16 December 2021

Corruption: The White House strategy

On December 6th, the Biden-Harris administration unveiled its strategy to counter corruption, established as a core United States national security interest. On the agenda: strengthened anti-corruption and anti-money laundering regulations, new expectations for compliance programs, improved domestic and international cooperation, etc. Navacelle identifies the key elements of this global strategy that will definitely impact businesses worldwide and international cooperation.


On 6 December 2021, the Biden-Harris administration published its strategy on countering corruption.

Embodying President Joe Biden’s intent to establish the fight against corruption as a core U.S. national security interest[1], the Strategy’s objective is to enhance the United States’ ability to (i) prevent corruption, (ii) more effectively combat illicit finance and the laundering of proceeds of corrupt acts by international actors through domestic and international financial systems[2], (iii) better hold accountable those responsible of corrupts acts[3], and (iv) ensure a better management of foreign and transnational corruption risks.

To do so, five “mutually-reinforcing” pillars have been identified.[4]


I.  A first pillar focused on modernizing, coordinating, and strengthening U.S. Government efforts to fight corruption

Seeking to uphold its global leadership in the fight against corruption, the United States wishes to deepen research, data collection and analysis on corruption and its actors in order to “map corruption networks” and “understand their dynamics”. Such an in-depth knowledge will then allow for better preventive measures in this field.[5]

The fight against corruption thereby becomes a cross-cutting priority for federal agencies and departments[6] who will benefit from substantial additional resources.

Cooperation and data exchange between national governments (local, state and Federal) and with international partners is equally called for. The United States intends to rely on international cooperation and its diplomatic partners to successfully tackle the fight against corruption.[7]


II.  A second pillar focused on combatting illicit financing and laundering of the proceeds of corruption

As a major economic player, the United States intends to address deficiencies within existing anti-corruption and anti-laundering regulations[8]. To do so, a series of regulations will be implemented to promote beneficial ownership information collection and the transparency of real estate transactions[9], as well as to enhance scrutiny over “gatekeepers” of financial systems, such as lawyers, accountants or company and trust service providers.[10]

Pursuant to this strategy against money laundering, the Biden-Harris administration proposes to impose heavier penalties for those who participate in or contribute to money laundering operations.[11] The United States will also pursue cooperative efforts with other countries to strengthen their respective anti-money laundering frameworks and achieve greater transparency in the international financial system.[12]


III.  A third pillar focused on holding corrupt actors accountable

The United States shall increase its efforts to prosecute foreign bribery cases[13] as well as to defend and protect members of the civil society and investigative journalists in the reporting of corruption activities.[14]

Additionally, the private sector, whether at the international or national level, is encouraged to implement better compliance programs[15] and partner countries are urged to take further initiatives in the identification of corrupt practices and in the fight against foreign corruption.[16]

To this end, the United States will launch an interagency initiative called Democracies Against Safe Havens Initiative, which will co-ordinate international action on this issue.[17] A kleptocracy asset recovery reward program will also be set up to ensure a better identification and an effective recovery of assets related to foreign government corruption that are held in U.S. financial institutions.[18]


IV. A fourth pillar focused on preserving and strengthening the multilateral anti-corruption architecture

The Biden-Harris administration wants to further engage in strengthening the international anti-corruption framework as established by the 1997 OECD Convention or by the 2003 Merida Convention[19] by taking multilateral initiatives with higher standards. The aim is to encourage foreign States to take real steps in the fight against corruption and to hold them accountable for any shortcomings.[20]

To this end, the U.S. will work with international organizations (G7, G20 OECD, NATO, etc.) to advocate for new anti-corruption measures.[21]


V.  A fifth pillar focused on improving diplomatic engagement and leveraging foreign assistance resources to achieve anti-corruption policy goals

Seeing diplomatic relations and foreign assistance as crucial in the global fight against corruption[22], the White House is committed to prioritizing the fight against corruption in its diplomatic relations and the assistance of foreign states in this fight, as well as intergovernmental assistance on matters of transparency and accountability.[23]

To this end, the Biden-Harris administration will increase its support to the public sector in the fight against corruption, particularly for independent audit and oversight authorities.[24] Finally, the Biden-Harris administration also wishes to innovate and develop technological tools dedicated to the identification and the prevention of corruption[25] and will integrate anti-corruption considerations in military operations.[26]

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