Archive for the ‘Entertainment Industry’ Category

Friday Roundup

Friday, February 21st, 2014

Wal-Mart’s FCPA expenses, scrutiny alerts and updates, quotable, February 21st, further to the conversation, and for the reading stack.   It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Wal-Mart’s FCPA Expenses

For over a year now, I have been tracking Wal-Mart’s pre-enforcement action professional fees and expenses and calculating what Wal-Mart is spending per working day on its FCPA scrutiny and exposure.  (See here for the prior post with embedded links to others).  Here is what Wal-Mart executives said yesterday in its earnings conference call for the fourth quarter of FY 2014.

“Core corporate expenses [for the fourth quarter of FY 2014] increased 5.8 percent. FCPA and compliance-related expenses were approximately $58 million, which was below our guidance of $75 to $80 million for the quarter. Approximately $38 million of these expenses represented costs incurred for the ongoing inquiries and investigations, while the remaining $20 million was related to our global compliance program and organizational enhancements.”

[...]

“Corporate & support expenses [for the fiscal year 2014] increased 24.1 percent for the full year, primarily from our investments in leverage services and Global eCommerce. Core corporate expenses, which included $282 million in charges related to FCPA matters, increased 15.6 percent. Approximately $173 million of these expenses represented costs incurred for the ongoing inquiries and investigations, while the remaining $109 million was related to our global compliance program and organizational enhancements.”

[...]

“During the first quarter of this year, we will begin to anniversary the increased costs we’ve incurred for FCPA matters, including compliance program enhancements and the ongoing investigations. These costs will remain in the Corporate and Support area, and we anticipate expenses to be between $200 million and $240 million for the year. [for the fiscal year 2015]

You add it up, and here is what you get.

FY 2013 = $157 million (approximately $$604,000 per working day)

FY 2014 = $282 million (approximately $1.1 million per working day)

FY 2015 = $200 – $240 million (anticipated)

As Wal-Mart’s FCPA scrutiny will once again demonstrate, settlement amounts in an actual FCPA enforcement action are often only a relatively minor component of the overall financial consequences that can result from corporate FCPA scrutiny.

Pre-enforcement action professional fees and expenses are typically the largest (in many cases to a degree of 3, 5, 10 or higher than settlement amounts).  For instance, the total of the above pre-enforcement action professional fees and expenses and estimates is approximately $659 million.  A $659 million FCPA settlement amount would be second of all-time.

That pre-enforcement action professional fees and expenses are typically the most expensive aspect of FCPA scrutiny is a fact.  However it must nevertheless be asked whether FCPA scrutiny has turned into a boondoggle for many involved.  Using just Wal-Mart and Avon’s pre-enforcement professional fees and expenses results in FCPA Inc. being over a billion dollar industry!

Is Wal-Mart’s conduct for which it is under scrutiny in violation of the FCPA?  Does it even matter?  See my article “Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Enforcement As Seen Through Wal-Mart’s Potential Exposure.”

Scrutiny Alerts and Updates

Knut Hammarskjold

Earlier this week, the DOJ announced that Knut Hammarskjold “pleaded guilty today for his role in a scheme to pay bribes to foreign government officials and to defraud PetroTiger.”  According to the release, Hammarskjold pleading guilty “to an information charging one count of conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and to commit wire fraud and is scheduled for sentencing on May 16, 2014.”  Despite the DOJ’s announcement, the docket for Hammarskjold’s case does not contain the plea agreement or related documents.  For a comprehensive summary of the DOJ’s charges against Kammarskjold and co-defendants Joseph Sigelman and Gregory Weisman, see this prior post.  As noted in the previous post, Weisman has also pleaded guilty and the charges against Sigelman remain pending.

Mead Johnson

As highlighted in this previous Friday Roundup, last year Mead Johnson Nutritional Company disclosed an internal investigation related to business practices in China.  Thus, contrary to certain reports Mead Johnson’s FCPA scrutiny is not “new,” but earlier this week, the company updated its disclosure as follows.

“Following an SEC request for documents relating to certain business activities of the Company’s local subsidiary in China, the Company is continuing an internal investigation of such business activities. The Company’s investigation is focused on certain expenditures that were made in connection with the promotion of the Company’s products or may have otherwise been made. Certain of such expenditures were made in violation of Company policies and may have been made in violation of applicable U.S. and/or local laws, including the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (the “FCPA”).  The investigation is being conducted by outside legal counsel and overseen by a committee of independent members of the Company’s board of directors. The status and results of the investigation are being discussed with the SEC and other governmental authorities.  At this time, the Company is unable to predict the scope, timing or outcome of this ongoing matter or any regulatory or legal actions that may be commenced related to this matter.”

Lyondellbasell

As highlighted in this 2010 post, in connection with a bankruptcy proceeding, Lyondellbasell’s disclosed as follows.

“We have identified an agreement related to a project in Kazakhstan under which a payment was made in late 2008 that raises compliance concerns under the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (the “FCPA”).

Yesterday the company disclosed:

“We previously reported that we had identified, and voluntarily disclosed to the U.S. Department of Justice, an agreement related to a former project in Kazakhstan under which a payment was made that raised compliance concerns under the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (the “FCPA”). In January 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice advised the Company that it had closed its investigation into this matter. No fine or penalty was assessed.”

In the minds of some, this is a declination.  I beg to differ – see here.

Baxter International

The company recently disclosed as follows.

“The company was the recipient of an inquiry from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the SEC that was part of a broader review of industry practices for compliance with the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. In January 2014, the company was notified by both the DOJ and the SEC that their respective investigations were closed as to Baxter without any further action taken by either agency.”

For a previous post regarding Baxter, see here.

Alstom

Bloomberg reports:

“Alstom SA, the French maker of trains and power equipment, will be charged in the U.K. over bribery allegations after a five-year investigation, according to two people with knowledge of the case.  The Serious Fraud Office may ask the attorney general to approve charges in the coming weeks, a standard requirement for the agency to prosecute some offenses, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the case is private.  [...] The SFO said in 2011 it suspected that Alstom gave money to companies that acted as “bogus consultants” to bribe overseas officials for contracts from 2004 to 2010, according to court papers at the time.”

If Alstom does face criminal charges in the U.K., the charges are unlikely to fall under the U.K. Bribery Act as the law went effective in July 2011 and is forward-looking only.  As highlighted in previous posts (see here for instance) in 2013 the DOJ brought charges against four individuals associated with Alstom concerning alleged conduct in Indonesia.

Quotable

In this recent Chicago Tribune article, Tom Pritzker (Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of The Pritzker Organization, LLC - the principal financial and investment advisor to various Pritzker family business interests) reportedly stated as follows at a recent Chicago Council on Global Affairs event:

“The way that [FCPA] enforcement is working out of Washington strikes all of us in American business as arbitrary.  It’s a revenue-generating mechanism for Washington, and that makes it additionally difficult in terms of how you figure out how to navigate emerging markets.”

February 21st

Today is a notable day in FCPA history (see this prior post).

I am grateful that I – and this website – have played a role in these events.

Further to the Conversation I

As frequently highlighted on these pages (see here for instance), trade barriers and distortions are often the root causes of bribery and a reduction in bribery will not be achieved without a reduction in trade barriers and distortions.

Simply put, trade barriers and distortions create bureaucracy.

Bureaucracy creates points of contact with foreign officials.

Points of contact with foreign officials create discretion.

Discretion creates the opportunity for a foreign official to misuse their position by making demand bribes.

This recent Wall Street Journal article highlights China’s “quota system” for foreign-films.  As the article states:

“[34 is] maximum number of foreign titles the Chinese government allows into its nation’s theaters every year, a quota in place to try to protect China’s own nascent movie business. Hollywood studios have wondered when that number might be boosted—the last time was in February 2012, when Vice President Joe Biden announced a deal increasing the quota to the current 34 titles, from 20.”

Perhaps you’ve heard that various film companies are under FCPA scrutiny concerning business practices in China.  (See here).

Further to the Conversation II

Whether it’s a federal court judge stating that a pending federal criminal case is “not window dressing” nor is the court  “a potted plant” in concluding that a federal court does indeed have supervisory authority over the DPA process (see here for the prior post) or whether it’s a federal court judge criticizing various common aspects of corporate criminal law enforcement, including DPAs, as “both technically and morally suspect” (see here for the prior post) – there is an important conversation taking place concerning how the DOJ resolves alleged instance of corporate criminal liability.

Further to this conversation, the Better Markets, Inc. (a group that advocates for greater transparency, accountability, and oversight in the financial system) recently filed this complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief against the DOJ and Attorney General Eric Holder.  While the complaint reads more like a policy paper than a complaint, it nevertheless calls the $13 billion settlement between the DOJ and JPMorgan a “mere contract” and alleges in pertinent part:

“Yet, this contract was the product of negotiations conducted entirely in secret behind closed doors, in significant part by the Attorney General personally, who directly negotiated with the CEO of JP Morgan Chase, the bank’s “chief negotiator.” No one other than those involved in those secret negotiations has any idea what JP Morgan Chase really did or got for its $13 billion because there was no judicial review or proceeding at all regarding this historic and unprecedented settlement. However, it is known that JP Morgan Chase’s $13 billion did result in almost complete nondisclosure by the DOJ regarding JP Morgan Chase’s massive alleged illegal conduct.

Thus, the Executive Branch, through DOJ, acted as investigator, prosecutor, judge, jury, sentencer, and collector, without any review or approval of its unilateral and largely secret actions. The DOJ assumed this all-encompassing role even though the settlement amount is the largest with a single entity in the 237 year history of the United States and even though it provides civil immunity for years of illegal conduct by a private entity related to an historic financial crash that has cause economic wreckage affecting virtually every single American. The Executive Branch simply does not have the unilateral power or authority to do so by entering a mere contract with the private entity without any constitutional checks and balances.”

The complaint seeks a declaration that, among other things,

“the DOJ violated the separation of powers doctrine by unilaterally finalizing the $13 billion Agreement without seeking judicial review and approval”

“the DOJ acted in excess of its statutory authority by unilaterally finalizing the $13 billion Agreement without seeking judicial review and approval”

“the DOJ acted arbitrarily and capriciously by unilaterally finalizing the $13 billion Agreement without seeking judicial review and approval.”

I agree with Professor Peter Henning who recently stated in his New York Times Dealbook column:

“The lawsuit faces substantial hurdles that make it unlikely to succeed. As a general matter, private parties do not have standing to challenge a decision by the government to settle a case. The Justice Department has broad discretion in how it chooses to exercise its authority, and courts rarely intervene to scrutinize a decision unless there is evidence involving improper discrimination.

Nevertheless, the frustration expressed by Better Markets about the process for determining what JPMorgan should have paid to resolve multiple investigations is fair.”

Reading Stack

For more on princelings and the hiring practices of certain financial institutions in China, see here from Bloomberg.

A dandy article here from Jon Eisenberg (K&L Gates) titled “Brother Can You Spare $8.9 Billion?  Making Sense of SEC Civil Money Penalties.”  In pertinent part, the article is about:

“Other than negotiations about the wording of settlement documents, agreeing to the amount of the money penalty is often the last barrier to resolution. And it’s one of the most frustrating because the amounts proposed may appear untethered to any principle or precedent.

In an effort to provide more clarity on SEC money penalties, we look at four sources that should inform the negotiations about those penalties: first, the explosive growth in the SEC’s authority to impose civil money penalties; second, the relevant statutory language since the SEC’s authority to impose civil money penalties comes from and is limited by Congress; third, two recent D.C. Circuit decisions making clear that there are meaningful limits on the Commission’s discretion in assessing money penalties; and fourth, the outcome in recent cases before SEC administrative law judges in which the amount of the penalties was contested.”

The article is not FCPA specific, but very much FCPA relevant, particularly given the SEC’s increased interest in resolving corporate FCPA enforcement actions via administrative actions.  In short, Eisenberg’s article is excellent.  Read it.

*****

A good weekend to all.

Friday Roundup

Friday, March 1st, 2013

Hits and misses, does it really need to cost this much, the Wal-Mart effect, survey says, Senate hearing quotable, while they’re at it, checking in on Hollywood and Goldman too, spot on, and some refreshing words.  It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Hits and Misses

I read pretty much everything churned out by FCPA Inc., including the flood of recent client alerts concerning the Straub and Steffen decisions.  (See here and here for previous posts summarizing the decisions).  Many of these alerts are good and informative (for instance, see here from Debevoise & Plimpton).  However, some of these alerts are just plain wrong.

The headline of one alert was “District Court Decision Limits the Extraterritorial Reach of the FCPA.”  The headline of another alert was “Court Sets Limits on Extraterritorial FCPA Reach; Dismisses Case Against Foreign Siemens Executive.”

Neither the Straub nor Steffen decisions concerned extraterritorial application of the FCPA.  In fact, there is no extraterritorial reach of the FCPA as to foreign actors.  Yes, the FCPA was amended in 1998 to provide for alternative “nationality” jurisdiction (i.e. extraterritorial jurisdiction) over U.S. persons (both legal and natural), however, 78dd-1(g) and 78dd-2(i) are strictly limited to U.S. persons.

Rather, the Straub decision concerned the scope of territorial jurisdiction under 78dd-1(a), specifically the meaning of “use of the mails or any means or instrumentality of interstate commerce …”.

The Steffen decision did not even reach this issue as the judge found the initial threshold issue of personal jurisdiction lacking.

Wal-Mart’s FCPA Scrutiny Expenses Mount

During the media feeding frenzy after the New York Times April 2012 Wal-Mart article (see here for the prior post), I had the pleasure to appear on Eliot Spitzer’s Viewpoint program on Current TV.  At the end of the segment, after the substantive issues were discussed, Spitzer offered that he has several contacts in the FCPA bar and that, regardless of the substantive issues involved in Wal-Mart’s FCPA scrutiny or the ultimate outcome, lots of lawyers were poised to make lots of money.

Spitzer of course was right.

Wal-Mart recently stated (here) that it has incurred “$157 million of professional fees and expenses related to the ongoing” FCPA matter during its last fiscal year and that it expect to incur an additional ”$40 to $45 million for the first quarter of fiscal 2014.”  During Wal-Mart’s recent earnings conference call, a company executive stated as follows.  “On FCPA, we continue  to work closely with anticorruption compliance experts to review and to assess  our programs and help us implement concrete steps for each particular market. In  the various markets, these experts have spent tens of thousands of hours on  anti-corruption support and training. We remain committed to follow all laws and  regulations in the markets where we operate.”

The $157 million Wal-Mart spent in the last FY equates to approximately $604,000 in professional fees and expenses per working day.

I observed in this March 2011 articles as follows.

“This new era of enforcement has resulted in wasteful overcompliance, companies viewing every foreign business partner with irrational suspicion, and companies deploying teams of lawyers and specialists around the world spending millions to uncover every potential questionable or unethical $100 corporate payment.  This new era of enforcement has proven lucrative to many segments of the legal, accounting, and compliance industries and the status quo would, from their perspective, seem desirable.”

The question again ought to be asked – does it really need to cost this much or has FCPA scrutiny turned into a boondoggle for many involved?  For more on this issue, see my article “Big, Bold, and Bizarre: The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Enters a New Era.”

While minor compared to Wal-Mart’s FCPA professional fees and expenses, Beam Inc. recently disclosed here that in 2012 the company spent approximately $4.2 million for “legal, forensic accounting, and other fees related to our internal investigation into Foreign Corrupt Practices Act compliance in our India operations.”

Wal-Mart Effect

Switching gears, but sticking with Wal-Mart related issues, this May 2012 post highlighted a potential “Wal-Mart effect.”  In short, the point was that Wal-Mart is clearly not the only company subject to the FCPA that needs licenses, permits and the like when doing business in Mexico.  I predicted that Wal-Mart’s potential FCPA exposure would cause sleepless nights for many company executives doing business in Mexico and the general region.  The post then discussed statements made during a Kimco Realty Corporation earnings call in May 2012 concerning its properties in Mexico.

Earlier this week, Kimco Realty stated in an SEC filing as follows.

“On January 28, 2013, the Company received a subpoena from the Enforcement Division of the SEC in connection with an investigation, In the Matter of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (FW-3678), that the SEC Staff is currently conducting with respect to possible violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The Company is responding to the subpoena and intends to cooperate fully with the SEC in this matter. The Company has also been notified that the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) is conducting a parallel investigation, and the Company expects that it will cooperate with the DOJ investigation. At this point, we are unable to predict the duration, scope or result of the SEC or DOJ investigation.”

Survey Says

The annual Litigation Trends and Survey report by Fulbright & Jaworski is always a good read.  This year’s report (see here to download) surveyed 392 “senior corporate counsel” (275 in the U.S., 100 in the U.K. and 17 in other jurisdictions) on a wide-range of litigation and related matters.  The following were FCPA or related survey results.

“Companies that have retained outside counsel to assist with a corruption or bribery investigation in the past 12 months (including, but not limited to, FCPA in U.S. and equivalent in U.K.”

  • 9% of U.S. respondents answered “yes”; 18% of U.K. respondents answered “yes.”  As noted, “U.S. figures [2010-2012] have remained relatively stable.”

“Companies that have engaged in due diligence for bribery or corruption (including FCPA matters) relating to a merger, acquisition or other business transactions with a foreign country in the past 12 months.”

  • 18% of U.S. respondents answered “yes”; 26% of U.K. respondents answered “yes.”  As noted, “more companies this year have engaged outside counsel in due diligence for corruption or bribery investigations due to business transactions with entities based in a foreign country.”

As to the due diligence figures, in the abstract these figures do not mean much, unless one knows how many responding companies actually engaged in foreign acquisitions or other business combinations.

The last survey result in the report perhaps speaks best to the over-hyped nature of the U.K. Bribery Act.

“Has your company changed the way it operates due to the emergence of anti-bribery legislation outside the U.S., such as U.K. Bribery Act 2010?”

  • 78% of U.S. respondents answered “no” and 63% of U.K. respondents answered “no.”

Senate Hearing Quotable

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) had some quotable moments (here) during a recent Senate Banking hearing.  The hearing concerned financial regulation, not the FCPA.  Nevertheless, some of the issues have some overlap to FCPA enforcement - including how settlement policies in regulatory enforcement actions create conditions in which there is “not much incentive to follow the law” and how “too big to fail” perhaps means “too big for trial.”

Disclosure Issues

This recent Wall Street Journal CFO Journal post notes as follows.

“Securities and Exchange Commissioner Troy Paredes called for a complete review of the information companies disclose to investors, amid concerns that investors suffer from “disclosure overload” that could hamper their ability to gauge the importance of the data.  “What we need is a top-to-bottom review of our disclosure regime,” Mr. Paredes said at the Practising Law Institute’s annual “SEC Speaks” conference in Washington, D.C. on Friday.”

While they’re at it, the SEC should take a look at its absurd position that all payments in violation of the FCPA, no matter how small the payment and no matter how large the company, are “qualitatively material.”  For instance, as noted in this previous post concerning comments made by enforcement officials at a conference I chaired, an SEC official suggested that the concept of materiality itself has two “sub-concepts”: (i) quantitative materiality (something that impacts a company’s financial statements) and (ii) qualitative materiality.  While conceding that very few improper payments are “quantitatively material” and while recognizing that “qualitative materiality” is a “complicated gray area,” the SEC officials nevertheless said that all bribes can be considered qualitatively material because they may “automatically trigger a books and records violation.”  For formal SEC guidance on this issue, see here.

Checking In

Hollywood Industry Sweep

From the New York Times regarding the on-going scrutiny of Hollywood movie studios in China.

“Last March, word reached several studios of a confidential inquiry by the Securities and Exchange Commissionand the Justice Department into possible violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act by people or companies involved in the China film trade. Since then, executives and their advisers have been waiting for some public sign of the scope or focus of the government’s interest.  So far, there has been none. But official silence has not kept the investigation from casting a chill over dealings between Hollywood and China.”

Goldman

From the Wall Street Journal regarding the on-going scrutiny of Goldman’s dealings with Libya’s sovereign wealth fund.

“Libya’s sovereign-wealth fund said it is cooperating with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in its ongoing investigation into Goldman Sachs Group Inc. over the securities firm’s dealings with the fund when Col. Moammar Gadhafi was in power.  [...]  People close to the Libyan investment fund said officials have authorized some former fund executives to give testimony to the SEC. The officials also agreed to provide documents and other data to U.S. regulators about the fund’s ties to Goldman, these people said.”

Spot On

Two recent Q&A’s on Law360 caught my eye.  The question was “what is an important issue or case relevant to your practice area and why.”

Neil Eggleston (Kirkland & Ellis) stated as follows.

“We are beginning to see the development of case law in the FCPA area, which I believe is good for the process. Most of these cases have been settled. When that occurs, defendants have little incentive to refuse to agree to novel Department of Justice theories of prosecution or jurisdiction, so long as the penalty is acceptable. The department then cites its prior settlement as precedent when settling later ones. But no court approved the earlier settlement, and the prior settlement should have no precedential value in favor of the DOJ in later settlements. As the DOJ increases its prosecution of individuals, we will see many more trials, which will give rise to courts, not the DOJ, interpreting the statute.”

For more on these issues, see my article “The Facade of FCPA Enforcement” and this previous guest post on ”prosecutorial common law.”

Richard Marmaro (Skadden) answered the same question as follows.

“An issue of importance in the white collar area is the issue of prosecutorial misconduct, and appropriate remedies for prosecutors who intentionally conceal evidence, intimidate witnesses, or otherwise compromise or impact a defendant’s right to a fair trial. I have seen firsthand in several of my cases shocking misconduct, which has gone undisciplined by the U.S. Department of Justice. I have been fortunate enough to expose this misconduct, and have had cases dismissed as a result. Indeed, over the last decade, there have been several dismissals nationwide at trial or reversals on appeal based on willful misconduct by government lawyers. Despite these judicial findings, however, the Justice Department’s record of disciplining misbehaving prosecutors is shockingly inadequate. I don’t know of any prosecutor that has been terminated based on a judicial finding of intentional misconduct. In addition, I believe that only two prosecutors have received any discipline at all (both in the Stevens case). In my view, the failure to sanction prosecutors who have been found by judges to have committed misconduct sends the wrong signal to defendants, the public and the vast majority of prosecutors who do their jobs honestly every day.”

For more, see this previous post titled ”Should There Be A Difference?”

Refreshing Words

Every now and then it is refreshing to read some common sense words about FCPA compliance and risk assessment.  Such as this recent post from the Trace blog.

“Remember, perfection is neither possible nor necessary.  When devising a compliance plan, it’s important to remind oneself of the big picture.  A company need not break the bank to have a compliance program that follows accepted best practices.  As discussed below, there are various ways that good compliance can be affordable.  And companies are not responsible for developing full-proof compliance programs; they only need to develop programs proportionate to the risk they face, with the understanding that no program will completely eliminate all risk from the equation.  Unlike in other areas of business, when it comes to compliance, being in the middle of the pack is okay.”

*****

A good weekend to all.

Friday Roundup

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

Motion to dismiss filed in the former Magyar Telekom execs case, a noticeable lack of FCPA charges, checking in on recent disclosures, quotable from the current SEC FCPA Unit Chief, quotable regarding FCPA Inc., what’s up with that investigation, I hear you travel alot, there’s an app for that, counter-points, and for the weekend reading stack.  It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Motion to Dismiss Filed in SEC Enforcement Action

This previous post highlighted how former Magyar Telekom executives Elek Straub, Andras Balogh and Tamas Morvai planned to challenge the SEC’s charges against them.  Earlier this week, the defendants filed this memorandum in support of their motion to dismiss.

In summary fashion, the memorandum states as follows.

“There are several bases for dismissing the complaint.

 First, this Court lacks personal jurisdiction over the defendants. The complaint alleges conduct by foreign national defendants that occurred wholly outside, and with no nexus to, the United States. Nowhere does the complaint allege that defendants purposefully directed their conduct at the United States. Following constitutional due process principles, the defendants lack the requisite minimum contacts with the forum, and it would be inconsistent with traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice to require them to defend this action in the United States. Indeed, the SEC has acknowledged that its jurisdictional position lacks precedent “on all fours factually” and “may be breaking new ground[.]“

“Second, the SEC’s claims are time-barred [...]  There is no doubt that the complaint was filed outside the five-year period. Specifically, the complaint was filed on December 29, 2011, more than five years after all three defendants had left Magyar Telekom, and more than five years after the alleged conduct occurred. Consequently, the five-year period has expired.”

“Third, with regard to the remaining claims, the complaint fails to adequately state the claims alleged. More specifically, the complaint: (i) fails to adequately plead that the defendants corruptly made use of interstate commerce, as is required to state a claim for bribery and the claims stemming from the alleged bribery under the FCPA (books and records and internal controls violations, falsifying books and records, and lying to auditors); (ii) fails to adequately plead that the intended payment recipients were “foreign official[s]” under the FCPA; (iii) fails to allege sufficient facts supporting the aiding and abetting claims; and (iv) fails to meet the heightened pleading requirements under Rule 9, including allegations of individualized culpable conduct by each defendant. The complaint also merely parrots the statutory language and fails to allege that the defendants profited personally from any of the alleged conduct. For all these reasons, the complaint should be dismissed with prejudice.”

As to “foreign official” the motion states that the complaint’s reference to “officials” “government officials” and other vague allegations represent “mere legal conclusions that the recipients were “foreign officials” under the FCPA.  The motion states as follows.  “A legal conclusion couched as a ‘factual allegation’ is insufficient to establish the essential element that the intended recipient be a foreign official.  Repeated references to “government officials” without underlying facts presents nothing ‘more than labels and conclusions’ that constitute ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.”"

Indeed, in my 2010 article “The Facade of FCPA Enforcement” (here) I noted the frequency in which enforcement agency FCPA pleadings “contain little more than uninformative, bare-bones statement of facts replete with legal conclusions.”  I said that the “most common and troubling use of bare-bones, uninformative, legal conclusory statements of facts or allegations is when the enforcement agencies describe the ‘foreign officials’ involved in the alleged conduct giving rising to the FCPA violation.”  In the article, I noted that because there is generally no threat that these bare-boned, uninformative facts or legal conclusions will ever be subject to meaningful judicial scrutiny, that the enforcement agencies get away with such practices.

At least until recently.

Noticeable Lack of FCPA Charges

Numerous FCPA enforcement actions have been based on allegations of payments to foreign customs personnel in connection with customs, license, permit type issues.

Thus, the lack of FCPA charges were noticeable in the DOJ’s recent criminal indictment of APEGO Inc., and various of is employees and agents.  As noted in this recent DOJ Release (N.D. of Georgia), charges were filed alleging conspiracy and twelve counts of importing notebooks and filler paper from China using false  documents.

The indictment (here) includes the following allegations.

“It was further part of the conspiracy that [certain individuals] paid bribes to Taiwanese customs officials on behalf of defendants APEGO and Gung to allow U.S.-bound lined paper products made by the Watanabe Group in China but lacking required country of origin labels, or mislabeled ‘Made in Taiwan,’ to enter Taiwan from China and clear Taiwanese customs.”

Elsewhere, the indictment alleges: (i) that in December 2006 various bribes were paid to Taiwanese customs officials which “allowed defendant APEGO to transship these products from Taiwan to the United States more quickly and less expensively by limiting the need to ‘rework’ the products and cartons (i.e. relable ‘Made in Taiwan’) in Taiwan”; (ii) that in March 2007 when customs officials at a certain Taiwan port no longer accepted bribes, the company arranged for its shipments to be processed through another port in a different part of the country where bribes were paid for the same purpose

Recent Disclosures

Owens-Illinois

Owens-Illinois, Inc. (an Ohio based company that describes itself as the world’s largest glass container manufacturer and preferred partner for many of the world’s leading food and beverage brands) recently disclosed as follows.

“The Company is conducting an internal investigation into conduct in certain of its overseas operations that may have violated the antibribery provisions of the United States Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), the FCPA’s books and records and internal controls provisions, the Company’s own internal policies, and various local laws. In October 2012, the Company voluntarily disclosed these matters to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The Company intends to cooperate with any investigation by the DOJ and the SEC. The Company is presently unable to predict the duration, scope or result of its internal investigation, of any investigations by the DOJ or the SEC or whether either agency will commence any legal action. The DOJ and the SEC have a broad range of civil and criminal sanctions under the FCPA and other laws and regulations including, but not limited to, injunctive relief, disgorgement, fines, penalties, and modifications to business practices. The Company also could be subject to investigation and sanctions outside the United States. While the Company is currently unable to quantify the impact of any potential sanctions or remedial measures, it does not expect such actions will have a material adverse effect on the Company’s liquidity, results of operations or financial condition.”

Given the recent FCPA scrutiny of the beverage industry (Diageo, Beam Inc., and Central European Distribution Company) one might wonder whether Owens-Illinois’s recent disclosure is connected to those developments.

Barclays

This previous post detailed how Barclays PLC’s relationship with Qatar’s sovereign-wealth fund was under scrutiny by U.K. authorities.

The company recently disclosed (here) as follows.  “Subsequent to reporting the investigations of the Financial Services Authority and Serious Fraud Office in July and August 2012 respectively, Barclays has been informed by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) and US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that they are undertaking an investigation into whether the Group’s relationships with third parties who assist Barclays to win or retain business are compliant with the United States Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Barclays is investigating and fully co-operating with the DOJ and SEC.”

According to this article in the Wall Street Journal, the focus is “on Barclay’s use of external brokers who facilitated meetings between bank officials and powerful Middle Eastern families.”  The article further notes that “Barclays recently started conducting an internal investigation, with the help of an outside law firm, to figure out whether it or its Middle Eastern introducers might have run afoul” of the FCPA.

Schlumberger

The company recently disclosed as follows.

“In 2007, Schlumberger received an inquiry from the United States Department of Justice (“DOJ”) related to the DOJ’s investigation of whether certain freight forwarding and customs clearance services of Panalpina, Inc., and other companies provided to oil and oilfield service companies, including Schlumberger, violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. In October 2012, Schlumberger was advised by the DOJ that it has closed its inquiry as it relates to Schlumberger.”

For more on the numerous Panalpina-related enforcement actions – what I’ve termed CustomsGate – see here.

The company’s recent disclosure would seem not to address the issues previously the focus of a front-page Wall Street Journal article in October 2010 concerning alleged conduct in Yemen.  (See here for the prior post).

Quotable

In this recent Reuters article, current SEC FCPA Unit Chief Kara Brockmeyer stated as follows.

“I would hate to think the companies view [FCPA] enforcement actions as the cost of doing business.  If we find that out, it will certainly increase the size of the penalty.”

One thing that is becoming increasingly clear in this new era of FCPA enforcement is that investors do appear to view FCPA scrutiny and enforcement actions as a cost of doing business and akin to a regulatory violation.

The Reuters article also stated that there has yet to be a repeat FCPA prosecution.  This is a false statement.  Companies that have resolved more than one FCPA enforcement action over time include: Tyco, ABB, Baker Hughes and General Electric.

Quotable

On his Corruption, Crime & Compliance site (here) Michael Volkov recently observed as follows.

“The FCPA Paparazzi has done a great disservice to the business community.  Call it a complete lack of credibility.  Legal marketing has become confused in this day and age – marketing has now been turned into the “Fear Factor,” meaning that lawyers need to scare potential clients into hiring them.  That is flat out wrong.   Each week, new client alerts, client warnings and other cries of impending disaster are transmitted through the Internet to businesses.  If I were a general counsel, I would have them on “auto delete.”  Talk about a waste of time and effort.”

What’s Up With That Investigation?

One of the many FCPA industry sweeps reportedly underway concerns Hollywood movie industry in China.  (See here for the prior post).  This recent post on the New York Times Media Decoder blog highlights the “powerful gatekeeper of China’s rapidly growing film world, the China Film Group chairman Han Sanping who was recently in the U.S. to receive a China Entertainment Visionary of the Year award, and asks what’s up with the investigation.

I Hear You Travel Alot

My frequent searches for FCPA content often turn up interesting content.  Such as this thread from top-law-schools.com which asks what type of attorneys get to travel the most?  One response was as follows.   ”From what I hear, FCPA is the way to go for travel to other countries because you have lots of interviews of foreign employees.”

The FCPA is certainly the reason for the majority of stamps in my passport.

Counter-Points

Alexandra Wrage (President of Trace International) made some observations recently in her Corporate Counsel column (here) about FCPA enforcement in various Presidential administrations.  While interesting to think about, the actual stats have little substantive value.  Instances of FCPA scrutiny tend to last between 2-4 years (and thus straddle administrations) and various instances of FCPA scrutiny (for instance Pfizer) can last approximately 8 years.  Moreover, rather than “aggressively enforce the FCPA,” as the article notes, what the enforcement agencies more often than not actually do (as evidenced by statistics demonstrating which enforcement actions resulted from voluntary disclosures) is process corporate voluntary disclosures.

There’s An App for That

Law firm O’Melveny & Myers announced (here) the “launch of its FCPA app, the first multi-functional mobile application (app) created by a law firm.”  Richard Grime, partner and head of O’Melveny’s FCPA practice stated as follows.  “We understand the complexities our clients and colleagues face in achieving their business goals in the global marketplace, and thus, have created this mobile application as a fast, yet informative, way for them to remain current with the evolving statutes and provisions imposed by the FCPA and other anti-corruption laws.”

Weekend Reading

Sidley & Austin recently released its Anti-Corruption Quarterly (here).  Among other articles is one focused on the new “sheriff in town.”

The article states as follows.

“Investigating potential violations of the FCPA historically has been the purview of the SEC and the DOJ, but recently, Congress has entered the fray. Two House committees, the House Oversight and House Energy committees, recently instituted an independent FCPA investigation of Wal-Mart, after a New York Times article reported on an alleged massive bribery campaign at Wal-Mart’s Mexican affiliate. These House investigations mean that companies now have to consider the possibility of facing a congressional investigation—in addition to investigations by the SEC and the DOJ—when FCPA violations have occurred.”

The article further states as follows.

“Although congressional committees routinely investigate companies, the current congressional investigation into Wal-Mart is the first investigation in the FCPA context and it may signal the beginning of a trend: high-profile companies or companies that are drawn into political fights (often unwillingly) may find themselves the target of a congressional inquiry if their FCPA problems become public. Whatever effect the congressional investigation may have on Wal-Mart, the possibility of such an investigation is a factor that high-profile companies facing FCPA concerns should weigh.”

For more on Wal-Mart’s FCPA scrutiny, see my recent article “Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Enforcement As Seen Through Wal-Mart’s Potential Exposure” (here).

Miller Chevalier also recently released its FCPA Autumn Review – see here.

Morrison Foerster also recently released its End of Summer Round-Up – see here.

This recent Jones Day publication concerning upcoming FCPA Guidance contains the following paragraph that should be read by those who simply label companies that have resolved FCPA enforcement actions or are the subject of FCPA scrutiny as bad or corrupt companies.

“It is the job of a prosecutor to make charging decisions and to decide in the first instance what does and does not violate the law. As prosecutors and enforcement attorneys assess the facts to make charging decisions, they are compelled to view the world, therefore, in binary terms: black and white, right and wrong. As defense counsel, settlement discussions with our counterparts in the DOJ and SEC frequently hinge on which side of the line the conduct sits. Particularly for those of us who served as prosecutors, we acknowledge in these discussions the difficult mission of the enforcement officials to draw and defend lines. The world of business, however, frequently operates in territory that is somewhat grey: a world in which business persons strive to grow the company ethically in situations where the application of the existing rules are not entirely clear. For instance, in the current era of FCPA enforcement, international businesses struggle with their responsibilities to monitor and control the conduct of third parties with whom they do business: distributors and sub-distributors, joint venture partners, dealers, and resellers. Even for companies that are firmly dedicated to compliance with the FCPA, is not always clear when a third party amounts to an agent whose improper conduct might someday be ascribed to the company and its employees. Good and ethical companies struggle, every day, with the concept of defining an agent of the company as opposed to an independent customer who engages in an arm’s-length transaction to purchase the company’s products.”

*****
A good weekend to all.

Friday Roundup

Friday, April 27th, 2012

Coming attractions, monitor talk, LatinNode related individual sentences, just who are those “gestores,” scholarship of note, and Supreme Court quotables.  It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Coming Attractions

This prior post contained FCPA practitioner Homer Moyer’s discussion of industry sweeps.  Industries that have been subjected to industry sweeps or are reportedly in the middle of industry sweeps include:  oil and gas, pharmaceutical / medical devices, and financial services.

Add Hollywood film studies to the list.

Reuters reports (here) that the SEC “has sent letters of inquiry to at least five movie studios in the past two months, including News Corp’s 20th Century Fox, Disney, and DreamWorks Animation” that “ask for information about potential inappropriate payments and how the companies dealt with certain government officials in China.”

The New York Times (here) also reported on the letters of inquiry and stated that the SEC “has begun an investigation into whether some of Hollywood’s biggest movie studios have made illegal payments to officials in China to gain the right to film and show movies there.”

In other disclosure news, Turkcell Iletisim Hizmetleri A.S. (Turkcell), Turkey’s only New York Stock Exchange listed company, recently disclosed in an SEC filing (here) as follows.  “Some of [the countries the company operates in] also suffer from relatively high rates of fraud and corruption. For example, allegations have been made regarding improper payments relating to the operations of KCell, a mobile operator in Kazakhstan and 51% subsidiary of Fintur Holdings B.V., in which we hold a 41.45% stake, while TeliaSonera holds the remainder. The allegations were discussed by Turkcell’s Board of Directors, which requested an independent investigation of the allegations made. TeliaSonera initiated an independent investigation as agreed by the Fintur Board. The Turkcell Board has been informed that to date there has not been substantiated any such allegations and the Fintur Board informs us that it has completed its own investigation. Since no assurance can be given that there will not be further requests for investigation, we remain vigilant on this matter.”

In other disclosure news, in October 2006, the SEC informed the Bristol Myers Squibb Company that it had begun a formal inquiry into the activities of certain of the company’s German pharmaceutical subsidiaries and its employees and/or agents.  The company previously disclosed that “the SEC’s inquiry encompasses matters formerly under investigation by the German prosecutor in Munich, Germany, which have since been resolved,” that the inquiry concerns potential violations of the FCPA and that “the company is cooperating with the SEC.”  Yesterday, in a 10-Q filing, the company stated as follows.  “In March, 2012, the Company received a subpoena from the SEC. The subpoena, issued in connection with an investigation under the FCPA, primarily relates to sales and marketing practices in various countries. The Company is cooperating with the government in its investigation of these matters.”

According to my tally, over the past two months, approximately 15 companies have newly disclosed, or been linked to, FCPA scrutiny.  See here for the prior post “The Sun Rose, a Dog Barked, and a Company Disclosed FCPA Scrutiny.”  (And no, Wal-Mart is not included in this list, the company disclosed its FCPA scrutiny in December 2011).

Hercules Offshore disclosed better news in its 10-Q filing yesterday.  The company stated as follows.  “On April 4, 2011, the Company received a subpoena issued by the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) requesting the delivery of certain documents to the SEC in connection with its investigation into possible violations of the securities laws, including possible violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) in certain international jurisdictions where the Company conducts operations. The Company was also notified by the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) on April 5, 2011, that certain of the Company’s activities were under review by the DOJ. On April 24, 2012, the Company received a letter from the DOJ notifying the Company that the DOJ has closed its inquiry into the Company regarding possible violations of the FCPA and does not intend to pursue enforcement action against the Company. The DOJ indicated that its decision to close the matter was based on, among other factors, the thorough investigation conducted by the Company’s special counsel and the Company’s compliance program. The Company, through the Audit Committee of the Board of Directors, intends to continue to cooperate with the SEC in its investigation. At this time, it is not possible to predict the outcome of the SEC’s investigation, the expenses the Company will incur associated with this matter, or the impact on the price of the Company’s common stock or other securities as a result of this investigation.”

For the second straight day, I say kudos to the DOJ.  Yet, I also ask on consecutive days – would anything really change with an FCPA compliance defense?  As I note in “Revisiting a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Compliance Defense” (here) the DOJ already recognizes a de facto FCPA compliance defense albeit in opaque, inconsistent and unpredictable ways. Thus, an FCPA compliance defense accomplishes, among other things, the policy goal of removing factors relevant to corporate criminal liability from the opaque, inconsistent, and unpredictable world of DOJ decision making towards a more transparent, consistent, and predictable model best accomplished through a compliance defense amendment to the FCPA.

Monitor Talk

As discussed in this prior post, in March Biomet resolved an FCPA enforcement action involving $22.8 million in combined fines and penalties ($17.3 million via a DOJ deferred prosecution agreement, and $5.5 million via a settled SEC civil complaint).  Pursuant to the DPA, Biomet agreed to engage an independent compliance monitor “for a period of not less than 18 months” and to provide periodic reports to the DOJ regarding remediation and implementation of the enhanced compliance measures as described in an attachment to the DPA.

As evidence that investor concern regarding FCPA issues does not end on enforcement action day, during a recent earnings conference call, an analyst asked Biomet CEO Jeff Binder the following question.

“I guess just with regard to the DOJ settlement that was announced for the FCPA potential violations, I’m just wondering — I guess you’re going to have an 18-month monitoring period. So I assume that would only apply to your international business? And then maybe even within the international business, would that only apply to certain regions where there have been problems found? And then what sort of a pricing — sorry, not pricing, but cost impact do you expect from that monitoring? Is it something material or not?”

Binder responded as follows.  “Yes. You’re correct that the monitorship will apply to our businesses outside the United States, but the monitors purview is broad outside the United States. The monitor has the ability to take a look at our businesses across the world. The monitor will do a risk assessment upfront. They’ll understand where our issues have been and they’ll take a look at our processes. They’ll develop that risk assessment. They’ll come up with a work plan that’s based on that risk assessment. And we’ll take it from there. We don’t expect that additional expenses for the monitor will be material to the business. DOJ and SEC require the candidates for the monitorship to submit budgets of the projected services for their work. And I’d just say that the amounts that were set forth in those budgets are not material, and we don’t anticipate significant internal expenses associated with the monitorship.”

LatiNode Individual Sentences

As noted in this DOJ release, in April 2009 LatiNode, a privately held Florida corporation, pleaded guilty to violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in connection with improper payments in Honduras and Yemen and agreed to pay a $2 million criminal penalty.  Thereafter, several of its former executives – Jorge Granados, Manuel Caceres, Manuel Salvoch, and Juan Vasquez were criminally charged and pleaded guility.

Earlier this week Caceres (former vice president of business development at LatiNode) and Vasquez (a former senior commercial executive at LatiNode) were sentenced.  U.S. District Court Judge Joan Lenard (S.D. of Fl.) sentenced Caceres to 23 months followed by 1 year supervised release – the DOJ sought a 36 month sentence.  U.S. District Court Judge Patrricia Seitz (S.D. of Fl.) sentenced Vasquez to 3 years probation, community service, home detention and monitoring and ordered him to pay a $7,500 criminal fine – the DOJ originally sought a 36 month sentence and recently stated that it “would not oppose a sentence for Vasquez that was less than the sentence for Caceres and Salvoch [who is yet to be sentenced].”

As noted in this prior post, in September 2011, Granados was sentenced to 46 months in prison.

“Gestores”

The New York Times article suggested that many of the Wal-Mart Mexican payments at issue were routed through Mexican gestores.   Just who are those “gestores.”?  I found this article from CBS of interest.  The article states as follows.   “A visit to any government office is likely to bring the sighting of a well-dressed man carrying reams of documents who will glide past the long lines, shake hands with the official behind the counter and get ushered into a backroom, where his affairs presumably get a fast-track service. The suspicion is these go-betweens funnel a portion of the fees they charge clients to corrupt officials to smooth the issuance of permits, approvals and other government stamps.  In a country where laws on zoning rules, construction codes and building permits are vague or laxly enforced, the difference between opening a store quickly and having it held up for months may depend on using a gestor.”

Scholarship of Note

Pre-Wal-Mart, the FCPA conversation of the spring focused on charitable contributions in the context of the Wynn-Okada dispute.  See here, here and here for the prior posts.  Other posts have noted (see here) that, strange as it may sound, the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions are only implicated when something of value is provided, directly or indirectly, to a foreign official to influence the official in obtaining or retaining business.  The FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions are not implicated when the thing of value is provided to a foreign government itself.  Other prior posts (here and here) have discussed Dodd-Frank Act Section 1504′s Resource Extraction Disclosure Provisions.

Given my prior writings on these issues, I was pleased when Emory University School of Law student Francesca Pisano sent me the student comment “Anti-Corruption Law & Corporate Philanthropy: Rethinking the Regulations” (here) selected for publication in a forthcoming issue of the Emory Law Journal.

The abstract states as follows.

“When the 2010 earthquake hit Port-au-Prince, Haiti, U.S. companies donated over $146.8 million to the relief effort. Despite this impressive display of global engagement, commentators suggested that the US anti-corruption laws had discouraged corporations from greater involvement. Even with the laws in force, however, reports of corruption in the relief effort soon surfaced, derailing Haiti’s recovery. Foreign aid that feeds corruption will never achieve sustainable growth, but development efforts will similarly fail if U.S. anti-corruption laws discourage corporate philanthropy.  This comment analyzes the application of two U.S. anti-corruption laws, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) and the Dodd-Frank Section 1504, to international corporate charity. It shows how the FCPA’s ambiguous nature has the unfortunate effect of being both over- and under-inclusive, discouraging bona fide charity while at the same time failing to capture corrupt donations. The recently-enacted Dodd-Frank Section 1504 has great potential, but the SEC’s proposed rules have created a loophole to allow corruption to continue if hidden in corporate charity.  This comment proposes a modification to FCPA enforcement: creating a Safe Harbor Option. This will offer businesses the opportunity to “buy” a rebuttable presumption of legitimacy for their charitable donations by publically disclosing the payments, projects, and recipients of their philanthropy. Granting a presumption of legitimacy to disclosed donations will ameliorate many of the over-inclusive aspects of the FCPA. The increased disclosure will allow the public to monitor corporate charity and question suspicious gifts, ameliorating the under-inclusive aspects of FCPA enforcement. This comment also argues that Section 1504 should be defined expansively to prevent charity from being used to circumvent the congressional goals of increasing transparency and combating corruption. If properly defined, Section 1504 is an excellent example of regulation through disclosure and transparency, rather than prohibitions.”

Supreme Court Quotable

This recent post discussed non-FCPA caselaw that touched upon issues relevant to the recent “foreign official” challenges.  Last week, the Supreme Court issued its opinion (here) in Mohamad v. Palestinian Authority concerning the scope of the Torture Victim Protection Act.  The Court, in an opinion authored by Justice Sotomayor held that the term “individual” in the TVPA encompasses only natural persons, and thus the law does not impose liability against corporatons.  In her opinion, Justice Sotomayor’s stated, among other things, as follows.

“Congress remains free, as always, to give the word [individual] a broader or different meaning. But before we will assume it has done so, there must be some indication Congress intended such a result.”

“We add only that Congress appeared well aware of the limited nature of the cause of action it estab­lished in the Act.”

“The text of the TVPA convinces us that Congress did not extend liability to organizations, sovereign or not. There are no doubt valid arguments for such an extension. But Congress has seen fit to proceed in more modest steps in the Act, and it is not the province of this Branch to do otherwise.”

*****

I went to Walmart last night.  After completing my purchase and before exiting the store, I stopped, looked around, and thought, wow, what a week!

A good weekend to all.