October 21st, 2014

Self-Serving Statements Do Not Establish The Truth Of The Matter Asserted

FCPA Professor is the best website devoted to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Does this self-serving statement establish the truth of the matter asserted?

Of course not.

Yet, in the FCPA context it seems that many self-serving statements by political actors, advocates, and counsel are reported as establishing the truth of the matter asserted.

For instance, recently there was much reporting in the FCPA space regarding the DOJ’s so-called declination of Layne Christensen Company.

As highlighted in this prior post, the company has been under FCPA scrutiny since 2010 concerning conduct in Africa and as noted in this November 2013 post, the company disclosed that it was “engaged in discussions with the DOJ and the SEC regarding a potential negotiated resolution” of the matter.

However, in August Layne Christensen issued this release which stated in pertinent part:

“The DOJ has decided to not file any charges against the Company in connection with the previously disclosed investigation into potential violations of the FCPA.  The DOJ has notified Layne that it considers the matter closed. [...] Based on conversations with the DOJ, we understand that our voluntary disclosure, cooperation and remediation efforts have been recognized and appreciated by the staff of the DOJ and that the resolution of the investigation reflects these matters.”

The implicit suggestion from the company’s disclosure would seem to be that the reasons for the so-called declination was the company’s voluntary disclosure, cooperation and remediation.  Yet, the disclosure of course is little more than a self-serving statement that does not establish the truth of the matter asserted (indeed there have been many FCPA enforcement actions originating from voluntary disclosures during which the company cooperated and engaged in extensive remedial measures).

Moreover, there could be other reasons why the DOJ declined to prosecute Layne Christensen including the nature and quality of the evidence that the company actually violated the FCPA.  There is no way to test or measure the accuracy of Layne Christensen’s disclosure, yet the public is  invited to accept the self-serving statements as establishing the truth of the matter asserted.

Perhaps sensing a marketable moment, Layne Christensen’s counsel took the unusual step of issuing this press release. The release noted the “recently closed DOJ investigation” of its client and then cited to the substance of its own client’s press release.  In other words, the firm used its client’s self-serving statements to support its own self-serving statements with the implicit suggestion being that the nature and quality of the firm’s lawyering was a reason for the so-called declination of its client by the DOJ.

No big deal, everyone is entitled to engage in a bit of puffery aren’t they?

Yet, the problem arises when self-serving statements are then reported by others to establish the truth of the matter asserted.

And that is precisely what this recent article appeared to do.  The article began as follows.

“Often the best guidance on how to avoid Foreign Corrupt Practices Act charges comes from the details of cases that government authorities chose not to pursue. Companies looking to improve their FCPA compliance programs got two such cases recently. Together, the cases speak volumes about how to get a declination from the Department of Justice. In an unusual move, the Department of Justice opted not to bring enforcement actions against Image Sensing Systems and Layne Christensen in two separate cases pertaining to alleged violations of the FCPA. Statements issued by the companies themselves cite numerous reasons why the Justice Department declined to prosecute.” (emphasis added).

The article then quoted a number of self-serving statements from Layne Christensen’s counsel that appear to convince the reader of the truth of the matter asserted by the statements.

The above linked article even closed with the biggest self-serving statement of them all in the context of so-called DOJ declinations. The article stated:

“Learning from Morgan Stanley

In 2012, the Justice Department similarly exonerated Morgan Stanley of FCPA charges for its extensive cooperation, robust internal compliance program, and voluntary disclosure of the misconduct. “Often overlooked is one of the critical factors that led to that declination: Morgan Stanley assisted the government in identifying the individual executive responsible for the criminal conduct, Garth Peterson, and in securing evidence to hold Peterson criminally responsible,” [stated an industry participant]. For other companies facing an FCPA investigation, engaging the help of outside experts who have been through the process many times before and can help the company “not have to reinvent the wheel,” [stated an industry participant], really helps in the end to see the successful conclusion of an FCPA investigation and remediation.”

The above article cited, as so many articles have before, the self-serving statements in this April 2012 DOJ press release concerning its so-called Morgan Stanley declination.  However, the DOJ’s statements in that press release were not simply that of an umpire calling the balls and strikes.  Rather, the press release statements concerning Morgan Stanley are more properly viewed as statements by a political actor and advocate seeking to quell the then-existing growing tide of FCPA reform, including as to a compliance defense.  (See prior posts here and here for the context, timing, and background of the DOJ’s so-called Morgan Stanley declination).

In short, the DOJ was looking for an opportunity to make a policy statement – and a political move – yet to most this self-serving statement seemed to establish the truth of the matter asserted.  That this was the primary motivation of the DOJ’s so-called Morgan Stanley declination seems to become more apparent with time as it is a prominent talking point in nearly every DOJ FCPA policy speech since.  (See here – Sept. 2012); (here – October 2012); (here – Nov. 2012); (here – Nov. 2013); (here – Nov. 2013); (here – May 2014); (here – Sept. 2014); (here – Oct. 2014).

To anyone who has attended an FCPA conference in recent years, you know that self-serving statements dominate the conference circuit.

For instance, a DOJ or SEC enforcement official will state x, y, or z.  It is of course impossible to test the accuracy or veracity of x, y, or z, but the audience is of course invited to accept the self-serving statement as establishing the truth of the matter asserted.

Likewise, it is common on the conference circuit for FCPA Inc. participants to tell “war stories” about how they successfully negotiated with the DOJ or SEC as to issue x, y or z.  Again, it is of course impossible to test the accuracy or veracity of x, y or z, but once again the audience is invited to accept the self-serving statement as establishing the truth of the matter asserted.

To conclude, the point is this.

Self-serving statements are fine and political actors, advocates, and counsel are entitled to make them.  Yet, greater restraint should be exhibited in reporting self-serving statements as establishing the truth of the matter asserted.

Posted by Mike Koehler at 12:03 am. Post Categories: Declination DecisionsLayne ChristensenMorgan Stanley




October 20th, 2014

Is There Successor Liability For FCPA Violations?

A guest post today from Taylor Phillips (an attorney with Bass Berry & Sims in Washington, D.C.).

*****

Imagine you deliver pizza for a living.  You are good at your job, but there is another deliveryman who is the best in the business – Hiro Protagonist.  Thanks to a remarkably fast car, Hiro always makes his deliveries on time.

One day, however, Hiro asks if you are interested in buying the car.  He tells you that he had a “near miss” with a pedestrian and, shaken, he has decided to hang up his insulated pizza bag for good.  Because he offers you a good price on the car, you accept.

A few months later, the police show up at your door.  They inform you that Hiro did not have a “near miss” – he hit a pedestrian while making a delivery.  Worse, they say that because you bought substantially all of Hiro’s business assets, you are criminally culpable for the hit-and-run.  Moreover, because pizza delivery is a highly regulated industry, the Sicilian Edibles Commission brings an administrative action against your business based on Hiro’s failure to properly account for expenses related to the hit-and-run.

*****

Obviously, this hypothetical is grossly oversimplified, but its patent injustice highlights the problems with expansive successor liability.  As FCPA practitioners know, successor liability is a key part of the government’s enforcement of the FCPA.  Consequently, as the FCPA Professor put it recently, “the FCPA is a fundamental skill set for all business lawyers and advisers, including in the mergers and acquisitions context.”

Of course, many attorneys who are not well-versed in the FCPA will look first to the DOJ and SEC’s Resource Guide to the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.  It emphasizes that “[a]s a general legal matter, when a company merges with or acquires another company, the successor company assumes the predecessor company’s liabilities. . . . Successor liability applies to all kinds of civil and criminal liabilities, and FCPA violations are no exception.”  But is that right?

To assess the statement in the Resource Guide, it’s worth stepping back and considering how companies are purchased by other companies.  The most common acquisition structures are mergers, stock purchases, and asset purchases.  In a statutory merger, the resulting company assumes all the civil and criminal liability of its predecessor companies.  Thus, no transactional lawyer should be surprised that FCPA liabilities will transfer in a merger.  Conversely, in a stock purchase, there is no “successor”—the purchased company still exists, with all its existing liabilities.

Thus, asset purchases typically are the only cases in which “successor liability” is meaningfully analyzed by courts.  Interestingly, the rule is different from that stated in the Resource Guide: as a general legal matter, when a company acquires substantially all of another company’s assets, it does not assume the seller’s liabilities – even when it continues the seller’s business, brand, and contracts.

Of course, most rules have their exceptions, and there are four commonly recognized exceptions to the general rule of nonliability for asset purchasers.  The first exception—express or implied assumption of liabilities—simply states that where an acquirer intends to assume the liabilities of the seller, the law will enforce that intent.  The second exception—fraud—applies when the sale of assets would work a fraud on the seller’s creditors.  Finally, the third and fourth traditional exceptions—“mere continuation” and de facto merger—commonly are considered to be a single exception which can involve a number factors, depending on the idiosyncrasies of state law.  Critically, however, continuity of ownership between the buyer and seller typically is considered to be an indispensable factor for these two exceptions.  Thus, in accordance with traditional common law, an arms-length buyer that does not intentionally assume the seller’s liabilities nor engage in fraud will not be liable for the seller’s legal violations.  In other words, if only these exceptions applied to the hypothetical, the police would be wrong, and you would not have any successor liability, civil or criminal, for Hiro’s hit-and-run (even if you were well aware of it prior to the transaction).

Given this fairly clear answer, what explains the government’s silence regarding asset purchasers in the Resource Guide?  One potential answer is the “substantial continuity” exception.  In addition to the four traditional exceptions to successor nonliability referenced above, some federal courts have applied federal common law to find arms-length asset purchasers liable for violations of the seller where the asset purchaser (1) knew of the liability prior to the acquisition and (2) continued the enterprise of the seller.  Thus, unlike the traditional exceptions of “mere continuation” and “de facto merger,” the “substantial continuity” exception does not require continuity of ownership – merely continuity of enterprise.  Thus, if the substantial continuity exception applied to FCPA violations, there would be a plausible argument that China Valves had successor liability for Watts Waters’ FCPA violations (and that you would be at least civilly liable for Hiro’s hit-and-run).

Supreme Court precedent, however, strongly suggests that federal courts should incorporate state law rather than expand federal common law.  In particular, the Supreme Court’s decisions in United States v. Kimbell Foods, 440 U.S. 715 (1979), and United States v. Bestfoods, 524 U.S. 51 (1998), indicate that federal courts should adopt state law, rather than create a federal law of corporate liability.  Accordingly—as many circuit courts have found in other contexts—state successor liability law is applicable to many federal causes of action.  Because most states do not recognize the federal substantial continuity exception, several circuits do not apply the exception except in environmental, labor, and employment cases.

In short, there is a compelling argument that arms-length asset purchasers—even asset purchasers who continue the business of the seller and know about the seller’s FCPA violations—do not, as a matter of law, have successor liability for the FCPA violations of the seller.  For additional development of this argument see The Federal Common Law of Successor Liability and the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, ___ William & Mary Business Law Review ___ (forthcoming).

Despite the general rule of successor nonliability, the Resource Guide does not squarely address FCPA liability for asset purchasers.  If only there was some way to ask the government for guidance on its present enforcement position with respect to successor liability…

Posted by Mike Koehler at 12:03 am. Post Categories: Guest PostsSuccessor Liability




October 17th, 2014

Friday Roundup

Strange definitions, asset recovery, through the revolving door, and proof.  It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Strange Definitions

The Department of Justice and Securities and Exchange Commission sure do have some strange definitions.

For instance, in this Global Investigations Review Q&A, Marshall Miller (Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General) states:

“[W]ith respect to declinations, if we have good reason to investigate potential criminal conduct then we’re going to follow that investigation to its end. At times, we do decline to prosecute, and we do so in an appropriate and expeditious way. One of the things we’ve been talking about is how to ensure that those under investigation understand why and when we decline to prosecute. But primarily these are cases where there were significant indicia of wrongdoing, but the wrongdoing doesn’t add up to a federal criminal case and [these] are not examples of the Justice Department just charging into corporations where there’s no wrongdoing in the first place.”

When the wrongdoing under investigation “doesn’t add up to a federal criminal case” that is not a declination, it is what the law commands.

Over at the SEC, yesterday the agency touted its FY 2014 enforcement actions (see here).  Andrew Ceresney (Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement) stated:  “I am proud of our excellent record of success and look forward to another year filled with high-impact enforcement actions.”

Included in the SEC’s release is the following:

“Combatting Foreign Corrupt Practices and Obtaining Highest-Ever Penalties Against Individuals

With the exception of Weatherford all of the corporate enforcement actions were resolved through the SEC’s own administrative process wherein it needs to convince only itself of the strength of its case.  In addition, see here for the article “Why You Should Be Alarmed by the ADM FCPA Enforcement Action” and see here for the post “HP Enforcement Action-Where to Begin.”

As to that “excellent record of success,” in the former Siemens executives action, see here for the previous guest post by a former Assistant Director of the SEC’s Enforcement Division (“Sometimes you see something in a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act case that’s so inexplicable you wish someone would throw the red challenge flag and have the play reviewed under the hood or up in the booth.  Unfortunately, in the largely-overlooked wind-down phase of the SEC’s FCPA case against several former Siemens executives, the last of the defendants defaulted, so nobody was around to throw the challenge flag – and as a result the SEC seems to have gotten away with a doozy of a blown call.”).

Asset Recovery

Relevant to the DOJ’s Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative under which prosecutors in the DOJ Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section work in partnership with federal law enforcement agencies to forfeit the proceeds of foreign official corruption, the DOJ recently announced:

“[A] settlement of its civil forfeiture cases against assets in the United States owned by the Second Vice President of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue that he purchased with the proceeds of corruption.”

“Through relentless embezzlement and extortion, Vice President Nguema Obiang shamelessly looted his government and shook down businesses in his country to support his lavish lifestyle, while many of his fellow citizens lived in extreme poverty,” said Assistant Attorney General Caldwell.  “After raking in millions in bribes and kickbacks, Nguema Obiang embarked on a corruption-fueled spending spree in the United States.  This settlement forces Nguema Obiang to relinquish assets worth an estimated $30 million, and prevents Nguema Obiang from hiding other stolen money in the United States, fulfilling the goals of our Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative: to deny safe haven to the proceeds of large-scale foreign official corruption and recover those funds for the people harmed by the abuse of office.”

“While this settlement is certainly gratifying for the many investigators and prosecutors who worked tirelessly to bring it to fruition, it is undoubtedly even more rewarding for the people of Equatorial Guinea, knowing that at least some of the money plundered from their country’s coffers is being returned to them,” said Acting ICE Director Winkowski.  “ICE remains steadfast in its resolve to combat foreign corruption when the spoils of these crimes come to our shores and we are committed to seeking justice and compensation for the often impoverished victims.”

According to court documents, Nguema Obiang, the son of Equatorial Guinea’s President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, received an official government salary of less than $100,000 but used his position and influence as a government minister to amass more than $300 million worth of assets through corruption and money laundering, in violation of both Equatoguinean and U.S. law.  Through intermediaries and corporate entities, Nguema Obiang acquired numerous assets in the United States that he is agreeing to relinquish in a combination of forfeiture and divestment to a charity for the benefit of the people of Equatorial Guinea.

Under the terms of the settlement, Nguema Obiang must sell a $30 million mansion located in Malibu, California, a Ferrari automobile and various items of Michael Jackson memorabilia purchased with the proceeds of corruption.  Of those proceeds, $20 million will be given to a charitable organization to be used for the benefit of the people of Equatorial Guinea.  Another $10.3 million will be forfeited to the United States and will be used for the benefit of the people of Equatorial Guinea to the extent permitted by law.

Under the agreement, Nguema Obiang must also disclose and remove other assets he owns in the United States.  Nguema Obiang must also make a $1 million payment to the United States, representing the value of Michael Jackson memorabilia already removed from the United States for disbursement to the charitable organization.  The agreement also provides that if certain of Nguema Obiang’s other assets, including a Gulfstream Jet, are ever brought into the United States, they are subject to seizure and forfeiture.”

Related to the above action, the Wall Street Journal recently published this article titled “When U.S. Targets Foreign Leaders for Corruption, Recovering Loot Is a Challenge.”  The article notes:

“The [Obiang] settlement shows the ups and downs of the Justice Department’s Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative, announced in 2010. So far, the agency has collected about $600 million out of the $1.2 billion pursued from 15 cases against current or former officials and businessmen in at least 14 different countries, according to a review of the cases by the Journal. Most of the cases involve alleged bribery, extortion or embezzlement. Justice Department officials said additional cases haven’t been made public yet because their court filings are sealed.

[...]

“I am pleased to be able to end this long and costly ordeal,” Mr. Obiang wrote in a statement on his Facebook page. “I agreed to settle this case despite the fact that the U.S. federal courts had consistently found that the Department of Justice lacked probable cause to seize my property.” Lawyers for Mr. Obiang have said the disputed property was bought with money earned legally through timber concessions and companies he owns. The Justice Department faced daunting obstacles in its fight against Mr. Obiang that are common in corruption cases against foreign leaders. To win in court, the government must prove that assets in the U.S. were bought with proceeds of illegal activity in the country where the alleged corruption occurred. The money trail is even harder to follow when the target has a large number of overseas shell companies and accounts, as Mr. Obiang did, according to court filings in the civil case. “These accounts are suspicious,” U.S. District Judge George Wu said in a ruling last year. But he threw out most of the Justice Department’s case, concluding there “is no evidence that the defendant assets were purchased with those funds.” In December, the Justice Department filed a new civil suit against Mr. Obiang. Before the settlement was reached, the two sides were sparring over whether a statute of limitations had lapsed.”

McInerney to Davis Polk

As Chief of the DOJ’s Fraud Section and Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division, Denis McInerney was involved in setting DOJ FCPA policy during this declared new era of enforcement and frequently advanced those policy positions on the FCPA conference circuit.  McInerney recently left the DOJ and Davis Polk recently announced:

“McInerney … is returning to the firm as a partner in its Litigation Department and member of its white collar criminal defense and investigations practice.  As Chief of the Fraud Section (from 2010 to 2013) and then Deputy Assistant Attorney General overseeing the Fraud, Appellate and Capital Case Sections of the Criminal Division (from 2013 to 2014), Mr. McInerney was responsible for supervising approximately 100 prosecutors in the Fraud Section, which has responsibility for all Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) investigations conducted by DOJ, as well as a wide range of other complex white collar criminal investigations and prosecutions throughout the country, including corporate, securities, financial, health care and procurement fraud cases.

Among other matters, Mr. McInerney played a leadership role in DOJ’s investigations into the alleged manipulation of LIBOR and the foreign exchange market by various financial institutions around the world, and the preparation of A Resource Guide to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which was published by DOJ and the SEC in 2012.  Mr. McInerney’s tenure leading the Fraud Section was marked by a substantial increase in the number of defendants charged and convicted on an annual basis, as well as the number of trials conducted by Fraud Section prosecutors each year.

[...]

“We are delighted to welcome Denis back. His integrity, judgment and experience, both as a high-level DOJ official overseeing some of the nation’s most important white collar cases and as a skilled defense attorney representing institutions and individuals in their most sensitive investigations and trials, will be a great asset to our world-class litigation and white collar criminal defense teams,” said Thomas J. Reid, Davis Polk’s Managing Partner. “Denis rejoins an extraordinary and growing team of former government officials in our New York and Washington offices, including litigators who have held senior positions with DOJ, the SEC, the White House and the CIA.”

Mr. McInerney said, “I’m very grateful that I was given the opportunity to return to the Department for these last four plus years to help lead a terrific group of prosecutors at Main Justice in Washington. At the same time, I’m very glad to be home, not only with my family in New York, but with Davis Polk, a firm that is all about excellence, where I was fortunate to have practiced for 18 years. Returning to Davis Polk will give me the opportunity to work on some of the most important and interesting enforcement and regulatory matters in the country with an expanded and extremely talented litigation group.”

 Proof

Need further proof that it is indeed an FCPA world.  See here.

*****

A good weekend to all.

Posted by Mike Koehler at 12:03 am. Post Categories: Asset RecoveryDeclination DecisionsFCPA Inc.SEC




October 16th, 2014

Look In The Mirror Moments?

Looking in the MirrorFor some time, I have used the picture to the left in various public presentations when discussing certain public policy aspects of this new era of Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement.

Two developments related to China caused me to ponder the picture once again.

The first concerns a letter recently sent by U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew to Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang. The second concerns the general thrust of much “western” commentary concerning China’s recent enforcement action against GlaxoSmithKline.

Lew Letter

As highlighted in this recent Wall Street Journal article, Treasury Secretary Lew “warned his Chinese counterpart in a recent letter that a spate of antimonopoly investigations against foreign companies could have serious implications for relations between the two countries.”  As noted in the article, “the warning comes after international business lobbies have raised complaints over a string of monopoly and pricing probes that they say unfairly focus on foreign companies.”

Predictably, China reportedly responded to the letter and concerns by stating – as noted in the article – that foreign and domestic Chinese companies are treated equally, that foreign companies are “welcome to hire the most famous lawyers in the world” to dispute Chinese allegations, and that if foreign companies disagree with Chinese law enforcement interpretations any company is free to “take the discrepancies to court.”

Although outside the FCPA context, the trading of barbs between the U.S. and China has FCPA parallels as concerns have been raised about U.S. enforcement of the FCPA against foreign companies and similar “see you in court” type statements have been made by the DOJ in response.

It is a fact that the clear majority of the largest FCPA enforcement actions of all-time (based on settlement amounts) are against foreign companies.

It is also a fact that many of these enforcement actions have been based on spare jurisdictional allegations.  For instance and as highlighted in this prior post, the 2013 FCPA enforcement action against Total (the $398 million settlement amount was the third largest in FCPA history) was based on the following salient points:

  • The enforcement action was against a French oil and gas company for making improper payments to an Iranian Official through use of an employee of a Swiss private bank and a British Virgin Islands company.
  • The vast majority of the alleged improper conduct took place between 1995 and 1997 (that is 16 to 18 years ago prior to the enforcement action).
  • The sole U.S. jurisdictional nexus (a required legal element for an anti-bribery violation since Total is a foreign issuer) is a 1995 wire transfer of $500,000 (representing less than 1% of the alleged bribe payments at issue) from a New York based account.

Expansive FCPA enforcement theories against foreign actors made its way into the Senate’s 2010 FCPA hearing when Senator Christopher Coons stated:  ”Today we the only nation that is extending extraterritorial reach and going after the citizens of other countries, we may someday find ourselves on the receiving end of such transnational actions.”

As a matter of law, Senator Coon’s statement was technically inaccurate, there is no extraterritorial jurisdiction over foreign actors under the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions, but the expansive jurisdictional theories are what I have called “de facto extraterritoriality.”

In any event, the concluding point is this:  aggressive enforcement of domestic laws against foreign companies raise various policy issues and can lead to “lawfare.”  At the very least, when the tables are turned it ought to cause U.S. law enforcement agencies and policy makers to look in the mirror because Secretary Lew’s recent warning letter may be viewed by some as the “pot calling the kettle black.”

China GSK Enforcement Action

As previously highlighted here, in September GSK announced that it had agreed to pay approximately $490 million to resolve a Chinese law enforcement investigation after a Chinese court ruled “that GSK China Investment Co. Ltd (GSKCI) has, according to Chinese law, offered money or property to non-government personnel in order to obtain improper commercial gains, and been found guilty of bribing non-government personnel.”

The general thrust of certain “western” reporting of the China action was critical in various respects as highlighted below.

  • “an opaque justice system ultimately controlled by the Communist Party” (here)
  • “after a one day closed hearing” (here)
  • “The bribery conviction of a GSK unit took all of one day in Chinese court” “Unlike the U.S. Department of Justice, which often allows the companies accused of bribery to spend years conducting their own internal investigations–often followed with non-prosecution agreements–these convictions came just 15 months after Chinese officials began their investigation.”  ”Chinese authorities moved very quickly to assess significant penalties in a forum that provided very little transparency”  (here)
  • “Many of us had wondered when the GSK investigation in China would end and we all found about the trial when it was announced in the newspapers last week. It certainly showed that the quality of justice in China is quite different than in the west. While it is not entirely clear how long the trial lasted, it appeared that it was [a one-day trial] …” (here)

Without in any way trying to comprehensively compare the overall U.S. legal system to the overall Chinese legal system, the following attributes of FCPA enforcement must at least be acknowledged.

The vast majority of corporate FCPA enforcement actions lack transparency and the resolution documents (whether a non-prosecution agreement, deferred prosecution agreement or civil administrative order) are the result of an opaque process ultimately controlled by the same office prosecuting or bringing the action.

As to the swiftness of FCPA enforcement actions, one can only assume that the majority of general counsels and board of directors of companies under FCPA scrutiny would be jumping for joy if the scrutiny – from start to finish – would resolve itself in 15 months rather than the typical 3-5 years (and in some instances more) of FCPA scrutiny lingering.

The concluding point is this:  before criticizing how other countries are enforcing their anti-corruption laws (something the U.S. government has been pleading for other countries to do for years), we should at least look in the mirror regarding various aspects of FCPA enforcement.

Posted by Mike Koehler at 12:02 am. Post Categories: ChinaDouble Standard




October 15th, 2014

Trade Barriers And Distortions As A Root Cause Of Bribery – A Focus On China

I do not normally cite Chinese criminal defendants; in fact, I never have.

Yet, individuals from all circumstances in life are capable of recognizing the big picture and when such individuals with actual experience with the root causes of bribery make a valid point, we should at least take notice.

As highlighted in this recent Wall Street Journal article, Liu Tienan (the former head of China’s National Energy Administration and Senior Director in the National Development Reform Commission) admitted to accepting bribes in connection with various projects.  As noted in the article, “in his three decades at NDRC, Mr. Liu became one of the most powerful party officials running an agency that is rooted in China’s Communist past and that still decides which companies can expand and how banks should allocate loans.”

As noted in the article, at a hearing Mr. Liu reportedly testified that reducing official power is key to curbing corruption and stated “the major point, which is based on my own experience, is to give the market a great deal of power to make decisions.”

As Tom Fox observed on his FCPA Compliance and Ethics Blog, “it is almost if Lui is channeling his inner FCPA Professor when he speaks against artificial barriers to market entry.”

Indeed, I have long maintained that trade barriers and distortions are often the root causes of bribery and a reduction in bribery will not be achieved without a reduction in trade barriers and distortions.

These barriers and distortions – whether complex customs procedures, import documentation and inspection requirements, local sponsor or other third-party requirements, arcane licensing and certification requirements, quality standards that require product testing and inspection visits, or other foreign government procurement practices – all serve as breeding grounds for bribery.

The formula is not complex.

  • Trade barriers and distortions create bureaucracy.
  • Bureaucracy creates points of contact with foreign officials.
  • Points of contact with foreign officials create discretion.
  • Discretion creates the opportunity for a foreign official to misuse their position by making bribe demands.

Several FCPA enforcement actions demonstrate this point (see my article “Revisiting a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Compliance Defense” pgs. 619-625).  In addition, as highlighted in this prior post, there is a positive correlation between regulatory burdens when doing business in a foreign country and corruption in that foreign country.

In short, removal of trade barriers and distortions can help reduce bribe demands and the focus of the anti-corruption community should be less narrowly focused on pounding the pavement for more enforcement of FCPA-like laws (see prior posts here and here).  Among other things, enforcement of FCPA-like laws only addresses the supply of bribes, not the demand of bribes, or the root causes of many bribes.  More energy and attention should be spent on encouraging nations to eliminate trade barriers and distortions.

Back to Liu’s comments and how various trade barriers and distortions in China can serve as the root cause of bribery and corruption.

For instance, why is the Hollywood film industry under FCPA scrutiny for its practices in China?  It probably has something to do with the fact that “Hollywood studios have spent more than a decade working their way into China past government quotas, censors, and ever-changing regulations.”  (See here).

More comprehensively, consider a recent report by Covington & Burling detailing “market access restrictions and other restraints on foreign investment” in China.  As noted in the firm’s release:

“[Covington] developed an unparalleled database of publicly recorded laws, regulations, and other measures containing provisions that frame or limit foreign investment in China. The Covington team searched hundreds of thousands of measures issued by 80 central government agencies and five representative provincial-level governments, and in the process identified hundreds of provisions restraining foreign investment in China.

Beyond published measures, we reviewed key trade publications and conducted interviews with industry groups to identify and catalogue administrative practices that also may have a restraining effect on foreign investment. As foreign business leaders in China are well aware, many of the biggest obstacles to foreign participation in the Chinese economy are imposed unofficially by government officials exercising legal or extralegal discretion.

[...]

To facilitate our ability to identify restraining measures, we defined the following three categories of restraints:

Category 1: Restraints that favor domestic investors or investments over foreign investors or investments;

Category 2: Restraints that favor state-owned investors or investments over privately-owned (including foreign-owned) investors or investments; and

Category 3: Restraints that possibly favor domestic investors or investments over foreign investors or investments, depending on whether foreign-invested enterprises (FIEs) established in China would be regarded as “Chinese” entities and therefore deemed eligible to receive, on an equal basis, benefits made available to such entities.

[...]

[Covington's] manual review process identified over 800 restraints, which could be divided into three broad groups:

Pre-establishment restraints that impede market access for foreign investment;

Post-establishment restraints that treat foreign-invested entities less favorably; and

Broad policy statements that potentially result in less favorable treatment for foreign investors and investments during both the pre-establishment and post-establishment stages.

We found that within these three groups, restraining measures in China could be further subdivided into (i) four types of pre-establishment restraints – discriminatory local partner/equity requirements, market entry restrictions, approval process restraints, and technology transfer-related measures –and (ii) three types of post-establishment restraints – differentiated treatment through targeted enforcement, government financial support, and government procurement. In addition, we determined that the large number of broad policy statements we identified also constitute an important group of restraints, even though they do not mandate specific discriminatory treatment in and of themselves, because they often lead central government agencies or local governments to promulgate discriminatory measures or to exercise their administrative discretion in ways that disadvantage foreign investors and investments.

Investment activities by foreign businesses are also subject to restraining administrative practices, which reflect the following three characteristics of China’s administrative system:

Industrial policies explicitly designed to support the development of domestic industries and champions;

Relatively opaque approval processes led by officials explicitly mandated to help China achieve its industrial policy goals; and

The absence of effective recourse if approval authorities have not complied with international commitments or China’s own regulations.”

For a complete copy of the Covington report see here.  (See also this prior post which highlights a similar publication from Covington on “China’s Approval Process for Inbound Foreign Direct Investment”).

In short, Liu is right.

Key to achieving a reduction in bribery and corruption is eliminating trade barriers and distortions.

This problem of course is not China specific.

As noted in this recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal by India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, his new administration is committed to “eliminating unnecessary laws and regulations, making bureaucratic processes easier and shorter, and ensuring that our government is more transparent, responsive and accountable.”  (See also here as relevant to India).

Although trade barriers and distortions are often a root cause of bribery, I am not confident that there will be a broad consensus to eliminate such trade barriers and distortions.  After all, as highlighted in this recent post, trade barriers and distortions are used by all governments as “carrots” and “sticks” to accomplish selfish domestic goals whether political, economic or national security.

That is fine on one level, but so long as this dynamic persists, a reduction in bribery will not be fully achieved because trade barriers and distortions are often the root causes of bribery.

Posted by Mike Koehler at 12:04 am. Post Categories: ChinaTrade Barriers and Distortions