Justice News

Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite, Jr. Delivers Closing Remarks at the 20th International Anti-Corruption Conference
Washington, DC
United States
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Friday, December 9, 2022

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

We have gathered this week to proclaim our shared commitment to combating corruption across our globe. Indeed, I have shared in that commitment throughout my entire career, whether as a federal prosecutor in New York, as the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana in my hometown of New Orleans, and currently as the Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division.

But you see, I have lived in several cities, and am part of many communities where people believe that corruption is a fact of life. Where some claim that corruption is an inescapable part of their daily lives. That corruption is just something they have to accept, and that it will never change. They have become insensitive to injustice.

I fundamentally reject that notion. The Department of Justice rejects that notion. And I know everyone in this room rejects that notion.

I am honored to be speaking to you all on International Anti-Corruption Day. Today, we seek to highlight the crucial link between anti-corruption and peace, security, and development. Corruption’s corrosive effects are global, with our communities, our people, often bearing the brunt of those effects. Corruption threatens our collective security by weakening democratic processes and empowering corrupt government officials. It stifles sustainable development by diverting funds meant to improve everyday life for folks and harming honest people that are just trying to play by the rules.

The fight against corruption – at home and abroad – is a top priority for the Biden Administration. As the National Security Advisor noted in opening this conference, the White House announced that combating corruption is a core national security interest and released the first-ever “United States Strategy on Countering Corruption.”

The Department of Justice’s efforts to combat global corruption are constantly focused on how we can have the greatest deterrent effect. That is why we have a dedicated group of prosecutors – our Public Integrity Section, along with prosecutors in many of our U.S. Attorney's Offices – focused on fighting official corruption throughout the United States.

But we have also created specialized groups of prosecutors focused on international corruption that has a nexus to the United States – either because the corrupt schemes originated here, or because those schemes made use of the U.S. financial system, or because kleptocrats have hidden their stolen funds here. A cornerstone of the department’s international anti-corruption efforts are international partnerships without which we could not effectively take on corruption at home and abroad. To our friends and counterparts, represented by so many of the countries present today, many of whom I have had a chance to meet with this week, I say thank you, For your hard work, your dedication, and your cooperation, especially with our Office of International Affairs.

In recent years, for instance, we have coordinated our investigations and prosecutions to fight corruption with – to mention only a few – our colleagues in the United Kingdom, Brazil, Malaysia, Switzerland, Ecuador, France, the Netherlands, Singapore, and South Africa.

This international cooperation has been critical to the work of our Criminal Fraud Section’s Foreign Corrupt Practices Act – or FCPA – unit, and the Kleptocracy Initiative launched by our Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section. And, in recent months, this cooperation also has been essential to the success of our new Task Force KleptoCapture, focused on Russian illicit finance. 

Just last week, we announced a $315 million criminal resolution with ABB Ltd. ABB bribed a high-ranking official at South Africa’s state-owned energy company to corruptly obtain confidential information and win lucrative contracts.

This was the department’s first coordinated resolution with authorities in South Africa. In addition, our South African partners have brought corruption charges against the government official, as well as their own corporate case against the company. To those who say that corruption is inescapable, our South African partners reject that notion.

As this case demonstrates, the department is committed to growing our relationships with foreign governments to expand our fight against corruption into new industries and new jurisdictions, including those whose enforcement regimes and anti-corruption laws are just emerging. Building these partnerships also creates more seamless and efficient cooperation in our efforts to combat criminality.

Here in the U.S., just over the past year, we have brought charges against, among others:

  • Two former senior officials in Ecuador and Bolivia for alleged bribery-related money laundering;
  • Three businessmen, relating to an alleged bribery and money laundering scheme involving a state-insurance company in Ecuador;
  • Two former Venezuelan prosecutors for allegedly agreeing to receive $1 million in bribes to not prosecute a corrupt contractor; and
  • Two former coal company executives relating to an alleged bribery scheme in Egypt.

To those who claim that corruption is inevitable, our partners reject that notion.

No less striking has been our work in fighting kleptocracy. In the 11 years since it was created, the Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section’s Kleptocracy Initiative has repatriated more than $3.4 billion relating to foreign official corruption and associated money laundering affecting the U.S. financial system.

Just a few weeks ago, we announced the repatriation of over $20 million in assets to Nigeria. These assets were stolen by the former Nigerian dictator and his co-conspirators. This brings the total forfeited and returned by the United States in this case to over $330 million. These assets were recovered after the United States filed a civil forfeiture complaint for more than $625 million traceable to money laundering through the United States involving the proceeds of the former dictator’s corruption. Under an agreement between Nigeria, the United States, and the Bailiwick of Jersey, the returned funds will help finance critical infrastructure projects including bridges, highways, and roads, investments that will directly benefit citizens across Nigeria. You say that corruption is unavoidable? Well, my Nigerian sisters and brothers reject it.

But we have not done this alone. In the 1MDB scandal, for instance, billions of dollars were stolen from a Malaysian sovereign wealth fund that was ostensibly created to promote the country’s economic development. It took a global coalition – including work by Malaysia, Singapore, Switzerland, France, the United Kingdom, and many others – to return, and assist in returning, over $1.2 billion to the people of Malaysia. And our work continues. Over and again, our international partners reject corruption as an accepted way of life.

And the strength of those international relationships has been tested like never before, in responding to Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. Part of our international response has to been to shine the spotlight on the corruption and illicit finance of the oligarchs and the enablers associated with the Russian regime. The G7 Plus Russian Elites, Proxies and Oligarchs Task Force – known as REPO – has frozen or seized tens of billions of sanctioned assets in financial accounts, luxury yachts, and real estate controlled by sanctioned oligarchs, and immobilized hundreds of billions more in Russian Central Bank assets.

And within the United States, Attorney General Garland announced the formation of Task Force KleptoCapture in March.

The Task Force is aggressively pursuing its mission. It has already seized several assets of sanctioned oligarchs and has brought charges against two companies and multiple individuals for the illegal sale and export of military, dual-use technologies to Russia. These successes have required coordination across not just the U.S. Government, but with foreign partners dedicated to combating corruption.

The Department of Justice is also committed to working with our international partners to build international capacity to fight corruption. Our overseas prosecutorial development section – OPDAT – with support from Secretary Blinkin and the State Department’s INL and CT bureaus, posts DOJ prosecutors at our embassies overseas to partner with foreign counterparts to provide case-based advice and mentoring on complex corruption cases. ICITAP — our law enforcement development section — likewise places advisors in partner countries to build the capacity of law enforcement institutions and other government entities to investigate misconduct and corruption.

As a department, we will continue to work tirelessly with our international partners to investigate and prosecute corruption and strengthen the relationships that make those efforts possible. And let me, in this regard, also note – and lift up – the essential work of civil society, investigative journalists, and independent media – which, by their courageous work, so often provide the essential leads for our investigations and subsequent prosecutions.

One of the lessons the successes of our anti-corruption efforts have revealed is that law enforcement is exponentially more effective when we have folks like the people in this room standing alongside us. Fighting corruption will never be an easy road. That’s why we need good people you to stand up and say: enough.

If you’re in this room tonight, or watching virtually, then you are a part of this fight. Your service, your desire to improve the world now and for future generation; your desire to make the world around you even a little more fair, a little more just, is what makes our efforts against corruption in all its forms possible. We must stand together, shoulder to shoulder, and reject the notion, the corrupting idea, that corruption is inevitable.

Leave here, strengthened by the relationships you have built at this conference and empowered by the spirit of this blessed International Anti-Corruption day. Let us proclaim, in one unified voice, from every township, community, city, and nation across this globe, that we will combat and reject corruption, in all its forms. That, my brothers and sisters, is our calling today, and every day. God bless you all.

Thank you for having me.

Updated December 9, 2022