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White House: Fighting overseas graft still top U.S. priority

The White House yesterday released a national security paper defining U.S. interests and affirming the fight against corruption as a cornerstone of American foreign policy.

The December 2017 National Security Strategy (pdf) said corruption weakens government institutions and allows terrorists and criminals to thrive.

Graft also hurts U.S. interests by putting American companies at a disadvantage, it said.

This was the third National Security Strategy or NSS from the White House since 2010.

The NSS is important. It sets the agenda for the executive branch of the government — the DOJ and SEC, the State Department, the Commerce Department, the Treasury Department, and so on — and it signals foreign policy priorities to Congress and to other countries.

President Obama published his first National Security Strategy in May 2010. It was the first time an Administration linked corruption and human rights in a policy statement.

The 2010 NSS called pervasive corruption “a violation of basic human rights and a severe impediment to development and global security.”

President Obama’s second National Security Strategy in February 2015 didn’t repeat the human-rights link to graft. But it said a key goal for the United States was to continue “leading the way” in the global fight against corruption.

President Trump’s 2017 National Security Strategy includes five “Priority Actions.” One is fighting graft.

Counter Foreign Corruption: Using our economic and diplomatic tools, the United States will continue to target corrupt foreign officials and work with countries to improve their ability to fight corruption so U.S. companies can compete fairly in transparent business climates.

Like the two prior NSS documents, this one also signals the compliance community to expect robust enforcement of America’s main anti-graft tools.

Those include the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, used to prosecute bribe payers, and Presidential Proclamation 7750, used to impose secret visa bans on bribe-taking foreign officials and their families and friends.

There’s also the Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative. It’s a DOJ-led program that started in 2011. The initiative targets crooked overseas rulers and their cronies. It relies on anti-money laundering laws, wire and mail fraud statutes, and criminal and civil forfeiture actions.

The new 55-page NSS warned that foreign companies and state actors use corruption to undermine U.S. interests.

“Strategic competitors often exploit rather than discourage corruption and state weakness to extract resources and exploit their populations,” the NSS said.

The document said America will deploy “economic tools” — including sanctions, anti-money-laundering, and anti-corruption measures, and enforcement actions — “to deter, coerce, and constrain adversaries.”

New technologies can promote transparency and help fight corruption, the Administration said.

We will incorporate innovative technologies in our diplomatic and development programs. For example, digital technologies enable millions to access financial services through their cell phones and can connect farmers to markets. Such technologies can reduce corruption, increase transparency, and help ensure that money reaches its intended destination.

The December 2017 National Security Strategy of the United States is here (pdf).


Richard L. Cassin is the publisher and editor of the FCPA Blog.

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  1. What is the significance of the word "still" in the title of this article? Did the White House actually say that fighting corruption is "still" a priority?

  2. The 2017 NSS said: "Using our economic and diplomatic tools, the United States will continue to target corrupt foreign officials . . . ." The headline writer translated "will continue to target" as "still."

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