Abstract steel building wall

A direct line from Central America to the US DOJ: The Anticorruption Task Force establishes a tip line for the Northern Triangle

United States Publication October 20, 2021

On Friday October 15, 2021, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that in an effort to fight corruption in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, commonly referred to as the Northern Triangle countries, it would establish a tip line to assist the DOJ's Task Force to Combat Corruption in Central America (the Anticorruption Task Force). The creation of the tip line will make it easier for investigators and prosecutors to collect potential treasure troves of information from competing companies, lay persons, as well as local cooperating prosecutors and investigators.

The tip line will allow anyone to report via email, in English or Spanish, information pertaining to illicit conduct in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras directly to the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI). The Anticorruption Task Force will evaluate the tips to determine a "possible jurisdictional link to the United States," which is not a particularly high bar. Where such a link is "indicated"—including through the use of the U.S. financial system—the Anticorruption Task Force will investigate and bring charges as appropriate. Plainly, the goal of the tip line is to encourage anyone with information about corruption-related crimes to bring more of this misconduct to the attention of U.S. authorities, who can act either unilaterally or in conjunction with local authorities to bring cases. Investigations stemming from such tips could result in significant asset forfeiture actions in the United States.

The Anticorruption Task Force was established in June 2021 to combat corruption in the Northern Triangle. The multi-agency task force draws together resources from three Criminal Divisions that enforce the prohibition of bribery of foreign officials, illegal asset transfer and money laundering, as well as corruption resulting from narcotics trafficking. The focus of the task force is three fold. First, it is to increase the focus of the Kleptocracy Initiative to prosecute corruption cases and seize illicitly gained assets, and potentially return forfeited funds to victims. Second, to provide for capacity-building, training and case-based mentoring to the government of Guatemala to build corruption cases. Third, to provide U.S. prosecutors and law enforcement experts mentorship to develop corruption cases.

Commenting on the new tip line, U.S. Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. attributed the move to a recent trip by U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris to Guatemala:

As the Vice President recognized during her visit to Guatemala earlier this year, corruption and impunity in the region undermine democracy, fuel irregular migration, and pose a threat to our national security because they sustain criminal organizations and transnational crime.

Unfortunately, some Latin American countries have been marred by corruption scandals that ensnared politicians and corporate executives at the highest levels of government and management.

Over the past several years, the United States has successfully brought significant multi-jurisdictional corruption cases involving conduct in Latin America many of which involved close cooperation with foreign prosecutors. For example, Operation Carwash, or Lava Jato, is an example of U.S. and Brazilian prosecutors working closely to combat global corruption and obtaining hundreds of millions of dollars in penalties as part of multiple global resolutions. Cooperative efforts between the U.S. and foreign prosecutors under the Anticorruption Task Force are likely to increase, with Vice President Harris committing the DOJ, Treasury Department and State Department to "work[ing] together to conduct investigations and train local law enforcement to conduct their own." Training efforts go hand-in-hand with the recently announced tip line, which may require local assistance and prosecutorial follow through.

Companies and individuals working and operating in these target countries should be aware of the DOJ's increased interest in the region and take this opportunity to re-evaluate their compliance programs to ensure they are up to date, properly focused, and designed to meet or exceed the DOJ's expectations, including with regards to conducting due diligence on business partners. Proper compliance programs help firms minimize corruption risks by providing mechanisms for timely identification of concerns, investigation and remediation, as well as early opportunity to weigh the appropriateness, benefits and risks of self-disclosure should a company discover any compliance concerns. In addition, the tip line indicates that companies that are aware of misconduct from competitors or others in the region may find a friendly ear with U.S. prosecutors, and in the appropriate cases, may be able to recover as a victim.



Recent publications

Subscribe and stay up to date with the latest legal news, information and events...