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FBI beefs up resources against foreign corruption

January 14, 2015

WASHINGTON (AP) — The FBI is stepping up efforts against international corruption, creating new squads to search for bribery cases that are rooted overseas but reach to the United States, law enforcement officials said.

The three squads, based in the FBI’s largest field offices, will concentrate on a key priority the Justice Department set over the past decade.

Officials say that in the expanding global economy, the additional resources are needed to prevent corruption’s ripple effects in the U.S. or destabilization of foreign governments. The work complements the Justice Department’s ongoing efforts against corruption and the enrichment of foreign rulers at the expense of their citizens, officials said.

“Corruption leads to lack of confidence in government. Lack of confidence in government leads to failed states. Failed states lead to terror and national security issues,′ said Jeffrey Sallet, chief of the FBI’s public corruption and civil rights section, in an interview.

The initiative’s goals are to identify additional violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which makes bribing foreign officials for business a crime, to prosecute cases in U.S. courts and to build on the FBI’s expertise in the area.

More than 50 people have been convicted of violations of that law and related crimes since 2009, and some 50 corporations have paid more than $3 billion in penalties and forfeitures during that same time period, the Justice Department said. Last month, the department announced what it said was the largest penalty under the act — a $772 million penalty against Alstom SA, a French power and transportation company with a U.S. subsidiary, to resolve criminal allegations that executives had bribed officials in foreign countries for business.

Common bribery schemes involve efforts by corporate officials to curry favor with foreign government leaders for help with business. For example, a Chinese subsidiary of Avon Products Inc., a U.S. cosmetics company, pleaded guilty last month to charges that executives and employees tried to conceal gifts, cash and other favors given to Chinese officials to obtain business benefits.

Under the new initiative, roughly 30 agents will be assigned to squads based in New York, Washington and Los Angeles, Sallet said.

The Washington field office has had a dedicated foreign corruption squad for several years, though it also worked on other corporate fraud, said Jennifer Leonard, who supervises the office’s public corruption and white-collar crime agents. Now that squad, along with the other two, will report to FBI headquarters and have more resources.

“We’ll just be falling within an enhanced program,” Leonard said.

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