March 30th, 2015

The Numbers Do Not Support Chair White’s Statement Regarding Individual FCPA Enforcement Actions

SupportIn this recent testimony before the House Financial Services Committee, SEC Chair Mary Jo White stated: “as in other areas, the Commission is focused on holding individuals accountable in FCPA cases.” (emphasis added).

The numbers do not support White’s statement.

As highlighted in this recent post, since 2008 approximately 85% of SEC corporate FCPA enforcement actions have not (at least yet) resulted in any related SEC action against company employees.

Indeed, prior to the SEC’s November 2014 FCPA enforcement action against Stephen Timms and Yasser Ramahi (individuals who worked in sales at FLIR System Inc.) there was a 2.5 year gap in any SEC individual enforcement actions.  During that 2.5 years, the SEC brought 19 corporate enforcement actions and not one involved any related SEC action against company employees.

As to the accountability portion of White’s statement, the two SEC individual FCPA enforcement during the last three years (the above Timms / Ramahi action and the January 2015 action against former PBSJ International employee Walid Hatoum) involved SEC administrative orders in which the individuals were allowed to settle without admitting or denying the SEC’s findings.

It is debatable what is more concerning.

A political actor making assertions without knowledge of and/or understanding of the underlying facts.

Or a political actor making assertions with knowledge of and/or understanding of the underlying facts, but making the political statement anyway.

Regardless of the cause or reason prompting Chair White’s recent statement, the numbers do not support her assertion that the SEC is “focused on holding individuals accountable in FCPA cases.”

Posted by Mike Koehler at 12:03 am. Post Categories: Congressional ActivityEnforcement Agency SpeechesFCPA StatisticsIndividual Enforcement ActionSEC




March 27th, 2015

Friday Roundup

Roundup2Is this appropriate, sentenced, scrutiny alerts and updates, quotable, a future foreign official teaser?, Brazil update, and for the reading stack.

It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Is This Appropriate?

If this truly is an event, “Drinks With an FBI Agent – Inside Stories From the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act,” is it appropriate?

Sentenced

Chinea and DeMeneses Sentences

The DOJ announced

“Benito Chinea and Joseph DeMeneses, the former chief executive officer and former managing director of a broker-dealer Direct Access Partner “were sentenced to prison … for their roles in a scheme to pay bribes to a senior official in Venezuela’s state economic development bank, Banco de Desarrollo Económico y Social de Venezuela (Bandes), in return for trading business that generated more than $60 million in commissions.”

Chinea and DeMeneses were each sentenced to four years in prison.  They were also ordered to pay $3,636,432 and $2,670,612 in forfeiture, respectively, which amounts represent their earnings from the bribery scheme.  On Dec. 17, 2014, both defendants pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and the Travel Act.”

In the release, Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell stated:

“These Wall Street executives orchestrated a massive bribery scheme with a corrupt official in Venezuela to illegally secure tens of millions of dollars in business for their firm. The convictions and prison sentences of the CEO and Managing Director of a sophisticated Wall Street broker-dealer demonstrate that the Department of Justice will hold individuals accountable for violations of the FCPA and will pursue executives no matter where they are on the corporate ladder.”

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara of the Southern District of New York stated:

“Benito Chinea and Joseph DeMeneses paid bribes to an officer of a state-run development bank in exchange for lucrative business she steered to their firm. Chinea and DeMeneses profited for a time from the corrupt arrangement, but that profit has turned into prison and now they must forfeit their millions of dollars in ill-gotten gains as well as their liberty.”

Elgawhary Sentence

This previous post highlighted the DOJ enforcement action against Asem Elgawhary, a former principal vice president of Bechtel Corporation and general manager of a joint venture operated by Bechtel and an Egyptian utility company, for allegedly accepting $5.2 million in kickbacks to manipulate the competitive bidding process for state-run power contracts in Egypt.

The DOJ recently announced that Elgawhary was sentenced to 42 months in federal prison.

When the Alstom enforcement action was announced in December 2014 (see here and here for prior posts), Elgawhary was described as an Egyptian “foreign official.”

So what was Elgawhary?

A former principal vice president of Bechtel Corporation and general manager of a joint venture operated by Bechtel and an Egyptian utility company or a Egyptian “foreign official?”

Can the DOJ have it both ways?

Scrutiny Alerts and Updates

Anheuser-Busch InBev

Anheuser-Busch InBev recently disclosed in its annual report:

“We have been informed by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice that they are conducting investigations into our affiliates in India, including a non-consolidated Indian joint venture that we previously owned, ABInBev India Private Limited, and whether certain relationships of agents and employees were compliant with the FCPA. We are investigating the conduct in question and are cooperating with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice.”

Bilfinger

As highlighted in this previous post, in December 2013 German-based Bilfinger paid approximately $32 million to resolve an FCPA enforcement action concerning alleged conduct in Nigeria.  The enforcement action was resolved via a three-year deferred prosecution agreement.

As noted in the previous post, Bilfinger’s CEO described the conduct at issue as “events from the distant past.”

From the not-so distant past, Bilfinger recently announced:

“Bilfinger received internal information last year indicating that there may have been violations of the Group’s compliance regulations in connection with orders for the supply of monitor walls for security control centres in several large municipalities in Brazil. The company immediately launched a comprehensive investigation. The allegation relates to suspected bribery payments from employees of a Bilfinger company in Brazil to public officials and employees of state companies.”

See here for a follow-up announcement from the company.

As a foreign company, Bilfinger is only subject to the FCPA’s anti-bribery violations to the extent the payment scheme involves a U.S. nexus (as was alleged in the prior Bilfinger FCPA enforcement action).

IBM

Canadian media reports:

“Seven people, including Revenue Quebec employees and officials with computer companies IBM and EBR, were [recently] arrested … in connection with an alleged corruption scheme aimed at obtaining a government IT contract worth $24 million.Two Revenue Quebec employees, Hamid Iatmanene and Jamal El Khaiat, stand accused of providing privileged information about an upcoming government contract to a consortium made up of IBM and Quebec company Informatique EBR Inc.”

As highlighted here, in 2000 IBM resolved an FCPA enforcement action.

As highlighted here, in 2011 IBM resolved another FCPA enforcement action.  This enforcement action was filed in federal court (back in the day when the SEC actually filed FCPA enforcement actions in federal court vs. its preferred in-house method now) and Judge Richard Leon was concerned about the settlement process.  As highlighted here, Judge Leon approved the settlement, but his July 2013 final order states, among other things:

“[For a two year period IBM is required to submit annual reports] to the Commission and this Court describing its efforts to comply with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”), and to report to the Commission and this Court immediately upon learning it is reasonably likely that IBM has violated the FCPA in connection with either improper payments to foreign officials to obtain or retain business or any fraudulent books and records entries …””

According to media reports, Judge Leon stated: “if there’s another violation over the next two years, it won’t be a happy day.”

Quotable

In this Law360 article, Richard Grime (former Assistant Director of Enforcement at the SEC and current partner at Gibson Dunn) states regarding recent alleged FCPA violations.

“It’s not that you couldn’t intellectually [conceive of] the violation. It’s that the government is sort of probing every area where there is an interaction with government officials and then working backwards from there to see if there is a violation, as opposed to starting out with the statute … and what it prohibits.”

Given that most SEC FCPA enforcement actions are the result of voluntary disclosures, it is a curious statement.  Perhaps its companies, at the urging of FCPA Inc., that are probing every area where there is an interaction with government officials and then working backwards?

*****

As reported here:

“Greek authorities [recently] indicted 64 people to stand trial over years-old allegations of bribery involving Siemens AG, the German engineering giant … A probe of corporate dealings from 1992 to 2006 allegedly found that Greece had lost about 70 million euros in the sale of equipment from Siemens to Greek telephone operator Hellenic Telecommunications also known as OTE, which was still owned by the state at the beginning of that period … A panel of judges decided that those indicted, including both Greek and German nationals, should stand trial for bribery or money laundering. The list of suspects includes former Siemens and OTE officials.”

As noted here, Joe Kaeser (President and CEO of Siemens) reportedly stated:

“I really believe the country (Greece) can move to the future, rather than trying to find the solutions in the past.” He added that his company had a “dark history,” mentioning compliance issues. But he said it was not a “black and white story” when asked whether the indictments had been politically motivated by the current friction between the German and Greek governments. ”Looking at the past doesn’t help the future because the past is the past.”

If the U.S. brings FCPA enforcement actions based on conduct that in some instances is 10 – 15 years old, it is not surprising that Greece is doing the same.  Yet is this right?

As the U.S. Supreme Court recently stated in Gabelli:

“Statute of limitations are intended to ‘promote justice by preventing surprises through the revival of claims that have been allowed to slumber until evidence has been lost, memories have faded, and witnesses have disappeared.  They provide ‘security and stability to human affairs.  [They] are ‘vital to the welfare of society [and] ‘even wrongdoers are entitled to assume that their sins may be forgotten.’ […] It ‘would be utterly repugnant to the genius of our laws if actions for penalties could ‘be brought at any distance of time.’”

****

Since day one, I called Morgan-Stanley’s so-called declination politically motivated.  (See here and here).

I am glad to see that FCPA commentator Michael Volkov recently joined the club.  Writing on the Garth Peterson / Morgan Stanley so-called declination, Volkov states:  ”my intelligence on the case indicated that … [the] DOJ apparently wanted to demonstrate for political reasons that it could recognize a company’s compliance program to decline a case against a company.

A Future Foreign Official Teaser?

As recently reported by the Wall Street,

“China’s leadership is preparing to radically consolidate the country’s bloated state-owned sector, telling thousands of enterprises they need to rely less on state life support and get ready to list on public markets. [...] Communist Party leaders plan to release broad guidelines in the next months for restructuring the country’s more than 100,000 state-owned enterprises, according to government officials and advisers with knowledge of the deliberations. [...]  Strategically important industries such as energy, resources and telecommunications are marked for consolidation, the officials and advisers say. The merged entities would then be reorganized as asset-investment firms, with a mandate to make sure they run more like commercial operations than arms of the government. Upper management will be under orders to maximize returns and prepare many of the companies for eventual listing on stock markets, these people say.”

In U.S. v. Esquenazi, the 11th Circuit concluded that  an “instrumentality” under the FCPA is an “entity controlled by the government of a foreign country that performs a function the controlling government treats as its own.” The Court recognized that what “constitutes control and what constitutes a function the government treats as its own are fact-bound questions” and, without seeking to list all “factors that might prove relevant,” the court did list “some factors that may be relevant” in deciding issues of control and function.

As to control, the 11th Circuit listed the following factors:

“[whether] the foreign government’s formal designation of that entity; whether the government has a majority interest in the entity; the government’s ability to hire and fire the entity’s principals; the extent to which the entity’s profits, if any, go directly into the governmental fisc, and, by the same token, the extent to which the government funds the entity if it fails to break even; and the length of time these indicia have existed.”

As to function, the 11th Circuit listed the following factors:

“whether the entity has a monopoly over the function it exists to carry out; whether the government subsidizes the costs associated with the entity providing services; whether the entity provides services to the public at large in the foreign country; and whether the public and the government of that foreign country generally perceive the entity to be performing a governmental function.”

Have fun applying this test should China’s proposed changes go forward.

Brazil Update

My own cents regarding Brazil’s recent implementation of regulations regarding certain features of its Clean Companies Act (a law which provides for only civil and administrative liability of corporate entities for alleged acts of bribery) is that the regulations are a yawner for any company that is already acting consistent with FCPA best practices.

Yet, if you feel the urge to read up on Brazil’s recent regulations, comprehensive coverage can be found here from Debevoise & Plimpton and here from FCPAmericas.

For the Reading Stack

A thoughtful article here from Alexandra Wrage (President of Trace) regarding the “cult of the imperfect.”  It states:

“Sir Robert Alexander Watson-Watt is credited with saving thousands of lives in Britain during the worst days of World War II after developing Chain Home, a low-frequency radar system able to detect aircraft from about 90 miles away. He openly encouraged what he called the “cult of the imperfect” among his team. He knew that Britain didn’t need the best possible radar system in five years; the country needed a viable radar system urgently. Immediately. Watson-Watt, who was knighted shortly after the Battle of Britain, is said to have instructed his team to strive for the third-best option, because “the second-best comes too late . . . the best never comes.

[...]

Perfect due diligence risk assessments never come. And even second-best may come too late. Just get started. You’ll see more protections and benefits from good (for now) than perfect (some day, maybe . . .).”

Sound advice that I agree with and completely consistent with Congressional intent in enacting the FCPA’s internal controls provisions and even prior enforcement agency guidance.

Problem is, the DOJ and SEC wear rose-colored glasses, including as to conduct years ago, and if a company is acting consistent with FCPA best practices 99% of the time, that means 1% of the time they are not.

*****

A good weekend to all. On Wisconsin!





March 26th, 2015

Just Because “The FCPA Is Not Commonly The Subject Of Litigation” Does Not Create A Substantial Federal Interest In State Law Claims Related To The FCPA

Judicial DecisionIn any given year there tends to be 7 – 10 core Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement actions, the vast majority of which are not actually litigated.

While courts have concluded that the FCPA does not contain a private right of action, often times FCPA-related issues are litigated in connection with other substantive causes of action.

For more on this dynamics, see the article “Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Ripples.

Many of these cases tend to be derivative actions in which a shareholder claims that officers and directors breached fiduciary duties by allegedly allowing the company to operate without sufficient FCPA compliance policies or procedures and/or not properly monitoring and supervising those policies and procedures in place.  Such breach of fiduciary duties claims are state law claims arising under the corporation’s state of incorporation.

In connection with its FCPA scrutiny that was resolved in 2014 (see here for the prior post), Avon was hit derivative claims filed in state court, the typical venue for derivative claims.

However, Avon was also hit with a derivative claim filed in federal court and that is the focus of this post.

In Pritika v. Moore, 2015 WL 1190157 (S.D.N.Y., March 16, 2015), an Avon shareholder alleged the typical breach of fiduciary claims against current and former Avon officers and directors and asserted that the federal court had subject matter jurisdiction of the claims because they were “dependent on the resolution of substantial questions of federal law.”  The defendants filed a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and the court (Judge Paul Gardephe) granted the motion.

After noting that federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, the court did acknowledge that “even where a claim finds its origins in state rather than federal law” there may exist a “special and small category of cases in which arising under jurisdiction still lies”

In short, the court concluded that the Avon shareholder’s claims were not within the category.

The analysis section of the opinion states as follows (certain internal citations omitted).

“Here, it is undisputed that Plaintiff’s state law claims for breach of fiduciary duty, waste of corporate assets, and unjust enrichment are predicated on the allegation that Defendants caused or permitted Avon to violate the FCPA. Accordingly, this Court will assume, for purposes of resolving Defendants’ motion to dismiss … that the state law claims (1) raise a federal issue that (2) is actually disputed.

Plaintiff’s jurisdiction argument falters, however … [because they] do not raise a substantial federal issue, because any issue related to the FCPA that is presented by this case lacks the requisite “importance … to the federal system as a whole.” As noted above, “it is not enough that the federal issue be significant to the particular parties in the immediate suit,” and here the significance of the federal issue does not extend beyond the parties to this particular dispute.

Although Avon’s compliance with the FCPA will be one of the critical issues in this litigation, this case does not implicate the validity of the FCPA or the requirements that the Act imposes. Moreover, this case does not involve the application of a “complex federal regulatory scheme,” such as the “complex reimbursement schemes created by Medicare law, or the web of rate-making laws and regulations applicable to cable television providers. The FCPA-as Plaintiff describes it-only “prescribes a ‘reasonableness’ or prudent person standard for assessing [the] adequacy of issuers’ practices.” Finally, this case involves, at best, the application of a federal legal standard to private litigants’ state law claims. It will not have broad consequences to the federal system or the nation as a whole.

The critical issues in this case are primarily factual: whether Avon’s employees committed acts that violate the FCPA and, if so, whether Defendants caused or permitted these violations. While “[t]here is no doubt that resolution of [these questions under the FCPA's legal standard] is important to the particular parties in the case[,] … something more, demonstrating that the question is significant to the federal system as a whole, is needed.” That “something more” is lacking here.

It is not sufficient-as Plaintiff suggests-that in determining whether Defendants’ conduct meets FCPA standards, a court may be required to interpret certain provisions of the Act, and may thereby affect the development of the law. The same could be said for every case that involves state law claims invoking a federal standard. Whenever a court applies a given legal standard, that court’s opinion could theoretically affect other courts’ interpretation of that legal standard. If this were a sufficient basis for “arising under” jurisdiction, the “extremely rare exception[ ]” discussed in Gunn, 133 S.Ct. at 1064, would swallow up the general rule. “Arising under” jurisdiction would be available in any case premised on state law claims, so long as parties cited a federal statute as providing the legal standard. Such a result is particularly problematic in cases such as this, where Congress has declined to grant a private right of action under the federal statute. See Lamb , 915 F.2d at 1024  (“[N]o private right of action is available under the FCPA.”).“[I]f the federal … standard [under the FCPAJ without a federal cause of action could get a state claim into federal court, so could any other federal standard without a federal cause of action.”

Plaintiff argues, however, that “the body of federal case law interpreting the FCPA is quite small,” and that “[u]nder these circumstances … the federal interest in affording federal courts every opportunity to issue the first authoritative statements about this important federal law is even more substantial.” There is no evidence, of course, that any significant novel issue under the FCPA will be raised in this litigation. But even if such a question could be anticipated, “whether a particular claim arises under federal law” does not turn “on the novelty of the federal issue.”

Accordingly, assuming arguendo that the FCPA is not commonly the subject of litigation, that fact does not create a substantial federal interest in this case.

Finally, this Court could not exercise subject matter jurisdiction here “without disturbing [the] congressionally approved balance of federal and state judicial responsibilities.” While “the absence of a federal private right of action [i]s … not dispositive of the ‘sensitive judgments about congressional intent’ that [arising under jurisdiction requires] Congress’s decision not to grant a private right of action is nonetheless “relevant to” this Court’s inquiry.

Here, exercising subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s state law claims would be tantamount to recognizing a private right of action under the FCPA. Such an approach would “open the floodgates” to federal court litigation of private disputes raising issues under the FCPA, an outcome directly contrary to Congress’s apparent intent. Whenever a company disclosed an FCPA investigation, it could expect a federal court lawsuit founded on state law claims. Congress intended that federal court litigation under the FCPA would proceed by way of SEC and DOJ enforcement actions, however, and not via private suit. Accordingly, exercising subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s state law claims would violate the “congressionally approved balance of federal and state judicial responsibilities.”

In short, shareholder derivative actions in the FCPA context belong in state court, not federal court.

As to those claims filed in state court, shareholders rarely proceed past the motion to dismiss stage.  However, this has not prevented opportunistic plaintiffs’ counsel (who often take such cases on a contingency fee basis) from filing such actions in connection with numerous instances of FCPA scrutiny.

 

Posted by Mike Koehler at 12:03 am. Post Categories: AvonPrivate Right of ActionRelated Civil Litigation




March 25th, 2015

A Look Back At 2014 FCPA Enforcement And Related Developments

2014 year in reviewEach year, in addition to numerous posts published on this site, I author a year a review / recent developments article devoted to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and related issues.

The 2014 version is forthcoming in the Santa Clara Journal of International Law and can be downloaded for free here.

Among the issues addressed in the article are the following:

  • A wide variety of FCPA enforcement statistics from 2014;
  • A comparison of enforcement statistics from 2014 to prior years;
  • The wide spectrum of FCPA enforcement actions from 2014 and how the breadth of such allegations send confusing compliance messages to those subject to the FCPA;
  • The wide gap between corporate and individual FCPA enforcement and a relevant data point which helps explain the gap;
  • The surge in SEC administrative actions to resolve alleged instances of FCPA scrutiny and why the surge is problematic;
  • The most important FCPA legal development from 2014; and
  • How judicial scrutiny of enforcement theories related to FCPA enforcement should cause pause as to certain FCPA enforcement theories.

Combine the 2014 year in review article with the ones below and you will have an extensive collection of FCPA statistics, trends, and analysis over time.

For 2013, see here.

For 2012, see here.

For 2011, see here.

For 2010, see here.

For 2009, see here.

Posted by Mike Koehler at 12:03 am. Post Categories: FCPA ScholarshipYear in Review 2014




March 24th, 2015

SEC Enforcement Director Talks FCPA And Is On The Hot Seat Over Administrative Proceedings

SECLast week, Andrew Ceresney testified before the House Financial Services in a hearing titled “Oversight of the SEC’s Enforcement Division.”

As highlighted below, Ceresney’s testimony touched upon Foreign Corrupt Practices Act issues and during the hearing Ceresney was on the hot seat regarding the surge in SEC administrative proceedings to resolve enforcement actions.

In his written testimony, Ceresney stated as following regarding the FCPA.

“Pursuing violations of the FCPA remains a critical part of our enforcement efforts, as international bribery saps investor confidence in the legitimacy of a company’s performance and undermines the accuracy of a company’s books and records, among other negative impacts. The Division, and particularly the specialized FCPA unit, is active in this area, bringing significant and impactful cases, often in partnership with its law enforcement and regulatory counterparts both at home and abroad. Last fiscal year, the Commission obtained orders for over $380 million in disgorgement and penalties in FCPA cases. In FY 2013, the SEC and DOJ released A Resource Guide to the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The guide takes a multi-faceted approach toward setting forth the statute’s requirements, providing insights into SEC and DOJ enforcement practices.

In today’s globalized marketplace, Enforcement’s ability to protect investors and maintain fair and efficient markets is often dependent on the Division’s ability to investigate misconduct that takes place, at least in part, abroad. In coordination with the SEC’s Office of International Affairs, the Division has expanded its efforts to obtain evidence of potential wrongdoing from around the globe. Many of Enforcement’s FCPA investigations rely on evidence obtained from foreign jurisdictions, and often are conducted in parallel with foreign governments. Other areas, such as financial reporting and accounting fraud, asset management, and insider trading, also often rely on evidence obtained through foreign regulators.”

Whether many of the SEC’s recent FCPA enforcement actions (such as Bruker Corp., Layne Christensen, Smith & Wesson and one against former employees of FLIR System, Inc ) were “significant and impactful” is of course subject to debate.

During the hearing, Ceresney found himself on the hot seat over the SEC’s prominent use of administrative proceedings to resolve enforcement actions.  As highlight in this article, Rep. Scott Garrett (R-N.J.) reportedly stated as follows in an opening statement:

“While bringing more cases through the administrative proceedings can lead to lower costs for the agency and increases in efficiency, it’s important to realize that those benefits come with a cost. The cost is less due process protections for defendants.”

“Because the SEC’s administrative proceedings use the SEC’s procedural rules, respondents are forced to operate on a condensed timeframe and do not have the benefit of some of the fundamental due process protections under federal civil procedures.”

As noted in the article:

“Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.) also hammered the agency’s head of enforcement, Andrew Ceresney, over the fairness of administrative law proceedings. Duffy questioned the SEC’s track record in these hearings, in which it won 100 percent of its cases last year.

“You won every case. How about with regard to the cases you brought in federal court? One hundred percent there? No, you won 11 out of 18 [cases]. You think there could be any correlation when you actually hire the judges, and you set the rules, that you win all the cases?” Duffy asked somewhat sarcastically.”

Concern as to the surge in the SEC’s use of the administrative process to resolve enforcement actions, including in the FCPA context, is warranted.

As highlighted in prior posts, of the seven SEC corporate FCPA enforcement actions in 2014, six (86%) were resolved through SEC administrative orders meaning there was not one ounce of judicial scrutiny.

Judge Jed Rakoff (S.D.N.Y.) has been among the more prominent critics of this surge. As highlighted in this prior post, Judge Rakoff has asked:  “is the SEC becoming a law unto itself?”

Posted by Mike Koehler at 12:06 am. Post Categories: Congressional ActivitySEC