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“FCPA Sanctions: Too Big To Debar?”

Debarment (or lack thereof) is a periodic topic on this site.

Previously, I covered “Siemens … The Year After” (here), a post that highlighted in the year after resolution of the Siemens record-setting December 2008 FCPA matter, the U.S. government continued to do substantial business with the company it charged with engaging in a pattern of bribery “unprecedented in scale and geographic scope.”

In September 2010, I highlighted (here) the FBI’s $40 million contract with BAE – months after the FBI participated in resolution of the $400 million FCPA related enforcement action against the company.

In my November 2010 testimony (here) before the U.S. Senate, I stated as follows. “In order for the DOJ’s deterrence message to be completely heard and understood egregious instances of corporate bribery that legitimately satisfy the elements of an FCPA anti-bribery violation involving high-level executives and/or board participation should be followed with debarment proceedings against the offender.”

This testimony prompted then Senator Arlen Specter (who chaired the hearing) to ask me several follow-up questions for the record relating to debarment. (See here for the Q&A’s). Senator Christopher Coons (who also participated in the November 2010 hearing) also asked debarment follow-up questions of the DOJ.

As highlighted last week (here), the DOJ is opposed to a “mandatory, conduct-based, debarment remedy for companies that engage in egregious bribery.” As noted in the prior post, the DOJ’s responses seemed anchored in self-interest in that such a remedy would lessen its FCPA caseload, would make its job more difficult, and would take away it flexibility and leverage and resolving FCPA enforcement actions.

Enter Dru Stevenson (Professor of Law, South Texas College of Law – here and a past contributor to the site) and Nick Wagoner (a law student at South Texas College of Law).

Stevenson and Wagoner recently released a yet to be published article titled “FCPA Sanctions: Too Big to Debar?” (See here).

The authors (who can be reached at and provide this article summary.

“Despite the dramatic escalation in corporate fines and imprisonment imposed under the FCPA in recent years, a particularly lethal sanction for combating foreign corruption remains unused—suspension or debarment of prosecuted entities from future contracts with the U.S. Many of the firms caught bribing foreign officials have extensive contracts with a number of domestic federal agencies; meaning debarment may be a particularly devastating penalty both for the government contractor and the agency it transacts business with.

This begs the question: are certain private contractors too big to debar? As this Article demonstrates, it appears so. Certain federal agencies have become highly dependent on a handful of private firms responsible for satisfying the vast majority of government contracts. Because of the potential “collateral consequences” that may result from the collapse of a debarred contractor, these firms have enjoyed bailouts from agency officials who refuse to sanction corrupt practices through suspension or debarment. If ridding foreign markets of corruption truly is a top priority of the U.S., it seems both unfair and imprudent for federal agencies to continue awarding lucrative, multibillion-dollar contracts to firms recently prosecuted for fraudulently obtaining such contracts overseas.

This situation leads to the jaded viewpoint that paying fines when caught bribing foreign officials has “simply become a cost of doing business.” To help illuminate these concerns and lend support to the thesis, this Article examines the third largest FCPA-related enforcement actions to date: the BAE Systems case. On March 1, 2010, BAE Systems paid approximately $400 million in fines for its corrupt practices abroad. In the 365 days that followed however, BAE was awarded U.S. contracts in excess of $58 billion dollars. The U.S.’s refusal to debar BAE because of the risk of “collateral consequences” provides a case study of the benefits and drawbacks to deterring foreign corruption through suspension and debarment. This Article concludes that the U.S. must begin to diversify its portfolio of federal contractors so that prosecutors may leverage the legitimate threat of suspension and debarment to more effectively deter foreign corruption.”

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