The WSJ reports today that thus far in 2015, the DOJ has settled just two corporate Foreign Corrupt Practices Act cases -- notably lower than the 10 such settlements in 2014, nine in 2013, and 11 in 2012. In addition, the WSJ reports, "cases against individuals are down more than 40% from the last two years [and] corporate penalties are just 2% of what was collected last year."


According to the WSJ, the decline is due to a "sea change" in the DOJ's enforcement of foreign corruption. Specifically, the WSJ attributes the decline to a DOJ a policy shift toward targeting targets the "worst offenders" and punishing individuals rather than a middle ground of moderate settlements with modest penalties that in the past have often been based on companies self-reporting. A DOJ spokesman told the WSJ that, depite the decline in the numbers so far in 2015, the department's "commitment to FCPA enforcement is stronger than ever" and that it has significantly increased the number of agents and prosecutors dedicated to FCPA cases.


FCPA experts say not to read too much into the year-over-year numbers, however. Mike Koehler, a law professor at Southern Illinois University School of Law who publishes the excellent FCPA Professor blog, told me that "year-to-year FCPA statistics are close to meaningless." In any event, he said, 2015 is "not over and December has traditionally been an active month for FCPA enforcement." Indeed, as this chart on the FCPA Professor website shows, December has been, by far, the DOJ's most active month for FCPA enforcement going back to 2005.


William Stellmach, a partner at Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP and former Acting Chief of the Fraud Section in the Criminal Division at DOJ, agrees. Stellmach, who until September 2015 led the DOJ team responsible for FCPA prosecutions, says that while it appears to be the case that DOJ criminal investigations will now "focus on more significant matters," the decline in the number of cases in 2015 is "just one year." Stellmach said that, as such, "we shouldn’t read too much into it, or think that enforcement actions are declining." Stellmach also observed that another "over-arching trend over recent years is the sharp increase in international enforcement actions, and that seems likely to continue.”