Sessions pledges to level playing field as DOJ enforces FCPA

27 April 2017 1:20pm

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24 April 2017. By Mark Bocchetti.

US Attorney General Jeff Sessions pledged continued enforcement of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act on Monday, but also signaled that he would be more than willing to go after foreign companies that may be issuing bribes to undermine US competitors.

"Our department wants to create an even playing field for law-abiding companies," Sessions said at a Washington *conference. "We will continue to enforce the FCPA and other anti-corruption laws. Companies should succeed because they provide superior products and services, not because they have paid off the right people."

The attorney general returned to the theme of unfair competition again during a question-and-answer period, even asking companies to volunteer ideas for how the Department of Justice could do a better job of ensuring that their competitors are not gaining an advantage.

"We simply can't have a situation in which your competitors are going to pay bribes and you don't," Sessions declared. "I am aware that the foreign competitors often aren't bound with these laws, and [it] provided them with a substantial advantage over honest companies that don't do these things."

While the former federal prosecutor pledged continued FCPA enforcement, he also stressed that corporations should not be forced to pay undue settlements based on wrongdoing by an isolated part of the company or an individual manager.

"A company cannot be a guarantor that any of its perhaps thousands of employees never do something wrong," Sessions said. "We do not need to have good companies trying to run a good ship be subjected often to millions of dollars of lawsuits or criminal penalties beyond a rational basis because one person went awry or one division chief went awry. "

Individual accountability will continue to be a primary goal for prosecutors, the attorney general said.

"The Department of Justice will continue to emphasize the importance of holding individuals accountable for corporate misconduct," he said. "That's not always possible, but I do believe as a long-time prosecutor who's been in court and dealt with these issues, that really something is not quite fair if honest corporate shareholders end up having to pay the price for dishonest corporate leadership."

Sessions also said he recognizes the growing importance to the department of international cooperation, although he added that he would not want to see prosecutors direct foreign law enforcement at US companies as a means of exerting pressure.

As Sessions ended his speech, he departed from his prepared remarks to emphasize again the extent to which he sees leveling the playing field as a key goal for the department. Both our economy and our system of government rely on public confidence that rules will be enforced and violators brought to justice, the attorney general said.

"But more broadly, it depends on people and companies choosing of their own accord to obey the law and do the right thing," Sessions said. "It's harder to do that when your competitors cheat every day, so we need everybody complying with the law."

*Ethics & Compliance Initiative (ECI) Annual Conference; Washington, DC; April 24, 2017.

	Eliot Gao