Reed Smith Client Alerts

The Biden administration and the Department of Justice (DOJ) continue to intensify global anti-corruption efforts. On December 6, 2021, the Biden administration announced a new, aggressive anti-corruption strategy that builds on the administration’s focus on global corruption as a top national security priority.

The Biden administration first announced global anti-corruption as a core national security priority in June 2021, issuing a memorandum setting out the importance of the mission and underscoring the administration’s commitment to hold individuals and corporations accountable for paying and receiving bribes using illicit financing through money laundering in the United States and international financial systems. The memorandum promised that the United States would commit resources to lead the global fight against corruption and required agencies within the federal government to identify and rectify gaps in enforcement.

The strategy

The forward-leaning strategy announced on December 6 appears to be an initial effort to deliver on the promises made in the June 2021 memorandum. The December 6 strategy focuses government efforts on five “mutually-reinforcing pillars” of work:

(1) increasing government resources available to fight corruption by, among other things, increasing coordination and information sharing between U.S. law enforcement agencies by forming anti-corruption task forces and by using data collection and analytics;

(2) curbing corrupt actors’ abilities to hide assets in the U.S. financial system by increasing and strengthening anti-money laundering regulations and through diplomatic engagement;

(3) holding corrupt actors accountable by enhancing enforcement efforts, including the capacity to identify, track, and disrupt illicit finance, elevating diplomatic efforts to encourage partner countries to detect and disrupt corruption, and working with the private sector to encourage the adoption of anti-corruption compliance programs by both domestic and international companies;

(4) preserving and strengthening global anti-corruption initiatives and standards by building effective multilateral institutions to create transparency and target corruption, and by ensuring that global partners live up to their obligations; and

(5) improving diplomatic engagement and leveraging foreign resources to achieve policy goals, including by enhancing partner governments’ capacities to fight corruption in cooperation with U.S. law enforcement authorities and ensuring joint analysis to better understand corrupt networks, as well as creating new approaches and applying technological tools to promote transparency and detect fraud and illicit finance.

Key takeaways

Businesses should anticipate several significant changes to enforcement tactics following this announcement. First, organizations should expect increased scrutiny over suspicious financial transactions and their facilitators. The strategy explicitly targets financial transactions that facilitate bribery schemes, and places particular emphasis on reducing the ability of corrupt actors to move money. Second, there will be an increased focus on gatekeepers. The strategy discusses increasing penalties on key gatekeepers including lawyers, accountants, investment advisors, and those who assist with the financial transactions that ultimately serve to enable corruption. Third, the strategy commits to working with Congress and foreign allies to enact new legislation criminalizing the demand side of bribery, meaning bribes sought and received by public officials. The strategy promises to work with partners to create complementary legal regimes in order to coordinate and amplify these efforts.