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Justice Department to Prioritize Individual Misconduct Over Corporate Malfeasance

Phil Hall
Sep 10, 2015
Judges Gavel/Credit: Purestock

In a belated response to years of criticism that it failed to vigorously pursue the Wall Street executives at the heart of the 2008 financial meltdown, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is announcing a new set of policies that will focus on the investigation and potential prosecution of corporate executives and not just on the companies involved in problematic transactions.

According to a report in The New York Times, which previewed the new policies in advance of their official public announcement later today, federal investigators are being encouraged to prioritize their focus on individuals and to pressure companies to identify the executives involved in actions that would arrant either civil or criminal prosecution.

“Corporations can only commit crimes through flesh-and-blood people,” wrote Sally Q. Yates, deputy attorney general, in an internal communication obtained by the Times. “It’s only fair that the people who are responsible for committing those crimes be held accountable. The public needs to have confidence that there is one system of justice and it applies equally regardless of whether that crime occurs on a street corner or in a boardroom.”

The policies represent a set of guidelines that will be handled in a discretionary manner, rather than a mandated set of rules. But in her memo, Yates emphasized a need for federal investigators to play a stronger game of hardball.

“We’re not going to be accepting a company’s cooperation when they just offer up the vice president in charge of going to jail,” she said.

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