Archive for the ‘Declination Decisions’ Category

Senate Remains Interested In FCPA Issues

Thursday, February 12th, 2015

SenateGranted it has been approximately four years since the Senate held its Foreign Corrupt Practices hearing in November 2010.  (The House followed-up with an FCPA hearing in June 2011).

FCPA reform legislation was never introduced (for potential reasons why – see this article), yet the Senate very much remains interested in FCPA issues.

The Senate Judiciary Committee recently released this document which contains Attorney General Nominee Loretta Lynch’s responses to various Senator questions.

The remainder of this post excerpts all FCPA related questions and Lynch’s answers.

As highlighted below, the Q&A’s cover the following topics:  DOJ guidance, DOJ declinations, “FCPA abuses” (as stated in a series of questions), Andrew Weissman’s FCPA reform positions prior to recently re-joining the DOJ (see here for the prior post), international cooperation, FCPA reform (including a compliance defense), and the time it takes to resolve FCPA investigations.

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FROM SENATOR GRASSLEY (R-IA)

Q: In 2012, the Department of Justice and Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) issued joint guidance detailing Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) enforcement information and the agencies’ enforcement priorities. While the guidance clarified portions of the law and some of the agencies’ enforcement theories, many companies and individuals seeking to comply with the FCPA have asked for further, and continued, clarification. This request was expressed to Attorney General Eric Holder and Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell during previous Committee hearings.

a. If confirmed, will you commit to working with companies and individuals to further improve the Guidance?

RESPONSE: If I am confirmed as Attorney General, I look forward to continuing the outreach efforts that the Department has been making with the private sector to understand their needs and concerns and, if necessary, update and/or improve the Guide.

b. Will you commit to updating the Guidance, when necessary, to reflect changes in DOJ enforcement practices?

RESPONSE: If I am confirmed as Attorney General, I look forward to continuing efforts that the Department has been making to provide meaningful guidance in the FCPA context where necessary and appropriate.

In the area of FCPA enforcement, there is little guiding case law available for compliance practitioners to rely on. However, the FCPA Guidance that was issued in 2012 took an important first step in helping practitioners understand how the enforcement agencies’ interpret the statute. The Guidance includes six anonymized examples of declinations— instances where the DOJ and SEC declined to bring FCPA-related enforcement actions in recognition of the companies’ timely voluntary disclosures, meaningful cooperation, and sophisticated compliance policies and controls. The continued publication of FCPA declinations would foster greater FCPA compliance by providing practitioners with a better understanding of how the FCPA is interpreted. If confirmed, would you support increasing DOJ transparency regarding declination decisions?

RESPONSE: As you know, the United States Attorney’s Manual provides a mechanism to allow for notification to an individual (or entity), where appropriate, that an investigation as to that individual (or entity) is being closed. If I am confirmed as Attorney General, I look forward to continuing the Department’s practice of providing meaningful guidance in the FCPA context (such as procedures to respond to opinion requests) and of actively pursuing and implementing means by which declinations and other information about the decision to prosecute, or not, can be responsibly and appropriately shared.

FROM SENATOR CRUZ (R-TX)

DOJ Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Abuses

In much the same way as civil forfeiture, critics of the FCPA note that the Department of Justice collects and retains for use (without further congressional approval or disbursal from the Treasury) fines paid in settlement of federal FCPA investigations. This ability to retain FCPA fines incentivizes not only a vigorous application of the FCPA, but also “creative” legal theories (which can lead to investigations of companies for potentially innocuous behavior). Critics of the FCPA, and the Department’s pursuit of FCPA investigations, point out that the combination of investigation and potential litigation expenses frequently drive what may be innocent companies to settle, which both cements the revenue source for the Department and prevents federal judges from having opportunities to interpret provisions of the FCPA.

Do you agree or disagree with the claim that the ability of the Department of Justice to keep and use FCPA settlement fines incentivizes application of the FCPA? If you disagree with this claim, please provide a detailed explanation as to why.

RESPONSE: I disagree with this claim, which I believe is built on a faulty premise regarding the process by which criminal fines and other financial penalties are paid and subsequently put to use. Fines for FCPA violations are not “kept” or “used” by the Department, and no such use incentivizes application of the FCPA. Rather, as with all cases, the Department considers the strength of the evidence and other long-standing policy considerations (see, e.g., United States Attorney’s Manual (USAM) 9-28.300) in determining whether to bring an FCPA prosecution.

A company convicted of an FCPA violation pays any accompanying fine not to the Department but to the relevant U.S. district court clerk’s office. Those funds are then directed to the Crime Victim Fund, which is a U.S. Treasury fund created pursuant to Title 42, United States Code, Section 10601. Funds paid into the U.S. Treasury are not available for use by the Department except through the appropriations process or by statute.

A company that settles an FCPA investigation through a non-prosecution or deferred prosecution agreement pays any accompanying financial penalty not to the Department but to the U.S. Treasury. Pursuant to Congressional authorization and strict Departmental oversight, a small percentage of these funds may be made available to the Department. More specifically, in 1993 Congress authorized the creation of a 3% working capital fund (“3% Fund”) for the Department. See Public Law 113-234, 28 C.F.R. Section 527. Three percent of penalties associated with certain financial recoveries, including through non-prosecution and deferred prosecution agreements, are paid into the 3% working capital fund. After rigorous review by the Collection Resources Allocation Board, overseen by the Justice Management Division, the Department may award funds from the 3% Fund to support certain litigation, data administration, and personnel costs.

Has your office actually tried any FCPA cases to a verdict in federal court? If the answer is yes, please provide details about these cases.

RESPONSE: The Eastern District of New York has participated in a number of significant FCPA investigations with the Fraud Section of the Criminal Division of the Department, and it continues to do so. To date, these investigations have resulted in two corporate resolutions: (1) In re Ralph Lauren, NPA, $882,000 penalty, press release at: http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/ralph-lauren-corporation-resolves-foreign-corrupt-practices-actinvestigation-and-agrees-pay; and (2) In re Comverse Technology, Inc., NPA, $1.2 million penalty, press release: http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/comverse-technology-inc-agrees-pay-12- million-penalty-resolve-violations-foreign-corrupt); and one guilty plea by Garth Peterson of Morgan Stanley (and a declination against Morgan Stanley) (press release: http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/former-morgan-stanley-managing-director-pleads-guilty-roleevading-internal-controls-required). While the Department has conducted FCPA trials in many districts, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York has not had an FCPA trial to date.

As you know, the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section is charged with investigating and enforcing the criminal provisions of the FCPA. Recently, Andrew Weissmann was selected to be the Chief of the Fraud Section. Mr. Weissmann is a former prosecutor and FBI general counsel. In private practice, however, Mr. Weissmann has been an outspoken critic of DOJ’s FCPA program. Specifically, in a report36 Mr. Weissmann drafted for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for Legal Reform, he has recommended that: (1) a compliance defense to the FCPA should be added; (2) a company’s liability should be limited for the prior actions of a company it has acquired; (3) a “willfulness” element should be added for corporate criminal liability; (4) a company’s liability should be limited for the actions of a subsidiary; and (5) the definition of “foreign official” under the FCPA should be changed.

Do you agree with any, some, or all of Weissmann’s proposals for reforming the FCPA?

RESPONSE: It is my understanding that Mr. Weissmann made these comments while in private practice and in connection with his representation of the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform (“Chamber”). It is also my understanding that, in the intervening time period, the Department has met with the Chamber, as well as other stakeholders, to engage in a healthy and productive dialogue regarding the Department’s interpretation and application of the FCPA. If confirmed as Attorney General, I would continue to foster dialogue with the Chamber and other stakeholders regarding our FCPA program.

Which of these changes (if any) do you think could be done administratively, as opposed to legislatively?

RESPONSE: I do not support the proposed changes. Several of them would be a significant departure from general principles of corporate criminal law, effectively creating unique exceptions for FCPA cases that are unwarranted, are contrary to Congress’s intent in enacting the FCPA, and would impose often insurmountable obstacles to effective enforcement of the FCPA.

In 2004, then-Deputy Attorney General (and current director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation) James Comey stated that “[the Department of Justice wants] real time enforcement, so that the public and potential white collar criminals see that misdeeds are swiftly punished.” Despite this statement, the 2014 OECD Foreign Bribery Report noted that “the average time taken (in years) to conclude foreign bribery cases has steadily increased over time, [from an average of 1.3 years in 2004] peaking at an average of 7.3 years taken to conclude the 42 cases in 2013.” Lengthy federal investigations not only place a tremendous financial burden on the targeted corporations and their shareholders, but also on taxpayers who shoulder the agency’s expenses for conducting the investigation.

Do you agree or disagree with Director Comey’s statement regarding the value of real-time law enforcement? If you disagree with this statement, please provide a detailed explanation as to why.

RESPONSE: I agree that law enforcement must move swiftly and responsibly in investigating both white collar and other criminal activity. I also agree that, for deterrence purposes, it is important to move quickly and bring charges against those individuals and companies that have engaged in criminal behavior. While the Department has been working diligently to find meaningful and reasonable ways to reduce the time white collar FCPA investigations take, the question’s reliance on the OECD Foreign Bribery Report is misplaced. As I understand it, the referenced statistic is based on an aggregate of all the OECD Working Group members’ cases, rather than isolating the time taken by the United States in its cases. Also, this statistic does not measure the length of the criminal investigation. Rather, it measures the time between the last criminal act and the sanction, increasing substantially the time measured, since the Department (or foreign law enforcement) might not learn about a potential violation until years after the last criminal act has occurred.

Given that the FCPA Unit within the Department’s Fraud Section has expanded its personnel from 2004 to today, and given that the Department receives even more international cooperation today than it did in 2004, do you agree or disagree that the Department should be witnessing reduced investigative timelines for FCPA investigations rather than increased timelines? If you disagree with this statement, please provide a detailed explanation as to why.

RESPONSE: Additional resources and cooperation are greatly appreciated and can often be key factors in expediting criminal investigations. However, they are only two of many factors that can influence the time it takes to conduct a successful investigation of any kind. Compared to other white collar investigations, the challenges associated with FCPA investigations can be much greater. Because of the nature of the offense, most of the evidence in these cases is typically located overseas. While international cooperation efforts have expanded significantly over the past ten years, the process for obtaining evidence from overseas is still time-consuming.

Before you are confirmed to serve as the next Attorney General, will you or will you not commit to dramatically reducing the timeline of FCPA-related Fraud Unit investigations, in order to reduce the financial burden on potentially innocent corporations and reduce investigation-related taxpayer expenses? If you will not commit to reducing these investigative timelines, please provide a detailed explanation as to why.

RESPONSE: Under my leadership, the Eastern District of New York has been committed to increasing the speed of its white collar investigations, including its FCPA investigations. As a result of the particular challenges of corporate and overseas investigations, however, the investigations can take a significant amount of time. While improvements in this area can be made, irresponsibly or artificially expediting an investigation solely for the sake of speed can harm the investigation and the pursuit of justice, as well as create greater harms to the targets, subjects, and witnesses in our investigations. If I am confirmed as Attorney General, you can be assured that the Department will continue to review each case on its merits and will move as expeditiously and responsibly as possible.

Often, many of the countries with corrupt officials are the same countries that harbor terrorists, that seek to undermine U.S. foreign policy, and that have rampant bid rigging and illegal cartel conduct. On the opposite side of the equation, there are an increasing number of countries that have passed new anti-bribery statutes in the hope of curbing their own internal corruption problems and spurring legitimate economic growth.

How will you marshal the criminal justice resources of the Department of Justice to enforce the FCPA in a way that helps in the fight against terrorism, cartel conduct, and international money laundering? Please provide a detailed explanation, based on your current experience as United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, of how you intend to tackle the problem.

RESPONSE: As the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, I am well aware of the link between corruption, corrupt regimes, and transnational crime, including economic crime, human trafficking, narcotics trafficking, money laundering, and even terrorism. In addition to prosecuting foreign corruption, narcotics trafficking, money laundering, and terrorism cases, the Department works closely with its counterparts throughout the U.S. government to devise and implement robust anticorruption strategies. For example, my Office has worked closely with the intelligence community on terrorism and corruption-related matters. The Department further participates, along with colleagues in other agencies in the U.S. government, in developing anticorruption policies through various international organizations and anticorruption conventions, including the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Working Group on Bribery, the G-7, the G-20, and the U.N. Convention Against Corruption. The Department also consults with civil society organizations involved in the battle against corruption. If confirmed as the Attorney General, I would continue to ensure that fighting corruption overseas, as well as domestically, remains a top priority for the Department. I would ensure that resources are appropriately directed to enforcing U.S. laws targeting foreign corruption, recovery of assets stolen by kleptocrats, and corrupt regimes.

Given that more and more countries are enacting and enforcing anti-bribery statutes, would you agree or disagree that the FCPA ought to be amended to restrict FCPA jurisdiction to countries that do not have a prima facie anticorruption infrastructure? If you disagree with this statement, please provide a detailed explanation as to why.

RESPONSE: Such an exception would be unique under federal law. I disagree with this approach, as I believe it would do harm to the Department’s anticorruption efforts. The Department works closely with countries that are developing their own anticorruption infrastructures, and we are well aware that it can take years of persistent effort to create an effective and holistic response to corruption of domestic and foreign officials.

As a recent OECD Report on Foreign Bribery noted, enforcement of existing anticorruption statutes, particularly those targeting foreign bribery, is improving but has a long way to go to see consistent and effective enforcement even among top economies in the world.

The Department of Justice generally emphasizes the benefit of voluntary self-disclosure to, and voluntary cooperation with, FCPA investigations. Corporations are increasingly questioning the benefit, however, of rushing toward self-disclosure without demonstration of some sort of legal or cost benefit for doing so. To address this, some practitioners have suggested that the FCPA should contain a “safe harbor” from criminal prosecution for corporations that (1) have robust compliance programs, (2) self-disclose potential FCPA violations, and (3) cooperate fully with the Department’s investigation, akin to what the Antitrust Division has for cartel enforcement. (The Department would, of course, be able to continue to obtain non-criminal penalties for violations.)

Do you agree or disagree with the statement that there should be an FCPA “safe harbor provision” to help corporations that are trying to do the right thing? If you disagree with this statement, please provide a detailed explanation as to why.

RESPONSE: I do not believe a “safe harbor provision” is necessary or desirable. Both the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and the Department of Justice already provide significant benefits for companies that have robust compliance programs, self-disclose potential FCPA violations, and cooperate fully with the Department’s investigation. Indeed, in a recent FCPA matter, the Criminal Division and the Eastern District of New York declined to prosecute Morgan Stanley based on many of those factors, among others, despite the fact that one of its Managing Directors bribed a foreign official to obtain business for and on behalf of Morgan Stanley.

If you agree with the concept of an FCPA safe harbor provision, please describe what the structure or contours of such a safe harbor provision should be, and how you would implement that provision. Please provide a detailed explanation, based on your current experience as United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, of how you would write and implement such a provision.

RESPONSE: The factors outlined in your question are important considerations in all FCPA cases, but I do not believe that a “safe harbor provision” is necessary or desirable.

Members of the business community, practitioners, commentators, and even members of Congress have expressed frustration with the Department of Justice’s failure to publicize declined FCPA prosecutions, even where there is public knowledge that a particular corporation is under investigation. This practice may have several negative effects, including preventing corporations from having clarity about what type of conduct is considered acceptable. Given the Department’s financial incentive to ensure robust application of the FCPA, there is concern that this refusal to publish decline-to-prosecute information is intended to protect the FCPA fine-based revenue source for the Department.

Would you agree or disagree with the statement that FCPA decline-to-prosecute decisions should be made available to the public? If you disagree with this statement, please provide a detailed explanation as to why.

RESPONSE: I agree that the Department should continue to explore ways by which it can responsibly share information while protecting the many sensitive interests that federal, criminal investigations implicate. The Department has a longstanding general practice of refraining from discussing non-public information on matters it has declined to prosecute. This practice is designed to protect ongoing investigations, privacy rights and other interests of uncharged parties, and sensitive, internal law enforcement deliberations. This practice and these considerations apply across the enforcement of all federal criminal laws.

Nevertheless, I must emphasize that the Department does pursue means by which declinations and other information about the decision to prosecute can be responsibly shared with entities or individuals under investigation, the business community, practitioners, commentators, and members of Congress. The United States Attorney’s Manual (USAM) describes situations in which a United States Attorney can exercise discretion to provide notice that an investigation is being closed. See USAM § 9-11.155. Further, in the last two years, the Department has made great efforts to provide more information and transparency in the area of the FCPA, including the publication of A Resource Guide to the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (the “Resource Guide”). The Resource Guide, which was written by the Department and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), provides the public with extensive information about the Department’s FCPA enforcement approach and priorities. It contains a section on declinations and sets out criteria prosecutors consider in declining to bring a prosecution under the FCPA. In addition, the Department responds to opinion requests concerning its enforcement intent about actions that may be perceived as violating the anti-bribery provisions of the FCPA. See Title 15, United States Code, Sections 78dd-l(e) and 78dd-2(f). These opinion letters provide significant additional insight into the Department’s enforcement views, as well as transparency for companies, individuals, and practitioners as to what is acceptable or not.

Before you are confirmed to serve as the next Attorney General, will you or will you not commit to publishing information about the FCPA cases that the Department has decided not to pursue or prosecute? If you will not commit to publishing this information, please provide a detailed explanation as to why.

RESPONSE: I will commit to continuing the Department’s practice of actively pursuing and implementing means by which declinations and other information about the decision to prosecute, or not, can be responsibly and appropriately shared. As detailed in my answer to the preceding question, the United States Attorney’s Manual already provides a mechanism to provide notice that an investigation is being closed. I also commit to continuing the Department’s recent efforts to provide more information and transparency, as it did by publishing the Resource Guide.

The Black Hole Of FCPA Enforcement

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2015

Black HoleReaders frequently contact me with good questions about recent Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement actions.

Recent examples include the following.

In connection with the recent enforcement action against individuals associated with FLIR Systems Inc., will there be a corporate enforcement action?  Given that the SEC alleged that the individuals (both U.S. citizens) not only engaged in improper conduct, but also engaged in a “cover-up” as to their conduct, will there be a DOJ criminal enforcement action against the individuals?

In connection with the recent Dutch enforcement action against SBM Offshore, will there be a DOJ or SEC enforcement action? After all, the company disclosed to U.S. authorities, as well as Dutch authorities, and the company does have American Depositary Receipts traded on U.S. exchanges, a hook the DOJ and SEC have used before in bringing an enforcement action against a foreign company.

In connection with the recent Layne Christensen enforcement action – why did voluntary disclosure and cooperation result in an SEC administrative cease and desist order in that case, but a SEC NPA in another case, a SEC DPA in another case, and a SEC civil complaint in another case?

I read the same FCPA enforcement actions and other information as others, and being a professor, am predisposed to come up with some value-added answer.  Yet when it comes to FCPA enforcement, my answer is often, good question, I don’t know, there is often a black hole when it comes to FCPA enforcement.

While that is often my answer, opaque law enforcement and its resulting contradictions and inconsistencies is contrary to the rule of law.

To state the obvious, FCPA enforcement could benefit from greater transparency.  While the below reform proposal I first articulated in 2010 is not a panacea, it is a start.

When a company voluntarily discloses an FCPA internal investigation to the DOJ and/or SEC, and when the DOJ / SEC do not bring an enforcement action, in these situations it is in the public interest to require the enforcement agencies  to publicly state, in a thorough and transparent manner, the facts the company disclosed and why there was no enforcement action based on those facts.

Here is why I think the proposal makes sense and is in the public interest.

For starters, the enforcement agencies are already enthusiastic when it comes to talking about FCPA issues. Enforcement attorneys from both the DOJ and SEC are frequent participants on the FCPA conference circuit and there seems to be no other single law that is the focus of more DOJ speeches than the FCPA. Thus, there is clearly enthusiasm and ambition at the enforcement agencies when it comes to the FCPA.

Further, the enforcement agencies both have specific FCPA Units (which we are told has dozens of attorneys) and thus have the resources to accomplish this task. Combine enthusiasm and ambition with sufficient resources and personnel and the proposal certainly seems doable.

Most important, the DOJ is already used to this type of exercise. It is called the FCPA Opinion Procedure Release  a process the DOJ frequently urges those subject to the FCPA to utilize. Under the Opinion Procedure regulations, an issuer or domestic concern subject to the FCPA can voluntarily disclose prospective business conduct to the DOJ which then has an obligation to respond to the request by issuing an opinion that states whether the prospective conduct would, for purposes of the DOJ’s present enforcement policy, violate the FCPA. The DOJ’s opinions are publicly released  and the FCPA bar and the rest of FCPA Inc. often study these opinions in great detail in advising clients largely because of the general lack of substantive FCPA case law. If the DOJ is able to issue an enforcement opinion as to voluntarily disclosed prospective conduct there seems to be no principled reason why the enforcement agencies could not issue a non-enforcement opinion as to voluntarily disclosed actual conduct. Such agency opinions would seem to be more valuable to those subject to the FCPA than the FCPA Opinion Procedure Releases. If the enforcement agencies are sincere about providing guidance on the FCPA, as they presumably are, such agency opinions would seem to provide an ideal platform to accomplish such a purpose.

Requiring the enforcement agencies to disclose non-enforcement decisions after a voluntary disclosure could also inject some much needed discipline into the voluntary disclosure decision itself – a decision which seems to be reflexive in many instances any time facts suggest the FCPA may be implicated.

Notwithstanding the presence of significant conflicting incentives to do otherwise, it is hoped that FCPA counsel advises clients to disclose only if a reasonably certain legal conclusion has been reached that the conduct at issue actually violates the FCPA.  Accepting this assumption, transparency in FCPA enforcement would be enhanced if the public learned why the enforcement agencies, in the face of a voluntary disclosure, presumably disagreed with the company’s conclusion as informed by FCPA counsel. If the enforcement agencies agreed with the conclusion that the FCPA was violated, but decided not to bring an enforcement action, transparency in FCPA enforcement would similarly be enhanced if the public learned why.

A final reason in support of the proposal is that it would give companies a benefit by contributing to the mix of public information about the FCPA.  In most cases, companies spend millions of dollars investigating conduct that may implicate the FCPA and on the voluntary disclosure process. When the enforcement agencies decline an enforcement action, presumably because the FCPA was not violated, these costs are forever sunk and the company can legitimately ask why it just spent millions investigating and disclosing conduct that the DOJ  did not conclude violated the FCPA.

However, if the enforcement agencies were required to publicly justify their non-enforcement decision, the company would achieve, however small, a return on its investment and contribute to the mix of public information about the FCPA – a law which the company will remain subject to long after its voluntary disclosure and long after the enforcement agencies non-enforcement decision. Thus, the company, the company’s industry peers, and indeed all those subject to the FCPA would benefit by learning more about the DOJ/SEC’s enforcement conclusions.

Transparency, accountability, useful guidance, a return on investment.

All would be accomplished by requiring the enforcement agencies  to publicly justify a non-enforcement decision in situations where no enforcement action follows a voluntary disclosure.

Items Of Interest From The Recent Dutch Enforcement Action Against SBM Offshore

Monday, December 1st, 2014

Dutch-based SBM Offshore recently resolved an enforcement action in the Netherlands.  With a settlement amount of $240 million, the SBM Offshore enforcement action is believed to be the third largest bribery enforcement action of 2014 with China’s $490 million enforcement action against GlaxoSmithKline and the U.S.’s $384 million enforcement action against Alcoa consisting of the top two.

The enforcement action was pursuant to Article 74 of the Dutch Penal Code, a provision of Dutch law that has been criticized by the OECD.

As stated by the OECD, Article 74 of the Dutch Penal Code “essentially involves the payment of a sum of money by the defendant to avoid criminal proceedings.”  Regarding such out-of-court settlements, the OECD has further noted that “out-of-court settlements in the Netherlands do not require an admission of guilt.”

In its December 2012 Phase 3 review of the Netherlands, one of the follow-up items listed was: “the use of out-of-court transactions for foreign bribery offences, as governed by article 74 of the  Dutch Penal Code, to ensure that they result in the imposition of effective, proportionate and dissuasive sanctions (Convention, Article 3.1).”

Regarding the SBM Offshore action, the Dutch Prosecutor’s Service announced:

“SBM Offshore has accepted an offer from the Dutch Public Prosecutor’s Service to enter into an out-of-court settlement. The settlement consists of a payment by SBM Offshore … of US$ 240,000,000 in total. This amount consists of a US$ 40,000,000 fine and US$ 200,000,000 disgorgement. This settlement relates to improper payments to sales agents and foreign government officials in Equatorial Guinea, Angola and Brazil in the period from 2007 through 2011 [...]. According to the [Dutch prosecutors] those payments constitute the indictable offences of bribery in the public and the private sector as well as forgery.”

According to the release, the reasons for the out-of-court settlement include:

  • SBM Offshore itself brought the facts to the attention of the authorities …SBM Offshore itself investigated the matter and agreed to fully cooperate with subsequent criminal investigations …;
  • there has been a new Management Board since 2012;
  • after it became aware of the facts, the newly established Management Board of SBM Offshore, at its own initiative, has taken significant measures to improve the company’s compliance; and
  • as noted in SBM Offshore’s press release, the current Management Board and Supervisory Board regret the failure of control mechanisms in place in the past.

According to the release, “from 2007 to 2011, SBM Offshore paid approximately US$ 200 million in commissions to foreign sales agents for services.  The largest part of these commissions totaling US $180.6 million, relate to Equatorial Guinea, Angola and Brazil.”

As to Equatorial Guinea, the release states:

“In early 2012, it came to SBM Offshore’s attention that one of its former sales agents might have given certain items of value to government officials in Equatorial Guinea. This reportedly involved one or more cars and a building. In the opinion of the Openbaar Ministerie and the FIOD, SBM Offshore’s former sales agent paid a significant portion of the commissions paid to him by SBM Offshore on to third parties, who in turn would have forwarded parts of these payments to one or more government officials in Equatorial Guinea. There also are other payments, such as education and health insurance costs. In the opinion of the [Dutch authorities], such (forwarded) payments took place with the knowledge of people who at the time were SBM Offshore employees, including someone who at the time was a member of the Management Board. From 2007 through 2011, SBM Offshore paid that particular sales agent USD 18.8 million in total in relation to Equatorial Guinea.”

As to Angola, the release states:

“In the period from 2007 through 2011, SBM Offshore also used several sales agents in Angola. These sales agents received commissions for services regarding certain projects in Angola. In the opinion of the [Dutch authorities], Angolan government officials, or persons associated with Angolan government officials, who are associated with at least one of these sales agents, received funds. In addition, there are payments for travel and study costs to one or more Angolan government officials or their relatives. Also with respect to Angola, the [Dutch authorities] are of the opinion that such payments took place with the knowledge of people who at the time were SBM Offshore employees. In the period from 2007 through 2011, SBM Offshore paid USD 22.7 million in commissions to its sales agents in connection with Angola.”

As to Brazil, the release states:

“With regard to Brazil, certain “red flags” relating to the main sales agent used in Brazil were found during the internal investigation commissioned by SBM Offshore. These red flags included:

  • the high amounts (in absolute terms) of commission that were paid to the sales agent and its companies;
  • a split between commissions paid to the sales agent between its Brazilian and its offshore entities; and
  • documents indicating the sales agent had knowledge of confidential information about a Brazilian client.

The internal investigation conducted by SBM Offshore did not yield any concrete evidence that payments may have been made to one or more government officials in Brazil. In the period from 2007 through 2011, SBM Offshore paid USD 139.1 million in commissions to its sales agents in connection with Brazil.

A mutual legal assistance request in the context of the investigation conducted by the [Dutch authorities] established that payments were made from the Brazilian sales agent’s offshore entities to Brazilian government officials. These findings resulted from means of investigation inaccessible to SBM Offshore.”

The release states, under the heading “Further Investigation” as follows.

“It appears from the criminal investigation that certain natural persons have been involved in the criminal offences committed in the opinion of the [Dutch authorities]. In a case like the one at hand, the [Dutch authorities] has jurisdiction if criminal acts are committed in the Netherlands, or when criminal acts are committed abroad by persons with the Dutch nationality. From the current state of affairs of the investigation, this does not appear to be the case. The [Dutch authorities] will cooperate fully with the countries that have jurisdiction to prosecute the natural persons involved.”

In this release, SBM Offshore stated that “the United States Department of Justice has informed SBM Offshore that it is not prosecuting the Company and has closed its inquiry into the matter.”

The SBM Offshore release further states:

Self-Reporting

The settlement with the [Dutch authorities] is a result of the discussions between the [Dutch authorities] and SBM Offshore, which started after SBM Offshore voluntarily informed the [Dutch authorities] and the United States Department of Justice of its self-initiated internal investigation in the spring of 2012. The findings of the internal investigation were communicated in SBM Offshore’s press release of April 2, 2014. SBM Offshore fully cooperated with the [Dutch authorities] and the United States Department of Justice.

Remedial Measures

With its voluntary reporting of the internal investigation to the [Dutch authorities], the United States Department of Justice and the market in April 2012, SBM Offshore made it clear that it wants to conduct its business transparently. The Supervisory Board appointed a new Management Board that took office in the first half of 2012. The new Management Board has repeatedly stressed the importance of compliance inside and outside the organisation. The Company, with the assistance of its advisors, enhanced its anti-corruption compliance program and related internal controls. The Company shared these measures with the [Dutch authorities] and the United States Department of Justice. The measures include:

  • the appointment of [a] Chief Governance and Compliance Officer, a newly created Management Board position;
  • the appointment of a seasoned compliance professional as Compliance Director, another newly created position;
  • the enhancement of anti-corruption related policies and procedures designed to ensure compliance by Company employees as well as third parties;
  • at the inception of the internal investigation, a review of all sales agents who were active at that time;
  • a decision to no longer use sales agents in those countries where the Company itself has a substantial presence;
  • the enhancement of compliance procedures related to the retention of sales agents, other intermediaries and joint venture partners;
  • the launch of a significant training effort for employees in compliance-sensitive positions;
  • the enhancement of mechanisms to report potential wrongdoing;
  • the enhancement of the Company’s internal financial controls related to anti-corruption compliance and internal audit processes; and
  • disciplinary actions against employees who were involved in or had knowledge of possible improper payments, including termination of employment agreements.

Although the current Management Board and the Supervisory Board regret that in the past, SBM Offshore’s processes relating to the monitoring of its sales agents appeared to not have been of a standard that allowed SBM Offshore to ensure the integrity of the actions taken by its sales agents, SBM Offshore believes that with these measures it offers a transparent and open Company to its clients and other stakeholders.

In the release Bruno Chabas (CEO of SBM Offshore) stated:

“SBM welcomes the conclusion of all discussions with the Dutch and U.S. authorities. We have been open, transparent and accountable throughout this difficult process which has addressed issues from a past era. We can now focus on the future, secure in the knowledge that we have put in place an enhanced compliance culture which embeds our core values.”

To some, the lack of a DOJ enforcement action against SBM Offshore was a declination.  However, such a conclusion implies that there was actually an FCPA enforcement action to bring against SBM Offshore.

Two points are relevant to this issue.  First, as noted in this Global Investigations Review article, SBM Offshore’s outside counsel comments that the company disclosed to the Dutch authorities an the DOJ “before we had done much of the internal investigation.” Second, SBM Offshore could only be prosecuted for FCPA anti-bribery violations to the extent the conduct at issue had a U.S. nexus.

Items Of Interest From The Bio-Rad Enforcement Action

Thursday, November 6th, 2014

This previous post dived deep into the Bio-Rad Laboratories FCPA enforcement action.

This post continues the analysis by highlighting various issues from the enforcement action.

Play On Words

The enforcement action was the result of Bio-Rad’s voluntary disclosure and both the DOJ and SEC were complimentary of the company’s cooperation.

In the words of the DOJ, “that cooperation included voluntarily making U.S. and foreign employees available for interviews, voluntarily producing documents from overseas, and summarizing the findings of its internal investigation. ”  Elsewhere the DOJ stated that Bio-Rad translated numerous documents and provided timely reports on witness interviews to the DOJ.

Likewise, the SEC noted that Bio-Rad’s investigation “included over 100 in-person interviews, the collection of millions of documents, the production of tens of thousands of documents, and forensic auditing.”

Against this backdrop, the DOJ’s press release contained a most interesting play of words.

“The department pursues corruption from all angles …” (emphasis added).

“The FBI remains committed to identifying and investigating violations of the FCPA.”  (emphasis added).

Bio-Rad’s press release also contained an interesting play on words as well.

As highlighted in several previous posts (see here for instance), the term “declination” is already one of the more amorphous term in the “FCPA vocabulary.”

In a further twist, the company’s press release stated:

“The DOJ declined to prosecute Bio-Rad, and the parties entered into a Non-Prosecution Agreement under which Bio-Rad has agreed to pay a penalty of $14.35 million.” (emphasis added).

A Government Required Transfer of Shareholder Wealth to FCPA Inc?

Bio-Rad was the second FCPA enforcement in the past two weeks – Layne Christensen being the other (see here and here for prior posts).

Both enforcement actions were the result of voluntary disclosures in which the DOJ and/or SEC were complimentary of the company’s internal investigation, remedial actions, and compliance enhancements.

For instance, the DOJ noted that Bio-Rad conducted “an extensive internal investigation in several countries” and noted, among other things, as follows.

“the Company has engaged in significant remedial actions, including enhancing it anti-corruption policies globally, improving its internal controls and compliance functions, developing and implementing additional FCPA compliance procedures, including due diligence and contracting procedures for intermediaries, instituting heightened review of proposals and other transactional documents for all Company contracts … and conducting extensive anti-corruption training throughout the global organization.”

Likewise, the SEC stated, among other things, as follows.

“Bio-Rad also undertook significant and extensive remedial actions including: terminating problematic practices; terminating Bio-Rad employees who were involved in the misconduct; comprehensively re-evaluating and supplementing its anticorruption policies and procedures on a world-wide basis, including its relationship with intermediaries; enhancing its internal controls and compliance functions; developing and implementing FCPA compliance procedures, including the further development and implementation of policies and procedures such as the due diligence and contracting procedure for intermediaries and policies concerning hospitality, entertainment, travel, and other business courtesies; and conducting extensive anticorruption training throughout the organization world-wide.”

In the Layne Christensen action, the SEC likewise stated, as other things, as follows.

“Layne Christensen also took affirmative steps to strengthen its internal compliance policies, procedures, and controls. Layne Christensen issued a standalone anti-bribery policy and procedures, improved its accounting policies relating to cash disbursements, implemented an integrated accounting system worldwide, revamped its anti-corruption training, and conducted extensive due diligence of third parties with which it does business. In addition, Layne Christensen hired a dedicated chief compliance officer and three full-time compliance personnel and retained a consulting firm to conduct an assessment of its anti corruption program and make recommendations.”

Nevertheless, both Bio-Rad and Layne Christensen have two-year reporting obligations to the government after the enforcement action.

The following observation is the same as in this prior post.

In situations involving voluntary disclosures where the enforcement agencies are complimentary of the company’s remedial actions and compliance enhancements, such post-enforcement action reporting obligations seem to be little more than a government required transfer of shareholder wealth to FCPA Inc.

Sure, such post-enforcement action reporting obligations give enforcement agency officials something to do and provide even more work for FCPA Inc., but in the situations discussed above, are such post-enforcement action reporting obligations necessary?

Both Bio-Rad’s (see below) and Layne Christensen’s FCPA scrutiny lasted approximately four years from beginning to enforcement action.  Tack on two more years of reporting obligations and the result is that these two instances of FCPA scrutiny will have provided FCPA Inc. participants an engagement lasting over six years.

This recent Wall Street Journal article asks “what would get more companies to self-disclose bribery” (a more detailed answer to this question will be explored in a future post).

One answer is to ditch the post-enforcement action reporting obligations in cases where there is a voluntary disclosure and the enforcement agencies are complimentary of the company’s remedial actions and compliance enhancements.

Or perhaps the post-enforcement action reporting requirements do indeed lead to more voluntary disclosures when one considers the important gatekeeper role FCPA counsel often play in such corporate decisions.  (See here).

Timeline

As indicated in the resolution documents, Bio-Rad’s initial self-disclosure of potential FCPA violations occurred in May 2010. The length of the company’s FCPA scrutiny – from point of first public disclosure to resolution – thus lasted approximately 4.5 years. (See here for the prior post “The Gray Cloud of FCPA Scrutiny Simply Lasts Too Long”).

5 for 5

In 2014, there have been five SEC corporate FCPA enforcement actions (Bio-Rad, Layne Christensen, Smith & Wesson, Alcoa, and HP).  All have been resolved via the SEC’s administrative process.

My recent article, “A Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Narrative,” (see pgs. 991-995) discusses this trend and how it is troubling as it places the SEC in the role of regulator, prosecutor, judge and jury all at the same time.  As Judge Rakoff recently observed, “from where does the constitutional warrant for such unchecked and unbalanced administrative power derive?”

Here Come the Plaintiffs’ Lawyers

It is as predictable as the sun rising in the east.

No less than 24 hours after release of the Bio-Rad enforcement action documents, plaintiffs’ lawyers began salivating and announcing investigations to determine whether officers and directors of the company breached fiduciary duties owed to shareholders.  (See here, here, here, here, here, and here for releases).

Self-Serving Statements Do Not Establish The Truth Of The Matter Asserted

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014

FCPA Professor is the best website devoted to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Does this self-serving statement establish the truth of the matter asserted?

Of course not.

Yet, in the FCPA context it seems that many self-serving statements by political actors, advocates, and counsel are reported as establishing the truth of the matter asserted.

For instance, recently there was much reporting in the FCPA space regarding the DOJ’s so-called declination of Layne Christensen Company.

As highlighted in this prior post, the company has been under FCPA scrutiny since 2010 concerning conduct in Africa and as noted in this November 2013 post, the company disclosed that it was “engaged in discussions with the DOJ and the SEC regarding a potential negotiated resolution” of the matter.

However, in August Layne Christensen issued this release which stated in pertinent part:

“The DOJ has decided to not file any charges against the Company in connection with the previously disclosed investigation into potential violations of the FCPA.  The DOJ has notified Layne that it considers the matter closed. [...] Based on conversations with the DOJ, we understand that our voluntary disclosure, cooperation and remediation efforts have been recognized and appreciated by the staff of the DOJ and that the resolution of the investigation reflects these matters.”

The implicit suggestion from the company’s disclosure would seem to be that the reasons for the so-called declination was the company’s voluntary disclosure, cooperation and remediation.  Yet, the disclosure of course is little more than a self-serving statement that does not establish the truth of the matter asserted (indeed there have been many FCPA enforcement actions originating from voluntary disclosures during which the company cooperated and engaged in extensive remedial measures).

Moreover, there could be other reasons why the DOJ declined to prosecute Layne Christensen including the nature and quality of the evidence that the company actually violated the FCPA.  There is no way to test or measure the accuracy of Layne Christensen’s disclosure, yet the public is  invited to accept the self-serving statements as establishing the truth of the matter asserted.

Perhaps sensing a marketable moment, Layne Christensen’s counsel took the unusual step of issuing this press release. The release noted the “recently closed DOJ investigation” of its client and then cited to the substance of its own client’s press release.  In other words, the firm used its client’s self-serving statements to support its own self-serving statements with the implicit suggestion being that the nature and quality of the firm’s lawyering was a reason for the so-called declination of its client by the DOJ.

No big deal, everyone is entitled to engage in a bit of puffery aren’t they?

Yet, the problem arises when self-serving statements are then reported by others to establish the truth of the matter asserted.

And that is precisely what this recent article appeared to do.  The article began as follows.

“Often the best guidance on how to avoid Foreign Corrupt Practices Act charges comes from the details of cases that government authorities chose not to pursue. Companies looking to improve their FCPA compliance programs got two such cases recently. Together, the cases speak volumes about how to get a declination from the Department of Justice. In an unusual move, the Department of Justice opted not to bring enforcement actions against Image Sensing Systems and Layne Christensen in two separate cases pertaining to alleged violations of the FCPA. Statements issued by the companies themselves cite numerous reasons why the Justice Department declined to prosecute.” (emphasis added).

The article then quoted a number of self-serving statements from Layne Christensen’s counsel that appear to convince the reader of the truth of the matter asserted by the statements.

The above linked article even closed with the biggest self-serving statement of them all in the context of so-called DOJ declinations. The article stated:

“Learning from Morgan Stanley

In 2012, the Justice Department similarly exonerated Morgan Stanley of FCPA charges for its extensive cooperation, robust internal compliance program, and voluntary disclosure of the misconduct. “Often overlooked is one of the critical factors that led to that declination: Morgan Stanley assisted the government in identifying the individual executive responsible for the criminal conduct, Garth Peterson, and in securing evidence to hold Peterson criminally responsible,” [stated an industry participant]. For other companies facing an FCPA investigation, engaging the help of outside experts who have been through the process many times before and can help the company “not have to reinvent the wheel,” [stated an industry participant], really helps in the end to see the successful conclusion of an FCPA investigation and remediation.”

The above article cited, as so many articles have before, the self-serving statements in this April 2012 DOJ press release concerning its so-called Morgan Stanley declination.  However, the DOJ’s statements in that press release were not simply that of an umpire calling the balls and strikes.  Rather, the press release statements concerning Morgan Stanley are more properly viewed as statements by a political actor and advocate seeking to quell the then-existing growing tide of FCPA reform, including as to a compliance defense.  (See prior posts here and here for the context, timing, and background of the DOJ’s so-called Morgan Stanley declination).

In short, the DOJ was looking for an opportunity to make a policy statement – and a political move – yet to most this self-serving statement seemed to establish the truth of the matter asserted.  That this was the primary motivation of the DOJ’s so-called Morgan Stanley declination seems to become more apparent with time as it is a prominent talking point in nearly every DOJ FCPA policy speech since.  (See here – Sept. 2012); (here – October 2012); (here – Nov. 2012); (here – Nov. 2013); (here – Nov. 2013); (here – May 2014); (here – Sept. 2014); (here – Oct. 2014).

To anyone who has attended an FCPA conference in recent years, you know that self-serving statements dominate the conference circuit.

For instance, a DOJ or SEC enforcement official will state x, y, or z.  It is of course impossible to test the accuracy or veracity of x, y, or z, but the audience is of course invited to accept the self-serving statement as establishing the truth of the matter asserted.

Likewise, it is common on the conference circuit for FCPA Inc. participants to tell “war stories” about how they successfully negotiated with the DOJ or SEC as to issue x, y or z.  Again, it is of course impossible to test the accuracy or veracity of x, y or z, but once again the audience is invited to accept the self-serving statement as establishing the truth of the matter asserted.

To conclude, the point is this.

Self-serving statements are fine and political actors, advocates, and counsel are entitled to make them.  Yet, greater restraint should be exhibited in reporting self-serving statements as establishing the truth of the matter asserted.