On June 3, 2021, the Biden Administration released a memorandum establishing combating corruption as a core United States national security interest, thereby stimulating several international anti-corruption initiatives.
The memorandum promises to make the fight against corruption a core U.S. national security interest. The Biden Administration promises to “lead efforts to promote good governance; bring transparency to the United States and global financial systems; prevent and combat corruption at home and abroad; and make it increasingly difficult for corrupt actors to shield their activities.”
The memorandum directs Assistant to the President and National Security Advisor, in coordination with the Assistant to the President for Economic Policy and the Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy, to conduct an interagency review process. The interagency review process will include the Office of the Vice President and fourteen agencies.
The above-mentioned persons and agencies are directed to develop a Presidential strategy. The strategy is to modernize, increase, coordinate, resource and improve the ability of key agencies to promote good governance and prevent and combat corruption, including, as required, by proposing relevant legislation to the Congress.
Another component of the strategy is to combat all forms of illicit finance in the U.S. and international financial systems, including by robustly implementing Federal law requiring U.S. companies to report their beneficial owner or owners to the Treasury Department; reducing offshore financial secrecy; improving information sharing; and, as necessary, identifying the need for new reforms.
The strategy will hold accountable corrupt individuals, transnational criminal organizations, and their facilitators, including by identifying, freezing, and recovering stolen assets through increased information sharing and intelligence collection and analysis, criminal or civil enforcement actions, advisories, and sanctions or other authorities , and where possible and appropriate, returning recovered assets for the benefit of the citizens harmed by corruption.
According to the memorandum, the strategy participants must strengthen the capacity of domestic and international institutions and multilateral bodies focused on establishing global anti-corruption norms, asset recovery, promoting financial transparency, encouraging open government, strengthening financial institutions’ frameworks to prevent corruption in development finance projects, and combating money laundering, illicit finance, and bribery, including, where possible, addressing the demand side of bribery.
A goal is to support and enhance the capacity of civil society, media, and other oversight and accountability actors to conduct research and analysis on corruption trends, advocate for preventative measures, investigate and uncover corruption, hold leaders accountable, and inform and support government accountability and reform efforts, and provide those actors a safe and open operating environment domestically and internationally.
The strategy will work with international partners to counteract strategic corruption by foreign leaders, foreign state-owned or affiliated enterprises, transnational criminal organizations, and other foreign actors and their domestic collaborators, including, by closing loopholes exploited by these actors to interfere with democratic processes in the U.S. and abroad.
Increasing efforts to quickly and flexibly enhance U.S. and partner resources of investigative, financial, technical, political, and other assistance to foreign countries that indicate the will to reduce corruption are part of the strategy.
The strategy will help and enhance the capacity of domestic, including State and local, authorities and institutions, as well as partner and other foreign governments at all levels, to implement transparency, oversight, and accountability measures, which will counter corruption and provide their citizens with accessible and usable information concerning government programs, policies, and spending.
A goal is to promote partnerships with the private sector and civil society to advocate for anti-corruption measures and act to prevent corruption.
A final priority is to develop best practices and enforcement mechanisms such that foreign assistance and security cooperation activities have built-in corruption prevention measures.
The Memorandum states that, by effectively preventing and combating corruption and showing the advantages of transparent and accountable governance, the U.S. government can obtain a critical advantage for the U.S. and other democracies. In his recent speeches President Biden has set as a challenge for the U.S. its battle with autocracies and dictatorships.
The Memorandum mentions the possibility of the inter-agency group supporting new legislation when appropriate. In this regard, on February 4, 2021, U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Roger Wicker (R-MS) introduced legislation to create a global anti-corruption action fund at the State Department to strengthen the rule of law abroad and counter transnational corruption. The Countering Russian and Other Overseas Kleptocracy (CROOK) Act (S.158) – would fund programs by utilizing large fines imposed under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act against U.S. and foreign companies caught bribing foreign officials. In January 2021, Representatives Bill Keating (D-MA) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) introduced a companion draft (H.R.402) in the House.
The Memorandum prioritizes combating all forms of illicit finance in the U.S. and implementing Federal law requiring U.S. companies to report their beneficial ownership to the Treasury Department. In this regard, the Corporate Transparency Act, enacted as part of the Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2020, requires the reporting of beneficial ownership information to Treasury’s FinCEN. Although FinCEN has issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rule-making, it may be 2023-24 before the regulations become effective.
The current issue of the IELR will have a more comprehensive discussion of the implications of the Memorandum.