Justice News

Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch Delivers Remarks at the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development Anti-Bribery Ministerial Meeting
Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Good morning and thank you for that kind welcome.  It’s a pleasure to be in Paris – a city whose legendary beauty has only been enhanced by the grace and resilience with which it has faced those who so recently struck at its heart.  Surely you are now known as the City of Light, Strength and Courage.  It’s a privilege to join so many distinguished colleagues and counterparts from around the world for this important meeting.  In particular, I would like to recognize the leadership of our chair, Minister of Justice Andrea Orlando and the leading role that Italy has played in the international fight against corruption.  I am grateful for the opportunity to be with all of you as we renew old ties, build new relationships and reaffirm our shared commitment to promoting good governance and the rule of law through the eradication of bribery and corruption around the world.

This is a critical effort – but it is one that has not always been on the international agenda.  Before the Organization For Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) Anti-Bribery Convention was signed in 1997, there was no effective multinational framework for the prevention and prosecution of bribery.  Graft was often regarded as simply the cost of doing business across borders – so much so that some OECD nations permitted companies to characterize bribery as a corporate expense for tax purposes, out of a fear that otherwise, their industries wouldn’t be able to compete for overseas contracts.  This, of course, was the heart of the problem.  Acquiescence in the very opposite of good government – hoping for right to come from what is profoundly wrong – inserts a cancer into the ethical life of a society.  The results were predictable, the consequences significant.  Our collective failure to take a stand against bribery sowed mistrust and resentment among nations.  It distorted markets and diminished prosperity.  And, above all, it harmed ordinary people by increasing their cost of living, depriving them of crucial public services and eroding their faith in government institutions. 

Today, thanks in part to the tireless efforts of the OECD’s Working Group on Bribery, the picture looks very different.  When the convention took force in 1999, the United States was the only country with laws on the books that made it a crime to bribe foreign public officials.  Today, there are 41 parties to the Anti-Bribery Convention and, as required, each of them has passed laws that both criminalize the bribery of foreign officials and ban tax deductions for such bribes.  The convention has also affected nations beyond the ones represented here today: because of the new international norms created by this agreement and others like it, many countries that aren’t party to the convention have adopted anti-bribery laws and even more are in the process of doing so – proving that high expectations encourage all to extend their reach beyond their grasp and seek a better way. 

Of course, when changing longstanding modes of operation, one needs examples.  One needs support.  One needs accountability.  One needs friends.  As part of their obligations under the convention, each of the signatories has agreed to abide by strong provisions for mutual assistance, peer evaluation and systematic monitoring and it is these mechanisms and this support – enforced by the Working Group – that have ultimately made the compact such an effective tool for combatting corruption. As a result, we have transitioned in less than two decades from a world in which bribery of foreign officials was considered a sound business strategy, to one in which bribery is treated like the destructive and corrosive crime that it is.  That is a tremendous achievement in which we can all take pride – and it is a testament to what is possible through multinational cooperation.  Today, we further cement that cooperation with the launch of Phase 4 monitoring, which will make us stronger, more effective and more united against attempts to bribe foreign officials.

I am proud to say that the United States is committed to doing our part.  Since 2009, the U.S. Department of Justice has brought more than 60 criminal cases against individuals and more than 60 cases against corporations in connection with foreign bribery charges, resulting in the collection of more than $4 billion in penalties.  Over that same time period, our colleagues at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, or SEC, have brought actions against more than 85 companies and approximately 35 individuals, resulting in fines, disgorgement and prejudgment interest of about $2.5 billion. 

In fact, just last month, we won a major victory when we entered into a criminal resolution with VimpelCom, the world’s sixth-largest telecommunications company.  Under the terms of this resolution – which was reached under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, or FCPA – VimpelCom admitted to conspiring to pay more than $114 million in bribes to a government official in Uzbekistan; it agreed to pay the United States a penalty of more than $230 million; and it consented to submit to an independent compliance monitor.  In addition to our criminal proceedings against VimpelCom, we have also filed civil complaints seeking the forfeiture of more than $850 million in funds traceable to the attempt to bribe the Uzbek official.  The case was coordinated with the Public Prosecution Service of the Netherlands, which brought its own criminal case and imposed a $230 million criminal fine.  We were assisted in this case by a number of our law enforcement partners overseas, especially those in the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, Latvia, Belgium, Ireland, Luxembourg and the United Kingdom and I thank them all for their commitment to opposing corruption and their invaluable assistance in this matter.  Going forward, we will continue to work closely with our foreign counterparts to make sure that businesses and organizations that refuse to play by the rules are held responsible. 

The VimpelCom case demonstrates our determination to address corruption in a comprehensive manner – and as part of an international partnership.  Our investigation didn’t just tackle the bribe payers themselves; it also targeted the related crimes of money laundering and fraud and it recovered the funds used for bribery.  With the aid of our international partners, we’re taking a similarly wide-ranging approach to other investigations, like the one that we are pursuing regarding FIFA – an inquiry that so far has resulted in the indictment of more than two dozen individuals and convictions of over a dozen more.  And we’re expanding our capacity to successfully bring these kinds of complex and far-reaching cases and to aid the true victims. 

In 2010, we launched the Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative to return stolen assets to the people harmed by corruption.  Since its founding, the initiative has recovered approximately $63 million in bribery proceeds and embezzled funds and it has played a key role in several high-profile cases.  In addition to bringing our asset forfeiture actions against VimpelCom, the initiative was responsible for the 2014 forfeiture of $480 million embezzled by Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha and his associates – the largest forfeiture the Department of Justice has ever secured through a kleptocracy action and which is now on appeal.  With our Swiss and Kazakh colleagues, we recovered and repatriated more than $115 million for the Kazakh people.  We helped our South Korean allies recover almost $28 million in bribery proceeds; we recouped $22 million for the people of Peru; and we recovered more than $3 million for the people of Nicaragua. 

In the last year, we’ve also created three new International Corruption Squads in our Federal Bureau of Investigation to work on FCPA and kleptocracy matters and we expanded our FCPA Unit from 19 prosecutors to 29, overseen by six supervisors.  These specialized task forces work closely with foreign law enforcement and our U.S. Attorney’s Offices throughout our country to investigate and prosecute cases related to kleptocracy and foreign bribery, helping to guarantee that the United States will continue to stand with our international partners at the forefront of the fight against corruption in all its forms.

That fight is never easy and a great deal of work remains to be done.  But although the task ahead is formidable, experience tells us that together, we are equal to the challenges before us.  After all, it was just twenty years ago that states represented in this room resolved to halt the international flow of illegal payments and illicit profits – surely an uphill battle and one that many predicted was doomed to failure.  But in that short period of time, we’ve made incredible progress.  I am confident that if we continue to adhere to the spirit of trust and cooperation that has brought us this far, we will advance ever-closer towards a world that is brighter, more hopeful and more just. 

I want to commend each of you for your dedication to that effort.  I want thank you for your assistance and partnership.  And I look forward to a very productive meeting.  Thank you.

Asset Forfeiture
Foreign Corruption
Updated March 30, 2018