Archive for the ‘Declination Decisions’ Category

Congress Remains Interested In FCPA Issues

Wednesday, February 26th, 2014

Foreign Corrupt Practices reform may not be the hot issue it was circa 2011 (political posturing by the DOJ in connection with the FCPA Guidance as well as certain headlines caused the issue to simmer), but Congress remains interested in FCPA issues.

For instance, in connection with a recent confirmation hearing for Leslie Caldwell to be the DOJ’s Assistant Attorney General of the Criminal Division, Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA), Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, asked Caldwell several FCPA-related questions for the record.

Caldwell punted on every question (perhaps not surprising given that Caldwell is not currently at the DOJ), but the questions posed nevertheless highlight specific FCPA issues on the minds of certain members of Congress.

Set forth in full below are the FCPA-related questions by Senator Grassley and Caldwell’s responses.

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“I recently asked Attorney General Holder these questions and have not yet received response.  As the FCPA falls within the Criminal Division, would you please respond to the following questions.

What are the Department’s current enforcement priorities under the FCPA?

Answer:  I am not in the Department; therefore, I am not in a position to address this question.  If I am confirmed as the Assistant Attorney General of the Criminal Division, I assure you that I will be vigilant in pursuing cases under the FCPA.

What particular industries, markets or practices is the Department focusing on, and why?

Answer:  I am not in the Department; therefore, I am not in a position to address this question.  As noted above, if I am confirmed as the Assistant Attorney General of the Criminal Division, I assure you that I will be vigilant in pursuing cases under the FCPA.

What proportion of the Department’s enforcement activity during 2013 involved non-U.S. companies?

Answer:  I am not in the Department; therefore, I am not in a position to address this question.  If I am confirmed as the Assistant Attorney General of the Criminal Division, I assure you that I will be vigilant in pursuing cases against U.S. and non-U.S. companies that violate the FCPA.

Has the Department seen a recent increase in whistleblower claims of FCPA violations?  If so, to what would you attribute that?  How has the Department responded?

Answer:  I am not in the Department; therefore, I am not in a position to address these questions.

Although the Department does not publicize each particular instance in which it declines prosecution despite evidence of an FCPA violation, what characterized the Department’s declinations during 2013?  Did the number increase from 2012?  What factors were most important in leading the Department to decline prosecution?

Answer:  I am not in the Department; therefore, I am not in a position to address these questions.  While I have not been privy to the internal deliberations surrounding the Department’s declination decisions, if confirmed as the Assistant Attorney General of the Criminal Division, I assure you that declination decisions will be based on the law and the evidence presented.

In November 2012, the Department and SEC issued the FCPA ”Resource Guide,” which reflected guidance from your agencies regarding the interpretation and enforcement of the FCPA.  Does the Department anticipate updating, supplementing or amending the “Resource Guide” in the foreseeable future?

Answer:  I am not in the Department; therefore, I am not in a position to address this question.

In 2013, the Department issued only one Opinion Release concerning the FCPA.  Does the Department consider the “Resource Guide” a substitute for its opinion release program?

Answer:  I am not in the Department; therefore, I am not in a position to address this question.

Friday Roundup

Friday, February 14th, 2014

Cisco’s discreet blog post, McDonald’s receives the “princeling” treatment, Avon update, further to the free-for-all, more candy, and for the reading stack.  It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Cisco’s Discreet Disclosure

There is not much that slips through the cracks when it comes to the FCPA space.

However, this December 23, 2013 Cisco blog post by a Vice President for Compliance Services under the discreet heading “The Importance of Ethics in Global Business” has not otherwise been reported.  The post states, after noting that “for the sixth time in as many years, the Ethisphere Institute honored Cisco by naming us to its list of the “World’s Most Ethical Companies,” as follows:

“Recently, at the request of the Securities and Exchange Commission and the US Department of Justice, Cisco began an investigation into our business activities and discounting practices in Russia and other Commonwealth of Independent States in response to a communication those agencies had received. We are cooperating with the agencies and will fully share the results of our investigation with them. Despite the extensive investigation that we have undertaken thus far, we have found no basis to believe that Cisco’s activities are in violation of any law, and indeed the information we were provided does not allege wrongdoing by any of Cisco’s executive management. While this investigation is ongoing, we do not expect the outcome to have any material adverse effect on our business or operations.”

For a prior post concerning companies that have resolved FCPA enforcement actions or have otherwise been under FCPA scrutiny while at the same general time earning “world’s most ethical” company status see here.

McDonald’s

The word of the last six months would seem to be “princeling.”  In “princeling” updates:

This Wall Street Journal article “Vietnam Gets Its First McDonald’s” states:

“McDonald’s chose Henry Nguyen, a Vietnamese-American investor and the son-in-law of Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, as its main franchise partner in the country.”

This Quartz article “McDonald’s Partnered with a Vietnamese Princeling”  notes:

“Partnering up with a well-connected member of one of Vietnam’s most prominent political families has raised remarkably few eyebrows for McDonald’s—especially given the growing scandal in China over investment banks that have done much the same thing.”

Among other things, the article notes:

“Nguyen, who also heads Vietnam’s Pizza Hut franchise business, worked hard for a decade to convince McDonald’s he was the right person for the partnership, he told Reuters last year. A McDonald’s spokeswoman said then, “His marriage did not preclude him for participating in what was a very competitive selection process.”

As noted in this prior post “Regarding Princelings and Family Members” there is nothing inherently illegal about hiring family members of alleged “foreign officials” and various DOJ FCPA Opinion Procedure Releases have blessed such arrangements.  Even so, several FCPA enforcement actions have been based, at least in part, on the hiring of family members of alleged “foreign officials” – see here.
Speaking of princelings, this Bloomberg article asks “If JPMorgan Has to Shun China’s Princelings, Shouldn’t Harvard?”

Avon

Avon has been under FCPA scrutiny since 2008 and disclosed yesterday as follows.

“The Company recorded an aggregate accrual related to the previously disclosed government Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) investigations of $89 million, or $0.20 per diluted share, within operating profit, of which $12 million was recorded in the second quarter. Based on the status of the Company’s current settlement negotiations with the DOJ and the staff of the SEC, including the level of monetary penalties being discussed, an additional $77 million was recorded in the fourth quarter, and the Company estimates the aggregate amount of any potential settlements with the government could exceed this accrual by up to approximately $43 million. There can be no assurance that the Company’s efforts to reach settlements with the government will be successful or, if they are, what the timing or terms of such settlements will be.”
During yesterday’s earnings conference call, Avon’s CEO stated:
“As you saw in our press release this morning, we’ve continued our discussions with that SEC and DOJ and we’ve made significant progress. Based on the status of our recent discussions, we believe that a reasonable range for settlement with both agencies would be $89 million to $132 million. Our discussions with the government are ongoing and differences remain, but the team is working hard in an effort to bring these matters to a close.”

Free-For-All

In my recent article “Why You Should Be Alarmed by the ADM FCPA Enforcement Action,” I noted that with increasing frequency in this new era of FCPA enforcement, it appears that the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission have
transformed FCPA enforcement into a free-for-all in which any conduct the enforcement agencies find objectionable is fair game to extract a multimillion-dollar settlement from a risk-averse corporation.  In this post regarding the recent Alcoa enforcement action I noted that it was hard to square the enforcement action (the fourth largest FCPA enforcement action of all-time in terms of a settlement amount) when the alleged consultant at the center of the alleged bribery scheme was criminally charged by another law enforcement agency, put the law enforcement agency to its burden of proof at trial, and the law enforcement agency dismissed
the case because there was no ”realistic prospect of conviction.”

Further to the free-for-all, Wiley Rein attorneys Gregory Williams, Ralph Caccia and Richard Smith write here as follows.

“[I]t is remarkable that such a large monetary sanction was imposed when the criminal charges brought by the U.K. Serious Fraud Office against the consultant central to the alleged bribery scheme were dismissed on the grounds that there was no “realistic prospect of conviction.” Perhaps most striking, however, is the theory of parent corporate liability that the settlement reflects. Although there is no allegation that an Alcoa official participated in, or knew of, the improper payments made by its subsidiaries, the government held the parent corporation liable for FCPA anti-bribery violations under purported “agency” principles. Alcoa serves as an important marker in what appears to be a steady progression toward a strict liability FCPA regime.

[...]

Such an enforcement approach appears to abrogate basic tenets of corporate liability. A parent company is not liable for the acts of its subsidiary except when the companies disregard corporate formalities (alter ego theory) or when the subsidiary acts as the agent of the parent for a specific purpose.  For the latter, the parent is required to control the particular activity in question. The government’s new agency theory of enforcement represents an aggressive expansion of corporate liability, with significant the implications for parent companies both in terms of the compliance and potentially liability.”

For additional reading, see this recent post (“Dig into certain corporate Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement actions and it would appear that legal liability seems to hop, skip, and jump around a multinational company.  This of course would be inconceivable in other areas, such as contract liability, tort liability, etc. absent an “alter ego” / “piercing the veil” analysis for the simple reason that is what the black letter law commands”).

More Candy

Previous posts here and here have dispensed FCPA candy (that is year in reviews).  You can be tardy for the party, but still be included in the fun and set forth below are three additional worthwhile reads.

BakerHostetler 2013 Year-End Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Update

“This [recent] decrease [in corporate FCPA enforcement actions] appears to be the result of proactive internal investigations and remediation by U.S. companies that recognize the importance of retaining external resources to investigate FCPA issues in light of the substantial fines levied by the government over recent years.”

That’s a nice way to spin it, but the better answer by far is to have a proper perspective on FCPA statistics and to realize that 35% of all corporate FCPA enforcement actions in recent years and 55% of the settlement amounts were the direct result of just three unique events.

WilmerHale Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Alert

Kudos for the following statement regarding so-called “declinations.”

“[W]hile these corporate disclosures are frequently referred to generically as “declinations,” that term seems to encompass not only genuine declinations where the government exercises discretion to decline prosecution of an otherwise chargeable offense, but also cases where the government decides not to prosecute because it has found insufficient evidence of FCPA violations or faces insurmountable legal hurdles in bringing a case.”

For more on so-called “declinations” see prior posts here, here and here.

Miller & Chevalier FCPA Winter Review 2014 

Once again, be warned – the divergent enforcement statistics are likely to make you dizzy at times and as to certain issues.  [Given the increase in FCPA Inc. statistical information and the growing interest in empirical FCPA-related research, I again highlight the need for an FCPA lingua franca (see here for the prior post), including adoption of the “core” approach to FCPA enforcement statistics (see here for the prior post), an approach endorsed by even the DOJ (see here), as well as commonly used by others outside the FCPA context (see here)]

For the Reading Stack

From the Washington Post, a look at New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and the rise and controversy of non-prosecution and deferred prosecution agreements.

In this recent NY Times Dealbook article, “S.E.C.’s Losing Streak in Court Puts Agency in Spotlight,” Professor Peter Henning (a former SEC enforcement official) begins as follows.

“Every litigator says that trials are messy affairs because no one can predict how they will play out.  After a string of recent unfavorable verdicts in fraud cases, the Securities and Exchange Commission may, too, be concerned with that trend. The S.E.C. is a bit like the New York Yankees, because every defeat is magnified, so we should be careful not to read too much into the anecdotal evidence as garnered by the results of a few recent trials.  Most cases filed by the agency are settled, garnering only modest publicity, so the effectiveness of its enforcement program is not tied solely to its wins in the courtroom.”

For more on the SEC’s recent losses, see here from Marc Fagel and Mary Kay Dunning (Gibson Dunn).

“One likely consequence [of the SEC's recent losses] may be an increase in the number of enforcement matters filed as administrative cease-and-desist proceedings rather than as federal district court actions.”

Spot-on observation, but again a sorry state of affairs in that a way for the SEC to avoid litigated losses when put to its burden of proof is to avoid the judicial system altogether.

A recent survey from AlixPartners conducted in November 2013.  (The survey group consisted of executives at companies based in North America, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia that have annual revenues of $150 million or more).  “The survey also found that although some companies have expanded the scope of their reviews of their foreign subsidiaries, one-third said they have not done that. Less than half (43%) of respondents said they regularly conduct due diligence on third-party agents.”  (See here for the prior post “It’s More Like Bronze Dust.”).

Friday Roundup

Friday, June 28th, 2013

Make your voice heard, scrutiny alerts, “foreign official” fun, and for the reading stack.  It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Make Your Voice Heard

Yesterday, the U.K. Serious Fraud Office announced a consultation on ”a draft Code of Practice setting out their approach to the use of Deferred Prosecution Agreements (DPAs).”  According to the release, the U.K. is seeking “views on eight points covered in the draft Code, including the circumstances when a prosecutor should consider a DPA, the criteria to apply when making this decision, and on the disclosure approach envisaged.”

Make your voice heard, “comments are welcome from interested individuals and organisations” and “the consultation closes on Friday 20 September 2013.”  See here for my previous post urging the U.K. to reject DPAs.

Staying in the U.K. this report states as follows.  “The UK Serious Fraud Office is actively investigating two cases under the Bribery Act, said Kevin Davis, the SFO’s chief investigating officer. He also revealed that a further six cases which might lead to prosecutions were under investigation.”

Scrutiny Alerts

Medtronic

Let’s say law enforcement sets up a sobriety checkpoint on the highway.  A sober driver successfully passes through it.  Would we call this an instance of law enforcement “declining” to prosecute the driver for drunk driver?

Of course not, and the same logic should apply in the FCPA context as well.

In June 2008, Medtronic disclosed as follows.

“On September 25, 2007, the Company received a letter from the SEC requesting  information relating to any potential violations of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt  Practices Act in connection with the sale of medical devices in an unspecified  number of foreign countries, including Greece, Poland and Germany. The letter  notes that the Company is a significant participant in the medical device  industry, and seeks any information concerning certain types of payments made  directly or indirectly to government-employed doctors. A number of competitors  have publicly disclosed receiving similar letters. On November 16, 2007, the  Company received a letter from the Department of Justice requesting any  information provided to the SEC. The Company is cooperating with both requests.”

In June 2009, Medtronic disclosed as follows.

“On September 25, 2007, the Company received a letter from the SEC requesting  information relating to any potential violations of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt  Practices Act in connection with the sale of medical devices in an unspecified  number of foreign countries, including Greece, Poland and Germany. Turkey, Italy  and Malaysia have since been added to the inquiry. The letter notes that the  Company is a significant participant in the medical device industry, and seeks  any information concerning certain types of payments made directly or indirectly  to government-employed doctors. A number of competitors have publicly disclosed  receiving similar letters. On November 16, 2007, the Company received a letter  from the Department of Justice requesting any information provided to the SEC.  Since that time the SEC and Department of Justice have made additional requests  for information from the Company. The Company is cooperating with the requests.”

Earlier this week, Medtronic stated as follows.

“On September 25, 2007 and  November 16, 2007, the Company received letters from the U.S. Securities and  Exchange Commission (SEC) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ),  respectively, requesting information relating to any potential violations of the  U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in connection with the sale of medical  devices in several non-U.S. countries. A number of competitors have publicly  disclosed receiving similar letters. Subsequently, the SEC and DOJ made  additional requests for information from the Company. In June 2013, the SEC and  the DOJ both informed the Company that they would be closing their  investigations without pursuing any enforcement action or charges against the Company.”

The headline on the FCPA Blog read “Medtronic Wins Double Declination.”  The headline on the Risk & Compliance Blog of the Wall Street Journal read “Medtronic Says SEC, DOJ Declined to Prosecute for FCPA Violations.”

I just don’t understand it at all.  (See here for more).

HLW International / Sweett Group

Architecture firm HLW International LLP and Sweett Group Ltd. (a U.K. based construction company) recently were the subject of a leading Wall Street Journal article titled “Inside U.S. Firm’s Bribery Probe” by Joe Palazzolo and Chris Matthews.  The focus of the article concerns the construction of a hospital in Morocco and the alleged promise by a Sweet executive that HLW would get the design contract if it agreed to pay 3.5% of the contract value to “an official inside the United Arab Emirates President’s personal foundation, which was funding the project.”

Charitable donations have been the focus of prior FCPA enforcement actions against Eli Lilly and Schering-Plough as well as the focus of Wynn Resort’s current FCPA scrutiny.

“Foreign Official” Fun

In the Carson “foreign official” challenge, Judge Selna concluded, in denying the defendants’ motion to dismiss (see here),  that “the question of
whether state-owned companies qualify as instrumentalities under the FCPA is a  question of fact.” Judge Selna stated that “several factors bear on the  question of whether a business entity constitutes a government instrumentality”  including the following.

  • The foreign state’s characterization of the  entity and its employees;
  • The foreign state’s degree of control over  the entity;
  • The purpose of the entity’s activities;
  • The  entity’s obligations and privileges under the foreign state’s law, including  whether the entity exercises exclusive or controlling power to administer its  designated functions;
  • The circumstances surrounding the entity’s  creation; and
  • The foreign state’s extent of ownership of the entity,  including the level of financial support by the state (e.g., subsidies,  special tax treatment, and loans).

According to Judge Selna, the above ”factors are not exclusive, and no single factor is dispositive.”

According to this recent article in the Wall Street Journal:

“Companies listed on China’s stock exchanges received 85.68 billion yuan ($13.83 billion) in government subsidies last year, up 23% from a year earlier, while corporate profits rose less than 1%, according to a Chinese data provider. The subsidies were equivalent to more than 4% of the companies’ total profits last year, up from around 3% between 2009 and 2011. The subsidies—largely from local authorities but also from the national government—took the form of cheap land, tax rebates, support for loan repayments and straight-up cash. There were a range of reasons, including research and development and support for government environment priorities.”

Reading Stack

The Seventh Edition of the FCPA Handbook from O’Melveny & Myers.

A focus on Southeast Asia in the always informative FCPA Update from Debevoise & Plimpton.

A  mini-roundup of Canada’s recent amendments to its Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act here (Osler), here (Dentons), and here (Fasken Martineau).

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A good weekend to all.

Friday Roundup

Friday, May 10th, 2013

Enforcement agency speeches, “foreign official” delay, and for reading stack.  It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Enforcement Agency Speeches

This prior post detailed comments by Mary Jo White prior to becoming SEC Chairman.

Last week, White spoke before the Investment Company Institute on the general topic of the SEC’s role in an increasingly global financial and regulatory system.  She stated as follows (see here) concerning the SEC’s enforcement of the FCPA.

“Of course, misrepresentations and other unlawful actions travel in both directions across borders, which is another reason why our partnership with our regulatory counterparts abroad is so important.  Among the most prominent concerns in this regard is bribery by U.S. companies overseas, which not only undermines international markets and governments but also simultaneously undermines the reporting and disclosure integrity of our own markets.  Thus, strong and fair enforcement of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which forbids U.S. companies from bribing foreign officials, has been and will continue to be a priority for us. Our first objective is to help companies avoid FCPA violations by educating them. And so our staff along with our colleagues at the Department of Justice recently published a comprehensive Guide to the FCPA to give clear guidance and clear up some myths.  Of course, the other side of education is deterrence.  Deterrence can mean strong enforcement actions with tough disgorgement and penalties.  But it can also mean the tangible benefits that come with cooperation – as demonstrated by the Non-Prosecution Agreement with Ralph Lauren Corporation we announced in April. In this particular case, the corporation’s Argentine subsidiary paid bribes to government and customs officials to improperly secure the importation of their products into the country.  The bribes occurred during a period when the U.S. parent company lacked meaningful anti-corruption compliance and control mechanisms over its foreign subsidiary.  The misconduct came to light as a result of the company’s efforts to improve internal controls and compliance.  And the company immediately reported the problem to the SEC and provided exceptional assistance to our investigation. Successful FCPA cases also increasingly require assistance from foreign law enforcement authorities.  That is why we recently partnered with the DOJ and FBI in conducting a foreign bribery training program that provided intensive training to 130 foreign investigators and prosecutors from 30 countries, many on which the SEC staff relies for mutual legal assistance in FCPA cases.”

Yesterday, Daniel Suleiman (DOJ Deputy Chief of Staff for the Criminal Division) spoke at the Minnesota Bar Association’s Annual International Business Law Institute.  (See here).  Suleiman offered “some views from the U.S. Department of Justice on the topic of anti-corruption enforcement” and “what the Justice Department is doing in the area of criminal enforcement to fight corruption at home and abroad.”  He stated, in pertinent part, as follows.

“I think of our anti-corruption efforts as falling into three principal buckets:  number one is criminal prosecution; number two is assisting foreign countries to build up their judicial, prosecutorial, and investigative institutions; and number three is the pursuit, through civil actions, of the proceeds of foreign official corruption.  I will discuss each of these buckets in turn.

First and foremost, the Criminal Division is a litigating operation.  We investigate and prosecute cases.  Our corruption prosecutions are of two kinds:  we prosecute corruption by domestic officials, and we prosecute foreign bribery offenses under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, or FCPA.”

[...]

“[W]e have an incredibly strong team of prosecutors who focus exclusively on enforcing the FCPA.  Depending upon how familiar you are with FCPA enforcement, you may know that the Criminal Division is the entity in the United States with primary responsibility for criminal enforcement of the Act.  It is Justice Department policy that no FCPA prosecution can be brought without authorization from the Criminal Division, which distinguishes FCPA prosecutions from most other kinds of federal criminal cases.  The Securities and Exchange Commission, which is a few blocks up the street from us, has primary responsibility for the Act’s civil enforcement.”

“Foreign bribery enforcement has for a long time been an important aspect of U.S. policy.  The FCPA was enacted roughly 35 years ago, around the same time that our Public Integrity Section was created to focus on public corruption prosecutions, and it was the first effort of any nation to specifically criminalize the act of bribing foreign officials.  The statute was enacted in the wake of the Watergate scandal, but it took more than 20 years for the Act to become a strong enforcement tool.  And, over the past several years, the Justice Department has substantially increased its enforcement of the Act.”

“One important aspect of our FCPA enforcement involves, of course, our corporate resolutions.  We have collected billions of dollars in criminal fines and penalties to resolve FCPA investigations against companies doing business abroad, including BizJet International Sales and Support Inc., a Lufthansa subsidiary; Alcatel-Lucent; Johnson & Johnson; and many others.”

“But another, critically important aspect of our enforcement regime involves holding individuals responsible for FCPA offenses.  There is no greater deterrent to corporate crime than the prospect of prison time.  As many have recognized, if people don’t go to prison, then enforcement can come to be seen as merely the cost of doing business.  In the past four years, the Criminal Division’s FCPA Unit has obtained over three dozen criminal convictions of individuals, including of people who have been sentenced to as many as 15 years in prison.”

“We are as active today in this area as we have ever been.  In the past month alone, we have announced charges against several key defendants in ongoing, active FCPA investigations.  In mid-April, in a case that we are prosecuting with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan, we secured the arrest of a defendant in connection with an alleged bribery scheme to secure mining rights in the Republic of Guinea.  In a separate case, which we are prosecuting with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Connecticut, we also secured the arrest last month of a defendant in connection with an alleged bribery scheme to secure power contracts in Indonesia.  And just two days ago, together with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan, we announced charges against two broker-dealer employees and a senior Venezuelan banking official for engaging in a multi-million dollar bribery scheme.”

[...]

“Finally, I want to tell you about a relatively new Justice Department initiative.  About three-and-a-half years ago, Attorney General Holder gave a speech in Qatar, at which he pledged to increase the United States’ commitment to recovering foreign corruption proceeds.  Since that time, the Criminal Division has led the charge in developing what we refer to as the Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative.”

“The initiative’s purpose is to identify the proceeds of foreign official corruption – in other words, the spoils – forfeit them through civil actions, and, to the extent possible, repatriate the forfeited funds for the benefit of the people harmed. In most criminal prosecutions, a court can order forfeiture, upon conviction, as part of the defendant’s sentence.  Often, however, it may be impractical or impossible to bring a criminal prosecution against a particular person – because that person is immune from prosecution, for example, beyond our jurisdiction, or otherwise unavailable.  In these circumstances, we have begun bringing civil forfeiture actions to recover the stolen property.”

“We have brought several Kleptocracy cases in the past couple of years, and forfeited millions of dollars in corrupt proceeds.  The most high-profile of our Kleptocracy cases to date involves two civil actions we have brought against approximately $70 million in assets allegedly belonging to a government minister in Equatorial Guinea who is also the son of that country’s president.  According to court papers, despite an official government salary of less than $100,000 per year, this minister amassed wealth of over $100 million.  Among the items we are seeking to forfeit are nearly $2 million worth of Michael Jackson memorabilia (including the white glove), a Gulfstream G-V jet worth $38.5 million, and a $30 million house in Malibu.  These are hard, and hard-fought, cases, but we believe strongly that foreign officials who amass wealth through corruption should not be permitted to use the United States as a haven for their ill-gotten gains.”

“Foreign Official” Delay

Oral argument in the “foreign official” challenge pending in the 11th Circuit – originally scheduled for later this month, has been postponed until the week of October 7th.

This is a historic appeal in that it will be the first instance in which a circuit court directly confronts the enforcement theory that employees of alleged state-owned or state-controlled entities are “foreign officials” under the FCPA (see here for a prior post, including embedded links).

Scrutiny Alerts

For more on Barclay’s scrutiny, on both sides of the Atlantic, see this recent article in Middle East Monitor concerning the bank’s relationship with the Abu Dhabi government, including Sheikh Mansour, the deputy prime minister of the United Arab Emirates.

Samuel Rubenfeld (Wall Street Journal Risk & Compliance Journal) has the latest (here) regarding BSG Resources Ltd. a Guernsey-based company in the news after Frederic Cilins, a French citizen associated with the company, was recently arrested and accused of attempting to obstruct an ongoing investigation into whether a mining company paid bribes to win lucrative mining rights in the Republic of Guinea.  (See here for the prior post).  As noted in the WSJ article, BSG recently released this detailed statement concerning its conduct in Guinea.

Reading Stack

Several articles of interest to pass along from last week’s Corporate Crime Reporter conferenceThis article details comments made by Denis McInerney (DOJ Criminal Division Deputy Assistant Attorney General) regarding non-prosecution and deferred prosecution agreements.  This article details comments made by McInerney concerning my suggested two-step reform plan (see here for the prior post) and also details McInerney’s response to my question concerning the definition of a declination.  Articles here and here concern corporate monitors.

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Over the years, Bloomberg’s David Glovin has written some excellent articles concerning Viktor Kozney, Frederic Bourke, et al.  With Bourke soon to report to prison, Glovin pens another great article here.

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This prior post discussed the NY Times recent “With Bags of Cash, CIA Seeks Influence in Afghanistan” story and how the story put our stark double standards in the headlines once again.  More recently, the NY Times reports (here) as follows. ”[Afghan President] Karzai said he had called a meeting [...] with the CIA’s Kabul station chief. “I told him because of all these rumors in the media, please do not cut all this money, because we really need it,” he said. “We want to continue this sort of assistance, and he promised that they are not going to cut this money.”  For more on the situation, including the views of others, see here from Alison Frankel’s On the Case column.

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See here from Josh Goodman (an attorney at the Federal Trade Commission) titled “The Anti-Corruption and Antitrust Connection.”

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A good weekend to all.

An Informed And Forceful Critique Of NPAs And DPAs By … Guess Who?

Thursday, April 25th, 2013

Non-prosecution and deferred prosecution agreements (NPAs, DPAs) are the most troubling and toxic feature of our criminal justice system relevant to business organizations.

In numerous prior posts (see here for instance), I have discussed how use of NPAs and DPAs to resolve alleged corporate criminal liability presents problematic policy issues across a broad spectrum.  The use of such alternative resolution vehicles in the FCPA context contributes to the ”facade of FCPA enforcement” (again across a broad spectrum) that I wrote about here and I further discussed the distortive features of NPAs and DPAs in the FCPA context in my 2010 Senate testimony – see here.

I have long called for NPAs and DPAs to be abolished in the FCPA context and will do so again next week at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. in this event sponsored by Corporate Crime Reporter.

One does not really have to search far to find critics of NPAs and DPAs.

Most recently, as highlighted in this prior post, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales stated at the Dow Jones Global Compliance Symposium that FCPA enforcement actions resolved via NPA and DPAs do not necessarily reflect instances of companies violating the FCPA, but rather companies feel compelled to agree to the agreements.  Equally problematic, Gonzales said, is that enforcement actions resolved via these vehicles mean that “legitimate wrongdoing is not being prosecuted as it should.”  Gonzales continued by saying that it is “easy, much easier quite frankly” for the DOJ to resolve FCPA inquiries with NPAs and DPAs, that such resolution vehicles have “less of a toll” on the DOJ’s budget, and that such agreements “provide revenue” to the DOJ.  It is all “unfortunate” Gonzales stated.

Yet NPAs and DPAs continue to flourish – perhaps because they make the DOJ’s (and now SEC as well) job easier, they pad enforcement statistics, and, let’s face it, they expand the market for legal services.

Indeed, as I noted at the Dow Jones event, the fact that regulators and the regulated seem to approve of these agreements should itself be a red flag.  I’ve long argued that abolishing NPAs and DPAs - coupled with an FCPA compliance defense - could accomplish much including negating many of the troubling and toxic features of our criminal justice system relevant to business organizations.

This post discusses the views of a notable person concerning NPAs and DPAs.  And those views are spot on!  When articulated, this person was already a high-profile individual, and this person has since assumed an even higher-profile.

The year was 2005 and this person, a former U.S. Attorney in a high-profile district, appeared at an industry event.  This person’s views were reduced to paper in a published article (but because I don’t have copyright permission, I do not link to the full article, but provide a cite at the end of the post).

This person stated as follows.

“On the federal level especially, the sweep of corporate criminal liability could hardly be broader.  All of you in this audience probably know the law well, but its breathtaking scope always bears repeating:  If a single employee, however low down in the corporate hierarchy, commits a crime in the course of his or her employment, even in part to benefit the corporation, the corporate employer is criminally liable for that employee’s crime.  It is essentially absolute liability.”

This person next criticized the DOJ’s then guiding principles of prosecution – the so-called Thompson Memo - which have not really undergone much substantive change since then, but have largely been incorporated into the U.S. Attorneys Manual.

“The factors are being used by some prosecutors not so much as factors in making their charging decisions, but as means to force companies to behave and reform themselves as the prosecutors, fashioning themselves as the new corporate governance experts, think they should.”

[...]

“Deferred prosecution agreements by which the government allows a company to avoid a criminal indictment but by which the government forces a company to pay lots of money, admit its wrongdoing, often agree to the government’s detailed version of the facts under investigation and prosecution of a company’s employees, install a corporate monitor for some period of time and adopt a variety of enhancements to its compliance and governance mechanisms.  Who made federal prosecutors into such super-regulators?  Is their pro-activity a good thing?”

This person recognized her own fault for the current system because she “conceived of the first deferred prosecution agreement for a company – in 1994, in the case of Prudential Securities.”  This person stated as follows.

“So, I must bear my share of responsibility for how government prosecutors are today using the easy prospect of corporate criminal liability and the Thompson Memorandum to inject themselves to deeply into the business of corporate America and to dictate how companies must respond to government investigation.  But, having now been on the receiving end of these measures in my representations of companies in criminal investigations, I have seen the light and urge that some prosecutors should change or at least moderate how they are treating companies in criminal investigations.”

Turning to the root causes of misconduct and how things should proceed, this person stated as follows.

“All prosecutors recognize – or should – that no matter how good a company’s corporate culture and compliance program are, there will always be crimes committed by employees.  When that invariably occurs, prosecutors shouldn’t be automatically jumping into a Thompson factor analysis to decide whether to charge the company.  Only if the crime in question was serious, pervasive in the organization and senior management had at least some culpability, either active or by virtue of willful blindness, did federal prosecutors generally consider a corporate indictment under the Holder Memo [DOJ policy before the Thompson Memo].  Now, it seems that every case of corporate crime is a candidate for Thompson Memo analysis and potentially a corporate charge.  Ths difference in process matters a lot in practice.  What happens as a result is that some prosecutors automatically invoke the Thompson Memo criteria at the outset of every investigation and immediately start ‘grading’ a company on its performance in the government’s investigation.  [...]  No longer are the threshold issues of the seriousness and pervasiveness of the crime and management involvement always considered as thresholds to cross before considering the criminal liability of the company.”

“You get the picture – the process has, in some sense, gone backwards and is sometimes skipping a big and important threshold question – is the particular case an appropriate case to even consider for a possible corporate charge.  If the answer is no, that formerly ended the inquiry.  Today, nearly every company is put through the Thompson factor analysis.  Today, before making their decisions about charging companies, some prosecutors are exerting considerable – some say, extreme -pressure on corporate behavior under the not so subtle threat that if the company doesn’t do as the government wishes, the company risks, at the end of the day, being indicted.”

[...]

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

This person next talked about the “problem” of “who the wrongdoers are, who is culpable in the eye of the beholder and the government isn’t always right” and stated as follows.

“To figure out who is a wrongdoer, a lot of it turns on, for example, the very hard-to-get-at issues of knowledge and intent.  Especially, in this age of 20/20 hindsight and rule changing mid-stream and e-mails assumed to be read and digested by all to whom they are sent, it is not as easy as the government often thinks it is to figure out who is culpable.”

“If a company, after a thorough investigation, does not agree with the government on who is guilty of wrongdoing, what does the company do when the government is rattling its sabers about insufficient remediation?  Throw overboard those the government believes have done wrong to save the company, or fight for them and try to convince the government that it is wrong?  A horrible Hobson’s choice if a prosecutor is insistent.”

This person next directed her attention to DPAs.

“In the last year or two, we have seen a virtual epidemic of these – federal prosecutors are agreeing not to indict a company if the company will agree to a deferred prosecution agreement or its equivalent.  [...]  They are becoming a rather routine way of resolving investigations of corporate crime as to companies.”

“… I feel that the deferred prosecution trend may be sweeping too broadly.  At times, a deferred prosecution agreement with a corporation can be justified and do some, or even significant good.  Some crazy U.S. Attorney in 1994 though so.  But it should not be, as it may be becoming, a semi-automatic response by the government in responding to corporate crime.  Most cases of corporate crime should result in no action by the government against corporations that have responded appropriately to the wrongdoing and any remaining problems of controls, compliance and corporate culture.  There is no need for continued government presence; such presence can indeed retard further progress and act as a drag on the company’s business and stock price.  Deferred prosecution agreements, especially if they include the filing of detailed criminal charges against the company, can also unfairly stigmatize the reputation of a good company or firm.  And they can have other negative collateral consequences.  Prosecutors should pause and take a breath before seeking deferred prosecution agreements and decide whether they are truly needed and in the company’s and public’s best interest.”

You will likely not find a more informed and forceful critique of the most troubling and toxic feature of our criminal justice system relevant to business organizations than as set forth above.  But there is more from this person besides just the one article excerpted above.

In this 2005 interview with Corporate Crime Reporter, this person struck similar themes.

Q: Some people believe that deferred and non prosecution agreements are replacing straight out declinations. Others say – no, they are replacing criminal charges. What’s your take?

A:  For the most part, not exclusively, for the most part, I think there would not have been, or at least should not have been, any kind of criminal charge in most of the cases. In some of them, there might well have been. Certainly, to the extent that you are substituting a deferred prosecution agreement for a case where you have decided to otherwise indict, then the prosecutors are appropriately limiting the use of deferred prosecution agreements. But it is almost becoming an automatic reaction in many cases beyond those where it should be used. Prosecutors are thinking – before we close out this case that involves any kind of corporate crime, we should get something from the companies.

And the something these days is a deferred prosecution agreement. In most of the cases, the resolution should have been nothing on the criminal side, or perhaps a cooperation agreement. Obviously, the government has an interest in making sure that companies continue to cooperate in the investigation and prosecution of individuals. The prosecutors tend to think that there is no cost to the companies of deferred prosecution agreements. It clearly doesn’t carry the same stigma of an indictment. But it has a tremendous reputational as well as monetary cost. The focus needs to be narrowed somewhat to cases where you think it really is appropriate to do something as to that company. The law allows you to proceed against the company in virtually every case where you have a single employee who has committed a crime. But clearly your exercise of discretion in the vast majority of cases should involve nothing criminal vis-à-vis the company – assuming the company has responded appropriately to the government investigation and addressed the problem.

A settlement on the civil side should be a sufficient government response in the vast majority of cases. And the Thompson memo, which governs federal prosecutors in deciding what to do about a company, says – it will be the rare case where a company should be indicted.

And it should also be the rare case where the government seeks a deferred prosecution agreement from the company – you need to have a reason for doing that.

Is it an alternative to what you have already decided for sure would be an indictment so you need some sanction? That’s a situation that could lead to a deferred prosecution agreement appropriately. Do you feel that this particular company needs to have bells and whistles and enhanced`compliance programs supervised by the criminal side of the government?

That situation could arise, but if you already have an SEC settlement that already has all of those bells and whistles and safeguards, then what are the criminal authorities really adding, other than to have something to show for their investigation as to the company?

Elsewhere during the Q&A, the person stated as follows.

“My point is that the government should be more sparing in its use of deferred prosecution agreements and limit those to situations where they certainly would have indicted otherwise for all the right reasons on their part. Or limit use to where the SEC or other civil regulators failed to act against the corporate culture that the government feels needs to be fixed.

Prosecutors are at their best when they decide to charge or not and not get into managing corporate America.”

[...]

“Prosecutors are at their best when it comes to corporate criminal prosecutions when they decide either to indict or not indict and not get into the management of a company.”

The following Q&A is also instructive.

Q: When you cut the Prudential Securities deal, did you see that as a groundbreaking case?

A:  No. I thought it was the right result for that case. It may have been the first deferred prosecution. It was certainly not something I thought I was likely to do again. It was a very special situation. And in fact, other prosecutors didn’t jump on the bandwagon. And nor did I when I was U.S. Attorney. We decided to indict or not. You may have a non-prosecution agreement, but not a deferred. I did not think it would catch on.

Q: But it did.

A:  Ten years later. It is a tool that prosecutors have. They clearly reassessed themselves after Arthur Andersen. You saw the collateral consequences coming to roost in Andersen. The Justice Department realized in very concrete stark terms – do I really want these kinds of consequences. Are we really serving the public interest? And so, the tool is available to them to go down several notches. You combine that with the number of cases they are involved in – and you get the results we have been seeing. And prosecutors are like anybody else – when they devote a lot of time and effort to a case, they want something to show for it.

And so I fear the deferred prosecution is becoming a vehicle to show results.

*****

Perhaps you have guessed by now.  The above person is Mary Jo White, the new Chairman of the SEC.

While not a top official at the DOJ, the SEC has many of the same policies and procedures in place that White criticized above, including alternative resolution vehicles such as NPAs and DPAs.  Indeed, earlier this week in the Ralph Lauren enforcement action (see here for the prior post), the SEC used an NPA in the FCPA context for the first time.

Perhaps White should spend her first few months at the SEC answering some of the questions she previously posed and otherwise addressing the pressing issues she previously discussed.

But that is unlikely to happen as White has promised “aggressive” and “unrelenting” SEC enforcement.

[The article authored by White at the beginning of this post is - Mary Jo White, Corporate Criminal Liability:  What Has Gone Wrong?  37th Annual Institute on Securities Regulation 815, 820 (PLI Corp. Law & Practice, Course Handbook Series No. B-1517, 2005)]