Corruption and the Arab Spring: Compliance Implications for International Companies

To paraphrase Mao, a revolution, not being a dinner party, is a messy and unpredictable affair with winners and losers emerging in chaotic and sometimes haphazard fashion.  For international investors and businesses, the prospects are rarely bright, at least in the near term.  Foreign commercial interests were notable losers in some of the last century’s most important revolutions.  During the Russian Revolution, foreign investors lost their wallets; in Cuba, Americans lost their sugar and their casinos; and after the Islamic revolution in Iran, international oil companies lost their wells.  The recent wave of Arab Spring upheavals that continues to ripple across the southern and eastern shores of the Mediterranean may present the threats common to foreign businesses caught in the midst of revolution, including extortion, nationalization, expropriation, and physical violence against executives and employees.  These modern revolutions also pose new challenges to international firms, as evidence or allegations that they engaged in corrupt behavior may be made public through documents in a ransacked government ministry building, or through an incarcerated former official, an enterprising journalist or prosecutor in the new regime, or a whistleblower within the foreign company itself.  If such allegations come to the attention of U.S. authorities or other governments, the company could face severe criminal and civil penalties for violations of the FCPA, the U.K. Bribery Act, and similar anti-corruption laws, in addition to significant business ramifications.  In a guest article, Peter B. Clark and Bradley J. Bondi, both partners at Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft LLP, and James A. Treanor, an associate at Cadwalader, provide a comprehensive discussion of the corruption risks companies face in the Middle East, North Africa and elsewhere in the world; summarize noteworthy FCPA enforcement actions involving the Middle East and North Africa; and detail strategies companies can employ to protect themselves from the Arab Spring fallout.

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