Archive for the ‘FCPA Investigative Costs’ Category

Friday Roundup

Friday, May 31st, 2013

Boondoggle specifics, another DOJ enforcement official to FCPA Inc., scrutiny alert, across the pond, and for the reading stack.  It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Wal-Mart’s FCPA Expenses

Previous posts (here) and (here) have calculated Wal-Mart’s per working day FCPA related professional fees and expenses.

No wonder Wal-Mart’s first quarter professional fees and expenses equal approximately $1.16 million per working day.  According to this recent article in India’s Economic Times, concerning just the India portion of Wal-Mart’s investigation:

“So far Greenberg Traurig and KPMG have spent 26,000 hours on consulting and shaping anti-corruption compliance programme for Bharti Walmart, which operates 20 Best Price Modern Wholesale stores in various cities in India.  This work has included developing and implementing procedures and providing training to over 1,800 senior business and store level associates in India,” a Bharti Walmart spokesperson said in an e-mail response to ET. “For the past several months, the company has also been using Greenberg Traurig and KPMG to perform due diligence on third party service providers in India.”  Currently there are about 20 Greenberg Traurig attorneys stationed in India working on Bharti Walmart’s compliance programme, the spokesperson said.”

Relevant to FCPA investigative expenses, this FCPA Inc. participant marketing pitch caught my eye.  Is it really necessary to analyze millions of documents in an FCPA review?  Also, since when did FCPA investigations focus on “proving a negative that [the company] did not bribe foreign officials?”

Suleiman to FCPA Inc.

As noted in this recent post, earlier this month Daniel Suleiman (DOJ Deputy Chief of Staff for the Criminal Division) stated in a speech that the DOJ’s FCPA enforcement efforts ”are as active today … as we have ever been.”

Earlier this week, Covington & Burling announced (here) that Suleiman would be joining his former boss Lanny Breuer (see here for the prior post concerning Breuer’s jump to FCPA Inc.) at Covington.  Suleiman thus becomes the latest in a long-line of former DOJ or SEC FCPA enforcement attorneys to depart for FCPA Inc.   The firm stated, in pertinent part, as follows.

“Mr. Suleiman joins the firm’s Washington office as special counsel where he is expected to focus on defending individuals and corporations facing white collar criminal charges, Foreign Corrupt Practices Act investigations and congressional inquiries. [...]  In his Justice Department role, Mr. Suleiman helped oversee about 600 lawyers and 1,000 employees, and managed an annual budget of approximately $600 million. He provided advice on a wide range of federal law enforcement priorities, with particular focus on Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and financial fraud enforcement.”

In his speech earlier this month, Suleiman rightly observed an issue I have long pointed out that, among other things, warrants a five-year bar on DOJ FCPA enforcement attorneys from providing private sector FCPA services.  Suleiman stated as follows.  “It is Justice Department policy that no FCPA prosecution can be brought without authorization from the Criminal Division, which distinguishes FCPA prosecutions from most other kinds of federal criminal cases.”

Scrutiny Alert

According to this report by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting project, the SEC “has opened an investigation into Swedish multinational Ericsson’s business practices in Romania. The investigation is related to allegations made by a former Ericsson employee that the company used an approved slush-fund to pay off Romanian officials and decision makers to win contracts.”

Ericsson has ADR shares listed on NASDAQ in the United States.

Across the Pond

From thebriberyact.com, a useful of summary (here) of recent remarks by U.K. Serious Fraud Office Director David Green.

Staying in the U.K., a useful summary (here) by Eversheds of the “third conviction for an individual under the Bribery Act 2010.”  The case concerns a Chinese national studying in the U.K. who attempted to bribe his professor for a passing grade.  As noted in the Eversheds summary, “the UK has yet to see prosecution of a corporate under the [Bribery] Act, so companies are still awaiting judicial interpretation the corporate offence under [section] 7 of the Bribery Act and the Ministry of Justice’s Guidance on ‘adequate procedures’”.  [Note the U.K. Bribery Act has domestic bribery provisions as well as "FCPA-like" foreign bribery provisions.  The three individual Bribery Act convictions have all been domestic bribery prosecutions].

Reading Stack

Trace International recently released (here) its third annual Global Enforcement Report.  The report provides an updated summary of international anti-bribery enforcement trends based on the cases and investigations tracked in the TRACE Compendium, TRACE’s public, online database of transnational corruption cases.

Sound advice from Tim Peterson (a former SEC enforcement attorney) and Robertson Park (a former DOJ enforcement attorney) in this article in Inside Counsel regarding voluntary disclosures.

“Not all potential [FCPA] problems, however, are appropriate for disclosure. After investigation, allegations of misconduct may not result in a determination that illicit activity has occurred. Problematic payments may not be sufficiently material to amount to an FCPA violation (though companies should be aware of different standards for liability under other jurisdictions’ anti-corruption laws; for example, the U.K. Bribery Act of 2010). Prematurely attracting the government’s attention may, as a practical matter, shift the burden to the company to prove the absence of a corruption problem. Enforcement officials may feel the need as a matter of basic human nature to seek some type of resolution to a case where they have invested significant time and effort. Companies need to weigh the potential benefits of cooperation against the significant costs of initiating a potentially unwarranted government investigation.”

From Compliance Week, a useful summary (here) of recent remarks by Chuck Duross (DOJ FCPA Unit Chief) and Kara Brockmeyer (SEC FCPA Unit Chief).

*****

A good weekend to all.

Can We Bring Quality FCPA Compliance and Investigative Services to the Underserved Middle Market?

Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

Today’s post is from David Simon (Foley & Lardner).

*****

Professor Koehler (my former colleague at Foley & Lardner) has been critical of “FCPA Inc.” and, in particular, the astronomical costs associated with certain FCPA investigations and compliance measures.  My friends in the C-Suite of FCPA Inc. have responded defensively – reacting at least in part to a perception that these criticisms suggest a corner-cutting approach to important work that must be done properly.

As an FCPA lawyer with a foot in both camps, let me try to find some common ground.

I share Mike’s concerns.  While I understand that each case is different and that it is often necessary for investigating counsel to respond to outside forces that drive up costs, some of the eye-popping numbers can’t help but make one question the FCPA investigation/compliance value proposition.

This dynamic is especially troubling because, I fear, it drives the perception among many smaller and mid-sized companies that anti-bribery compliance is simply out of reach financially.  A recent survey of global corruption compliance in the middle market conducted by McGladrey confirms that this segment of the market is underserved.  That is dangerous and bad for all the interested parties – including the DOJ and SEC.  It simply isn’t good public policy for sound FCPA compliance advice and investigative resources to be available only to the Exxon Mobils of the world.

That said, the quality of the work should not be compromised by maintaining some focus on the value proposition.  Corner-cutting is not appropriate (and is almost never in the company’s long-term interests).  But aren’t there ways to manage costs and still produce quality work?  The answer is clearly yes.  And while the options for delivering more for less are myriad, let me propose three fairly modest concepts, which, if implemented, would help bring quality FCPA representation to many more companies that really need it:

1.         Give Strong but Practical Compliance Advice

We can start by heeding the counsel of the SEC and DOJ in last year’s Resource Guide:

  •  “DOJ and SEC have no formulaic requirements regarding compliance programs.  Rather, they employ a common-sense and pragmatic approach to evaluating compliance programs.”
  • “[T]here is no one-size-fits all program. . . . Indeed, small-and medium-sized enterprises likely will have different compliance programs from large multi-national corporations, a fact DOJ and SEC take into account when evaluating companies’ compliance programs.”

In other words, take it seriously, but be practical.  And take a risk-based approach to FCPA compliance.

In a world where FCPA compliance was the company’s number one focus (above and beyond making and selling stuff), a company would conduct “Full Monty” due diligence on all of its distributors (maybe even its customers).  It would employ a rigorous system for reviewing all gifts, meals and entertainment expenses in excess of $25.  (After all, $25 is a lot of money to a customs official in Borneo . . .)  It would conduct annual compliance audits of the books and records of all of its third-party intermediaries.

But really, does that approach make sense for most of our clients?  While there may be companies that have a risk profile that justifies these procedures, for many – indeed, the vast majority –  such an approach is simply impractical.  Let’s not make the perfect the enemy of the good.

To lawyers and compliance professionals:  Be practical. Be willing to sign-off on compliance procedures that are effective but tailored to the actual risk posed.  Don’t be afraid to divert from “best practices” when best practices are not risk justified.  Take a stand.  But be prepared to defend your decisions.

And to the enforcement agencies.  Be true to your word.  “[D]o not hold companies to a standard of perfection.” Accept common sense compliance judgments, even when things ultimately go wrong.

2.         Appropriately Scope FCPA and Bribery Investigations

When a company discovers conduct that may violate the FCPA or company policies, an investigation is necessary.  It never makes sense for a company to ignore such a discovery.  You are simply not serious about compliance if you do not take steps to understand what happened, why, how, and to respond appropriately.  The enforcement agencies are entirely justified in requiring this and in taking companies to account for failing to investigate and respond to indications of wrongdoing.

The problem for many companies is that they hear the words “FCPA investigation” and think millions of dollars – or tens of millions, or hundreds of millions – in costs and fees.  Too often, this leads companies to make the bad decision to forgo an investigation altogether.

But just as there is no “one-size-fits-all” FCPA compliance program, there is no “one-size-fits-all” FCPA investigation.  Proportionality and reasonableness are key.

The main driver of investigation cost is scope.  FCPA investigations that spin out of control usually do so because the scope is never clearly defined at the outset or because of significant scope-creep during the investigation.  Think about our country’s history with Independent Counsel investigations.  Without a clear, narrowly defined mandate, investigations can go on interminably.  Investigators investigate.  There is always some new lead to pursue, another witness to interview, another document to request and review.

The investigation scope needs to be reasonable and appropriately calibrated to the issues under investigation.  Scope must be clearly defined, and the investigator must keep the scope front of mind.  Discipline is key.

This is not to say that the scope should never change once defined.  Often, new significant facts are discovered and new issues identified.  Many times, these developments warrant a modification to the scope.  But those decisions should be approached thoughtfully and intentionally.  Scope modification is not the same thing as scope-creep.

Appropriately scoped investigations cost less.  Companies with limited legal and compliance resources can access quality investigative services and can fulfill the agencies’ directive that “companies should have in place an efficient, reliable, and properly funded process for investigating the allegation and documenting the company’s response.”

To the SEC and DOJ:  To make this work, you need to apply these same common-sense principles to your assessment of company investigations.  Be reasonable.  To outside auditors assessing the company’s response:  Ditto.

3.         Disaggregation of Services in FCPA and Bribery Investigations

One final modest idea to manage the cost of FCPA investigations:  Consider disaggregating services.

It is not necessary to have high-priced lawyers conduct every aspect of every investigation.  In the health care industry, they refer to “working at the top of your license.”  In other words, to enhance the efficiency of the provision of care, each professional should be put to his or her highest and best use.  Move the work down the chain of training and expertise where appropriate.  Application of the same concept in FCPA investigations can have the same pro-efficiency effect.

As a preliminary matter, it isn’t necessary for a company to hire outside counsel to conduct every FCPA investigation.  There are certainly some situations where the exclusive deployment of inside investigative resources is appropriate.

Even when outside counsel properly leads the investigation, the lead investigator should consider non-traditional deployment of resources so that everyone on the team is being put to his or her highest and best use.  A couple of examples:

Consider enlisting internal company resources to accomplish some investigative tasks.  Under the right circumstances, company IT personnel can help gather and process data for the investigation; internal audit or finance resources can help with the analysis of the books and records; and in-house counsel can perform certain investigative tasks.  Independence and perceptions of independence must be taken into consideration in every case, of course.  In some investigations, it won’t be appropriate to involve company personnel.  But in some, it will be entirely reasonable and appropriate.  And where it is, there will be substantial cost savings.

In addition, investigative counsel should consider outsourcing or alternative-sourcing aspects of the investigation.  Document review is an obvious example.  Consider using data review software to cull the relevant documents that warrant review.  (It is noteworthy that DOJ recently approved the use of this approach in the AB InBev/Grupo Modelo merger review.  If it works in antitrust, why not FCPA investigations?)  This can save hundreds of hours of lawyer and staff time.  It also often makes sense to outsource document review.  There are a number of firms that conduct quality document review at a much lower cost than using attorneys (even contract attorneys.)  I personally have used Novus Law, a document-related discovery firm, to handle all of the document review, management and analysis on a couple of document-heavy FCPA investigations.  They do an outstanding job (no quality compromises) at a fraction of the cost.

These are just a few ideas for changing the way we provide compliance and investigative services to give better access to these critical services to more companies.  How we do this is less important than that we do it.

Friday Roundup

Friday, May 17th, 2013

$1.16 million in FCPA professional fees and expenses per working day, show me the numbers, quotable, and for the reading stack.  It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Wal-Mart’s FCPA Expenses

In this previous Friday roundup, I calculated Wal-Mart’s 2012 FCPA-related professional fees and expenses as being approximately $604,000 per working day.

Yesterday in a first-quarter earnings conference call (see here), Wal-Mart disclosed as follows.

“Our core corporate expenses [included] $73 million in expenses related to FCPA matters, which was above our forecasted range of $40 to $45 million. Approximately $44 million of the expenses represent costs incurred for the ongoing inquiries and investigations, while $29 million covers costs regarding the global compliance review, program enhancements and organizational changes.”

Doing the math, Wal-Mart’s first quarter FCPA-related professional fees and expenses equal approximately $1.16 million per working day.

I observed in this March 2011 article as follows.

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

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

Sticking with Wal-Mart, this Bloomberg article provides an update on certain of the civil cases pending against Wal-Mart based on the company’s FCPA scrutiny.

Show Me The Numbers

This previous Friday roundup highlighted comments by Senator Elizabeth Warren concerning the SEC’s neither admit nor deny settlement policy and how it creates conditions in which there is “not much incentive to follow the law.”  Senator Warren now wants to see research and analysis of the pro and cons of this policy and other related regulatory settlement devices.

In this letter to, among others, Attorney General Eric Holder and SEC Chairman Mary Jo White, Senator Warren writes, in pertinent part, as follows.

“There is no question that settlements, fines, consent orders, and cease and desist orders are important enforcement tools, and that trials are expensive, demand numerous resources, and are often less preferable than settlements.  But I believe strongly that if a regulator reveals itself to be unwilling to take large financial institutions all the way to trial — either because it is too timid or because its lacks resources — the regulator has a lot less leverage in settlement negotiations and will be forced to settle on terms that are much more favorable to the wrongdoer.  [...]  Have you conducted any internal research or analysis on trade-offs to the public between settling an enforcement action without admission of guilty and going forward with litigation as necessary to obtain such admission, and if so, can you provide that analysis to my office.  I am interested in learning more about how your institution has evaluated the cost to the public of settling cases without requiring an admission of guilt rather than pursuing more aggressive actions.”

Senator Warren is obviously concerned that settlement policies and procedures facilitate the under-prosecution of alleged corporate wrongdoer.  This is a valid concern.  Yet so is the concern that such settlement policies and procedures also facilitate the over-prosecution of corporate conduct.  For more, see my article “The Facade of FCPA Enforcement“, including reference to the SEC’s acknowledgment that settlement of an SEC enforcement action does “not necessarily reflect the triumph of one party’s position over the other.”

Quotable

Michael Crites (Dinsmore & Shohl and the former U.S. Attorney for the S.D. of Ohio) stated as follows in a recent Law360 interview.

“The federal government passed the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in 1977 after discovering that American companies were making millions of dollars in bribes to various foreign government officials. The law was heralded as solving the problem by prohibiting companies and individuals from offering or making payments to any foreign official with the purpose of inducing the recipient to use their official position by directing business to or continuing business with the briber. Over 35 years later, the basics of this law are still necessary to prevent and punish unethical bribes but businesses have discovered that the Department of Justice’s interpretation of the law is broader than anyone intended.”

“DOJ has increased dramatically the number of investigations and enforcement actions under the FCPA, creating what DOJ calls a new era of FCPA enforcement.  Unlike the activity in 1977, this heightened enforcement does not come from illegal bribes but the DOJ’s broad interpretation of the law which is now being applied to otherwise legitimate and ethical actions. The law is undeniably vague and few judicial decisions exist to provide additional guidance. Without these restraints, DOJ has embraced their power to apply the FCPA to unintended situations, resulting in a climate of fear for American businesses that conduct any business abroad.”

Reading Stack

More from the recent Corporate Crime Reporter sponsored conference.  This article concerns a panel on corporate monitors.  Participating in the panel were Dan Newcomb of Shearman & Sterling, George Stamboulidis of Baker Hostetler, Gil Soffer of Katten Muchin, Joseph Warin of Gibson Dunn, and John Buretta, chief of staff of the Criminal Division at the Department.

Friday Roundup

Friday, March 1st, 2013

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

Hits and Misses

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

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

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

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

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

Wal-Mart’s FCPA Scrutiny Expenses Mount

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

Spitzer of course was right.

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

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

I observed in this March 2011 articles as follows.

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

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

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

Wal-Mart Effect

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

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

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

Survey Says

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Senate Hearing Quotable

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

Disclosure Issues

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

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

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

Checking In

Hollywood Industry Sweep

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

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

Goldman

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

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

Spot On

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

Neil Eggleston (Kirkland & Ellis) stated as follows.

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

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

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

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

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

Refreshing Words

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

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

*****

A good weekend to all.

New Wal-Mart Details Emerge

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012

Last week the New York Times ran a front-page story (here) regarding Wal-Mart and its FCPA scrutiny.  The story did not receive nearly the attention of the April New York Times story (see here for the prior post), but the recent article includes new details relevant to Wal-Mart’s potential FCPA scrutiny.

And no, I am not talking about the unsurprising fact that Wal-Mart’s scrutiny has expanded beyond Mexico to also include China, India and Brazil.  (See here for the prior post discussing how this was likely to happen).

Rather, the new details suggest that Wal-Mart’s internal review is less of a knee-jerk reaction upon learning of the New York Times April story, but more an instance of the company pro-actively seeking to understand its FCPA risk, notwithstanding whatever may have occurred within the company in 2005 and 2006 upon learning of potentially problematic payments in Mexico.

According to the recent Times article, Wal-Mart’s internal review began in Spring 2011 when Jeffrey Gearhart (Wal-Mart’s general counsel) learned of an FCPA enforcement action against Tyson Foods (like Wal-Mart, a company headquartered in Arkansas – see here for the prior post discussing the Tyson enforcement action).  According to the Times article, “the audit began in Mexico, China and Brazil, the countries Wal-Mart executives considered the most likely source of problems” and Wal-Mart hired KPMG and Greenberg Traurig to conduct the audit.  The Times article notes that “in July 2011″ the firms “had identified significant weaknesses in all three subsidiaries.”

The Times article next rightly states as follows.  “The audit was uncovering the kinds of problems and oversights that plague many global corporations.”

The Times article notes that Wal-Mart has spent $99 million on its FCPA review in the past nine months.

To learn more about Wal-Mart’s potential FCPA scrutiny and what it says about this current era of FCPA enforcement, see my article “Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Enforcement As Seen Through Wal-Mart’s Potential Exposure.”