FBI stepping up efforts to root out international corruption

WASHINGTON (AP) — Aiming to crack down on money laundering and bribes to overseas governments, the FBI is stepping up its efforts to root out foreign corruption with a new squad of agents based in Miami.

The squad will focus its efforts not only on Miami but also in South America, a continent that has been home to some of the Justice Department’s most significant international corruption prosecutions of the last several years. The Miami squad joins three others based in the FBI’s largest field offices — Washington, New York and Los Angeles.

“We’re protecting the rule of law,” Leslie Backschies, the chief of the FBI’s international corruption unit, said in an interview on Monday.

“If there’s no rule of law, you’ll have certain societies where they feel like their governments are so corrupt, they’ll go to other elements that are considered fundamental, that they see as clean or something against the corrupt regime, and that becomes a threat to national security.”

The unit aims to identify violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, a United States (US) law that makes it illegal to bribe foreign officials.

The J Edgar Hoover FBI Building in Washington. – AP

The FBI has also been doing outreach to companies in a variety of industries, from oil to pharmaceuticals, to teach them about red flags that could indicate corruption and encourage the companies to “self-report” potentially improper conduct to the bureau.

“One thing when I talk to companies, I’m like, ‘When you pay a bribe, do you know where your bribe goes? Is your bribe going to fund terrorism?’” Backschies said.

And so far, the cases the unit has brought have resulted in billions of dollars in settlements.

Last September, for instance, the Brazilian-owned energy company, Petrobras, agreed to pay more than USD853 million to resolve investigations into allegations that executives paid hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes to Brazilian politicians and political parties.