Archive for the ‘Compliance’ Category

How “Respect Your Elder” Can Present Compliance Difficulties

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014

Among the reasons Foreign Corrupt Practices Act compliance is difficult for even the most well-managed business organization operating in the global marketplace is the obvious fact that a company is not a computer on auto-pilot.

Rather, as highlighted in “Revisiting an FCPA Compliance Defense,”

“Doing business in international markets often requires hiring local workers who are products of different cultures and experiences, speak different languages, and are located in different time zones from corporate headquarters. While bribery is prohibited by the written laws of every country and while a suitcase full of cash to a government official to obtain or retain a government contract is a universal wrong regardless of culture, language, or experience, this is where the consensus often ends. Even with gold-standard compliance policies and procedures, the practical reality of monitoring and supervising this vast and diverse network of individuals is difficult and even gold-standard compliance policies and procedures are not foolproof.”

FCPA scrutiny is best minimized when, among other things, employees (regardless of rank, title or position) are able to spot FCPA risk and report concerns or suspicions to the appropriate personnel within the company.

Problem is we are all taught from an early age to “respect our elders” and this cultural norm is even more pronounced in certain cultures outside of the U.S.  In many countries, this cultural norm permeates all facets of life including the workplace.  In short, the same cultural diversity that so enriches a business organization can present compliance difficulties.

From my FCPA practice experience conducting internal investigations abroad, I have direct knowledge of certain instances of FCPA scrutiny that arose in Asian countries where the conduct under investigation focused on the “patriarch” of the office (in other words the elder male), yet under circumstances where the traditional gatekeepers in the company  (in-house counsel, finance and auditing professionals, etc.) were either younger males, or more often, younger females who appeared culturally paralyzed to voice their concern or suspicion regarding the “patriarch.”

The “respect your elder” dynamic, which is positively viewed in other aspects of life, presented compliance difficulties for this particular company, and no doubt many other companies operating in Asia where this cultural value is most revered.

While outside the FCPA context, this recent post “Learning to Speak Up When You’re from a Culture of Deference,” on a Harvard Business Review site by Professor Andy Molinsky is spot-on.  He writes:

“Many of us are uncomfortable speaking with people of higher status. We can feel self-conscious, unsure of what to say, and afraid what we’re going to say — or what we’re saying — is the wrong thing. After these conversations, we often replay in our heads what we said, analyze what we shouldn’t have said, or realize what we should have said but didn’t. But imagine what communicating up the hierarchy is like for people from countries and cultures where notions of hierarchy are much deeper and much more ingrained than ours. Where even as a small child you are taught to speak only when spoken to, and that in the presence of authority figures, like your parents, your teachers, or your boss, you should remain quiet, put your head down, do solid work, and hope to be noticed.”

In the article, Professor Molinsky offers advice that “organizations and particularly leaders of organizations [can] do to lessen the brunt of this liability of deference for their employees from other cultures.”  Much of the practical advise seems self-obvious at first blush, yet – as in other aspects of compliance – sometimes the self-obvious is not so self-obvious.

Moreover, recognizing the existence of a hidden problem (in other words how the “respect your elder” dynamic – so noble in other aspects of life – can present compliance difficulties) is often the first step to crafting company specific responses to counteract the problem.

FCPA Compliance And The Important Role Of Gatekeepers

Thursday, July 17th, 2014

To best manage and minimize Foreign Corrupt Practices Act risk, it is important that a business organization not view FCPA compliance as strictly a legal function, but rather a function best achieved holistically throughout the organization.  This requires business managers, including finance and audit professionals in particular, to have the skill-set to recognize FCPA risk.

It is clear from recent FCPA enforcement actions that the enforcement agencies, and the SEC in particular, expect much from business managers when it comes to FCPA compliance including the ability of these gatekeepers to spot FCPA issues and display a high degree of intellectual curiosity as to many company transactions and expenditures.  (See enforcement actions here, here and here).

This free video (created in collaboration with Emtrain with whom I’ve created a global anti-bribery and corruption training course) has been created to help business organizations best mitigate FCPA risk.  Feel free to share the video with clients, in-house counsel and other compliance professionals, and business managers within your organization.

Understanding Risk To Reduce FCPA Scrutiny

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014

In order for a business organization to effectively minimize its Foreign Corrupt Practices Act  scrutiny, employees need to understand the risks present in their specific job function.

The best way for this to happen is for business leaders to directly engage with employees and inspire them to spot risk.

This free video (created in collaboration with Emtrain with whom I’ve created a global anti-bribery and corruption training course) has been created to help business leaders accomplish these objectives. Feel free to share the video with clients, in-house counsel and other compliance professionals, and employees.

Friday Roundup

Friday, June 27th, 2014

Elevate, a surprise verdict? SEC Chair on compliance, self-reporting and cooperation, quotable, and for the reading stack.  It’s all here in the Friday Roundup.

Elevate Your FCPA Knowledge and Practical Skills

Join lawyers and other in-house counsel and compliance professionals from around the country – indeed the world –  already registered for the inaugural FCPA Institute July 16-17th in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  The FCPA Institute is a unique two-day learning experience ideal for a diverse group of professionals seeking to elevate their FCPA knowledge and practical skills.  FCPA Institute participants will have their knowledge assessed and upon successful completion of a written assessment tool can earn a certificate of completion. In this way, successful completion of the FCPA Institute represents a value-added credential for professional development.

To register see here.

A Surprise Verdict?

As has been widely reported (see here and here for instance) Rebekah Brooks, a former senior News Corporation executive, was found not guilty of various counts (including conspiracy to commit misconduct – in other words bribery) by an English jury earlier this week.

The bribery-related verdict comes as a bit of a surprise given that Brooks – as highlighted in this previous post and as reported by the media:

“[Rebekah Brooks testified that] she authorized payments to public officials in exchange for information on “half a dozen occasions” during her time as a newspaper editor—but did so only in what she said was the public interest. [...]  On the stand, Ms. Brooks, who edited News Corp’s Sun newspaper and its now-closed News of the World sister title, said the payments were made for good reasons, and done so on rare occasions and after careful consideration. “My view at the time was that there had to be an overwhelming public interest to justify payments in the very narrow circumstances of a public official being paid for information directly in line with their jobs,” said Ms. Brooks.”

As to the other defendants – Andy Coulson (a former senior News Corp. editor) and Clive Goodman (a former royal reporter for New Corp.’s defunct News of the World publication) –  the jury failed to reach a verdict on the bribery-related count.

At the beginning of the trials, in this October 2013 post, I observed:

“What happens in these trials concerning the bribery offenses will not determine the outcome of any potential News Corp. FCPA enforcement action.  But you can bet that the DOJ and SEC will be interested in the ultimate outcome.  In short, if there is a judicial finding that Brooks and/or Coulson or other high-level executives in London authorized or otherwise knew of the alleged improper payments, this will likely be a factor in how the DOJ and SEC ultimately resolve any potential enforcement action and how News Corp.’s overall culpability score may be calculated under the advisory Sentencing Guidelines.”

SEC Chair White on Compliance, Self-Reporting and Cooperation

SEC Chair Mary Jo White recently delivered this speech titled “A Few Things Directors Should Know About the SEC.”

Among other topics, White spoke about the importance of compliance, self-reporting and cooperation and relevant portions of the speech are highlighted below.

Compliance

“Ethics and honesty can become core corporate values when directors and senior executives embrace them.  This includes establishing strong corporate compliance programs focused on regular training of employees, effective and accessible codes of conduct, and procedures that ensure complaints are thoroughly and fairly investigated.  And, it must be obvious to all in your organization that the board and senior management highly value and respect the company’s legal and compliance functions.  Creating a robust compliance culture also means rewarding employees who do the right thing and ensuring that no one at the company is considered above the law.  Ignoring the misconduct of a high performer or a key executive will not cut it.  Compliance simply must be an enterprise-wide effort.”

Self-Reporting and Cooperation

“Even in the best run companies with strong boards, the right tone at the top and robust compliance programs, wrongdoing will almost inevitably occur from time-to-time.  What should you do when that happens?  How should you respond?  What does the SEC expect you to do?  When should a company self-report wrongdoing to the SEC or other authorities?  All of these questions require careful consideration and appropriate action. For tonight, I will focus just on the last one about self-reporting.

If your company has uncovered serious wrongdoing, you will need to decide whether, how and when to report the matter to the SEC.  One immediate question you will have to answer is whether what has been discovered constitutes material information that requires public disclosure.  If the answer is yes, that fact will also invariably dictate an obvious affirmative answer to broader self-reporting to the SEC.

In other situations, you will need to decide whether to call us about a serious, but non-material event – perhaps a rogue employee in a small foreign subsidiary has been bribing a foreign official in violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”).  You intend to take decisive action against the employee and enhance your FCPA compliance program.  Your disclosure lawyer’s view is that the occurrence does not require public disclosure.  That does not, however, end your inquiry or responsibilities.  Your company still needs to decide whether to self-report to the SEC, and consider what that may mean for the company.

As many of you know, the Commission in the 2001 Seaboard statement on cooperation, explained how self-reporting, cooperation, self-policing, and remediation factor into our decisions when considering enforcement actions.  And, I can tell you from experience that of those four factors, self-reporting is especially important to both the SEC and the Department of Justice.

What are the benefits to your company of self-reporting?  You can read about that in the SEC’s press releases on enforcement actions, which routinely highlight how the quality of a company’s cooperation has affected any resulting enforcement action.  Typically, a company realizes the benefits of cooperation through a reduced penalty, or, at times, no penalty or even not proceeding in an exceptional case.

Not that you should need any extra incentive, but keep in mind that there are also downsides in deciding not to self-report.  If the wrongdoing is not self-reported, the opportunity to earn significant credit for cooperation may be lost.  And, with our new whistleblower program … the SEC is more likely than ever to learn of the misconduct through another channel.

Let me just say a few words about how to cooperate with SEC investigations.

As an initial matter, the decision to cooperate should be made early in the investigation.  The tone and substance of the early communications we have with a company are critical in establishing the tenor of our investigations and how the staff and the Commission will view your cooperation in the final stages of an investigation. Holding back information, perhaps out of a desire to keep options open as the investigation develops, can, in fact, foreclose the opportunity for cooperation credit.  We are looking for companies to be forthcoming and candid partners with the SEC investigative team – and the board has a responsibility to ensure that management and the legal team are providing this kind of cooperation.

When choosing the path of self-reporting and cooperation, do so decisively.  Make it clear from the outset that the board’s expectation is that any internal investigation will search for misconduct wherever and however high up it occurred; that the company will act promptly and report real-time to the Enforcement staff on any misconduct uncovered; and that the company will hold its responsible employees to account.

There is, of course, cooperation and then there is cooperation, just as there are compliance programs that look great on paper but are not strongly enforced.  We know the difference.  Cooperation means more than complying with our subpoenas for documents and testimony – the law requires you to do that.  If you want your company to get credit for cooperation – and you should – then sincere and thorough partnering with the Division of Enforcement to uncover all the facts is required.”

As highlighted in this previous post, here is what White had to say about cooperation issues as a lawyer in private practice.

“Today, before making their decisions about charging companies, some prosecutors are exerting considerable – some say, extreme -pressure on corporate behavior under the not so subtle threat that if the company doesn’t do as the government wishes, the company risks, at the end of the day, being indicted.”

[...]

“To ensure that a company does not become that ‘rare’ case resulting in a corporate indictment with all of its attendant negative consequences, a company must not poke the government in the eye by declining any of its requests or suggestion of how a cooperative, good corporate citizen is to behave in the government’s criminal investigation.  This template, in my view, can give prosecutors too much power.”

Quotable

Homer Moyer (Miller & Chevalier) states as follows in the June issue of Global Investigations Review.

“As this area of law has evolved, the challenges for all concerned have changed.  Agencies plainly hold most of the cards here.  They have great leverage in these cases.  [...] [T]hey are rarely subject to judicial review.  That creates a special responsibility for enforcement agencies.

As a practical matter, they are creating the operative jurisprudence.  Companies and practitioners read those settlements and try to tease out of them the principles that have been at play.  So it’s important that the government articulates its legal rationales, and frankly it’s important the government self-policies.  It may invest in a lengthy investigation at the end of which it should take no action.  And that’s sometimes hard for an agency to do.

The agencies have, over the last 25 years, expanded their jurisdictional reach; they’ve expanded their theories of liability; they have expanded the penalties imposed with new kinds of penalties and new kinds of settlements.  So I think there’s a burden on the agencies, given that much sway, to act especially responsibly.

[...]

[T]he great interest in this area has been prompted in part by reports of enormous costs to corporations of investigations.  I think law firms have to address that.  Many of the reported cases are stupefying and, in my opinion, can be avoided.  But that takes a little clear-eyed thinking on the part of both outside law firms and corporations.”

Reading Stack

From Transparency International UK - Countering Small Bribes.  As described in this release:

“[The report] provides practical advice on addressing the challenge of countering small bribes including “grease payments”. It is also designed to be of assistance to regulators, law-makers, prosecuting agencies and professional advisers. Countering small bribes is a complex challenge for companies. Transparency International research shows that, globally, more than 1 in 4 people paid a bribe in a recent 12 month period, highlighting the scale of the problem facing companies. Demands most often occur in overseas markets, where employees may be vulnerable through travelling alone or the company needs to release critical goods from customs. The guidance provides a set of principles, discussion and advice designed to help companies operate to high ethical standards, protect their reputations and fulfill their legal obligations.”

*****

A good weekend to all.

The 193 Meanings of “Foreign Official”

Thursday, June 26th, 2014

By most measures, there are 193 countries in the world.

According to the 11th Circuit’s recent “foreign official” ruling (see here), the FCPA’s key “foreign official” element can have 193 different meanings.

As previously highlighted, the key language from the opinion is as follows.

“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. Certainly, what constitutes control and what constitutes a function the government treats as its own are fact-bound questions. It would be unwise and likely impossible to exhaustively answer them in the abstract. [...] [W]e do not purport to list all of the factors that might prove relevant to deciding whether an entity is an instrumentality of a foreign government. For today, we provide a list of some factors that may be relevant to deciding the issue.

To decide if the government ‘controls’ an entity, courts and juries should look to 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.

[...]

We then turn to the second element relevant to deciding if an entity is an instrumentality of a foreign government under the FCPA — deciding if the entity performs a function the government treats as its own. Courts and juries should examine 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.”

In sum, the key concepts according to the 11th Circuit in analyzing whether a seemingly commercial enterprise is in fact an “instrumentality” of a foreign government such that its employees are “foreign officials” are control and function.

Yet how is a business organization competing in good-faith in the global marketplace supposed to find answers to these concepts?

The 11th Circuit thinks it will be easy as the court stated:

“We think it will be relatively easy to decide what functions a government treats as its own in the present tense by resort to objective factors, like control, exclusivity, governmental authority to hire and fire, subsidization, and whether an entity finances are treated as part of the public fisc.  Both courts and businesses subject to the FCPA have readily at hand the tools to conduct that inquiry (especially because the statute contains a mechanism by which the Attorney General will render opinions on requests about what foreign entities constitute instrumentalities.”

However, is it really that easy?

I trouble to envision a general counsel or chief compliance officer of a company charged with approving expenditures of things of value in connection with a business purpose (and let’s face it, companies do this all the time in the global marketplace as to certain customers and prospective customers) ever finding answers to certain issues identified by the 11th Circuit as being relevant.

The 11th Circuit’s suggestion to the contrary is somewhat comical.  Does the 11th Circuit envision the following?

  • General Counsel / Chief Compliance Officer:  Pardon me Company A, can you tell me how your principals are hired and fired?
  • General Counsel / Chief Compliance Officer:  Excuse me Company B, but do your profits go directly into the government fisc?  A follow-up if I may – does the government subsidize your operations?  And if so, for how long?

As to the FCPA’s Opinion Procedure program, seemingly lost on the 11th Circuit is that it often takes months for a business organization to receive an answer from the DOJ.  For this reason, among others, the FCPA Opinion Procedure program has been routinely criticized.  As noted in the OECD’s 2010 review of FCPA enforcement:

“So far, the FCPA Opinion Procedure has been used very little by the private sector to obtain DOJ advice on prospective transactions. […] The non-governmental participants in the on-site meetings cited several reasons for the infrequent use of the Opinion Procedure. For instance, legal and private sector representatives felt that the Opinion Procedure is only useful in limited situations where the prospective fact situation is narrow and not going to change. They also find that the response time, which is 30 days after the request is complete, is too long in certain situations, such as entering joint ventures and mergers and acquisitions, where a company normally needs to make decisions relatively quickly. […] The most pervasive concern of the private sector representatives was that availing themselves of the Opinion Procedure could expose them to potential enforcement actions by the DOJ, as well as provide competitors with information about their prospective international business activities.”

Moreover, a significant irony of the 11th Circuit’s resort to foreign characterization and treatment of a seemingly commercial enterprise is that the DOJ itself has rejected this approach in issuing opinions under the FCPA Opinion Procedure program.

For instance in Release 94-01 the Requestor disclosed that its “foreign attorney has advised that under the nation’s law, the individual [at issue] would not be regarded as either a government employee or a public official.”  However, the DOJ stated that “the foreign attorney’s opinion is not dispositive” and the DOJ “considered the foreign individual to be a ‘foreign official’ under the FCPA.”

Even the 11th Circuit noted that it will be a “difficult task – involving divining subjective intentions of a foreign sovereign, parsing history, and interpreting significant amounts of foreign law – to decide what functions a foreign government considers core and traditional.”  Moreover, the 11th Circuit recognized ”there may be entities near the definitional line for ‘instrumentality’ that may raise a vagueness concern.”

Yet, the end-result of the 11th Circuit’s decision is that “foreign official” – a key element of the FCPA – may mean 193 different things.

Some may be thinking that this entire post has been wasted ink because the meaning of “foreign official” matters only to those intent on engaging bribery. Such a position is off-base as the meaning of “foreign official” matters for a number of reasons as will be explored in a future post.