International Economic Criminal Law

Posted: 25 Oct 2018 Last revised: 14 Mar 2020

See all articles by Kai Ambos

Kai Ambos

University of Goettingen (Gottingen)

Date Written: September 28, 2018


This inquiry explores the question of transnational companies’ criminal liability for international crimes, reviewing the current state of research in the field of international economic criminal law, a discipline that hitherto has received only scant analysis. Following some preliminary conceptual remarks (I.), the forms of corporate participation in such crimes (II.) and the supranational and national practice since Nuremberg are presented. This practice reveals a clear trend towards corporate liability, albeit represented by leading company staff. For this reason, and because legal persons (companies) ultimately act through natural persons (their staff), their liability (IV.) cannot be convincingly established on a purely collective basis – in the sense of a pure organisation model (IV. 4.1.) – but only on the basis of the attribution model, namely as a derivative corporate liability based upon supervisory or organisational culpability (IV.4.2.). The attribution model’s individual approach – or, to use procedural terms, the individualistic “trigger” for the prosecution of companies – finally brings us to the well-known forms of criminal participation (V.), with liability for complicity in particular coming into question. All in all, the essay concludes (VI.), we should not expect too much of (international) criminal corporate liability. Here, as in many other areas, criminal law can only have a (limited) preventive effect as part of a holistic approach.

Suggested Citation

Ambos, Kai, International Economic Criminal Law (September 28, 2018). Criminal Law Forum, 29 (2018) 499-566. Available at SSRN:

Kai Ambos (Contact Author)

University of Goettingen (Gottingen) ( email )

Platz der Göttinger Sieben 5
Göttingen, 37073

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