Corporations that do business overseas—which frequently involves gifts, baksheesh, and other kinds of behind-the-scenes favors—are wondering just how strictly anti-bribery rules will be enforced. Dozens of corporations and trade groups joined the United States Chamber of Commerce in asking the government for further clarification of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), a law that makes overseas bribery illegal. "The letter comes days after two Democratic senators urged the U.S. Justice Department to provide information about how it enforces the law to offer more 'predictability' to companies subject to it," Reuters noted on Tuesday. "They ask, for example, whether there are instances when an employee at a company controlled by a sovereign wealth fund is considered a 'foreign official'."
Is a state university employee, for instance, considered a part of a foreign government? Reuters provides an example of a recent Security Exchange Commission investigation into Wynn Resorts' giving $135 million to the University of Macau, which is located near one of the biggest gambling hubs in Asia. News Corp. is undoubtedly closely watching the debate, since as we noted last week, the U.S. investigation into Rupert Murdoch's media company has less to do with phone-hacking than it does with possible bribes to government officials. It's no wonder companies want clarification: The Feds are cracking down on the issue pretty hard. In 2010, they confiscated a whopping $1.8 billion from 23 allegedly corrupt companies. But don't worry too much, Wynn, News Corp., and other generous corporations: The police can't see bribes if you hand them off under the table.