Archive for the ‘Enforcement Agency Speeches’ Category

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.”

Friday Roundup

Friday, May 8th, 2015

Roundup2The anti-bribery business, quotable, scrutiny alerts and updates, and for the reading stack.  It’s all here in the Friday Roundup.

“The Anti-Bribery Business”

Several articles have been written about FCPA Inc., a term I coined in April 2010 (see here), as well as the “facade of FCPA enforcement” (see here for my 2010 article of the same name).

The articles have included: “Cashing in on Corruption” (Washington Post); “The Bribery Racket” (Forbes); and “FCPA Inc. and the Business of Bribery” (Wall Street Journal).

I talked at length with The Economist about the above topics and certain of my comments are included in this recent article “The Anti-Bribery Business.”

“The huge amount of work generated for internal and external lawyers and for compliance staff is the result of firms bending over backwards to be co-operative, in the hope of negotiating reduced penalties. Some are even prepared to waive the statute of limitations for the conclusion of their cases. They want to be sure they have answered the “Where else?” question: where in the world might the firm have been engaging in similar practices?

In doing so, businesses are egged on by what Mr Koehler calls “FCPA Inc”. This is “a very aggressively marketed area of the law,” he says, “with no shortage of advisers financially incentivised to tell you the sky is falling in.” Convinced that it is, the bosses of accused companies will then agree to any measure, however excessive, to demonstrate that they have comprehensively answered the “Where else?” question. So much so that even some law enforcers have started telling them to calm down. Last year Leslie Caldwell, head of the DOJ’s criminal division, said internal investigations were sometimes needlessly broad and costly, delaying resolution of matters. “We do not expect companies to aimlessly boil the ocean,” she said.

Her words have provided scant comfort: defence lawyers say that their clients feel that if they investigate problems less exhaustively, they risk giving the impression that they are withholding information. Some say the DOJ is maddeningly ambiguous, encouraging firms to overreact when allegations surface.”

Quotable

Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell is spot-on in this recent Q&A in Fraud Magazine as to the importance of uniquely tailored compliance.

“I think companies have to tailor their compliance programs and their investigative mechanisms to their businesses. There’s no one-size-fits-all compliance program. Different businesses have different risks. And a company needs to do an assessment that’s very tailored to their risks and game out what could go wrong and figure out how to prevent that from happening.”

She is less than clear though when describing when the DOJ would like companies to voluntarily disclose:

“We don’t want a company to wait until they’ve completed their own investigation before they come to us. We’ll give them room to do that, but there may be investigative steps that we want to take that maybe the company is not even capable of taking. We definitely don’t want to send a message that the company should complete its own investigation and then come to us. However, we obviously don’t expect a company to report to us as soon as it receives a hotline report that it hasn’t even checked into yet.”

For your viewing pleasure, here is the video of a recent speech by Caldwell (previously highlighted here) along with Q&A.

Scrutiny Alerts and Updates

Bilfinger

Reuters reports:

“German engineering firm Bilfinger has become the first international company to disclose to Brazil that it may have paid bribes as it seeks leniency under a new anti-corruption law, Comptroller General Valdir Simão said on Thursday. By reporting potential graft to the comptroller, known by the acronym CGU, Bilfinger hopes to continue operating in Brazil, Simão said, though it may still pay damages. ”The company knows it will be punished in Brazil; it is not exempt from fines,” Simao said at a conference in Sao Paulo adding that in exchange the company could be guaranteed the right to keep operating in Brazil. Companies that are convicted for bribery could be banned from future contracts in Brazilunder the law, which took effect in January 2014. Bilfinger said in March that it may have paid 1 million euros to public officials in Brazil in connection with orders for large screens for security control centers during the 2014 soccer World Cup. It is conducting an internal investigation and collaborating with Brazilian authorities, Bilfinger said in a statement at the time. Five companies are pursuing leniency deals with the CGU, Simao said, adding that such deals are “quite new” for the country. Four are tied to a scandal at Brazil’s state-run oil firm Petroleo Brasileiro SA, he said.”

As highlighted in this previous post, in December 2013 German-based Bilfinger paid approximately $32 million to resolve an FCPA enforcement action concerning alleged conduct in Nigeria.  The enforcement action was resolved via a three-year deferred prosecution agreement.

Siemens

Reuters reports:

“A Chinese regulator investigated Siemens AG last year over whether the German group’s healthcare unit and its dealers bribed hospitals to buy expensive disposable products used in some of its medical devices, three people with knowledge of the probe told Reuters. The investigation, which has not previously been reported, follows a wide-reaching probe into the pharmaceutical industry in China that last year saw GlaxoSmithKline Plc fined nearly $500 million for bribing officials to push its medicine sales. China’s State Administration for Industry and Commerce (SAIC) accused Siemens and its dealers of having violated competition law by donating medical devices in return for agreements to exclusively buy the chemical reagents needed to run the machines from Siemens, the people said.”

In 2008, Siemens paid $800 million to resolve DOJ and SEC FCPA enforcement actions that were widespread in scope.  The enforcement action remains the largest of all-time in terms of overall settlement amount.

Dun & Bradstreet

The company recently disclosed the following update regarding its FCPA scrutiny.

“On March 18, 2012, we announced we had temporarily suspended our Shanghai Roadway D&B Marketing Services Co. Ltd. (“Roadway”) operations in China, pending an investigation into allegations that its data collection practices may have violated local Chinese consumer data privacy laws. Thereafter, the Company decided to permanently cease the operations of Roadway. In addition, we have been reviewing certain allegations that we may have violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and certain other laws in our China operations. As previously reported, we have voluntarily contacted the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) and the United States Department of Justice (“DOJ”) to advise both agencies of our investigation, and we are continuing to meet with representatives of both the SEC and DOJ in connection therewith. Our investigation remains ongoing and is being conducted at the direction of the Audit Committee.

During the three months ended March 31, 2015 , we incurred $0.4 million of legal and other professional fees related to matters in China, as compared to $0.3 million of legal and other professional fees related to matters in China for the three months ended March 31, 2014.

As our investigation and our discussions with both the SEC and DOJ are ongoing, we cannot yet predict the ultimate outcome of the matter or its impact on our business, financial condition or results of operations. Based on our discussions with the SEC and DOJ, including an indication from the SEC in February and March 2015 of its initial estimate of the amount of net benefit potentially earned by the Company as a result of the challenged activities, we continue to believe that it is probable that the Company will incur a loss related to the government’s investigation. We will be meeting with the Staff of the SEC to obtain and to further understand the assumptions and methodologies underlying their current estimate of net benefit and will subsequently provide a responsive position. The DOJ also advised the Company in February 2015 that they will be proposing terms of a potential settlement, but we are unable to predict the timing or terms of any such proposal. Accordingly, we are unable at this time to reasonably estimate the amount or range of any loss, although it is possible that the amount of such loss could be material.”

Bio-Rad

The company disclosed as follows concerning civil litigation filed in the aftermath of its November 2014 FCPA enforcement action (see here for the prior post).

“On January 23, 2015, the City of Riviera Beach General Employees’ Retirement System filed a new shareholder derivative lawsuit in the Superior Court of Contra Costa County against three of our current directors and one former director. We are also named as a nominal defendant. In the complaint, the plaintiff alleges that our directors breached their fiduciary duty of loyalty by failing to ensure that we had sufficient internal controls and systems for compliance with the FCPA; that we failed to provide adequate training on the FCPA; and that based on these actions, the directors have been unjustly enriched. Purportedly seeking relief on our behalf, the plaintiff seeks an award of restitution and unspecified damages, costs and expenses (including attorneys’ fees). We and the individual defendants have filed a demurrer requesting dismissal of the complaint in this case.

On January 30, 2015, we received a demand pursuant to Section 220 of the Delaware General Corporation Law from the law firm of Scott + Scott LLP on behalf of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 38 Pension Fund to inspect certain of our books and records. The alleged purpose of the demand is to investigate potential wrongdoing, mismanagement, and breach of fiduciary duties by our directors and executive officers in connection with the matters relating to our FCPA settlement with the SEC and DOJ, and alleged lack of internal controls. We objected to the demand on procedural grounds by letter. On May 1, 2015, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 38 Pension Fund filed an action against us in the Delaware Court of Chancery to compel the inspection of the requested books and records.

On March 13, 2015, we received a demand pursuant to Section 220 of the Delaware General Corporation Law from the law firm of Kirby McInerney LLP on behalf of Wayne County Employees’ Retirement System to inspect certain of our books and records. The alleged purpose of the demand is to investigate potential wrongdoing, mismanagement, and breach of fiduciary duties by our directors and executive officers in connection with the matters relating to our FCPA settlement with the SEC and DOJ, and alleged lack of internal controls. We objected to the demand on procedural grounds by letter. On April 21, 2015, Wayne County Employees’ Retirement System filed an action against us in the Delaware Court of Chancery to compel the inspection of the requested books and records.”

Nortek

The company disclosed its FCPA scrutiny earlier this year and stated as follows in its recent quarterly filing:

“For the first quarter of 2015 approximately $1 million was recorded for legal and other professional services incurred related to the internal investigation of this matter. The Company expects to incur additional costs relating to the investigation of this matter throughout 2015.”

For the Reading Stack

From Global Compliance News by Baker & McKenzie titled “When a DPA is DOA:  What The Increasing Judicial Disapproval of Corporate DPAs Means for Corporate Resolutions With the U.S. Government.”

“The legal setting in which corporations are negotiating with U.S. regulators is always evolving. Federal judges’ increasing willingness to second-guess negotiated settlements between the government and corporations is likely to encourage government attorneys to seek even more onerous settlements to ensure that judges do not reject them or criticize the agency in open court. Companies and their counsel should be ready to push back, using the judicial scrutiny to their advantage where possible.”

*****

A good weekend to all.

Assessing DOJ Transparency

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015

FoggyRecently Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell gave this speech at an event hosted by New York University Law School’s Program on Corporate Compliance and Enforcement.

The focus of the speech, as stated by Caldwell, was “the Criminal Division’s efforts to increase transparency in its corporate prosecutions.”  It is an important topic as transparency is a fundamental tenet of the rule of law.

Caldwell’s speech was mostly forward-looking so time will tell how transparent the DOJ will be in the future including in the FCPA context.

This post assesses DOJ transparency as it relates to Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement over the past several years and highlights that DOJ transparency is as foggy as the road in the picture.

When reading the below excerpts from Caldwell’s speech, you may want to keep the following points in mind.

Since 2010, the DOJ has used NPAs or DPAs to resolve approximately 85% of corporate FCPA enforcement actions. These resolution vehicles are negotiated behind closed doors in Washington, D.C. and thus are anything but transparent.

Caldwell states in her speech that “the factual statements filed with resolution documents typically include a detailed recitation of the misconduct, as publicly admitted by the company.”  However, you can judge for yourself whether the following FCPA NPAs contain “a detailed recitation of the misconduct”.

Ralph Lauren NPA (3 page statement of facts most of which identifies relevant parties);

NORDAM Group NPA (2.5 page statement of facts most of which identifies the relevant parties);

Lufthansa Technik NPA (no statement of facts relevant to the entity).

In any event, kudos to Caldwell for recognizing that “opaque” enforcement “carries little deterrent effect.”

The article “The Facade of FCPA Enforcement” highlights four pillars which contribute to the “facade” of FCPA enforcement.  One pillar highlighted was “same facts, different result.”  The article used what were substantively carbon-copy enforcement actions against Lucent Technologies and UTStarcom, which nevertheless led to materially different charges and penalties, to make the point that FCPA charging decisions are not based solely on the facts and law, but less transparent factors as well.

In any event, kudos to Caldwell for recognizing that “unreasoned” enforcement “carries little deterrent effect.”

Further to the point that FCPA charging decisions seem not to be based solely on the facts and law, but less transparent factors as well, consider the BAE enforcement action. Despite the DOJ alleging conduct that clearly implicated the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions, BAE (a large U.S. defense contractor) was not charged with violating the FCPA.

Consider also the mysterious conclusion to James Giffen enforcement action. Giffen was criminally charged with making more than $78 million in unlawful payments to two senior officials of the Republic of Kazakhstan in connection with certain oil transactions in which various American oil companies acquired valuable rights in Kazakhstan.” However, Giffen’s defense was that his actions were made with the knowledge and support of the CIA, the National Security Council, the Department of State and the White House. In 2010, the enforcement action took a sudden and mysterious turn when Giffen agreed to plead guilty to a one-paragraph superseding indictment charging a misdemeanor tax violation.  Perhaps one day the reasoning behind the sudden turn of events will become transparent.

Consider also certain subtle statements in the FCPA Guidance relevant to transparency.

Footnote 379 of the Guidance states as follows.  “Historically, DOJ had, on occasion, agreed to DPAs with companies that were not filed with the court.  That is no longer the practice of DOJ.”

Page 75 of the Guidance suggests that the DOJ has used NPAs in individual FCPA-related cases (e.g., “If an individual complies with the terms of his or her NPA, namely, truthful and complete cooperation and continued law-abiding conduct, DOJ will not pursue criminal charges.” The Guidance also states that “in circumstances where an NPA is with a company for FCPA-related offenses, it is made available to the public through DOJ’s website.” (emphasis added).  This statement suggests that when an NPA is with an individual for FCPA-related offenses, the agreement is not made public.

Indeed, as highlighted in the prior post “Secret FCPA Enforcement” there have been whispers in the FCPA bar for years about secret FCPA enforcement.  As noted in the prior post, not once, not twice, but three times I sought clarification from the DOJ of the above Guidance statements.

In each instance there was no response. So much for that transparency thing.

Indeed, a key qualifier in Caldwell’s recent speech about transparency was the following statement:  ”we [the DOJ] usually publicly announce corporate resolutions and pleas, and make the documents available on our website”) (emphasis added).

Last, but not least before turning to actual excerpts from Caldwell’s speech, is the topic of so-called DOJ declinations.  As evidence of the DOJ’s purported transparency, Caldwell states that the FCPA Guidance “has a section on declinations and provides anonymized examples of real FCPA cases in which we declined to bring a prosecution.”

However, as highlighted in the article “Grading the FCPA Guidance“ the Guidance declination examples raise more questions than answers. For instance, in three of the examples, it is not even clear based on the information provided that the FCPA was violated.  Moreover, in all the declination examples in the Guidance, the factors motivating the declination decision—such as voluntary disclosure and cooperation, effective remedial measures, small improper payments—can often be found in many instances in which FCPA enforcement actions were brought.

At last to the excerpts in Caldwell’s speech.

“One of my priorities in the Criminal Division is to increase transparency regarding charging decisions in corporate prosecutions.  I know that many corporate counsel have concerns about what they perceive as a lack of transparency in how the department decides when to bring charges, or to seek some lesser resolution.

Greater transparency benefits everyone.  The Criminal Division stands to benefit from being more transparent in part because if companies know the benefits they are likely to receive from self-reporting or cooperating in the government’s investigation, we believe they will be more likely to come in and disclose wrongdoing and cooperate.  And on the flip side, companies can better evaluate the consequences they might face if they do not receive cooperation credit.  Transparency also helps to reduce any perceived disparity, in that companies can compare themselves, as best as possible, to other similarly-situated companies engaged in similar misconduct.

There are often limits to how much we can disclose about our investigations and prosecutions—particularly for investigations in which no charges were brought—but we are trying to be more clear about our expectations for corporate cooperation and the bases for our corporate pleas and resolutions.

One of the themes of today’s program is the shaping of corporate culture.  Shaping corporate culture through deterrence is an area where the Criminal Division plays an important role.  One important purpose of criminal prosecution of corporations is the deterrence of future would-be wrongdoers.  But to achieve deterrence, the Criminal Division must transparently communicate its expectations and the consequences of corporate misconduct.  An opaque or unreasoned enforcement action carries little deterrent effect.

We recognize the productive role we can play in influencing corporate conduct, and we take seriously the effects of our enforcement actions.  Wherever possible, we try to communicate clear guidance to the corporate community through our criminal resolutions, our interactions with companies and their counsel during an investigation or prosecution and other channels such as conferences like this one.

During my first year in leading the Criminal Division, we have tried to make as clear as possible what we expect from those companies that choose to cooperate.  Put simply, if a company wants cooperation credit, we expect that company to conduct a thorough internal investigation and to turn over evidence of wrongdoing to our prosecutors in a timely and complete way.  Perhaps most critically, we expect cooperating companies to identify culpable individuals—including senior executives if they were involved—and provide the facts about their wrongdoing.

As this sophisticated audience knows, there is no “off the rack” internal investigation that can be applied to every situation at every company.  Effective investigations must be tailored to the unique misconduct at issue and the circumstances of each company.  But, there are hallmarks of all good internal investigations.  Chief among them is the identification of wrongdoers.  Prosecuting individuals, including corporate executives, for their criminal wrongdoing is a top priority for the Criminal Division.  Corporations seeking cooperation credit should conduct their internal investigations with those principles in mind.

The mere voluntary disclosure of corporate misconduct—by itself—is not enough.  All too often, corporations expect cooperation credit for voluntarily disclosing and describing the corporate entities’ misconduct, and issuing a corporate mea culpa.  True cooperation, however, requires identifying the individuals actually responsible for the misconduct—be they executives or others—and the provision of all available facts relating to that misconduct.

Investigations must also be independent and designed to uncover the facts, not to spread company talking points or whitewash the truth.  We expect that the complete facts about the wrongdoing will be provided, and in a timely way.  As we work to be transparent, we expect transparency in return.  Transparency is a two-way street, and we expect companies that are claiming to cooperate to walk the walk.

The Criminal Division, meanwhile, will conduct its own investigation.  We will pressure test a company’s internal investigation with the facts we gather on our own, and we will consider the adequacy of an internal investigation when we evaluate a company’s claim of cooperation.

Let me be clear, however, the Criminal Division does not dictate how a company should conduct an investigation.  If a company decides to conduct an internal investigation and seek cooperation credit, that company must determine how best to conduct its own internal investigation.  Although we can provide guideposts, the manner in which an internal investigation is conducted is an internal corporate decision.

[...]

We recognize that information about the bases for our corporate guilty pleas and resolutions is an important reference point for companies that are evaluating whether to self-disclose a violation or cooperate.  Corporations may wish for a formula or definitive matrix that could be applied in this context.  But, while a rote formula might bring certainty and consistency, it would do so at the expense of the individualized justice that comes with thoughtful and nuanced prosecutorial decision-making.

For decades, the department has disclosed the factors that prosecutors must evaluate when considering corporate criminal charges and resolutions.  The corporate prosecution principles were originally adopted two decades ago—in the Holder Memo, issued when now Attorney General Holder was the Deputy Attorney General—and have been refined through the years into the current Filip Memo, otherwise known as the Principles of Prosecution of Business Organizations.

This audience is no doubt versed in the comprehensive considerations laid out in the nine Filip factors, which are publicly available on the Internet.  When applied to a particular case against a business organization, the factors could lead to charges, a deferred prosecution agreement or a non-prosecution agreement—known as DPAs and NPAs—or a declination.

Arriving at a corporate resolution requires a unique balancing of the Filip factors in each case.  But this balancing does not take place in a prosecutorial vacuum.  In virtually every instance, we invite company counsel to make a presentation regarding the application of the Filip factors in the case at hand before we make a charging decision.  Again, wherever possible, we encourage an open and transparent dialogue between the company and our prosecutors at every stage.

In each of our corporate resolutions—be it a guilty plea, NPA or DPA—we provide an explanation of the key factors that led to our decision.  The factual statements filed with resolution documents typically include a detailed recitation of the misconduct, as publicly admitted by the company.  The actual agreements outline the factors that were significant in determining the type of resolution, such as the corporation’s cooperation—if any—and remedial measures.  We usually publicly announce corporate resolutions and pleas, and make the documents available on our website.

In the future, you should expect that our resolutions will include even more detailed explanations of our considerations.  This is a priority of mine.  While these documents already provide significant insight into our thought processes, they will soon provide an even greater explanation of our analysis and conclusions.

In addition to their use as enforcement tools, our plea agreements, DPAs and NPAs provide a transparent explanation of the department’s expectations when it comes to compliance programs.  Companies seeking to measure their own compliance programs need look no further than many of the resolutions we have made publicly available.

DPAs and NPAs provide explicit roadmaps for companies to get back on track, sometimes under the watchful eye of a monitor or court.  There is perhaps no more transparent guidance to a specific corporation than the terms in a DPA or NPA, especially when we set forth remedial or compliance measures we expect.

These agreements have real teeth.  When companies subject to a NPA or DPA are required to cooperate and fail to do so, or where they engage in other criminal conduct during the term of the agreement, the Criminal Division will not hesitate to tear up a DPA or NPA and file criminal charges, where such action is appropriate and proportional to the breach.  The Criminal Division’s role is not just to set guideposts for companies that have engaged in significant misconduct, but to prosecute those corporations when they ignore those guideposts.  Just as with individuals, companies are expected to learn from their mistakes.  A company that is already subject to a DPA or NPA for violating the law should not expect the same leniency when it crosses the line again.

Over the course of my career, I have found that when it comes to affecting corporate conduct, nothing has a more powerful impact than concrete examples.  Such examples have traditionally stemmed from publicized corporate prosecutions, as it is more challenging to publicize investigations in which we decline to file charges.  The department has maintained a long-standing practice not to discuss non-public information on matters it has declined to prosecute, based in large part on concerns about the privacy rights and interests of uncharged parties.  There are serious privacy concerns inherent in publicly identifying an individual who was implicated in our criminal investigation if we eventually decide not to bring charges.  Indeed, internal department policy prohibits us from publicly identifying those individuals who have been investigated, but not charged.

Likewise, companies often strongly oppose publicity that they were under Justice Department scrutiny, even if we ultimately declined to prosecute.

The challenge we are currently working to address is how to publicize these cases while taking into consideration the legitimate concerns of the companies and individuals who were under investigation.  We are looking for ways to better inform the community about cases in which we decline to prosecute, as there is often as much to learn from a decision not to bring charges as a decision to prosecute.  We seek not just to prosecute, but to encourage and reward good corporate citizenship, and increasing transparency can play an important role in achieving that goal.

A significant example of our efforts in this regard is the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Resource Guide published by the Criminal Division and the Securities and Exchange Commission.  The Guide has a section on declinations and provides anonymized examples of real FCPA cases in which we declined to bring a prosecution.  Although each potential case is based on its own unique circumstances and facts, the examples in the Guide provide useful insight into the circumstances of real-world declination decisions.

The Criminal Division’s FCPA website continues this effort at transparency by posting relevant enforcement actions and opinion letters.  The department responds to opinion requests concerning enforcement intent about prospective actions that might violate the anti-bribery provisions of the FCPA.  This procedure enables companies and individuals to request a determination in advance as to whether proposed conduct would constitute a violation of the FCPA.  These opinion letters are publicly available on our website.  While they are binding only on the party that makes the request, they provide significant guidance on the department’s approach to enforcing the FCPA.

Through these and other steps, the Criminal Division has prioritized increased transparency in our corporate investigations and prosecutions.  We strive to disclose more information, to the extent we can, while protecting ongoing investigations and privacy rights.  And we encourage companies to do the same—to self-disclose criminal violations and to cooperate with our investigations—or risk the consequences.”

Assistant Attorney General Caldwell – “We Do Not Expect Companies To Aimlessly Boil The Ocean”

Monday, April 20th, 2015

Boiling the Ocean

The article “Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Ripples” discusses 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.

The largest component of FCPA enforcement or scrutiny tends to be pre-enforcement action professional fees and expenses.  Where an analysis is possible (it is not possible in all cases because not all companies disclose pre-enforcement action professional fees and expenses) the ratio of pre-enforcement action professional fees and expenses to settlement amount is often 3, 5, 7 times (or even higher) actual settlement amounts.

In the minds of many, pre-enforcement action professional fees and expenses have spiraled out of control and have become a boondoggle for FCPA Inc.

As highlighted in “A Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Narrative,” in 2013 Charles Duross (at the time the DOJ’s FCPA Unit Chief) called out the industry at an American Bar Association event. Duross suggested that often company lawyers are seeking to over-do-it through a global search of operations for FCPA issues. He discussed a case in which a company and its professional advisors came to a meeting with a global search plan and he said “no, no, no, that is not what I want.” He indicated that the lawyers and other professional advisors in the room ‘looked unhappy,’ but that the general counsel of the company was happy.”

The above “Narrative” article also highlighted calls for greater restraint from various FCPA lawyers.

As highlighted in this prior post, one of most interesting portions of the December 2014 Avon deferred prosecution agreement was the following statement by the DOJ.

“The Department also considered that the Company, taking into account its own business interests, expended considerable resources on a company wide review of and enhancements to its compliance program and internal controls.  While the Company’s efforts in this regard were taken without Department request or guidance, and at times caused unintended delays in the progress of the Department’s narrower investigations, the Department recognizes that the Company’s efforts resulted in important compliance and internal controls improvements.”

Against this backdrop, last week Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell gave this speech at an event hosted by New York University Law School’s Program on Corporate Compliance and Enforcement.  As relevant to the topic of this post, Caldwell stated:

“All too often, criticism is leveled against the Justice Department for purportedly causing companies to spend years, and many millions of dollars, investigating potential violations.  This is particularly true in the FCPA context where the need for international evidence can add to the expense and burden of an investigation.  Critics wrongly question the wisdom of disclosing misconduct and cooperating with the government in light of what they perceive to be the department’s requirement that companies then must conduct unnecessarily costly, time consuming and widespread investigations.

There is no question that some cooperating companies spend large sums of money investigating potential misconduct and correcting internal controls issues that allowed the misconduct to occur.  The decision to incur those costs, however, is one made by those companies, not a requirement of the department.  When a company chooses to cooperate with the government, the manner in which the company approaches its cooperation, and its own investigation of the conduct, can significantly affect the length of the investigation and the costs incurred by the company.

Although we expect internal investigations to be thorough, we do not expect companies to aimlessly boil the ocean.  Indeed, there have been some instances in which companies have, in our view, conducted overly broad and needlessly costly investigations, in some cases delaying our ability to resolve matters in a timely fashion.

For example, if a company discovers an FCPA violation in one country, and has no basis to suspect that violations are occurring elsewhere, we would not necessarily expect it to extend its investigation beyond the conduct in that country.  On the other hand, if the same people involved in the violation also operated in other countries, we likely would expect the investigation to be broader.

This example is not intended to suggest the proper scope of an investigation of any given matter.  My point instead is that, to receive cooperation credit, we expect companies to conduct appropriately tailored investigations designed to root out misconduct, identify wrongdoers and provide all available facts.  To the extent a company decides to conduct a broader survey of its operations, that decision, and any attendant delay and cost, are the result of the company’s choices, not the department’s requirement.

To assist cooperating companies in appropriately targeting their investigations, to the extent possible, we will make clear to those companies our areas of interest.  I tell my prosecutors that where possible, if it would not compromise our own investigation, we should share information about our investigation with a cooperating company to help focus the company’s internal inquiry.  I encourage an open dialogue between company counsel and our prosecutors about the progress of the internal investigation.  Companies that truly demonstrate a commitment to cooperation will find that this dialogue comes easily.”