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Richard Bistrong: Turn off the movie and read the Yates Memo

When I was asked last week during a TV interview if I once believed I could do wrong with impunity, I responded, “I never thought about getting caught.” Now, almost ten years after my last criminal act, comes the Yates Memo.

Today’s post is for those on the front lines of business, and particularly those who may struggle with corruption. The next time you’re flying overseas, turn off the movie and read the Yates Memo (pdf). 

Start first with the subject line: Individual Accountability for Corporate Wrongdoing.

Listen to what Deputy Attorney General Yates and those who design and implement policy have to share. That’s the standard you’ll be held accountable to. (You won’t be calling the pundits if you get in trouble.) The DOJ is very clear about the government’s goals of maximizing the “ability to deter misconduct and to hold those who engage in it accountable.”

If you think that because you’re a stellar performer, a rain maker, and that somehow your company has you covered if the music stops, listen to what the Yates Memo has to say: If a company wants cooperation credit, it must give up the individuals — and that’s “all or nothing.”  There’s no more insulation.

In the world of FCPA enforcement, the Yates Memo has two sharp ends. The policy of holding individuals responsible is now paired with the FBI’s International Corruption Unit, which has tripled in size, and with three dedicated squads to combat and investigate foreign corruption.

But perhaps you’re thinking of a “worst case” plan where you beat your company to the courthouse steps and cooperate with the DOJ, thereby walking away.

If so, let me leave you with some words from Judge Richard Leon, who sentenced me to eighteen months in a federal prison.

Judge Leon talked about those “who are aware of other cases in this area and who may think they can pull conduct of a similar nature, or maybe even more egregious than that you engaged in. They need to understand, they need to be concerned that if they are caught, and even if they cooperate, they are going to do jail time because in this arena, that is the ultimate deterrence.”

The next time you’re tempted to dream up some clever way to pull off overseas bribery without getting caught, read the Yates Memo. And think about the real-life consequences of the decision you’re about to make.


Richard Bistrong is CEO of Front-Line Anti-Bribery LLC. He consults, writes and speaks about compliance issues from his experience as an international sales VP and conviction for violating the FCPA, where he pleaded guilty and served fourteen and a half months in prison. He can be reached via his website, twitter and email.

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