I recently saw the movie The Man From U.N.C.L.E. It was a rollicking good movie, stylish, set in great locations, with a fabulous score and all the Guy Ritchie touches you would expect. The action all took place in Europe and the locals and governmental cooperation among the U.S., U.K. and Soviet governments seemed to foretell one of the current international focuses: the fight against bribery and corruption.
The Wall Street Journal reported last week that the U.S. Justice Department “filed a complaint in June with a New York court as a step toward asking Irish, Belgian and Luxembourg authorities to restrain about $300 million held in bank accounts in those countries.” Later in July, U.S. District Judge Andrew Carter allowed the Justice Department to impound the funds held by Bank of New York Mellon Corp. in Ireland, Luxembourg, and Belgium, and in accounts at Clearstream Banking SA linked to the companies in Luxembourg.
Moreover, the article said, in March, “U.S. authorities asked Sweden for assistance in seizing another $30 million, deposited at a Swedish bank, a sum they say is also related to the alleged corrupt activity. U.S. officials have taken similar steps in Switzerland to freeze some $640 million, including a lake-side villa, according to the documents and the people familiar with the matter.”
These filing were made in connection with an ongoing investigation into the actions of a wide-ranging criminal probe of alleged corruption by three global telecom companies: Amsterdam-based Vimpelcom, Mobile TeleSystems PJSC of Russia, and Sweden’s TeliaSonera AB; and of intermediaries close to Gulnara Karinova, the daughter of Uzbekistan’s President Islam Karimov. U.S. authorities believe the companies paid hundreds of millions of dollars to businesses controlled by Karimova, “in an effort to secure wireless frequencies and other deals in that country.”
All of these actions were taken in the face of no finding of legal violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act or any other recognized international or domestic anti-corruption law. Yet these steps to freeze or seize assets taken by the U.S. with these five European countries demonstrate a new opening in the international fight against corruption. Not only are countries cooperating by exchanging information, through documents and witnesses to secure convictions; now they are fighting corruption by using pre-conviction seizures of funds, from multiple international locations, where such funds are alleged to be ill-gotten gains or proceeds from corruption.
It was if The Man From U.N.C.L.E. woke up in the 2010s and was engaged in FCPA enforcement.