Enforcement of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), which addresses the bribing of foreign officials, has increased significantly against both large multinational companies and small, private, domestic companies.
“If you’ve been hearing about the FCPA but haven’t addressed it fully, there is a reason to take the concern seriously from a reputational risk perspective and because you could face serious criminal and civil consequences if there is a breach,” says Jason de Bretteville, a shareholder at Stradling Yocca Carlson & Rauth.
There is also reason to be familiar with foreign laws. U.S. legislation, he says, only regulates bribes to foreign officials, which can include any employee of a government-owned or controlled entity. Foreign legislation, including the U.K. Bribery Act, doesn’t maintain this distinction and prohibits potentially corrupt payments to both foreign officials and private counterparties, highlighting the need for due diligence.
Smart Business spoke to de Bretteville about ways to limit FCPA exposure.
What are the highest areas of risk U.S. companies may tend to neglect?
One area businesses often discount is the risk posed by foreign distributors. Companies tend to mistakenly assume that if their title transfers to a foreign distributor, there is no risk posed to them if the distributor engages in corrupt payments, and that’s not the case.
The lack of understanding of a counterparty’s ownership structure is another risk. For example, in China and former Soviet-bloc countries, there is government ownership of what Westerners may assume are purely commercial entities. You may think you’re engaging — having a dinner or entertaining — a private party but, in the view of U.S. regulators, you’re entertaining a foreign official.
One evolving risk area is engaging in cooperative research with academics. They may hold dual positions and privileges at foreign academic institutions that could render them a foreign official.