Eric Holder. Picture: REUTERS
Eric Holder. Picture: REUTERS

Former US attorney-general Eric Holder says the fact you are not a card-carrying US citizen does not make you immune from prosecution by US authorities under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and money laundering legislation.

He said that although the US had the ability to indict anyone involved in contravening US law, it was unlikely it would indict a head of state.

Holder’s comments come as civil society group Corruption Watch prepares to approach US authorities to prosecute global consultancy McKinsey under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act for its role in state capture.

It also comes as UK politician Lord Peter Hain pushes UK and EU authorities to probe allegations of money laundering against banks including HSBC, as well as President Jacob Zuma and the Guptas.

Holder, who was attorney-general under the Obama administration and is now a partner at Washington law firm Covington & Burling, was speaking at an event in Johannesburg hosted by Bowmans.

Of the 10 largest fines levied by the US department of justice, seven have been on companies based outside the US and most have related to money laundering, export controls or the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Holder said the ability and desire of regulators and prosecutors involved in pursuing Foreign Corrupt Practices Act cases was clear, and in many cases, the US regulators worked in partnership with law enforcement authorities in the UK and Europe, and more recently Asia.

The level of interaction and co-operation with SA and the rest of Africa was not as developed as with other parts of the world, but Holder said he guessed this would increase as economies grew in Africa and as national security issues on the continent brought the department of justice more into play.

It was naive to think there would not be increasing attention paid to South African companies and individuals doing business on the continent or outside Africa.

Asked whether the justice department could be relied on to facilitate the repatriation of money taken illegally, over and above criminal prosecution of politicians who purloined it, Holder cited the "kleptocracy" initiative he launched in Kampala at the time of the Gaddafi regime in Libya, emphasising there was a mechanism in place to ensure funds and goods were repatriated to nations from which they were stolen.

Holder said the US government had not done nearly enough to make it easy for US companies to engage in Africa or encourage them to do so.

The Trump administration had been pulling the US back from its global leadership role and there would come a time under new leadership when the US would have a tough time regaining it.

joffeh@businesslive.co.za

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