Anti-bribery enforcement guide defines who's a foreign official

, Bloomberg

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Officials who work for companies that are more than half owned or controlled by a foreign government are probably covered by U.S. foreign bribery laws, the Justice Department and Securities and Exchange Commission said Wednesday.

The status of employees of state-owned companies is part of a 120-page document providing the most detailed guidelines to date for a law that has cost companies billions of dollars in fines and penalties.

"When business is won or lost based on how much a company is willing to pay in bribes rather than on the quality of its products and services, law-abiding companies are placed at a competitive disadvantage — and consumers lose," said Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer and Robert Khuzami, the SEC's enforcement director, in the foreward of the guidance.

The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act bars companies or individuals regulated or based in the U.S. from paying bribes to foreign officials to win business. Foreign companies and nationals also can be prosecuted if their corrupt acts were committed in the U.S.

The SEC and Justice Department have stepped up their enforcement of the 1977 law in recent years. The guidance, which also addresses what level of gifts, travel and entertainment constitute a violation, has been long sought after by law firms, which are called in to investigate and negotiate alleged wrongdoing.

Foreign bribery investigations have touched companies with foreign subsidiaries. In 2009, KBR Inc., which was spun off in 2007 from Houston-based Halliburton Co., the oilfield services company, agreed to pay $579 million to resolve criminal charges and civil claims by the SEC that it orchestrated a 10-year bribery scheme on behalf of its joint-venture partners in Nigeria's Bonny Island liquefied natural gas facility.

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