CFOs and CEOs, who have had to worry in recent years about being held personally liable for financial statements, have a new concern: They could be found liable for bribes that local managers might be paying in foreign countries to promote their companies' business there. Both the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Department of Justice say they are stepping up enforcement of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), a 1977 law that makes it illegal for U.S. companies to bribe foreign government officials–a loose term that could be inter-preted to mean anyone who works for a state-owned or state-controlled firm overseas.

In testimony to a Senate committee in September, Robert Khuzami, director of the SEC's Enforcement Division, said he was establishing a special unit to "focus on new and proactive approaches to identifying violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act."

In the past, says Michael Koehler, a law professor at Butler University specializing in the FPCA, most SEC and Justice Department cases were brought to the agencies' attention by company managers anxious to avoid indictment, and settlements have tended to be lenient because of that cooperation. If investigators start ferreting out cases, penalties could be more severe, Koehler suggests.

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