Press Release February 09, 2021

U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Enforcement Severely Hindered by COVID-19 in 2020, To Become Heightened Focus Under New Presidential Administration

Goodwin Issues Inaugural Report Detailing Major Trends & Developments for FCPA Enforcement

Global law firm Goodwin today announced the release of its inaugural report on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which makes it unlawful for U.S. persons and entities and others who act within the jurisdiction of the U.S. to make payments to foreign government officials to assist in obtaining or retaining business. Year in Review — FCPA, authored by members of the firm’s FCPA practice, provides an in-depth analysis of the key FCPA trends, enforcement actions, and cases of 2020, and forecasts FCPA enforcement trends in the year ahead under the new presidential administration.

“While 2020 reflected a decline in the overall number of FCPA enforcement actions as compared with recent years, we expect that the economic turbulence of the past and an increase in whistleblower complaints will combine to add to a growing pipeline of FCPA actions for 2021,” said Jennifer Chunias, Goodwin partner and co-author of the report. “Further, with a new presidential administration in office that has committed to stronger white collar crime enforcement, we expect to see heightened FCPA scrutiny in the next year and beyond.”

Added Alexis Coll-Very, Goodwin partner and co-author of the report: “Companies and individuals need guidance on FCPA now more than ever, especially in industries like life sciences and healthcare, which have piqued intense regulator interest and have had unique challenges and opportunities during the pandemic. Goodwin’s inaugural FCPA report sheds light on some of the most pressing FCPA issues and serves as a critical resource for companies and individuals looking to remain compliant and minimize risk.”

The report’s key findings include:

  • Reinvigorated enforcement and larger fines ahead for 2021: The number of actions brought by the Department of Justice and Securities and Exchange Commission fell in 2020 (total of 36 actions, down from 52 in 2019), in part as a result of roadblocks created by the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, 2020 brought a significantly higher total value of FCPA penalties ($5.8 billion, up from $2.9 billion in 2019), pointing to a trend of bigger cases and higher fines.
  • Uptick in whistleblower complaints add to enforcement pipeline: While enforcement actions slowed, there was a significant uptick in whistleblower complaints — likely stemming from an increase in the number of laid off or disgruntled employees and the aggressive marketing of the Office of the Whistleblower — with the SEC receiving more than 23,650 tips, complaints, and referrals that may lead to a larger pipeline of enforcement actions in 2021.
  • Cross-border enforcement efforts increasing: Enforcement coordination across borders climbed, resulting in the largest foreign bribery settlement of all time ($2.09 billion penalty for France-headquartered Airbus). This trend is expected to continue in 2021 and beyond with continued regulator interest and a new presidential administration focused on global collaboration.

To view the full 2020 Year in Review FCPA analysis, download the report here.

Goodwin’s FCPA practice, which includes a number of former federal prosecutors, represents corporations, boards of directors, special committees, and individuals around the world in internal investigations and civil and criminal enforcement actions arising under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, as well as other global anti-bribery, anti-corruption, and anti-money laundering laws. Goodwin is ranked as a leading White Collar firm by The Legal 500 US, and a leading cross-border investigations practice by Global Investigations Review 100.