The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act was last amended ten years ago. The “International Anti-Bribery and Fair Competition Act of 1998” was intended to make the FCPA consistent with the OECD Convention — formally titled the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions.
The OECD Convention itself resulted from a 10-year initiative by the United States. In 1988, Congress told the White House to help U.S. companies compete by encouraging trading partners to pass laws similar to the FCPA. The OECD members — consisting then of 33 countries with the most significant economies — signed the Convention in Paris in December 1997. It went to the U.S. Senate six months later.
The 1998 Amendments implemented the OECD Convention and made five conforming changes to the FCPA:
First, payments made to secure “any improper advantage” — language used in the OECD Convention — were added to the FCPA’s prohibitions.
Second, the FCPA’s coverage was extended to include all foreign persons who commit an act in furtherance of a foreign bribe while in the United States.
Third, the FCPA’s definition of foreign officials was expanded to include employees and representatives of public international organizations.
Fourth, jurisdiction was extended over the acts of U.S. businesses and nationals involved in illegal payments that take place wholly outside the United States.
And fifth, the distinction was eliminated between U.S. nationals and non-U.S. nationals, making all employees or agents of U.S. businesses subject to both civil and criminal penalties under the FCPA.
When President Clinton signed the 1998 Amendments (S. 2375) into law, his message about the search for the elusive level playing field was clear:
. . . Since the enactment in 1977 of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, U.S. businesses have faced criminal penalties if they engaged in business-related bribery of foreign public officials. Foreign competitors, however, did not have similar restrictions and could engage in this corrupt activity without fear of penalty. . . . As a result, U.S. companies have had to compete on an uneven playing field, resulting in losses of international contracts estimated at $30 billion per year.
The OECD Convention – – which represents the culmination of many years of sustained diplomatic effort – – is designed to change all that. Under the Convention, our major competitors will be obligated to criminalize the bribery of foreign public officials in international business transactions. . . . The United States intends to work diligently, through the monitoring-process to be established under the OECD, to ensure that the Convention is widely ratified and fully implemented. We will continue our leadership in the international fight against corruption. . . .
Ten years later, how well are the 1998 Amendments working? Non-U.S. companies and individuals are being prosecuted under the FCPA. And despite some disappointments, there are encouraging signs from Europe and Asia, where countries are prosecuting their companies and citizens for overseas public bribery. The level playing field is still a work in progress, but at least there’s progress to measure.
View the DOJ’s 1998 Amendments site here.