Archive for the ‘Corrupt Intent’ Category

An FCPA Enforcement Action With Many Interesting Wrinkles

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

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

The 1998 Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement action against Saybolt Inc., Saybolt North America Inc. and related individuals had many interesting wrinkles:  a unique origin; a rare FCPA trial; a fugitive still living openly in his native land; and case law in a related civil claim.

As to the unique origin, Saybolt Inc. was a U.S. company whose primary business was conducting quantitative and qualitative testing of bulk commodities, such as oil, gasoline, and other petrochemicals, as well as grains, vegetable oils and other commodities.  The Environmental Protection Agency, Criminal Investigation Division (“EPA-CID”) was investigating the company for allegedly submitting false statements to the EPA about the oxygen content of reformulated gasoline blended in accordance with the requirements of the Clean Air Act.  The investigation was initiated by reports of data falsification at Saybolt’s Massachusetts facility.

During the course of the investigation EPA-CID interviewed Steven Dunlop (the general manager for Latin American operations for Saybolt) who provided the following information.

During a trip to Panama in 1994, Dunlop was advised of new business opportunities that were being offered to Saybolt Panama through the Panamanian Ministry of Commerce and Industries.  Specifically, the DOJ’s criminal complaint alleged that Hugo Tovar (the General Director of the Hydrocarbon Directorate, a division of the Ministry of Commerce and Industries) and Audo Escudero (the Sub-Director of the Hydrocarbon Directorate), offered to Saybolt Panama an opportunity to: (1) receive a substantial reduction in Saybolt Panama’s tax payments to the government of Panama; (2) obtain lucrative new contracts from the government of Panama; and (3) secure a more permanent facility for Saybolt Panama’s operations on highly coveted land near the Panama Canal.  According to the criminal complaint, this parcel of land was coveted because Saybolt Panama “only had a tenuous legal claim on its existing facility” and as a result its operations were continually at risk.

The complaint details various communications between Dunlop and David Mead (the President and CEO of Saybolt) in which Dunlop informed Mead of a $50,000 “fee” that would be needed to accomplish the above opportunities.

The complaint details a 1995 board of directors meeting at Saybolt during which discussion concerned the “$50,000 payoff demanded by the Panamanian officials with whom Saybolt was negotiating.  According to the complaint, present at this meeting were Board members Frerik Pluimers and Philippe Schreiber as well as Mead and Saybolt’s Chief Financial Officer Robert Petoia.  According to the complaint, Dunlop received instructions from Mead that he was to “take the necessary steps to ensure that the $50,000 was paid to the Panamanian officials in order to secure the deal” and that Schreiber was to be his primary contact on all issues concerning the Panamanian transaction.

According to the complaint, “in the minutes leading up to the time he was scheduled to leave his house for the airport” to travel to Panama,” Dunlop had a telephone conversation with Schreiber who advised him “that the action [he] was about to take would constitute a violation of the FCPA.”

According to the complaint, while in Panama Dunlop “learned that the Saybolt funds needed to make” the payment had not yet been received and that Dunlop then tried to contact Mead.  According to the complaint, Mead sent Dunlop an e-mail which stated: “Per telecon undersigned and capo grande Holanda the back-up software can be supplied from the Netherlands.  As previously agreed, you to detail directly to NL attn FP.” According to the complaint, “capo grande Holanda” was a reference to Pluimers (the President of the Dutch holding company that controlled Saybolt, Inc.” and the “back-up software” was a reference to the $50,000 payment.”

The complaint alleged that the funds never arrived in Panama and that Dunlop was receiving pressure from the Panamanian officials “to make the $50,000 payment prior to the upcoming Christmas holidays.”  According to the complaint, Mead told Dunlop on a telephone call to make the $50,000 payment using funds that were in the operating account of Saybolt Panama.

According to the complaint, the $50,000 in cash was obtained by laundering a check through a local construction company and that a “sack full of currency” was handed over to Escudero at a bar in Panama City by the individual who was serving as Saybolt Panama’s liaison with Escudero.  Further, according to the complaint, “shortly after this payment was made, the Ministry of Commerce and Industries and other necessary government agencies acted favorably on Saybolt’s proposal.”

In April 1998, the DOJ filed this indictment against Mead (a citizen of the U.K. and resident of the U.S. and Pluimers (a national and resident of the Netherlands) based on the above conduct.  The indictment charged Mead and Pluimers with conspiracy to violate the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions and the Travel Act, two substantive violations of the FCPA, and two substantive violations of the Travel Act.

According to the indictment, the purposes and objectives of the conspiracy were:

  • To obtain contracts for Saybolt de Panama and its affiliates to perform import control and inventory inspections for the Ministry of Hydrocarbons, and the Ministry of Commerce and Industries, both departments of the Government of the Republic of Panama;
  • To obtain and to expedite tax benefits for Saybolt de Panama and its affiliates from the Government of the Republic of Panama, including exemptions from import taxes on materials and equipment and reductions in annual profit taxes;
  • To obtain from an agency of the Government of the Republic of Panama a secure and commercially attractive operating location for an inspection facility in Panama; and
  • To “lock out” Saybolt’s competitors by retaining possession and control of Saybolt de Panama’s existing location in Panama.

In September 1998, the DOJ filed this superseding indictment substantially similar to the first and including the same charges.

Mead moved to strike the indictment of allegations that he violated the FCPA and for dismissal of the indictment for failure to state an offense under the Travel Act, and for a Bill of Particulars.   In a one page order, U.S. District Court Judge Ann Thompson denied the motions. Dunlop was given full immunity as was the American attorney present at the board meeting and involved in several conversations with Pluimers, Mead, and Dunlop concerning the alleged payments.

Mead argued that the FCPA only prohibited payments to assist a domestic concern in obtaining and retaining business” and he used Saybolt’s rather complex corporate structure to argue that the business sought to be obtained or retained was for a different Saybolt entity, not a domestic concern.  In his motion, Mead stated “because the government ignores the corporate legal structure and does violence to the FCPA by attempting to end-run congressional policy, the Court must justifiably refuse.”  Elsewhere, the motion stated:

“Whether the government labels foreign corporations as ‘agents of a domestic concern’ or members of an ‘unincorporated organization,’ the government still may not manipulate the Act’s broad language to end-run this congressional policy (of deliberately excluding both foreign subsidiaries and non-subsidiary foreign corporations from FCPA liability).”

The motion also argued that the indictment was devoid of any allegation that Mead acted “willfully” (i.e. with the specific intent to violate the law) because he followed the legal advice of counsel in making the alleged payments.

In response, the DOJ stated that the indictment “describes in detail how Mead – himself a U.S. resident, and also the President of one U.S. corporation (Saybolt Inc.), Executive Vice-President of a second U.S. corporation (Saybolt North America Inc.), and Chief Executive Officer of an unincorporated association (Saybolt Western Hemisphere) – and others decided to send a Saybolt Inc. employee to Panama City, Panama, to oversee the payment of a $50,000 bride, which they believed would be provided to high level government officials, in exchange for favorable treatment of Saybolt’s business interests in Panama.  The Indictment charges that Mead gave the order to go forward with the bribe and it details the contents of the e-mail message that Mead sent from his office in New Jersey to the Saybolt employee in Panama City.”

At trial, Mead argued that the Government failed to meet its burden of proof and that he acted in good faith belief that the payment to the Panamanian officials was lawful.  The relevant jury instructions stated as follows.

“If the evidence shows you that the defendant actually believed that the transaction was legal, he cannot be convicted.  Nor can he be convicted for being stupid or negligent or mistaken.  More is required than that.  But a defendant’s knowledge of a fact may be inferred from “willful blindness” to the knowledge or information indicating there was a high probability that there was something forbidden or illegal about the contemplated transaction and payment.  It is the jury’s function to determine whether or not the defendant deliberately closed his eyes to the inferences and the conclusions to be drawn from the evidence here.”

According to this docket sheet, Mead’s trial occurred in October 1998 and he was found guilty of all charges.  According to the docket, Mead was sentenced to four months imprisonment, to be followed by four months of home confinement, to be followed by three years of supervised release.  According to the docket, he was also ordered to pay a $20,000 criminal fine. After sentencing, US Attorney Donald Stern of Boston, stated: ”This sentence puts American executives on notice there will be a price to pay, far more than the monetary cost of the birbe, when they buy off foreign officials.”  For additional reading on Mead’s case, see this transcript of an in-depth CNN story about Mead that aired in 1999.

What about Pluimers?

As indicated by this docket sheet, there has been no substantive activity in the case since 1999 and Pluimers remains a fugitive – albeit living openly in his native Netherlands.  According to this 2011 New York Times article citing a Wikileaks cable, “Pluimers simply has too much influence with high-ranking Dutch officials to be handed over to U.S. authorities.”

What about Saybolt?

In August 1998, the DOJ the filed two separate criminal informations against Saybolt Inc. and its parent corporation Saybolt North American Inc. The first information charged Saybolt with conspiracy and wire fraud related to the company’s “two year conspiracy to submit false statements to the EPA about results of lab analyses. The second information charged Saybolt and Saybolt North America with conspiracy to violate the FCPA and one substantive charge of violating the FCPA.

As noted in this plea agreement, Saybolt agreed to plead guilty to all charges in the informations and agreed to pay a total fine of $4.9 million allocated as follows:  $3.4 million for the data falsification violations and $1.5 million for the FCPA violation. Saybolt also agreed to a five year term of probation.

The conduct at issue in the Saybolt and related enforcement actions also spawned a related civil malpractice action alleging erroneous legal advice by counsel regarding the above-described payments to Panamanian officials.  In Stichting v. Schreiber, 327 F.3d 173 (2d Cir. 2003), the Second Circuit analyzed whether a company, in pleading guilty to FCPA anti-bribery violations, acknowledged acting with intent thus undermining its claims that the erroneous legal advice was the basis for its legal exposure.

The court stated:

“Knowledge by a defendant that it is violating the FCPA – that it is committing all the elements of an FCPA violation – is not itself an element of the FCPA crime.  Federal statutes in which the defendant’s knowledge that he or she is violating the statute is an element of the violation are rare; the FCPA is plainly not such a statute.”

The court also stated concerning “corruptly” in the FCPA:

“It signifies, in addition to the element of ‘general intent’ present in most criminal statutes, a bad or wrongful purpose and an intent to influence a foreign official to misuse his official position.  But there is nothing in that word or anything else in the FCPA that indicates that the government must establish that the defendant in fact knew that his conduct violated the FCPA to be guilty of such a violation.”

Much Activity In SEC Enforcement Action Against Jackson & Ruehlen

Monday, March 31st, 2014

If you enjoy reading pleadings in Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement actions, then your week is already off to a great start as there is much to read.

In advance of a scheduled July 9th trial in SEC v. Mark Jackson & James Ruehlen (an enforcement action filed in the S.D. of Tex. in February 2012 and highlighted in last Friday’s post), both parties filed numerous motions last Friday.

The SEC filed: (1) a motion for partial summary judgment on the inapplicability of the facilitating payment exception, and (2) a motion for a determination of foreign law pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 44.1.  The SEC also filed 5 motions seeking to exclude defendants’ expert witnesses.  Both Jackson and Ruehlen filed separate motions for summary judgment as well as 3 motions seeking to exclude the SEC’s expert witnesses.

This post provides an overview of the motions.

SEC Motion for a Determination of Foreign Law

In pertinent part, the SEC states as follows:

“Questions of Nigerian law pervade this bribery case for two reasons. First, findings on threshold questions of Nigerian law are necessary for the jury to determine whether Defendants induced foreign officials “to do or omit to do any act in violation of the lawful duty of such foreign official[s]” in violation of Section 30A of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (the “Exchange Act”), an element of the SEC’s bribery claims. 15 U.S.C. §78dd-1(a)(3)(A)(ii) (emphasis added).  Questions of Nigerian law are also necessary to determine whether the payments at issue in this case fit within the narrow “facilitating payment” exception under the
Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (the “FCPA”).

These questions of Nigerian law include: (i) whether the grant of a Temporary Import Permit (“TIP”) – a concession that allows an importer to avoid the payment of import duties – was discretionary; (ii) what was the permissible duration of a TIP and whether and to what extent a TIP may be extended; and (iii) whether Nigerian customs officials could lawfully accept payments to approve a TIP based on false paperwork showing that Noble’s rigs in Nigeria had been exported and re-imported, when the rigs in fact had never moved out of Nigerian waters. These questions of Nigerian law are, like questions of U.S. law, questions of law for the Court to decide, and each defines the scope of Nigerian customs officials’ “lawful duty” in connection with granting the TIPs and TIP extensions at issue in this case.

Second, rulings on these issues of Nigerian law are necessary in light of the Defendants’ purported expert evidence. Defendants intend to introduce expert evidence asserting that, among other things, the payment of bribes to civil servants in Nigeria “is common – and even expected”; the submission of falsified documents to Nigerian governmental agencies is “satisfactory” or “acceptable” from the Nigerian government’s perspective; that laws governing the issuance of temporary import permits are not laws but “internal rules or policies”; and that compliance with Nigerian law is unclear. Thus, the Defendants’ experts intend to opine directly or indirectly on what is allegedly “permissible” in Nigeria notwithstanding clear and undisputed provisions of Nigerian law to the contrary. Because foreign law is for the Court, not the jury, these issues of Nigerian law should be resolved by the Court.”

SEC Motion Regarding  Inapplicability of Facilitating Payment Exception

As noted in this prior post, in December 2012 Judge Ellison concluded, in what was believed to be an issue of first impression, that the SEC must bear the burden of negating the facilitation payments exception.

In its motion, the SEC states as follows.

“The SEC seeks partial summary judgment on the limited question of whether the payments to Nigerian government officials that Defendants authorized to secure Temporary Import Permits (“TIPs”) and TIP extensions fit within the narrow “facilitating payment” exception under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (the “FCPA”).

The SEC alleges that the Defendants violated the anti-bribery and accounting provisions of the FCPA by authorizing the payment of bribes on behalf of their employer – Noble Corporation – to Nigerian government officials to influence or induce these officials to grant Noble TIPs and TIP extensions. These TIPs allowed Noble to avoid paying import duties on oil drilling rigs that it operated in Nigeria. Because TIPs provide only a temporary exemption from import duties, at the expiration of a TIP and its allowable extension, Noble had an obligation to either pay the import duties due on the drilling rigs or export them out of Nigeria. Using bribes and other means, Defendants secured serial TIPs and TIP extensions, which enabled Noble to keep its rigs operating continuously in Nigeria well beyond the time period allowed under Nigerian law.

The FCPA broadly prohibits corrupt payments to foreign officials to influence any official act or induce any official to violate a lawful duty. See 15 U.S.C. § 78dd-1(a). But there is a narrow exception to that broad prohibition: Under subsection 78dd-1(b), the FCPA permits certain “facilitating or expediting payments” made “to expedite or to secure the performance of a routine governmental action.” 15 U.S.C. § 78dd-1(b). This so-called facilitating payment exception does not apply in this case, as a matter of law.

Summary judgment is appropriate for three reasons:

First, the law of decision is clear and binding. This Court previously held that payments to government officials for discretionary or illegal TIPs and TIP extensions are not permissible facilitating payments.

Second, the applicable foreign law is clear and undisputed. As demonstrated in the SEC’s Motion for a Determination of Foreign Law Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 44.1 (“Rule 44.1 Motion”), the relevant provisions of Nigerian law are clear and undisputed. First, under Nigerian law, customs officials have discretion to grant or deny TIPs and TIP extensions; these TIPs and extensions are a discretionary exemption from import duties, not an entitlement. Second, Nigerian law prohibits both the use of false paperwork to secure TIPs and payments to government officials to secure TIPs and TIP extensions. Third, Nigerian law provides that an initial TIP may not exceed twelve months and may only be extended once for up to an additional twelve months. These provisions of Nigerian law are clear and undisputed, and must be determined as a matter of law by the Court.

Third, the material facts are not in genuine dispute. The payments to Nigerian government officials at issue in this case were themselves illegal in Nigeria and were authorized to obtain import duty exemptions that were (i) discretionary and (ii) in certain cases, illegal under Nigerian law. Specifically, each of the payments to Nigerian government officials at issue was authorized in connection with obtaining a valuable and discretionary government benefit – i.e., import duty exemptions for Noble’s rigs. Certain of the payments were made to obtain TIPs on false pretenses, in violation of Nigerian law. And, some of the payments were authorized to obtain TIP extensions that exceeded the number and duration of TIP extensions allowed under Nigerian law.

For these reasons, the SEC respectfully requests that the Court grant its motion for partial summary judgment that the facilitating payment exception is not applicable in this case.”

SEC Expert Motions

In addition to the above motions, the SEC also filed 5 motions seeking to exclude defendants’ experts:  (1) Alan Bell (CPA – regarding internal controls and books and records issues); (2) Gary Goolsby (CPA – regarding corporate governance and internal controls issues; (3) John Campbell (former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria – regarding Nigeria specific issues; (4) Professor Ronald Gilson (regarding various corporate governance and internal controls issues); and (5) H. Lowell Brown (regarding various FCPA compliance issues).

Jackson’s Motion for Summary Judgment

The motion, signed by David Krakoff (BuckeySandler) , states as follows.

“This case is entirely about Mr. Jackson’s state of mind: Did he act “corruptly” in violation of the FCPA when he approved certain payments to Nigerian customs officials? In denying the Defendants’ Motions to Dismiss, the Court held that an act is done corruptly when it is “done with an evil motive or wrongful purpose of influencing a foreign official to misuse his position.”  It is the SEC’s burden to prove that “Defendants acted corruptly.”

The SEC failed to come close to carrying that burden. Put simply, discovery revealed only one thing: Undisputed evidence that Mr. Jackson acted with the “good faith” belief that Noble’s payments facilitated getting temporary import permits and extensions to which Noble was entitled.  But as the Court observed regarding permit extensions, to establish corrupt intent the SEC must show “that Defendants knew they were not entitled to extensions as a matter of right upon satisfying certain basic threshold requirements.”

Mr. Jackson was repeatedly advised by Noble management that Noble was entitled to those permits and extensions. He was advised by management and PricewaterhouseCoopers that as long as the rigs had contracts to drill oil for the benefit of the Nigerian government, the rigs could stay in the country to perform those contracts. He was advised and observed that legal and audit experts were reviewing Noble’s FCPA compliance and, specifically, compliance in its Nigerian operations. And he was advised that Noble’s Nigerian lawyer had counseled that the use of the so-called “paper process,” where rigs obtained new permits without leaving the country, was legal in Nigeria.

The SEC has no evidence to prove Mr. Jackson’s state of mind was anything different. Despite many promises in the SEC’s pleadings, promises proved false by discovery, there was no evidence that Mr. Jackson believed Nigerian officials had discretion to deny Noble these permits and extensions. There was no evidence that he knew the “paper process” was illegal in Nigeria, so that any payments related to it had to be corrupt. And there was no evidence that he misled anyone – not the Audit Committee, not auditors, not anyone – about any of Noble’s facilitating payments. Instead, what he knew was that Noble’s legal counsel and internal auditors did not question the propriety of payments to Nigerian customs officials. No reasonable jury could conclude that Mark Jackson acted with the state of mind requisite for a violation of the FCPA. The SEC has not met its burden and the Court should grant summary judgment on all claims.”

Ruehlen’s Motion for Summary Judgment

The motion, signed by Nicola Hanna and Joseph Warin (Gibson Dunn), states as follows.

“The Complaint portrays Jim Ruehlen as a “rogue” employee who, shortly after being promoted to the first management-level position of his career, embarked on an intricate scheme to bribe Nigerian officials to obtain illegal temporary import permits for Noble’s rigs; routinely flouted company policy; ignored directions from Noble’s Audit Committee; and concealed illicit payments in Noble’s books and records. At the motion to dismiss stage, the Court was required to accept those allegations as true. Since then, 15 months of discovery have laid bare the utter falsity of the SEC’s narrative.

The undisputed evidence establishes that Mr. Ruehlen—a diligent and hardworking operations employee with an impeccable reputation for honesty and integrity—at all times acted  in good faith and under the close supervision of Noble’s most senior executives. At no point did he attempt to conceal any conduct or circumvent controls or company processes. To the contrary, it was Mr. Ruehlen who in 2004 first reported Noble’s use of the so-called “paper process”—the central focus of the SEC’s claims in this matter. And it was Mr. Ruehlen who received approval for every one of the payments at issue from Noble’s senior management, executives who had access to experts to assess the nature and propriety of those payments. It is undisputed that none of those executives or experts ever raised concerns to Mr. Ruehlen about the payments. The evidence also shows that Mr. Ruehlen, who had no accounting or legal training, had no role in determining how the payments—which were well known within Noble’s corporate hierarchy—were recorded in Noble’s books. And to compound the irony of the SEC’s charges against Mr. Ruehlen, it was Mr. Ruehlen who independently raised new concerns regarding the temporary import process in early 2007, prompting Noble’s internal investigation and voluntary disclosure to the U.S. government.

Notwithstanding this evidence—much of which was known to the SEC well before it filed this action—the SEC charged Mr. Ruehlen with violating the FCPA’s books and records and internal accounting control provisions (collectively, the “accounting provisions”) “under every stretched legal theory imaginable.” Purportedly to “streamline the presentation of evidence to the jury,” the SEC—on the eve of summary judgment—voluntarily dismissed two of those claims (that Mr. Ruehlen failed to “implement” a system of internal accounting controls and aided and abetted Noble’s alleged failure to “devise and maintain” such a system). But the SEC’s remaining FCPA accounting provision claims fail for the same reasons as the claims it now tacitly admits lacked merit—Mr. Ruehlen simply had no responsibility for or authority over the accounting function at Noble, and had no role in determining how the payments at issue were recorded. Moreover, the SEC failed to develop any evidence during discovery to support the numerous—and illogical—ways that Mr. Ruehlen allegedly “circumvented” Noble’s system of internal accounting controls. The Court should grant summary judgment on these claims in light of the undisputed evidence.

The Court should also grant summary judgment on the SEC’s claims for violations of the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions. Whether the SEC can prove these claims turns entirely on Mr. Ruehlen’s state of mind—i.e., whether he acted “corruptly.” The undisputed evidence shows that Mr. Ruehlen, like many others within the company, believed in good faith that the payments were to secure or expedite temporary import permits to which Noble was entitled.”

In addition to the above motions, the defendants also jointly filed 3 motions seeking to exclude SEC experts:  (1) Jeffrey Harfenist (CPA – as to various internal controls issues); (2) Wayne Kelley (as to various customs and practices in the oil and gas industry); and (3) Kofo Olugbesan (a former official of the Nigerian Customs Service).

Company Receives DOJ Green Light To Purchase Foreign Businessman’s (Turned “Foreign Official”) Minority Interest In A Company For Fair Market Value

Wednesday, March 19th, 2014

Earlier this week, the DOJ released Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Opinion Procedure Release 14-01.  It is the DOJ’s first Opinion Procedure Release of 2014 and only the second such release since October 2012.   This post provides a summary of Release 14-01.

The Requestor (an issuer) was a financial services company and investment bank that was the majority shareholder of a foreign financial services company (“Foreign Company A”) and had contracted to purchase the remaining minority interest in Foreign Company A from a foreign businessman (“Foreign Shareholder”).

It would appear that the Requestor grew skittish about this mundane, routine transaction for two reasons.

First, approximately 4.5 years after Requestor purchased a majority interest in Foreign Company A (a company founded and owned by Foreign Shareholder), the Foreign Shareholder “was appointed to serve as a high-level official at Foreign Country’s central monetary and banking agency” (“Foreign Agency”).

Second, although the original agreement between the Requestor and the Foreign Shareholder contained a formula for the purchase price of Foreign Shareholder’s shares (the formula was based on a multiple of Foreign Company A’s average net income for the two years preceding the buyout), the parties “agreed not to use the valuation formula” set forth in the original agreement.  According to the release, because Foreign Company A experienced yearly operating  losses from 2008 to 2011 (an event the Requestor attributed to the 2008 global financial crisis) the original formula dictated that Foreign Shareholder’s shares “had no value.”

According to the release, “Requestor contends that any attempt to enforce the [original] Agreement as written would likely have led to litigation or Foreign Shareholder selling the Shares to a third party” – an event Requestor explained would carry substantial risks to Foreign Company A’s operations and profitability.

According to the release, the Requestor and Foreign Shareholder thus agreed “that they would instead ask an accounting firm to make an independent and binding determination of the Share’s value” and according to the release “a leading, highly regarded, global accounting firm” was engaged to do that.

Against this backdrop, the Requestor sought “an opinion that the DOJ will not initiate any enforcement action if Requestor consummates the purchase of the Shares for the appraised value.”  As noted in the Release, the Requestor made several representations and warranties relating to the purchase of the Shares, including the following:

“Foreign Shareholder has represented and warranted that, since his appointment at Foreign Agency, he has recused himself from, and has not influenced or sought to influence, any decisions by Foreign Agency, Foreign Country’s government, or any third party with respect to the Recusal Entities ([the Requestor, Foreign Company A, or their affiliates]). Foreign Shareholder also has recused himself from, and has not influenced or sought to influence, any supervisory or regulatory matters with respect to any of the Recusal Entities. Foreign Shareholder will continue to so recuse himself until after completion of the buyout of the Shares.”

“Requestor obtained a representation from Foreign Shareholder that he has disclosed his ownership interest and the proposed sale of the Shares in Foreign Company A to the relevant government authorities of Foreign Country and the relevant department at Foreign Agency, and the relevant government authorities have informed him that they approve or do not object to the sale of the Shares.”

In the “Analysis” section of the Release, the DOJ stated:

“Based upon all of the facts and circumstances, as represented by the Requestor, the Department does not presently intend to take any enforcement action with respect to the proposed buyout arrangement described in the Request.”

In pertinent part, the DOJ opined as follows.

“[T]he FCPA does not per se prohibit business relationships with, or payments to, foreign officials.” Opinion Release 2010-03, at 3 (Sept. 1, 2010). Where such an arrangement exists, “the Department typically looks to determine whether there are any indicia of corrupt intent, whether the arrangement is transparent to the foreign government and the general public, whether the arrangement is in conformity with local law, and whether there are safeguards to prevent the foreign official from improperly using his or her position to steer business to or otherwise assist the company, for example through a policy of recusal.” Id.

With respect to indicia of corrupt intent, the proffered purpose of the payment is to sever the parties’ existing financial relationship, which began before the Foreign Shareholder held an official position. Doing so would also avoid what would otherwise be an ongoing conflict of interest. The decision by the parties to employ an alternative valuation formula appears reasonable given the facts presently known. Requestor has represented that unforeseen market circumstances, as well as legitimate business considerations, prompted and justified the renegotiation of the buyout formula contained in the [original] Agreement.  [...]  [A]ttempting to hold Foreign Shareholder to the terms of the [original] Agreement and pay little or nothing for the Shares presents commercial and legal risks to Requestor. Foreign Shareholder could institute litigation, and Requestor would face litigation costs and bear the risk of having to pay an even greater amount to Foreign Shareholder. Alternatively, Foreign Shareholder is not obligated to sell the Shares back to the Subsidiary and could sell them to a third party, potentially resulting in an undesirable or disadvantageous partnership.”

[R]equestor’s decision to engage the Firm to serve as the independent and binding arbiter of the value of the Shares provides additional assurance that the payment reflects the fair market value of the Shares, rather than an attempt to overpay Foreign Shareholder for a corrupt purpose.

[...]

Accordingly, because the facts, representations, and warranties described in the Request demonstrate at present that the only purpose of the payment to Foreign Shareholder is consideration for the Shares, the Department does not presently intend to take any enforcement action. The Department notes, however, this Opinion does not foreclose future enforcement action should facts indicative of corrupt intent (such as an implied understanding that Foreign Shareholder would direct business to Requestor or inflated earnings projections being used to induce Foreign Shareholder to act on Requestor’s behalf) later become known.”

*****

One frequent criticism of DOJ FCPA releases – including as noted in the OECD’s 2010 Report – is that it simply takes too long for the Requestor to receive an answer.

On this issue, the following is relevant to Release 14-01.  The Requestor submitted the request on July 8, 2013.  On July 25, 2013 the DOJ sent Requestor a letter seeking additional information.  According to the DOJ, on September 19, 2013 the Requestor provided a partial response which was accompanied by significant backup documentation.  According to the DOJ, thereafter the DOJ and counsel for the Requestor had several follow up discussions to clarify certain issues.  On February 13, 2014, the Requestor provided a final submission that addressed the last outstanding issues raised by the DOJ.  On March 17, 2014 the DOJ issued the release.

In short, from start to finish the process took approximately 8 months.

Law Firm Partner Cleared To Pay Medical Expenses For Foreign Official’s Daughter

Thursday, December 26th, 2013

The DOJ recently released this Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Opinion Procedure Release dated December 19th.

Fitting of the holiday season, the DOJ concluded that being a nice person does not equal being a criminal.

As stated in Release 13-01, the “Relevant Facts and Circumstances” are as follows.

“Requestor is a partner with a U.S. law firm (the “Law Firm”). Requestor and other attorneys with the Law Firm have represented Foreign Country A in various international arbitrations. Requestor presently represents Foreign Country A in two international arbitrations for which the Law Firm receives payment. In the past 18 months, the Law Firm has billed fees to Foreign Country A of over $2 million, and Requestor anticipates that in 2014, the fees on matters for Foreign Country A will exceed $2 million.

Over the past several years of these representations, Requestor has become a personal friend of Foreign Official, who works in Foreign Country A’s Office of the Attorney General (the “OAG”). The OAG is responsible for selecting and contracting with international counsel on behalf of Foreign Country A. According to Requestor, however, Foreign Official has not had and will not have in the future any role in the selection of Requestor or the Law Firm as counsel for Foreign Country A. Requestor is not the Law Firm’s “primary relationship attorney,” “originating attorney,” or “lead attorney” for the OAG or the government of Foreign Country A, but has participated in the selection or pitch processes for new business with OAG and/or the government of Foreign Country A, and would expect to do so with regard to future business from these clients.

Requestor proposes to pay the medical expenses of Foreign Official’s daughter, who suffers from a severe medical condition that cannot effectively be treated in Foreign Country A or anywhere in the region. The physicians treating Foreign Official’s daughter have recommended that she receive inpatient care at a specialized facility located in Foreign Country B. Requestor reports that the treatment will cost between approximately $13,500 and $20,500 and that Foreign Official lacks financial means to pay for this treatment for his daughter.

In addition to the above representations, Requestor has further represented that among other things:

•  Requestor’s intention in paying for the medical treatment of Foreign Official’s daughter is purely humanitarian, with no intent to influence the decision of any foreign official in Foreign Country A with regard to engaging the services of the Law Firm, Requestor, or any third person.

• The funds used to pay for the medical treatment will be Requestor’s own personal funds. Requestor will neither seek nor receive reimbursement from the Law Firm for such payments.

• Requestor will make all payments directly to the facility where Foreign Official’s daughter will receive treatment in Foreign Country B. Foreign Official will pay for the costs of his daughter’s related travel.

• Foreign Country A is expected to retain the Law Firm to work on one new matter in the near future.  Requestor is presently unaware of any additional, potential matters as to which Foreign Country A might retain the Law Firm. However, if such a matter develops, Requestor anticipates that Foreign Country A would likely retain the Law Firm given its successful track record and their strong relationship.

• Under the law for Foreign Country A, any government agency such as OAG that hires an outside law firm must publicly publish a reasoned decision justifying the engagement. It is a crime punishable by imprisonment under the penal code of Foreign Country A for any civil servant or public employee to engage in corrupt behavior in connection with public contracting.

In addition, Foreign Official and Requestor have discussed this matter transparently with their respective employers. The government of Foreign Country A and the leadership of the Law Firm have expressly indicated that they have no objection to the proposed payment of medical expenses. Indeed, Requestor has provided a certified letter from the Attorney General of Foreign Country A that represents the following:

• The decision by Requestor to pay for or not to pay for this medical treatment will have no impact on any current or future decisions of the OAG in deciding on the hiring of international legal counsel.

• In the opinion of the Attorney General, the payment of medical expenses for Foreign Official’s daughter under these circumstances would not violate any provision of the laws of Foreign Country A.

The Attorney General further confirms that while Foreign Official handles aspects of the cases on which the Law Firm and Requestor work, Foreign Official has not taken part in any decisions regarding the Firm’s retention for any matter, nor would Foreign Official have such a role in any possible future decision regarding contracting outside counsel, as such decisions are outside of Foreign Official’s responsibilities.

Finally, Foreign Official has represented and warranted in writing that he has not had, does not have, and will not have any influence in the contracting of international lawyers to represent Foreign Country A; he will not attempt to assist Requestor or the Law Firm in the award of future work; and he would not get involved in any decision that the OAG might make in the future in this regard.

Based on the above facts and circumstances, the DOJ set forth, in pertinent part, the following analysis (internal citiations omitted).

“[T]he Department does not presently intend to take any enforcement action with respect to the proposed payment of approximately $13,500 to $20,500 described in the Request.

A person may violate the FCPA by making a payment or gift to a foreign official’s family member as an indirect way of corruptly influencing that foreign official.  However, “the FCPA does not per se prohibit business relationships with, or payments to, foreign officials.”  Rather “the Department typically looks to determine whether there are any indicia of corrupt intent, whether the arrangement is transparent to the foreign government and the general public, whether the arrangement is in conformity with local law, and whether there are safeguards to prevent the foreign official from improperly using his or her position to steer business to or otherwise assist the company, for example through a policy of recusal.”

Although no previous opinion release addresses the precise facts at issue here, the Department has previously expressed its lack of enforcement intent in matters where the requestor provided adequate assurances that the proposed benefit to the foreign official would have no impact on the requestor’s present or future business operations.

This is not to say that paying the medical expenses, or any other expenses, of a foreign official’s family member could never violate the FCPA. The payment of such expenses would certainly violate the FCPA if intended corruptly to influence a foreign official to use his or her position “in order to assist … in obtaining or retaining business for or with, or directing business to, any person.”

Here, however, the facts represented suggest an absence of corrupt intent and provide adequate assurances that the proposed benefit to Foreign Official’s daughter will have no impact on Requestor’s or Requestor’s Law Firm’s present or future business with Foreign Country A. As noted above, Foreign Official does not and will not play any role in the decision to award Foreign Country A’s legal business to Requestor’s Law Firm. Requestor and Foreign Official have informed their respective employers of the proposed gift and neither has objected. Indeed, the Attorney General of Foreign Country A has expressly stated that the proposed gift will not affect the decision to award work to Requestor’s Law Firm and, under the circumstances presented, is not illegal under Foreign Country A’s laws. This is further reinforced by Foreign Country A’s public contracting laws, which require transparent reasoning in contracting for legal work and criminally punish corrupt behavior. Finally, Requestor intends to reimburse the medical provider directly, ensuring that the payments will not be improperly diverted to Foreign Official. Accordingly, based on the representations made in the Request, including those described above, the Department does not presently intend to take enforcement action.”

*****

One criticism of DOJ FCPA Opinion Procedure Releases is the time it takes a requestor to obtain the DOJ’s opinion.  Release 13-01 states as follows.

“[The request was] submitted on October 15, 2013, as well as supplemental information that was submitted by Requestor on November 12, 2013, and November 25, 2013.”

In short, it took over two months for the requestor to obtain the opinion.

*****

It is interesting to note that the DOJ cited U.S. v. Liebo, 923 F.2d 1308 (8th Cir. 1991) twice in Release 13-01.

As noted in this recent post, a key conclusion by the Eighth Circuit in Liebo was that a jury could find that a subordinate who acted at his supervisor’s direction in providing a thing of value to a foreign official lacked “corrupt” intent.

Did Richard Liedo Win Or Lose?

Monday, December 23rd, 2013

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

This previous post highlighted the 1989 Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement action against NAPCO International in connection with military sales to the Republic of Niger.  The previous post noted that the DOJ also criminally charged the Vice President of the Aerospace Division of NAPCO and that this individual exercised his constitutional right to a jury trial and put the DOJ to its burden of proof.

That person was Richard Liedo and his enforcement action is worthy of its own post.

Among other things, the Liebo enforcement action resulted in a rare appellate FCPA decision, and an often overlooked one at that given that the court concluded that a jury could find that a subordinate who acted at his supervisor’s direction in providing a thing of value to a foreign official lacked “corrupt” intent.

In this lengthy 62 page criminal indictment, the DOJ charged Liebo in connection with the same bribery scheme alleged in the NAPCO action.  In pertinent part, the DOJ alleged that in connection with aircraft sales to Niger, Liebo conspired with others to violate the FCPA by making payments or authorizing payments of money to “officials of the Government of Niger, that is, Tahirou Barke Doka [the First Counselor of the Embassy of Niger in Washington, D.C.] and Captain Ali Tiemogo [Chief of Maintenance for the air force component of the Niger Ministry of Defense] and “Fatouma Mailelel Boube and Amadou Mailele, both relatives of Tiemogo, while knowing that all or a portion of such money would be offered, given or promised, directly or indirectly, to foreign officials, namely Barke and Tiemogo” for the purpose of “influencing the acts and decisions of Barke and Tiemogo in their official capacities, and inducing them to use their influence with the Ministry of Defense.”

In addition to the conspiracy charge (count 1), the DOJ also charged Liebo with 10 counts of violating the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions (counts 2 – 11), one count of violating the FCPA’s books and records provisions (count 12), three counts of aiding and abetting in the preparation of false corporate income tax returns (counts 13 – 15), and five counts of making false statements to the Defense Security Assistance Agency (DSAA) of the U.S. Department of Defense in connection with the sales (counts 16 – 20).

Liebo exercised his constitutional right to a jury trial and put the DOJ to its burden of proof.

The jury considered 19 charges against Liebo (on the first day of trial, the court granted the DOJ’s motion to dismiss one of the false statement charges) and he was acquitted of 17 charges.  The only charges Liebo was convicted of was one count of violating the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions and one count of making a false statement to DSAA.  The FCPA charge related to the payment of $2,028 “for the airline tickets purchased for Barke’s wedding and honeymoon travel.”

As noted in this judgment, Liebo was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison.  However, as noted in a Trace Compendium entry, “Liebo only served two of the 18 months, having petitioned for, and eventually received, a retrial.”

As noted in this Eighth Circuit opinion, Liebo appealed and argued on appeal that “his convictions should be reversed because of insufficient evidence and because the district court erred in instructing the jury” and that the “district court abused its discretion by denying his motion for a new trial based on newly discovered evidence.”

As to the FCPA anti-bribery charge Liebo was found guilty on, he argued on appeal that: (1) there was insufficient evidence to show that the airline tickets were given to obtain or retain business; and (2) that there was no evidence to show that his gift of honeymoon tickets was done corruptly.

After setting forth the standard of review (i.e. considering the evidence in the light most favorable to the government with all reasonable inferences and credibility determinations made in support of the jury’s verdict), the court stated as follows as to obtain or retain business.

“There is sufficient evidence that the airplane tickets were given to obtain or retain business. Tiemogo testified that the President of Niger would not approve the contracts without his recommendation. He also testified that Liebo promised to “make gestures” to him before the first contract was approved, and that Liebo promised to continue to “make gestures” if the second and third contracts were approved. There was testimony that Barke helped Liebo establish a bank account with a fictitious name, that Barke used money from that account, and that Barke sent some of the money from that account to Tiemogo. Barke testified that he understood Liebo deposited money in the account as “gestures” to Tiemogo for some “of the business that they do have together.”

Although much of this evidence is directly relevant to those counts on which Liebo was acquitted, we believe it appropriate that we consider it in determining the sufficiency of evidence as to the counts on which Liebo was convicted.

[…]

Moreover, sufficient independent evidence exists that the tickets were given to obtain or retain business. Evidence established that Tiemogo and Barke were cousins and best friends. The relationship between Barke and Tiemogo could have allowed a reasonable jury to infer that Liebo made the gift to Barke intending to buy Tiemogo’s help in getting the contracts approved. Indeed, Tiemogo recommended approval of the third contract and the President of Niger approved that contract just a few weeks after Liebo gave the tickets to Barke. Accordingly, a reasonable jury could conclude that the gift was given “to obtain or retain business.”

As to corrupt intent, the court stated as follows.

“Liebo also contends that the evidence at trial failed to show that Liebo acted “corruptly” by buying Barke the airline tickets. In support of this argument, Liebo points to Barke’s testimony that he considered the tickets a “gift” from Liebo personally. Liebo asserts that “corruptly” means that the offer, payment or gift “must be intended to induce the recipient to misuse his official position….”  […] Because Barke considered the tickets to be a personal gift from Liebo, Liebo reasons that no evidence showed that the tickets wrongfully influenced Barke’s actions.

We are satisfied that sufficient evidence existed from which a reasonable jury could find that the airline tickets were given “corruptly.” For example, Liebo gave the airline tickets to Barke shortly before the third contract was approved. In addition, there was undisputed evidence concerning the close relationship between Tiemogo and Barke and Tiemogo’s important role in the contract approval process. There was also testimony that Liebo classified the airline ticket for accounting purposes as a “commission payment.” This evidence could allow a reasonable jury to infer that Liebo gave the tickets to Barke intending to influence the Niger government’s contract approval process. We conclude, therefore, that a reasonable jury could find that Liebo’s gift to Barke was given “corruptly.” Accordingly, sufficient evidence existed to support Liebo’s conviction.”

As to Liebo’s argument on appeal that the “district court abused its discretion by denying his motion for a new trial based on newly discovered evidence,” Liebo noted that “two months after his conviction, a NAPCO employee provided Liebo with a memorandum showing [a superior's] approval to the charge of the airline tickets.”  Liebo argued that the discovery of this evidence warranted a new trial.  In support, Liebo argued that “he was acquitted on all other bribery counts for which there was evidence that the payment in question was approved [by a superior].  Liebo argued that evidence of a superior’s approval of the wedding trip was a determinative factor in the jury’s verdict by “pointing to a question sent out by the jury during their deliberations asking whether there was ‘any information regarding authorization for payment of wedding trip.’”

After noting that motions for a new trial based on newly discovered evidence are looked upon with disfavor, the court also noted that “courts have granted a new trial based on newly discovered evidence especially when the evidence supporting the defendant’s conviction is weak.”

The court closed its opinion as follows.

“[T]he evidence against Liebo, while sufficient to sustain the conviction, was not overwhelming. Indeed, we believe that the company president’s approval of the purchase of the tickets is strong evidence from which the jury could have found that Liebo acted at his supervisor’s direction and therefore, did not act “corruptly” by giving the tickets to Barke. Furthermore, we are highly persuaded that the jury considered such approval pivotal, especially in light of the question it submitted to the court during its deliberations and its acquittal of Liebo on the other bribery counts in which evidence of approval existed. Accordingly, we hold that the district court clearly abused its discretion in denying Liebo’s motion for a new trial.”

In the re-trial, Liebo was convicted of aiding and abetting FCPA anti-bribery violations and making a false statement to the DSAA.  He was then sentenced to three years probation, two months home detention, and 400 hours of community service.

Based on all of the above, the question is raised – did Richard Liedo win or lose when he put the DOJ to its burden of proof?

In this the exam grading season, I know where I come out when the one with the burden is 90% unsuccessful.