Groups Ask for Clarification of Anti-Bribery Law

The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, a 1970s-era law that the federal government has used more heavily in recent years, is in need of clarification, a number of associations argue.

With a rise in anti-bribery enforcement in the business world, business groups are asking for a little clarity on a key law that federal authorities are increasingly using to crack down on such cases.

The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), signed by Jimmy Carter in 1977, aimed to prevent the bribery of foreign officials by businesses. Authorites have stepped up enforcement in recent years: Large companies such as Siemens have racked up large fines under the act, and executives have faced criminal charges for compliance failures.

Even if a company had in place a state-of-the-art compliance program that was well-designed and aggressively enforced, it remains exposed to liability if the program is circumvented by even one employee.

With executives under greater scrutiny, a number of associations and business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, are asking the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission to clarify details of the law’s enforcement.

“Even if a company had in place a state-of-the-art compliance program that was well-designed to prevent FCPA violations and that was aggressively enforced, it remains exposed to liability if the program is circumvented by even one employee,” the coalition of 33 business groups stated in a letter to the agencies.

This issue is particularly important for many business that have investigated their own internal practices to prevent prosecution under the act. In November, for example, Walmart disclosed its own investigation into a bribery scheme involving its stores in Mexico.

The associations’ letter is a response to information the two agencies released about the FTCA enforcement, including examples of the kinds of preventative measures companies should take. In November, Lanny Breuer, head of the Justice Department criminal division, spoke during a conference about the act, saying the agency would stand firm against any changes to the law that would reduce its effectiveness.

“We in the Justice Department are always open—and I personally am—to working with Congress on ways to improve our criminal laws,” he explained. “That said, I want to be clear about one thing with respect to these proposals: We have no intention whatsoever of supporting reforms whose aim is to weaken the FCPA and make it a less effective tool for fighting foreign bribery.”

Despite this, legislation may eventually resurface. Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), who has considered FCPA amendments in the past, doesn’t plan to revisit the legislation at the moment, Reuters reported. However,  a spokesperson told the wire service that Coons “will remain involved as the dialogue between U.S. businesses and the DOJ continues.”


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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