Archive for the ‘FCPA Inc.’ Category

Friday Roundup

Friday, May 2nd, 2014

U.S. reportedly did not cooperate, Avon’s reaches a settlement “understanding” and other scrutiny alerts, the “financial SWAT team,” at the SEC, FCPA Inc. news, and for the reading stack.  It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

U.S. Reportedly Did Not Cooperate

The DOJ talks a lot about cooperation with foreign law enforcement partners with its comes to its Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement program.  For instance, and as noted in this prior post, in June 2013 the DOJ’s Acting Assistant Attorney General stated:

“Through our increased work on prosecutions with our foreign counterparts and our participation in various multi-lateral fora like the OECD and United Nations, it is safe to say that we are cooperating with foreign law enforcement on foreign bribery cases more closely today than at any time in history.  This type of collaboration is absolutely critical if we are going to have a meaningful impact on corruption internationally.  As our economies become more interdependent, corruption itself is increasingly transnational.  What may be a domestic corruption concern for one country may very well be a foreign bribery concern for another.”

In 2012 and 2013 (see here and here) the DOJ brought related FCPA enforcement actions against BizJet and various former executives regarding, in part, conduct involving officials from Panama’s Aviation Authority.

Panama also investigated the conduct at issue, but according to this report in Panama-Guide.com (a website that provides English translations of original source news articles):

“Panama’s Superior Prosecutor for Organized Crime requested the judges responsible for the case to provisionally close a case involving allegations of the payments of bribes to officials of the Civil Aviation Authority by the US company BizJet, that received the contract to maintain the presidential aircraft between 2004 and 2009. The prosecutor sent his request in early March 2014, because law enforcement authorities in the United States failed to respond to a second request for judicial assistance in order to clarify key pieces of data (evidence) contained in the Panamanian investigation. The prosecutor sent their first request for assistance to the United States in May 2012 asking for collaboration, but the answer they sent in response to the Panamanian investigators was not enough (insufficient) for them to continue the investigation. They sent a second request for assistance in 2013, asking for the evidence that linked the Panamanians to the alleged bribes.  According to judicial sources, these elements would be important to the process. The director of the AAC, Rafael Barcenas, confirmed that the officials mentioned in investigation in the United States are still working for the entity, and while there is no legal decision his office will not take any action against them.”

Scrutiny Alerts

Avon

Yesterday, Avon disclosed as follows regarding the FCPA scrutiny it has been under since 2008.

“We have now reached an understanding with respect to terms of settlement with each of the DOJ and the staff of the SEC. Based on these understandings, the Company would, among other things: pay aggregate fines, disgorgement and prejudgment interest of $135 [million] with respect to alleged violations of the books and records and internal control provisions of the FCPA, with $68 [million] payable to the DOJ and $67 [million] payable to the SEC; enter into a deferred prosecution agreement (“DPA”) with the DOJ under which the DOJ would defer criminal prosecution of the Company for a period of three years in connection with alleged violations of the books and records and internal control provisions of the FCPA; agree to have a compliance monitor which, with the approval of the government, can be replaced after 18 months by the Company’s agreement to undertake self monitoring and reporting obligations for an additional 18 months. If the Company remains in compliance with the DPA during its term, the charges against the Company would be dismissed with prejudice. In addition, as part of any settlement with the DOJ, a subsidiary of Avon operating in China would enter a guilty plea in connection with alleged violations of the books and records provision of the FCPA. The expected terms of settlement do not require any change to our historical financial statements. Final resolution of these matters is subject to preparation and negotiation of documentation satisfactory to all the parties, including approval by our board of directors and, in the case of the SEC, authorization by the Commission; court approval of the SEC settlement; and court approval of the DPA and acceptance of the expected guilty plea by an Avon subsidiary operating in China. We can provide no assurances that satisfactory final agreements will be reached, that authorization by the Commission or the court approvals will be obtained or that the court will accept the guilty plea or with respect to the timing or terms of any such agreements, authorization, and approvals and acceptance.”

A $135 million settlement will be the 11th largest in terms of fine / penalty amounts.

Some media outlets were quick to link disclosure of the future FCPA settlement to the approximate 10% slide in Avon’s stock price yesterday.  For instance, USA Today stated:

“Avon Products stock swooned more than 12% in mid-day trading after the company agreed to pay $135 million for long-standing federal changes that it paid bribes in China and other countries.”

However, Avon’s FCPA disclosure was in the same SEC filing in which the company disclosed, among other things, a 6% drop in total units sold during Q1, beauty sales were off 12%, and sales in North America fell 22%.

Johnson Controls

In its most recent quarterly filing, Johnson Controls first disclosed the following:

“In June 2013, the Company self-reported to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) alleged Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) violations related to its Building Efficiency marine business in China dating back to 2007. These allegations were isolated to the Company’s marine business in China which had annual sales ranging from $20 million to $50 million during this period. The Company, under the oversight of its Audit Committee and Board of Directors, proactively initiated an investigation into this matter with the assistance of external legal counsel and external forensic accountants. In connection with this investigation, the Company has made and continues to evaluate certain enhancements to its FCPA compliance program. The Company continues to fully cooperate with the SEC and the DOJ; however, at this time, the Company is unable to predict the ultimate resolution of this matter with these agencies.”

In 2007, Johnson Controls was a signatory to the York International FCPA enforcement action (see here and here) principally involving alleged conduct in connection with the Iraq Oil for Food Program.  According to the DOJ, “nearly all of the conduct described in the [York International Criminal] Information took place prior to York’s acquisition by Johnson Controls, Inc. on December 9, 2005.”

JPMorgan

In its most recent quarterly filing, JPMorgan disclosed as follows regarding its pending FCPA scrutiny:

“Referral Hiring Practices Investigations. Various regulators are investigating, among other things, the Firm’s compliance with the  Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and other laws with respect to the  Firm’s hiring practices related to candidates referred by clients, potential clients and government officials, and its engagement of consultants in the Asia Pacific region. The Firm is cooperating with these investigations.”

Teva Pharamaceuticals

In August 2012, the company first disclosed its FCPA scrutiny and in its most recent SEC filing disclosed as follows.

“Beginning in 2012, Teva received subpoenas and informal document requests from the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) and the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) to produce documents with respect to compliance with the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (the “FCPA”) in certain countries. Teva has provided and will continue to provide documents and other information to the SEC and the DOJ, and is cooperating with the government in their investigations of these matters. Teva is also conducting a voluntary worldwide investigation into certain business practices that may have FCPA implications and has engaged independent counsel to assist in its investigation. In the course of its investigation, which is continuing, Teva has identified issues in Russia, certain Eastern European countries, certain Latin American countries and other countries where it conducts business that could rise to the level of FCPA violations and/or violations of local law. In connection with its investigation of these issues, Teva has become aware that Teva affiliates in certain countries under investigation provided to local authorities inaccurate or altered information relating to marketing or promotional practices. Teva continues to bring these issues to the attention of the SEC and the DOJ. No conclusion can be drawn at this time as to any likely outcomes in these matters.”

Och-Ziff

Och-Ziff Capital Management disclosed as follows in its recent quarterly filing:

“Beginning in 2011, and from time to time thereafter, the Company has received subpoenas from the Securities and Exchange Commission and requests for information from the U.S. Department of Justice in connection with an investigation involving the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and related laws. The investigation concerns an investment by a foreign sovereign wealth fund in some of the Och-Ziff funds in 2007 and investments by some of the funds, both directly and indirectly, in a number of companies in Africa. At this time, the Company is unable to determine how the investigation will be resolved and what impact, if any, it will have. An adverse outcome could have a material effect on the Company’s consolidated financial statements. “

“Financial SWAT Team”

It receives scant attention compared to FCPA enforcement, but another prong of the DOJ’s efforts to combat bribery and corruption is its Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative under which prosecutors in the DOJ Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section work in partnership with federal law enforcement agencies to forfeit the proceeds of foreign official corruption. (See this 2009 post highlighting Attorney General Holder’s announcement of the program).

Earlier this week, speaking at Ukraine Forum on Asset Recovery Attorney General Holder announced “the creation of a dedicated Kleptocracy squad within the FBI.”  He stated:

“This specialized unit will partner with our Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section to aggressively investigate and prosecute corruption cases – not only in Ukraine, but around the world. The squad of about a dozen personnel will consist of case agents and forensic analysts who are capable of unraveling the intricate money laundering transactions commonly employed by kleptocrats. Their sophisticated work will be supported by deputy marshals from the United States Marshals Service and analysts from FinCEN, which is our financial intelligence unit. And this new initiative will provide the United States with increased capacity to respond rapidly to political crises as they arise – so we can help prevent stolen assets from being dissipated or secreted away by deposed regimes.”

At the SEC

Further to the notion that SEC enforcement seems at times to be a numbers game, SEC Chair Mary Jo White testified as follows before the House Financial Services Committee.

“The Commission continues to pursue companies that bribe foreign officials to obtain or retain business, and over the last two-and-a-half years, we have obtained over $679 million in monetary relief from FCPA actions. For example, the SEC has brought FCPA actions charging a company with a bribe scheme involving business with Aluminum Bahrain; another company with various bribes and improper payments in the Middle East and Africa and violations of U.S. sanctions and export control laws involving Cuba, Iran, Syria, and Sudan; and a third company with bribe schemes involving business with the National Iranian Oil Company. The Commission is also focused on holding individuals accountable, with ongoing FCPA-related litigation against former executives of a number of corporations.”

Fact check.

Since 2008,  approximately 82% of corporate SEC FCPA enforcement actions have not (at least yet) resulted in any SEC charges against company employees and the SEC has not brought an individual FCPA enforcement action since 2012.

Although White’s FCPA testimony focused on the numbers, elsewhere she was quick to point out that:

“Quantitative metrics alone, however, are not the proper yardstick of the measure of Enforcement’s effectiveness. Enforcement considers the quality, breadth, and effect of the actions pursued.”

Staying with the SEC, its tough to beat the following for lack of transparency.  Recently in an insider trading enforcement action, the SEC entered into a non-prosecution agreement with an “individual.”

FCPA Inc. News

Few FCPA Inc. participants are publicy-traded companies.  Thus, it is often difficult to take the pulse of FCPA Inc. other than anecdotal information.  However, one FCPA Inc. participant that is publicly traded is FTI Consulting.  In a recent earnings release, the company stated:

“The major driver of quarterly results was Forensic and Litigation Consulting with a record quarter, fueled by a number of front-page newspaper assignments from across the globe relating to high-stakes client events ranging from FCPA investigations to mortgage-backed security litigations. Similarly, our Technology business continued to perform very well, driven by ongoing FCPA and financial services investigations as well as increased cross-border M&A related ‘second request’ activity.”

As previously highlighted, as Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division, Mythili Raman often carried forward much of the same rhetoric former Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer frequently articulated concerning the DOJ’s FCPA enforcement program.  Raman will now be joining Breuer at Covington & Burling.  The firm announced that “Mythili Raman … is joining Covington & Burling as a partner. Ms. Raman will practice in the firm’s litigation and white collar groups and be resident in the Washington office.”

As noted in this Covington biography:

“As Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Criminal Division from 2013-2014, and before then, as the Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General of the Criminal Division from 2009-2013, Ms. Raman oversaw the work of more than 600 prosecutors and led the Justice Department’s national and international criminal law enforcement initiatives, including investigations of [among other things] violations of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.”

For additional coverage see here from the New York Times and here from the Wall Street Journal.

For the Reading Stack

ProPublica takes a look at various aspects of white-collar law enforcement, including the “Breu Crew” (a reference to former Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer”) in “The Rise of Corporate Impunity.”  See here for my article “Lanny Breuer and Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Enforcement.”

Three cheers for Northwestern Professors Juliet Sorensen and Karen Alter for resisting the “feel good” notion that the International Criminal Court ought to be prosecuting corruption.  Writing in “Let Nations, Not the World, Prosecute Corruption,” the authors state:

“It is easy to understand the attraction of adding the crime of corruption to the International Criminal Court’s jurisdiction. Like violent atrocities, embezzlement and blackmail may be perpetrated on innocents. Corruption can be an international crime, featuring offshore accounts, money laundering and bribery of foreign officials. Moreover, when political leaders are involved in mass corruption, their crimes can become too dangerous for local judges and prosecutors to tackle. [...] But to add this crime to the court’s jurisdiction would be a mistake. It is limited for good reason to genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and in the future, the crime of aggression.  [...]  Before we give the court a new and even harder crime to prosecute, we must make sure that it can succeed in its core mandate. What international criminal law does best is prosecute those most responsible, at the apex of the pyramid, when individual nations are unwilling or unable to do so.  Finally, we must recognize that already the International Criminal Court faces a crisis of political support. [...]  The status quo is surely not a perfect one. But international intervention is not a panacea. The International Criminal Court needs to stay focused on the important task of prosecuting those most responsible for mass atrocities. Rather than put more resources into international criminal prosecution, the resources and energy of the international community should go towards bolstering national resources to investigate, prosecute, and deter public corruption.”

See here for “Anti-Corruption Compliance:  Meeting the Global Standard” recently published in Bloomberg BNA’s Corporate Law and Accountability Report by Arnold & Porter attorneys Keith Korenchuk, Samuel Witten and Daniel Bernstein:

“Designing an effective anti-corruption compliance program that meets the requirements of many different jurisdictions seems like a daunting task. Executives at global companies are likely to ask themselves: Do we need dozens of different compliance programs? Will we be subject to conflicting standards in the various countries where we do business? How can we ensure proper oversight of activity that occurs all over the globe? In addressing these questions, multinational companies should take note of the broad global consensus that has developed around what governments and international organizations expect of corporate anti corruption compliance programs. While there is no one-size-fits-all program—and a company must bear in mind applicable local laws—this global standard is welcome news. Here we review the commonly accepted best practices for an anti-corruption compliance program.”

From various Jones Day attorneys (here), “India’s New Corporate Social Responsibility Requirements – Beware of the Pitfalls”:

“In August 2013, the Indian parliament passed the Indian Companies Act, 2013 (the “New Act”), which has replaced the Companies Act of 1956. The New Act has made far-reaching changes affecting company formation, administration and governance, and it has increased shareholder control over board decisions. [...]  One of the New Act’s most startling changes—which came into effect on April 1, 2014—has been to impose compulsory corporate social responsibility  obligations (“CSR”) upon Indian companies and foreign companies operating in India. These obligations mainly come in the form of mandatory amounts companies must contribute to remediating social problems. This is a wholly new requirement; although companies were permitted, within certain limits, to make charitable contributions in the past, the New Act is essentially a self-administered tax.  [...] If the Indian company undertaking CSR is a subsidiary of a United States entity, or if its business activities “touch” the U.K., then the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) or the U.K. Bribery Act (“UKBA”), respectively, as well as other regulatory laws of these jurisdictions, may apply to the Indian company’s CSR payments. This may raise serious issues of compliance and liability.”

See here for “China Introduces New Health Care Sector Anti-Corruption Regulations” by Richard Grams and Allan Golder:

“As part of a concerted effort to tackle systemic commercial bribery in the country’s health care sector, China’s National Health and Family Planning Commission recently introduced separate new regulations aimed at hospitals and physicians, as well as the medical product companies that supply them.”

*****

A good weekend to all.

The FCPA And The “Failure To Communicate”

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

The year was 1982 and the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act was a mere 5 years old.  Leading FCPA experts, such as Frederick Wade (Chief Counsel, SEC Enforcement Division) gathered for a symposium at Syracuse University College of Law (See Volume 9, Number 2, Syracuse Journal of International Law and Commerce).

In a speech titled ”An Examination of the Provisions and Standards of the FCPA,” Wade lamented the “quality of the public debate” surrounding passage of the FCPA and then-current FCPA issues.  He observed:

“[A]t the time the FCPA was being considered in the Congress, and hearings were being held, there was a great reluctance on the part of interested companies and persons to come forward and make their views known.  Although this reluctance may be understandable, given the subject matter, there was virtually no opposition to the bill.  Few, if any, concerns were expressed in a public form as to how the FCPA might affect overseas operations or how the statute might be interpreted and applied.”

[...]

“[T]here is still great difficulty in getting the corporate sector to come forward and express concerns in a public forum in a way that the Congress can get a handle on them and try to deal with them in a rational way.”

[...]

[I]t is difficult to get a handle on the impact that the statute has had, because most of the experience people have had is related to the government or to the Congress in the form of anonymous anecdotes.  People say we have had this type of experience, or this kind of problem, but you have to take our word for it, accept our general description of the circumstances, and agree not to identify the source of the information.”

[...]

“From my perspective, the critics of the FCPA and those in government charged with administering the Act have been talking past each other for four years.  I am not sure why this is true.  I am sure that there has been a failure to communicate and that we have not advanced the ball to a great degree in terms of coming to grips with the issues.  This failure to communicate has profound implications with respect to the ability of the policymaking process to evaluate the issues and make needed changes to the law.”

Wade’s observations remain true 32 years later.

There remains a great reluctance on the part of interested companies and persons to come forward and make their FCPA views known.

If only I could publish the many comments I receive, including from current enforcement agency attorneys, critical of various aspects of FCPA enforcement.

If only leading FCPA practitioners would allow their names to be used in the observations they share with me.  For instance, a leading FCPA practitioner recently shared with me the following:

“I think the reality is that the FCPA Bar is, for obvious reasons, very eager to ingratiate itself with, the FCPA Unit in DC. The predictable result is that firms put out flattering articles and updates about the skill and fairness of the enforcers. This hardly results in meaningful discourse, scholarship, or conversation; that said, those who know the most and deal with the FCPA unit the most are also least likely to say in public what they will be happy to share in private over a beer.”

Given the largely opaque nature in which the FCPA is generally “enforced” behind closed doors in Washington, D.C., anecdotes, legend and lore often carry the day.

Persons interested in the FCPA continue to talk past each other.

To be critical of various aspects of FCPA enforcement may give one a label of being anti-FCPA (see here).  FCPA enforcement statistics are all-over-the-map (see here).  So-called civil society groups and organizations clamor for more enforcement while at the same time: (i) exhibiting a clear lack of knowledge regarding various issues relevant to the FCPA or FCPA enforcement; and (ii) articulating policy positions that not even the pro-enforcement enforcement agencies agree with (see here and here).  Major media outlets now have for-profit risk and compliance divisions and thus are hardly objective reporters of FCPA information.

Wade’s observation 32 years ago remains true today:

“This failure to communicate has profound implications with respect to the ability of the policymaking process to evaluate the issues and make needed changes to the law.”

Friday Roundup

Friday, February 28th, 2014

Most admired, from the U.K., one way to avoid judicial scrutiny is to avoid the courts, another DOJ official departs, scrutiny updates, and survey says.  It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Most Admired

Are companies that resolve a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement or are otherwise under FCPA scrutiny bad or unethical companies?  To be sure, certain companies that have resolved FCPA enforcement actions are deserving of this label, yet most are not.  Indeed, as detailed in this prior post several companies have earned designation as “World Most Ethical Companies” during the same general time period relevant to an enforcement action or instance of FCPA scrutiny.

In a similar vein, several FCPA violators or companies under FCPA scrutiny can be found on Fortune’s recent “Most Admired Company” list.  In the top 50, I count 12 such companies including IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Microsoft, Wal-Mart, JPMorgan, and Cisco.

Let’s face it, not all companies that resolve FCPA enforcement actions or are under FCPA scrutiny are bad or unethical companies.  If more people would realize this and accept this fact, perhaps a substantive discussion could take place regarding FCPA reform absent the misinformed rhetoric.

From the U.K.

In this October 2013 post at the beginning of the U.K. trial of former News Corp. executives Rebekah Brooks, the former editor of News of the World, and Andy Coulson, another former News of the World editor, I observed as follows.

“What happens in these trials concerning the bribery offenses will not determine the outcome of any potential News Corp. FCPA enforcement action.  But you can bet that the DOJ and SEC will be interested in the ultimate outcome.  In short, if there is a judicial finding that Brooks and/or Coulson or other high-level executives in London authorized or otherwise knew of the alleged improper payments, this will likely be a factor in how the DOJ and SEC ultimately resolve any potential enforcement action and how News Corp.’s overall culpability score may be calculated under the advisory Sentencing Guidelines.”

Well …, this Wall Street Journal article reports as follows.

“[Rebekah Brooks testified that] she authorized payments to public officials in exchange for information on “half a dozen occasions” during her time as a newspaper editor—but did so only in what she said was the public interest. [...]  On the stand, Ms. Brooks, who edited News Corp’s Sun newspaper and its now-closed News of the World sister title, said the payments were made for good reasons, and done so on rare occasions and after careful consideration. “My view at the time was that there had to be an overwhelming public interest to justify payments in the very narrow circumstances of a public official being paid for information directly in line with their jobs,” said Ms. Brooks.”

As noted in this previous post at the beginning of News Corp.’s FCPA scrutiny, any suggestion that the media industry is somehow excluded from the FCPA’s prohibitions is entirely off-base.

One Way to Avoid Judicial Scrutiny is to Avoid the Courts

In recent years, the SEC has had some notable struggles in the FCPA context and otherwise when put to its burden of proof in litigated actions or otherwise having to defend its settlement policies to federal court judges.  For instance, Judge Shira Scheindlin (S.D.N.Y.) dismissed the SEC’s FCPA enforcement against former Siemens executive Herbert Steffen.  In another FCPA enforcement action,  Judge Keith Ellison (S.D.Tex.) granted without prejudice Mark Jackson and James Ruehlen’s motion to dismiss the SEC’s claims that sought monetary damages.  In Gabelli, the Supreme Court unanimously rejected the SEC’s statute of limitations position.  Judge Richard Leon (D.D.C.) expressed concerns regarding the SEC’s settlement of FCPA enforcement actions against Tyco and IBM and approved the settlements only after imposing additional reporting requirements on the companies.  In addition, the SEC’s neither admit nor deny settlement policy has been questioned by several judges (most notably Judge Jed Rakoff) and the merits of this policy is currently before the Second Circuit.

The SEC’s response to this judicial scrutiny has been, as strange as it may sound, to bypass the judicial system altogether  when resolving many of its enforcement actions including in the FCPA context.  As detailed in this previous post concerning SEC FCPA enforcement in 2013, of the 8 corporate enforcement actions from 2013, 3 enforcement actions were administrative actions (Philips Electronics, Total, and Stryker) and 1 action (Ralph Lauren) was a non-prosecution agreement.  In other words, there was no judicial scrutiny of 50% of SEC FCPA enforcement actions from 2013.

Based on recent statements from SEC officials at the “SEC Speaks” conference this trend is going to continue.

According to this Vedder Price bulletin:

“Charlotte Buford, Assistant Chief Counsel, spoke about the SEC’s intention to use the administrative proceeding forum more frequently and in a wider variety of upcoming enforcement actions. Ms. Buford stated that in choosing the forum, the SEC considers factors such as speed and efficiency, the nature of the case, litigation considerations such as the amount of discovery needed, and settlement considerations. Ms. Buford noted that, although certain types of actions such as insider trading cases were historically brought in district court, two insider trading cases were recently brought as administrative actions. She also referenced the SEC’s recent action against Alcoa, Inc. involving FCPA violations, which was filed as a settled administrative proceeding. Ms. Buford indicated that the SEC will continue to increase its use of administrative proceedings in the coming years.”

This Perkins Coie alert adds the following:

“[Kara Brockmeyer - Chief of the SEC's FCPA Unit] also noted that companies can expect to see more cases resolved in administrative proceedings, and that the FCPA Unit is considering bringing litigated FCPA cases through administrative proceedings as well.”

SEC administrative settlements in the FCPA context were rare prior to 2010 largely because the SEC could not impose monetary penalties in such proceedings absent certain exceptions.  However, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act granted the SEC broad authority to impose civil monetary penalties in administrative proceedings in which the SEC staff seeks a cease-and-desist order.  However, Congress’s grant of such authority to the SEC – no doubt politically popular in the aftermath of the so-called financial crisis – has directly resulted in less judicial scrutiny of SEC enforcement theories including in the FCPA context.

Like so much of what is happening in the FCPA space (and government regulation of corporate conduct generally), this is a troubling development.

In other “SEC Speaks” tidbits, the Vedder Price bulletin also states:

“Kara Brockmeyer, Chief of the FCPA Unit, noted that her unit brought a variety of cases in 2013, which included “old school” bribery cases funneling money, improper travel and entertainment, and improper charitable donations. Ms. Brockmeyer stated that the SEC continues to see issues with third-party intermediaries, as many companies enter into arrangements with third parties without adequately explaining the roles of the third parties. Ms. Brockmeyer lauded companies for “putting more thought” into compliance programs and internal controls, as well as for their decisions to self-report. She also discussed the Cross-border working group, which has brought 21 fraud actions involving 90 individuals or entities and has revoked the registrations of 63 companies since this initiative started three years ago.”

The Perkins Coie alert also states:

“Turning to the area of cooperation credit and non-prosecution agreements (NPAs), Chief Brockmeyer stated that the 2013 Ralph Lauren case is a good example of where such an outcome was warranted.  Several factors that weighed in favor of that favorable NPA settlement resulted from the company: self-reporting the suspected bribery within two weeks of finding violations; discovering the violations on its own through internal monitoring activities; assisting the SEC’s investigation by providing English language translations of foreign documents, and bringing witnesses to the United States for questioning; and undertaking extensive remediation efforts, including a worldwide investigation to determine if there were any systemic issues.  Finally, Chief Brockmeyer added that it was significant that Ralph Lauren’s investigation determined that the bribery issues were confined to one country; if the violations were found to be more widespread, the company would likely still have received cooperation credit, but would not have been a candidate for a NPA.

Chief Brockmeyer stated that the SEC will continue to address Compliance Monitorship requirements on a case-by-case basis.  Recently, the SEC has imposed both “full” monitorships, as well as some “hybrid” monitorships that include 18 months of monitoring, combined with 18 months of self-monitoring by the company.  She noted that some companies might even qualify for just internal monitoring, but all these considerations depend heavily on the state of the company’s compliance program.

Finally, Chief Brockmeyer indicated that whistleblower tips continue to serve as a primary lead for the SEC in identifying potential FCPA actions.  The SEC is using these tips to identify specific sectors or industries that are not paying sufficient attention to corporate compliance or internal controls.  The SEC is also focused on enforcing the anti-retaliation whistleblower provisions in Dodd Frank.  In some instances, the SEC has observed that companies have required employees to sign confidentiality agreements that appear to bar an employee from becoming a whistleblower.  She opined that such agreements would violate Dodd-Frank’s prohibition against regulated entities taking actions to impede employees from making whistleblower complaints.”

Another DOJ Official Departs

When Lanny Breuer departed as DOJ Assistant Attorney Criminal Division in March 2013, Mythili Raman became Acting Assistant Attorney and carried forward much of the same rhetoric Breuer frequently articulated concerning the DOJ’s FCPA enforcement program.  (See here for my article “Lanny Breuer and Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Enforcement).

In speeches (here and here) Raman stated that the DOJ’s “stellar FCPA Unit continues to go gangbusters, bringing case after case,” “our recent string of successful prosecutions of corporate executives is worth highlighting” and “we are not going away … our efforts to fight foreign bribery are more robust than ever.”

Like other DOJ FCPA officials before her, Raman frequently highlighted certain enforcement statistics, yet conveniently ignored the most telling enforcement statistic of all – the DOJ’s dismal record when actually put to its burden of proof in FCPA enforcement actions.  In short, for a long time the DOJ’s FCPA Unit has had a distorted view of success.

Certainly, the DOJ and SEC have had “success” in this new era of FCPA enforcement exercising leverage and securing large corporate FCPA settlements against risk-averse corporations through resolution vehicles often not subjected to any meaningful judicial scrutiny.  However, by focusing on the quantity of FCPA enforcement, the quality of that enforcement is often left unexplored.  The simplistic notion advanced by the enforcement agencies seems to be that more FCPA enforcement is an inherent good regardless of enforcement theories, regardless of resolution vehicles, and regardless of actual outcomes when put to its burden of proof.  This logic is troubling and ought to be rejected.  In a legal system founded on the rule of law, a more meaningful form of government enforcement agency success is prevailing in the context of an adversarial system when put to the burden of proof.  As to this form of success, during this new era of FCPA enforcement, the DOJ and SEC have had far less “success” in enforcing the FCPA.

Recently the DOJ announced that Raman is departing from her position. (See here).  In this related Q&A with the Wall Street Journal Law Blog (LB) Raman confirmed that the DOJ measures success in terms of quantity without regard to quality.

LB: [On enforcement of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which has increased in recent years] do you think you’re winning? Are there fewer bribes being paid now?

MR: We often measure our success by numbers of enforcement actions but actually at the end of the day…. the deterrent effect is what actually matters. I don’t know if fewer bribes are being paid or not. But I do know that there are many more companies who know what their obligations are now.

For additional coverage of Raman’s departure, see here and here.

Scrutiny Alerts

Last summer German healthcare firm Fresenius Medical Care AG disclosed an FCPA internal investigation (see here for the prior post).  In its recently filed annual report, the company stated as follows:

“The Company has received communications alleging certain conduct in certain countries outside the U.S. and Germany that may violate the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) or other anti-bribery laws. The Audit and Corporate Governance Committee of the Company’s Supervisory Board is conducting an internal review with the assistance of independent counsel retained for such purpose. The Company  voluntarily advised the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) and the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) that allegations have been made and of the Company’s internal review. The Company’s review and dialogue with the SEC and DOJ are ongoing.  The review has identified conduct that raises concerns under the FCPA or other anti-bribery laws that may result in monetary penalties or other sanctions. In addition, the Company’s ability to conduct business in certain jurisdictions could be negatively impacted. Given the current status of the internal review, the Company cannot reasonably estimate the possible loss or range of possible loss that may result from the identified matters or from the final outcome of the continuing internal review. Accordingly, no provision with respect to these matters has been made in the accompanying consolidated financial statements.  The Company’s independent counsel, in conjunction with the Company’s Compliance Department, have reviewed the Company’s anti-corruption compliance program, including internal controls related to compliance with international anti-bribery laws, and appropriate enhancements are being implemented. The Company is fully committed to FCPA compliance.”

Bio-Rad Laboratories disclosed as follows yesterday in an earnings release.

“[Fourth quarter] results included an accrued expense of $15 million in connection with the Company’s efforts to resolve the previously disclosed investigation of the Company in connection with the United States Foreign Corrupt Practices Act; this is in addition to an accrued expense of $20 million in the third quarter of 2013.”

Survey Says

The American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai recently released its China Business Report (2013-2014).

Notable findings include the following:

“Generally consistent with previous years, 80 percent of respondents cited bureaucracy as the No. 1 challenge, with 72 percent declaring difficulties from an unclear regulatory environment and 70 percent were concerned over problems with tax administration rounding out the top three leading legal and regulatory challenges that companies said hindered their business.”

As I’ve frequently stated, the root causes of much bribery and corruption are various trade barriers and distortions. These barriers and distortions – whether complex customs procedures, import documentation and inspection requirements, local sponsor or other third-party requirements, arcane licensing and certification requirements, quality standards that require product testing and inspection visits, or other foreign government procurement practices – all serve as breeding grounds for harassment bribes to be requested. 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.

The report also stated:

“Efforts by the Chinese government to target companies for corruption investigations have sharply increased companies’ concern over compliance with China’s laws and regulations. In 2013, 46 percent of companies said compliance with domestic laws was more important to their business, up from 31 percent in 2012, compared to international anti-bribery laws such as the FCPA (32 percent).

Twice as many respondents said that China’s more aggressive regulatory enforcement for anti-corruption and anti-competition has greatly increased or increased their own business risk (18 percent) than those who say their business risk has greatly decreased or decreased (8 percent). The issue of corruption and fraud was most strongly felt in the healthcare industry (24 percent), which contended with high profile government investigations of foreign and domestic pharmaceutical companies in 2013.”

The impetus for much of this concern is the result of GSK’s (and other pharma and healthcare related companies) scrutiny by Chinese authorities for alleged improper business practices.  (See here for the prior post).

*****

A good weekend to all.

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.

Elevating The FCPA Conversation

Thursday, February 20th, 2014

In running this website, I run FCPA and related searches literally every 24 hours.

Because of these searches, I am very familiar (at times I think too familiar for my overall health) with the ebb and flow of information and reporting of Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and related issues.  I have previously lamented the nature and quality of certain FCPA commentary (see here for instance) and today I coordinate this post with a similar post being made on Tom Fox’s FCPA Compliance and Ethics Blog so that we can jointly call attention to a problem that is infecting the FCPA conversation.

The infection is poor quality and/or self-serving FCPA information in the public domain, derelict gatekeeping that results in such information being reported as fact, and the overall use of such infections and deficiencies to market FCPA and related products or services.

The remedy is for all who enter or participate in the FCPA conversation to elevate the FCPA conversation.

This post traces a recent prediction found in a law firm FCPA alert, how this prediction has literally travelled around the world in a short time, how this prediction has been converted into a fact by various gatekeepers eager to write about FCPA topics, and how this prediction turned fact has made its way back to the U.S. and is now being used to market FCPA and related products and services.

Missed in the entire conversation of course is that the originating source – an FCPA Inc. participant – was making a prediction.

On February 5th, a law firm released a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Alert.  At the end of the 31 page document, there is a section titled “Predictions for 2014″ and it states, in pertinent part, as follows: “we may see the following developments potentially unfolding in 2014 and beyond:

“While the number of enforcement actions may decrease or hold steady, we can expect some ‘blockbuster’ settlements in 2014 of matters that have long been under investigation.”

Such law firm alerts/releases are frequently and widely circulated by law firm marketing departments in the hopes of drawing attention to the law firm’s FCPA practice.

The recipients of such information are many – I am usually one of them – but more often the recipients tend to be non-lawyer journalists who are frequently looking for hooks, catchy titles, etc. for articles.

Sure enough, on February 10th, an English language news service in China ran the headline – based on the law firm’s prediction -  “Firms face ‘blockbuster’ fines in US over bribery cases in China.”  The lead paragraph stated:

“The United States is expected to impose ‘blockbuster’ fines on companies bribing foreign officials this year, with China a likely target of US investigations, lawyers say.”

Given how things tend to spread like wildfire on the internet and social media, this headline was rebroadcast nearly instantaneously around the world.

The headline made its way back to the U.S. on February 11th when a respected news outlet included in a headline “looming blockbuster fines.”

A company that sells FCPA compliance products and services then touted one its compliance products under the heading “More FCPA enforcement expected in China” and stated as follows.

“The United States is expected to impose ‘blockbuster’ fines on companies bribing foreign officials this year, with China a likely target for U.S. investigators, according to a report published” by the law firm.

And then of course, the whistleblower lawyers got in on the action on February 17th as one firm ran the headline “Blockbuster Year Predicted for the FCPA in 2014.”  The article begin:

“Less than two months in to the new year, individuals are already predicting a massive year for prosecutions and settlements in Foreign Corrupt Practices Act cases, according to the South China Morning Post.”

There was of course nothing wrong with the law firm’s initial statement – it was after all a prediction.  However, the media recipients of FCPA Inc. marketing material need to better exercise the gatekeeper role they play and realize (as many do already) that much of FCPA Inc. marketing material is really no different from an investment advisor predicting a great year for stock returns (in the hopes of attracting client money) or a car salesperson predicting a brisk year in car sales (in the hopes of driving up demand and thus greater prices).

In short, the FCPA conversation has turned silly in many respect and it needs to be elevated as there are many issues where high-quality, experienced and informed commentary are needed.

All who enter or participate in the FCPA conversation can take steps towards that end.  In this regard, this recent New York Times DealBook article “More Reflection, Less Action” is a good start as are the articles highlighted in this recent post.