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Top U.S. foreign bribery prosecutor to join law firm

By Aruna Viswanatha

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The prosecutor who has spearheaded the U.S. Justice Department's efforts to combat foreign corruption, Charles Duross, will join a private law firm next month, the firm, Morrison & Foerster, said on Monday.

Duross is considered one of the top experts on a law that has forced some of the world's largest companies to conduct multimillion-dollar investigations, and pay comparable sums in fines. Cases he has overseen involving the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) have resulted in about $2 billion in penalties.

Weatherford International paid $253 million in November to settle bribery and other charges, and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has paid more than $300 million so far to cover an investigation into whether it bribed officials in Mexico and elsewhere.

The FCPA bars bribes to officials of foreign governments.

In an interview, Duross said he didn't expect his move to change the department's FCPA enforcement efforts, which continue to focus on Asia and companies' use of third parties in risky regions.

"I would expect that the FCPA program will continue to be robust, given the deep pipeline of cases," Duross said. His last day at the Justice Department was Friday.

Top law firms from New York and elsewhere have increasingly sought white-collar expertise in Washington, where foreign bribery cases are usually investigated, and this has sparked bidding wars for former DOJ officials in the region.

Duross joins a host of other top criminal prosecutors who have left the department in the past year. Reuters reported in December that Duross was planning to leave the agency.

In the interview, Duross said he spoke to a handful of firms before joining Morrison & Foerster. He said he was attracted to the firm, which is based in San Francisco and known as MoFo, for its collegial and collaborative pool of lawyers.

He will lead Morrison and Foerster's global anti-corruption practice and start work on February 17, the firm said.

Patrick Stokes, who has led the financial fraud unit in the Justice Department's criminal division, which is investigating the manipulation of Libor and foreign exchange benchmarks, is expected to take over the FCPA unit.

In a statement, Mythili Raman, who is acting head of the Justice Department's criminal division, praised Duross's tenure at the unit. "Chuck's strategic, tenacious, and thoughtful approach to our FCPA enforcement program has not only resulted in individuals and institutions being held accountable for FCPA violations, but has helped to change corporate culture for the better," she said.

(Reporting by Aruna Viswanatha; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli; and Peter Galloway)

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