On June 3, President Biden directed federal agencies to develop a joint strategy to combat international corruption, discourage foreign tax havens, and suppress illicit financing. It is a signal the administration intends to increase enforcement by bringing together greater resources and more effective information sharing. Companies, whether privately held or publicly traded, should anticipate that stepped-up efforts will lead to more investigations over time and more cross-border cooperation with enforcers in other countries.
Rolled out as part of a broader effort to enhance national security, the memorandum focuses on the administration’s objective of making the global—and U.S.—financial system more transparent and bringing accountability to individual and corporate wrongdoers as well as international criminal organizations. The order lays out the policy supporting the initiative by noting, “Corruption threatens United States national security, economic equity, global anti-poverty and development efforts, and democracy itself.”
To address these issues, the Biden administration’s latest policy pronouncement intends to create greater accountability by directing agency leaders to develop and implement a plan to, among other things, enhance the assistance provided to foreign governments; prevent illicit transactions in both U.S. and international financial systems; collaborate with foreign governments to combat corruption by freezing, recovering, and returning stolen assets; and work with the private sector to prevent graft. This includes the Justice, Treasury, State, Homeland Security, and Commerce departments as well as the intelligence community.
Expect an uptick in corruption probes, including under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, and investigations into potential money laundering and similar business crimes as collaboration improves among agencies that are often territorial and compartmentalized in their enforcement efforts. Increased cooperation with international authorities will enhance the speed and scope intelligence- and evidence-sharing with foreign counterparts. A renewed focus on the illicit transfers of funds also means that more bribe-takers, rather than just payors, will be subject to U.S. enforcement efforts.
The president’s directive is just the latest development in a series of recent measures designed to stamp out transnational corruption and financial offenses. Since taking office in January, President Biden has issued several orders aimed at combatting foreign corruption, In April, following revelations of election interference and the SolarWinds cyberattack, the president signed an executive order expanding his administration’s authority to sanction Russia for transnational corruption and other bad acts. In addition, the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) is working to implement a robust new beneficial ownership registry intended to prevent criminals from concealing illicit funds in anonymous shell companies and real estate investments.
Businesses ought to take time now to revisit the performance of their compliance function as they emerge from the tumultuous COVID-19 period. Companies with international commercial relationships or a business presence outside the United States should pay even closer attention to the risks of foreign corruption, and those that handle international financial transactions should thoroughly examine the source and destination of the funds they receive. With increased cooperation among federal agencies and international partners, closer scrutiny of suspicious transactions and greater accountability for bad actors is a certainty.