Wilson, Jackson Lee, Whitehouse, and Tillis Lead Introduction of Bipartisan Bill to Fight Foreign Corruption

Washington, DC – Representative Joe Wilson (R-SC) Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, and Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), together with Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Thom Tillis (R-NC), introduced the bipartisan, bicameral Foreign Extortion Prevention Act to combat kleptocracy and corruption by criminalizing bribery demands by foreign officials. This legislation would protect businesses and national security interests by criminalizing the demand-side of foreign bribery.

“We cannot allow authoritarians to extort American companies and profit from mafia tactics that subvert U.S. national security and competitive interests. This legislation holds corrupt foreign officials accountable for bribery demands and protects the interests of hardworking Americans,” said Rep. Wilson.

“The Foreign Extortion Prevention Act will finally enable U.S. law enforcement to indict foreign kleptocrats for extorting U.S. businesses,” said Rep. Jackson Lee, Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime. “It is time that we expand our foreign bribery laws to capture the malfeasance of foreign kleptocrats—in this age of globalization, we can wait no longer. This legislation will protect rule-abiding companies, and stand up for the victims of kleptocracy around the world.”

“America is in a clash of civilizations with international kleptocrats and criminals seizing any and every opportunity to extort American businesses and undermine our national security,” said Senator Whitehouse, a member of the Helsinki Commission. “Our bipartisan legislation defends the American rule of law and sends a clear message that demanding a bribe from American companies will not be tolerated.”

“American businesses too often face bribery demands from foreign officials, putting them at an economic disadvantage for following the law,” said Senator Tillis. “Our commonsense legislation will help promote free enterprise and protect American businesses from corrupt foreign officials who try to extort them.”

Under U.S. law, only the giving or offering of a bribe abroad is considered a criminal activity. However, foreign corrupt officials routinely demand bribes from companies hoping to do business with them, then spend those ill-gotten gains in developed democracies. This system gives unscrupulous companies operating in a corrupt environment a competitive edge while disadvantaging companies beholden to the rule of law, including American companies. The Foreign Extortion Prevention Act remedies this by criminalizing the demand side of bribery, arming the United States to fight corruption.

“When foreign officials demand bribes, they steal precious resources from their citizens, endanger law-abiding Americans and American businesses, give impunity to environmental criminals, and fortify and finance corrupt, authoritarian regimes,” said Scott Greytak, Director of Advocacy for Transparency International U.S. “If corrupt officials also face no threat of prosecution by the U.S., while U.S. companies face serious criminal liability for their involvement in bribery schemes, we’re left with incomplete justice. It’s time for the United States to impose a cost on those who would threaten Americans’ safety with bribe demands.”

“When bad actors are allowed to extort Americans it undermines our economy and our democracy,” said Debra Perlin, Policy Director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics. “While our laws prohibit American corporations from bribing corrupt foreign officials, our system does not prevent these same corrupt officials from demanding bribes. The bipartisan Foreign Extortion Prevention Act would close that loophole, and make it harder for unethical leaders to build an economy where corruption is the norm. CREW strongly supports this common-sense legislation.”

“A level playing field and clearly enforceable rules of the road are vital for American companies to grow, thrive, and compete abroad,” said Foundation for Defense of Democracies Action. “The Foreign Extortion Prevention Act is commonsense legislation that will ensure the United States Government has the legal tools it needs to protect American workers and businesses operating overseas. This bipartisan bill will hold foreign corrupt officials accountable and align our legal instruments with the 21st century realities of doing business abroad.”

The Foreign Extortion Prevention Act is also supported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, and a broad coalition of civil society organizations. In December 2021, the White House released the U.S. Strategy on Countering Corruption, which stated a goal of working Congress to “criminalize the demand side of bribery by foreign public officials.”

The Senate legislation was also cosponsored by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and John Kennedy (R-LA), while the legislation introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives was also cosponsored by Representatives Steve Cohen (D-TN), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), William Keating (D-MA), John Curtis (R-UT), Dean Phillips (D-MN), and Maria Salazar (R-FL).

The bill text is available here.