Archive for the ‘FCPA Scholarship’ Category

When Is It Strategically Wise (or Not) to Self-Report FCPA Violations to the SEC?

Monday, May 5th, 2014

The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act often intersects with other disciplines and it is refreshing to read how others see this current era of FCPA enforcement including the resolution vehicles used to resolve enforcement actions as well as government policy relevant to such resolution vehicles.

Professor Peter Reilly (Texas A&M School of Law) focuses his writing in the area of alternative dispute resolution, ethics, emotional intelligence and theories of influence and persuasion within the context of mediation and negotiation.  Professor Reilly previously authored this guest post regarding his article ”Negotiating Bribery: Toward Increased Transparency, Consistency, and Fairness in Pre-Trial Bargaining Under The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act”  and he is out with a new article to be published soon in the Harvard Business Law Review titled:  ”Ralph Lauren, Transnational Bribery, and Voluntary Disclosure Under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act: When Is It Strategically Wise (or Not) to Self-Report FCPA Violations to the SEC?”

Below is the abstract and the article can be downloaded here.

“In 2013, the SEC announced a non-prosecution agreement (“NPA”) with Ralph Lauren Corporation in connection with bribes paid to government officials in Argentina. The SEC decided not to charge the corporation with violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act due to the company’s response to the situation, including: (1) the prompt reporting of the violations on its own initiative; (2) the completeness of the information provided; and (3) the “extensive, thorough, and real-time cooperation” put forth during the SEC investigation. While the SEC and various legal commentators suggest the case stands for the proposition that “substantial and tangible” benefits will accrue to companies that self-report FCPA violations and cooperate fully with the SEC, this article arrives at a very different assessment of the matter. Specifically, the article suggests that (1) it might not have been a good idea, from a business perspective, for Ralph Lauren Corporation to self-report the potential violation to the SEC; and (2) the non-prosecution agreement negotiated to resolve the matter — the SEC’s first-ever NPA awarded in an FCPA case — also might not have been in the best interest of the company. In other words, this article suggests that, under current SEC policy, a company’s ability and willingness to self-report to and cooperate with the government is not always strategically wise in the context of FCPA enforcement.

The article explores, through the lens of the Ralph Lauren case, the factors that companies and their counsel must consider when making the difficult and critical calculation of whether or not to voluntarily disclose a potential FCPA violation to the SEC. I investigate the policies and programs used by the SEC to entice voluntary reporting and cooperation, as well as the kinds of results and rewards that might be achieved therefrom. I demonstrate that although the risks associated with voluntary disclosure tend to be concrete and predictable, the rewards have heretofore been largely uncertain — a calculus that militates against disclosure. I conclude that in order to increase the likelihood that companies will self-report FCPA violations in the future, and thereby assist in eradicating the scourge of transnational bribery worldwide, the SEC must be far more transparent: Its policies, pronouncements, rules, and regulations must provide more certain, specific, and calculable incentives to companies for volunteering to come forward. Simply put, companies will not come forward in large numbers, or on significant FCPA matters, until they can determine with certainty and specificity that the rewards obtained will outweigh the risks involved. The article concludes with reform measures that can and should be implemented within the SEC to bring about such transparency. Implementing these changes would benefit everyone involved — the companies and their counsel, the regulatory agencies, and, perhaps most important of all, the people and institutions throughout the world currently suffering the ill effects of transnational bribery.”

New Article – “A Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Narrative”

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014

Each year, I publish a long-form FCPA Year in Review article. Given the realities of law review publishing, there is a delay in releasing the article from the end of the year.

I am pleased to share “A Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Narrative” recently published by the Michigan State International Law Review.  Full of useful charts and other information regarding FCPA enforcement, the abstract is as follows:

“This article, part of an annual series, weaves together Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and related developments from 2013 into a coherent narrative of value to anyone who seeks an informed base of knowledge regarding the FCPA, its enforcement, and related legal and policy issues. Specifically, this article uses FCPA enforcement action data to highlight perennial issues associated with this new era of FCPA enforcement and otherwise discusses top FCPA or related developments from 2013.  Although this article focuses on one statute and its enforcement, reference is made throughout to other significant developments in 2013 relevant to the FCPA as such references best facilitate an appreciation for many of the controversial aspects of FCPA enforcement.

Part I of this article highlights various FCPA enforcement statistics from 2013 and places the statistics in a proper and historical perspective.

Part II of this article uses certain statistics to highlight perennial issues associated with this new era of FCPA enforcement.  The following issues will be discussed: (i) the prominent role non-prosecution, deferred prosecution agreements, and administrative settlements have in corporate FCPA enforcement and how criticism of these resolution vehicles continues to mount; (ii) the wide gap between corporate and individual FCPA enforcement actions and a relevant data point that helps explain the gap; and (iii) how the financial consequences of corporate FCPA scrutiny and FCPA enforcement continue to rise, how FCPA settlement amounts have come a long way in a short amount of time, and how certain excesses have come to define FCPA scrutiny.

Part III of this article highlights other top FCPA or related developments from 2013 and uses these developments to spotlight the following issues: (i) certain alarming enforcement actions and why anyone who values the rule of law should be concerned by these actions; (ii) actual judicial scrutiny of FCPA enforcement agency theories as well as how non-FCPA legal developments should cause pause as to certain FCPA enforcement theories; (iii) FCPA enforcement agency speeches and policy positions; and (iv) certain uncomfortable truths and double standards regarding the U.S. fight against bribery and corruption.”

Combine the above article with my other Year in Reviews and you will have an extensive collection of FCPA statistics, trends, and analysis over time.

For 2012, see here.

For 2011, see here.

For 2010, see here.

For 2009, see here.

A Reminder That The FCPA Has Long Tentacles

Monday, April 28th, 2014

The FCPA has long tentacles as FCPA scrutiny and enforcement can impact a wide range of business activities.

Such as merger and acquisition activity.

Two recent developments serve as a reminder.

As noted here, Zimmer Holdings Inc. agreed to acquire Biomet Inc. in a cash and stock transaction valued at approximately $13.35 billion.

In March 2012 Biomet resolved a $22.8 million Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement action  ($17.3 million via a DOJ deferred prosecution agreement and $5.5 million via a settled SEC civil complaint).  The DPA had a three year term and, as is common, contained the following clause:

Sale or Merger:  Biomet agrees that in the event it sells, merges, or transfers all or substantially all of its business operations as they exist as of the date of this Agreement, whether such sale is structured as a stock or asset sale, merger, or transfer, it shall include in any contract for sale, merger, or transfer a provision binding the purchaser, or any successor in interest thereto, to the obligations described in this Agreement.”

The Zimmer – Biomet merger highlights how FCPA compliance obligations of a target company can be inherited by the acquiring company.

News of General Electric’s possible purchase of Alstom’s energy business highlights how FCPA scrutiny of a target company can be, depending on how the transaction is structured, inherited by the acquiring company.

Alstom has been under FCPA (and related) scrutiny for several years.  Among other things, former Alstom employees and business partners have resolved FCPA enforcement actions concerning the Tarahan power plant project in Indonesia (see here and here for prior posts).  Documents filed in connection with the individual enforcement actions suggest that the following Alstom projects are also under scrutiny: (i) ”projects in Indonesia other than the Tarahan Project, including intended payments to government officials in connection with the Labuan Angin and the Maura Tawar projects;” (ii) ”projects in India, including intended payments to government officials in connection with the Sipat, Barh I, and Barh II projects;” and (iii) the following projects in China - ”Baima PRC Project,” ”Qilu, Maoming, Guangzhou, Wuhan, Jin Men,Yueyang.”

In short, Alstom’s FCPA scrutiny is well known.  Thus, a potential GE – Alstom transaction would not seem to implicate many of the thorny due diligence issues discussed in certain FCPA Opinion Procedure Releases or certain hypotheticals discussed in the FCPA Guidance.

In any event, the FCPA Guidance states:

“Companies acquire a host of liabilities when they merge with or acquire another company, including those arising
out of contracts, torts, regulations, and statutes. As a general legal matter, when a company merges with or acquires another company, the successor company assumes the predecessor company’s liabilities Successor liability is an integral component of corporate law and, among other things, prevents companies from avoiding liability by reorganizing. Successor liability applies to all kinds of civil and criminal liabilities, and FCPA violations are no exception. Whether successor liability applies to a particular corporate transaction depends on the facts and the applicable state, federal, and foreign law.”

As referenced in the FCPA Guidance “whether successor liability applies to a particular corporate transaction depends on the facts and the applicable state, federal, and foreign law.”

Here it is important to recognize the following black-letter legal principles.

In a stock purchase agreement, the acquiring company will ordinarily inherit the target company’s pre-acquisition legal liability. In an asset purchase agreement, the acquiring company ordinarily (subject to certain limited exceptions) does not inherit pre-acquisition legal liability of the seller.

In this area, as in others, the free-for-all nature of FCPA enforcement is apparent.

In “The Federal Common Law of Successor Liability and the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act” forthcoming in the William & Mary Business Law Review, Taylor Phillips (Bass Berry) writes:

“Although successor liability is a key aspect of the government’s FCPA enforcement policy, the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission have not distinguished clearly between the contexts of mergers, stock purchases, and asset acquisitions. As demonstrated by this article, asset purchases should be recognized as an acquisition structure that minimizes the risk of FCPA liability. That is because the law that should be applicable to such transactions is not a relatively broad federal common law of successor liability. Instead, it is state common law, which traditionally concedes only very narrow exceptions to the general rule of successor nonliability. Furthermore, given the remedial foundations of most successor liability doctrines, it is not obvious that traditional state common law encompasses punitive — much less criminal — successor liability theories.”

“The FCPA Guide Presents A Classic Case Of Treating A Symptom While Ignoring The Disease”

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014

This recent post highlighted a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act article by former Deputy DOJ Assistant General Larry Thompson in a recent issue of the American Criminal Law Review (“ACLR”).  Thompson’s article was part of a symposium edition of the ACLR (Volume 51, Number 1, Winter 2014) titled “Reducing Corporate Criminality:  Evaluating Department of Justice Policy on the Prosecution of Business Organizations and Options for Reform.”

In addition to Thompson’s article, there was another FCPA article in the ACLR edition that should likewise make its way onto your reading stack.

Barry Pollack (Miller & Chevalier) was the lead author of an article focusing on DOJ guidance surrounding the FCPA, including the 2012 FCPA Guidance.  (See “Lone Wolf Or The Start Of A New Pack:  Should The FCPA Guidance Represent A New Paradigm In Evaluating Corporate Criminal Liability Risks?”).

Commenting on DOJ settlement documents (NPAs/DPAs, etc.) serving as “de facto agency ‘jurisprudence’ guiding corporate conduct”, Pollack observes, consistent with my own observations in “The Facade of FCPA Enforcement” (2010), as follows.

“While publicly available resources regarding settlement dispositions through plea agreements, DPAs, and NPAs are helpful in providing corporations with some insight into the DOJ’s enforcement priorities and practices, there are some very important differences and limitations which distinguish these settlement documents from case law. Most importantly, these settlements represent the results of privately-negotiated agreements between the DOJ and corporate defendants, which are subject to little or no judicial scrutiny. While plea agreements and DPAs are filed with the court and are technically subject to a judge’s approval, the DOJ and defendants are not generally required to present or defend the factual assertions or legal theories contained in such agreements. Furthermore, NPAs are subject to no judicial scrutiny because they are not filed with the court. Accordingly, these documents provide fertile ground for the prosecution to advance expansive enforcement theories based on bare-boned and undeveloped factual assertions without having to meet the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, given that the promise of avoiding the costly and risky endeavor of litigation through settlement provides every incentive to corporate defendants to accept the prosecution’s position so long as the matter is resolved quickly and for the lowest fine possible.

As a result, the agreements do not necessarily contain all of the relevant facts that went into determining the outcomes. They may contain broader enforcement theories than what would result from fully litigated cases, they do not have precedential value and thus do not bind the DOJ to act consistently, and they may not represent cases where criminal FCPA violations would have been found had the cases actually been litigated.”

Regarding the 2012 FCPA Guidance, Pollack writes:

“Overall, while the Guide is comprehensive and represents an unprecedented undertaking, it marks no sharp departure from current practice. Rather, the Guide clarifies the statute and how it is applied by the enforcement agencies, expressly confirms pre-existing enforcement practices and policies apparent in settlement documents to practitioners in the field, and consolidates current agency thinking into a single, comprehensive reference source.”

Spot-on and consistent with my own observations in “Grading the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Guidance.”

Further, Pollack states that the “FCPA Guide presents a class case of treating a symptom while ignoring the disease.”

Among the “facets” of the disease is that “the collateral consequences for contesting and litigating corporate criminal liability are far too great for a corporation of any size.”

The article then states:

“Unless and until at least one of these aspects of the disease is eradicated, the symptoms of the disease will continue to exist. The symptoms are over- and under-compliance based on a lack of clear understanding regarding what the law forbids, and the acceptance by risk-adverse corporations of criminal dispositions in cases that are eminently defensible.

In a world where the disease exists, the FCPA Guide makes perfect sense. It provides an authoritative source of information regarding current practice. Before the Guide was issued, practitioners could only cite to their own experience and the limited information available in negotiated settlements.”

[...]

“The FCPA Guide is not as novel as it might appear.”

[...]

“The authors hope that at some point, Congress will turn its attention to fighting the disease.”

I’ll second that, but add the DOJ and SEC to the mix (i.e. hopefully the enforcement agencies will turn its attention to better fighting the disease by reconsidering certain enforcement agency policies and procedures).  (See here among other posts for more).

Assignment: Read Former Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson’s New Article

Thursday, March 27th, 2014

Larry Thompson has experience with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act from a number of vantage points few can claim:  DOJ Deputy Attorney General, a lawyer in private practice, and a general counsel of a major multinational company.

For this reason, you should read Thompson’s new article -”In-Sourcing Corporate Responsibility for Enforcement of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act,” 51 American Criminal Law Review 199 (Winter 2014).

In the article, you will find an informed and candid critique of many current aspects of FCPA enforcement.

Thompson laments the uncertainty of the FCPA and states:

“The uncertainty of precisely what the FCPA forbids and allows harbors frightening potential for prosecutorial abuse and over-criminalization – topics that have preoccupied me, both as a private attorney and as Deputy Attorney General of the United States, for many years.  This uncertainty in the FCPA is particularly troubling when one is dealing not just with individuals, who have control over all their own actions, but also with large corporations – artificial ‘persons’ consisting of hundreds, or thousands, or even hundreds of thousands, of individuals for whom the corporation can be held accountable.”

Referencing FCPA congressional hearings in 2010 and 2011, Thompson observes:

“DOJ was unperturbed by the uncertainty surrounding FCPA enforcement.  Indeed, one could be forgiven for suspecting that at least some federal prosecutors favor that uncertainty.  But we must never forget that uncertainty in the law is the antitheses of the rule of law.  There is reason that the Latin word for ‘uncertainty’ is arbitrarius.  That some FCPA enforcement attorneys might relish and exploit the arbitrary enforcement of a federal criminal statute is not merely unseemly – it is illegitimate.”

In short, you can add Thompson’s observation to my own (see here) in countering commentator suggestions that the FCPA is anything other than clear.

On the topic of the 2012 FCPA Guidance, Thompson cites my article “Grading the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Guidance” and states:

“Its 130 pages appear impressive at first glance, but about two-thirds of that is routine recitation of background information:  the introduction and table of contents consume thirty-five pages, the reprinting of the statute itself accounts for another thirty pages, and a summary of previously issued (and by definition inadequate) guidance and discussion of other statutes fleshes out yet another twenty pages.”

On the general topic of guidance and commenting on NPAs and DPAs used to resolve FCPA enforcement actions, Thompson cites my Congressional testimony and observes:

 ”The FCPA guidance … offered by the Justice Department [in NPAs and DPAs] is less helpful because it may include coerced settlements that record instances where even DOJ itself was not sure that a violation of the FCPA actually occurred.”

Thompson’s observation in this regard is similar to former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’s observation as highlighted in this previous post.

The majority of Thompson’s article renews calls for an FCPA compliance defense.

I first highlighted Thompson’s call (along with several other former higher ranking DOJ officials) for a compliance defense in my article ”Revisiting a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Compliance Defense” and in this previous post I further highlighted Thompson’s call for compliance defense at an FCPA symposium.

In short, a hard-to-ignore reality of the current compliance defense debate – against the backdrop of DOJ’s strong institutional opposition to compliance defense concepts – is the chorus of former DOJ officials who support compliance defense concepts.

In his new article, Thompson writes:

“[W]e must create an incentive structure that drives corporations to establish internal compliance programs and to root out foreign corruption within their own organizations.  Only those businesses themselves have the resources to conduct the global investigations that the FCPA requires.  To accomplish this end, I believe that we need to do two things:  first, we must give businesses clear and predictable guidance on what sort of compliance programs they must establish; second, we must give them powerful incentives to engage in self-investigation and self-reporting of the bribery they uncover or suspect.  The incentives I suggest are two:  (1) businesses must be assured that a strong compliance program and prompt and full self-disclosure will ensure that the company itself will not be subject to criminal prosecution under the FCPA; and (2) such self-disclosure will also prevent the company from being debarred from doing business with the federal government or being denied government permits or licenses necessary for the company’s operations.”

Adopting a similar “baby carrot” / “real carrot” analogy I used in “Revisiting an FCPA Compliance Defense“, Thompson writes:

“I propose two carrots.  First, if a corporation establishes a comprehensive, fully funded, adequately staffed and trained FCPA compliance program, then the rogue employee who circumvents it and violates the FCPA – and is caught and turned over to authorities by his employer – should be deemed to be acting outside the realm of his corporate responsibilities and the self-reporting corporation should not be held criminally liable for his conduct.  This would be an instance of a blameless corporation. For this incentive to work, of course, the carrot must be large and appetizing – hence the absolute necessity for transparency and predictability in FCPA enforcement.  The second carrot is that a genuinely cooperative, self-reporting company with a proper compliance program must be assured that it will not be debarred from contracting with the United States government or receiving the government permits required to run its operations.”

In my “Revisiting an FCPA Compliance Defense” article and elsewhere (see prior posts here, here and here) I have articulated – like Thompson – reasons why the DOJ should be in support of – not opposed to – a compliance defense.  A compliance defense is not a race to the bottom – as government officials have suggested – it is a race to the top.  Like Thompson, I have argued that a compliance defense will better facilitate DOJ’s prosecution of culpable individuals and advance the objectives of the FCPA.

I agree with Thompson when he says that the DOJ and SEC have an “almost wooden attitude” when it comes to the FCPA. Reflecting on the enforcement agencies sense of confidence and the billions of dollars collected in enforcement actions, Thompson states:

“But this supposedly shining vision of FCPA enforcement prowess is a Potemkin village, because without corporations’ own internal policing and self-reporting, the FCPA can accomplish little.”

I sincerely hope that Thompson’s article can renew a substantive – not rhetorical – discussion of a compliance defense and how it can help advance the laudable purpose of the FCPA.  To learn more about my proposal, and how it differs slightly from Thompson’s, see here.

Can the DOJ and SEC soften its “wooden attitude”?  Is the DOJ and SEC capable of diverting attention from enforcement statistics, settlement amounts, and political statements filled with empty rhetoric?

As I wrote in my most recent post about a compliance defense, the FCPA has witnessed courageous moments before and a courageous moment is once again presented..