Less than two weeks ago, during my workshop and roundtable in Paris and Munich, one questions came up repeatedly: “Why is the Department of Justice targeting French/German companies? Is this American legal imperialism?”
The French were reacting to cases such as Alstom and BNP Paribas, and the German to cases such as VW and Deutsche Bank. My answers were as follows.
We all pay more attention to things that are happening to us. Therefore, French press would pay more attention to prosecutions against French companies, and German press to those against German companies. Once we look beyond that natural bias, we would see that the facts bring more balance to the picture. It is not just French and German companies that have been prosecuted by the Department of Justice: there are Brazilian (Odebrecht, Braskem, Embraer), British (Rolls Royce, Barclays), Japanese (Takata), Swiss (UBS), Israeli (Teva), Swedish (TerliaSonera), Dutch (Vimpelcom), Chilean (LAN, SQM) and yes, American companies (JP Morgan, Citicorp, Tenet Corporation, Och Ziff, State Street). The companies listed here are just some of the more prominent examples and by no means exhaustive. Some of these companies represent the pride of their home countries. No one in France or Germany would have heard of cases such as Tenet and State Street or SQM, simply because their press had no reason to cover these cases, as it had no bearing to their French and German audiences. That is a very natural bias, but one that needs to be acknowledged before jumping to the conclusion of “imperialism.” It is interesting also that this indignation was not something I heard or saw in Brazil, where the focus was on why the criminal acts occurred in their society but not on who was prosecuting them.
More importantly, I have never met a prosecutor who focuses on a specific country: only those who follow evidence. I have also known prosecutors who are passionate about pursuing justice, and are outraged that no one else appeared to be stepping in to fill the voids in enforcement. When the former Minister of Mines and Geology of the Republic of Guinea sold out his country by taking bribes from a Chinese conglomerate, he was convicted in a federal court in New York by federal prosecutors from the Fraud Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York. No one else stepped up to the plate to this injustice, so the U.S. Department of Justice did.
Finally, I want to pay special tribute to the immigrants and children of immigrants who have served as federal prosecutors in the Department of Justice. From well- known ones such as Preet Bharara and former Deputy Assistant Attorney General Sung-hee Suh, to line attorneys whom I have personally known from both the United States Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of New York and the Fraud Section, we are among the immigrants who have lived and are dedicated to the American Dream. Some of us appreciate the values of the rule of law, justice, and democracy in ways that are deeply personal. We live those values and want to keep them alive. We bring an international sensitivity that does not target countries, but rather injustices.