Archive for the ‘Act of State Doctrine’ Category

An FCPA Enforcement Action That Led To A Supreme Court Decision

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

[This post is part of a periodic series regarding "old" FCPA enforcement actions]

The first Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement action to involve business conduct in Nigeria was a 1985 enforcement action against W.S. Kirkpatrick, Inc. (a privately held New Jersey avionics supply firm) and Harry Carpenter (Chairman and CEO of the company).

The criminal informations filed against the company (here) and Carpenter (here) alleged one count of violating the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions and contains the same concise allegation.

“On or about December 21, 1982 … W.S. Kirkpatrick, Inc. … used a means and instrumentality of interstate commerce, that is, a Western Union international telex from Fairfield, New Jersey, to New York, New York, to order Standard Chartered Bank of New York to pay $580,973 to the Bank of New York for the account of Bank of Commerce and Credit International in Luxembourg corruptly in furtherance of an offer, payment, promise to pay and authorization of the payment of money to: (a) a person, that is Benson ‘Tunde’ Akindale through two companies, Deriks and Los, Panamanian bearer share corporations, while having reason to believe that a portion of such money would be offered, given, or promised, directly or indirectly to foreign officials, Nigerian Air Force officers, the Party of Nigeria, the Minister of Nigeria and other government defense personnel for the purpose of influencing the acts and decisions of such foreign officials and others in their official capacity and inducing them to use their influence within the Government of Nigeria in order to obtain a contract for flight training equipment for W.S. Kirkpatrick, Inc.”

An offer of proof filed in Carpenter’s case contains the following additional information.

Carpenter learned of the opportunity to sell various equipment to the Nigerian Air Force and he “believed Kirkpatrick needed an agent in Nigeria to assist in negotiating and obtaining the contract.”  “On recommendation of two British businessmen, Carpenter contracted a London solicitor, who in turn put him in touch with Benson ‘Tunde’ Akindele, a Nigerian national.”  According to the offer of proof, “Akindele offered to assist Kirkpatrick by serving as its local agent in Nigeria.  Carpenter negotiated an agreement with Akindele which provided that Kirkpatrick would pay a commission equal to twenty percent of the contracted price of [the equipment] to two Panamanian bearer share corporations, which were set up, and controlled by Akindele to receive payments from Kirkpatrick.”

W.S. Kirkpatrick Inc. pleaded guilty and was fined $75,000 (see here) and Carpenter pleaded guilty, was sentenced to three years probation and ordered to pay a $10,000 fine (see here).  Noted white collar criminal defense attorney Theodore Wells (here) represented Carpenter.

See here for the DOJ’s release which notes that the contract at issue was worth $10.8 million.

After the DOJ enforcement action, Environmental Tectonics Corporation (“ETC” –  an unsuccessful bidder for certain of the Nigerian contracts which first brought the problematic conduct to the attention of the Nigerian Air Force and the U.S. Embassy) brought a civil action against W.S. Kirkpatrick, Carpenter, Akindele and others seeking damages under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, the Robinson-Patman Act and the New Jersey Anti-Racketeering Act.

The defendants moved to dismiss the complaint on the ground that the action was barred by the act of state doctrine.  The district court granted the motion and concluded that the act of state doctrine applies “if the inquiry presented for judicial determination includes the motivation of a sovereign act which would result in embarrassment to the sovereign or constitute interference in the conduct of foreign policy of the United States.”  See 659 F.Supp. 1381.    The court held that ETC’s suit had to be dismissed because, in order to prevail, it would have to show that “the defendants or certain or them intended to wrongfully influence the decision to award the Nigerian Contract by payment of a bribe, that the Government of Nigeria, its officials or other representatives knew of the offered consideration for awarding the Nigerian Contract to Kirkpatrick, that the bribe was actually received or anticipated and that ‘but for’ the payment or anticipation of the payment of the bribe, ETC would have been awarded the Nigerian Contract.”

The Third Circuit reversed finding that application of the act of state doctrine was unwarranted given the facts of the case.  In particular, the Third Circuit found persuasive a letter to the district court by the State Department legal adviser which stated that a judicial inquiry into the purpose behind the act of a foreign sovereign would not produce the ‘unique embarrassment, and the particular interference with the conduct of foreign affairs that may result from the judicial determination that a foreign sovereign’s acts are invalid.”

Defendants then appealed to the Supreme Court which agreed to hear the case.

In 1990, Justice Scalia authored the opinion of a unanimous Supreme Court.  See 493 U.S. 400.  The opinion begins as follows.  “In this case, we must decide whether the act of state doctrine bars a court in the United States from entertaining a cause of action that does not rest upon the asserted invalidity of an official act of a foreign sovereign, but that does require imputing to foreign officials an unlawful motivation (the obtaining of bribes) in the performance of such an official act.”

The Court concluded that the “factual predicate for application of the act of state doctrine does not exist” because nothing in the case required the Court to declare invalid the official act of a foreign sovereign.  The Court reasoned that “neither the claim nor any asserted defense requires a determination that Nigeria’s contract with Kirkpatrick International was, or was not, effective,” that ETC “was not trying to undo or disregard the governmental action,” but rather that ETC was only trying to “obtain damages from private parties who had procured” the contract.

In short, the Court stated that the act of state doctrine “has no application to the present case because the validity of no foreign sovereign act is at issue.”

Giffen’s Contribution to FCPA Case Law

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

Notwithstanding its mysterious conclusion, the Giffen enforcement action was instructive because it represented a rare instance in which an FCPA defendant mounted an aggressive legal defense. As a result, the long enforcement action yielded FCPA case law, even though the issues subjected to judicial scrutiny did not involve core FCPA elements.

So what did we learn from the Giffen case law?

For starters, we learned that just because the DOJ charges it, does not mean that the charge is legally viable.

As I explored in this prior post, in addition to the FCPA charges, the original indictment also alleged that Giffen’s actions violated 18 USC 1346 by depriving the citizens of Kazakhstan of the honest services of their government officials – one of the more curious “tag-a-long” charges ever in an FCPA enforcement action.

In 2004, Giffen moved to dismiss portions of the charges that alleged a scheme to deprive the citizens of Kazakhstan of the honest services of their government officials. He asserted that application of the honest services fraud theory of Section 1346 to Kazakhstan impermissibly extended the mail and wire fraud statutes to cover activities beyond the original intent of Congress.

Judge William Pauley of the Southern District of New York agreed and granted Giffen’s motion to dismiss portions of the charges that alleged a scheme to deprive the citizens of Kazakhstan of the honest services of their government officials. See U.S. v. Giffen, 326 F.Supp.2d 497 (S.D.N.Y. 2004).

In so holding, Judge Pauley stated that the DOJ offered “the slenderest of reeds to support its expansive interpretation.” Among other things, Judge Pauley noted that the DOJ could not point to “any decision where a court upheld application of the honest services theory in an international setting involving a foreign government and its citizens.”

When the DOJ pointed to “two 25-year old indictments” charging a similar theory, Judge Pauley noted that the DOJ “has not unearthed any published decision on the issue” and that the DOJ “conceded that there were no court decisions addressing the validity of the two 25-year old indictments.” Judge Pauley further stated that just because certain U.S. Attorneys were able to obtain indictments “under an intangible rights theory, grounded between a foreign government and its citizenry, is not the kind or quality of precedent this Court need consider.”

Judge Pauley concluded that “Congress did not intend that the intangible right to honest services encompasses bribery of foreign officials in foreign countries” and that “application of Section 1346 to Giffen [was] unconstitutional.”

In the prior post, I noted that many current FCPA legal theories are similarly not supported by any case law or other meaningful precedent or guidance.

I then posed the question – if challenged would a judge (like Judge Pauley in Giffen) conclude that the DOJ offered the “slenderest of reeds” to support many of its expansive FCPA interpretations?

I asked – what case law would the DOJ cite to support certain of its aggressive interpretations (such as employees of seemingly “commercial” enterprises being “foreign officials” under the FCPA)? Would DOJ not have to concede that there are no court decisions addressing the validity of certain of its interpretations? Would the DOJ point to prior enforcement actions settled by companies or individuals to support many of its enforcement theories? If so, presumably a judge would similarly state “this is not the kind of precedent” I need to consider.

We also learned during the Giffen enforcement action that an act of state doctrine is near impossible to properly assert in an FCPA enforcement action. In addition to claiming that his actions were taken with the knowledge and support of the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Council, the Department of State and the White House, Giffen also asserted that he was acting as an official of the Kazakh government and thus, under the act of state doctrine, the court was precluded from considering the validity of Kazakh law and the officials acts of its leaders.

However, Judge Pauley stated that the act of state doctrine has a territorial dimension in that it is limited to acts done within the applicable foreign state in the exercise of government authority. Because the Giffen allegations, like most FCPA allegations, did not relate solely to conduct within Kazakhstan, Judge Pauley concluded that the act of state doctrine did not bar Giffen’s prosecution. For instance, and among other things, the indictment alleged that Giffen transferred funds from Swiss bank accounts.