Archive for the ‘Corrupt Intent’ Category

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.

Judge Grants Jackson And Ruehlen’s Motion To Dismiss SEC’s Monetary Claims – Finds That SEC Was Not Diligent In Bringing Case And That SEC Failed To Negate Facilitation Payments Exception – However Judge Allows SEC To File An Amended Complaint

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

Previous posts here, here and here discussed the motion to dismiss briefing in the SEC v. Mark Jackson and James Ruehlen Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement action.  The enforcement action is notable in that the defendants, unlike most FCPA defendants, mounted a legal defense.

This previous guest post highlighted last week’s oral argument on the motion.

Yesterday, Judge Keith Ellison (S.D. Tex.) issued a lengthy 61 page decision (see here).

This post goes long and deep as to Judge Ellison’s decision.

Judge Ellison granted Defendants’ motion to dismiss the SEC’s claims that seek monetary damages while denying the motion to dismiss as to claims seeking injunctive relief.  Even though Judge Ellison granted the motion as to SEC monetary damage claims, the dismissal is without prejudice meaning that the SEC will be allowed to file an amended complaint within 30 days.  Presumably after the SEC does this, a new round of briefing will begin again.

In short, Judge Ellison’s decision was based on statute of limitations grounds (specifically that the SEC failed to plead any facts to support an inference that it acted diligently in bringing the complaint) as well as the SEC’s failure to adequately plead discretionary functions relevant to the facilitation payments exception.  As to the first issue, see this post from February 2011 in which I imagined a world in which FCPA defendants mounted legal defenses based on black-letter legal principles such as statute of limitations.  As to the second issue, Judge Ellison concluded, in what is believed to be an issue of first impression, that the SEC must bear the burden of negating the facilitation payments exception.

In addition, Judge Ellison’s decision also touches upon whether the SEC needs to specifically identify the alleged ”foreign officials” as well as corrupt intent.  As to the first issue, Judge Ellison concluded that the identity of the foreign official need not be pled with specificity nor does the FCPA mandate a bright-line rule of detailed pleadings about a foreign official’s particular duties.  In so concluding, Judge Ellison acknowledged his disagreement with Judge Lynn Hughes (also in the S.D. of Texas) who stated the opposite in the DOJ’s unsuccessful prosecution of John O’Shea.

All issues are discussed below in the order discussed in Judge Ellison’s decision.

By way of background, the SEC’s complaint (see here for the prior post) alleges that Jackson and Ruehlen violated “the FCPA by participating in a bribery scheme to obtain illicit permits [Temporary Import Permits - "TIPs"] for oil rigs  in Nigeria in order to retain business under lucrative drilling contracts.”  The SEC’s complaint is based on the same core set of facts as the November 2010 DOJ/SEC enforcement action against the Defendants employer, Noble Corporation (see here for the prior post).  As Judge Ellison stated (his recitation of the facts takes up 15 pages) ”the SEC charges Jackson and Ruehlen with multiple violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and other federal securities law in connection with actions they allegedly took to obtain TIPs and TIP extensions in order to avoid paying permanent import duties.”

As Judge Ellison observed in setting forth the legal standard in ruling on a motion to dismiss, “the question for the court to decide is whether the complaint states a valid claim when viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff” and the “court should not evaluate the merits of the allegation, but must satisfy itself only that plaintiff has adequately pled a legally cognizable claim.”

Judge Ellison next addressed Defendants claims which contended that the SEC’s complaint failed to adequately plead:  (1) the involvement of a foreign official; (2) that the payments were not facilitating payments, (3) that the Defendants acted corruptly, and (4) whether the facilitating payments exception is unconstitutionally vague.

“Foreign Official”

As to the involvement of a “foreign official,” Judge Ellison summarized the position of the parties as follows.

“Defendants contend that the FCPA requires a plaintiff to allege the identity of the foreign official whose authority a defendant sought to misuse.  They suggest that the SEC must allege by name, or at a minimum by role and job responsibility, the foreign official who was sought to be influenced.  The SEC contends that there is nothing in the FCPA that requires pleading the identity of the foreign official involved with the level of detail Defendants advocate.  Furthermore, it [the SEC] argues that Defendants’ interpretation of the FCPA would run counter to congressional intent.”

Judge Ellison stated, in pertinent part, a follows.

“The language of the statute does not appear to require that the identity of the foreign official involved be pled with specificity. Indeed, the terms of the FCPA make it unlawful corruptly to authorize payments to any person, knowing that any portion of those payments would be offered to any foreign official.  It is possible that the requirement that the payment be made or authorized with the purpose of “influencing any act or decision of such foreign official . . . in his . . . official capacity . . . , (ii) inducing such foreign official . . . to do or omit to do any act in violation of the lawful duty of such foreign official . . . , or (iii) securing any improper advantage . . . ”, would, at times, require the government to plead details about the foreign official’s identity, duties and responsibilities. For instance, the Court can imagine cases where, in order to show that the payment was intended to influence the official to neglect some particular duty, the government would have to plead that the official had that duty in the first place. However, the Court can similarly imagine situations where the purpose element could be satisfied without pleading details about a foreign official’s particular duties. Where the government alleges that payments made were intended to influence a foreign official to violate the very laws he is charged with implementing, it hardly seems necessary to require the government to identify the day-to-day duties of that foreign official; that foreign official, irrespective of whether he is the most junior staff member or the official who name appears at the top of the organizational chart, surely has a duty, like every government official, not to violate the laws he is charged with implementing. Furthermore, [the FCPA] provides that the purpose element can be satisfied by factual allegations that a payment was made with the purpose that some foreign official would be paid money to secure some improper advantage, which also does not appear to require allegations about that individual’s job responsibilities. The Court cannot see why the purpose requirement in [the FCPA] should mandate a bright-line rule of detailed pleadings about a foreign official’s particular duties.

Nothing in the legislative history of the FCPA suggests that Congress intended to limit the application of [the FCPA] to those cases where the government could show that a defendant knew, either by name or job description, precisely which foreign officials would be receiving the illicit payments he had authorized. The Fifth Circuit has recognized that, subject to the narrow exception for facilitation payments, Congress intended, with the FCPA, to “cast an otherwise wide net over foreign bribery.”  Kay I, 359 F.3d at 749.  Indeed, in explaining the requirement that a defendant act knowingly, Congress specified that the statute is intended to cover “both prohibited actions that are taken with ‘actual knowledge’ of intended results as well as other actions that, while falling short of what the law terms ‘positive knowledge,’ nevertheless evidence a conscious disregard or deliberate ignorance of known circumstances that should reasonably alert one to the high probability of violations of the Act.” H.R. Conf. Rep. 100-576 (1988).

In light of this legislative history, it would be perverse to read into the statute a requirement that a defendant know precisely which government official, or which level of government official, would be targeted by his agent; a defendant could simply avoid liability by ensuring that his agent never told him which official was being targeted and what precise action the official took in exchange for the bribe. Yet, Defendants contend that the Complaint must allege this level of detail. [...] The Court seriously doubts that Congress intended to hold an individual liable under [the FCPA] only if he took great care to know exactly whom his agent would be bribing and what precise steps that official would be taking. Congress intended to address the problem of domestic entities bribing foreign officials to accomplish certain proscribed ends, see Kay I, 359 F.3d at 747, not domestic entities carefully monitoring the execution of that bribery.  And, if the FCPA does not require a defendant to know precisely which government official was being bribed, a plaintiff bears no burden to allege such facts.

[T]he limitations set out in [the FCPA] do not require the government in every case to plead details about the particular duties of the government official involved; sometimes, the nature of the benefit sought would inherently fall into the class of prohibited acts. Similarly, as discussed infra, pleading the non-applicability of the “facilitating” payments exception will not always require pleading details about the foreign official’s duties. Finally, that the offer or payment must be made in order to assist a defendant in obtaining or retaining business also does not require pleading anything about the foreign officials’ particular responsibilities.  Accordingly, the Court’s conclusion is bolstered by the fact that interpretations of the domestic bribery statutes have not required the level of specificity Defendants seek.

The authorities cited by the Defendants do not convince this Court. It is true that, in Kay I, the Fifth Circuit noted, in a parenthetical, that among the elements of a violation of the FCPA are “the identity of the foreign country and of the officials to whom the suspect payments were made, and the sought-after unlawful actions taken or not taken by the foreign officials in consideration of the bribes.”  Kay I, 359 F.3d at 760.  This, of course, says nothing about the level of detail with which these elements must be alleged. It is telling that, in Kay I itself, the government alleged only that payments were made to “customs officials in the Republic of Haiti” and “officials of other Haitian agencies” to accept documents that understated the true amount of rice being imported by the defendants in that case.  Kay I, 359 F.3d at 762.  The indictment does not specify the job responsibilities of the customs officials and entirely unidentified “other” officials, or what precise actions they took to accept the false documents at issue in Kay I.  If the Fifth Circuit intended for the foreign officials’ identities and specific  misdeeds to be alleged in the great level of detail that Defendants propose, the Court thinks it would have made mention of the woefully inadequate allegations in the case before it. The SEC here has alleged that payments were made to “Nigerian government officials” to “process eleven illegitimate TIPs with false paperwork” and “to obtain discretionary or unlawful extensions of these TIPs.”  The SEC also specifically alleges that among the agencies that received such payments were the NMA and NPA. The Court finds that these allegations are no less detailed than the allegations in Kay I’s indictment.

[...]

In a footnote, Judge Ellison stated as follows.

“[T]he Court must disagree with Judge Hughes’s oral statements in a recent criminal FCPA prosecution. [U.S. v. O'Shea] (“You can’t convict a man promising to pay unless you have a particular promise to a particular person for a particular benefit. If you call up the Basurtos and say, look, I’m going to send you 50 grand, bribe somebody, that does not meet the statute.”). This Court holds that asking a third party to bribe a government official, in order to induce that official to act in one of the proscribed ways detailed in [the FCPA], would meet the statute. The government does not have to “connect the payment to a particular official.”

“Facilitating” Payments and “Corruptly”

Judge Ellison summarized the position of the parties as follows.

“Defendants argue that the FCPA charges must be dismissed because the SEC bears the burden of pleading the inapplicability of the “facilitating” payments exception, [...]   and it has failed to do so. Defendants also argue that the SEC has failed to plead sufficient facts that would support the inference that Defendants acted “corruptly” because the facts pled by the SEC are equally consistent with Defendants’ belief that the payments were permissible facilitating payments, and because, in any event, the SEC has not alleged sufficient facts to indicate that the payments were made with the requisite intent.  Finally, Ruehlen argues that the “facilitating” payments exception is unconstitutionally vague.

The SEC contends that Defendants bear the burden of pleading the inapplicability of the “facilitating” payments exception, but claims that, in any event, it has negated the “facilitating” payments exception.  The SEC further argues that it has adequately pled corrupt intent because it has pled sufficient facts to support the inference that Defendants knew their actions did not fall under the “facilitating” payments exception and were, in fact, taken with the requisite evil motive.  Finally, the SEC argues that the “facilitating” payments exemption is not unconstitutionally vague because a man of common intelligence would have understood what would constitute a permissible payment under the exception and what would not.”

As to the issues, Judge Ellison stated as follows.

“[T]he Court cannot, in every instance, divine, from the sheer fact that Congress chose to exempt “facilitating” payments from liability through an exception instead of an affirmative defense, that it intended for plaintiffs to bear the burden of pleading and proving the exception.  Instead the Court starts from the presumption that  Defendants bear the burden of raising and proving the applicability of an affirmative defense.  The Court then considers whether this statute is on of those rare instances where the true definition of the offense cannot be discerned unless the exception is negated.”

Judge Ellison next turns to the “particular circumstances that led to the addition of the “facilitating” payments exception, which neither party addresses” and stated as follows.

“When the FCPA was first enacted in 1977, there was no such explicit exception, but the legislative history indicated that by using the word “corruptly,” Congress intended to exempt such payments from the purview of the statute. For instance, the House Committee on interstate and foreign commerce provided as follows in its report: The language of the bill is deliberately cast in terms which differentiate between such payments and facilitating payments, sometimes referred to as “grease payments.” In using the word “corruptly,” the committee intends to distinguish between payments which cause an official to exercise other than his free will in acting or deciding or influencing and act or decision and those payments which merely move a particular matter toward an eventual act or decision or which do not involve any discretionary action. H.R. Rep. No. 95-640, at 4 (1977). Similarly, the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs wrote: “The statute does not . . . cover so-called ‘grease payments’ such as payments for expediting shipments through customs or placing a transatlantic telephone call, securing required permits, or obtaining adequate police protection, transactions which may involve even the proper performance of duties.” S. Rep. No. 95-114, at 10 (1977). In adding an explicit exception for “facilitating” payments in 1988, both houses explained that the amendment was meant “only to clarify ambiguities ‘without changing the basic intent . . . of the law.’” [...]  The legislative history reveals that Congress intended, by using the word “corruptly,” to except facilitating payments from the ambit of the FCPA, and the addition of the “facilitating” payments exception into the language of the statute was intended only to clarify that intent. No one disputes that the SEC must bear the burden of proving that Defendants acted corruptly. Accordingly, the Court finds that the evolution of the statute in this case strongly supports the conclusion that the SEC must bear the burden of negating the “facilitating” payments exception.  The facilitating payments exception is best understood as a threshold requirement to pleading that a defendant acted “corruptly.”

The “facilitating” payments exception was intended to provide a “very limited exception[] to the kinds of bribes to which the FCPA does not apply.”  Kay I, 359 F.3d at 750.  The exception allows for payments to foreign officials the purpose of which is to “expedite or secure the performance of a routine government action,” [...], which refers to a “very narrow categor[y] of largely non-discretionary, ministerial activities performed by mid- or low-level foreign functionaries.” Kay I, 359 F.3d at 751.  While the statute specifically includes “obtaining permits” as an example of the type of action that typically qualifies as routine, the Court interprets the example to refer to obtaining permits to which one is properly entitled.  See H.R. Rep. No. 95-640, at 8 (explaining that Congress intended to exclude from the FCPA’s reach “those payments which merely move a particular matter toward an eventual act or decision or which do not involve any discretionary action”).

The SEC alleges that Defendants authorized payments to foreign officials in order to obtain TIPs based on false paperwork, in contravention of what Defendants knew was the proper process for obtaining TIPs. As discussed supra,the SEC pled sufficient facts to support the allegation that Defendants knew these payments would be going to Nigerian government officials to obtain TIPs in a manner that violated Nigerian law. The grant of permits by government officials that have no authority to grant permits on the basis sought is in no way a ministerial act nor can it be characterized as “speeding the proper performance of a foreign official’s duties.” H.R. Rep. No. 95-640, at 8. Similarly, if payments were made to induce officials to validate the paperwork while knowing it to be false, that too would not qualify as simply expediting a ministerial act. Accordingly, the SEC’s pleadings easily negate the “facilitating” payments exception with regard to payments made to acquire false paperwork TIPs.

The SEC also alleges that Defendants authorized payments to foreign officials in order to obtain discretionary TIP extensions. Although the Court found that the SEC has alleged sufficient facts to support the inference that Ruehlen, and for the most part Jackson as well, knew that the payments they authorized would be going to bribe foreign officials, the Court cannot conclude that the Complaint pleads sufficient facts to support the allegation that Ruehlen or Jackson knew that these payments would be used to influence a discretionary decision of a foreign official. In fact, the SEC fails to plead sufficient facts to support the allegation that granting of TIP extensions is a discretionary action. The SEC repeatedly alleges that the granting of extensions is a discretionary action.  However, repeated incantations that NCS may grant an extension in its discretion do not satisfy the SEC’s obligations under Iqbal and Twombly to plead facts that render plausible such conclusory allegations.  The SEC alleges sufficient facts to support the conclusion that fourth extensions were illegal, including that grants of third extensions routinely indicated that the extension was the final extension that would be granted for that rig, as well as Noble’s own failed attempt to obtain a fourth extension.  It also alleges that NCS had previously denied a third extension because the rig was operating under a different drilling contract. However, these allegations are insufficient to make plausible the conclusion that granting TIP extensions is discretionary. These allegations are just as consistent with a regime where up to three TIP extensions are granted as a matter of routine for rigs that continue to operate on the same contract as they were operating when the initial TIP was granted. And if NCS does grant up to three TIPs routinely, any bribes offered to speed along or assure that action would fall squarely into the “facilitating” payments exception.

[...]

[T]he SEC has leave to amend the Complaint to allege facts that would support the allegation that granting TIP extensions is a matter of discretion. The SEC can satisfy this burden in a number of ways. The simplest way to do so would be to plead the Nigerian law or policy that so provides. However, the Court does not discount other means. After all, the SEC has plausibly pled that granting TIPs based on false paperwork is a violation of Nigerian law by relying on the fact of a prior Nigerian prosecution and the opinion of a legal expert.  Therefore, the Court does not rule out the possibility that the SEC may be able adequately to plead facts that would support the conclusion that grants of TIP extensions are a matter of discretion without pleading the provisions of Nigerian law. However, should the SEC not rely on Nigerian law, it must do more than just plead facts tat would be equally consistent with a protocol under which where TIP extensions are routinely granted if they satisfy certain threshold requirements.

After reviewing the FCPA’s legislative history, Judge Ellison interpreted the word “corruptly” as an act done with an evil motive or wrongful purpose of influencing a foreign official to misuse his position.”

He further stated as follows.

“In pleading that Defendants acted corruptly, the SEC need not proffer facts that would show that they knew their actions would constitute a violation of the FCPA [...] (noting that nothing about the word “corruptly” suggests that the government must prove that a defendant knew he was violating the FCPA);  Kay II, 513 F.3d at 450-451 (holding that even the willfulness requirement in a criminal prosecution does not require the government to prove that a defendant knew he was violating a particular statute).  Indeed, this court seriously doubts that the SEC even needs to prove that Defendants knew that their actions violated any specific law. Because Kay II interpreted the willfulness requirement as requiring only a showing that a defendant knew that his actions were in some way unlawful, [...] to interpret the word “corruptly” to require such knowledge would eliminate the distinction between a criminal and civil violation of the FCPA.  [...]

Defendants argue that the SEC has not pled that they acted corruptly because it had failed to plead any violations of Nigerian law, and because both defendants had a good faith belief that they were acting lawfully.   Specifically, Jackson argues that he had a good faith belief in the legality of the payments as facilitating payments, and Ruehlen argues that he relied in good faith on the approval of the payments by supervisors, including Jackson.

As the Court has already discussed, the SEC has alleged sufficient facts that support the inference that obtaining TIPs through the use of false paperwork violated Nigerian law. However, as explained, the SEC has no obligation to plead that Defendants knew that they were violating a law, or even that they were seeking an illegal result to state a civil FCPA violation. Instead, it must plead only that Defendants acted with the wrongful purpose of influencing a foreign official to misuse his official position. As explained the SEC has adequately alleged that Defendants authorized payments to foreign officials to obtain TIPs based on false paperwork, in contravention of what Defendants knew to be the proper protocol. Seeking to obtain governmentally-issued benefits through payments intended to ensure Nigerian officials ignore the proper protocols plainly satisfies the requirement of having the wrongful purpose of influencing a foreign official to misuse his position. Defendants’ representations of their good-faith belief that the payments were “facilitating” payments, and therefore legal, are unavailing. First, as explained, the SEC’s allegations support the inference that Defendants knew they were seeking to obtain TIPs in an illegal manner, thereby pleading facts that, if true, would negative any claim of good faith belief that the payments were made to ensure routine government actions. At the motion to dismiss stage, representations to the contrary are irrelevant. Second, the Court is not certain that the SEC is obliged to plead that Defendants did not have a good-faith belief that their payments fell under the “facilitating” payments exception. As a practical matter, the Court has difficulty imagining how the SEC could plead that Defendants acted “corruptly” without, at the same time, pleading facts that, if true, would render implausible any claim that Defendants had a good-faith belief that the payments fell into the “facilitating” payments exception. After all, it is hard to see how one could have the evil motive or wrongful purpose of influencing an official to misuse his official position while, at the same time, believing, in good faith, that he was simply ensuring or expediting a routine government action. The Court need not resolve the question, however, because, in any event, the facts alleged by the SEC support the inference that Defendants knew use of false paperwork to obtain TIPs was illegal.

Finally, Ruehlen argues that the SEC has not pled adequate facts that he acted corruptly because he authorized payments with the knowledge and consent of Noble’s senior management.  [...]  The factfinder may certainly consider whether Jackson’s approval of the payments negates corrupt intent. However, for the purpose of Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court finds that the facts pled regarding Ruehlen’s intimate involvement with the West Africa Audit make plausible the allegation that he did act “corruptly.”

Because the Court finds that the SEC has failed adequately to plead that the payments to obtain TIP extensions were not facilitating payments, it does not address whether the SEC has adequately pled that Defendants acted corruptly in making those payments. However, the Court notes, that should the SEC amend its complaint to plead sufficient facts to support the inference that the grant of TIP extensions is a discretionary act, it will need also to plead facts that support the inference that, in making these payments, Jackson and Ruehlen had the evil motive or wrongful purpose of influencing an official to misuse his position.”

In a footnote Judge Ellison then stated as follows.

[W]hile the Court finds no explicit statutory obligation to plead facts that would tend to show that Defendants did not have a good faith belief that their payments fell within the “facilitating” payments exception, the Court has difficulty imagining that the SEC will be able to plead that Defendants had the bad purpose of influencing an official to misuse his position if it does not first plead that Defendants knew they were not entitled to extensions as a matter of right upon satisfying certain basic threshold requirements.

As to the unconstitutional vagueness issue, Judge Ellison stated as follows.

“Here, a person of common intelligence should have no difficulty understanding that routine government actions do not include the granting of permits based on fraudulent documents. He would not fail to understand that the statutory example of “obtaining permits” as a routine governmental action presupposes that those permits are obtained based on some valid entitlement. Furthermore, even if a man of common intelligence might be somewhat uncertain about whether payments to secure TIPs through a known illegal method would be covered by the “facilitating” payments exception, the exception is but one of numerous elements of a civil FCPA violation; some ambiguity in the scope of this one part of the statute does not draw an impermissibly vague line.  [...]

Similarly, should the SEC amend its Complaint adequately to plead that the granting of TIP extensions is a discretionary action, any argument that enforcement actions could not be initiated on the basis of payments to obtain favorable exercises of discretion in obtaining permits would also fail. In analyzing the FCPA, the Fifth Circuit made it unambiguously clear that the FCPA was enacted in substantial part to “prohibit the type of bribery that . . . prompts officials to misuse their discretionary authority.”  [...} Even if the language of the “facilitating” payments exception failed adequately to put persons of common intelligence on alert that bribery to influence discretionary decisions was prohibited under the FCPA, Kay I, a  decision from February 2004, established the point as a matter of law. It is, of course, a “common maxim, familiar to all minds, that ignorance of the law will not excuse any person, either civilly or criminally.” [...]“

Statute of Limitations

Judge Ellison summarized the positions of the parties as follows.

“Jackson and Ruehlen argue that the SEC’s Complaint should be dismissed because all of the events giving rise to the claims occurred outside of the limitations period and the SEC’s Complaint has failed to raise any basis for tolling.  The SEC does not dispute that the Complaint, on its face, raises no basis for tolling, but it argues that the statute of limitations should be tolled because of tolling agreements between the parties, because the fraudulent concealment doctrine applies, and because the continuing violations doctrine applies. Additionally, the SEC contends that the statute of limitations does not apply to equitable relief such as injunctions.  Finally, the SEC requests leave to amend its Complaint to plead any additional facts necessary for statute of limitations purposes.”

After discussing the applicable five year statute of limitations, he stated as follows.

The Complaint in this case was filed on February 24, 2012. Accordingly, absent some reason the statute of limitations should not apply, claims that accrued before February 24, 2007 should be barred. Here, the vast majority of the misconduct alleged occurred before February 24, 2007.  Although the Complaint does not plead any basis for tolling, the Court examines the  arguments as to why the statute of limitations should be tolled or is inapplicable, to determine whether any of the claims predicated on conduct prior to February 24, 2007 survive, and also to determine whether leave to amend would be futile.

[...]

Defendants do not dispute that they each signed tolling agreements with the SEC that would suspend the running of the statute of limitations for a total of 290 days.  These tolling agreements would make timely any claims based on conduct occurring after May 10, 2006.  [...] Thus, although the SEC should have pled the existence of these tolling agreements, the Court finds it appropriate to grant the SEC leave to amend.”

As to fraudulent concealment as a basis for tolling the statute of limitations, Judge Ellison stated as follows.

Defendants also argue that the Complaint has failed to raise any basis for tolling. They argue that the SEC has failed to plead facts that would give rise to tolling based on the doctrine of fraudulent concealment. The SEC contends that it has pled the elements of fraudulent concealment that it is required to plead, and that Defendants actually bear some of the burden because the statute of limitations is an affirmative defense.

[...]

The Court rejects the SEC’s contention that it is Defendants who must bear the burden of proving that the Commission should have discovered the fraud earlier.

[...]

Under the applicable Fifth Circuit standard, the SEC has pled enough facts to suggest that Defendants concealed their wrongdoing. Specifically, the SEC has pled that each time a payment for false paperwork TIPs was approved, it was logged as a legitimate operating expense, as Defendants knew and intended. Furthermore, the SEC has alleged that Jackson signed personal certifications as CFO and CEO that were attached to Noble’s public quarterly and annual filings, dated from August 8, 2005 to May 9, 2007, stating that he had disclosed to Noble’s auditors and Audit Committee all significant deficiencies and material weaknesses in the design or operation of internal controls and any fraud. These acts are pled with adequate specificity and can, theoretically, be enough to support a claim of concealment. However, the Court notes that, if these assertions by Defendants that their actions are legal are to be the sole basis of the fraudulent concealment allegations, the SEC will eventually have to show that its reliance on these representations was reasonable. This is because “generally speaking, denial of wrongdoing is no more an act of concealment than is silence” and such a denial may constitute concealment only “where the parties are in a fiduciary relationship, or where the circumstances indicate that it was reasonable for the plaintiff to rely on defendant’s denial.”

However, the SEC has not pled any facts that support the inference that it acted diligently in bringing this Complaint. The SEC argues that, because it did not learn of the misconduct until June 2007, and because it brought its complaint within five years of that date, it has pled all it needs to plead.  However, as explained above, the SEC must plead facts that show that it acted diligently in gathering the facts that form the basis of its claims. It concedes that, by June 2007, when Noble disclosed its internal investigation to the SEC, it had inquiry notice of potential misconduct. The SEC has leave to amend its Complaint to plead facts that would support the inference that it acted diligently in gathering the facts that form the basis of this Complaint.

As to the SEC seeking the equitable remedy of injunction, the court noted that the “parties have cited no cases that suggest that dismissal of claims for injunctive relief is appropriate at the Rule 12(b)(6) stage.  [...] The SEC, of course, ultimately will bear the burden of showing that an injunction is warranted.