Expanding a crackdown on money laundering and bribes to overseas governments, the FBI is stepping up efforts to root out foreign corruption with a new squad of agents based in Miami, the Associated Press reports. The squad will focus on South America, a continent that has been home to some of the Justice Department’s most significant international corruption prosecutions. The Miami squad joins three based in the FBI’s largest field offices — Washington, D.C., New York and Los Angeles. “We’re protecting the rule of law,” said Leslie Backschies, chief of the FBI’s international corruption unit. “If there’s no rule of law, you’ll have certain societies where they feel like their governments are so corrupt, they’ll go to other elements that are considered fundamental, that they see as clean or something against the corrupt regime, and that becomes a threat to national security.”
The unit aims to identify violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, a U.S. law that makes it illegal to bribe foreign officials. The FBI has also been doing outreach to companies in a variety of industries, from oil to pharmaceuticals, to teach them about red flags that could indicate corruption and encourage the companies to “self-report” potentially improper conduct to the bureau. Backschies asks companies, “When you pay a bribe, do you know where your bribe goes? Is your bribe going to fund terrorism?” Cases the unit has brought have resulted in billions of dollars in settlements. Last September, the Brazilian-owned energy company Petrobras agreed to pay more than $853 million to resolve investigations into allegations that executives paid hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes to Brazilian politicians and political parties. Prosecutors have scored 34 convictions in cases brought by the international corruption unit from 2016 until 2018.