeing a revitalized movement to “reform” (that is, weaken) the FCPA; I also worried a bit that a greater focus on prosecutions of individuals might lead to judicial rulings that would force the government to substantially narrow its reading of the statute (for example, with respect to the definition of “foreign official,” or what counts as “anything of value,” or the scope of statutory jurisdiction, or other matters where the statute itself is arguably ambiguous). In response to the latter concern, Duke Law Professor Rachel Brewster raised an intriguing possibility (in addition to several other reasonable responses to my worries): The OECD Anti-Bribery Convention, she suggested, might limit the degree to which the U.S. Congress or courts narrow or limit the FCPA. As Professor Brewster succinctly put the point in her comment on one of my earlier posts:

[T]he OECD treaty … is even broader than the FCPA. Moreover, the courts of appeal that have ruled on the meaning of the FCPA (Kay, Esqenazi) have explicitly relied on the more robust OECD treaty provisions to support the government’s position. That gives me some comfort that the US court system is going to continue to support the DOJ/SEC’s current enforcement strategy. Even if the OECD treaty does not explicit answer questions like “who is a foreign official” and “what is anything of value” (although it does help with the narrow interpretation of the facilitating payments), the general tenor of the treaty (and subsequent treaties the US has backed and joined) supports the government’s strong enforcement approach.

This is a valuable point, and to a certain extent I agree. But I am less sanguine than Professor Brewster that the OECD Convention will prove much of a firewall against a potential congressional or judicial backlash against the DOJ and SEC’s aggressive approach to interpreting and enforcing the statute. Continue reading