The Intersection of Foreign Bribery and Wildlife Trafficking

Robust anti-corruption and anti-fraud laws such as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) can be used to combat widespread corruption driving the global illegal wildlife trade.

What is the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act?

The FCPA has proven to be one of the most powerful and effective transnational anticorruption laws in the world. It has two main provisions, centered around anti-bribery and proper accounting.

The FCPA is extremely broad in scope and applicable worldwide. It applies to all U.S. or foreign public companies listed on stock exchanges in the U.S. or companies that are required to file periodic reports with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). It also extends to a company’s employees, officers, stockholders, and agents such as third-party actors, distributors, and consultants.

It was originally enacted by the U.S. Congress in 1977 after uncovering widespread corruption in the wake of the Watergate political scandal. Since its implementation, the FCPA has seen several revisions and become increasingly powerful.

In 2010, as part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, whistleblowers obtained protections for raising allegations of Foreign Corrupt Practices Act violations. Whistleblowers are now entitled to a financial reward between 10% to 30% of all sanctions obtained by the U.S. government in cases where the money collected is above $1 million when they voluntarily provide the SEC with actionable information. Whistleblowers do not need to be U.S. citizens to qualify to receive a reward.

To learn more about the FCPA’s specific provisions, read the NWC’s comprehensive report on the law here.

How does the FCPA protect whistleblowers?

FCPA whistleblower provisions are uniquely designed to protect non-U.S. citizens. The confidentiality provisions of the whistleblower law enable non-U.S. citizens to blow the whistle on bribery, while maximizing the potential that the corrupt officials, company, or otherwise will not learn their identity. Whistleblowers are compensated if their information results in a successful prosecution. They are paid directly by the United States government, and the company and/or officials they turned in may never even become aware that a whistleblower turned them in.

The U.S. government has successfully prosecuted many foreign nationals and foreign corporations under the FCPA, and has issued millions of dollars in rewards to both U.S. and non-U.S. whistleblowers.

From 2011 through 2018, 3,305 whistleblowers from 119 countries filed claims under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act whistleblower reward provision.  In one notable example from 2014, a foreign national whistleblower received $30 million for their assistance.

The FCPA is particularly powerful because it extends U.S. jurisdiction to companies and individuals outside of U.S. borders. Examples of non-U.S. companies sanctioned under the FCPA include:

  • VimpelCom: $795 million
  • GlaxoSmithKline: $20 million
  • Sociedad Química y Minera de Chile: $30 million
  • LAN Airlines: $22 million
  • Novartis AG: $25 million
  • Alcalel-Lucent: $137 million
  • BAE Systems: $400 million
  • Hitachi: $19 million
  • Petróleo Brasileiro S.A:  $1.7 billion

Using Anti-Corruption Laws to Fight Wildlife Crime

NWC’s Global Wildlife Whistleblower Program is harnessing robust anti-corruption and anti-fraud laws including the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and False Claims Act to combat the widespread corruption driving the global illegal wildlife trade.

Due to the secretive and sophisticated nature of wildlife crime, detection and prosecution of these underground networks is challenging without inside knowledge. Whistleblowers are therefore a crucial source of information to combatting wildlife trafficking. U.S. reward laws like the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act are uniquely designed to combat such crime by providing incentives for whistleblowers with high-quality information to assist law enforcement in stopping criminal networks.

Wildlife trafficking and related wildlife crimes often involve FCPA violations. A July 2020 UN report on wildlife trafficking found several issues that should be addressed in order to help combat wildlife crime, including corruption. Government corruption and bribes play a large role in facilitating wildlife crime, and can make detecting and prosecuting such violations even more difficult. For example, if a publicly-traded shipping company bribed an official at a Kenyan port so that the company could load ivory (or illegal timber, etc.) onto the ship without the official interfering, this would be a violation of the FCPA.

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