Archive for the ‘Facilitating Payments’ Category

“I Have Such Trouble Understanding The Facilitating Payment Exception”

Tuesday, December 9th, 2014

Southern District of Texas Judge Keith P. Ellison.  HANDOUT.

In the minds of some, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act is a clear statute with no ambiguity whatsoever (see here for a prior post on the same subject).  To such commentators, it’s easy –  just don’t bribe.  (The irony of course is that if it was so easy, then why do many of these same commentators devote their practice to FCPA compliance?).

To suggest that the FCPA is an ambiguous statute has been met by claims that such statements are nothing more than pandering to a particular audience.

Well, federal court judges are apparently pandering to a particular audience because if there is one common thread in many FCPA judicial decisions, it is judges finding various FCPA provisions vague or ambiguous.  (See the above prior post for numerous examples).

The latest example occurred in SEC v. Jackson & Ruehlen (the individual enforcement action the SEC settled on the eve of trial this past summer in what could only credibly be called an SEC defeat – see here and here for prior posts).

As to relevant background, in a pre-trial ruling (see here for the prior post), Judge Keith Ellisson (S.D.Tex.) ruled that the SEC had the burden of negating application of the FCPA’s facilitating payment exception.  As noted in this prior post, the enforcement action focused on alleged payments in connection with temporary importation permits in Nigeria for oil rigs.

Deep within the pre-trial transcript (see here), one will find Judge Ellison engage in the following exchange with SEC counsel.

JUDGE:  I have such trouble understanding the facilitating payment exception.  [...] I mean, it almost swallows the rest of the statute.  And I know it’s in the legislative history that these, I think reference is made to grease payments, somehow to grease the skids.  How do I separate those payments, which do seem to be contemplated, from the payments that [the SEC] alleges were made in this case, which you think are squarely within the FCPA’s prohibition?  [...] And I don’t understand it.  Whether we make the distinction based on size of payments, regularity of payments, purpose of payments, nature of the — of the favorable conduct elicited.  I just really struggle with it.”

SEC:  [...] For the — for the exception to apply, the SEC’s position is that two elements must be met.  There must be a purpose to expedite an act and the act must be a routine government action within the meaning of the statute.

JUDGE:  Both those could apply to the temporary — to the temporary import, though, couldn’t it?

SEC:  Well, in what way, Your Honor?

JUDGE: Well, because it purpose was to expedite an act and it was a routine government action.  These import permits were granted all the time.

Elsewhere in the transcript, one will find Judge Ellison expressing concern about the SEC’s position that the defendants violated the FCPA’s books and records provisions because Noble Corp. booked the alleged bribe payments in a special facilitating payments account based on the good faith belief that they were indeed facilitating payments.  The following exchange occurred.

JUDGE:  You also argue that recording the payments as facilitating payments in the company’s book is essentially duplicative or duplicitous.  Would payments to government officials, just say to that, like so, would that be accessible?

SEC:  Your honor, these payments were recorded as a particular kind of payment, a lawful payment.  A payment that meets a legal exception to liability under the FCPA.  As this Court recognized in the motion to dismiss opinion, calling a payment something that it is not is false.

JUDGE: What would they have needed to call it?  That’s what I am asking?

SEC:  Payments to government official — I can’t speculate all the things that it possibly could have been called, but payments to government officials may have been – may have been adequate.  However, they weren’t designated payments to government officials in this case …

Elsewhere in the transcript, the SEC acknowledged that the facilitating payments exception is “a difficult area to understand, largely because of the wording of the exception and the statute overall.”  The following exchange occurred.

SEC: This is how we conceptualize it.  And I think it’s — and it’s clearly evidenced and its manifest in the words of the statute and the exception.  Now, the facilitating payment exception is exactly that. It’s an exception for government actions that are routinely or ordinarily carried out. And you’ll see in the — in the exception itself, a number of examples that Congress set out as — as possible facilitating payment – facilitating payments and government — routine government actions. [...]

JUDGE: In your mind, does “routine” mean frequent or does “routine” mean automatic or does “routine” mean both?

SEC: I think that’s a fact issue, Your Honor. I think there could be situations where a routine governmental action can be something automatic. I think there can be situations where a — a routine governmental action is something that is issued or granted by a government entity or official routinely, so frequently, or without exception.

JUDGE: Well, I’m trying to identify which of the those things.  I mean, what if it were routine but not consistent; or automatic but not routine, it only happened once every five years?

SEC:  [...] Now, what’s important here is that the SEC posits whether a particular action is a routine governmental action is an objective inquiry.  You just take a look at the Nigerian law that governs this particular action.  If the Nigerian law says that it’s nondiscretionary, that’s the end of the inquiry.

JUDGE: Well, that’s what I trying to identify.  The fact that it’s nondiscretionary.  Do you think — do you agree with that?

SEC: No, Your Honor.

JUDGE:  Tell me what the lynchpin is?

SEC: The lynchpin is, again, it’s a fact-intensive inquiry.  What did the defendants – all right – what did the defendants believe was the action here?  And the action here was in — again, tying to the specific — specific facts of this case, the action was applying for temporary import authorizations that had, prior to the relevant period in this case, had been routinely granted.

JUDGE: Meaning — meaning consistently?

SEC: Consistently, to our — to our knowledge, without exception.

JUDGE:  Consistently and frequently?

SEC:  Yes

JUDGE:  Okay.

SEC:  Every — every time an application was put in, they received the authorization.

JUDGE: And those — to the best of your knowledge were those applications put in without — without any further monetary inducement or were they accompanied by monetary inducement?

SEC:  Accompanied by monetary inducement; hence, the payment itself, the facilitating payment, for a government action that was routinely rendered.

JUDGE: So the government would grant these routinely if it was paid?

SEC:  Well, Your Honor, we don’t know whether — we don’t necessarily know whether they were — whether they would have been granted if — if a payment had — payment had not been made, but what — what matters here is the payments were made –

JUDGE:  Isn’t that a big difference, though?  If it would have been granted anyway, without a payment being made, isn’t that signficant?

SEC:  I don’t think so, Your Honor.

In short, while many FCPA commentators continue to believe that the FCPA is a simple, straight-forward statute (and that claims of vagueness and ambiguity are the stuff of sugar plums and tinkerbells), the above example is just the latest of many (and please do visit this prior post for the numerous other examples) where federal court judges remain confused about various aspects of the FCPA.

Items Of Interest From The Layne Christensen Company Enforcement Action

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

Yesterday’s post dived deep into the Layne Christensen Company SEC FCPA enforcement action.

This post continues the analysis by highlighting various issues associated with the enforcement action.

4 for 4

In 2014, there have been four SEC corporate FCPA enforcement actions (Layne Christensen, Smith & Wesson, Alcoa, and HP).  All have been resolved via the SEC’s administrative process.

My recent article, “A Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Narrative,” (see pgs. 991-995) discusses this trend and how it is troubling as it places the SEC in the role of regulator, prosecutor, judge and jury all at the same time.  As Judge Rakoff recently observed, “from where does the constitutional warrant for such unchecked and unbalanced administrative power derive?”

Another noticeable feature of the Layne Christensen action was that the company resolved the SEC’s action without admitting or denying the SEC’s findings.  Smith & Wesson likewise resolved its FCPA enforcement action in this way.

$4

It is reasonable to assume that the SEC included findings in its order for a specific reason (and not just to practice its typing skills).

It is therefore noteworthy that the SEC’s order includes this finding:

“Layne Christensen made more than $10,000 in small payments to foreign officials through various customs and clearing agents that it used in Tanzania, Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, and the DRC. These payments ranged from $4 to $1,700 and were characterized in invoices submitted by the agents as, among other things, “intervention,” “honoraires,” “commissions,” and “service fees.”

Stay tuned for (I predict) coming law firm client alerts and memos on this $4 payment.

As highlighted in this prior post, if the DOJ and SEC are genuine in their message that they are only “focused on bribes of consequence,” on payments of “real and substantial value” and in companies spending compliance dollars in the “most sensible way,” there is something very easy and practical for the enforcement agencies to do.

Only allege conduct that actually determines the ultimate outcome of the enforcement action.

Same Process, Different Results

Does voluntary disclosure and cooperation result in:

An SEC administrative cease and desist order?  Yes, see Layne Christensen.

An SEC non-prosecution agreement?  Yes, see Ralph Lauren.

An SEC deferred prosecution agreement?  Yes, see Tenaris.

An SEC civil complaint?  Yes, see Archer Daniels Midland Company.

Granted, the facts of each FCPA enforcement action are unique, but what drives FCPA practitioners and their clients crazy about the FCPA enforcement process is a lack of transparency and predictability of outcomes.

What Would Have Happened Had The SEC Been Put To Its Burden Of Proof?

Pardon me for being “that guy,” but what would have happened had the SEC been put to its burden of proof on its finding that Layne Christensen violated the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions?  The SEC’s allegations all concerned payments outside the context of government procurement but rather to allegedly secure favorable tax treatment, customs clearance, work permits, relief from regulatory inspections, etc.

It is a matter of fact, that the SEC has been put to its ultimate burden of proof only once concerning alleged payments outside the context of government procurement and it lost that case.  (See here for the discussion of SEC v. Mattson and Harris). For a broader discussion of this issue, including DOJ actions, see this article.

Moreover, many of the SEC’s findings would seem to potentially implicate the FCPA’s facilitating payments exception.  On that score, in SEC v. Jackson & Ruehlen, a court ruled that the SEC has the burden of negating this statutory exception, something the SEC was unable to do in that case (based on certain similar facts as alleged in the Layne Christensen action) which resulted in a defendant-friendly settlement on the eve of trial.  (See here).

Finally, no doubt Layne Christensen as part of its cooperation likely agreed to toll statute of limitations or waive statute of limitations defenses altogether.  Yet it is worth highlighting that the bulk of the SEC’s findings concern conduct that allegedly occurred between 2005 and July 2009; in other words, beyond the FCPA’s typical 5 year statute of limitations.

Timeline

As highlighted in this 2010 post, Layne Christensen initially disclosed its FCPA scrutiny in Fall 2010.  The company’s first disclosure stated, in pertinent part:

“In connection with the Company updating its Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) policy, questions were raised internally in late September 2010 about, among other things, the legality of certain payments to customs clearing agents in connection with importing equipment into the Democratic Republic of Congo (“DRC”) and other countries in Africa.  [...] Although the Company has had a long-standing published policy requiring compliance with the FCPA and broadly prohibiting any improper payments by the Company to foreign or U.S. officials, the Company has adopted additional policies and procedures to enhance compliance with the FCPA and related books and records requirements. Further measures may be required once the investigation is concluded.”

In short, Layne Christensen’s FCPA scrutiny – from point of first public disclosure to resolution – lasted approximately 4 years.

The “Three Buckets” 

In my article, “Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Ripples,” I coin the term “three buckets” of FCPA financial exposure and demonstrate how settlement amounts in an actual FCPA enforcement action (“bucket #1) are often not the most expensive aspect of FCPA scrutiny and enforcement.

In nearly every case in which a comparison can be made, “bucket #1″ (pre-enforcement action professional fees and expenses) is the most expensive aspect of FCPA scrutiny.

The numbers in Layne Christensen serve as another instructive reminder.

Bucket #1 = in excess of $10 million (based on the company’s disclosures)

Bucket #12 = $5.1 million

Bukcet #3 (post enforcement action professional fees and expenses) are to be determined.  A noticeable aspect of the Layne Christensen action (one based on a voluntary disclosure and cooperation) is that the company has a reporting obligation imposed upon it.  As stated in the SEC’s order, Layne Christensen shall “report to the Commission periodically, at no less than nine-month internals during a two-year term, the status of its FCPA and anti-corruption related remediation and implementation of compliance measures.”

Compliance Enhancements, Etc.

During its period of FCPA scrutiny, Layne Christensen previously disclosed the following compliance enhancements.

  • contracted with a third party forensics accounting team to conduct an in-depth review of the operations in Africa and to make recommendations for improvement to the internal control systems;
  • reviewing existing arrangements with third parties interacting with government officials in international locations in an effort to assure that contracts and agreements include anti-corruption terms and conditions;
  • performing due diligence on third parties interacting with government officials in international locations and implementing a process to assess potential new third parties;
  • terminated certain agency and business relationships;
  •  established a separate position of, and appointed, a chief compliance officer, effective March 30, 2011, under the supervision of our Senior Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary to facilitate implementation and maintenance of compliance policies, procedures, training, reporting and internal reviews, with indirect reporting responsibility to the audit committee;
  • developed new procedures to improve the controls over cash handling and record retention;
  • conducting a company-wide risk assessment, including an employee survey, to ascertain whether similar issues may exist elsewhere in the Company;
  • initiated an enhanced company-wide, comprehensive training of Company personnel in the requirements of the FCPA, including training with respect to those areas of the Company’s operations that are most likely to raise FCPA compliance concerns; and
  • continued to enhance our training of management, including our operations managers, to emphasize further the importance of setting the proper tone within their organization to instill an attitude of integrity and control awareness and the use of a thorough and proper analysis of proposed transactions.

 

Friday Roundup

Friday, August 1st, 2014

When the dust settles, scrutiny alerts and updates, quotable and for the reading stack.  It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

When the Dust Settles

Given the ease in which information now flows and the world-wide interest in corruption and bribery, FCPA enforcement actions are read around the world.  It is thus not surprising that when the dust settles on the U.S. FCPA enforcement action, many are left wondering … who are those “foreign officials”?

Most recent case in point concerns this week’s FCPA enforcement action against Smith & Wesson which involved alleged conduct in Indonesia, among other countries.  According to the SEC:

“In 2009, Smith & Wesson attempted to win a contract to sell firearms to a Indonesian police department by making improper payments to its third party agent in Indonesia, who indicated that part of the payment would be provided to the Indonesian police officials under the guise of legitimate firearm lab testing costs. On several occasions, Smith & Wesson’s third-party agent indicated that the Indonesian police expected Smith & Wesson to pay them additional amounts above the actual cost of testing the guns as an inducement to enter the contract. The agent later notified Smith & Wesson’s Regional Director of International Sales that the price of “testing” the guns had risen further. Smith & Wesson’s Vice President of International Sales and its Regional Director of International Sales authorized and made the inflated payment, but a deal was never consummated.”

As noted in this Jakarta Post article:

“The Indonesian Corruption Watch (ICW) has called for an investigation into an alleged attempt by US gunmaker Smith & Wesson to bribe officials at the National Police.  [...] In response to the SEC [action], ICW legal researcher Donal Fariz urged the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) to look into the scandal.  The National Police may face a conflict of interest by handling the case. So, it is better to entrust the investigation with the KPK. The KPK needs to ask for the detailed report [from the SEC] on the police officials who were involved in the scandal,” he said on Wednesday in a telephone interview”

Nominate

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

Scrutiny Alerts and Updates

Bloomberg reports here:

“British prosecutors told several former employees of Alstom SA that they’ll be charged as part of its prosecution of the French train-maker, according to two people with knowledge of the situation.The prosecutor contacted the individuals yesterday to offer to start plea discussions, the people said, asking not to be identified because the correspondence isn’t public. Some may appear with the company at a London court on Sept. 9, according to the people. The U.K. Serious Fraud Office charged Alstom’s U.K. subsidiary with corruption and conspiracy to corrupt yesterday following a five-year investigation. The company was charged in relation to transport projects in India, Poland and Tunisia, the agency said. The SFO contacted at least five individuals about two months ago inviting them for plea discussions, people with knowledge of the matter said in June. The SFO then decided to postpone the talks until it decided whether to prosecute Alstom.”

Bloomberg reports here:

“Wynn Resorts said it has been contacted by Macau’s anti-corruption agency regarding the company’s land purchase for its new resort-casino on the Cotai Strip. “We are working cooperatively with” the city’s Commission Against Corruption, the Las Vegas-based company said in an e-mailed reply to questions yesterday. The Macau Business newspaper reported July 11 that the agency is investigating why Wynn Resorts was made to pay 400 million patacas ($50 million) for the land rights, citing Commission Chief Fong Man Chon.  Wynn Resorts had to buy the rights from certain mainlanders, though the Land Public Works and Transport Bureau said it wasn’t aware of their involvement, according to the Macau Business report.”

As highlighted in this February 2012 e-mail, Wynn Resorts was under FCPA scrutiny for its $135 million donation to the University of Macau. See here for an update based on the company’s disclosures.

Quotable

Thomas Baxter (Executive Vice President and General Counsel of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York) stated, in pertinent part, as follows in a recent speech:

“[T]here is one part of the FCPA that makes me uncomfortable.  The FCPA’s bribery prohibition, and the compliance officers in the audience will know this well, contains a narrow exception for “facilitating or expediting payments” made in furtherance of routine governmental action.  [...]  The real mischief is what this exception might do to an organizational value system.  When an organizational policy allows some types of official corruption (and we have come up with candy coated names for this, like facilitation or expediting payments), this diminishes the efficacy of compliance rules that are directed toward stopping official corruption.  Again, the best compliance cultures are formed when the rules and the organizational value system are in perfect harmony.  So, for U.S. chartered institutions, perhaps this is a place where your organizational value system should go beyond black-letter U.S. law.  If you tolerate a little corruption, watch out!”

I generally agree and as highlighted in this recent post when it comes to employee FCPA training, companies should consider omitting reference to the FCPA’s facilitating payments exception and affirmative defenses.  The Global Anti-Bribery Course I have developed in partnership with Emtrain best assists companies in reducing their overall risk exposure by omitting reference to the FCPA’s facilitating payments exception and affirmative defenses in rank-and-file employee training.

To learn more about the course, see here.

To read what others are saying about the course, see here.

Michael Volkov at the Corruption, Crime & Compliance site often tells-it-like-it-is and this post begins as follows.

“The Internet is littered with FCPA Mid-Year Assessments and reports on enforcement activity and so-called trends and developments. Talk about making mountains out of molehills. Some of the reports are excellent; others are rehashes filled with “analysis” that are intended to promote FCPA fear marketing.”

Reading Stack

This recent article in the Corporate Law & Accountability Report details comments made by SEC FCPA Unit Chief Kara Brockmeyer.  In the article Brockmeyer talks about:

  • SEC administrative proceedings;
  • the 11th Circuit’s recent “foreign official” decision; the recent conclusion of the SEC’s enforcement action against Mark Jackson and James Ruehlen which she called “a very good settlement for us”;
  • the origins of SEC FCPA inquiries; and
  • holistic compliance and typical risk areas.

“Countering Small Bribes” – Nice Words, We’ve Heard Them Before, But They Are Wrong

Monday, July 14th, 2014

Today’s post is from Professor Bruce Bean (Michigan State University College of Law).  Prior to academia, Bean had a diverse practice career including at various law firms and in-house counsel positions.

*****

As FCPA Professor recently highlighted, Transparency International UK released a new publication, “Countering Small Bribes – Principles and Good Practice Guidance for Dealing with Small Bribes including Facilitation Payments.” (See here.)  For once, TI has it all wrong!

This publication focuses on “grease,” “tea money,”  “facilitation payments.”  These terms describe small payments, and while no one knows how small these may be, such payments are common in the real world.  “Countering Small Bribes” discusses these in 44 pages and prescribes how such “bribes” can be eliminated.

TI begins by repeating a mantra regularly heard by those of us who deal in this area:

“[P]aying small bribes feeds a climate of corruption, which creates an unstable operating environment for companies. It destroys trust in government and public administration, undermines the rule of law, damages human rights and distorts business transactions. Small bribes are not confined to demands made to companies, as there are no boundaries for officials and others who demand bribes.”

Nice words.  We have heard them before.  They are wrong.

Small bribes do not “[create] an unstable operating environment,” “[damage] human rights” or “[distort] business.”  Rather, small bribes are one of the results of being in a jurisdiction where the rule of law has not been established and locals already do not trust government.  Facilitation payments do not create and do not corrode public and business standards; they are the result of an existing culture of corruption.

While the goal of eliminating corruption is a noble one, punishing the alleged “bribe” givers while ignoring the officials, high level and low, who extort such payments has proved to be fruitless.  Small and large bribes are more often extorted from businesses.  After all, no legitimate business hopes to give a bribe.  Such extortion is practiced by experts who have developed techniques very difficult to resist.  Fighting corruption by punishing the victims of such extortion is equivalent to pushing on a rope.  It gets us nowhere.  Given the 37 years of experience we have had with the FCPA, we cannot escape the conclusion that approaching bribery in international business solely from the bribe payers’ perspective has not, does not, and will not work.

Consider the prescription contained in “Countering Small Bribes.”  The TI approach is based upon ten unobjectionable principles.

“Effective countering of small bribes – including facilitation payments – will be based on the following principles.

1: There is a supporting culture of integrity

2: The company commits to eliminating small bribes

3: Risk assessment is the basis for designing the strategy and programme to eliminate small bribes

4: The company implements a programme to counter small bribes

5: Communication and training are provided to employees

6: Attention is given to countering third party risks

7: The internal accounting controls are designed specifically to counter small bribes

8: Appropriate actions are taken if small bribes are detected

9: The company monitors the effectiveness of its programme to counter small bribes

10: The company acts strategically to influence the corruption environment in which it operates.”

These principles already underlie many companies’ in-house anti-bribery compliance programs.  But these Ten Principles, or any principles, cannot be effective in eliminating bribes, large or small, in a corrupt environment.  The corruption problem in my experience (eight years in Moscow) will never be eliminated by focusing solely on the bribe payer, as the FCPA and the U.K. Bribery Act do.

TI-UK’s “Countering Small Bribes” focuses on small bribes.  Fine.  Consider an employee driving home from work in a foreign city, late at night.  This is a common scenario if the client’s home office in the US opens for business at 3:30 PM or later Moscow time.  Leaving the office in Moscow at 10 PM is not unusual.  A local police officer, lying in wait on the street opposite the office parking lot, flags down the employee and suggests that, because of the late hour, he must have been drinking.  This faithful public servant demands a blood test and displays a not-very-sanitary syringe.  Which of the Ten Principles applies?  (After a payment of less than $20, I was no longer deemed inebriated.)

“Countering Small Bribes” also explains why the FCPA exception for “facilitation payments” is wrong.

“The US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (‘FCPA’), which was passed in 1977, introduced in 1988 the concept of facilitating (also commonly referred to as ‘facilitation’) payments with an exception from prosecution for such payments. This was to recognise a type of intractable bribery confronting US businesses when operating abroad. Since then, this form of bribery has attracted considerable debate and controversy.

Facilitation payments are illegal in most countries, although a small number including Australia, New Zealand, South Korea and the USA provide exceptions, in certain circumstances, for facilitation payments when paid abroad. They remain illegal in their own domestic law.

There is growing international recognition that facilitation payments are not easily separated from other forms of small bribes and more and more companies are following a no-bribes policy throughout their global operations, with no exemptions for facilitation payments.”

The “growing recognition” referred to in the final quoted paragraph doubtless refers to UK’s Bribery Act 2010, which criminalized all bribes, no matter how small.  The Bribery Act was the UK’s long delayed response to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Public Officials in International Business Transactions first signed by the British in 1997.  At that time, the official Commentary addressed facilitation payments as follows:

“Small “facilitation” payments do not constitute payments made “to obtain or retain business or other improper advantage” …  and, accordingly, are also not an offence. Such payments, which, in some countries, are made to induce public officials to perform their functions, such as issuing licenses or permits, are generally illegal in the foreign country concerned. Other countries can and should address this corrosive phenomenon by such means as support for programs of good governance. However, criminalization by other countries does not seem a practical or effective complementary action.”

Note the final sentence: “Criminalization by other countries does not seem a practical or effective complementary action.”  Obviously the U.K. Parliament disagreed when, after much debate, it explicitly criminalized facilitation payments.  Governmental hypocrisy is normal in every U.S. administration and is perhaps a necessary aspect of today’s democracies.  Our British cousins exemplify this with this statement describing facilitation payments which is found in the Guidance to the UK Bribery Act 2010:

“As was the case under the old law, the Bribery Act does not (unlike US foreign bribery law) provide any exemption for such payments.”

This carefully crafted statement is precisely accurate.  It explains that neither the Bribery Act enacted in 2010, nor the superseded earlier anti-bribery laws in England and Wales dating back to 1886, exclude facilitating payments from the definition of crime of bribery.  Absolutely true – the law of England and Wales has never excepted such payments.  On the other hand, in the century plus of British foreign trade under their prior trio of anti-bribery laws, and in the three years since the new Bribery Act became effective, there has also never been a prosecution for foreign facilitating payments.  Not one!  Perhaps this is why Parliament had no problem criminalizing something they believed was not going to be prosecuted.  Whatever one might think about the wisdom of the grease payment exception in the FCPA, as readers of FCPA Professor are aware, the Department of Justice does actively ignores this exception in bringing enforcement actions.

TI-UK’s “Countering Small Bribes,” unfortunately, does nothing to advance the fight against corruption. TI does very valuable work, the results of which we all rely upon.  But “Countering Small Bribes” does not advance this fight.  To combat bribery, national prosecutors must actually bring cases.  To be meaningful, such cases should involve actual bribes, not small facilitation payments.  And if we are sincerely interested in effectively reducing bribery, we must enhance our efforts to punish the extortionate government officials who demand bribes, rather than continue to punish only the victims of extortion.

*****

Note – contrary to TI’s suggestion, facilitating payments were always exempted in the FCPA originally though a carve-out in the “foreign official” definition (i.e. a “foreign official” did not include an individual with ministerial or clerical duties).  In 1988 this exemption became the stand-alone facilitation payments exemption currently found in the FCPA.

Selective Prosecution?

Thursday, July 10th, 2014

The term selective prosecution is a legal term of art with rather exacting factors.  This post is not about the legal term of art selective prosecution, but rather selective prosecution as a practical matter, in order words, in layman terms.

As highlighted in the below chart, there have been eight corporate Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement actions based largely on alleged improper payments to Nigerian officials in connection with Nigeria’s Temporary Import Process (TIP) for oil and gas rigs.

Company Settlement Amount Related Individual Actions 
Panalpina $81.9 million
$70.6 (DOJ)
$11.3 (SEC)
 
No
Pride Int’l $56.2 million
$32.6 (DOJ)
$23.5 (SEC)
 
No
Royal Dutch Shell $48.1 million
$30 (DOJ)
$18.1 (SEC)
 
No
Transocean $20.7 million
$13.4 (DOJ)
$7.2 (SEC)
 
No
Parker Drilling $15.9 million
$11.8 (DOJ)
$4.1 (SEC)
 
No
Tidewater $15.7 million
$7.4 (DOJ)
$8.3 (SEC)
 
No
Noble Corp. $8.2 million
$2.6 (DOJ)
$5.6 (SEC)
 
Yes
GlobalSantaFe $5.9 million
$5.9 (SEC)
No

As indicated in the above chart, the enforcement agencies collected approximately $253 million in the enforcement actions.  (Note certain of the enforcement actions also alleged other improper payments to Nigerian customs officials and, because of the “where else” question, certain of the enforcement actions also alleged improper payments in other countries as well).

To extent settlement amounts serve as a reasonable proxy for the severity of an FCPA enforcement action, the above chart highlights that among the TIP-related enforcement actions, the enforcement action against Noble Corp. was comparatively minor.  This conclusion is further bolstered by the fact that among the TIP-related enforcement actions to involve a DOJ component, the Noble enforcement action was the only action to be resolved via a non-prosecution agreement.

Nevertheless, as highlighted by the above chart, the Noble enforcement action was the only TIP-related enforcement action to result in any related charges against individuals.  In February 2012, the SEC charged Mark Jackson (Noble’s former CEO) and James Ruehlen (a current Noble executive) in a wide-ranging enforcement action charging violations of, among other things, the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions and books and records and internal controls provisions.

This contemporaneous post flagged the SEC action as one to follow since the SEC has never been put to its burden of proof in an FCPA enforcement action.  The post further noted that the FCPA’s facilitation payments exception was likely to be at issue and even highlighted the unusual nature of the DOJ’s NPA against Noble Corp. which, not once but twice, stated that the alleged payments at issue “would not constitute facilitation payments for routine government actions within the meaning of the FCPA.”

In an ironic twist, after the enforcement agencies collected more than $200 million in the TIP-related enforcement actions against risk averse corporate defendants, Jackson and Ruehlen did indeed put the SEC to its burden of proof and the court ruled that the SEC “must bear the burden of negating the facilitating payments exception” and that the “exception is best understood as a threshold requirement to pleading that a defendant acted ‘corruptly.’”  (See here for the prior post).

The SEC, a law enforcement agency with merely a civil burden of proof, was never able to carry this burden and this was among other reasons why the SEC’s case against Jackson and Ruehlen failed – and yes – this is the only reasonable conclusion to be drawn from last week’s settlement (see here).

The above facts and circumstances from the many TIP-related enforcement actions should cause any reasonable observer to ask why Jackson and Ruehlen were singled out for prosecution by the SEC?

As will be explored in a future post that goes more in-depth into the SEC’s failed prosecution of Jackson and Ruehlen, the SEC’s case against the individuals  was all the more curious given that Noble actually booked the TIP-related payments as facilitating payments (the SEC of course disagreed with this position) and given that – per the SEC’s own briefing in the matter – its charges were based on little more than a series of supposed inferences supported by little more than circumstantial evidence.