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More big corporate settlements coming, says departing U.S. Justice Dept official

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – As Kenneth Polite steps down this month as the head of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Criminal Division, he will leave behind a flurry of major corporate settlements that he told Reuters in an exit interview will hit federal court dockets soon.


FILE PHOTO: Kenneth Polite, Assistant Attorney General for the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division, discusses the arrest of the majority shareholder and cofounder of Hong Kong-registered virtual currency exchange Bitzlato Ltd for allegedly processing hundreds of million of dollars in illicit funds, during a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington, U.S., January 18, 2023. REUTERS/Daphne Psaledakis/File Photo

Polite, who will join the law firm Sidley Austin this October as a partner in its white collar defense and investigations practice, spoke with Reuters just days before he officially resigned as Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division, a position he has held since July 2021.

“What you’re going to see is a very strong pipeline of investigations that will result in some resolutions in the very-near future, but may have been impacted by the COVID pandemic,” he said.

The types of resolutions he is referring to often involve large fines that companies pay to settle criminal charges of foreign bribery or money laundering.

In 2022, there were seven such global resolutions in which the DOJ was involved totaling $2.14 billion in penalties. Among the companies that entered global settlements that year included Glencore and Honeywell International.

Polite said the department’s recent corporate investigations involved “much larger schemes and activities.”

Some of the global resolutions involved countries which partnered with the DOJ for the first time, such as the December 2022 joint resolution with South Africa and Switzerland to resolve foreign bribery charges against Swiss digital technologies company ABB.

“You are going to continue to see that type of innovation and groundbreaking over the next couple of resolutions that come out,” Polite said.

As the head of the Criminal Division, Polite oversaw investigations on everything from gun-trafficking and human smuggling, to ransomware attacks and financial fraud.

Polite, who once previously served as a corporate chief compliance officer himself, also oversaw policy changes aimed at better policing corporate misconduct and encouraging cooperation with the government.

One such example is a new pilot program in which the DOJ will agree to decrease corporate fines for companies if they agree to “claw back” compensation from individual wrongdoers.

Kristin Graham Koehler, managing partner at Sidley Austin, said the corporate crime policies Polite oversaw are having an impact on the firm’s clients, and added he will be “instrumental” in helping them navigate the department’s new policies.

“All of our clients are evaluating their existing clawback policies and determining if any changes need to be made,” she said.

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