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The top three FCPA stories of 2019

I’ll sum up my three biggest FCPA stories of the year this way: Enforcement, enforcement, enforcement.

During 2019, the long predicted demise of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act once again didn’t happen. Just the opposite. The year was all about enforcement. Corporate and individual actions generated a steady stream of FCPA news and smashed records along the way.

With that in mind, let’s start with . . . .  enforcement.

#1 Corporate enforcement soars. The FCPA units at the DOJ and SEC were hyper active in 2019. They prosecuted more than a dozen companies between them, imposing record-breaking penalties of $2.9 billion. Two of 2019’s enforcement actions landed on our top ten list. And as usual (since 1990), no public companies fought their FCPA charges in court. Moving into 2020, more than a hundred companies still have ongoing FCPA investigations, according to FCPA Tracker. At least one of those companies — Goldman Sachs — could soon land on our top ten list.

#2 Another tsunami of individual criminal prosecutions. Counting indictments, pleas, sentencings and so on, more than 30 known individuals faced some type of FCPA criminal enforcement activity in 2019. According to the public record, eleven FCPA defendants pleaded guilty to FCPA or related criminal charges during the year and four more were convicted at trial. Fourteen others were newly indicted for FCPA crimes. Those are big numbers and continue the upward trend in individual enforcement activity.

#3 There’s more to FCPA enforcement than meets the eye. In early December, at National Harbor, Maryland, the DOJ’s Assistant AG Brian Benczkowski summarized the year’s FCPA enforcement activity against individuals. The DOJ published a version of his remarks that included this astonishing statement, with the brackets put there by the DOJ itself:

So far in 2019, the Criminal Division’s FCPA Unit has publicly announced more charges against individuals [34] than in any other year in history. It has also publicly announced more guilty pleas by individuals [30] than ever before.

Those are gigantic FCPA enforcement numbers. They demonstrate the surprising reach of U.S. anti-bribery enforcement. And they put an exclamation point after a truly record-breaking year for the FCPA!

Coming up: I’ll look at reasons why the DOJ’s enforcement stats for individuals are so different from the FCPA Blog’s tally. And why both sets of numbers are correct.

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Those are my three big FCPA stories of 2019. Or more accurately, my one enormous FCPA story — enforcement — looked at three different ways.

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