The first four months of 2021 saw only one FCPA enforcement action against a corporate defendant. That’s the slowest start for at least 10 years.
The single corporate FCPA case was Deutsche Bank’s $123 million settlement with the DOJ and SEC on January 8.
There hasn’t been another one since then.
On average from 2012 to 2020, there were about 4.5 corporate FCPA resolutions during January-through-April, compared to this year’s one action.
By this time last year there had been three corporate enforcement actions (Eni, Cardinal Health, and Airbus) with total combined financial penalties of over $2 billion.
In 2019 there also had been three corporate FCPA resolutions (Fresenius, Cognizant Technologies, and MTS) with total combined penalties of about $1 billion.
Some other January-Aprils looked like this:
2018 — five corporate FCPA resolutions
2017 — seven
2016 — nine
2015 — two
2014 — three
2013 — four
2012 — four
Why so little FCPA enforcement against companies so far in 2021?
An obvious explanation is high-level personnel changes in the federal government since the January 20 inauguration.
There’s traditionally a lot of turnover when the White House changes hands, especially when one political party replaces the other, as happened this year.
A new U.S. Attorney General is running Main Justice, with a mostly new slate of top prosecutors.
The post-election changes are still happening. Last week, for example, the head of the DOJ’s FCPA unit since 2019, Christopher Cestaro, left for private practice.
At the SEC, enforcement chief Alex Oh resigned on April 28 after just a week in the job. She cited “a complication in a case from her prior legal career.”
In mid-April, the Senate confirmed Gary Gensler as the SEC’s new chair. That shifted control of the five-member commission from Republicans to Democrats.
The FCPA units at the DOJ and SEC are likely waiting for the dust to settle. New leaders bring new agendas and priorities, and pending actions need fresh reviews.
But during the current enforcement hiatus, the volume of unresolved corporate FCPA investigations has remained high.
According to FCPA Tracker, there are at least 111 companies with disclosed and pending FCPA-related investigations.
That’s about the same number of active investigations that companies and agencies had disclosed as of this time last year and in 2019.