Lightning up the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act: A Case Study of U.S. Tobacco Industry Political Influence Buying in Japan (2009)

Author: Mark Levin


Confidential documents which became public through civil litigation discovery in the late 1990s reveal that, ten years after the Watergate and Lockheed scandals and just five years after the enactment of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, the senior-most executives of the Brown and Williamson Tobacco Corporation were developing a plan to provide cash and other benefits to one of Japan’s most powerful political insiders and a close confidant of then-Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone. B&W’s officials should have been well aware that the activities described in the plans, if carried out, were very likely illegal under U.S. federal law at the time. Had these industry documents emerged in a timely fashion, B&W’s chairman and senior-most executives ought to have been investigated for serious crimes with penalties including up to five years of imprisonment for the individuals involved.

This paper presents the historical record of Brown and Williamson’s contemplated political influence buying in Japan as demonstrated by the documents. The paper analyzes those facts under the terms of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in effect at the time and concludes that the documents reveal plans that, if carried out, constituted a felony. Drawing at least upon the snapshot portrayed in this paper of one company’s inclination towards corrupt activity, the paper proposes further investigation by the United States’ Department of Justice and Congress and corresponding statutory, regulatory, and international policy measures. Finally, this paper concludes by arguing that the individuals involved perhaps did not just get away with violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. It should be time to consider whether the individuals involved got away with murder.

Read more: North Carolina Journal of International Law and Commercial Regulation