In recent years – and notwithstanding encouraging windows of progress – economic difficulties, political shifts, and the pandemic’s lingering effects have undercut anti-corruption efforts in Latin America. The fourth annual Capacity to Combat Corruption Index (“CCC Index”), published in June 2022, reflects these recent challenges. Most countries in Latin America experienced declines in their assessed anti-corruption capabilities, with only a few demonstrating stability or improvement.
Presumably in connection with the visit by Vice President Kamala Harris to Guatemala, earlier this week U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland “announced a series of steps that the Department of Justice is taking to address the threats posed by both corruption and by transnational human smuggling and trafficking networks” in Central America.
The main focus of the establishment of so-called “Joint Task Force Alpha” will be “to enhance U.S. enforcement efforts against the most prolific and dangerous human smuggling and trafficking groups operating in Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.”
In addition, the DOJ release states: “Joint Task Force Alpha will also complement the Justice Department’s efforts to fight corruption. The Justice Department will increase its focus on investigations, prosecutions, and asset recoveries relating to corruption in Northern Triangle countries through its Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement program, counternarcotics prosecutions, and Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative.”
Yesterday, the DOJ and SEC announced (here and here) a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement action against Odebrecht S.A. (a Brazilian holding company) and Braskem S.A. (a Brazil-based petrochemical company in which Odebrecht owns 50.1% of the voting shares, 38.1% of the total share capital and which Odebrecht “effectively controlled” according to the DOJ). Braskem has American Depositary Receipts registered with the SEC and traded on the NYSE and thus the enforcement action also included an SEC component.
Perhaps because of the less than clear DOJ release (clear once one actually reads the original source documents), this action is being reported in various places as a $3.5 billion FCPA enforcement action. While that figure represents the overall global settlement amount (Brazil and Swiss law enforcement also brought related actions), yesterday’s action was most certainly not a $3.5 billion FCPA enforcement action. Not even close.