The U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act prohibits both direct and indirect corrupt payments to foreign officials. Indirect payments typically pass through the hands of an overseas partner or agent, then end up with the foreign official for an unlawful purpose. Most violations happen that way.
A plain-English explanation of the anti-bribery provisions written by the Department of Justice warns U.S. firms about their choice of overseas partners and agents. A bad choice is someone who is likely to make corrupt payments. That likelihood, the DOJ says, is usually indicated by warning signs called “red flags.” If there are red flags to start with and if the intermediary does bribe a foreign official to help the business, the U.S. company will have trouble arguing it shouldn’t be responsible for an FCPA violation based on an indirect corrupt payment.
Red flags, as the name suggests, are easy to spot. Unusual payment patterns or financial arrangements. A history of corruption in the country. A refusal by the foreign joint venture partner or representative to certify that it will not take any action that would cause the U.S. firm to be in violation of the FCPA. Unusually high commissions. Lack of transparency in expenses and accounting records. An apparent lack of qualifications or resources on the part of the joint venture partner or representative to perform the services offered. A recommendation from the local government of the intermediary. All these, the DOJ says, should set off compliance alarm bells.
When red flags appear, the burden of compliance increases. More red flags mean more caution is required. It’s a mistake to interpret red flags merely as a sign of the local culture, a helpful clue about how business is really done there, and something you just have to live with. Seeing red flags and lowering compliance standards, when the right response is to raise them, often leads to an FCPA disaster.
View the DOJ’s “Lay Person’s Guide to FCPA” Here.