Archive for the ‘Guidance’ Category

Friday Roundup

Friday, September 12th, 2014

The problem with NPAs and DPAs, how does your product go to market in China, media coverage in China, victory, scrutiny alerts and updates, and for the reading stack.  It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

The Problem With NPAs and DPAs

I’ve long called for the abolition of NPAs and DPAs in the FCPA context as part of a two-pronged reform approach (see here among other posts).  As highlighted here among other posts, NPAs and DPAs are problematic across a wide spectrum and the agreements often contain meaningless or senseless language.

This recent Wall Street Journal Law Blog post titled “5 Things Companies Agree to But Can’t Deliver On in DPAs” is a worthy read. It begins:

“FCPA lawyers have a love-hate relationship with deferred-prosecution agreements,” said Laurence Urgenson, a partner at Mayer Brown. “We need them to get around the collateral consequences of prosecutions…but there is language in the agreements that drives us crazy.” Mr. Urgenson said the agreements originated with settlements prosecutors would reach with individuals, often children, placing certain requirements on them as a condition for the charges eventually being dropped. But many of those requirements make no sense in a settlement with a company; Mr. Urgenson picked out some of his favorites.”

How Does Your Product Go To Market In China?

Returning to issues discussed in this 2011 post and this 2011 post, this recent article in Food Navigator – Asia (not my typical source of FCPA material) states as follows concerning practices in China:

“One currently emerging trend is how companies are apparently becoming more comfortable to talk openly about measures they are taking to avoid gaining approvals and still move their products to market.  Indeed, four companies outlined to us the agreements they had made with Chinese distributors to deliver their products to locations near to China and then leave the local partners to navigate their movement into the People’s Republic.  Most likely, this would be done in cahoots with ministry officials in deals that would involve sweeteners and other transactions.  ’Once we’ve delivered the product, it isn’t our problem what our partner decides to do with it,’ an executive at a U.S.-based multinational told us in Hong Kong.  ’It’s not the cost of approvals that concerns us, it’s the time,” a mid-market manufacturer, also from the U.S., told us.  ”It is important for us that we hit China right now.’  Not all the companies we talked to about this were from America, but the fact that two were was surprising.  This is not least because business practices there are governed by the FCPA …  [...]  What is surprising to us is not the fact that these practices exist at all, it is how U.S. businesses in particular have now become comfortable enough to openly brief the press about their part in this trend.”

That makes two of us that are surprised!

Media Coverage in China

This prior 2012 post titled “All the News That Fit? To Print” highlighted the practice of paying journalists for media coverage in China.  Related to the general issue is this recent New York Times article which describes how “journalists who worked for a business news website under investigation in Shanghai have described a scheme of extorting Chinese companies, which were pressed to pay in return for the production of flattering articles or the burying of damaging ones.”

Victory

In this prior post I exposed how the DOJ and SEC literally re-wrote the FCPA statute in the November 2012 issued FCPA Guidance. The post highlighted the difference – even a first year law student would be expected to see – between what the FCPA actually says and the version of the FCPA in the Guidance.

Set forth below is the text of the FCPA regarding the “obtain or retain business” element.

   ”anything of value to

         any foreign official for purposes of

(A) (i) influencing any act or decision of such foreign official in his official capacity, (ii) inducing such foreign official to do or omit to do any act in violation of the lawful duty of such official, or (iii) securing any improper advantage; or

(B) inducing such foreign official to use his influence with a foreign government or instrumentality thereof to affect or influence any act or decision of such government or instrumentality,

         in order to assist such issuer in obtaining or retaining business for or with, or directing business to, any person;

Set forth below is how the text of the FCPA was [originally] portrayed in the FCPA Guidance.

   “anything of value to

         any foreign official for purposes of

(A) (i) influencing any act or decision of such foreign official in his official capacity, (ii) inducing such foreign official to do or omit to do any act in violation of the lawful duty of such official, or (iii) securing any improper advantage; or

(B) inducing such foreign official to use his influence with a foreign government or instrumentality thereof to affect or influence any act or decision of such government or instrumentality, in order to assist such issuer in obtaining or retaining business for or with, or directing business to, any person;

Recently, I received an interesting e-mail from a reader who was confused by my prior post because the FCPA Guidance does not portray the FCPA as suggested in my original post.  The reader was right!  That’s because the DOJ/SEC changed the version of the FCPA originally set forth in the Guidance to its proper form.  To prove that the original FCPA Guidance literally re-wrote the FCPA, here is the version of the FCPA that originally appeared in the FCPA Guidance which relevant portions highlighted.

Subtle yes, but sometimes victory occurs in the shadows.

Scrutiny Alerts and Updates

HP Russia

Related to the April 2014 DOJ enforcement action against HP related entities (see here for the prior post), the DOJ announced yesterday that HP Russia formally pleaded guilty.

As stated in the DOJ release

“In a brazen violation of the FCPA, Hewlett Packard’s Russia subsidiary used millions of dollars in bribes from a secret slush fund to secure a lucrative government contract,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Marshall Miller.  “Even more troubling was that the government contract up for sale was with Russia’s top prosecutor’s office.   Tech companies, like all companies, must compete on a level playing field, not resort to secret books and sham transactions to hide millions of dollars in bribes.  The Criminal Division has been at the forefront of this fight because when corruption takes hold overseas, American companies and the rule of law are harmed.  Today’s conviction and sentencing are important steps in our ongoing efforts to hold accountable those who corrupt the international marketplace.”

“Today’s conviction and sentence of HP Russia demonstrates that the United States Attorney’s Office is dedicated to aggressively prosecuting all forms of corporate fraud that touch our district, wherever they may occur,” said U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag.  “HP’s cooperation during the investigation is what we expect of major corporate leaders facing the challenges of doing business around the world.”

“For more than a decade HP Russia business executives participated in an elaborate scheme that involved paying bribes to government officials in exchange for large contracts,” said Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office Andrew McCabe. “There is no place for bribery in any business model or corporate culture.  Along with the Department of Justice, the IRS and international law enforcement partners, the FBI is committed to investigating corrupt backroom deals that threaten our global commerce.”

Image Sensing Systems

Earlier this week, the company issued the following release:

“Image Sensing Systems, Inc. today announced that the DOJ has closed its inquiry into the Company in connection with the previously disclosed investigation of potential violations of the FCPA citing the Company’s voluntary disclosure, thorough investigation, cooperation and voluntary enhancements to its compliance program.  The SEC earlier notified the Company that it had closed its investigation under the FCPA without recommending enforcement action. Kris Tufto, Image Sensing Systems chief executive officer, commented, “We are very pleased to conclude the DOJ and SEC investigations without further action.  From the very beginning, we have voluntarily cooperated with the authorities and have worked diligently to implement measures to enhance our internal controls and compliance efforts. We understand that those efforts have been recognized and that the resolution of the investigation reflects this cooperation.”  As previously reported by Image Sensing Systems, it had learned in early 2013 that Polish authorities were conducting an investigation into alleged violations of Polish law by two employees of Image Sensing Systems Europe Limited SP.Z.O.O., its Polish subsidiary, who had been charged with criminal violations of certain laws related to a project in Poland. A special subcommittee of the audit committee of the board of directors immediately engaged outside counsel to conduct an internal investigation.  Image Sensing Systems voluntarily disclosed the matter to the DOJ and the SEC, and it has cooperated fully with those agencies in connection with their review.”

Alstom

Regarding the previously announced U.K. criminal charges against Alstom (see here for the prior post), the U.K. Serious Fraud Office recently released this charge sheet detailing the charges in connection with alleged conduct in India, Poland and Tunisia.

Reading Stack

A very interesting read from the New York TimesForeign Powers By Influence at Think Tanks.”  The article begins as follows.

“More than a dozen prominent Washington research groups have received tens of millions of dollars from foreign governments in recent years while pushing United States government officials to adopt policies that often reflect the donors’ priorities, an investigation by The New York Times has found. The money is increasingly transforming the once-staid think-tank world into a muscular arm of foreign governments’ lobbying in Washington.”

Forbes asks – is it “silly season” in China?  What is perhaps silly is the advice highlighted in the article to negotiate the regulatory minefield:

“[B]uild a network. ‘Involve some powerful local Chinese partners in some peripheral areas in order to build a political foundation. I don’t necessarily recommend an overall partnership, since they would be better off with a well-placed approach in specific areas. Have a partnership in marketing or R&D and develop a perception that you are working closely with Chinese firms, but in reality you will not give away anything that is sensitive.”

This is probably only going to increase a company’s risk because of the FCPA’s third-party payment provisions.

*****

A good weekend to all.

 

Friday Roundup

Friday, April 25th, 2014

FCPA scrutiny equals a raise, Qualcomm declines to cave, scrutiny alerts, 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.

Scrutiny Alerts

Hiring Probes Expand

Reuters reports here:

“U.S. government agencies that have been probing banks’ hiring of children of powerful Chinese officials are expanding existing investigations in other industries across Asia to include hiring practices …The U.S. Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission have been asking global companies in a range of industries including oil and gas, telecommunications and consumer products for information about their hiring practices to determine if they could amount to bribery …”.

For more on JPMorgan’s FCPA scrutiny which got this started, see here.  For more on so-called industry sweeps, see here.

Delphi Automotive

Delphi Automotive disclosed in it most recent SEC quarterly filing as follows:

“During the first quarter of 2014, Delphi identified certain potentially improper payments, made by certain manufacturing facility employees in China, that may violate certain provisions of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (the “FCPA”). Under the oversight of Delphi’s Audit Committee of the Board of Directors, Delphi has engaged outside counsel to assist in the review of these matters, and to evaluate existing controls and compliance policies and procedures. This review remains ongoing. Violations of the FCPA could result in criminal and/or civil liabilities and other forms of penalties or sanctions. Delphi has voluntarily disclosed these matters to the U.S. Department of Justice and the SEC, and is cooperating fully with these agencies. Although Delphi does not expect the outcome of this review to have a material adverse impact on the Company, there can be no assurance as to the ultimate outcome of these matters at this time.”

United Technologies

United Technologies disclosed in its most recent SEC quarterly filing as follows:

“Non-Employee Sales Representative Investigation

In December 2013 and January 2014, UTC made voluntary disclosures to the United States Department of Justice, the Securities and Exchange Commission Division of Enforcement and the United Kingdom’s Serious Fraud Office to report the status of its internal investigation regarding a non-employee sales representative retained by United Technologies International Operations, Inc. (UTIO) and International Aero Engines (IAE) for the sale of Pratt & Whitney and IAE engines and aftermarket services, respectively, in China. On April 7, 2014, the SEC notified UTC that it is conducting a formal investigation and issued a subpoena to UTC seeking production of documents related to the disclosures. UTC is cooperating fully with the investigation. Because the investigation is at an early stage, we cannot predict its outcome or the consequences thereof at this time. At the outset of the internal investigation, UTIO and IAE suspended all commission payments to the sales representative, and UTIO and IAE have not resumed making any payments. This led to two claims by the sales representative for unpaid commissions: a civil lawsuit filed
against UTIO and UTC and an arbitration claim against IAE. We are contesting the lawsuit and the arbitration claim. We do not believe that the resolution of the lawsuit or the arbitration will have a material adverse effect on our competitive position, results of operations, cash flows or financial condition.”

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.

Survey Says

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.

Quotable

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.”

Not Quotable

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.

Reading Stack

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).

An informative three-part series (here, here and here) by Tom Fox (FCPA Compliance & Ethics Blog) regarding gifts, travel and entertainment.

Miller & Chevalier’s FCPA Spring 2014 Review is here.

“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..

Congress Remains Interested In FCPA Issues

Wednesday, February 26th, 2014

Foreign Corrupt Practices reform may not be the hot issue it was circa 2011 (political posturing by the DOJ in connection with the FCPA Guidance as well as certain headlines caused the issue to simmer), but Congress remains interested in FCPA issues.

For instance, in connection with a recent confirmation hearing for Leslie Caldwell to be the DOJ’s Assistant Attorney General of the Criminal Division, Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA), Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, asked Caldwell several FCPA-related questions for the record.

Caldwell punted on every question (perhaps not surprising given that Caldwell is not currently at the DOJ), but the questions posed nevertheless highlight specific FCPA issues on the minds of certain members of Congress.

Set forth in full below are the FCPA-related questions by Senator Grassley and Caldwell’s responses.

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“I recently asked Attorney General Holder these questions and have not yet received response.  As the FCPA falls within the Criminal Division, would you please respond to the following questions.

What are the Department’s current enforcement priorities under the FCPA?

Answer:  I am not in the Department; therefore, I am not in a position to address this question.  If I am confirmed as the Assistant Attorney General of the Criminal Division, I assure you that I will be vigilant in pursuing cases under the FCPA.

What particular industries, markets or practices is the Department focusing on, and why?

Answer:  I am not in the Department; therefore, I am not in a position to address this question.  As noted above, if I am confirmed as the Assistant Attorney General of the Criminal Division, I assure you that I will be vigilant in pursuing cases under the FCPA.

What proportion of the Department’s enforcement activity during 2013 involved non-U.S. companies?

Answer:  I am not in the Department; therefore, I am not in a position to address this question.  If I am confirmed as the Assistant Attorney General of the Criminal Division, I assure you that I will be vigilant in pursuing cases against U.S. and non-U.S. companies that violate the FCPA.

Has the Department seen a recent increase in whistleblower claims of FCPA violations?  If so, to what would you attribute that?  How has the Department responded?

Answer:  I am not in the Department; therefore, I am not in a position to address these questions.

Although the Department does not publicize each particular instance in which it declines prosecution despite evidence of an FCPA violation, what characterized the Department’s declinations during 2013?  Did the number increase from 2012?  What factors were most important in leading the Department to decline prosecution?

Answer:  I am not in the Department; therefore, I am not in a position to address these questions.  While I have not been privy to the internal deliberations surrounding the Department’s declination decisions, if confirmed as the Assistant Attorney General of the Criminal Division, I assure you that declination decisions will be based on the law and the evidence presented.

In November 2012, the Department and SEC issued the FCPA ”Resource Guide,” which reflected guidance from your agencies regarding the interpretation and enforcement of the FCPA.  Does the Department anticipate updating, supplementing or amending the “Resource Guide” in the foreseeable future?

Answer:  I am not in the Department; therefore, I am not in a position to address this question.

In 2013, the Department issued only one Opinion Release concerning the FCPA.  Does the Department consider the “Resource Guide” a substitute for its opinion release program?

Answer:  I am not in the Department; therefore, I am not in a position to address this question.