TRACE International recently published its 2017 Global Enforcement Report (GER) with the most up-to-date statistics on cross-border bribery investigations and enforcement actions involving government officials.

In total, there were 266 investigations and 26 enforcement actions in 2017. The detail behind these statistics suggest some interesting trends:

  • Authorities in the United States and Europe (including the United Kingdom) together are conducting nearly 90% of the foreign bribery investigations, and are dividing the labour roughly equally between them (114 investigations in the US and 118 investigations in Europe).
  • US authorities appear to be focusing most closely on US and European companies (together 75% of investigative targets) allegedly paying bribes in Asia-Pacific (home to 39% of the alleged recipients of bribery by US companies).
  • But Europe was also home to a surprising proportion of alleged recipients of bribery by US companies – 24% of total investigations of US companies related to alleged bribery of European government officials. This only just lags the 26% of total investigations relating to alleged bribery of Latin American government officials (the runner-up to the 39% of Asia-Pacific recipients noted above).
  • There is a possible paradox between the focus on bribery in the extractive industries (with 97 active investigations) and the apparent lack of interest in bribes paid in the Middle East (home to only 3% of alleged recipients of bribes by US companies and 2% of the alleged recipients of bribes by domestic companies or individuals). Will the Middle East become the next area of focus for regulators and prosecutors? Or does the political landscape in that region present unique hurdles to investigating and prosecuting cases there?
  • Authorities in Brazil, India, China and Nigeria were by far the most active in investigating foreign bribery of their own domestic officials (with 20, 14, 12 and 12 investigations respectively). By contrast, the next-most-active countries targeting such “inbound” bribery of domestic officials were Argentina (7 investigations), Poland (7), Greece (5), and South Africa (5).
  • Two trends to note in US activity, historically a bellwether of the direction of global bribery activity: US enforcement actions dropped from last year’s unusual spike (29) back to a more typical level (14), and US investigations in the financial services industry has just pipped investigations in the extractive industries (22 to 21).