The Biden-Harris administration recently intensified its focus on combating corruption by issuing the first-ever United States Strategy on Countering Corruption (USSCC) on 6 December 2021. This strategy followed the administration's 3 June 2021 National Security Study Memorandum, which established the fight against corruption as a US national security interest and directed federal departments and agencies to review and strengthen their anti-corruption efforts. The issuance of this new USSCC underscores the Biden administration's emphasis on anti-corruption, as well as the tools and partnerships it plans to deploy to advance those efforts.
Five-pillar framework of USSCC
In the USSCC, the Biden administration identifies five pillars of strategic objectives that will be areas of focus and highlights the specific lines of effort it will undertake to further these strategic objectives. The pillars are the following.
Pillar one: modernising, coordinating and resourcing US government efforts to fight corruption
The administration intends to adapt existing US approaches to corruption to better address the ways in which corruption infects the global economy. These adaptations include improving information-gathering and sharing information with both domestic and international partners, establishing an anti-corruption task force at the Department of Commerce, and incorporating anti-corruption programming into key administrative priorities.
Pillar two: curbing illicit finance
To address current US regulatory deficiencies that do not adequately prevent money laundering, illicit trafficking and other criminal acts used by corrupt actors to shelter their illicit proceeds, the administration intends to update and alter the US anti-money laundering regime. Some key initiatives will include:
- finalising beneficial ownership regulations and creating a database of beneficial owners of certain companies in order to identify bad actors;
- regulating real estate transactions to better reveal when real estate is being used to hide or launder criminal proceeds;
- creating minimum reporting standards for investment advisors and other types of equity funds; and
- aggressively enforcing actions against money launderers and their enablers.
Pillar three: holding corrupt actors accountable
To increase the accountability of corrupt actors, the administration will continue to enforce existing laws as well as work with Congress to create new authorities to address corruption. This will include:
- continuing to enforce foreign bribery cases through the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, money laundering charges and forfeiture actions;
- establishing a pilot kleptocracy asset recovery rewards programme through the treasury to identify and recover stolen assets held at US financial institutions; and
- encouraging the adoption of anti-corruption compliance programmes in the private sector both within the United States and abroad.
Pillar four: preserving and strengthening multilateral anti-corruption architecture
The administration also seeks to strengthen multilateral initiatives, agreements and standards that address and support anti-corruption efforts across the world. The administration will implement this through actions such as continuing to support and strengthen anti-corruption schemes in organisations such as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and the Organization of American States and the United Nations, as well as pushing the G7 and G20 to enact transparency and anti-corruption measures across all ministerial tracks.
Pillar five: improving diplomatic engagement and leveraging foreign assistance resources to advance policy objectives
Finally, the administration intends to use diplomatic engagement and foreign assistance to fight corruption on a global scale. This will involve a careful assessment of local political, economic and social dynamics to prevent US assistance dollars from purposefully or inadvertently reinforcing corrupt power structures. To this end, the administration will be taking actions such as:
- elevating anti-corruption work as a diplomatic priority;
- strengthening the anti-corruption capacity of the public sector through transparency, governance enhancement, and support of independent audit and oversight institutions; and
- re-evaluating criteria for government-to-government assistance to ensure adequate transparency and accountability.
The Biden administration released the USSCC in a context of further guidance and policy pronouncements from within and beyond the administration, intended at least in part to advance an anti-corruption agenda. For instance, on 28 October 2021, Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco gave the keynote address at the American Bar Association's 36th National Institute on White Collar Crime, announcing a series of changes in the Department of Justice's corporate criminal enforcement policies, including requiring broader disclosures for companies to earn cooperation credit, considering both similar and dissimilar prior corporate misconduct, and endorsing a more favourable view toward the imposition of corporate compliance monitors. Thereafter, on 26 November, the OECD adopted a comprehensive series of recommendations for member countries and for OECD Anti-Bribery Convention signatories to integrate into their legal frameworks to combat foreign bribery of public officials. Although a number of the tools and initiatives set forth in the USSCC are not new, the confluence of these pronouncements reflects the Biden administration's desire to convey its focus on anti-corruption.
For companies in sectors whose work is implicated by the government's broader-lens approach to understanding and stopping corrupt activity – ranging from the financial services to the real estate sector – the administration's recent pronouncements signal increased scrutiny. More broadly, multinational companies must be prepared not only for scrutiny from enforcement officials in multiple jurisdictions, but for coordination among those officials as parallel inquiries proceed. As enforcement and regulatory efforts integrate and devote resources to increasingly sophisticated methods, so too must companies take steps to ensure that their compliance programmes are identifying potential issues – and accounting for the ever-increasing government scrutiny they could find themselves facing.
For further information on this topic please contact Lillian S Hardy at Hogan Lovells US LLP's Washington DC office by telephone (+1 202 637 5600) or email ([email protected]). Alternatively, contact James G McGovern, Matthew C Sullivan or Elizabeth Cochrane at Hogan Lovells US LLP's New York office by telephone (+1 212 918 3000) or email ([email protected], [email protected] or [email protected]). The Hogan Lovells US LLP website can be accessed at www.hoganlovells.com.