So far this year, the department has brought international corruption charges against 34 individuals and obtained a record 30 guilty pleas by individuals in similar cases, Brian Benczkowski, assistant attorney general for the criminal division, said. Both numbers are the highest on record.
The figures reflect the Justice Department’s recent focus on targeting individuals in foreign bribery cases, while encouraging companies to report misconduct and cooperate with authorities in exchange for leniency.
The cases were prosecuted under the U.S. anti-foreign bribery law known as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, or FCPA. The law bars corporations and their executives from bribing foreign government officials to gain a business advantage.
In recent years, the Justice Department has stepped up enforcement of the act, using its broad jurisdiction to target foreign executives and companies involved in bribing officials in other countries.
“This number of individual prosecutions in 2019 is not an outlier or a statistical anomaly,” Benczkowski said at a conference on FCPA outside Washington. “Rather, it is part of the department’s continued dedication to holding individual wrongdoers accountable across the board.”
In 2018, the Justice Department charged 31 individuals with FCPA violations, compared with 24 individuals in 2017, according to annual reports by the department’s fraud section. In 2017 and 2018, 18 individuals pleaded guilty to FCPA-related charges.
“Building cases against individuals takes time and resources, even more so when those individuals assert their trial rights,” Benczkowski said. “And yet, these overall individual prosecution numbers [charges and pleas] have been generated in a year in which our prosecutors also have been very busy at trial.”
A U.S. government investigation into bribery at Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, PDVSA, has resulted in charges against 21 individuals, 16 of whom have pleaded guilty, the department said in May.
In July, a former Venezuelan government minister and a former executive at Venezuela’s state-owned power company were charged for their role in awarding a government contract to three Florida-based companies in exchange for receiving bribes.
Also in July, prosecutors announced foreign corruption charges against two Ecuador citizens living in Florida for their role in a bribery scheme at Ecuador’s state-owned oil company.
FCPA cases rarely go to trial. But Benczkowski said the Justice Department has equaled its previous record for trials ending in conviction. He did not provide a figure. Last year, there were at least three FCPA-related jury trials that ended in the convictions of four defendants, according to The FCPA Blog. In one, a federal jury in Boston convicted two men of conspiring to bribe officials in Haiti.
In addition to prosecuting record numbers of individuals, the Justice Department has settled criminal charges in seven corporate corruption cases, bringing in a record $1.6 billion in sanctions, according to Benczkowski.
Companies that report misconduct and cooperate with investigators are typically spared prosecution and offered reduced penalties.