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Fines for corporate lawbreakers collapse under Trump

PENALTIES for corporate crime in the US have reduced sharply since Donald Trump attained the presidency, a US watchdog warned yesterday.

Washington-based Public Citizen found that, in 11 of 12 federal agencies led by a Trump appointee, corporate violators were fined less in his first year in office than previously — in most cases more than 50 per cent less.

The only agency where penalties increased was the Office of Foreign Assets Control, which punishes companies that trade with states the US has sanctioned or blockaded such as Cuba and Iran.

Fines imposed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have collapsed by 94 per cent — down from $24 billion in Barack Obama’s last year at the top to $1.5bn in Trump’s first — while those imposed by the Justice Department, which recovers money lost to fraud and imposes penalties for various financial, civil and safety violations, have dropped by 90 per cent.

Some companies had fines issued under Mr Obama slashed under Mr Trump, including Syngenta Seeds which was issued a $4.9m fine by the EPA for breaching pesticide regulations designed to protect agricultural workers at a farm in Hawaii in the last month of the Obama presidency.

In the first full month of Mr Trump’s, its fine was lowered to $150,000.

“Even as the Trump administration ramps up ‘zero-tolerance’ policies against street crimes and immigration, it has gone soft on enforcement policies that protect Americans from lawbreaking corporations,” report co-author Rick Claypool writes.

Mr Claypool said the government’s indifference to corporate crime showed Mr Trump’s “sympathies are … with the companies on the receiving end of enforcement action.”

Companies engaging in illegal bribery abroad can now completely avoid prosecution, the report says, while a decision to end payments to the third-party NGOs trying to clear up the damage has also reduced fines.

In one case, Harley Davidson had a fine for reported emissions cheating violations reduced by $3m as that portion had been earmarked for the American Lung Association which instead received nothing.

The White House has also limited the number of agencies which can impose fines for the same violation, saving one bank accused of money-laundering deficiencies $50m.

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