The release of TRACE’s Global Enforcement Report 2017 (GER) gives us a chance to reflect on large-scale trends in anti-bribery enforcement.
For the United States, after 2016’s record-setting pace of FCPA settlements, the question wasn’t so much whether there would be a slowdown, but only how slow it would get. Not so slow, it turned out: the GER reports a total of fourteen FCPA enforcement actions involving the Department of Justice or the Securities and Exchange Commission or both during the past year.
That’s fewer than half the number of actions completed in 2016, but more or less average for the decade as a whole.
Upon closer inspection, other trends appear — less dramatic, perhaps, but no less significant.
While no single European enforcement agency comes anywhere close to U.S.-scale volume, collectively they are now conducting more investigations into bribery of foreign officials than the United States: 118 to 114.
Europe’s worldwide share of such investigations increased from 42 percent in 2016 to 44 percent in 2017. The United Kingdom, previously responsible for roughly one-quarter the number of foreign-bribery investigations as the United States, increased that ratio to nearly one-third.
The same tendency is evident with respect to enforcement actions, with Europe’s all-time share moving up one percentage point to 27 percent, and the UK cutting the United States historic lead from eight-fold to seven.
More countries appear to be getting involved in domestic enforcement as well. Where 2016 saw 72 countries investigating instances of foreign bribes paid to their own officials, by the end of 2017 that number had increased by 10 — most notably among European and African jurisdictions.
None of this is particularly surprising. We’ve seen the ongoing proliferation of anti-corruption legislation, from Germany and France to Canada and Peru, responsive to a combination of international conventions and domestic popular pressure.
At the same time, we’ve witnessed an increasing degree of coordination and cooperation among enforcing countries — a vital tool for tackling the sort of large-scale transnational bribery schemes seen in cases like Odebrecht, Novartis, Telia, and SNC-Lavalin.
As additional countries join this collective enforcement effort — spurring one another along in the process — any individual jurisdiction becomes less indispensable to the overall movement, and year-to-year fluctuations in any given agency’s priorities are less demanding of preoccupation.
The Global Enforcement Report is publicly available here.
Robert Clark, pictured above, is the Manager of Legal Research at TRACE International, where he oversees a team of lawyers responsible for the production of analytical content. He is the co-editor of What You Should Know About Anti-Bribery Compliance.