Attorney General Jeff Sessions Monday vowed to target individuals responsible for corporate malfeasance and will exercise restraint in penalizing corporations that have established credible legal compliance programs to safeguard against wrongdoing.

"The Department of Justice will continue to emphasize the importance of holding individuals accountable for corporate misconduct," Sessions said in remarks to a gathering of corporate ethics and compliance officers. "It is not merely companies, but specific individuals, who break the law. We will work closely with our law enforcement partners, both here and abroad, to bring these persons to justice."

When the DOJ decides to bring charges for corporate malfeasance, "we will continue to take into account whether companies have good compliance programs; whether they cooperate and self-disclose their wrongdoing; and whether they take suitable steps to remediate problems."

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"There is something not quite fair if honest, corporate shareholders end up having to pay the price for dishonest corporate leadership," he said.

DOJ policy already directs federal prosecutors to consider corporate compliance programs and cooperation with government officials when making charging decisions. The U.S. Sentencing Guidelines also provide for substantial penalty reductions for companies that self-disclose, cooperate and accept responsibility for their misconduct. "These principles will still guide our prosecutorial discretion determinations," he said.

"Our economy, and indeed, our whole system of self-government, depends on people believing that those who choose to disregard the law will be caught and punished," he told the  This is ultimately the responsibility of the Justice Department."

But more broadly, it depends on people and companies choosing of their own accord to obey the law and do the right thing. Making this happen is a larger task - one that is entrusted to all of us. Each of you plays an essential role in this work. So once again, thank you for your efforts, and thank you for listening to me today.

Leaning on his 15 years as a prosecutor, Sessions said "a good prosecutor can tell the difference (between) an honest mistake or an error and willful misconduct."