Archive for the ‘FCPA Inc.’ Category

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.

Further To The DOJ’s Unique Centralized FCPA Enforcement Policy

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014

One reason I have argued, as a matter of policy (see here and here for instance), for greater post-government employment restrictions on DOJ Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement attorneys with supervisory and discretionary authority is due to the unique policies which guide DOJ enforcement action.

This 2013 post highlighted the DOJ’s unique centralized FCPA enforcement policy.  The post included statements from: (i) the then DOJ Deputy Chief of Staff for the Criminal Division noting that the DOJ’s centralized enforcement policy “distinguishes FCPA prosecutions from most other kinds of federal criminal cases; and (2) the former DOJ Assistant Chief for FCPA enforcement who rightly observed that “the FCPA has been recognized and treated as different by the U.S. government” in that the FCPA ”is one of just a few, select statutes to be prosecuted centrally from one DOJ office.”

The practical realities of the DOJ’s unique centralized FCPA enforcement policy are best highlighted by the new law firm biography of the DOJ’s recently departed FCPA Unit Chief.  In pertinent part, the biography states:

“[Former Unit Chief] most recently served as a Deputy Chief in the Fraud Section in the Criminal Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, where he led the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) Unit and was in charge of all of the DOJ’s FCPA  investigations, prosecutions and resolutions in the United States. Internationally recognized for his leading role in developing and implementing  the government’s FCPA enforcement strategy, he was widely credited with developing the current enforcement regime and recruiting and leading a talented team of prosecutors who have brought some of the most important FCPA cases in the statute’s 36-year history.

[...]

As the head of the FCPA Unit, [former Unit Chief]  oversaw countless voluntary disclosures, decided which matters would be declined, administered DOJ’s FCPA Opinion Release Procedures and was responsible for interviewing, selecting and  reviewing the work of seventeen independent corporate monitors.

[...]

While in the Fraud Section, [former Unit Chief] led the development of a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) template for FCPA cases, which formed the basis for a DPA template later adopted for use by the entire Criminal Division, and he also led the effort to update and restructure the enhanced compliance components of DPAs in FCPA cases.”

The DOJ’s unique centralized FCPA enforcement policy warrants another special policy.

And that is, a prohibition on DOJ (and SEC) FCPA enforcement attorneys with supervisory and discretionary authority from providing FCPA defense or compliance services for five years upon leaving government service.

*****

See here and here for other recent posts concerning the departure of the DOJ’s FCPA Unit Chief.