Archive for the ‘FCPA Reform’ Category

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.

A Comprehensive FCPA Resource

Wednesday, November 5th, 2014

The question was recently asked: ”will there ever be a classic treatise on the FCPA?”New Era

According to Webster’s, a treatise is a book, article, etc., that discusses a subject carefully and thoroughly.

With that definition in mind, I invite you to consider my new book “The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in a New Era.”  Inside you will find:

  • A thorough telling of the story of the FCPA told largely through original voices of actual participants who shaped the pioneering law;
  • Foundational knowledge (such as DOJ and SEC policy and resolution vehicles and the realities of the global marketplace) that best enhance understanding and comprehension of specific FCPA topics;
  • A comprehensive analysis of the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions and for each element, exception or affirmative defense discussion of all legal sources of authority (including all relevant substantive FCPA judicial decisions) as well as non-legal sources of information (including discussion of over 70 FCPA enforcement actions);
  • Discussion of other legal issues also relevant to FCPA enforcement;
  • A comprehensive analysis of the FCPA’s books and records and internal controls provisions including legal authority as well as non-legal sources of information;
  • Analysis of the typical origins of FCPA scrutiny and enforcement;
  • Discussion of FCPA settlement amounts, how they are calculated, and analysis of legal and policy issues relevant to settlement amounts;
  • Discussion of FCPA sentencing issues, how sentences are calculated, and an analysis of legal and policy issues relevant to sentencing decisions;
  • An extended discussion and analysis of an often overlooked topics, “FCPA Ripples,” and how settlement amounts in an actual FCPA enforcement action are often only a relatively minor component of the overall financial consequences that can result from FCPA scrutiny or enforcement;
  • An exploration of practical and provocative reasons for the general increase in FCPA enforcement during this new era including a discussion of FCPA Inc. and the business of bribery;
  • Identification and discussion of FCPA compliance best practices and benchmarking metrics; and
  • An in-depth discussion and analysis of FCPA reform designed to ensure that the FCPA is best achieving the original goals of the law and that FCPA enforcement is transparent and consistent with rule of law principles.

Whether the above topics highlighted and explored in “The FCPA in a New Era” make it a classic treatise, well, I invite you to come to your own conclusion.  At the very least, you will have to agree that the cover of the book is more inviting than a typical treatise.

While I am certainly not going to ascribe labels to my own work, I am pleased to share what others have said about “The FCPA In a New Era.”

Michael Mukasey, former U.S. Attorney General

“Professor Koehler has brought to this volume the clear-eyed perspective that has made his FCPA Professor website the most authoritative source for those seeking to understand and apply the FCPA. This is a uniquely useful book, laying out systematically the history and rationale of the FCPA, as well as its evolution into a structure governed as much by lore as by law. It will be valuable both to those who counsel international corporations, whether in connection with immediate crises or long-term strategies; and to those who contemplate what the FCPA has become, and how it can be improved.”

Professor Daniel Chow, The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law

“This is the single most comprehensive academic treatment of the Foreign Corrupt Practices available. Professor Koehler’s book will become the authoritative standard for the field. The book not only treats the history of the FCPA, but analyzes the statute’s elements in detail, discusses current cases, and makes proposals for reforms where the current law is deficient. The book is written in a clear, accessible style and I will use it often as a resource for my own scholarly work.”

 Richard Alderman, former Director of the UK Serious Fraud Office

“An excellent and thought-provoking book by a great expert. Backed up by rigorous analysis of cases, Professor Koehler constantly challenges those involved in anti-corruption work by asking the question ‘why?’ He puts forward many constructive and well-argued suggestions for improvements that need to be considered. I have learned a lot from Professor Koehler over the years and I can thoroughly recommend this book.”

Thomas Fox, FCPA Compliance and Ethics Blog and FCPA Practitioner

“The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in a New Era” should become one of the standard texts for any FCPA compliance practitioner, law student studying the FCPA or anyone else interested in anti-bribery and anti-corruption. It should be on your FCPA library bookshelf.”

Barry Vitou, thebriberyact.com and Compliance Practitioner

“If you only read one book on the US FCPA, read this one. [...] Mike Koehler’s new book is probably the best book we’ve read about the FCPA. [...] For those wanting a pair of ‘FCPA goggles’ no book is, in our opinion, better.”

To order a hard copy of the book, see here and here; to order an e-copy of the book, see here and here.

For media coverage of the book including Q&A’s, see here from Corporate Counsel, here from Global Investigations Review, and here from Corporate Counsel Weekly.

*****

Looking for even more information and analysis of the FCPA and FCPA enforcement?

I invite you to all also consider the following year in review articles.  Granted the below articles are not found between two covers, but you will find approximately 500 pages of FCPA statistics, trends and analysis over time.

For 2013, see here.

For 2012, see here.

For 2011, see here.

For 2010, see here.

For 2009, see here.

A Q&A With CREATe.org

Thursday, October 30th, 2014

For today’s post, I send you over to the Center for Responsible Enterprise And Trade.

In a two-part Q&A, I respond to questions about a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act compliance defense and related issues, enforcement of FCPA-like laws in other countries, and the future of FCPA enforcement.

See here for Part I, here for Part II.