Washington - The US Justice Department has issued new guidelines that emphasize prosecuting individual executives in white-collar crime cases, and not just their corporations, according to a memo the New York Times posted on its website on Wednesday.
The newspaper said the rules spelled out to federal prosecutors in the memo came in response to criticism that the Obama administration had not vigorously pursued individuals in the financial meltdown and housing crisis of 2008 to 2009 and in various corporate scandals.
"Corporations can only commit crimes through flesh-and-blood people," Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, the author of the memo, told 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."
Yates was to discuss the new policy in a speech on Thursday at the New York University Law School.
The memo said companies would not get credit for cooperating with investigators unless they identify employees responsible for crimes and turn over evidence against them. Civil and criminal attorneys both should focus on individuals from the beginning of an investigation, it added.
The memo also said cases against corporations should not be resolved unless there is a clear plan to resolve related cases against individuals.
Yates said companies would not be allowed to let low-level employees take the blame in criminal cases.
"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.