The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) is a widely enforced anti-corruption law. While many corporations and individuals are aware of the hefty consequences that come with violating this law, there is a need for further education.
Intentional criminal activity is one thing, but a more subtle issue lies beneath the surface. Non-compliance with FCPA laws can happen easier than many banking and finance companies are aware of, and the cost of those errors is steep.
One Person’s Experience with FCPA Violations
Richard Bistrong came to know the cost all too well. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison and faced five years of incarceration for violating FCPA regulations. Due to his extensive cooperation with the U.S. and U.K. investigative and prosecutorial authorities, the judge reduced his sentence, and Bistrong ended up serving just 14 months in prison.
The Different Words Describing a Bribe
Bistrong spent 10 years as the international sales vice president of a global enterprise. Bistrong’s company provided him with a copy of FCPA before he boarded his first flight, which served as the extent of his compliance training.
While Bistrong worked in Argentina, a colleague told him through a translator, “Part of my success is by paying tolls to win tenders.”
Bistrong knew what he meant, but it was in the next 15 years that he learned an amazing array of words used to describe a bribe—” tolls,” “taking care of,” “making people happy,” and even “chocolate.”
According to Bistrong, the only word not used to describe a bribe was “bribe.”
Sliding Down the Slippery Slope
In the early 2000s, Bistrong encountered an opportunity that he viewed as an escalation from head-nodding. He was asked to bribe a Dutch police official to win a law enforcement contract.
To do so, he used the words take care of, as in, “We’ll take care of this official to win the contract.” That is when Bistrong started to embrace the idea that corruption was a part of doing business.
While many might view corruption and violation of the FCPA as nefarious acts, the reality is that it creeps into organizations in a much more subtle manner. It starts with the mindset of “taking care of people,” closing deals quicker, and trying to accommodate for inefficient processes.
From there, the slope is a slippery one.
How Innocent Intentions Can Become Violations
One of the struggles of catching corruption is the lack of visibility. These sensitive and illegal conversations often happen in person and behind closed doors, without witnesses. In some cases, the only other people present during these conversations are translators.
In Bistrong’s experience, relying on translators limited his knowledge of what was transpiring. He had to trust that the translator was relaying all the details and nuances of the other businessperson’s message.
In other cases, participants in these non-compliant transactions exchange text messages or emails from private accounts. If messages are sent through a monitored corporate system, they typically contain code words and hidden meanings.
SYSTRAN, an Essential FCPA Compliance Tool.
Richard Bistrong’s story is not an anomaly. Banking and finance companies know that non-compliance creeps into their organizations in subtle ways. This awareness prompts corporations worldwide to be proactive with their internal compliance standards.
That’s where SYSTRAN comes in. SYSTRAN software contains extensive colloquial dictionaries, updated regularly by linguists as the languages evolve. This feature makes it possible to be less reliant on human translators during consequential conversations.
If Bistrong’s story makes you eager to evaluate your organization’s current compliance standards, you don’t have to wait. Download SYSTRAN’s compliance monitoring workbook, a free tool for documenting the processes you already have in place and identifying areas for improvement.