If past history is a guide, no one is likely to go to prison in the Wal-Mart Mexican bribery scheme, James B. Stewart writes in the New York Times. News reports say the case may involve millions of dollars in illegal payoffs to Mexican officials and evidence of a cover-up scheme that went all the way to Wal-Mart headquarters in Bentonville, Ar. The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which outlaws the bribery of foreign officials by U.S. executives, carries stiff penalties for those convicted: fines of up to $5 million and up to 20 years in prison.
Like Wal-Mart, Tyson Foods employees bribed Mexican officials. Tyson covered up the scheme. Worse, they tried to keep the bribes going by changing the nature of the illegal payments. The scheme reached into Tyson's headquarters, also in Arkansas. Last year, the Justice Department charged Tyson with conspiracy and with violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Tyson didn't contest the facts, agreed to resolve the charges, and paid a $4 million criminal penalty. Qi Chen, working with Prof. Andrew Spalding at the Chicago-Kent College of Law at the Illinois Institute of Technology, found that 37 of the 57 companies involved in bribery enforcement actions from 2005 to 2010 settled bribery accusations and had no related individuals charged.
For more background on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, see this article in The Crime Report.