USA Today

You’re the CEO of a global, publicly traded corporation. You’ve just learned that some employees may have bribed foreign government officials to help your business get contracts.

Now federal prosecutors and regulators want to see company records as part of an investigation under a law called the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

What do you do? In many cases, negotiate a settlement, pay a fine, and get back to business.

The scenario is a hot topic in corporate boardrooms in the wake of allegations by a former Wal-Mart official that company executives in Mexico paid millions of dollars to government officials there in a successful effort to speed the opening of new stores. The allegations, now under review by the company and federal investigators, were disclosed last month by The New York Times.

It’s not yet clear what, if anything, will come of the review. But records of Foreign Corrupt Practices Act cases show publicly traded companies are leery about going to trial against the government.

“The companies that actually fight the Justice Department or the Securities and Exchange Commission are pretty few and far between,” said Amy Conway-Hatcher, a former federal prosecutor who heads the Internal Investigation practice for the Kaye Scholer law firm in Washington, D.C. “You usually see corporate settlements arise out of this.” Read more.