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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.