In setback for U.S. bribery prosecution, judge acquits on some charges

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© Reuters. In setback for U.S. bribery prosecution, judge acquits on some charges© Reuters. In setback for U.S. bribery prosecution, judge acquits on some charges

(Reuters) – A federal judge on Wednesday tossed all bribery charges on which a former executive at French industrial company Alstom SA (PA:) had been found guilty at trial, a setback for U.S. prosecutors in a case that has tested the scope of an anti-bribery law.

The judge let stand the jury conviction on four money laundering charges of the former executive, Lawrence Hoskins, in November.

Hoskins, a UK citizen who had worked for Alstom in Asia, was charged in 2012 with conspiring to bribe Indonesian officials to secure a power plant contract, in violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), the U.S. anti-bribery law.

The case has been seen by critics of the Department of Justice (DOJ) as reflective of an overly aggressive interpretation of the law, which makes it illegal for U.S. companies, and foreign issuers of securities overseen by U.S. regulators, to bribe foreign officials.

A DOJ spokesman declined to comment.

U.S. District Judge Janet Arterton, who is overseeing the case, had raised the bar for prosecutors in 2015 by ruling that to be convicted Hoskins would need to be proven an “agent” of a domestic concern. The DOJ failed to overturn that decision on appeal, but it was still able to get a jury in Connecticut to convict Hoskins on all seven FCPA-related counts.

Mike Koehler, a professor at Southern (NYSE:) Illinois University School of Law who has been critical of prosecutors’ interpretation of the FCPA, called Arterton’s ruling a “big setback” for the DOJ.

“While the legal issue is highly factual, the judge’s decision today, as well as her prior decision in the case, are rejections of overly expansive FCPA enforcement theories,” said Koehler, who writes a closely watched blog on the bribery law.

In her ruling, Arterton said prosecutors failed to sufficiently show that Hoskins was an agent controlled by Alstom Power Inc (API), the Connecticut-based subsidiary involved in bidding for the Tarahan power project at the heart of the case.

Arterton wrote that she found “no evidence upon which a rational jury could conclude that Mr. Hoskins agreed or understood that API would control his actions on the Tarahan Project, as would be required to create an agency relationship.”

Hoskins is due to be sentenced on March 6.

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