FCPA scrutiny equals a raise, Qualcomm declines to cave, industry specific risks, survey says, gaps in the narrative, a pulse on FCPA Inc., quotable and not quotable, and for the reading stack. It’s all here in the Friday Roundup
FCPA Scrutiny Equals A Raise
There are some things that happen in the FCPA space that cause one to scratch their head.
Such as a company being under FCPA scrutiny paying audit committee members more money because of the time devoted to the FCPA scrutiny. In its recent proxy statement, Wal-Mart disclosed as follows.
“Since November 2011, the Audit Committee has been conducting an internal investigation into, among other things, alleged violations of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977 (the “FCPA”) and other alleged crimes or misconduct in connection with foreign subsidiaries, and whether prior allegations of such violations and/or misconduct were appropriately handled by Walmart. The Audit Committee and Walmart have engaged outside counsel from a number of law firms and other advisors who are assisting in the ongoing investigation of these matters. This investigation has resulted in a significant increase in the workload of the Audit Committee members since the commencement of this investigation, and during fiscal 2014, the Audit Committee conducted 13 additional meetings related to the investigation and compliance matters, and Audit Committee members received frequent updates via conference calls and other means of communication with outside counsel and other advisors related to the investigation. As it had done in November 2012 in recognition of the significantly increased commitment of time required of the Audit Committee to conduct this investigation, in November 2013, the CNGC (Compensation, Nomination, and Governance Committee) and the Board approved an additional annual fee in the amount of $75,000 payable to each Audit Committee member other than the Audit Committee Chair for fiscal 2014, and an additional annual fee in the amount of $100,000 payable to the Audit Committee Chair for fiscal 2014. These amounts were prorated for directors who served on the Audit Committee during a portion of fiscal 2014. The CNGC determined the amounts of these additional fees based on (1) the CNGC’s and the Board’s review of the significant additional time and effort that had been required of the Audit Committee members during the previous Board term in connection with these matters, which were in addition to the time spent by the Audit Committee with respect to the Audit Committee’s other duties and its regularly scheduled meetings, and (2) the expectation that the Audit Committee members would continue to expend approximately the same amount of time and effort in discharging their responsibilities as Audit Committee members at least through the remainder of fiscal 2014.”
Qualcomm Declines to Cave
Rare are so-called Wells Notices in the FCPA context for the simple reason that few issuers actually publicly push back against the SEC. Thus, the below disclosure by Qualcomm earlier this week stands out:
“Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Formal Order of Private Investigation and Department of Justice Investigation : On September 8, 2010, the Company was notified by the SEC’s Los Angeles Regional office of a formal order of private investigation. The Company understands that the investigation arose from a “whistleblower’s” allegations made in December 2009 to the audit committee of the Company’s Board of Directors and to the SEC. In 2010, the audit committee completed an internal review of the allegations with the assistance of independent counsel and independent forensic accountants. This internal review into the whistleblower’s allegations and related accounting practices did not identify any errors in the Company’s financial statements. On January 27, 2012, the Company learned that the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California/Department of Justice (collectively, DOJ) had begun an investigation regarding the Company’s compliance with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). As previously disclosed, the audit committee conducted an internal review of the Company’s compliance with the FCPA and its related policies and procedures with the assistance of independent counsel and independent forensic accountants. The audit committee has completed this comprehensive review, made findings consistent with the Company’s findings described below and suggested enhancements to the Company’s overall FCPA compliance program. In part as a result of the audit committee’s review, the Company has made and continues to make enhancements to its FCPA compliance program, including implementation of the audit committee’s recommendations.
As previously disclosed, the Company discovered, and as a part of its cooperation with these investigations informed the SEC and the DOJ of, instances in which special hiring consideration, gifts or other benefits (collectively, benefits) were provided to several individuals associated with Chinese state-owned companies or agencies. Based on the facts currently known, the Company believes the aggregate monetary value of the benefits in question to be less than $250,000, excluding employment compensation.
On March 13, 2014, the Company received a Wells Notice from the SEC’s Los Angeles Regional Office indicating that the staff has made a preliminary determination to recommend that the SEC file an enforcement action against the Company for violations of the anti-bribery, books and records and internal control provisions of the FCPA. The bribery allegations relate to benefits offered or provided to individuals associated with Chinese state-owned companies or agencies. The Wells Notice indicated that the recommendation could involve a civil injunctive action and could seek remedies that include disgorgement of profits, the retention of an independent compliance monitor to review the Company’s FCPA policies and procedures, an injunction, civil monetary penalties and prejudgment interest.
A Wells Notice is not a formal allegation or finding by the SEC of wrongdoing or violation of law. Rather, the purpose of a Wells Notice is to give the recipient an opportunity to make a “Wells submission” setting forth reasons why the proposed enforcement action should not be filed and/or bringing additional facts to the SEC’s attention before any decision is made by the SEC as to whether to commence a proceeding. On April 4, 2014, the Company made a Wells submission to the staff of the Los Angeles Regional Office explaining why the Company believes it has not violated the FCPA and therefore enforcement action is not warranted.
The Company is continuing to cooperate with the SEC and the DOJ, but is unable to predict the outcome of their investigations or any action that the SEC may decide to file.”
Needless to say, this instance of FCPA scrutiny will be interesting to follow.
Industry Specific Risk
The reasons why companies become the subject of FCPA scrutiny are often unique to the industry the company is in. This is why FCPA compliance is best tailored to a company’s unique risk profile as informed by a risk assessment.
This recent Wall Street Journal Risk & Compliance post from the Dow Jones Global Compliance Symposium is informative in collecting industry insight.
“Technology. Melissa Lea, Chief Global Compliance Officer, SAP AG. Profit margins for distributors are flexible in tech as so much of the cost is related to labor. And that flexibility offers room for partners to try to pad expenses to pay bribes. “Any time you hear about flexibility it opens the door for corruption,” said Ms. Lea, who noted that authorities have recently cracked down on bribery in the technology sector, once thought to be amongst the cleanest industries.
Pharmaceuticals. Rady A. Johnson, Chief Compliance & Risk Officer, Pfizer Inc. Drug companies pay doctors for a variety of consulting services and often invite them to attend events to promote their products. But since it’s these same doctors that prescribe drugs, pharmaceutical companies need to ensure that fancy conferences and payments for services are not cover for bribes. “We can’t do our job without interacting with health care professionals,” Mr. Johnson said. But companies need to ensure those interactions are appropriate and well defined, he said. In 2012, Pfizer agreed to pay more than $60 million to settle investigations into improper payments made to doctors and foreign officials.
Banks. W.C. Turner Herbert, Director of Anti-Corruption, Bank of America Corp. Lately in the banking sector, corruption concerns have centered on hiring the relatives of foreign officials in exchange for business. In the past few years, U.S. authorities have investigated a number of banks over allegations of the practice, including Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. “Its a new area of enforcement without much precedence,” Mr. Herbert said. While hiring well-connected people shouldn’t, by itself, be a red flag, compliance officers need to ensure the selection is done on “merit and the business objectives” of the job, he said. “What draws red flags is if he’s not qualified,” Mr. Herbert said.
In connection with the above-mentioned Dow Jones Global Compliance Symposium, Dow Jones released this “Anti-Corruption Survey Results 2014.” The survey was conducted on-line “among compliance professionals worldwide” and 383 responses “were completed among companies with anti-corruption programs.” It is difficult to assess survey results without knowing the precise questions asked, but the Dow Jones survey does contain some interesting nuggets.
Such as “approximately 30% of companies spend $1 million or more on anti-corruption staff and policies.”
In “Revisiting a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Compliance Defense,” I suggest that the current FCPA enforcement environment does not adequately recognize a company’s good faith commitment to FCPA compliance and does not provide good corporate citizens a sufficient return on their compliance investments.
Compliance defense opponents (such as the DOJ) like to point out that such a defense will result in “paper compliance” and “check-a-box” exercises. Such clichés, however, ignore the reality of the situation – this many companies are making substantial investments of time and money in pro-active compliance policies and procedures.
One irony of course is that several former DOJ FCPA enforcement attorneys who have criticized a compliance defense as resulting in “paper compliance” and “check-a-box” exercises now devote a substantial portion of their private practice advising companies on FCPA compliance.
Gaps in the Narrative
You know the narrative.
In 2002, an accounting partnership (Arthur Anderson) was convicted of obstruction of justice for shredding documents related to its audit of Enron. Even though the Supreme Court ultimately tossed the conviction, Arthur Anderson essentially went out of business. Because of this, in the minds of some, the DOJ can’t criminally charge business organizations with crimes and thus the DOJ has crafted alternative resolution vehicles such as non-prosecution and deferred prosecution agreements to avoid the perceived collateral consequences of a criminal indictment or conviction.
Never mind that the narrative is based on a false premise. (See here for the guest post and article by Gabriel Markoff titled “Arthur Anderson and the Myth of the Corporate Death Penalty).
Nevertheless, the narrative persists and is accepted by some as gospel truth.
However, perhaps you have heard that in early April Pacific Gas & Electric Corporation (PG&E – a public company) was criminally charged with multiple violations of the Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Act.
The company’s stock is still trading (in fact it is up since the criminal charges were announced), it is still employing people, and it is still operating its business.
Recognizing the fallacy of the narrative is important for corporate leaders of businesses subject to DOJ scrutiny in the FCPA context or otherwise. Defenses can be mounted and the DOJ can and should be put to its burden of proof more often.
A Pulse on FCPA Inc.
Law360 highlights “Four Practices Areas Generating Big Billable Hours.” As to the FCPA the article notes:
“The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which mandates certain accounting transparency requirements and gives the U.S. government the power to pursue businesses that bribe foreign officials, is creating long workdays for attorneys throughout the world. ”If Foreign Corrupt Practices Act were a stock, I wish I would have held it,” said William Devaney, co-chair of Venable LLP’s FCPA and anti-corruption practice group. “We’ve seen huge growth in the practice area since 2004, and with the government’s current focus on FCPA, it’s safe to say anti-corruption enforcement will be around for a long time.” After the FCPA was amended in 1998 to include additional anti-bribery provisions, the U.S. government began actively applying the FCPA to not only large companies but also their smaller counterparts. As a result, Devaney says, a lot of midmarket and smaller companies are now coming into the FCPA compliance fold after acknowledging their obligations under the law, resulting in a surge in demand.
And according to Aaron G. Murphy, a partner with Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, foreign countries passing legislation similar to the FCPA will create an explosion of fraud investigations that begin abroad but later will involve the U.S. Department of Justice. Murphy said the FCPA stood as one of the lone anti-corruption laws in the world for 20 years, then in the mid-1990s, numerous foreign governments adopted similar rules to punish local and international corruption. ”No politician has ever been elected on a ‘get softer on corruption’ ticket,” Murphy said. “If anti-corruption laws get modified, they will probably get stronger, not weaker. So we likely won’t see, 20 years from now, attorneys reminiscing about when companies had to deal with corruption laws. This practice area is here to stay.”
That the FCPA practice is here to stay is all the more reason to elevate your FCPA knowledge and practical skills at the FCPA Institute.
The three other practice areas highlighted in the article were: export controls and trade sanctions; civil false claims act; and patent litigation and patent trolls.
The White House recently announced that President Obama named Kirkland & Ellis partner W. Neil Eggleston to be White House Counsel (see here). FCPA Professor has highlighted in the past (see here and here) certain of Eggleston’s spot-on comments regarding the FCPA or related issues.
In this interview Eggleston stated: “I worry that [NPAs and DPAs] will become a substitute for a prosecutor deciding – this is not an appropriate case to bring – there is no reason to subject this corporation to corporate criminal liability. In the old days, they would have dropped the case. Now, they have the back up of seeking a deferred or non prosecution agreement, when in fact the case should not have been pursued at all. That’s what I’m worried about – an easy out.”
In another interview, Eggleston was asked “what is an important issue or case relevant to your practice area and why” and stated: “We are beginning to see the development of case law in the FCPA area, which I believe is good for the process. Most of these cases have been settled. When that occurs, defendants have little incentive to refuse to agree to novel Department of Justice theories of prosecution or jurisdiction, so long as the penalty is acceptable. The department then cites its prior settlement as precedent when settling later ones. But no court approved the earlier settlement, and the prior settlement should have no precedential value in favor of the DOJ in later settlements. As the DOJ increases its prosecution of individuals, we will see many more trials, which will give rise to courts, not the DOJ, interpreting the statute.”
DOJ Deputy Attorney General James Cole was a keynote speaker earlier this week at the Dow Jones Global Compliance Symposium. According to the event agenda, the title was “What the Justice Department Has in Its Sights” and described as follows.
“From foreign bribery to insider trading, the U.S. Department of Justice has been at the forefront of rigorous enforcement that has forced companies to treat compliance seriously. We interview James Cole, deputy attorney general, about where the department is focusing its efforts now.”
I reached out to the DOJ Press Office for a transcript of Mr. Cole’s remarks and was told “we don’t have one.”
It is unfortunate that public officials speak about matters of public interest at private conferences that charge thousands of dollars to attend.
The FCPA Guidance was sort of interesting to read, but as noted in my article “Grading the FCPA Guidance” it lacks any legal authority or effect. A hat tip to the Tax Law Prof Blog for highlighting a recent U.S. Tax Court decision finding that IRS Guidance is “not binding precedent” nor “substantial authority” for a tax position.
The New York Times here goes in-depth on Dmitry Firtash, the Ukrainian businessman recently criminally charged in connection with an alleged bribery scheme involving Indian licenses (see here for the prior post).
Miller & Chevalier’s FCPA Spring 2014 Review is here.