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Balancing individual and corporate accountability for corruption

Recently, many in the community concerned about international corruption have begun to discuss the need to hold individuals responsible criminally for their actions.  While people have long discussed the failure to hold high-profile bribe recipients responsible, now the discussion has mutated to the bribe payer side.  Lower-level targets are certainly more easily prosecuted than the rich and powerful.  After all, corruption, like most crimes, is committed by people, not by companies, machines or cultures.  Some countries, most notable the U.S., have brought an increasing number of cases against individuals directly involved in paying or authorizing bribes.


Some commentators have remarked that the best way to attract the attention of those mulling over whether to take a risk -- paying a bribe -- to gain a business advantage, is to make an example of those who did this and got caught.  It is hard to argue that the sight of a white collar corporate employee being hauled off to jail would not be a powerful deterrent.  In the cases of various high-profile men who were over the last few years convicted of stealing from their own companies, photos of their arrival at prisons were viewed the world over and have contributed to a changed climate.  On the other hand, some say that individuals face pressures and may end up being scape goats.


What is the best balance?  Should we hold individuals accountable for their decisions and actions taken?  If we do not, are we not reduced to certain firms simply making a business decision about whether to pay a bribe in light of the possible fines if caught?


Submitted by William Green on
At a recent FCPA conference, the DoJ's Lanny Breuer spoke at length on the need to hold individuals accountable for FCPA violations and where possible, the DoJ would press for the guilty to serve time in jail. The belief is that such action will serve as a strong deterrent. The problem is that large corporations consistently find a compromise with the DoJ and pay fines, often substantial. But at no time are the executives of the corporation threatened with jail time. This inconsistency is a problem that needs to be addressed.

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