Unraveling the Money Trail: The Vital Role of Linguistics in Anti-Bribery Investigations

Unraveling the Money Trail: The Vital Role of Linguistics in Anti-Bribery Investigations

June 6, 2024

Linguistics plays a crucial role in investigations under the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, a regulation focused on combating bribery and corruption in international business transactions. These investigations typically involve two components: scrutinizing the financial dealings of companies operating abroad to ensure compliance with the US and understanding human behavior within any number of global cultures.

FCPA investigations are complex and multifaceted, often requiring collaboration among government agencies, legal experts, internal compliance teams, and linguistic experts. Given the international nature of these investigations, linguistic and cultural factors play a significant role in understanding communications and uncovering evidence, highlighting the importance of linguistic expertise in navigating FCPA compliance.

The Meaning of Linguistics

Linguistics is the scientific study of language and its structure. Linguists analyze how languages evolve, how they are structured, how they are learned and processed by individuals, and how they are used in communication. Additionally, linguistics explores the cultural, social, and cognitive aspects of language. Linguistic analysis is crucial for interpreting communications, contracts, and other documents in different languages to ensure a comprehensive understanding of the information. In the context of FCPA investigations, linguistic expertise enables investigators to navigate through nuanced language usage, euphemisms, and cultural subtleties that may obscure illicit activities.

Unlikely Linguist Bedfellows: “Bleating Goats,” “Red Envelopes,” & “Bus Ticket”

Investigations start with an allegation of misconduct but are often clouded by euphemistic expressions, which tend to be the red flags. The investigator must navigate this by researching the players and stakeholders and learning how they talk, write, and, in general, communicate. Even the most advanced technology cannot really ever get to the essence of human communication; linguistics is a fundamental tool for understanding each investigation.

Where parties euphemistically exchange “bleating goats,” “red envelopes,” “bus tickets,” or other innuendos, linguistic analysis helps to uncover hidden patterns, identify potential red flags, and ultimately, facilitate the discovery of evidence pertinent to the investigation.

Moreover, the investigator’s mastery extends beyond language proficiency to encompass comprehensive knowledge of compliance requirements across various jurisdictions. This proficiency allows them to navigate the complex landscape of regulations seamlessly, mitigating risks and ensuring compliance adherence for organizations operating in multiple markets. In an era where regulatory scrutiny is increasingly stringent and language barriers persist, the synergy of linguistic and regulatory expertise becomes paramount for businesses striving for global success.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

AI already plays a pivotal role in the investigative process, offering enhanced solutions that create efficiencies and boost confidence. This significantly reduces the time and resources traditionally required for manual document review, expediting processes and enabling legal teams to focus on higher-value tasks. These tools and workflows leverage machine learning to understand context, recognize patterns, and learn from human decisions, thereby improving accuracy and minimizing the risk of overlooking critical evidence.

In terms of linguistics, AI should be leveraged to identify documents containing oblique language or euphemisms that may be utilized purposely to obscure illicit activities. The documents may also contain cultural or regional language and euphemisms that may be hidden from an English-speaking legal team. AI will facilitate the extraction of valuable insights from multilingual documentation, transcending language barriers to assist the legal team in ensuring a comprehensive understanding of the information.

AI-Powered Machine Translation

AI-powered machine translation greatly enhances an investigator’s ability to both proactively deter and reactively detect fraudulent behavior. By leveraging advanced algorithms and natural language processing techniques, these technologies can swiftly analyze vast amounts of multilingual data, uncovering patterns, anomalies, and linguistic nuances that may indicate suspicious activity. Through machine translation, investigators can effortlessly translate documents and communications in various languages, enabling a comprehensive understanding of complex cases spanning multiple jurisdictions.

Recent advancements in AI-powered machine translation have revolutionized the way organizations handle language barriers. Offering near-instantaneous translation capabilities that enhance communication and facilitate cross-border collaboration, AI-driven translation tools transform a cumbersome process of manually translating documents into a simple drag-and-drop translation. The more sophisticated AI machine translation, however, goes beyond mere word-for-word translation and incorporates context and linguistic nuances, resulting in more accurate and natural-sounding translations.


To be successful, FCPA investigation teams need to incorporate language and linguistic fluency and proficiency into the intricacies of investigating regulatory compliance.

Overcoming challenges and identifying relevant documents requires a strategic approach, particularly in navigating the subtleties of language and circumventing common search limitations. Euphemisms and oblique language often cloak crucial information, necessitating a nuanced understanding to decipher their true meaning. Conventional search methods often prove ineffective in uncovering such obscured data, highlighting the need for more sophisticated techniques. Here, the integration of data analytics emerges as a crucial tool, enabling the identification of patterns, anomalies, and correlations within vast datasets. By harnessing the power of data analytics, organizations can effectively uncover facts and insights that may otherwise remain hidden, thereby enhancing decision-making processes and ensuring a comprehensive understanding of the information landscape.

Blog Info
By Maria Gallo, Director of Special Investigations & FCPA and Robert Wagner, Global Director, Multilingual eDiscovery