Four members of the U.S. House of Representatives introduced legislation Friday that will criminalize extortion by foreign officials, enabling the DOJ to indict the officials for demanding bribes to fulfill, neglect, or violate their official duties. The legislation would plug a gap in the FCPA, under which only bribe payers can be prosecuted.
The Foreign Extortion Prevention Act was introduced by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), Rep. John Curtis (UT-03), Rep. Tom Malinowski (NJ-07) and Rep. Richard Hudson (NC-08). Jackson Lee and Malinowski are Democrats and Curtis and Hudson are Republicans.
The legislation was developed with the support of the U.S. Helsinki Commission.
Late last year, Tom Firestone, a partner in the Washington D.C. office of Baker McKenzie, and Maria Piontkovska, a Baker associate in DC, wrote a post for the FCPA Blog advocating U.S. legislation to attack the “demand side” of overseas bribery.
They said foreign anti-extortion legislation “would help honest companies use the FCPA as a shield to resist bribe demands. Or, to put it another way, the argument that ‘we can’t pay because we could be prosecuted under the FCPA’ would be much more powerful if coupled with the statement ‘and you could be, too.'”
In a statement about the proposed law, Rep. Jackson Lee said Friday, “We cannot leave our prosecutors without the legal tools they need to protect the rule of law.”
Rep. Curtis said, “U.S. businesses abroad are regularly targeted by foreign extortionists. The Foreign Extortion Prevention Act would protect U.S. businesses from these individuals by punishing the demand side of bribery.”
The Foreign Extortion Prevention Act will bring U.S. laws in line with international best practices, a Congressional statement said.
The UK, France, the Netherlands, and Switzerland are among the countries that have already criminalized foreign extortion.
A copy of the proposed legislation is here (pdf).
Richard L. Cassin is editor at large of the FCPA Blog.