US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) enforcement authorities announced a steady stream of individual and corporate enforcement matters throughout 2019, some with eye-popping fines. Overall, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) reported 50 FCPA-related actions (including 31 by the DOJ and 19 by the SEC) over the course of the year. The $2.9 billion in total fines, penalties, and disgorgement imposed in corporate FCPA settlements in 2019 nearly matched the record-breaking $2.91 billion imposed in 2018 in such matters. The DOJ also announced a slew of new charges against individuals and racked up a number of trial victories in existing cases.
Mega settlements reached by two companies made up nearly two-thirds of the $2.9 billion total corporate penalties imposed in 2019. In the first quarter of the year, Mobile TeleSystems PJSC (MTS) agreed to pay $850 million in penalties and disgorgement to resolve charges against it, joining the ranks of fellow companies Telia and VimpelCom among the top FCPA fines to date for conduct relating to the Uzbek telecommunications sector. In a strong book-end to the year, Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson (Ericsson) and its subsidiary, Ericsson Egypt Ltd. (Ericsson Egypt), agreed to pay more than $1 billion in penalties and disgorgement to resolve DOJ and SEC investigations for conduct in multiple countries.
Enforcement against individuals, especially by the DOJ, was also particularly robust in 2019. Overall, the DOJ and SEC brought actions against 27 individuals in 2019 (24 by the DOJ and six by the SEC, with three actions taken in parallel), up from just 13 such actions in 2018. This increase follows through on US authorities' repeated pronouncements in recent years that they would prioritize individual prosecutions, and this commitment is unlikely to diminish any time soon. As Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski reported at a prominent FCPA conference in December 2019, "This number of individual prosecutions in 2019 is not an outlier or a statistical anomaly. Rather, it is part of the Department's continued dedication to holding individual wrongdoers accountable across the board."1 In addition to these newly filed charges, four individuals were convicted at trial.
US federal courts also issued a number of rulings in 2019 (including in non-FCPA cases) which could affect future FCPA cases, or the investigation thereof. In Connolly, for example, the court was critical of the government's "outsourcing" of its investigation to company counsel without conducting its own parallel investigation. In Ng Lap Seng, the court distinguished the meaning of "official act" in the FCPA context from earlier jurisprudence in McDonnell. In Hoskins, the court defined the circumstances in which a non-US defendant can be held liable for corrupt acts taken outside US territory on the theory he was acting as an "agent" of a US company. And the Supreme Court has determined to resolve in Liu whether the SEC may seek disgorgement from a court as "equitable relief" for a securities violation.
International anti-corruption efforts also accelerated, including through new legislative developments across Europe and through a continued focus on anti-corruption enforcement in Latin America. The United States continued multijurisdictional enforcement with Brazilian authorities (in TechnipFMC plc (TFMC) and Samsung Heavy Industries Company Limited (Samsung Heavy Industries)) and, overall, international cooperation efforts were widespread. Notably, MTS featured cooperation across a plethora of jurisdictions including Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, France, Ireland, Isle of Man, Latvia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. Investigation and enforcement by international financial institutions, particularly the World Bank, also remained active.
Whether 2020 will log any blockbuster FCPA settlements remains to be seen, but we expect that robust anti-corruption enforcement will continue—including through a continued focus on individual prosecutions. In addition, given the DOJ's updated Guidance on Evaluating Corporate Compliance Programs and related training provided to DOJ prosecutors, companies should expect to see a more uniform and sophisticated review of their corporate compliance programs. Furthermore, companies engaged in projects financed by multilateral development banks should remain alert to the continued risks of multijurisdictional investigations and enforcement.
1 Transcript, Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski Delivers Remarks at the American Conference Institute’s 36th International Conference on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, Oxon Hill, MD (Dec. 4, 2019), https://www.justice.gov/opa/speech/assistant-attorney-general-brian-benczkowski-delivers-remarks-american-conference.
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