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Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer Speaks at the United Nations for International Anti-corruption Day


New York, NY
United States

Thank you, Georg, for that kind introduction. It is a great honor and privilege for me to join you, in these hallowed halls at the United Nations, to commemorate International Anti-Corruption Day.

Seven years ago, through Resolution 58/4, the U.N. General Assembly established December 9 as International Anti-Corruption Day, "to raise awareness of corruption and of the role of the [U.N.] Convention [Against Corruption] in combating and preventing it." The U.N. Convention has proven to be an exceptionally important step forward in the worldwide battle against corruption, and International Anti-Corruption Day is a strong symbol of the global commitment to root it out. I am delighted to join you in this important celebration.

Together, we have made great progress since 2003. Yet, in spite of our collective efforts, corruption remains a scourge. President Obama has called the struggle against corruption, "one of the great struggles of our time." It is a worldwide problem, affecting countries rich and poor. The World Bank has estimated that over $1 trillion in bribes are paid worldwide each year, leading to what some experts estimate amounts to a 20 percent tax on foreign investment.

Corruption has particularly negative effects on emerging economies. When a developing country’s public officials routinely abuse their power for personal gain, its people suffer. Roads are not built, schools lie in ruin, and basic public services go unprovided. Moreover, when corruption takes hold in any nation, its political institutions tend to lose legitimacy, threatening democratic stability and the rule of law. Corruption also undermines the health of international markets, stifling competition and repelling foreign investment. Moreover, corruption is a "gateway crime," allowing money laundering, gang violence, terrorism, and other crimes to thrive. In short, corruption is a slow-growing cancer on society.

We have gathered here on International Anti-Corruption Day in part to raise awareness about corruption across the globe, and in part to celebrate how far we’ve come in the last seven years. But rather than congratulate ourselves for our successes, we must use this opportunity to challenge ourselves to do much more.


As Assistant Attorney General for the U.S. Department of Justice’s Criminal Division, I am privileged to lead nearly 600 lawyers who work to enforce the nation’s federal criminal laws. Anti-corruption efforts are an essential part of our mission. Because, of course, we are not immune from corruption in the United States. Far from it. The struggle against corruption, while universal, begins at home, in each of our countries.

The United States recently submitted itself to a peer review by the OECD of its anti-corruption efforts. After a rigorous, six-month review process, the OECD Working Group on Bribery in International Business Transactions concluded that we enforce our foreign anti-bribery laws more vigorously than any other nation, and praised our robust, inter-agency enforcement efforts. But, in spite of our successes, the challenges we face have become even greater, particularly as world economies have become more inter-connected.

The Department of Justice has long recognized corruption as a transnational problem. And that is why we have taken a global, and comprehensive, approach to fighting it. First, regarding corruption here at home, the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice has a dedicated group of prosecutors – in the Public Integrity Section – whose sole task is to prosecute corruption cases involving federal, state, and local officials. The Public Integrity Section works in close partnership with the FBI and other law enforcement agencies, as well as with federal prosecutors in U.S. Attorneys’ Offices around the country. To give you a sense of Public Integrity’s work, the Section recently convicted a former House of Representatives staff member and later lobbyist for conspiring to reward government officials in exchange for their official action; the conviction was part of a wide-ranging investigation in which, to date, 19 people have either pleaded guilty or been convicted at trial. The Public Integrity Section also recently indicted four Alabama state legislators and several local businessmen and lobbyists for their roles in an alleged conspiracy to buy and sell votes on a specific piece of state legislation. And the Section just successfully prosecuted the founder and president of a lobbying firm for making hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal federal campaign contributions.


Regarding corruption abroad, our Fraud Section plays the leading role in enforcing on behalf of the United States the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (also known as the FCPA), which was the first effort of any nation to specifically criminalize the act of bribing foreign officials. As many of you are aware, we in the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice have dramatically increased our FCPA enforcement over the past two years. As one metric, in the last year, we have imposed the most criminal penalties in FCPA-related cases in any single 12-month period ever – well over $1 billion. In addition, last year and this year combined, we have charged more than 50 individuals with FCPA-related offenses – compared, for example, with two individuals in 2004, and five individuals in 2005.

The Department of Justice’s role in prosecuting corruption at home and under the FCPA is well known to many of you. Indeed, I know that representatives of companies that have recently been prosecuted under the FCPA are in the audience today – a testament to their commitment to improve the way they do business abroad. What may be less familiar to you is the work that the Justice Department does together with foreign nations to help fight corruption on a global scale. This work takes primarily two forms: fostering international consensus to fight corruption; and building the capacity of foreign nations to do so.

First, as to building international consensus: The Criminal Division is proud to have participated in drafting the key anti-corruption document of our time – the U.N. Convention Against Corruption, the Convention that brings us here today. Under the leadership of the U.S. Department of State, the Criminal Division represented the Justice Department delegation in the negotiations leading up to the signing conference in Merida, Mexico, in December 2003 – sending experts from our Public Integrity Section, our Fraud Section, our Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section, and our Office of International Affairs. We believed then that the Convention would become – and believe now that it is – an essential tool in the worldwide struggle to prevent and prosecute corruption.

As you know, the Convention’s several components make it the most comprehensive anti-corruption pact in existence. First, the Convention seeks to ensure that State Parties take steps to prevent corruption within their public and private sectors. It also contains substantive criminal provisions that require State Parties to criminalize certain corrupt conduct, such as bribery of domestic public officials. In addition, the Convention contains important international cooperation provisions, aimed at facilitating extraditions and making it easier for countries to provide one another with mutual legal assistance. Important asset recovery provisions also establish new mechanisms for the recovery of illicitly acquired assets. Finally, the Convention provides for State Parties to provide one another with technical assistance and establishes a Conference of the States Parties to improve cooperation among parties to the Convention, and to promote and review its implementation. Our Criminal Division experts, with their State Department counterparts, continue to participate actively in the Conference of States Parties.

It is no overstatement to say that the Convention has become the gold standard across the globe for countries serious about eliminating corruption. It has been critical not only in establishing an international consensus about how to fight corruption, but also in establishing a framework for building international capacity to do so. It is this framework that is relied upon by our Criminal Division offices that focus on capacity building abroad – known as OPDAT and ICITAP.

Since 1991, in partnership with the U.S. Department of State, the Criminal Division’s Office of Overseas Prosecutorial Development Assistance and Training (or OPDAT) has placed legal advisors in dozens of countries around the world to work collaboratively with their counterpart prosecutors and judges on developing and sustaining effective criminal justice institutions. This past fiscal year, OPDAT had 55 resident legal advisors in 35 countries and staffed 674 programs involving 110 countries, including 55 programs devoted exclusively to anti-corruption efforts. With OPDAT, some of our most experienced prosecutors work to help build capacity in countries across the globe – from the Ukraine to Albania to Mexico. As just one example among many, OPDAT has recently been partnering with Indonesia’s Attorney General’s Office to establish and support the work of a 50-prosecutor Anticorruption Task Force, including through a series of intensive training programs. The most recent of these trainings, in November, focused on solving problems common to corruption prosecutions, such as proving financial loss to the state and obtaining evidence from overseas.

Similarly, the Criminal Division’s International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program (or ICITAP) has, since 1986, focused on improving law enforcement capacity abroad. As I mentioned, OPDAT is a program run by lawyers, for other lawyers - specifically, prosecutors and judges. ICITAP, by contrast, is staffed by law enforcement professionals, who have decades of experience at the federal, state and local levels. Like OPDAT, ICITAP has programs in dozens of countries, having trained nearly 30,000 foreign participants in the last fiscal year – in Iraq, Colombia, and Rwanda, among many others. Anti-corruption work is an important part of these police programs. As one example, in Peru this year, ICITAP assisted the national Congress with the revision of an outdated police conduct law. The revised law includes new penalties for corrupt and unethical behavior; standards for the investigation and discipline of police misconduct; and requirements for the annual evaluation of officers.

In short, the Department of Justice, along with the State Department, has devoted enormous resources to global anti-corruption efforts. And these efforts are, by design, intensely collaborative in nature. In working with foreign prosecutors, judges, and police to build the capacity to fight corruption, we are bound together in a global partnership, and the U.N. Convention Against Corruption is the common reference point for our work.


At the Department of Justice, as I have described, our anti-corruption efforts focus on criminal prosecution and capacity building. Where does the private sector fit into this fight? Many of you here today are from companies that participate in the U.N. Global Compact. You have therefore committed yourselves to conducting business according to the Compact’s Tenth Principle – to "work against corruption in all its forms, including extortion and bribery." Your participation in the Global Compact is an important step, and, along with your presence here, is concrete evidence of your commitment to the struggle against corruption.

Let me offer you, then, the following challenge: To lead the world’s anti-corruption efforts by example. I have been told that some companies complain that they do not understand what it means to violate the FCPA. This may be an acceptable legal argument to make or litigation position to advance. But I am asking you, my friends, to do more than try and test the edges of the law. I am asking you to conduct business responsibly across the globe, and to fulfill your commitment to work against corruption in all its forms. Indeed, you are on the front lines of this fight.

If you establish top-notch compliance programs in your organizations, we are bound to see progress. If you ensure that all your employees are properly trained in anti-corruption behavior, we are bound to see progress. And, perhaps most importantly, if you refuse to do business when doing business requires bribing government officials, then we are certainly bound to see progress.


Corruption is one of the most pressing problems the world faces. The Justice Department is working hard to fight it, both at home and with its partners abroad. I encourage you to make corruption your problem as well, and to own the task of eradicating it across the globe.

The Department of Justice is committed to this battle. I am personally committed to it. I hope you will be too. Because we can be strong partners in this fight. Thank you.

Updated November 6, 2014