Justice Department to Clarify Guidelines for Bribery Probes

November 9, 2011

A top Justice Department official said Tuesday the agency will clarify next year what triggers anti-corruption probes into U.S. corporations.

Lanny Breuer, head of the criminal division, said his department expects to release “detailed new guidance” on the criminal and civil enforcement provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).

The anti-bribery law is a chief concern for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the country’s largest business lobbying group, as the DOJ and Securities and Exchange Commission have stepped up their enforcement of the law in recent years.

The agencies have extracted record penalties from companies of up to hundreds of millions of dollars.

The Chamber on Tuesday said it was “encouraged” by the Justice Department’s announcement.

It is a “welcome acknowledgment of what we in the business community have long said — DOJ’s current FCPA enforcement practices need clarification and modernization,” Lisa Rickard, the president of the Chamber’s Institute for Legal Reform, which has led the campaign, said.

The Chamber has pushed Congress in recent months to amend the law and hired former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey to lobby on its behalf.

It argues that ambiguity in the 1970s era law, which bars U.S. firms and others from paying bribes to officials of foreign governments, has injured U.S. businesses.

The group urged lawmakers to limit a company’s liability for the actions of its subsidiaries and to define who counts as a “foreign official” under the law.

In his speech, Breuer said while the department did not support any legislative changes to the law, it was taking “considered suggestions” from the private sector into account.

“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,” Breuer said.

(Reporting by Aruna Viswanatha; Editing by Richard Chang)

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