The Justice Department’s Criminal Division chief on Monday heralded the department’s aggressive anti-corrpution enforcement as a “signature achievement” of the Barack Obama administration.
On the eve of the presidential election, Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer said the past four years show that the department’s leadership is willing to fight corruption with every tool possible.
“I think this battle against corruption that we are seeing around the world is one of the main struggles of our time,” Breuer, said in a speech Monday. “I think in the United States we are on the right side of history. And at the Department of Justice we’ve been able to contribute handsomely to that.”
Breuer spoke at the 13th Annual Pharmaceutical Regulatory and Compliance Congress in Washington, D.C.. His talk focused mainly on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, a 1977 statute that bars bribing foreign officials to win business. The FCPA was contentious when it was enacted, with U.S. businesses complaining that it put them at a disadvantage. Since 2005 it has been enforced with increasing vigor and mounting criminal penalties, to the alarm of industry. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 2010 called for more “clarity” in how the law is enforced and mounted a lobbying effort to amend the FCPA, so far unsuccessfully.
The Assistant Attorney General told the gathering of drug industry compliance officers at the Grand Hyatt Hotel that when he spoke at the conference three years ago, he promised the FCPA would be enforced more — and it has been, he said. A focus of that enforcement, he noted, has been the medical device and pharmaceutical industry.
He pointed to the government’s 2011 settlement with Johnson & Johnson, which agreed to pay $70 million to settle civil and criminal investigations into bribes paid to doctors in Greece, Poland and Romania to prescribe drugs and purchase medical devices of J&J subsidiaries. Through a deferred prosecution agreement, Johnson & Johnson paid a $21.4 criminal penalty.
Breuer highlighted the prosecution of individuals as well as companies.
“If you look at FCPA over the past four years, you’ll see we really have been rigorous about holding individuals accountable,” he said.
He cited ex-Morgan Stanley executive Garth Peterson, who was sentenced to nine months in prison for his role in a Chinese bribery scheme.
Breuer said the FCPA helps ensure a “level playing field” for honest businesses. The United States has been a world leader in anti-corruption enforcement, and was the driving force behind the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions, an international agreement that went into force in 1999 and now has 39 countries that are parties to it.
“I get the fact that this is an evolving process, but frankly it’s one in the United States we’ve been able to jumpstart,” Breuer said.