While white-collar crimes like bribery are often marginalized as victimless, the widespread bribery of foreign officials to gain a competitive advantage has serious implications for national security. It also has the potential to negatively impact US financial markets and economic growth.
The seriousness of this problem is demonstrated by a recent case from 2014. The French power and transportation company Alstom pled guilty to engaging in a widespread foreign bribery scheme and agreed to pay a $772 million fine. It violated the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) for more than 10 years.
To fight this type of behavior, the FBI and the Department of Justice’s Fraud Section recently formed dedicated squads to fight international corruption. These three squads are based in DC, LA, and New York City.
There are two facets to international corruption. One is the supply side—the companies that the give the bribes. The US has strong prohibitions against this type of business behavior with the FCPA.
The other dimension is the practice of kleptocracy—when foreign officials steal from their own government’s treasuries. The DOJ has successfully pursued some extremely high profile kleptocracy cases. In 2014, it forfeited the largest amount of money ever obtained from this type of case: more than $400 million hidden in bank accounts throughout the world by the former Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha.
The new international corruption squads will investigate both types of behavior. While these types of cases are extremely difficult to investigate, the squads will take advantage of the expertise of agents, analysts, and other professionals who have experience in fighting white-collar crime and following the money trail. They will be able to use such FBI techniques such as court-authorized wiretaps, financial analysis, informants, and undercover operations.
With the help of the Securities and Exchange Commission, these squads will help keep the US government at the forefront of efforts to fight international corruption and kleptocracy.