Archive for the ‘Siriwan’ Category

The Challenges Of Pursuing Foreign Bribe-Takers

Tuesday, November 25th, 2014

Today’s post is from Mike Dearington, an associate at Arent Fox LLP in Washington, DC. Dearington has previously authored several FCPA Professor guest posts on the Siriwan matter (see here).

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Last week, Leslie Caldwell (Assistant Attorney General for the DOJ Criminal Division) spoke at the American Conference Institute’s International Conference on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Caldwell discussed the Criminal Division’s approach to combatting global corruption, warning that corrupt foreign officials are also in the government’s crosshairs.  “And now we also are prosecuting the bribe takers, using our money laundering and other laws,” Caldwell stated. “[O]ur efforts to hold bribe takers as well as bribe payors accountable for their criminal conduct are greatly aided by our foreign partners.”

Meanwhile, the very same day, federal prosecutors in the Central District of California requested that a court postpone an extradition status hearing in United States v. Siriwan, the government’s bellwether case against a foreign official who allegedly accepted bribes.  In the filing, DOJ prosecutors revealed that the foreign official, Juthamas Siriwan, former governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, has been indicted on domestic bribery charges at home in Thailand.  Thailand’s indictment reduces the possibility that it will extradite the former official to the United States to face money-laundering charges.

Prosecutors charged Siriwan in 2009 with violations of the Money Laundering Control Act, alleging that Siriwan used the US financial system to promote or conceal violations of the FCPA and Thai law.  A jury convicted the alleged bribe payers, Hollywood film executives Gerald and Patricia Green, of FCPA violations in 2010 for allegedly paying Siriwan $1.8 million in bribes in exchange for lucrative film festival contracts.  But prosecutors’ case against Siriwan has stalled due to the government’s inability to obtain Siriwan’s extradition from Thailand.  The court has deferred ruling on the government’s somewhat novel legal theory in Siriwan until such time as Siriwan is extradited to the United States to stand trial.  Now that Thailand is contemporaneously prosecuting Siriwan at home, extradition seems even more unlikely, and prosecutors may be unable to convince the court to further stay the case, which has been pending for nearly six years.

The government’s extradition challenges in Siriwan suggest that the Criminal Division’s tactic of pursuing bribe-taking foreign officials can be fraught with diplomatic challenges and uncertainty.  Enforcement agencies in a corrupt official’s home country have a significant interest in holding officials accountable at home.  And a country’s unwillingness to communicate and coordinate with prosecutors in the United States can further complicate an already‑complicated case.  Thailand has been less than clear about whether it intends to extradite Siriwan.  Indeed, prosecutors seem to have learned of Thailand’s decision to indict Siriwan only after finding an article in the Bangkok Post.  In the DOJ’s filing, prosecutors explained, “On November 13, 2014, the Bangkok Post published a report that ‘a joint panel of the Office of the Attorney-General (OAG) and National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) has agreed to indict former Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) governor Juthamas Siriwan in a film festival bribery case.’  The parties are each gathering more information regarding the development.”

Thailand’s unilateralism with respect to Siriwan has posed problems for prosecutors in the past.  Back in July 2012, after requesting Siriwan’s extradition, prosecutors admitted to the court that the government “has not yet received a response from Thailand regarding extradition,” only to learn from Thailand four months later that, “[Thailand is] in the process of gathering further evidences [sic] before completing the investigation in order to bring both offenders to court to be formally charged.  Hence, we must postpone the extradition . . . as requested by the U.S. Government, according to the Extradition Act . . . .”

Although the Criminal Division has obtained guilty pleas from foreign officials in other enforcement actions since indicting Siriwan in 2009—including in Haiti Teleco (Robert Antoine) and Direct Access Partners/BANDES (Maria de los Angeles Gonzalez de Hernandez)—Siriwan remains an important test case.  Prosecutors will likely encounter extradition challenges in future cases against bribe-taking foreign officials, whose home countries have significant interests in prosecuting the officials domestically.  And while the court in Siriwan awaits further information from the government about whether Thailand plans to extradite Siriwan, prosecutors’ legal theory remains untested.

The views expressed in this post are personal views and do not represent the views of Arent Fox LLP, its partners, employees or clients. Furthermore, the information provided is not intended to be legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship.

From Siriwan To Gonzalez: Why The DOJ Altered The Way It Charges Alleged Corrupt Foreign Officials

Monday, August 26th, 2013

Today’s post is from Mike Dearington, a 2013 Vanderbilt law grad who will soon start his practice career.  Dearington has previously authored several FCPA Professor guest posts on the Siriwan matter.

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As the Wall Street Journal reported in March, the court in United States v. Siriwan has issued a stay of the case in order to await resolution of the Thai government’s prosecution of defendant Juthamas Siriwan. A recently released transcript of the March hearing, which details the court’s reasons for the stay, suggests a strategic shortcoming in the DOJ’s charging tactics in the case. The shortcoming may explain why the DOJ, after Siriwan, altered the way it charged an allegedly corrupt foreign official in a similar case, Gonzalez.

Siriwan Background

In 2009, prosecutors charged Juthamas Siriwan, former governor of Tourism Authority of Thailand, as well as her daughter Jittisopa, with awarding lucrative contracts to two Hollywood movie executives in exchange for kickbacks.  (See here for the prior post). Because foreign officials are outside the scope of the FCPA, prosecutors charged Juthamas Siriwan under the MLCA (Money Laundering Control Act). The indictment cited two theories of specified unlawful activity: promotion of (i) violations of the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and (ii) violations of Thai law. Under the MLCA, FCPA violations expressly constitute specified unlawful activity, 18 U.S.C. § 1956(c)(7)(D), and violations of Thai law may constitute specified unlawful activity by virtue of being an “offense against a foreign nation involving . . . bribery of a public official, or the misappropriation, theft, or embezzlement of public funds by or for the benefit of a public official,” 18 U.S.C. § 1956(c)(7)(B)(iv). But when the defendant is the foreign official, as in Siriwan, neither theory is well settled under federal law.

Questions about the FCPA theory of money laundering predominated a January 2012 hearing in Siriwan. At that hearing, the court suggested preliminary disapproval of the theory, noting the FCPA’s affirmative legislative policy of exempting foreign officials from its reach. See, e.g., Castle; Gebardi. The government countered that it had not charged the defendant under the FCPA statute and instead was charging money laundering in promotion of FCPA violations, a distinct crime (citing Bodmer).

During the March 2013 hearing, however, discussion shifted to the prosecution’s second theory of money laundering, where an “offense against a foreign nation” is the purported specified unlawful activity.

March 2013 Siriwan Hearing: Court Continues Stay Until Resolution of Thai Prosecution

During the March 2013 hearing on defendants’ motion to dismiss, the court was conspicuously reluctant to decide questions of Thai law, when it could instead wait until Thailand decides those questions itself: “I don’t understand how I could attempt to discover what Thai law is, the ins and outs of Thai law to make that type of determination.” The court opined:

“[E]specially when there are very serious issues, it behooves the court to be somewhat cautious in this regard. And, again, it seems to me that what will happen in Thailand will inform this court as to what this court’s proper response should be to the motion to dismiss. And I do not feel that it is my obligation to do that which can be done through a prosecution in Thailand as to Thai law. [I]t behooves me to wait and see even for no other reason that I can say, at least, they are experts in Thailand as to what Thai law is.”

Additionally, the court averred that an acquittal in Thailand would weaken the government’s money-laundering charge based on promotion of crimes against Thailand. The court speculated that, in the event Thailand acquits the defendant of the very conduct that constitutes specified unlawful activity under the MLCA charge, the government is “going to be precluded from making that argument because the Thai government will have said they haven’t violated Thai law . . . .”

The government did not concede this point, instead cautioning that, in the event of an acquittal in Thailand, the government “would want to reevaluate” its position. The government added that the MLCA charges would still stand under the FCPA theory of money laundering.

Gonzalez: The DOJ Alters Its Charging Tactics After Siriwan

The Siriwan court’s reluctance to decide questions of Thai law before resolution of Thailand’s domestic enforcement means a concomitant delay of the government’s case in the United States. And if prosecutors continue to charge money laundering in promotion of an offense against a foreign nation, thereby implicating foreign law, district courts may repeatedly decide to stay the cases until the foreign nation has resolved its charges against the official. In practice, charging a foreign official with money laundering where the specified unlawful activity is a violation of another country’s law can pose a “trial within a trial” problem; that is, the district court may decide to cautiously await that country’s direct prosecution of the offense before adjudicating a money-laundering charge in the United States predicated on that offense. The latter complication seems to have occurred in Siriwan.

In addition to the delay, when a court awaits the foreign nation’s prosecution, it renders ineffective the government’s prosecution for money laundering predicated on the foreign offense. For instance, if Thailand acquits Siriwan, it will be difficult for prosecutors in the United States to then prove that Siriwan intended to promote an offense against Thailand. On the other hand, if Thailand convicts Siriwan, imprisonment in Thailand may further delay extradition to the United States.

But the government seems to have learned all this from Siriwan. In March 2013, prosecutors in United States v. Gonzalez charged Venezuelan “foreign official” Maria Gonzalez with money laundering in a kickback scheme similar to the one in Siriwan. Specified unlawful activity charged in the criminal complaint consisted of violations of the FCPA, like in Siriwan, but did not include an offense against Venezuela. Thus, the court will not need to defer to resolution of a foreign prosecution of Gonzalez to decide the merits of the government’s case on a motion to dismiss.

Furthermore, prosecutors departed from Siriwan by adding a new charge: violations of the Travel Act. The Travel Act prohibits travelling or using the mail in interstate or foreign commerce with intent to promote unlawful activity. See 18 U.S.C. § 1952(a)(3)(A). Such unlawful activity, defined in § 1952(b), includes bribery under the laws of the United States or any state thereof in which it is committed. The Gonzalez criminal complaint cites New York State Penal Law sections 180.00 and 180.05, which criminalize commercial bribery. Based on the facts alleged in Siriwan, prosecutors could probably have charged Juthamas Siriwan with violating the Travel Act, based on California Penal Code section 641.3, which criminalizes commercial bribery. Naturally, these predicate unlawful activities raise no difficulties of interpreting foreign law, and federal courts are competent at deciding questions of state law.

Attorney General Holder’s Personal Stake in Siriwan and Gonzalez

Attorney General Holder has a personal stake in seeing money-laundering cases predicated on “an offense against a foreign nation involving . . . bribery of a public official” succeed. This is because Holder, as Deputy Attorney General in the Clinton administration, was instrumental in amending the MLCA so that it included this provision in its list of specified unlawful activity.

During the Clinton administration, Holder co-chaired the Money Laundering Steering Committee. As co-chair, Holder oversaw implementation of the National Money Laundering Strategy of 2000, one of five annual strategies mandated by the “Money Laundering and Financial Crimes Strategy Act of 1998.” The 2000 Strategy Report urged passage of the Money Laundering Act of 2000, a bill that would have added bribery of a public official to the MLCA’s list of specified unlawful activity. (The addition would have satisfied Article 7 of the OECD Convention on Combatting Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions.) Although the bill failed to pass, Congress resurrected the provision in 2001 under section 315 of Title III of the USA PATRIOT Act (codified at 18 U.S.C. § 1956(c)(7)(B)(iv)).

Presciently, the provision was intended to fill the very “loophole” at issue in Siriwan and Gonzalez. The 2000 report observed that:

“At present, . . . a foreign public official who accepts bribes or embezzles money and then launders the proceeds through a U.S. bank is not subject to a U.S. money laundering prosecution. The new provision will close that loophole, which severely limits the ability of the United States to investigate and prosecute the laundering of foreign criminal proceeds through financial institutions in the United States.”

Fast forward to 2009, and it is unsurprising that the DOJ, under Holder’s leadership, pursued Siriwan under the “offense against a foreign nation involving . . . bribery of a public official” provision that he helped develop.

But after the provision has caused substantial delays in Siriwan, it is equally unsurprising that the DOJ sidelined the provision in Gonzalez. That decision underscores the inefficacy of charging a specified unlawful activity that turns on a foreign offense, which can be better analyzed in a foreign court. Moreover, Gonzalez undoubtedly put the DOJ in the uncomfortable position of abandoning a strategy Holder helped develop earlier in his career at the DOJ.

How Should the District Court in Siriwan Interpret Thailand’s Response to the US Government’s Extradition Request?

Thursday, February 7th, 2013

Today’s post is from Mike Dearington, a third-year law student at Vanderbilt University Law School.  The post concerns the DOJ’s FCPA-related enforcement action against the “foreign officials” in the Gerald and Patricia Green enforcement action. Dearington previously authored guests posts here and here on the action and provides an update below.

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How Should the District Court in Siriwan Interpret Thailand’s Response to the US Government’s Extradition Request?

Prosecutors in United States v. Siriwan filed a response last week (here) to address arguments raised by the Siriwans in mid-January.  Arguing against dismissal, prosecutors advanced the government’s position that Thailand’s responses to the US extradition request indicate that “Thailand has not asserted sole jurisdiction” over the Siriwans.

To recap, the Siriwan case has garnered significant attention because of the government’s novel prosecution tactic:  In 2009, prosecutors charged Juthamas Siriwan, ex-Governor of Tourism Authority of Thailand, as well as her daughter Jittisopa, with money laundering in connection with alleged bribe receipts remitted by Gerald and Patricia Green (see here for the prior FCPA Professor post).  The FCPA cannot reach Juthamas Siriwan because she is a foreign official, a limitation pronounced in United States v. Castle.  Thus, prosecutors charged Siriwan with money laundering in promotion of bribery in hopes of avoiding the FCPA’s shortcoming—a tactic the defense deemed a “novel and untested . . . theory.”

But prosecutors face a hurdle in what Judge Wu has called “a very important case in an area which is very, very difficult.”  Indeed, in a January 2012 hearing on the defendants’ motion to dismiss, Judge Wu expressed reluctance with “the government’s position that [it] can somehow get around” the FCPA by charging defendants under the Money Laundering Control Act (MLCA).  But an additional hurdle stands in the way of the court even reaching this money-laundering issue.

That hurdle is the United States’ treaty with Thailand.  In the January 2012 hearing, Judge Wu stated:

“I would not feel comfortable reaching final conclusions until I figure out or unless I am informed how the government of Thailand is viewing the situation . . . .  [I]f Thailand says it’s not going to extradite, I will find that Thailand has a dominant interest . . . because they will have expressed it to me in no uncertain terms.  If they agree to the extradition, then all of the issues are open and that means I’ll have to decide them all.”

In sum, the court suggested it might not reach a decision on whether prosecutors can proceed under an MLCA theory until the court first decides whether Thailand has a dominant interest or not.

To complicate matters, Thailand has neither agreed to, nor rejected, the government’s extradition request.  By July 2012, Thailand had made no response to US overtures. Finally, in November 2012, the Acting Thai Attorney General notified prosecutors that it was gathering evidence to charge the Siriwans and “must postpone the extradition process” pursuant to the treaty.  And in December 2012, Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs informed the US Embassy that a “criminal case will be filed” against Siriwan and therefore extradition proceedings “must be postponed . . . .”

Thus, the determinative question at this stage is how the court will interpret Thailand’s response.  On one hand, based on the court’s statements in January 2012, if the court views Thailand’s response and postponement of extradition proceedings as an expression of sole jurisdiction and a refusal to extradite, it will probably dismiss the indictment finding that Thailand has a dominant interest.  In support of dismissal, the defense argued in January that Thailand has expressed “sovereign interest,” and that Thailand’s position and “official[]” postponement “suggest[] the Thai government feels that extradition and prosecution here ‘may affect the international relation.’”

On the other hand, if the court views Thailand’s response not as a refusal, but as a mere delay, the case will likely remain on the court’s docket at least until the Thai Attorney General’s Office concludes its investigation and prosecution.  In the government’s filing last week, prosecutors argued that Thailand has “not made any . . . notification . . . nor has it otherwise signaled that international relations may be impaired . . . by the government’s prosecution.”  Of Thailand’s position, prosecutors stated “Thailand asserts no definitive position on any aspect of the government’s extradition request. . . . Thailand’s only affirmative statement is that it is postponing review of the request for the time being.”  Prosecutors accused the defense of “tr[ying] again and again to invent and interject into this case a conflict with Thailand that, in fact, does not exist,” and also of “inappropriately asserting self-serving and unfounded claims on behalf of Thailand.”

The court will need to first decide the jurisdiction question before even reaching, if at all, the legitimacy of prosecutors’ MLCA theory.  Even if the court ultimately approves the theory, however, the Siriwan proceeding portends the delays and difficulties treaties might pose for the government in seeking to prosecute foreign officials in the future.  A hearing on these issues is scheduled for February 21.

Prosecutors Stymied By Thai Attorney General’s Office In Siriwan Case

Monday, November 19th, 2012

This post is from Mike Dearington (a third-year law student at Vanderbilt University Law School) who discusses the DOJ’s FCPA-related enforcement action against the “foreign officials” in the Gerald and Patricia Green enforcement action.  Dearington previously authored this guest post on the action and provides an update below.

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Prosecutors Stymied by Thai Attorney General’s Office in Siriwan Case

Mike Dearington

Take a break from digesting the recently released FCPA guidance to read about happenings in a more remote region of the FCPA world.  For the second time since July, the court in United States v. Siriwan has asked the DOJ to show its cards with respect to its extradition request to Thailand.

Siriwan involves charges that Juthamas Siriwan, ex-governor of Tourism Authority of Thailand, and her daughter, Jittisopa, accepted bribes from Hollywood movie executives Gerald and Patricia Green in exchange for contracts.  Prosecutors face a substantial hurdle in convincing the court that their novel use of the money‑laundering statute (MLCA) to prosecute the Siriwans is permissible even when the defendants are foreign officials otherwise outside the reach of the FCPA.  But based on a November 15 filing (here), prosecutors apparently face a separate hurdle in convincing the court to even reach the merits.  This is because, despite the government’s request, Thailand appears unprepared to extradite the Siriwans.

In July, the government reluctantly revealed that it had “not yet received a response from Thailand regarding extradition.”  The government has finally received its response.  Prosecutors filed a status report this past Thursday updating the court about the government’s struggle to obtain extradition from the Kingdom of Thailand.  Appended to the government’s status report is a translated letter from Thavorn Panichpant, Acting Thai Attorney General, stating that Thailand is “in the process of gathering further evidences [sic] before completing the investigation in order to bring both offenders to court to be formally charged. Hence, we must postpone the extradition of both [defendants] as requested by the U.S. Government, according to the Extradition Act . . . .”

The government has interpreted “postpone” as an indication that Thailand may be willing to ultimately extradite the Siriwans.  Prosecutors appended a letter from the US Office of Law Enforcement and Intelligence, a unit of the Department of State’s Office of the Legal Adviser, interpreting the Thai Acting Attorney General’s letter, “not as a rejection, nor an assertion of jurisdiction over this matter . . . .”  And in its brief, the prosecution argued that Thailand’s response “does not constitute a denial of the government’s extradition request.”  Nonetheless, it appears that Thailand’s response poses serious problems for prosecutors.

First, after reading the letter, the court may decline to exercise jurisdiction over the Siriwans in consideration of “the comity of nations.”  In Hilton v. Guyot, the Supreme Court in 1895 described comity, not as “a matter of absolute obligation . . . nor of mere courtesy and good will,” but rather as a “recognition which one nation allows within its territory to the legislative, executive or judicial acts of another nation . . . .”

Second, the court may decline to exercise jurisdiction based on the international-law principle of “reasonableness.”  Section 403 of The Restatement (Third) of Foreign Relations suggests, “[A] state may not exercise jurisdiction to prescribe law with respect to a person or activity having connections with another state when the exercise of such jurisdiction is unreasonable.”  One of The Restatement’s reasonableness factors is “the extent to which another state may have an interest in regulating the activity,” a factor that weighs heavily in the Siriwans’ favor since the Thai Attorney General’s Office has expressed an interest in prosecuting the Siriwans domestically.

If the court decides to dismiss the action, it will probably operate as a dismissal with prejudice, even if dismissed without prejudice.  The statute of limitations for money laundering under § 1956 is five years, and the most recent act of money laundering allegedly occurred in March 2006.  Although the Ninth Circuit has yet to rule on the issue, courts in the Central District of California have typically held that, absent a savings clause, a statute of limitations continues to run despite a dismissal without prejudice, as if the original complaint had never been filed.  See, e.g., Sperling v. White (C.D. Cal. 1998). 

The letter from the Thai Attorney General’s Office could have a substantial impact on the DOJ’s efforts to curb foreign bribery.  If the court decides to dismiss the action, not only will prosecutors lose the opportunity to prosecute the Siriwans, but the DOJ will also lose the opportunity to test its novel prosecution theory that would allow it to hold foreign officials accountable for bribery via the money-laundering statute.  If the court dismisses the action, we can expect prosecutors to appeal such a dismissal as a final order.

U.S. v. Siriwan Filing Sheds Light On Extradition Relations With Thailand In Pivotal Justice Department Case

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

Today’s post is from Mike Dearington, a rising 3L at Vanderbilt Law School and FCPA Professor reader.

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U.S. v. Siriwan Filing Sheds Light on Extradition Relations with Thailand in Pivotal Justice Department Case

Prosecutors in United States v. Siriwan submitted an extradition status report (here) last Friday in the Central District of California, revealing a potentially strained diplomatic relationship between officials in the U.S. and the Thai Attorney General’s office.  Prosecutors charged Juthamas Siriwan, ex-governor of Tourism Authority of Thailand, and her daughter, Jittisopa, in 2009 with accepting bribes from Hollywood movie executives Gerald and Patricia Green in exchange for lucrative contracts.  (See here for the previous FCPA Professor post.)  The Greens were convicted in 2010 and sentenced to six months imprisonment.  (See here for the previous post.)

In the DOJ’s filing, prosecutors expressed discomfort with providing an extradition-status update pursuant to court order, which they noted was “highly unusual in a public setting and strongly discouraged for many policy and case specific reasons.”  One of these reasons, no doubt, was that the status update forced prosecutors to admit that the U.S. “has not yet received a response from Thailand regarding extradition.”

The Siriwan case is interesting also because it could be instrumental to DOJ efforts to curb foreign bribery, as it is an example of prosecutors uniquely targeting a “foreign official.”  One of the oft-cited shortcomings of the FCPA is that it is purely a “supply side” enforcement scheme.  In other words, the FCPA targets only those paying bribes, and does not prohibit receipt of such bribes by the foreign officials who demand them.

Indeed, critics have declared that, by targeting only the supply side, the law fails to appreciate the nature of foreign bribery.  Bribery is not economically beneficial to corporations because of the risks and costs, yet corporate representatives nonetheless often pay bribes because they are economically extorted by foreign officials.  Officials like Siriwan have been known to set the bidding process and are often first to broach the subject because of their powerful bargaining positions.  Although the FCPA prohibits only bribe payments—and not receipts—the Siriwan case is somewhat of a DOJ workaround.

In Siriwan, prosecutors did not charge FCPA violations, as the Siriwans made no bribery payments.  But prosecutors did charge substantive money-laundering.  The Money Laundering Control Act (MLCA) prohibits the conveyance of funds to or from the U.S. “with the intent to promote the carrying on of specified unlawful activity.”  Just what unlawful activity qualifies is an open question here.

Prosecutors argue that the Greens’ bribe payments represent specified unlawful activity, as do the Siriwans’ violations of Thai laws.  On the other hand, the Siriwans contend the money-laundering charges are pulling “double duty” and that one cannot promote illegal payments by receiving illegal payments.  The Siriwans’ motion to dismiss (see here for the prior post) has been pending since August 2011.

Siriwan may determine whether money-laundering is a viable tactic in the DOJ’s efforts to curb foreign bribery.  The DOJ has expressed an interest in demand-side prosecutions.  In 2009, prosecutors charged Robert Antoine and Jean Rene Duperval, formerly of Haiti Teleco, a state-owned national telecommunications company, with money laundering after each allegedly accepted bribes.  (See here for the prior post.)  Antoine pled guilty and was sentenced to four years in prison; Duperval was convicted and sentenced to nine years in prison in May 2012.

If prosecutors prevail in Siriwan, we can expect the DOJ to pursue a greater number of foreign officials under the MLCA, reminiscent of the way prosecutors pursued foreign executives in the 1990s/2000s under U.S. Antitrust laws due to a lag in foreign anti-trust enforcement.  If U.S. prosecutors can bring foreign officials within their purview, the DOJ may have more tools to reign in foreign bribery.