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Accused of bribing foreign officials? Here's what to know

Working in another country for your company is a fantastic opportunity, but it can put you in a tight spot if you're asked to speak with foreign officials, like government agents, to help get your company better footing or approval to continue its work there. If you offer an official a bribe, you can be charged in the United States.

The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act prohibits the bribing of foreign officials

The U.S. stands alone in many ways when it comes to preventing the bribing of foreign officials. In some other countries, bribes are seen as business expenses that can be deducted off tax returns. It wasn't until 1996 that the International Chamber of Commerce adopted rules against extortion and bribery. Companies across the globe now have been encouraged to adopt these rules of conduct.

While not all companies or countries adhere to these rules, the United States and United Nation member states all pledged themselves in the Declaration against Corruption and Bribery in International Transactions in December 1996.

Penalties are severe

Companies found to have bribed foreign officials can be fined up to $2 million. Individuals can be fined up to $100,000 and may face a sentence of up to five years in prison. Sometimes, individuals go to prison and are fined. Civil penalties may also be imposed depending on the situation.

These laws do not prohibit the bribery or making of payments to foreign people, just to governmental officials within the nation. The FCPA is intended to stop payments made to expedite or secure certain government actions.

A charge for violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act can be defended against

Companies accused of violating the FCPA should have an accounting system in place that prohibits slush funds. The company should show that no slush funds are available to make foreign payments and that any mistakes or misrepresented payments that can be accounted for are legal in nature.

If an individual is charged, showing that the payment went toward promotional activities in the recipient's country and that it was a lawful payment within a reasonable expenditure. A legal professional can help you go through your case to see what you can do to show your innocence.

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