CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Seymour on Money Laundering and Corrupt Foreign Officials

Benjamin Seymour has posted The Best Defense: Money Laundering Prosecutions of Corrupt Foreign Officials (Georgetown Journal of International Law, Vol. 52, No. 2, Forthcoming) on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
In a series of recent, high-profile cases, the DOJ has successfully pursued criminal charges against foreign officials in American courts. But instead of charging these officials with accepting corrupt payments, the DOJ has prosecuted them for exploiting the U.S. financial system to launder their bribes.

Judges and scholars alike have questioned the legitimacy of this enforcement strategy, characterizing the money laundering charges as pretextual end runs around the FCPA’s asymmetric punishment regime. Yet from this common diagnosis, jurists and academics have raised distinct concerns. While judges have suggested that such prosecutions run afoul of substantive criminal law doctrines such as the Gebardi principle, commentators have lamented the expressive deficiency of condemning corruption indirectly.

This Note argues that judges and scholars have fundamentally misunderstood the DOJ’s money laundering prosecutions of foreign officials. By treating these cases as mere attempts to combat foreign corruption, the critics have overlooked the additional harms that laundered bribes inflict on the United States. The infiltration of bribes into American institutions sullies the reputation of the U.S. financial system in the eyes of the international community. To ensure the American financial sector can effectively compete in the global market, the United States has a powerful interest in maintaining its real and perceived integrity. Recognizing the specific threats posed by laundered bribes not only dispels critics’ doctrinal and expressive concerns, but also clarifies that, far from subverting the FCPA, these money laundering prosecutions promote its reputational aim.

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