Skip to content


Harry Cassin
Publisher and Editor

Andy Spalding
Senior Editor

Jessica Tillipman
Senior Editor

Bill Steinman
Senior Editor

Richard L. Cassin
Editor at Large

Elizabeth K. Spahn
Editor Emeritus

Cody Worthington
Contributing Editor

Julie DiMauro
Contributing Editor

Thomas Fox
Contributing Editor

Marc Alain Bohn
Contributing Editor

Bill Waite
Contributing Editor

Shruti J. Shah
Contributing Editor

Russell A. Stamets
Contributing Editor

Richard Bistrong
Contributing Editor

Eric Carlson
Contributing Editor

Andy Spalding: Brazil’s New Enforcement Leadership

At a time when U.S. leadership in the world is no longer a surety, we should be comforted to find another western hemisphere country proudly taking the lead.

The United States may well have written the first chapter in global anti-corruption enforcement.  But the second chapter? It’s Brazil’s.

We all know that Brazil is enmeshed in a major bribery investigation, Operation Car Wash. But we may not fully appreciate the way Brazil is emerging as a regional, and perhaps, world leader — in both domestic and foreign bribery, and on both the enforcement and compliance sides.

In December, Brazil claimed the lion’s share of the credit for the world’s single largest anti-bribery enforcement action, a settlement worth between $2.5 billion and $4.5 billion (depending on future ability to pay) against Brazilian contractor Odebrecht. So too did its petrochemicals subsidiary, Braskem, pay an additional fine of almost $1 billion. 

Related investigations have reached two former presidents and the current president, numerous members of the cabinet, and an estimated 60 percent or more of the federal legislature, and countless state and municipal officials. Recently prosecutors began an investigation into bribery in the meat packing industry; this has been styled as the largest police action in Brazil’s history.

These days, that’s saying a lot.

But at least as significant, if less widely heralded, is the way Brazil is using its substantial and newfound clout to build capacity in other countries. 

Officials from eleven countries recently met in Brazil and formed an agreement to carry out a joint investigation on Odebrecht’s bribery across Latin America. Representatives from the attorney general and prosecutor-general offices in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Portugal, and Venezuela. The meeting was organized by Brazilian prosecutor-general Rodrogo Janot. At this gathering, the parties signed the Brasilia Declaration for International Judiciary Cooperation against Cooperation.

Notably, the most thorough coverage of the story I was able to find was here, from Xinhua, an online Chinese news source that describes itself as “an important information organ of the central government.”

The world is indeed changing.

By population, Brazil is the world’s fifth-largest country. But two of the four larger countries, India and Indonesia, do not appear poised for aggressive anti-bribery enforcement, domestic or foreign, any time soon.  Other than the United States, that leaves China and Brazil.

As the Xinhua article suggests, China has indeed addressed domestic corruption with some rigor, though in ways unique to its political system and culture. We might call it “anti-corruption with Chinese characteristics” (adapting the well-worn phrase, “socialism with Chinese characteristics”).  

But if we’re looking for a truly democratic anti-corruption movement — one that fearlessly holds accountable powerful business leaders and politicians across the political spectrum, that is not used to secure the power of elites or neutralize political enemies, that is based on legislation adopted in response to grass-roots political demands and implemented by an independent prosecution and judiciary, and which has ignited an explosion in the compliance industry — we could do no better than Brazil. 


Andy Spalding, pictured above, is a Senior Editor of the FCPA Blog and a Professor at the University of Richmond School of Law.

Share this post



  1. Very good article, using few words you provide a good view about the Brazilian challenges against bribery and corruption.
    As a Brazilian/Canadian I am not sure if I am proud or shame, but this article has a interesting perspective of the anti-corruption effort in Brazil. That's a good reading, and you will be able to figure out why Brazilians understand so much about bribery and corruption.
    Coming next on the Brazilian corruption news, the "Carne Fraca" operation, or "The Flesh is Weak", a massive tainted-meat bribery scandal.

  2. Go Brasil!

    For the past couple of years, 30s and 40s year old Brazilian prosecutors have been writing history.

    Never before in the annals of LatAm history have so few prosecutors with such limited resources accomplished so much that has and will benefit so many in LatAm long term.

    Mexico has to follow the Brazilian example. This can only be accomplished by FEARLESS 30s and 40s year old zealot prosecutors (e.g. Eliot Spitzer clones) who are willing to die for their country. There is no turning back in LatAm. 500 years of corruption is going to end! Transparency and LatAm will not be an oxymoron in the 21st century.

    Unless we clean up LatAm corruption we will reap and deserve a future generation of Revolutionaries in the region.

Comments are closed for this article!