Archive for the ‘Enforcement Agency Policy’ Category

The DOJ’s Latest Public Relations Move – Compliance Counsel

Wednesday, August 5th, 2015

shellThe legal standard by which a business organization can face criminal liability for the conduct (that of course must meet all the substantive elements of a crime) of employees or agents is based on a two-factor test: (i) the employee or agent acted within the scope of employment/agency; and (ii) the conduct, at least in part, benefited the organization.

Under this legal standard, the rank and title of the employee does not matter nor does it matter whether the employee or agent acted contrary to the organization’s pre-existing compliance policies and its good-faith efforts to comply with the law.

This U.S. principle stands in stark contrast to the standard of organizational criminal liability in other peer nations where an organization can only face criminal liability to the extent the conduct was engaged in by so-called “controlling minds” (such as board members or executive officers).

Moreover, as highlighted in my article “Revisiting a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Compliance Defense” most peer nations have compliance-defense concept relevant to their FCPA-like laws.

The Department of Justice appears, with good reason, to be uncomfortable with respondeat superior corporate criminal liability principles including in the FCPA context where the conduct at issue is often engaged by employees in foreign subsidiary and/or foreign third parties.

However, rather than advocate for substantive changes to the above standard (a standard of course that provides the DOJ substantial leverage over business organizations) the DOJ engages in public relations campaigns to mask its discomfort and to make it appear that the DOJ is addressing the core issue.

First it was non-prosecution and deferred prosecution agreements.  In defending the DOJ’s frequent use of NPAs and DPAs, then DOJ Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer stated in 2012 (see here for the prior post):

“I personally feel that it’s my duty to consider whether individual employees with no responsibility for, or knowledge of, misconduct committed by others in the same company are going to lose their livelihood if we indict the corporation. In large multi-national companies, the jobs of tens of thousands of employees can be at stake. And, in some cases, the health of an industry or the markets are a real factor.  Those are the kinds of considerations in white collar crime cases that literally keep me up at night, and which must play a role in responsible enforcement.”

When the FCPA reform movement heated up in 2011 (a component of FCPA reform was to amend the FCPA to include a compliance defense to make the FCPA consistent with the FCPA-like laws of many other peer nations), the DOJ once again stepped in with a public relations move and announced that it would issue FCPA Guidance – guidance that for years prior the DOJ said was unnecessary. (To read more about the relevant chronology of events see the article “Grading the FCPA Guidance“).

Still under pressure to demonstrate fairness in its FCPA enforcement program, in 2012 the DOJ marketed Morgan Stanley’s so-called declination and many drank the DOJ’s kool-aid.  (To learn more see prior posts here and here).

The DOJ’s latest public relations move to hide its justified discomfort of respondeat superior criminal liability is the apparent appointment of “compliance counsel” at the DOJ.  As reported here:

“The [DOJ] is hiring a compliance counsel who will help prosecutors determine whether companies facing corruption allegations are victims of rogue employees or willfully blind. [...] The  new compliance counsel, who has been selected and is undergoing vetting, will help authorities put these claims to the test and aid authorities in deciding whether to prosecute, said Andrew Weissmann, chief of the Justice Department’s fraud section in an interview. “Even if we do proceed, what should the appropriate resolution be, in other words what is the appropriate fine, [is] a monitor needed?” The as-yet unidentified compliance counsel will help prosecutors “differentiate the companies that get it and are trying to implement a good compliance program from the people who have a near-paper program,” said Mr. Weissmann, who was named to head up the fraud section earlier this year. The compliance specialist will also assist the fraud unit in other investigations including healthcare and securities fraud. [...] The Justice Department’s compliance specialist will also give companies more specific guidance on what level of program is appropriate for the risk level of the business, Mr. Weissmann said. The compliance counsel will be “benchmarking with various companies in a variety of different industries to make sure we have realistic expectations….and tough-but-fair ones in various industries,” he said. “It doesn’t do anyone good to have people wasting their compliance dollars on areas that are low risk.”

As suggested by the above report, the DOJ’s new “compliance counsel” is presumably the brainchild of Andrew Weissman.

As first reported by FCPA Professor when Weissmann was appointed head of the DOJ fraud section in January 2015, Weissmann has been a vocal advocate of Foreign Corrupt Practices Act reform and more broadly reforming corporate criminal liability principles.

Yet, the DOJ’s new “compliance counsel” does not substantively address any of Weissmann’s prior concerns, and those of many others, regarding the DOJ’s FCPA enforcement program.

Rather, it is another instance of DOJ smoke and mirrors.

Why?

Among other reasons, in opposing a compliance defense DOJ officials have long maintained – including while testifying at both the Senate’s 2010 hearing and the House’s 2011 hearing – that prosecutors already take into consideration whether the conduct at issue was engaged in by rogue actors and whether the company had pre-existing compliance policies and procedures. (To read more about the specific DOJ statements, see this article). Indeed, such factors are outlined in the DOJ’s Principles of Federal Prosecution of Business Organizations.  However, as highlighted in “Revisiting an FCPA Compliance Defense” the DOJ’s recognition of a “de facto compliance defense” is inadequate because it takes place in the opaque, inconsistent and unpredictable world of unreviewable DOJ decision making.

Thus, the DOJ’s new compliance position has no practical significance because decisions will still be made in an opaque manner behind closed doors in Washington, D.C.

Rather, the compliance counsel position is the DOJ’s latest public relations move. Indeed, a knowledgeable source informs me that that the position may not even be a full-time DOJ position, but rather a contract employee for a specified term.

This is not what FCPA enforcement needs.  Rather, the FCPA needs transparency, consistency and predictably that can only be accomplished through a change to the actual statute.  Moreover, an actual as a matter of law change to the FCPA will yield a host of public policy benefits as well as increase “soft enforcement” of the FCPA as highlighted herehere, here and here.

In short, the DOJ’s recent announcement of compliance counsel represents just the latest public relations move by the DOJ to hide its justified discomfort with respondeat superior corporate criminal liability principles and to make it appear that the DOJ is addressing the core issue.

*****

To read similar reactions to the DOJ’s announcement:

see here (“It’s a clever move because it avoids the Justice Department having to confront a formal compliance defense, which I think can be seen as giving bad incentives. And it gives them a chance to push back on the criticism that they don’t place enough weight on compliance efforts.”);

and here (“I just do not buy this explanation. DOJ prosecutors have a long and valuable expertise in this area. To suggest that they need some assistance is just a little too politically cute for me. [...]  In the absence of some demonstrated need, I think we can put this move into the category of cynical political moves designed to rebut corporate claims that DOJ prosecutors inadequately review and credit corporate compliance programs. [...]  If Mr. Weismann believes that having a compliance counsel available at DOJ is going to quiet advocates for a compliance defense, he is certainly demonstrating his political “immaturity.”)

*****

And yes of course FCPA Inc. is already marketing this development with the goal of attracting more compliance work.  (See here – “With DOJ’s recent hire of a compliance expert, there has never been a more important time for a company to assess its compliance program and identify enhancements that are necessary to appropriately address the evolving global corruption risks.”)

Friday Roundup

Friday, May 29th, 2015

RoundupSurvey says, scrutiny alert, chuckle, and for the reading stack.  It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Survey Says

Items that caught my eye from Kroll/Compliance Week’s recent 2015 Anti-Bribery and Corruption Benchmarking Report (a report based on approximately 250 survey responses from compliance professionals of large companies).

The average respondent to the survey was associated with a company that employs 22,000 employees and has more than 2,900 third party relationships.

In the minds of some, FCPA compliance is easy.  But as previously highlighted here, consider if the respondent companies were 99% compliant on a daily basis.  99% success in most all areas of life is rewarded, but 99% compliance for the respondent companies would mean 220 employee and 29 third party violations.

Against this backdrop, I am not at all surprised that approximately 50% of respondents in the survey were less than confident that company financial controls can catch potential books and records violations of the FCPA.

After all, the FCPA’s books and records (and internal control provisions) are among the broadest legal provisions one can find even if they are qualified in several respects.

As noted in the report accompanying the survey findings:

“There is a little bit of anti-bribery and anti-corruption fatigue at the board level across large organizations.  In 2009 and 2010 lawyers and regulators predicted doomsday scenarios, bolstered by an explosion in the growth of formal investigation and fines imposed.  That uptick leveled off in recent years, leading some companies to believe they have more time to get their houses in order.”

Perhaps the lesson is that boards should take with a grain of salt the doomsday scenarios of FCPA Inc. because they are often self-serving.

Scrutiny Update

As previously highlighted here, in September 2013 Hyperdynamics disclosed:

“[On] September 2013 [the company] received a subpoena from the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) requesting that the Company produce documents relating to its business in Guinea.  In 2006, a Production Sharing Contract was signed by the Company and the government of Guinea granting rights to an oil and gas concession offshore Guinea.  The Company understands that the DOJ is investigating whether Hyperdynamics’ activities in obtaining and retaining the concession rights and its relationships with charitable organizations potentially violate the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act or U.S. anti-money laundering statutes.  The Company has retained legal counsel to represent it in this matter and is cooperating fully with the government.  The Company is unable to predict when the investigation will be completed, what outcome may result and what costs the Company will incur in the course of the investigation.”

Last week the company disclosed:

“As set forth in the attached letter, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) has closed its investigation into possible violations by Hyperdynamics of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) without bringing any charges against the Company.  Hyperdynamics had cooperated with the government’s investigation, and DOJ noted the value of the Company’s cooperation in its letter.  Ray Leonard, President and CEO, commented, “This is an important development for Hyperdynamics. We are extremely pleased to be informed that the DOJ has closed its inquiry into this matter.” As previously disclosed, both the DOJ and SEC issued subpoenas to Hyperdynamics concerning possible violations of the FCPA and other laws. The SEC investigation has not yet been resolved.”

To those who frequently overuse the “d” word (as in declination), this was a DOJ declination.  However, when a company merely receives a subpoena and the DOJ closes its investigation, I prefer to call that the law enforcement investigative process.

Nevertheless, it what seems to be a new trend for FCPA Inc., the law firm representing Hyperdynamics issued this press release stating:

“Covington represented Hyperdynamics in an investigation conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice into potential violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act related to its business activities in the Republic of Guinea. The Justice Department has completed its investigation without bringing any charges against the company. Hyperdynamics received a subpoena from the Justice Department in September 2013 concerning possible violations of the FCPA and other laws relating to its business in Guinea. The Houston-based oil and gas company fully cooperated with the government’s investigation and the Justice Department noted the value of the company’s cooperation in its declination letter. [...] The SEC also issued a subpoena to Hyperdynamics concerning possible violations of the FCPA and other laws. The SEC investigation has not yet been resolved. The Covington team handling the matter included Lanny BreuerNancy Kestenbaum and Barbara Hoffman.”

Lanny Breuer is the former head of the DOJ’s criminal division.

According to disclosures by Hyperdynamics, the company spent approximately $11.2 million on its FCPA scrutiny.

Chuckle

There has been much recent discussion and war of words concerning the length of FCPA scrutiny (see here and here).

Against this backdrop, I had a good chuckle when I recently stumbled upon this 2005 speech by the DOJ’s then Assistant Attorney General of the Criminal Division.

“Simply put, speed matters in corporate fraud investigations.  The days of five-year investigations, of agreement after agreement tolling the statute of limitations – while ill-gotten gains are frittered away and investor confidence sinks – are increasingly a thing of the past.”

For the Reading Stack

As highlighted in this prior post, last month  Paul Pelletier (former principal deputy chief of the DOJ Criminal Division’s Fraud Section) penned a dandy Wall Street Journal editorial titled “The Foreign Bribery Sinkhole at Justice.”

In this recent piece Pelletier goes into more-depth on the same topic.  In pertinent part he writes:

“[T]he pattern of costly delay in FCPA investigations continues unabated.  While every government investigation and resolution poses unique facts and circumstances that may serve to delay the investigatory process, these recent long-developing FCPA resolutions, together with the findings of the OECD report, are convincingly problematic.  The staggering investigative costs, ultimately borne by employees and shareholders alike, however, also can reach unconscionable levels.

[...]

The Department of Justice has recently articulated that at least part of the rationale or justification for these interminable investigations is that “[c]ompared to other white collar crime, the challenges associated with FCPA investigations can be much greater.”  The DOJ offered “overseas evidence” as one basis for this greater challenge.2

But this statement fails to explain the  more than twofold increase in investigatory durations from historical norms.  A dispassionate, experience-based analysis of this overly broad assertion exposes a faulty premise.  Simply put, the DOJ can and must do better.

[...]

With a cooperating corporation, FCPA investigators routinely find themselves in the unique position of having prompt access to overseas evidence and witnesses without a need to resort to cumbersome international treaty requests.  Such cooperation is much like the prosecution having secured a cooperator with unfettered access to the critical evidence.

[...]

Regardless of the reason or reasons for these protracted investigations, both the continued vitality of the DOJ’s FCPA enforcement efforts and the prominence of the United States as the global leader of anti-corruption enforcement would seem to demand a renewed effort to dramatically reduce the time frame necessary to achieve resolution.

[...]

Legitimate enterprises benefit from those kinds of real-time revelations, and criminal political regimes can be immediately identified and deterred.  Moreover, when a criminal resolution discloses and punishes criminal conduct that occurred five or more years earlier, any deterrent effect of the resolution is significantly diminished.  This is particularly true in industries where the overseas corrupt conduct flourishes with abandon.

At that late stage, the principal deterrent effect is relegated to the size of the monetary penalty — something the DOJ continues to emphasize with all too much frequency and relish.  As recent cases have demonstrated, lengthy FCPA investigations also place untenably wasteful financial burdens on corporations, their employees and their shareholders.

[...]

Given that the DOJ’s FCPA unit within the Fraud Section has more than doubled in size from 2009 to today and has been fortified by a dedicated squad of FBI agents, it is puzzling that many of these investigations seem to drag on interminably.  The DOJ must strive to be more than just “FCPA Inc.,” churning out stale resolutions notable only for their record-breaking penalties.”

In conclusion Pelletier writes:

“The interests of justice are neither served nor advanced when FCPA investigations routinely drag on for five or more years.  Rigorous and prompt FCPA enforcement with respect to current bribery schemes can have a dramatic impact on the insidious and corrosive effect of corruption overseas.  Real-time enforcement is just one component of what must be a larger proactive strategy to root out overseas corruption, which includes punishing the bribe takers as well as the bribe payers and dispossessing the government officials of access to ill-gotten gains.

Curing the deficiencies that lead to costly and wasteful delays will require a systemic and sustained effort, primarily by the DOJ.  It will also require a more focused approach by outside counsel.  Although the ameliorative benefits resulting from such change will not be achieved overnight, the long-term vitality and efficacy of the DOJ’s anti-corruption enforcement efforts ultimately rests on the government’s ability to sustainably alter the status quo.”

*****

A good weekend to all.

Assistant AG Caldwell Regarding Exorbitant Pre-Enforcement Action Professional Fees and Expenses – “That’s Not Us, That’s The Companies” Who Are Responsible, Plus Other DOJ Musings

Thursday, May 28th, 2015

SoapboxThe war of words regarding who is to blame for exorbitant pre-enforcement action professional fees and expenses continued in recent weeks.

By way of background and as highlighted in this prior post, in April Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell stated – “we do not expect companies to aimlessly boil the ocean.”

Certain FCPA lawyers disputed Caldwell’s assertion – see here and here.

Recently, Assistant AG Caldwell again shot-back stating – as noted in this Wall Street Journal Risk & Compliance post - “That’s not us. That’s the companies” who are responsible for the pre-enforcement action professional fees and expenses.

*****

Staying with the same topic, as noted in this recent Morgan Lewis “Lawflash,” here is what DOJ Fraud Section Chief Andrew Weissmann had to say at a recent event:

“When asked about the rising costs of Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) investigations, Mr. Weissmann dismissed the suggestion that high investigative and defense expenses—which have cost some companies nearly half a billion dollars—are a predicate to receiving full cooperation credit. Noting some of the staggering legal fees in the hundreds of millions of dollars, Mr. Weissmann advised the audience that companies do not need to “boil the ocean” when investigating corporate misconduct. Although there may be “historical evidence” of DOJ asking companies to engage in “widespread investigations,” he assured the audience that this “is not the current Department of Justice view.”

Mr. Weissmann described a “real life example” of a multinational company that voluntarily disclosed FCPA misconduct in an unnamed foreign country by a team of individuals who also had responsibilities in three other countries. Because “there was very good reason to think that they would have engaged in the same conduct in those other countries,” Mr. Weissmann said, DOJ expected the company to investigate those countries in order to receive full cooperation credit, and the company complied. Mr. Weissmann noted that the company was neither asked nor expected to expand its investigation to the “Antarctic,” for instance, or high-risk countries (as determined by Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index) where the company operated. As explained by Mr. Weissmann, “If there is an issue in one country and just speculation that the same issues could be happening elsewhere, then we should deal with the issue that is before us and come to a very quick resolution.” Investigations should be “appropriately tailored to the facts at issue,” he said, because both DOJ and the companies it investigates share the same interest in “prompt resolutions.”

As noted in this prior post, prior to becoming DOJ Fraud Section Chief, Weissmann was a vocal critic of various aspects of DOJ FCPA enforcement.  Set forth below is what Weissmann wrote in Restoring Balance: Proposed Amendments to the FCPA.

“The current FCPA enforcement environment has been costly to business. Businesses enmeshed in a fullblown FCPA investigation conducted by the U.S. government have and will continue to spend enormous sums on legal fees, forensic accounting, and other investigative costs before they are even confronted with a fine or penalty, which, as noted, can range into the tens or hundreds of millions. In fact, one noteworthy innovation in FCPA enforcement policy has been the effective outsourcing of investigations by the government to the private sector, by having companies suspected of FCPA violations shoulder the cost of uncovering such violations themselves through extensive internal investigations.

From the government’s standpoint, it is the best of both worlds. The costs of investigating FCPA violations are borne by the company and any resulting fines or penalties accrue entirely to the government. For businesses, this arrangement means having to expend significant sums on an investigation based solely on allegations of wrongdoing and, if violations are found, without any guarantee that the business will receive cooperation credit for conducting an investigation.”

*****

Back to Morgan Lewis’s “Lawflash” – here is what it says about other aspects of Weissmann’s recent remarks.

“Mr. Weissmann confirmed DOJ’s commitment to providing more transparency regarding cooperation credit and declinations by including greater factual details in non-prosecution agreements (NPAs) and deferred prosecution agreements (DPAs) and providing “general statistics” about declinations in a series of “anonymized examples.” Currently, because declinations are rarely, if ever, publicly announced, companies and their counsel have limited insight into how and why such determinations are made. That will change, Mr. Weissmann said, with DOJ providing the public with greater transparency about the declinations process and what companies can do to increase their chances of receiving declinations. Likewise, although DOJ’s website already contains some information about DPAs and NPAs, Mr. Weissmann assured the audience that they can expect to see more detail in the future about what exactly happened that resulted in specific dispositions to help companies assess the benefits of full cooperation.”

*****

Finally on the DOJ speech “beat,” Assistant AG Cadlwell recently delivered this speech to a paying audience at Compliance Week.

The topic?

“[C]orporate accountability.  How corporations should be holding themselves accountable by designing compliance programs that don’t just look good on paper but actually work.  Compliance programs that are designed to protect the company’s reputation, customers, counterparties and the public, as well as ensuring compliance with the law.”

In pertinent part, Caldwell stated:

“A corporation’s internal compliance policies and practices, and its compliance professionals, are the first lines of defense against fraud, abuse and corruption. As all of you know, there is no “one size fits all” compliance program.  Rather, effective compliance programs are those that are tailored to the unique needs, risks and structure of each business or industry. While a corporate compliance program must, by definition, address regulatory risk and the risk of potential violations of law, a strong compliance program will not stop there. A strong program also will aim to deter employee misconduct, whether or not that misconduct poses obvious regulatory risk.

While companies have for years appropriately adopted a “risk-based” approach to compliance, we have seen that corporations all too often misdirect their focus to the wrong type of risk.  We have repeatedly seen corporations target the risk of regulatory or law enforcement exposure of institutional and employee misconduct, rather than the risk of the misconduct itself. The result: compliance programs are too often behind the curve, effectively guarding against yesterday’s corporate problem but failing to identify and prevent tomorrow’s scandals.

In designing compliance programs, companies would be wise to examine all of their lines of business – including those not subject to regulation – and determine where specific risks are and how best to control or mitigate them. It is also critical that compliance programs take into account the operational realities and risks attendant to the particular company’s business, and are designed to prevent and detect particular types of misconduct likely to occur in a particular line of business.

For example, to comply with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), businesses that tend to be exposed to corruption must employ different internal controls than businesses that have less exposure to corruption.

[...]

Too often we have heard companies say that a particular course of criminal conduct took them by surprise, when a hard look at the business practices would have identified the risk.  And, far too often, we have heard companies exclaim in defense that everyone else is doing it – that others in the industry are engaged in the same misconduct.  But as you all know, an industry-wide compliance failure is not a defense to knowing and willful criminal activity.

With this principle that compliance programs should be proactive, and not merely reactive in mind, there are some general hallmarks of effective compliance programs that I’d like to share with you today.

  • A company must ensure that its senior leaders provide strong, explicit and visible support for its corporate compliance policies.Corporate management must enforce compliance policies, not tacitly encourage or pressure employees to engage in misconduct to achieve business objectives.
  • We look not just at the written policies, but to other messages otherwise conveyed to employees, including through in-person meetings, emails, telephone calls, incentives/bonuses, etc.; and will make a determination regarding whether the company meaningfully stressed compliance or, when faced with a conflict between compliance and profits, encouraged employees to choose profits.
  • Senior executives should be responsible for the implementation and oversight of compliance.Those executives should have authority to report directly to independent monitoring bodies – for example, internal auditors or the board of directors.
  • A company’s policies should be clear and in writing and should easily be understood by employees.But having written policies – even those that appear specific and comprehensive “on paper” – is not enough.
  • Compliance teams need adequate funding and access to necessary resources.And they must have an appropriate stature within the company.
  • A company should have an effective process – with sufficient resources – for investigating and documenting allegations of violations.
  • A company periodically should review its compliance policies and practices to keep it up to date with evolving risks and circumstances, including when the company merges with or acquires another company.In particular, if a U.S.-based entity merges with, acquires or is acquired by a foreign entity, all compliance policies should be reviewed and revised accordingly.
  • A company should have an effective system for confidential, internal reporting of compliance violations.
  • A company should implement mechanisms designed to enforce its policies, including incentivizing compliance and disciplining violations.
  • A company should sensitize third parties with which it interacts (for example, vendors, agents or consultants) to the company’s expectation that its partners are compliant.This means more than including boilerplate language in a contract.It means taking action – including termination of a business relationship – if a partner demonstrates a lack of respect for laws and policies.

Corporations also must ensure compliance with the laws of all the countries in which they operate.  We appreciate that this may present a major compliance challenge, as international corporations often must bridge cultural, as well as geographic, divides.  But such challenges do not justify non-compliance.

[...]

Overall, our message is simple: we expect corporate entities to take compliance risk as seriously as they take other business-related risks.

[...]

When a compliance program works and a company suspects or discovers potential criminal wrongdoing, a company would be wise to conduct a thorough internal investigation. While we in the Criminal Division will not tell a company how it should conduct an investigation, we evaluate the quality of a company’s internal investigation, both through our own investigation and in considering what if any charges to bring against a company.  In that regard, we have seen some “best practices” with regard to internal investigations.

Good internal investigations uncover the facts.  They don’t promote corporate talking points or whitewash the truth.  The investigation should be focused on rooting out the relevant facts, identifying and interviewing the knowledgeable actors and capturing and preserving relevant documents and other evidence.  The investigation should seek to identify responsible individuals, even if those individuals hold senior positions at the company.

It is reasonable to take resources – time and money – into account.  If an internal investigation unearths criminal conduct, the inquiry should be thorough enough to identify the relevant facts, players, documents and other evidence, and to get a sense of the pervasiveness of the misconduct. But, we do not believe that it is necessary or productive for a company to employ its internal investigators to look under every rock and pebble – particularly when a company has offices or personnel around the globe that do not appear to be involved in the misconduct at issue. In fact, doing so will cost companies much more in the end, both in fees but also because it ultimately will delay our investigation and delay resolution and closure for the company.

For example, if a multi-national corporation discovers an FCPA violation in one country, and has no basis to suspect that the misconduct is occurring elsewhere, the Criminal Division would not expect that the internal investigation would extend beyond the country in which the violation was discovered.  By contrast, if the known offenders operated in multiple countries, we would expect that the internal investigation would extend into those locations as well.

Once your company learns of potential criminal conduct and confirms it through a reasonable internal investigation, the company then must choose whether to disclose the conduct to the government, and whether to cooperate in the government’s investigation. These are the company’s choices, and very few companies have a legal obligation to disclose criminal misconduct to the department.  Likewise, there is no obligation to cooperate beyond compliance with lawful process. But if a company chooses to cooperate with the government in its investigation – particularly at an early stage – the company likely will receive significant credit for such efforts when the government is contemplating what prosecutorial action to take.

In conducting an investigation, determining whether to bring charges and negotiating plea or other agreements, federal prosecutors take into account, among other factors, the corporation’s timely and voluntary disclosure of wrongdoing and its willingness to cooperate in the investigation of its agents.  Prosecutors also consider the availability of alternative or supplemental remedies such as civil or regulatory enforcement action.

To receive cooperation credit, a company must do more than comply with subpoenas or other compulsory process.  Companies must provide a full accounting of the known facts about the conduct or events under review, and affirmatively must identify responsible individuals (and provide evidence supporting their culpability), including corporate executives and officers – and they must do so in a timely way. A company’s cooperation may be particularly helpful where the criminal conduct continued over an extended period of time, and the knowledgeable or culpable individuals and/or the relevant documents are dispersed or located abroad. Under these circumstances, cooperation includes helping to circumvent barriers to the investigation by making knowledgeable personnel available for interviews or testimony, and by producing documents and other evidence that otherwise may not be readily accessible to the government.

We recognize that some foreign data privacy laws may limit or prohibit the disclosure of certain types of data or information.  Over the years, the Criminal Division has developed an understanding of certain oft-cited data privacy laws, and we will challenge what we perceive to be unfounded reliance on these laws to justify withholding requested information.  Companies should avoid this by giving careful consideration to the government’s requests for information, refraining from making broad “knee jerk” claims that large categories of information are protected from disclosure and producing what can be disclosed.

[...]

Corporate accountability through a strong, tailored compliance program and thorough internal investigations should be the standard for your companies.

[...]

Corporate accountability through compliance, investigations and protections against breaches is a good practice for all of your companies.  And in the Criminal Division, I am emphasizing accountability on our side as well, particularly through our work with regulators and other law enforcement agencies, and through increased transparency about our decision-making where possible.

Many of the cases handled by the Criminal Division also involve parallel investigations or civil or enforcement actions by civil or regulatory authorities.  Even if certain misconduct could be pursued civilly or through regulatory action, criminal investigation and prosecution often is appropriate.

It is department policy that criminal prosecutors and civil attorneys coordinate with one another and with agency attorneys, to the extent permissible, to protect and advance the government’s overall interests.  Early and effective coordination is critical to ensuring the efficient use of resources and the best ultimate outcome.

We have heard concerns expressed about regulatory “piling on.”  We agree that there is the potential for unfairness when a company is asked to pay penalties and fines to different regulators and enforcement authorities based on the same set of facts.

Different law enforcement authorities have distinct and important functions.  Companies know who their regulators are, and they know that they are subjecting themselves to those regulatory schemes and the laws of the countries in which they operate.  But we are trying to address this concern and are mindful of making sure that companies are not punished unfairly.

Since becoming Assistant Attorney General, one of my priorities has been to ensure that the Criminal Division is as transparent as possible about its decision making.  While we are limited in the information we can disclose to the public about matters in which we decline to prosecute, when we file charges, secure a guilty plea or enter into a deferred prosecution or non-prosecution agreement, the Criminal Division will place in the public record detailed information explaining the rationale for the particular resolution whenever possible.

Whether we secure a guilty plea or enter into an NPA or DPA, these resolutions generally have the same key components: admissions, a detailed statement of facts, remediation and/or enhanced compliance requirements and penalties.  Depending on the facts and circumstances of a particular case, the Criminal Division also may require the imposition of a compliance monitor. Companies would be wise to study these publicly-available documents to measure their compliance or to assess their exposure.

In our view, increased transparency benefits everyone.  From the Criminal Division’s perspective, if companies know the benefits that likely will flow from self-reporting or cooperating with the government’s investigation, we are confident that more companies will be willing to voluntarily disclose identified misconduct and cooperate, including against culpable individuals. In addition, transparency takes a significant amount of the guess work out of assessing the likely benefits of cooperation, as well as the costs of refusing to cooperate or offering limited or partial assistance.

Regardless of the form of resolution, the Criminal Division is committed to enforcing compliance with its terms.  In particular, when a company that is subject to the terms of an NPA or a DPA violates the terms of the agreement, if proportional to the breach, the Criminal Division will not hesitate to tear up the agreement and prosecute the offending entity based on the admitted statement of facts. If we do so, as with the other resolutions, the Criminal Division will be transparent and include its rationale in publicly-filed documents. In addition to statements contained in public filings in cases investigated or prosecuted by the Criminal Division, our commitment to transparency also is effectuated by the participation of Criminal Division personnel in conferences such as this one.”

Another Week And More SEC Speeches

Wednesday, May 20th, 2015

Speaking8SEC enforcement officials sure do make a lot of speeches.

Last week, it was Andrew Ceresney (Director of the Division of Enforcement) who delivered speeches in Texas and New York.

In this speech, Ceresney focused on the SEC’s “cooperation program” (announced in 2010 see here for the prior post) and how the SEC uses “cooperation agreements and other cooperation tools.”

According to Ceresney:

“My bottom line is twofold:  first, the cooperation program has succeeded in making the Commission’s enforcement program more effective by obtaining significant results which protect investors and deter misconduct; and second, those who are willing and able to help us can thereby help themselves in significant ways.”

Ceresney continued as follows.

“In laying out the range of options for considering and rewarding self-reporting and cooperation, the Commission noted that such credit could range from the “extraordinary” step of declining an enforcement action, to narrowing charges, limiting sanctions, or including mitigating or similar language in charging documents.  The Commission has used each of these approaches in its cases over the years.

To take one example of how this plays out in practice, look at our recent announcement of settled Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) charges against FLIR Systems Inc.  As the order in that case noted, the company self-reported, cooperated, and undertook significant remedial efforts.  The settlement required the company to pay around $7.5 million in disgorgement, plus prejudgment interest, but a penalty of only $1 million, whereas penalties in FCPA settlements often are set at an amount equal to the disgorgement amount.

Similarly, the Commission filed an FCPA action against Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company earlier this year. The order in that case notes the company’s prompt self-reporting, remedial acts, cooperation, and disciplinary actions against employees.  The settlement ordered disgorgement and prejudgment interest of over $16 million, but no penalty at all.  As you can see from those two examples, Seaboard continues to provide a framework under which entities can receive cooperation credit in settlements.”

Let’s pause for a moment to reflect on Ceresney’s suggestion that Goodyear uniquely benefited from receiving no civil penalty and FLIR Systems uniquely benefited because its civil penalty was “only $1 million” and his assertion that “penalties in FCPA settlements often are set at an amount equal to the disgorgement amount.”

For starters, between 2011 and 2014 the SEC resolved 36 corporate FCPA enforcement actions.  22 of the actions 61% did not involve any civil penalty in the settlement amount.  Of the 12 enforcement actions that involved disgorgement and a civil penalty amount (note Oracle and Ball Corp. involved only a civil penalty), in only the Allianz enforcement action did the civil penalty amount equal the disgorgement amount.  In every other situation (92%), the civil penalty amount did not equal (by a large margin) the disgorgement amount.

In short, Ceresney’s statement that “penalties in FCPA settlements often are set at an amount equal to the disgorgement amount” is simply false as evidenced in SEC FCPA enforcement actions between 2011-2014.

Ceresney next talked about self-reporting and cooperation and stated as follows.

“The discussion of whether and when to self-report is, I think, a bit more developed in the context of FCPA cases than in other types of cases.  As I have previously said, companies are gambling if they fail to self-report FCPA misconduct to us.  After all, given the success of the SEC’s whistleblower program, we may well hear about that conduct from another source.  But self-reporting is advisable not just in the FCPA context.  Firms need to be giving additional consideration to it in other contexts as well.  This includes self-reporting by registered firms of misconduct by associated persons, for example, and misconduct by issuer employees.  Where Enforcement staff uncovers such misconduct ourselves, a natural question for us to ask is why the firm didn’t tell us about it.  Was it because the firm didn’t know of the misconduct?  If so, what does that say about the firm’s supervisory systems, compliance program, and other controls?  On the other hand, if the firm did know about it, and the misconduct was significant, why didn’t the firm report it to us?  There will be significant consequences in that scenario from the failure to self-report.

As for the nature of cooperation, I think that the bar has been raised for what counts as good corporate citizenship in the last 15 years or so.  For example, internal investigations have now become common, a clear best practice for any company that discovers significant potential misconduct.  And sharing the results of those internal investigations with the government has become commonplace, as companies recognize the immense benefits that can accrue to them from doing so.  Some government officials have reemphasized recently the need for companies to share information on individual wrongdoers in order to receive credit for their cooperation.  I wholeheartedly agree, and this has long been a central tenet of cooperation with the SEC. When a company commits to cooperation and expects credit for that assistance, the Enforcement staff expects them to provide us with all relevant facts, including facts implicating senior officials and other individuals.  In short, when something goes wrong, we want to know who is responsible so that we can hold them accountable.  If a company helps us do that, they will benefit.”

Ceresney next spoke about the SEC’s use of NPAs and DPAs, part of the SEC’s cooperation program announced in 2010.

“Since the start of the cooperation program, the Commission has announced just five DPAs and five NPAs.  [Note: the SEC has used such agreements three times in the FCPA context:  Tenaris (DPA), Ralph Lauren (NPA) and PBSJ (DPA)]. While these types of agreements are a good option in some extraordinary cases, they have been a relatively limited part of our practice.  I think this is appropriate and should continue to be the case.

In contrast to the limited number of DPAs and NPAs, the Division of Enforcement has signed over 80 cooperation agreements over the last five years.  These cooperation agreements, and the benefits they have provided, are really at the heart of our cooperation program.

As I mentioned, cooperation agreements have long been a staple of criminal prosecutions.  The reason for this is simple:  to break open a case, you often need assistance from someone who participated in or knew of the misconduct.  These people can answer your questions, and they can lead you to ask the questions you hadn’t yet thought of.  They can also be strong witnesses in outlining the misconduct for a jury.  This is no less true in our civil cases than in criminal cases.  Given the complexity of so many cases in our docket, we have much to gain by enlisting those who can guide us during our investigation and who can then tell a fact finder what happened from an insider’s perspective or otherwise explain the contours of the misconduct with specificity.

Over the last five years, we have signed up cooperators in all manner of cases.”

Ceresney next turned to a question that he suspected was on the minds of many in the audience:

“[I]s cooperation worth it?  Does it provide significant enough benefits to make it worthwhile?  Particularly given some of the downsides, including the need to potentially testify against others, can it pay sufficient dividends to justify the sacrifice?  Of course, in the criminal realm, a reduction in sentence is a very significant benefit of cooperation and serves to incentivize cooperation.  Have we been able to offer benefits sufficient to incentivize cooperation on the civil side?

My answer to that is a simple yes.  Let me start by talking about the cooperation calculus for individuals.  Say that you represent someone who fits this profile:  they are caught up in an investigation where charges are likely, but there are others who are more culpable or are in a more senior role.  True, they can hunker down during the investigation and hope for the best.  But if they come forward and assist the investigative staff, they can be affirmatively helping themselves as well.  Our history over the last five years demonstrates that the benefits are real in terms of charging decisions, monetary relief, and bars.  Let me go through each of those categories of benefits.

First, charging decisions.  Usually if a defendant is at a certain level of seniority, has engaged in serious misconduct, and we have significant evidence, the staff is not going to be in a position to recommend against charges entirely.  But there are situations where an individual is on the bubble.  The person might be a somewhat peripheral or lower-level player, where charges are possible but where exercising prosecutorial discretion against bringing charges is also a valid option.  Or there may be situations where the evidence is less clear, and without cooperation we would have a hard time making a case against that individual or against others.  The staff may also consider whether the conduct is sufficient to justify an injunction or a cease-and-desist order – after all, if an individual’s conduct suggests they are not likely to break the law again, and if the individual accepts responsibility through cooperation, it weighs against that sort of relief.

The bottom line is that it is possible to convince the staff that forward-looking relief is not necessary based on your client’s conduct and risk profile, and this can happen when your client quickly and fully owns up to their conduct and tries to make it right by helping us in our investigation.  Or, if we believe a charge is necessary, in the right case we may reflect your client’s cooperation in making a recommendation about which violations to charge – for example, a cooperator might avoid scienter-based charges.

For obvious reasons, the Commission does not normally announce instances where, in the exercise of discretion, it determines that no charges are appropriate.  And unless that individual testifies, that exercise of discretion likely will not become public.  But I can tell you, based on an analysis of our cooperation agreements, that a significant percentage involved instances where the Division declined to recommend charges.

[...]

Second, a significant reduction in monetary relief is another potential benefit of cooperation.  In most cooperation cases, the Commission enters into bifurcated settlements.  This postpones the determination of any civil penalty until after the cooperation is complete, much like a deferred sentencing in the criminal realm.  What this means is that, if there is a trial or a hearing in which the cooperator takes the stand and testifies, that cooperation can be taken into account when setting any monetary penalty.  Again, the numbers bear out that cooperators receive significant benefits.  In cases where a cooperator has been charged and we have resolved the penalty question, two-thirds of the time the cooperator has paid no penalty at all.  For example, our bifurcated proceeding with our first testifying cooperator resulted in a termination with no civil penalty.

[...]

 

To be clear, this flexibility ordinarily does not extend to disgorgement, for reasons that I think should be obvious.  Where someone is in possession of what clearly are the proceeds of wrongdoing, the Commission typically seeks to disgorge it.  That said, in some cases there is flexibility as to how to calculate disgorgement, and the Enforcement staff might take a narrower view of what should be disgorged in recognition of cooperation.

[...]

Let me point out that the cooperation program also may have important implications not only for potential cooperators, but also for their attorneys.  The defense bar would benefit from heightened attention to the fact that our use of our cooperation tools has changed the calculus for individuals whose conduct is under investigation.  Among other things, counsel need to take seriously the challenges posed by representing multiple clients when one client is in a position to obtain significant benefits by cooperating.  This is especially true when one client’s cooperation might threaten another of a lawyer’s clients.  Additionally, counsel should keep in mind that, just as corporate cooperation credit is greatly enhanced by early self-reporting, the same is true with individuals.  The earlier that someone comes in to start a conversation about cooperation, the better it will be for the client, because early action allows us to achieve the efficiency, speed, and effectiveness that result in the highest amount of cooperation credit being given.  So, just as we have seen the bar raised in terms of corporate cooperation, I think we are seeing a similar evolution when it comes to individuals.”

*****

In this speech, also last week, Ceresney talked about the SEC’s litigation program.  Among other things, he stated:

“Litigation and trials are among the most important work of the Commission’s Enforcement staff and we have dedicated the necessary resources to ensure that we have and will continue to have a strong record of success.

[...]

The cases that litigate are typically those where the evidence is less clear cut, the law is unsettled, the defendants have determined to spare no expense in attempting to clear their names, or, in many cases, all of the above.”

In the speech, Ceresney also elaborated on the factors the SEC recently released in determining whether to bring an enforcement action internally through its administrative process or in federal court.  (See here for the prior post).

SEC Potpourri

Monday, May 11th, 2015

SECLast week, the SEC released this document titled “Division of Enforcement Approach to Forum Selection in Contested Actions.”

In Foreign Corrupt Practices Act history, one can count the number of “contested” SEC FCPA enforcement actions on one hand, but the recent document is nevertheless an interesting read as it sets forth the SEC’s approach in determining whether an action proceeds as a civil action in federal court or an SEC administrative proceeding.

According to the document:

“There is no rigid formula dictating the choice of forum.  The Division considers a number of factors when evaluating the choice of forum and its recommendation depends on the specific facts and circumstances of the case.  Not all factors will apply in every case and, in any particular case, some factors may deserve more weight than others, or more weight than they might in another case.  Indeed, in some circumstances, a single factor may be sufficiently important to lead to a decision to recommend a particular forum. While the list of potentially relevant considerations set out below is not (and could not be) exhaustive, the Division may in its discretion consider any or all of the factors in assessing whether to recommend that a contested case be brought in the administrative forum or in federal district court.”

  • The document then sets forth the following factors;
  • The availability of the desired claims, legal theories, and forms of relief in each forum;
  • Whether any charged party is a registered entity or an individual associated with a registered entity;
  • The cost‐, resource‐, and time‐effectiveness of litigation in each forum;
  • Fair, consistent, and effective resolution of securities law issues and matters.

Under the last factors, the document states:

“If a contested matter is likely to raise unsettled and complex legal issues under the federal securities laws, or interpretation of the Commission’s rules, consideration should be given to whether, in light of the Commission’s expertise concerning those matters, obtaining a Commission decision on such issues, subject to appellate review in the federal courts, may facilitate development of the law.”

This statement is beyond concerning.

Unsettled and complex legal issues are deserving of an independent judiciary, not the SEC’s own administrative law judges. Contrary to the SEC’s assertion, the above preference does not facilitate the development of law, it hinders the development of law.

*****

Speaking of SEC administrative actions, no surprise here – the SEC wins a very high percentage of its cases when brought before its own administrative law judges. According to this recent Wall Street Journal article:

“An analysis by The Wall Street Journal of hundreds of decisions shows how much of a home-court advantage the SEC enjoys when it sends cases to its own judges rather than federal courts. That is a practice the agency increasingly follows, the Journal has found.

The SEC won against 90% of defendants before its own judges in contested cases from October 2010 through March of this year, according to the Journal analysis. That was markedly higher than the 69% success the agency obtained against defendants in federal court over the same period, based on SEC data.”

As highlighted in prior posts (see here for instance), the predominate method by which the SEC has brought FCPA enforcement actions over the past few years have been through its own administrative process.  This is against the backdrop of the SEC never prevailing in an FCPA enforcement action when put to its ultimate burden of proof. (See here).

*****

In this recent speech, SEC Chair Mary Jo White talks about the SEC’s whistleblower program:

“There have always been mixed feelings about whistleblowers and many companies tolerate, at best, their existence because the law requires it.  I would urge that, especially in the post-financial crisis era when regulators and right-minded companies are searching for new, more aggressive ways to improve corporate culture and compliance, it is past time to stop wringing our hands about whistleblowers.  They provide an invaluable public service, and they should be supported.  And, we at the SEC increasingly see ourselves as the whistleblower’s advocate.

It has been nearly four years since the SEC implemented its whistleblower program.  While still evolving and improving, we have enough experience now to take a hard look at how the program is working and what we have learned.  Overall, I am here to say that the program is a success – and we will work hard at the SEC to build on that success.

The volume of tips has been greater and of higher quality than expected when the program was first adopted.  We have seen enough to know that whistleblowers increase our efficiency and conserve our scarce resources.  Importantly, internal compliance programs at companies also remain vibrant and effective ways to detect and report wrongdoing.  But despite the success of our program, the decision to come forward, especially in the face of internal pressure, is not an easy one.

The ambivalence about whistleblowers can indeed sometimes manifest itself in an unlawful response by a corporate employer and we are very focused at the SEC on cracking down on such misconduct.  We want whistleblowers – and their employers – to know that employees are free to come forward without fear of reprisals.  In 2014, we brought our first retaliation case and, this month, our first case involving the use of a confidentiality agreement that can impede whistleblowers from communicating with us.  This latter case has generated some controversy, which I will address shortly.  But, first, let’s look a bit closer at the four-year track record of the program.”

A portion of White’s speech also focused on “supporting internal compliance” and she stated:

“Let me say a bit more about company compliance programs.  When the Commission was considering its whistleblower rules, concerns were raised about undermining companies’ internal compliance programs.  Some commenters urged that internal reporting be made a pre-condition to a whistleblower award.  That was not done, but the final whistleblower rules established a framework to incentivize employees to report internally first.  A whistleblower’s participation in internal compliance systems is thus a factor that will generally increase an award, whereas interference with those systems will surely decrease an award. And, a whistleblower who internally reports, and at the same time or within 120 days reports to the Commission, will receive credit for any information the company subsequently self-reports to the SEC.

All indications are that internal compliance functions are as strong as ever – if not stronger – and that insiders continue to report possible violations internally first.  Although there is no requirement under our rules that the whistleblower be a current or former employee, several of the individuals who have received awards were, in fact, company insiders.  Notably, of these, over 80% first raised their concerns internally to their supervisors or compliance personnel before reporting to the Commission.

Many in-house lawyers, compliance professionals, and law firms representing companies have told us that since the implementation of our program, companies have taken fresh looks at their internal compliance functions and made enhancements to further encourage their employees to view internal reporting as an effective means to address potential wrongdoing without fear of reprisal or retaliation.  That is a very good thing, and, so far, we believe that the whistleblower program has achieved the right balance between the need of companies to be given an opportunity to address possible violations of law and the SEC’s law enforcement interests.”

In conclusion, White stated:

“The bottom line is that is that responsible companies with strong compliance cultures and programs should not fear bona fide whistleblowers, but embrace them as a constructive part of the process to expose the wrongdoing that can harm a company and its reputation.  Gone are the days when corporate wrongdoing can be pushed into the dark corners of an organization.  Fraudsters rarely act alone, unobserved and, these days, the employee who sees or is asked to make the questionable accounting entry or to distribute the false offering materials may refuse to do it or just decide that they are better off telling the SEC.  Better yet, either there are no questionable accounting entries or false offering materials to be reported in the first place or companies themselves self-report the unlawful conduct to the SEC.”

*****

If SEC enforcement is an area of interest, you will want to check out this recent article in Securities Regulation Journal about Stanley Sporkin.

Among Sporkin’s other notable accomplishments, he was the Director of Enforcement at the SEC in the mid-1970′s when the so-called foreign corporate payments problem arose and he championed what would become the FCPA’s books and records and internal controls provisions.

Many have called Sporkin the “father of the FCPA” – a label I have always found curious given that Sporkin and his enforcement division were opposed to the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions and wanted no part in enforcing those provisions.

To learn more about this, see “The Story of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.”