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Companies want clarity on anti-bribery law

Chamber of Commerce and trade groups wrote a letter asking for guidance

It’s hard to steer clear of breaking the law when you don’t understand the law in the first place.

That was the thinking behind a letter the Chamber of Commerce and several trade organizations sent to federal officials this week. The groups are asking for more clarity around the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), which makes it illegal for companies to engage in bribery with foreign officials while doing business.  

In the letter, the groups ask for examples of how to legally handle specific scenarios and how to define certain terms, such as whether an employee at a company controlled by a sovereign wealth fund is considered a "foreign official.” The letter also notes that the law says that bribes to an employee of any “instrumentality” of a foreign government are illegal, however, it fails to define the word.

The U.S. has stepped up its FCPA-enforcement in recent years, garnering $1.8 billion in sanctions from 23 companies in 2010, the FCPA Blog reports. And federal officials are currently pursuing several high profile FCPA violation cases, including one against cosmetic company Avon. The Department of Justice did, however, announce yesterday that it was dropping a sting case it had been pursuing.

In November 2011, Lanny Breuer, the head of the DOJ’s criminal division, had said the law would not change, but the agency would provide “detailed new guidance” on the criminal and civil enforcement provisions of the law. In addition to the new details, the letter also asked the department to provide information on cases it decides not to prosecute. 

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Cathleen Flahardy

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