The head of the Justice Department's Criminal Division today in a speech at the World Bank said the government will continue its effort to target and forfeit proceeds of corrupt foreign officials.
Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer said in remarks that the department’s Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative, which the attorney general announced last summer, recently brought its first cases.
Breuer’s remarks follow President Barack Obama’s Middle East speech last week at the U.S. State Department in which he declared the United States “will help newly democratic governments recover assets that were stolen.”
The Justice Department's fight against corruption, Breuer said, will "send the message loud and clear that public officials who abuse their power for personal gain–whether they are in the United States or the emerging democracies of North Africa and the Middle East or anywhere else around the world–are on the wrong side."
The goal of the kleptocracy asset recovery initiative, Breuer said, is to seize and later return alleged illegal proceeds of foreign officials. Breuer said it is often “impractical or impossible to bring a criminal prosecution against a kleptocrat” because of jurisdiction issues. But prosecutors, he said, can pursue a civil forfeiture action to recover stolen money.
In March and April, Breuer noted today, prosecutors filed civil forfeiture actions in Maryland and in Massachusetts federal district courts targeting property and money allegedly associated with Diepreye Solomon Peter Alamieyeseigha, the former elected government of an oil-producing state in Nigeria.
In U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, prosecutors are going after a house in Rockville that government lawyers said was purchased in 2001 and later held in the name of a shell company. Breuer said the property is worth more than $600,000. The Justice Department’s Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section is pursuing more than $386,000 in a brokerage account in a civil action in Boston federal district court.
Prosecutors allege Alamieyeseigha amassed more than $12.7 million in assets from 1999 until his impeachment in 2005. Breuer said Alamieyeseigha’s declared income for that period was $248,000.
“We were able to bring these cases, even though (Alamieyeseigha) long ago absconded to Nigeria, because the law permits us to bring a civil action against the corrupt proceeds themselves rather than against the person to whom they belong,” Breuer said today.
Breuer’s speech touched on a range of anti-corruption topics, including Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement and the prosecution of public officials in federal district court.
On the FCPA front, he noted a jury this month in California found a company there and two of its senior executives guilty of paying bribes to a state-owned utility company in Mexico. The case marked the first-ever jury conviction of a corporation in an FCPA case, Breuer said.
“When U.S. businesspersons, foreign executives, and even foreign officials know that they risk liability under the FCPA and related statutes, behavior changes,” Breuer said. “In addition to motivating U.S. and foreign corporations to change the way they do business—something that I believe is already happening—the threat of liability can help corporations resist corrupt demands from foreign officials, which can lead the officials themselves to alter their practices.”