Archive for the ‘Double Standard’ Category

When Red Flags Turn Into Green Lights

Tuesday, August 12th, 2014

Anyone with a pair of reasonably well-fitted FCPA goggles would recognize the risk.

A company makes a $71,000 charitable donation to an organization in which a public official in its jurisdiction is a longtime board member.

The same company – for each of the past five years – has given $25,000 to an Institute named for the late mother of another public official who just so happens to chair a key governmental committee overseeing the company’s industry.

In the aggregate and over the past two years, the same company has given approximately $1.6 million to charities affiliated with lawmakers or executive-branch officials.  It is not just one company, but other companies in the same industry have also given in the aggregate and over the past two years approximately $1.35 million to the same public officials.

Each of these donations present obvious red flags under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Indeed, skilled practitioners no doubt will make comparisons to the Schering-Plough and Eli Lilly enforcement actions (here and here) involving the same alleged Polish “foreign official” who chaired a bona fide Polish castle restoration foundation, yet also was in a position of influence concerning drug purchases in a region of Poland.

But wait, the above-described donations do not present any red flags.  Scrap those internal investigation plans, forget about voluntary disclosure, and slim chance there will be an enforcement action.

The public officials are not “foreign officials,” they are U.S. officials!

See here for the recent article in the Philadelphia Inquirer regarding the charitable giving practices of Comcast and other telecom companies.

Nobody said our system was perfect, but that is just how our system works some will say.  Recall, the U.S. Supreme Court recently stated that “ingratiation and access are not corruption” (see here for the prior post).

But why should corporate interaction with a “foreign official” be subject to greater scrutiny and different standards of enforcement than corporate interaction with a U.S. official? After all, there is a U.S. domestic bribery statute (18 USC 201) with elements very similar to the FCPA.  Why do we reflexively label a “foreign official” who receives “things of value” from private business interests as corrupt, yet generally turn a blind eye when it happens here at home?

As you contemplate these questions, just remember – as a former DOJ Assistant Attorney General of the Criminal Division stated in an FCPA speech (see here) – “we in the United States are in a unique position to spread the gospel of anti-corruption.”

For numerous other prior posts on the “double standard,” see this tag.

Friday Roundup

Friday, August 8th, 2014

Scrutiny alerts and updates, an FCPA fumble, checking in with the SFO, and for the reading stack.  It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Scrutiny Alerts and Updates

Cobalt International Energy

Cobalt has been under FCPA scrutiny since 2011 for its alleged business relationships in Angola.  (See here and here for prior posts).

In this recent SEC filing, the company states:

“As previously disclosed, the Company is currently subject to a formal order of investigation issued in 2011 by the SEC related to its operations in Angola.  [...] In connection with such investigation, on the evening of August 4, 2014, the Company received a “Wells Notice” from the Staff of the SEC stating that the Staff has made a preliminary determination to recommend that the SEC institute an enforcement action against the Company, alleging violations of certain federal securities laws. In connection with the contemplated action, the Staff may recommend that the SEC seek remedies that could include an injunction, a cease-and-desist order, disgorgement, pre-judgment interest and civil money penalties. The Wells Notice is neither a formal allegation nor a finding of wrongdoing. It allows the Company the opportunity to provide its reasons of law, policy or fact as to why the proposed enforcement action should not be filed and to address the issues raised by the Staff before any decision is made by the SEC on whether to authorize the commencement of an enforcement proceeding. The Company intends to respond to the Wells Notice in the form of a “Wells Submission” in due course.

The Company has fully cooperated with the SEC in this matter and intends to continue to do so. The Company has conducted an extensive investigation into these allegations and the receipt of the Wells Notice does not change the Company’s belief that its activities in Angola have complied with all laws, including the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The Company is unable to predict the outcome of the SEC’s investigation or any action that the SEC may decide to pursue.”

Rare are so-called Wells Notices in the FCPA context for the simple reason that few issuers actually publicly push back against the SEC.  However, this is the second instance in the past four months of the SEC sending an issuer a Wells notice in connection with an FCPA inquiry. (See here for the prior post regarding Qualcomm).

As highlighted by the below excerpts, the Wells notice was a hot topic during Cobalt’s most recent quarterly earnings call.  The below excerpts also capture the candid statements of Cobalt’s CEO concerning the SEC’s position.

Joseph Bryant - Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Before we get into the Q&A, let me say a few words about our 8-K disclosure from earlier this morning. As it noted, last evening, less than 24 hours ago, we received a Wells Notice from the Securities and Exchange Commission related to the investigation the agency has been conducting relating to Cobalt’s operations in Angola and the allegations of Angolan government official ownership of Nazaki Oil and Gas, one of the other working interest owners in Blocks 9 and 21 offshore Angola. In the notice, the staff of the SEC stated that it had made a preliminary and, in our view erroneous, determination to recommend that the SEC move forward with an enforcement action against the company. I think it’s important to point out that the Wells Notice is neither a formal allegation nor a finding of wrongdoing. It merely allows Cobalt the opportunity to provide its reasons of law, policy and fact as to why the proposed enforcement action should not be filed before any enforcement decision is made by the SEC. As you know, we have fully cooperated with the SEC and the investigation since it began nearly 3.5 years ago. And we will continue to do so. In the same vein, we will, of course, take this opportunity and respond to the SEC as part of the Wells process. But let me be very clear. This Wells Notice does nothing to change our prior conclusion that our activity in Angola have fully complied with all laws, including the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, and Cobalt continues to strongly refute any allegation of any wrongdoing.”

[...]

Evan Calio – Morgan Stanley, Research Division

I appreciate your comments on the Wells Notice and underlying FCPA claims. Is there any — can you comment if there’s any potential collateral effect in a negative outcome scenario, meaning other than a potential fine? Could it affect your career or anything in your leases?

Bryant

Well, good question, Evan. We obviously disagree with the staff’s position in the Wells Notice and we’ll respond to the notice in due course. As we’ve stated repeatedly over the past several years, Cobalt has and always will conduct all aspects of our business to the highest ethical standards and in full compliance with all laws and regulations in all jurisdictions, not just Angola, where we operate. This is the case of all of our Angolan operations. We fully plan and expect to pursue the exploration, appraisal and development of all of our Angolan assets, including Cameia development in a timely manner as we’ve previously discussed. And that’s about all I can say, Evan.

Calio

Okay, that’s great. And do you have a hearing date on the Wells Notice? Or is that — just not at this time?

Bryant

No. There’s a process, but to be honest, it’s just like some other things, it can just wander on.

[...]

Joseph Allman - JP Morgan Chase & Co, Research Division

So just back to the Wells Notice for a few minutes, John. Are you planning on taking a reserve? I assume it’s not estimable at this point if there is any fine, so I assume the answer is no. And then just — could you just describe the next steps a little bit? I think you guys have to write a response. If I’m not mistaken, you’ve got about 2 weeks to file that response. Is that correct? Could you just give us some more details on that?

John Wilkerson – Chief Financial Officer, Principal Accounting Officer and Executive Vice President

We are not planning on taking a reserve.

Bryant

And yes, there is a formal process that we respond to. Our view of the facts — and of course, we know the facts incredibly well since we’ve been investigating this for a very long time, and so we will submit our facts to the SEC here in the next several weeks.

[...]

Edward Westlake – Crédit Suisse AG, Research Division

Let’s then get into the Wells Notice as well. So I mean, my understanding, which may be incorrect, of the FCPA is that one aspect of it is doing due diligence, which is the standard of reasonable inquiries, and then the other aspect of it is if some exchange took place in order to get access to the block. It seems from the outside to me that perhaps some disagreements with you and the SEC on how much due diligence was needed could be a civil sort of issue whereas if there was some exchange, that seem to me would be more criminal. So I’m just trying to get a sense of what it is that the SEC, if you know, disagree with you on in terms of their assessment as to why they’d want to go towards an enforcement.

Bryant

Well, the way the process works is it’s somewhat opaque, to be honest with you, on one side, but it’s fully transparent on our side. So we know all the facts, we know them very well. And I’ve said many times that we built Cobalt the right way from day 1 before we ever considered leases in Angola. All of our FCPA, all of our compliance, all of our due diligence systems were built into the company from day 1. I didn’t fall off the turnip truck yesterday and neither did any of these guys around the table. We know all about FCPA and we weren’t about to wander into anything there unknowingly. So all I can say for sure is we know what we’ve done. We know what compliance is required. We’ve gone above and beyond that and we’ll stand firm on our actions.

Westlake

Okay. And all of the due diligence which I’ve done also suggests that your staff has done a very good job in terms of doing their due diligence. But maybe a different way of asking the question, do you think it’s just the level of due diligence which the SEC disagree with you on? Or do you think that there has been some exchange? I understand that Nazaki is a full paying member of the consortium, in fact, was imposed on you rather than something that you chose. But I’m just trying to get some understanding as to what it is you think they disagree with you on.

Bryant

Ed, I appreciate your probing nature, but I really can’t answer that. Again, what I can tell you is, again, we understand the requirements. We understand the law, we understand compliance, we understand due diligence. And we have gone above and beyond in every case. And we sit here today confident in our position, and I cannot and will not speculate on what the SEC’s views are.

Westlake

Okay. And then have there been any inquiries from the DOJ?

Bryant

We have — at every step of the last 3.5 years, we have managed both the SEC and the DOJ simultaneously to make sure that both of those federal agencies are fully up to speed on what we’ve done and what we know about. So I would say constant communication with both agencies has been a routine over the past 3 years.

[...]

Westlake

Right. And maybe just a follow-up on the Wells Notice. Will we ever see the actual SEC letter? Is that a public domain or is it private in terms of their allegations, when eventually they make them.

Bryant

It’s currently private, and we’ll — I hope we’re demonstrating how transparent we are. When we know something, we’ll tell you. And when we have something we can release, we’ll release it. That’s about all really I can say about it.

Westlake

I mean, it would be helpful, I think, for investors to see what the allegation specifics are to be able to make a judgment call but, obviously, I leave that up to you.

Bryant

Got it.

[...]

Al Stanton – RBC Capital Markets, LLC, Research Division

[J]ust back to the Wells notice. Can I ask whether the letters are addressed to the company or do they actually name specific individuals?

Bryant

The company.

Staying with Cobalt-related issues, Global Witness recently issued this press release stating:

“BP and its partners including Houston-based Cobalt have contributed US$175 million over the past two-and-a-half years to fund a project in Angola known as the Sonangol Research and Technology Center (SRTC), with another US$175 million due to be paid by January 2016. Global Witness asked BP and Cobalt to provide any information that confirms the SRTC exists. The companies did not provide this information in their responses. BP stated that Sonangol, Angola’s state-owned oil company, “has informed BP that the SRTC is still in planning stage.” Cobalt said they “monitor the progress of our social contributions in Angola, including the Research and Technology Center” but did not provide any further information about the project. Global Witness asked Sonangol for information to confirm the existence of the SRTC, but the company did not respond. We commissioned interviews with well-placed industry insiders, but none of them could confirm that the SRTC exists.  Global Witness is calling on the Angolan authorities to disclose where this money has gone.”

SBM Offshore

The company has been under FCPA (and related scrutiny) since 2012 concerning allegations primarily in Equatorial Guinea and Angola and disclosed in this press release as follows.

“As previously disclosed in various press releases, SBM Offshore voluntarily reported in April 2012 an internal investigation into potentially improper sales practices involving third parties to the relevant authorities, and has since been in dialogue with these authorities. SBM Offshore is discussing a potential settlement of the issues arising from the investigation. While these discussions are ongoing, it is sufficiently clear that a resolution of the issues will have a financial component, and consequently SBM Offshore has recorded a non-recurring charge of US$240 million in the first half of 2014, reflecting the information currently available to the Company. Until the matter is concluded, SBM Offshore cannot provide further details regarding a possible resolution of the issues arising from the investigation, and no assurance can be given that a settlement will actually be reached. As always, the Company will inform the market as soon as further information can be provided.”

FCPA Fumble

U.S. Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS) is not the first member of Congress to fumble an FCPA issue, just the latest.  As noted in this Radio Free Europe article:

“A U.S. senator has asked federal authorities to investigate whether a powerful Russian media mogul seen as the mastermind behind the Kremlin-funded RT network used dirty money to purchase pricey California real estate.   U.S. Senator Roger Wicker (Republican-Mississippi) has asked the Justice Department to investigate whether Mikhail Lesin, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s former press minister, violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act or laundered money by acquiring multimillion-dollar homes in the Los Angeles area.”  [See here for Senator Wicker's letter to the DOJ].

Dear Senator Wicker, alleged “foreign officials” are not subject to the FCPA.  See U.S. v. Castle, 925 F.2d 831 (5th Cir. 1991).

Checking In With the SFO

The U.K. Serious Fraud Office recently announced the following sentences of individuals in connection with the Innospec prosecution.

Dennis Kerrison, 69, of Chertsey, Surrey, was sentenced to 4 years in prison. Paul Jennings, 57, of Neston, Cheshire, was sentenced to 2 years in prison. Miltiades Papachristos, 51 of Thessaloniki, Greece, was sentenced to 18 months in prison. David Turner, 59, of Newmarket, Suffolk, was sentenced to a 16 month suspended sentence with 300 hours unpaid work

Mr Kerrison and Dr Papachristos were convicted of conspiracy to commit corruption in June 2014 in relation to Indonesia only. Mr Jennings pleaded guilty in June 2012 to two charges of conspiracy to commit corruption and in July 2012 to a further charge of conspiracy to commit corruption in relation to Indonesia and Iraq. Dr Turner pleaded guilty to three charges of conspiracy to commit corruption in January 2012 in relation to Indonesia and Iraq.

Further information on the guilty verdict delivered in the trial of Mr Kerrison and Dr Papachristos can be found here, while information on the guilty pleas entered into by Dr Turner and Mr Jennings can be found here and here.

Upon sentencing the defendants, HHJ Goymer said:

“Corruption in this company was endemic, institutionalised and ingrained… but despite being a separate legal entity it is not an automated machine; decisions are made by human minds.

“None of these defendants would consider themselves in the same category as common criminals who commit crimes of dishonesty or violence….. but the real harm lies in the effect on public life, the effect on community and in particular with this corruption, its effect on the environment.  If a company registered or based in the UK engages in bribery of foreign officials it tarnishes the reputation of this country in the international arena.”

Concerning the sentencing of Dr Turner, the Judge also said:

“It is necessary to give encouragement to those involved in serious crime to cooperate with authorities.  You [Dr Turner] very narrowly indeed escaped going to prison.”

David Green CB QC, Director of the SFO said:

“This successful conclusion to a long-running investigation demonstrates the SFO’s ability and determination to bring corporate criminals to justice.”

Innospec itself pleaded guilty in March 2010 to bribing state officials in Indonesia and was fined $12.7 million in England with additional penalties being imposed in the USA.

Dr Turner was also ordered to pay £10,000 towards prosecution costs and Mr Jennings was ordered to pay £5000 towards these costs.  Dr Turner and Mr Jennings have already been subject to disgorgement of benefit by the US Securities and Exchange Commission.  The matter of costs for Mr Kerrison and Dr Papachristos has been adjourned pending the hearing of confiscation proceedings against them.”

For more on the sentences, see here from thebriberyact.com.

Reading Stack

Professor Stephen Bainbridge knows Delaware corporate law and related corporate governance issues as well as anyone.  In regards to the Wal-Mart Delaware action (see here for the prior post noting that despite the hype, the decision was much to do about little), Professor Bainbridge writes:

“There’s been a fair bit of blawgosphere chatter about [the Wal-Mart Delaware action].”  [...]  Personally, it just doesn’t seem that big a deal. Somebody want to explain to me why I should care more?”

Spot-on.

*****

Sometimes a suitable proxy for potential red flags may be whether, upon reading a certain set of facts and circumstances, one becomes dizzy.  This recent New York Times article regarding former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair may make you dizzy.

*****

A good weekend to all.

Issues To Consider From The Smith & Wesson Action

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014

This post highlights various issues to consider from this week’s Smith & Wesson Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement action.

Should There Be a Difference?

If the U.S. government uses public taxpayer money to offer or pay a foreign government to induce the government to purchase military and law enforcement products, we construct programs around it and call it “Foreign Military Financing,” “Foreign Military Sales,” etc.

Yet, if a company offers or pays private shareholder money to a representative of a foreign government to induce the government to purchase military and law enforcement programs, the U.S. government calls it bribery.

Should there be a difference?

Either Enforce the FCPA or Don’t

The Department of Justice should either enforce the FCPA or not enforce the FCPA.  Period.  End of story.

The current system in which the DOJ makes opaque, arbitrary, non-reviewable discretionary decisions behind closed doors is contrary to the rule of law.

In the Smith & Wesson action, the SEC alleged that FCPA “violations took place from 2007 through early 2010, when a senior employee and other employees and representatives of Smith & Wesson made, authorized, and offered to make improper payments and/or to provide gifts to foreign officials in an attempt to win contracts to sell firearm products to foreign military and law enforcement departments.”  The culpable individuals were identified as Smith & Wesson’s Vice President of International Sales and its Regional Director of International Sales and the improper conduct concerned business practices in several countries (Pakistan, Indonesia, Turkey, Nepal and Bangladesh).

It’s not every SEC FCPA enforcement action that alleges a multi-year scheme in a number of countries involving a V.P. of International Sales and a Regional Director of International Sales under circumstances in which the company did not voluntarily disclose.

Nevertheless, as previously reported in June, Smith & Wesson disclosed that “the DOJ declined to pursue any FCPA charges against us and closed its investigation.”

Why did the DOJ “decline” to pursue FCPA charges against Smith & Wesson, yet Ralph Lauren (voluntary disclosure of conduct in one country involving one employee of an indirect subsidiary in which the company cooperated) receive a NPA?

Why did the DOJ “decline” to pursue FCPA charges against Smith & Wesson, yet Data Systems & Solutions (conduct in one country involving one employee in which the company cooperated) receive a DPA?

Numerous other examples could be cited as well, but let’s call a spade a spade.  The DOJ’s FCPA enforcement program is not always based on the rule of law, but often opaque, arbitrary, non-reviewable discretionary decisions made behind closed doors.

For instance, as highlighted in this prior post, last September the-then Chief of the DOJ’s FCPA Unit stated at an ABA conference that a large company (he did not provide the company’s name – other than it would be recognizable to the audience) was a “serial reporter” of FCPA issues to the DOJ’s FCPA Unit.  The FCPA Unit Chief said that this company has a “good compliance program and system” in place and does “robust” internal investigations when issues arise.  The FCPA Unit Chief further stated that he and his unit have a “relationship of trust” with this company and its counsel and that “frankly, most of the time” the issue is “not a particularly large issue.”  According to FCPA Unit Chief, this company remediates the issue and then it “goes on its way.”

The following quote (albeit from a different era) is most appropriate:

“We [practitioners] must be able to advise our clients as to whether their conduct violates the law, not whether this year’s crop of administrators is likely to enforce a particular alleged violation.  That would produce, in effect, a government of men and women rather than a government of law.”

There are reasons why the DOJ’s FCPA enforcement program is not as credible as it could and should be and is viewed by many as arbitrary.  The circumstances surrounding Smith & Wesson contribute to these reasons.

Ripples

In my recent article, “Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Ripples,” I highlight how settlement amounts in an actual FCPA enforcement action are often only a relatively minor component of the overall financial consequences that can result from FCPA scrutiny or enforcement in this new era.

Smith & Wesson is another instructive example of this dynamic (a dynamic that escapes many who write about the FCPA and try to argue that “bribery pays” by measuring settlements amounts vs. bribe payments or business allegedly obtained or retained).

The “Ripples” article talks about the “three buckets of FCPA financial exposure” as follows.

  • Bucket #1 = pre-enforcement action professional fees and expenses
  • Bucket #2 = enforcement action settlement amount
  • Bucket #3 = post-enforcement action professional fees and expenses

In the Smith & Wesson action we know bucket #2 (approximately $2 million).

To my knowledge, Smith & Wesson (like many companies) has not disclosed bucket #1, but it is safe to assume that bucket #1 far exceeded bucket #2, likely by a ratio of at least 2-3 to 1.

As indicated in the earlier post summarizing the SEC’s enforcement action, per the SEC’s order Smith & Wesson has review and reporting obligations to the SEC for a two-year period.  Again, it is safe to assume that bucket #3 will exceed bucket #2.

And then of course there are a variety of negative business consequences that often flow from FCPA scrutiny or enforcement as highlighted in the “Ripples” article.  For instance, in the Smith & Wesson action, the SEC stated, among other things, as follows regarding the company’s “remedial measures” – the company terminated its entire international sales staff; terminated pending international sales transactions; and re-evaluated the markets in which it sought international sales.  Again, it is safe to assume that the financial costs and consequences of these measures far exceeded bucket #2.

Friday Roundup

Friday, July 25th, 2014

The U.K. SFO flexes its pre-Bribery Act muscle in criminally charging an Alstom subsidiary, other scrutiny alerts and updates, nominate, double standard, quotable, and for the reading stack.  It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Alstom

As has been widely reported (see here and here for instance), the U.K. Serious Fraud Office announced:

“Alstom Network UK Ltd, formerly called Alstom International Ltd, a UK subsidiary of Alstom, has been charged with three offences of corruption contrary to section 1 of the Prevention of Corruption Act 1906, as well as three offences of Conspiracy to Corrupt contrary to section 1 of the Criminal Law Act 1977. The alleged offences are said to have taken place between 1 June 2000 and 30 November 2006 and concern large transport projects in India, Poland and Tunisia.”

According to the release, “the SFO investigation commenced as a result of information provided to the SFO by the Office of the Attorney General in Switzerland concerning the Alstom Group, in particular Alstom Network UK Ltd.”

I inquired with the SFO press office regarding any original source charging documents and was informed as follows.  ”Beyond our press release today, the nearest date for documents likely to be made available would be the charge sheet at the first court hearing – presently arranged for 9 September, at Westminster Magistrates’ Court.”

As readers likely know, since April 2013 the DOJ has charged four individuals associated with Alstom Power Inc., a subsidiary of Alstom, in connection with an alleged bribery scheme involving the Tarahan coal-fired steam power plant project in Indonesia. (See more below for a recent guilty plea).

As was the case in the U.S. – U.K. enforcement action against BAE (see here for the prior post) there may have been and/or currently is turf war issues between the agencies as to which agency is going to prosecute alleged conduct occurring in various countries.

Speaking of the DOJ action against various individuals associated with Alstom Power, last week, the DOJ announced that William Pomponi, a former vice president of regional sales at Alstom Power, pleaded guilty to a criminal information charging him with conspiracy to violate the FCPA in connection with the awarding of the Tarahan power project in Indonesia.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell stated:

“The Criminal Division of the Department of Justice will follow evidence of corruption wherever it leads, including into corporate boardrooms and corner offices.  As this case demonstrates, we will hold both companies and their executives responsible for criminal conduct.”

As noted in the DOJ release:

“Pomponi is the fourth defendant to plead guilty to charges stemming from this investigation.   Frederic Pierucci, the vice president of global boiler sales at Alstom, pleaded guilty on July 29, 2013, to one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA and one count of violating the FCPA; and, David Rothschild, a former vice president of regional sales at Alstom Power Inc., pleaded guilty to conspiring to violate the FCPA on Nov. 2, 2012.  Marubeni Corporation, Alstom’s consortium partner on the Tarahan project, pleaded guilty on March 19, 2014, to one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA and seven counts of violating the FCPA, and was sentenced to pay a criminal fine of $88 million.   FCPA and money laundering charges remain pending against Lawrence Hoskins, the former senior vice president for the Asia region for Alstom, and trial is scheduled for June 2, 2015.”

See here for the original post highlighting the enforcement action against the individuals associated with Alstom and here for the original post regarding the Marubeni enforcement action.

Scrutiny Alerts and Updates

SEC Enforcement Action Against Former Magyar Telekom Executives

From Law360:

“The SEC has slimmed down its FCPA case against three former Magyar Telekom PLC executives, dropping claims they bribed government officials in Montenegro, according to a new complaint …  The amended complaint alleged former Magyar CEO Elek Straub and two other former executives, Andras Balogh and Tamas Morvai, authorized bribe payments to government officials in the Republic of Macedonia in exchange for regulations designed to hurt a competitor. The SEC, in its initial complaint in December 2011, had also alleged the defendants engaged in a second bribery scheme in Montenegro.  The agency said in a July 14 court filing that it would “continue to pursue the same legal causes of action alleged in its original complaint,” but without the claims related to Montenegro.  The SEC previously advised the court and defense attorneys in January 2014 of its intention to narrow the suit.”

Interesting, isn’t it, what happens when the SEC is put to its burden of proof.

Kowalewski Pleads Guilty

The DOJ announced:

“Bernd Kowalewski, the former President and CEO of BizJet, pleaded guilty … to conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and a substantive violation of the FCPA in connection with a scheme to pay bribes to officials in Mexico and Panama in exchange for those officials’ assistance in securing contracts for BizJet to perform aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul services.”

Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell stated:

“The former CEO of BizJet, Bernd Kowalewski, has become the third and most senior Bizjet executive to plead guilty to bribing officials in Mexico and Panama to get contracts for aircraft services.  While Kowalewski and his fellow executives referred to the corrupt payments as ‘commissions’ and ‘incentives,’ they were bribes, plain and simple.  Though he was living abroad when the charges were unsealed, the reach of the law extends beyond U.S. borders, resulting in Kowalewski’s arrest in Amsterdam and his appearance in court today in the United States.  Today’s guilty plea is an example of our continued determination to hold corporate executives responsible for criminal wrongdoing whenever the evidence allows.”

U.S. Attorney Danny Williams (N.D. Okla.) stated:

“I commend the investigators and prosecutors who worked together across borders and jurisdictions to vigorously enforce the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Partnership is a necessity in all investigations. By forging and strengthening international partnerships to combat bribery, the Department of Justice is advancing its efforts to prevent crime and to protect citizens.”

See here and here for posts regarding the 2012 DOJ enforcement action against BizJet and here and here for the 2013 DOJ enforcement action against Kowalewski and others associated with BizJet.

Cilins Sentenced

As noted in this prior post, in April 2013 the DOJ announced (here) that “Frederic Cilins a French citizen, has been 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.”  The Criminal Complaint charged Cilins with one count of tampering with a witness, victim, or informant; one count of obstruction of a criminal investigation; and one count of destruction, alteration, and falsification of records in a federal investigation.  Cilins was linked to Guernsey-based BSG Resources Ltd and in March 2014 the DOJ announced that Cilins pleaded guilty “to obstructing a federal criminal investigation into whether a mining company paid bribes to win lucrative mining rights in the Republic of Guinea.”  (See this prior post).

Last week, the DOJ announced that Cilins was sentenced to 24 months in prison.  In the DOJ release, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said:

“Frederic Cilins went to great lengths to thwart a Manhattan federal grand jury’s investigation into an alleged bribery scheme in the Republic of Guinea. In an effort to prevent the federal authorities from learning the truth, Cilins paid a witness for her silence and to destroy key documents. Today, Cilins learned that no one can manipulate justice.”

Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell said:

“Cilins offered to bribe a witness in an FCPA investigation to stop the witness from talking to the FBI. Today’s sentence holds Cilins accountable for his effort to undermine the integrity of our justice system, and sends a message that those who interfere with federal investigations will be prosecuted and sent to prison.”

FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge George Venizelos said:

“Cilins obstructed the efforts of the FBI during the course of this investigation. His guilty plea and sentence demonstrate our shared commitment with the U.S. Attorney’s Office to hold accountable those who seek to interfere with the administration of justice. This case should be a reminder to all those who try to circumvent the efforts of a law enforcement investigation: the original crime and the cover-up both lend themselves to prosecution.”

According to the release, Cilins was also ordered to pay a fine of $75,000 and to forfeit $20,000.

GSK

From Reuters:

“GlaxoSmithKline faces new allegations of corruption, this time in Syria, where the drugmaker and its distributor have been accused of paying bribes to secure business, according to a whistleblower’s email reviewed by Reuters. Britain’s biggest drugmaker said on Thursday it was investigating the latest claims dating back to 2010, which were laid out in the email received by the company on July 18. The allegations relate to its former consumer healthcare operations in Syria, which were closed down in 2012 due to the worsening civil war in the country.  [...]  GSK has been rocked by corruption allegations since last July, when Chinese authorities accused it of funneling up to 3 billion yuan ($480 million) to doctors and officials to encourage them to use its medicines. The former British boss of the drugmaker’s China business was accused in May of being behind those bribes.  Since then, smaller-scale bribery claims have surfaced in other countries and GSK is now investigating possible staff misconduct in Poland, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon. Syria is the sixth country to be added to the list. The allegations there center on the company’s consumer business, including its popular painkiller Panadol and oral care products. Although rules governing the promotion of non-prescription products are not as strict as for prescription medicines, the email from a person familiar with GSK’s Syrian operations said alleged bribes in the form of cash, speakers’ fees, trips and free samples were in breach of corruption laws. The detailed 5,000-word document, addressed to Chief Executive Andrew Witty and Judy Lewent, chair of GSK’s audit committee, said incentives were paid to doctors, dentists, pharmacists and government officials to win tenders and to obtain improper business advantages.”

Separately, this Reuters article states that the U.K. SFO  ”is working with authorities in China in a first for such Anglo-Chinese cooperation as it carries out its own investigation into alleged corruption at GSK.”  The article quotes SFO Director David Green as follows:  ”Certainly, so far as I am aware it is the first time we have had cooperation with the Chinese on an SFO case.”

Separately, in the U.S. this Wall Street Journal article states:

“Federal Bureau of Investigation agents have been interviewing current and former GSK employees in connection with bribery allegations made against the drug maker in China, according to a person familiar with the matter, as fresh claims of corruption surfaced against Glaxo’s operations in Syria. The interviews have taken place in Washington, D.C., in the past few months and are part of a Justice Department investigation into GSK’s activities in China, the person added. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission also is investigating the company’s business in China, according to people familiar with the matter.”

Key Energy Services

The company stated as follows in its Second Quarter 2014 Update and Earnings Release.

“Pre-tax expenses of approximately $5 million were incurred in connection with the previously disclosed Foreign Corrupt Practices Act investigations.”

Nominate

If FCPA Professor adds value to your practice or business or otherwise enlightens your day and causes you to contemplate the issues in a more sophisticated way, please consider nominating FCPA Professor for the ABA Journal’s Blawg 100 list (see here).

Double Standard

Beginning in 2009, I began writing about the “double standard” and how – despite the similarities between the FCPA and 18 USC 201 (the domestic bribery statute) – a U.S. company’s interaction with a “foreign official” is subject to more scrutiny and different standards than interaction with a U.S. official.  Since 2009, approximately 30 posts have appeared under the “double standard” subject matter tag.

Against this backdrop, I was happy to see another individual tackle the same general topic.  See here from the Global AntiCorruption Blog – “Is U.S. Campaign Finance Law More Permissive of Corruption Than the FCPA?”

Quotable

In this Corporate Crime Reporter interview, former U.S. Attorney Neil MacBride (E.D. Va.) says the following regarding the use of non-prosecution and deferred prosecution agreements:  “The Department now has the ability to reach more ambiguous conduct where it might be more difficult to prove a criminal conviction in court.”

Wait a minute!

If the conduct is ambiguous and the DOJ would have a difficult time to prove a criminal conviction in court, there should be no non-prosecution or deferred prosecution agreement.  Period.  End of story. The rule of law commands such a result.

Reading Stack

Over at the FCPA Compliance & Ethics blog, Tom Fox recently published a three-part series on M&A issues and the FCPA.  See Part I, Part II, and Part III.

Sherman & Sterling’s mid-year FCPA Digest, including its “Trends and Patterns” is here.  Among the trends and patterns:

“Recent paper victories by the SEC could be perceived as setbacks in the Commission’s actions against
individual defendants; and

The SEC has continued its practice of pursuing its theory of strict liability against a parent corporation
for the acts of its corporate subsidiaries.”

Kudos to Sherman & Sterling for adopting the “core” approach to keeping FCPA statistics.  (See here for the prior post regarding my suggested “core” approach).  The Digest states:

“We count all actions against a corporate “family” as one action. Thus, if the DOJ  charges a subsidiary and the SEC charges a  parent issuer, that counts as one action. In  addition, we count as a “case” both filed  enforcement actions (pleas, deferred prosecution agreements, and complaints)  and other resolutions such as  non-prosecution agreements that include  enforcement-type aspects, such as financial  penalties, tolling of the statute of  limitations, and compliance requirements.”

The most recent edition of Miller & Chevalier’s FCPA Update is here.  Debevoise & Plimpton’s always informative FCPA Update is here and Mayer Brown’s FCPA mid-year update is here.

Warning, the enforcement statistics cited in certain of the above updates will cause confusion because they do not adopt the “core” approach.

*****

A good weekend to all.

Supreme Court – “Ingratiation And Access Are Not Corruption”

Monday, April 7th, 2014

Corruption ought to be corruption, plain and simple.

The same rules and principles governing corruption of a “foreign official” ought to apply to corruption of U.S. “officials.”

Yet, as I have highlighted for years on these pages there is a glaring double standard when it comes to alleged corruption of “foreign officials” and corruption of U.S. “officials.”  The U.S. government is eager to address the former, yet countenances in many cases the latter by advancing certain policy arguments.

Last week in McCutcheon v. FEC, the U.S. Supreme Court dived into the topic of corruption.

The specific issue before the court was whether the aggregate limits on campaign contributions found in 2 USC 441(a)(a)(1), which restricts how much money a donor may contribute in total to all political candidates or political committees, violates the First Amendment.

In a plurality opinion authored by Chief Justice Roberts and joined by Justices Scalia, Kennedy and Alito, the court held that such aggregate limits are invalid under the First Amendment and in doing so dismissed the argument that such limits served the objective of combating corruption.

The opinion recognized that “while preventing corruption or its appearance is a legitimate objective, Congress may target only a specific type of corruption ‘quid pro quo’ corruption.”  As to that type of corruption, the opinion adopted a narrow view and stated: ”government regulation may not target the general gratitude a candidate may feel toward those who support him or his allies, or the political access such support may afford.  Ingratiation and access are not corruption.”

As to the aggregate limits at issue, the opinion stated:

“[S]pending large sums of money in connection with elections, but not in connection with an effort to control the exercise of an officeholder’s officials duties, does not give rise to such quid pro quo corruption.  Nor does the possibility that an individual who spends large sums may garner influence over or access to elected officials or political parties.”

“The line between quid pro quo corruption and general influence may seem vague at times, but the distinction must be respected in order to safeguard basis First Amendment rights.”

Next, the plurality opinion addressed contributions through various “third parties” such party committees, PACs or others and stated:

“[T]here is not the same risk of quid pro quo corruption or its appearance when money flows through independent actors to a candidate, as when a donor contributes to a candidate directly.  When an individual contributes to candidate, a party committee, or a PAC, the individuals must by law cede control over the funds. [...] As a consequence, the chain of attribution grows longer, and any credit must be shared among the various actors along the way.  For those reasons, the risk of quid pro quo corruption is generally applicable only to the narrow category of money gifts that are directed, in some manner, to a candidate or officerholder.”

It is difficult to square this logic with – for example – the third-party payment provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

In closing, the plurality opinion notes that any risk of corruption is cured by disclosure requirements under federal law and that “[t]oday, given the Internet, disclosure offers much more robust protections against corruption.”  It is interesting to note – as highlighted in my article “The Story of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act” – that disclosure vs. prohibition was the preferred method of addressing the so-called foreign corporate payments problem by the Ford Administration and various members of Congress.

A dissenting opinion authored by Justice Breyer and joined by Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Kagan states that the notion ”that large aggregate contributions do not give rise to corruption – is plausible only because the plurality defines corruption too narrowly.”

The dissenting opinion speaks broadly of corruption.

“Corruption breaks the constitutionally necessary chain of communication between the people and their representatives.  It derails the essential speech-to-government-action tie.  Where enough money calls the tune, the general public will not be heard.  Insofar as corruption cuts the link between political thought and political action, a free marketplace of political ideas loses its point.”

“Since the kinds of corruption that can destroy the link between public opinion and governmental action extend well beyond those the plurality describes, the plurality’s notion of corruption is flatly inconsistent with the [basic constitutional rationales].

In the end, the double standard between the meaning of corruption as it relates to “foreign officials” vs. U.S. “officials” matters as it undermines the legitimacy and moral authority on which the U.S. government acts.

Against the backdrop of the U.S. government bringing FCPA enforcement based on allegations that a company was seeking access to certain foreign officials or certain information or that company employees were seeking to ingratiate themselves with foreign officials through such items of value as a bottle of wine, flowers, karaoke bars or cigarettes … just remember, in the words of the U.S. Supreme Court “ingratiation and access are not corruption.”