Mark Mendelsohn -- the Justice Department official responsible for criminal prosecutions under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act -- has left no doubt that the government is targeting individuals. Here's what he told an audience at an American Bar Association panel discussion in Washington, D.C. last week:
The number of individual prosecutions has risen – and that’s not an accident. That is quite intentional on the part of the Department. It is our view that to have a credible deterrent effect, people have to go to jail. People have to be prosecuted where appropriate. This is a federal crime. This is not fun and games.Mendelsohn is the Deputy Chief of the Fraud Section at the DOJ's Criminal Division. He was quoted in the Sept. 16, 2008 edition of the Corporate Crime Reporter.
How much is enforcement increasing? During the past five years, the DOJ has investigated more overseas public bribery cases than in the prior 20 years. In 2007, the DOJ launched 16 prosecutions, double the number from 2006. What about 2008? There are 84 FCPA investigations pending. Press reports indicate the DOJ has a dozen prosecutors assigned to FCPA cases. They're supported by a team of FBI agents willing to use wire-taps and other surveillance techniques to catch offenders.
Executives still weighing the chances of getting caught should listen to this: "Problems in a faraway country," Medelsohn said, "are more likely to be learned by us – sitting here in Washington – than ever before. People in Bangladesh can e-mail me directly with an allegation that a company in Bangladesh is paying bribes to a government official there. Information about our work is now known around the world. The media is paying a great deal of attention to corruption issues. There is a lot more English language media reporting around the world. It’s more difficult to hide. . . .”
Mendelsohn also said new ways to resolve cases -- including non-prosecution agreements, deferred prosecution agreements, and corporate compliance monitors -- are tools that give companies an incentive to investigate, self-disclose and take corrective actions on their own. He didn't say so, but companies trying to settle with the DOJ are likely to cough up individuals responsible for the illegal behavior.
And hiding evidence abroad probably won't work. “Another factor," Mendelsohn said, "is that we have been increasingly effective in gathering evidence overseas through treaties as well as informal arrangements with law enforcement in other countries. That has made our work easier. Foreign law enforcement authorities are beginning to investigate and prosecute their own cases. That has had a positive effect on our efforts.”
Thanks to the excellent Corporate Crime Reporter for this and other recent stories about FCPA enforcement.