Archive for the ‘FCPA Reform’ Category

Senate Remains Interested In FCPA Issues

Thursday, February 12th, 2015

SenateGranted it has been approximately four years since the Senate held its Foreign Corrupt Practices hearing in November 2010.  (The House followed-up with an FCPA hearing in June 2011).

FCPA reform legislation was never introduced (for potential reasons why – see this article), yet the Senate very much remains interested in FCPA issues.

The Senate Judiciary Committee recently released this document which contains Attorney General Nominee Loretta Lynch’s responses to various Senator questions.

The remainder of this post excerpts all FCPA related questions and Lynch’s answers.

As highlighted below, the Q&A’s cover the following topics:  DOJ guidance, DOJ declinations, “FCPA abuses” (as stated in a series of questions), Andrew Weissman’s FCPA reform positions prior to recently re-joining the DOJ (see here for the prior post), international cooperation, FCPA reform (including a compliance defense), and the time it takes to resolve FCPA investigations.

*****

FROM SENATOR GRASSLEY (R-IA)

Q: In 2012, the Department of Justice and Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) issued joint guidance detailing Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) enforcement information and the agencies’ enforcement priorities. While the guidance clarified portions of the law and some of the agencies’ enforcement theories, many companies and individuals seeking to comply with the FCPA have asked for further, and continued, clarification. This request was expressed to Attorney General Eric Holder and Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell during previous Committee hearings.

a. If confirmed, will you commit to working with companies and individuals to further improve the Guidance?

RESPONSE: If I am confirmed as Attorney General, I look forward to continuing the outreach efforts that the Department has been making with the private sector to understand their needs and concerns and, if necessary, update and/or improve the Guide.

b. Will you commit to updating the Guidance, when necessary, to reflect changes in DOJ enforcement practices?

RESPONSE: If I am confirmed as Attorney General, I look forward to continuing efforts that the Department has been making to provide meaningful guidance in the FCPA context where necessary and appropriate.

In the area of FCPA enforcement, there is little guiding case law available for compliance practitioners to rely on. However, the FCPA Guidance that was issued in 2012 took an important first step in helping practitioners understand how the enforcement agencies’ interpret the statute. The Guidance includes six anonymized examples of declinations— instances where the DOJ and SEC declined to bring FCPA-related enforcement actions in recognition of the companies’ timely voluntary disclosures, meaningful cooperation, and sophisticated compliance policies and controls. The continued publication of FCPA declinations would foster greater FCPA compliance by providing practitioners with a better understanding of how the FCPA is interpreted. If confirmed, would you support increasing DOJ transparency regarding declination decisions?

RESPONSE: As you know, the United States Attorney’s Manual provides a mechanism to allow for notification to an individual (or entity), where appropriate, that an investigation as to that individual (or entity) is being closed. If I am confirmed as Attorney General, I look forward to continuing the Department’s practice of providing meaningful guidance in the FCPA context (such as procedures to respond to opinion requests) and of actively pursuing and implementing means by which declinations and other information about the decision to prosecute, or not, can be responsibly and appropriately shared.

FROM SENATOR CRUZ (R-TX)

DOJ Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Abuses

In much the same way as civil forfeiture, critics of the FCPA note that the Department of Justice collects and retains for use (without further congressional approval or disbursal from the Treasury) fines paid in settlement of federal FCPA investigations. This ability to retain FCPA fines incentivizes not only a vigorous application of the FCPA, but also “creative” legal theories (which can lead to investigations of companies for potentially innocuous behavior). Critics of the FCPA, and the Department’s pursuit of FCPA investigations, point out that the combination of investigation and potential litigation expenses frequently drive what may be innocent companies to settle, which both cements the revenue source for the Department and prevents federal judges from having opportunities to interpret provisions of the FCPA.

Do you agree or disagree with the claim that the ability of the Department of Justice to keep and use FCPA settlement fines incentivizes application of the FCPA? If you disagree with this claim, please provide a detailed explanation as to why.

RESPONSE: I disagree with this claim, which I believe is built on a faulty premise regarding the process by which criminal fines and other financial penalties are paid and subsequently put to use. Fines for FCPA violations are not “kept” or “used” by the Department, and no such use incentivizes application of the FCPA. Rather, as with all cases, the Department considers the strength of the evidence and other long-standing policy considerations (see, e.g., United States Attorney’s Manual (USAM) 9-28.300) in determining whether to bring an FCPA prosecution.

A company convicted of an FCPA violation pays any accompanying fine not to the Department but to the relevant U.S. district court clerk’s office. Those funds are then directed to the Crime Victim Fund, which is a U.S. Treasury fund created pursuant to Title 42, United States Code, Section 10601. Funds paid into the U.S. Treasury are not available for use by the Department except through the appropriations process or by statute.

A company that settles an FCPA investigation through a non-prosecution or deferred prosecution agreement pays any accompanying financial penalty not to the Department but to the U.S. Treasury. Pursuant to Congressional authorization and strict Departmental oversight, a small percentage of these funds may be made available to the Department. More specifically, in 1993 Congress authorized the creation of a 3% working capital fund (“3% Fund”) for the Department. See Public Law 113-234, 28 C.F.R. Section 527. Three percent of penalties associated with certain financial recoveries, including through non-prosecution and deferred prosecution agreements, are paid into the 3% working capital fund. After rigorous review by the Collection Resources Allocation Board, overseen by the Justice Management Division, the Department may award funds from the 3% Fund to support certain litigation, data administration, and personnel costs.

Has your office actually tried any FCPA cases to a verdict in federal court? If the answer is yes, please provide details about these cases.

RESPONSE: The Eastern District of New York has participated in a number of significant FCPA investigations with the Fraud Section of the Criminal Division of the Department, and it continues to do so. To date, these investigations have resulted in two corporate resolutions: (1) In re Ralph Lauren, NPA, $882,000 penalty, press release at: http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/ralph-lauren-corporation-resolves-foreign-corrupt-practices-actinvestigation-and-agrees-pay; and (2) In re Comverse Technology, Inc., NPA, $1.2 million penalty, press release: http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/comverse-technology-inc-agrees-pay-12- million-penalty-resolve-violations-foreign-corrupt); and one guilty plea by Garth Peterson of Morgan Stanley (and a declination against Morgan Stanley) (press release: http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/former-morgan-stanley-managing-director-pleads-guilty-roleevading-internal-controls-required). While the Department has conducted FCPA trials in many districts, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York has not had an FCPA trial to date.

As you know, the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section is charged with investigating and enforcing the criminal provisions of the FCPA. Recently, Andrew Weissmann was selected to be the Chief of the Fraud Section. Mr. Weissmann is a former prosecutor and FBI general counsel. In private practice, however, Mr. Weissmann has been an outspoken critic of DOJ’s FCPA program. Specifically, in a report36 Mr. Weissmann drafted for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for Legal Reform, he has recommended that: (1) a compliance defense to the FCPA should be added; (2) a company’s liability should be limited for the prior actions of a company it has acquired; (3) a “willfulness” element should be added for corporate criminal liability; (4) a company’s liability should be limited for the actions of a subsidiary; and (5) the definition of “foreign official” under the FCPA should be changed.

Do you agree with any, some, or all of Weissmann’s proposals for reforming the FCPA?

RESPONSE: It is my understanding that Mr. Weissmann made these comments while in private practice and in connection with his representation of the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform (“Chamber”). It is also my understanding that, in the intervening time period, the Department has met with the Chamber, as well as other stakeholders, to engage in a healthy and productive dialogue regarding the Department’s interpretation and application of the FCPA. If confirmed as Attorney General, I would continue to foster dialogue with the Chamber and other stakeholders regarding our FCPA program.

Which of these changes (if any) do you think could be done administratively, as opposed to legislatively?

RESPONSE: I do not support the proposed changes. Several of them would be a significant departure from general principles of corporate criminal law, effectively creating unique exceptions for FCPA cases that are unwarranted, are contrary to Congress’s intent in enacting the FCPA, and would impose often insurmountable obstacles to effective enforcement of the FCPA.

In 2004, then-Deputy Attorney General (and current director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation) James Comey stated that “[the Department of Justice wants] real time enforcement, so that the public and potential white collar criminals see that misdeeds are swiftly punished.” Despite this statement, the 2014 OECD Foreign Bribery Report noted that “the average time taken (in years) to conclude foreign bribery cases has steadily increased over time, [from an average of 1.3 years in 2004] peaking at an average of 7.3 years taken to conclude the 42 cases in 2013.” Lengthy federal investigations not only place a tremendous financial burden on the targeted corporations and their shareholders, but also on taxpayers who shoulder the agency’s expenses for conducting the investigation.

Do you agree or disagree with Director Comey’s statement regarding the value of real-time law enforcement? If you disagree with this statement, please provide a detailed explanation as to why.

RESPONSE: I agree that law enforcement must move swiftly and responsibly in investigating both white collar and other criminal activity. I also agree that, for deterrence purposes, it is important to move quickly and bring charges against those individuals and companies that have engaged in criminal behavior. While the Department has been working diligently to find meaningful and reasonable ways to reduce the time white collar FCPA investigations take, the question’s reliance on the OECD Foreign Bribery Report is misplaced. As I understand it, the referenced statistic is based on an aggregate of all the OECD Working Group members’ cases, rather than isolating the time taken by the United States in its cases. Also, this statistic does not measure the length of the criminal investigation. Rather, it measures the time between the last criminal act and the sanction, increasing substantially the time measured, since the Department (or foreign law enforcement) might not learn about a potential violation until years after the last criminal act has occurred.

Given that the FCPA Unit within the Department’s Fraud Section has expanded its personnel from 2004 to today, and given that the Department receives even more international cooperation today than it did in 2004, do you agree or disagree that the Department should be witnessing reduced investigative timelines for FCPA investigations rather than increased timelines? If you disagree with this statement, please provide a detailed explanation as to why.

RESPONSE: Additional resources and cooperation are greatly appreciated and can often be key factors in expediting criminal investigations. However, they are only two of many factors that can influence the time it takes to conduct a successful investigation of any kind. Compared to other white collar investigations, the challenges associated with FCPA investigations can be much greater. Because of the nature of the offense, most of the evidence in these cases is typically located overseas. While international cooperation efforts have expanded significantly over the past ten years, the process for obtaining evidence from overseas is still time-consuming.

Before you are confirmed to serve as the next Attorney General, will you or will you not commit to dramatically reducing the timeline of FCPA-related Fraud Unit investigations, in order to reduce the financial burden on potentially innocent corporations and reduce investigation-related taxpayer expenses? If you will not commit to reducing these investigative timelines, please provide a detailed explanation as to why.

RESPONSE: Under my leadership, the Eastern District of New York has been committed to increasing the speed of its white collar investigations, including its FCPA investigations. As a result of the particular challenges of corporate and overseas investigations, however, the investigations can take a significant amount of time. While improvements in this area can be made, irresponsibly or artificially expediting an investigation solely for the sake of speed can harm the investigation and the pursuit of justice, as well as create greater harms to the targets, subjects, and witnesses in our investigations. If I am confirmed as Attorney General, you can be assured that the Department will continue to review each case on its merits and will move as expeditiously and responsibly as possible.

Often, many of the countries with corrupt officials are the same countries that harbor terrorists, that seek to undermine U.S. foreign policy, and that have rampant bid rigging and illegal cartel conduct. On the opposite side of the equation, there are an increasing number of countries that have passed new anti-bribery statutes in the hope of curbing their own internal corruption problems and spurring legitimate economic growth.

How will you marshal the criminal justice resources of the Department of Justice to enforce the FCPA in a way that helps in the fight against terrorism, cartel conduct, and international money laundering? Please provide a detailed explanation, based on your current experience as United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, of how you intend to tackle the problem.

RESPONSE: As the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, I am well aware of the link between corruption, corrupt regimes, and transnational crime, including economic crime, human trafficking, narcotics trafficking, money laundering, and even terrorism. In addition to prosecuting foreign corruption, narcotics trafficking, money laundering, and terrorism cases, the Department works closely with its counterparts throughout the U.S. government to devise and implement robust anticorruption strategies. For example, my Office has worked closely with the intelligence community on terrorism and corruption-related matters. The Department further participates, along with colleagues in other agencies in the U.S. government, in developing anticorruption policies through various international organizations and anticorruption conventions, including the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Working Group on Bribery, the G-7, the G-20, and the U.N. Convention Against Corruption. The Department also consults with civil society organizations involved in the battle against corruption. If confirmed as the Attorney General, I would continue to ensure that fighting corruption overseas, as well as domestically, remains a top priority for the Department. I would ensure that resources are appropriately directed to enforcing U.S. laws targeting foreign corruption, recovery of assets stolen by kleptocrats, and corrupt regimes.

Given that more and more countries are enacting and enforcing anti-bribery statutes, would you agree or disagree that the FCPA ought to be amended to restrict FCPA jurisdiction to countries that do not have a prima facie anticorruption infrastructure? If you disagree with this statement, please provide a detailed explanation as to why.

RESPONSE: Such an exception would be unique under federal law. I disagree with this approach, as I believe it would do harm to the Department’s anticorruption efforts. The Department works closely with countries that are developing their own anticorruption infrastructures, and we are well aware that it can take years of persistent effort to create an effective and holistic response to corruption of domestic and foreign officials.

As a recent OECD Report on Foreign Bribery noted, enforcement of existing anticorruption statutes, particularly those targeting foreign bribery, is improving but has a long way to go to see consistent and effective enforcement even among top economies in the world.

The Department of Justice generally emphasizes the benefit of voluntary self-disclosure to, and voluntary cooperation with, FCPA investigations. Corporations are increasingly questioning the benefit, however, of rushing toward self-disclosure without demonstration of some sort of legal or cost benefit for doing so. To address this, some practitioners have suggested that the FCPA should contain a “safe harbor” from criminal prosecution for corporations that (1) have robust compliance programs, (2) self-disclose potential FCPA violations, and (3) cooperate fully with the Department’s investigation, akin to what the Antitrust Division has for cartel enforcement. (The Department would, of course, be able to continue to obtain non-criminal penalties for violations.)

Do you agree or disagree with the statement that there should be an FCPA “safe harbor provision” to help corporations that are trying to do the right thing? If you disagree with this statement, please provide a detailed explanation as to why.

RESPONSE: I do not believe a “safe harbor provision” is necessary or desirable. Both the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and the Department of Justice already provide significant benefits for companies that have robust compliance programs, self-disclose potential FCPA violations, and cooperate fully with the Department’s investigation. Indeed, in a recent FCPA matter, the Criminal Division and the Eastern District of New York declined to prosecute Morgan Stanley based on many of those factors, among others, despite the fact that one of its Managing Directors bribed a foreign official to obtain business for and on behalf of Morgan Stanley.

If you agree with the concept of an FCPA safe harbor provision, please describe what the structure or contours of such a safe harbor provision should be, and how you would implement that provision. Please provide a detailed explanation, based on your current experience as United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, of how you would write and implement such a provision.

RESPONSE: The factors outlined in your question are important considerations in all FCPA cases, but I do not believe that a “safe harbor provision” is necessary or desirable.

Members of the business community, practitioners, commentators, and even members of Congress have expressed frustration with the Department of Justice’s failure to publicize declined FCPA prosecutions, even where there is public knowledge that a particular corporation is under investigation. This practice may have several negative effects, including preventing corporations from having clarity about what type of conduct is considered acceptable. Given the Department’s financial incentive to ensure robust application of the FCPA, there is concern that this refusal to publish decline-to-prosecute information is intended to protect the FCPA fine-based revenue source for the Department.

Would you agree or disagree with the statement that FCPA decline-to-prosecute decisions should be made available to the public? If you disagree with this statement, please provide a detailed explanation as to why.

RESPONSE: I agree that the Department should continue to explore ways by which it can responsibly share information while protecting the many sensitive interests that federal, criminal investigations implicate. The Department has a longstanding general practice of refraining from discussing non-public information on matters it has declined to prosecute. This practice is designed to protect ongoing investigations, privacy rights and other interests of uncharged parties, and sensitive, internal law enforcement deliberations. This practice and these considerations apply across the enforcement of all federal criminal laws.

Nevertheless, I must emphasize that the Department does pursue means by which declinations and other information about the decision to prosecute can be responsibly shared with entities or individuals under investigation, the business community, practitioners, commentators, and members of Congress. The United States Attorney’s Manual (USAM) describes situations in which a United States Attorney can exercise discretion to provide notice that an investigation is being closed. See USAM § 9-11.155. Further, in the last two years, the Department has made great efforts to provide more information and transparency in the area of the FCPA, including the publication of A Resource Guide to the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (the “Resource Guide”). The Resource Guide, which was written by the Department and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), provides the public with extensive information about the Department’s FCPA enforcement approach and priorities. It contains a section on declinations and sets out criteria prosecutors consider in declining to bring a prosecution under the FCPA. In addition, the Department responds to opinion requests concerning its enforcement intent about actions that may be perceived as violating the anti-bribery provisions of the FCPA. See Title 15, United States Code, Sections 78dd-l(e) and 78dd-2(f). These opinion letters provide significant additional insight into the Department’s enforcement views, as well as transparency for companies, individuals, and practitioners as to what is acceptable or not.

Before you are confirmed to serve as the next Attorney General, will you or will you not commit to publishing information about the FCPA cases that the Department has decided not to pursue or prosecute? If you will not commit to publishing this information, please provide a detailed explanation as to why.

RESPONSE: I will commit to continuing the Department’s practice of actively pursuing and implementing means by which declinations and other information about the decision to prosecute, or not, can be responsibly and appropriately shared. As detailed in my answer to the preceding question, the United States Attorney’s Manual already provides a mechanism to provide notice that an investigation is being closed. I also commit to continuing the Department’s recent efforts to provide more information and transparency, as it did by publishing the Resource Guide.

Three Cheers For Judge Rakoff

Monday, February 9th, 2015

RakoffIf you have not noticed by now, I admire Judge Jed Rakoff (S.D.N.Y.) (and not just because he looks like my Dad in a black robe).

Judge Rakoff recently wrote a review of Professor Brandon Garrett’s book “To Big To Fail” and the below posts provides some excerpts and commentary.

Judge Rakoff writes:

“Under federal law, corporations can be held criminally liable if even a low-level employee, in the course of his or her employment, commits a criminal act that benefits the corporation. One might think, therefore, that federal corporate prosecutions, whether deferred or otherwise, would typically be accompanied by prosecution of the responsible individuals. But more often than not, this has not been the case, especially when large companies are involved. Rather, as Garrett and many others (including this writer) have pointed out, in recent years the federal government has brought many corporate prosecutions in which no employee has been prosecuted or even identified as criminally responsible.

This is especially true in the case of deferred prosecutions. According to Garrett, “in about two thirds of the cases involving deferred prosecution or non-prosecution agreements and public corporations, the company was punished but no employees were prosecuted.” This suggests that the Department of Justice has been persuaded by its own rhetoric that the main point of these agreements is to change corporate culture, so that company employees of all levels will be dissuaded in the future from committing company-related crimes.”

For years I have exposing the DOJ’s empty rhetoric concerning individual prosecutions in the FCPA context.  Indeed, last October I extended an open invitation to the DOJ to refute statistics published in this post: since 2008,  75% of corporate FCPA enforcement actions have not resulted in any related enforcement action against a company employee.

More specific to the DOJ’s frequent use of NPAs and DPAs in the FCPA context, as highlighted in this recent post, since NPAs and DPAs were introduced to the FCPA context in 2004, if a corporate FCPA enforcement action is resolved soley with an NPA or DPA there is less than a 10% chance that the DOJ will bring related criminal charges against company employees.

Both of these statistics are notable because as Judge Rakoff notes – and recently noted by the DOJ’s Deputy Attorney General (see here) - “corporations do not act criminally, but for the actions of individuals.”

Judge Rakoff further states:

“Given such patent ineffectiveness when it comes to deferred prosecutions, it is somewhat surprising that Garrett argues that tighter enforcement of deferred prosecution agreements can still make them effective. Perhaps. But one also wonders whether the impact of sending a few guilty executives to prison for orchestrating corporate crimes might have a far greater effect than any compliance program in discouraging misconduct, at far less expense and without the unwanted collateral consequences of punishing innocent employees and shareholders.”

In the FCPA context, I have not called for NPAs and DPAs to be revised, but rather have consistently stated for at least three years that NPAs and DPAs should be abolished.  In calling for abolition of NPAs and DPAs it is important to recognize that such a proposal does not seek to abolish a long-standing feature of the U.S. criminal justice system, but rather a failed experiment brought to the FCPA context approximately ten years ago.  As previously highlighted, my proposal to abolish NPAs and DPAs is coupled with a corporate compliance defense (see here and here).

In conclusion, Judge Rakoff further states:

“The preference for deferred prosecutions also reflects some less laudable motives, such as the political advantages of a settlement that makes for a good press release, the avoidance of unpredictable courtroom battles with skilled, highly paid adversaries, and even the dubious benefit to the Department of Justice and the defendant of crafting a settlement that limits, or eliminates entirely, judicial oversight of implementation of the agreement.”

Spot-on Judge Rakoff.

The Black Hole Of FCPA Enforcement

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2015

Black HoleReaders frequently contact me with good questions about recent Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement actions.

Recent examples include the following.

In connection with the recent enforcement action against individuals associated with FLIR Systems Inc., will there be a corporate enforcement action?  Given that the SEC alleged that the individuals (both U.S. citizens) not only engaged in improper conduct, but also engaged in a “cover-up” as to their conduct, will there be a DOJ criminal enforcement action against the individuals?

In connection with the recent Dutch enforcement action against SBM Offshore, will there be a DOJ or SEC enforcement action? After all, the company disclosed to U.S. authorities, as well as Dutch authorities, and the company does have American Depositary Receipts traded on U.S. exchanges, a hook the DOJ and SEC have used before in bringing an enforcement action against a foreign company.

In connection with the recent Layne Christensen enforcement action – why did voluntary disclosure and cooperation result in an SEC administrative cease and desist order in that case, but a SEC NPA in another case, a SEC DPA in another case, and a SEC civil complaint in another case?

I read the same FCPA enforcement actions and other information as others, and being a professor, am predisposed to come up with some value-added answer.  Yet when it comes to FCPA enforcement, my answer is often, good question, I don’t know, there is often a black hole when it comes to FCPA enforcement.

While that is often my answer, opaque law enforcement and its resulting contradictions and inconsistencies is contrary to the rule of law.

To state the obvious, FCPA enforcement could benefit from greater transparency.  While the below reform proposal I first articulated in 2010 is not a panacea, it is a start.

When a company voluntarily discloses an FCPA internal investigation to the DOJ and/or SEC, and when the DOJ / SEC do not bring an enforcement action, in these situations it is in the public interest to require the enforcement agencies  to publicly state, in a thorough and transparent manner, the facts the company disclosed and why there was no enforcement action based on those facts.

Here is why I think the proposal makes sense and is in the public interest.

For starters, the enforcement agencies are already enthusiastic when it comes to talking about FCPA issues. Enforcement attorneys from both the DOJ and SEC are frequent participants on the FCPA conference circuit and there seems to be no other single law that is the focus of more DOJ speeches than the FCPA. Thus, there is clearly enthusiasm and ambition at the enforcement agencies when it comes to the FCPA.

Further, the enforcement agencies both have specific FCPA Units (which we are told has dozens of attorneys) and thus have the resources to accomplish this task. Combine enthusiasm and ambition with sufficient resources and personnel and the proposal certainly seems doable.

Most important, the DOJ is already used to this type of exercise. It is called the FCPA Opinion Procedure Release  a process the DOJ frequently urges those subject to the FCPA to utilize. Under the Opinion Procedure regulations, an issuer or domestic concern subject to the FCPA can voluntarily disclose prospective business conduct to the DOJ which then has an obligation to respond to the request by issuing an opinion that states whether the prospective conduct would, for purposes of the DOJ’s present enforcement policy, violate the FCPA. The DOJ’s opinions are publicly released  and the FCPA bar and the rest of FCPA Inc. often study these opinions in great detail in advising clients largely because of the general lack of substantive FCPA case law. If the DOJ is able to issue an enforcement opinion as to voluntarily disclosed prospective conduct there seems to be no principled reason why the enforcement agencies could not issue a non-enforcement opinion as to voluntarily disclosed actual conduct. Such agency opinions would seem to be more valuable to those subject to the FCPA than the FCPA Opinion Procedure Releases. If the enforcement agencies are sincere about providing guidance on the FCPA, as they presumably are, such agency opinions would seem to provide an ideal platform to accomplish such a purpose.

Requiring the enforcement agencies to disclose non-enforcement decisions after a voluntary disclosure could also inject some much needed discipline into the voluntary disclosure decision itself – a decision which seems to be reflexive in many instances any time facts suggest the FCPA may be implicated.

Notwithstanding the presence of significant conflicting incentives to do otherwise, it is hoped that FCPA counsel advises clients to disclose only if a reasonably certain legal conclusion has been reached that the conduct at issue actually violates the FCPA.  Accepting this assumption, transparency in FCPA enforcement would be enhanced if the public learned why the enforcement agencies, in the face of a voluntary disclosure, presumably disagreed with the company’s conclusion as informed by FCPA counsel. If the enforcement agencies agreed with the conclusion that the FCPA was violated, but decided not to bring an enforcement action, transparency in FCPA enforcement would similarly be enhanced if the public learned why.

A final reason in support of the proposal is that it would give companies a benefit by contributing to the mix of public information about the FCPA.  In most cases, companies spend millions of dollars investigating conduct that may implicate the FCPA and on the voluntary disclosure process. When the enforcement agencies decline an enforcement action, presumably because the FCPA was not violated, these costs are forever sunk and the company can legitimately ask why it just spent millions investigating and disclosing conduct that the DOJ  did not conclude violated the FCPA.

However, if the enforcement agencies were required to publicly justify their non-enforcement decision, the company would achieve, however small, a return on its investment and contribute to the mix of public information about the FCPA – a law which the company will remain subject to long after its voluntary disclosure and long after the enforcement agencies non-enforcement decision. Thus, the company, the company’s industry peers, and indeed all those subject to the FCPA would benefit by learning more about the DOJ/SEC’s enforcement conclusions.

Transparency, accountability, useful guidance, a return on investment.

All would be accomplished by requiring the enforcement agencies  to publicly justify a non-enforcement decision in situations where no enforcement action follows a voluntary disclosure.

FCPA Enforcement Critic And Reform Advocate Selected As New DOJ Fraud Section Chief

Monday, January 12th, 2015

WeissmannLast week, the DOJ announced Andrew Weissmann has been selected as the Chief of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section.

In recent years, Weissmann has been a vocal advocate of Foreign Corrupt Practices Act reform and more broadly, reforming corporate criminal liability principles.

In October 2010, Weissmann was the lead author of “Restoring Balance:  Proposed Amendments to the FCPA.”  Written on behalf of the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, “Restoring Balance,” lead to a Senate FCPA reform hearing in November 2010, and thereafter, a House FCPA reform hearing in June 2011.

Here is what Weissmann wrote in “Restoring Balance”.

“In spite of this rise in enforcement and investigatory action, judicial oversight and rulings on the meaning of the provisions of the FCPA is still minimal. Commercial organizations are rarely positioned to litigate an FCPA enforcement action to its conclusion, and the risk of serious jail time for individual defendants has led most to seek favorable terms from the government rather than face the expense and uncertainty of a trial. Thus, the primary statutory interpretive function is still being performed almost exclusively by the DOJ Fraud Section and the SEC. Notably, these enforcement agencies have been increasingly aggressive in their reading of the law. The DOJ has expressed its approach primarily through its opinion releases, but also in its decisions as to what FCPA enforcement actions to pursue. Many commentators have expressed concern that the DOJ effectively serves as both prosecutor and judge in the FCPA context, because it both brings FCPA charges and effectively controls the disposition of the FCPA cases it initiates.”

Using phrases such as “how far the DOJ has pressed the limits of enforcement,” “DOJ’s aggressive pursuit” of companies as “indication of how far the DOJ is willing to expand the scope of FCPA enforcement,” and “the highly aggressive stance the DOJ is taking to expand the FCPA net beyond its borders,” Weissmann stated:

“The current FCPA enforcement environment has been costly to business. Businesses enmeshed in a fullblown FCPA investigation conducted by the U.S. government have and will continue to spend enormous sums on legal fees, forensic accounting, and other investigative costs before they are even confronted with a fine or penalty, which, as noted, can range into the tens or hundreds of millions. In fact, one noteworthy innovation in FCPA enforcement policy has been the effective outsourcing of investigations by the government to the private sector, by having companies suspected of FCPA violations shoulder the cost of uncovering such violations themselves through extensive internal investigations.

From the government’s standpoint, it is the best of both worlds. The costs of investigating FCPA violations are borne by the company and any resulting fines or penalties accrue entirely to the government. For businesses, this arrangement means having to expend significant sums on an investigation based solely on allegations of wrongdoing and, if violations are found, without any guarantee that the business will receive cooperation credit for conducting an investigation.”

Elsewhere in “Restoring Balance,” Weissmann wrote:

“[T]he FCPA should be modified to make clear what is and what is not a violation. The statute should take into account the realities that confront businesses that operate in countries with endemic corruption (e.g., Russia, which is consistently ranked by Transparency International as among the most corrupt in the world) or in countries where many companies are state-owned (e.g., China) and it therefore may not be immediately apparent whether an individual is considered a “foreign official” within the meaning of the act. As the U.S. government has not prohibited U.S. companies from engaging in business in such countries, a company that chooses to engage in such business faces unique hurdles. The FCPA should incentivize the company to establish compliance systems that will actively discourage and detect bribery, but should also permit companies that maintain such effective systems to avail themselves of an affirmative defense to charges of FCPA violations. This is so because in such countries even if companies have strong compliance systems in place, a third-party vendor or errant employee may be tempted to engage in acts that violate the business’s explicit anti-bribery policies. It is unfair to hold a business criminally liable for behavior that was neither sanctioned by or known to the business.

The imposition of criminal liability in such a situation does nothing to further the goals of the FCPA; it merely creates the illusion that the problem of bribery is being addressed, while the parties that actually engaged in bribery often continue on, undeterred and unpunished. The FCPA should instead encourage businesses to be vigilant and compliant. For this reason, and given the current state of enforcement, the FCPA is ripe for much needed clarification and reform through improvements to the existing statute. Such improvements, which are best suited for Congressional action, are aimed at providing more certainty to the business community when trying to comply with the FCPA, while promoting efficiency and enhancing public confidence in the integrity of the free market system as well as the underlying principles of our criminal justice system.”

Weissmann also testified, on behalf of the U.S. Chamber, at the November 2010 Senate hearing.  In his written testimony, Weissmann stated:

“The FCPA had been tailored to balance various competing interests, but that balance has been altered, at times, by aggressive application and interpretations of the statute by the government. Instead of serving the original intent of the statute, which was to punish companies that participate in foreign bribery, actions taken under more expansive interpretations of the statute may ultimately punish corporations whose connection to improper acts is attenuated at best and nonexistent at worst.

The result is that the FCPA, as it currently written and implemented, leaves corporations vulnerable to civil and criminal penalties for a wide variety of conduct that is in many cases beyond their control and sometimes even their knowledge. It also exposes businesses to predatory follow-on civil suits that often get filed in the wake of a FCPA enforcement action. In fact, there is reason to believe that the FCPA has made U.S. businesses less competitive than their foreign counterparts who do not have significant FCPA exposure.”

In concluding his written testimony, Weissmann stated:

“The recent dramatic increase in FCPA enforcement, coupled with the lack of judicial oversight, has created significant uncertainty among the American business community about the scope of the statute. In addition, some of the enforcement actions brought by the SEC and DOJ are not commensurate with the original goals of the FCPA, in that they fail to reach the true bad actors and instead assign criminal liability to corporate entities with attenuated or non-existent connections to potential FCPA violations.”

As reflected in this transcript, during the hearing Weissmann stated:

“One of the reasons it is important to have a clearer statute, particularly in the FCPA arena, is that corporations cannot typically take the risk of going to trial and, thus, there is a dearth of legal rulings on the provisions of the FCPA as it applies to organizations. Thus, the government’s interpretation can be the first and the last word on the scope of the statute as it applies to a company. The lack of judicial oversight, expansive government interpretation of the FCPA, and the increased enforcement that you heard about from [the DOJ witness] have led to considerable concern and uncertainty about how and when the FCPA applies to overseas business activities.”

During the hearing, Senator Arlen Specter asked: “overall, do you think that the act is fairly well balanced and fairly well enforced or too tough?”

Weissmann responded:

“I think there is no question that many of the cases that were brought up today, such as Siemens, fall far, far, far into the—that it is amply warranted for the application of the statute. The problem is that every company in America and many companies overseas worry about the statute daily. And so regardless of what the Department of Justice is doing, people think about the statute and could their conduct fall on one side of it versus the other and will they be subject to an investigation. So it is a difficult question to answer, because I have seen many prosecutions where you say, of course, that seems like a just result and should have been warranted, but there are many companies that are hurt by the ambiguities in the statute and what I think is the over-breadth of some of its provisions on a daily basis.”

Beyond the FCPA, Weissmann has also been a vocal advocate of reforming corporate criminal liability principles.

In “Rethinking Corporate Criminal Liability,” 82 IND. L.J. 411, 414 (2007), Weissmann challenged traditional notions of corporate criminal liability and argued that when the DOJ “seeks to charge a corporation as a defendant, the government should bear the burden of establishing as an additional element that the corporation failed to have reasonably effective policies and procedures to prevent the conduct.”

Here’s What Would Get More Companies To Self-Disclose Bribery

Thursday, December 11th, 2014

This recent Wall Street Journal Risk & Compliance post asks “what would get more companies to self-disclose bribery?”  The article discusses several  answers (publicize declinations, start a leniency program, lower the amount of fines), but the best answer  is depicted in the below picture (with an FCPA compliance defense being the red arrow).

Compliance Defense As A Gap

There currently exists an informational gap between those with evidence of FCPA violations (i.e. companies and their counsel who conduct FCPA internal investigations) and the government agencies (DOJ and SEC) who enforce the FCPA.

Although – as highlighted in this recent post – approximately 60% of recent FCPA enforcement actions are the result of corporate voluntary disclosures, it should be an uncontroversial observation that many more FCPA violations (at least based on current enforcement theories) are happening in the global marketplace on a daily basis.

This observation is based on my nearly ten years of FCPA practice experience (and will be recognized as a self-evident truth by other FCPA practitioners) as well as my frequent conversations with FCPA practitioners.  While I am not suggesting the following is empirical evidence, the general thrust of comments I hear from FCPA practitioners is that approximately only 50% of FCPA issues in public companies are disclosed to the DOJ/SEC and that very, very few FCPA issues in private companies are disclosed to the DOJ.  The follow-up question I then ask is – in the situations in which the company has not voluntarily disclosed, has the DOJ/SEC ever found out about the problematic conduct at issue.  The universal response I have received is no.

Put this all together and the resulting landscape is that there are many FCPA violations occurring (at least based on current enforcement theories) that are not disclosed to the enforcement agencies.  Because the violations are not disclosed to the enforcement agencies, there is no enforcement action. Because there is no enforcement action, the individual engaging in the problematic conduct are not being held accountable.  Because the individual engaging in the problematic conduct is not being held accountable, FCPA enforcement is not as effective as it could be.

The DOJ (and SEC) clearly recognize the gap that exists and in recent months enforcement officials have tried to articulate policies that can help close this gap (see here, here, and here for summaries of recent speeches).

As highlighted in this prior post,  the policies articulated by DOJ officials are sensible (voluntarily disclose, cooperate, and identify culpable individuals).

Problem is, this is the same policy the enforcement agencies have been talking about for nearly a decade and its seems not to be closing the gap that exists between evidence of FCPA violations and prosecution of FCPA violations, including individuals.  Indeed, as highlighted by this prior post, 82% of corporate SEC FCPA enforcement actions since 2008 have not resulted in any related enforcement action against a company employee and 75% of corporate DOJ FCPA enforcement actions since 2008 have not resulted in any related enforcement action against a company employee.

An FCPA compliance defense will not close this gap completely, but it will help bridge the gap.

As stated in my 2012 article “Revisiting a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Compliance Defense.”

“An FCPA compliance defense will better facilitate the DOJ’s prosecution of culpable individuals and advance the objectives of its FCPA enforcement program. At present, business organizations that learn through internal reporting mechanisms of rogue employee conduct implicating the FCPA are often hesitant to report such conduct to the enforcement authorities. In such situations, business organizations are rightfully diffident to submit to the DOJ’s opaque, inconsistent, and unpredictable decision-making process and are rightfully concerned that its pre-existing FCPA compliance policies and procedures and its good faith compliance efforts will not be properly recognized. The end result is that the DOJ often does not become aware of individuals who make improper payments in violation of the FCPA and the individuals are thus not held legally accountable for their actions. An FCPA compliance defense surely will not cause every business organization that learns of rogue employee conduct to disclose such conduct to the enforcement agencies. However, it is reasonable to conclude that an FCPA compliance defense will cause more organizations with robust FCPA compliance policies and procedures to disclose rogue employee conduct to the enforcement agencies. Thus, an FCPA compliance defense can better facilitate DOJ prosecution of culpable individuals and increase the deterrent effect of FCPA enforcement actions.”

Are the enforcement agencies capable of viewing an FCPA compliance defense, not as a race to the bottom, but a race to the top? Are the enforcement agencies capable of viewing an FCPA compliance defense as helping them better achieve their FCPA policy objectives?

Let’s hope so, because the gap is problematic.

Might a compliance defense result in 1 or 2 fewer corporate enforcement actions per year?  Perhaps, but against this slight drop in “hard” enforcement would be an increase in “soft” enforcement of the FCPA (see here and here), and indeed because the gap would be narrowed there would be more “hard” enforcement of culpable individual actors.

See here and here for prior posts on the same topic.