There is no question that it is illegal to bribe a foreign official. But until recently, there was little clarity on how broadly the term “foreign official” in the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) would be interpreted or how successful prosecutors would actually be in making their cases. Now we know.
On May 10, 2011, a California federal jury convicted Lindsey Manufacturing Company, two of its executives, and a Mexican sales agent on all counts charged in the superseding indictment arising out of their participation in a scheme to bribe Mexican government officials at a state-owned utility company in U.S. v. Noriega. The charges against the company and the executives included one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA and five substantive bribery counts under the FCPA, while the charges against the sales agent included one count of money laundering conspiracy. What is particularly notable about this case, and about several others recently commenced by the Department of Justice (DOJ), is that the alleged bribes were not directed at a government official, but instead towards the employees of a state-owned utility company.