The U.S. Department of Justice’s enforcement of a key antibribery law has reached an all-time high despite the challenges posed by the coronavirus, an official said.
Authorities in the U.S. and elsewhere this year have imposed about $7.76 billion in penalties globally for foreign bribery misconduct, acting Assistant Attorney General
of the department’s criminal division told attendees of a conference on the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act on Thursday. The prior year saw penalties of about $2.83 billion world-wide.
A large portion of those fines were paid to foreign counterparts in the U.K., France and elsewhere as they increasingly use their own antibribery laws to police multinational companies that pay bribes abroad to gain a business advantage—underscoring a trend toward increased international cooperation.
The Justice Department and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, which also enforces the FCPA, have already set a record in terms of corporate penalties collected in the U.S. this year under the FCPA, according to several tallies. The previous high-water mark occurred in 2019.
Of the fines levied globally, about $3.21 billion was paid to the U.S., according to Mr. Rabbitt. Alone, the Justice Department imposed almost $2.25 billion in criminal penalties in FCPA cases, compared with $1.62 billion in 2019, he said.
“It is no exaggeration to say that the criminal division’s work in 2020 has been historic—both in terms of the results we have achieved and the circumstances under which we have achieved them,” Mr. Rabbitt said at a virtual edition of the American Conference Institute’s annual conference on the FCPA.
The coronavirus pandemic has posed challenges for government investigations, delaying or halting travel and sensitive interviews with witnesses and investigation subjects that prosecutors may prefer to hold in person.
Shortly after Mr. Rabbitt’s speech, prosecutors added another corporate settlement to their scoreboard, finalizing a $135 million deferred-prosecution agreement with Swiss energy trader Vitol.
The agreement was coordinated with Brazilian authorities, and was the first to involve the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the U.S.’s derivatives regulator, which levied an additional $28 million in fines and disgorgement. It was the eighth corporate FCPA resolution negotiated by the Justice Department this year.
This year’s total penalties have been boosted by blockbuster cases against plane maker
and investment firm
Goldman Sachs Group Inc.
Airbus in January reached a €3.6 billion, equivalent to $4.4 billion, deal with American, U.K. and French prosecutors, resolving alleged bribery and export-control violations against the plane maker.
Goldman Sachs in October agreed to pay $2.9 billion to officials in four countries to end a yearslong investigation into its dealings with the Malaysian development bank 1Malaysia Development Bhd., or 1MDB.
The department’s foreign bribery unit also has had one of its highest tallies for charges against executives, middlemen and foreign officials this year. So far, prosecutors have charged 29 individuals in connection with FCPA matters—the third-highest ever recorded in a calendar year, according to Mr. Rabbitt.
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