Archive for the ‘Internal Controls’ Category

The U.K. Financial Conduct Authority And Its Focus On Adequate Procedures To Prevent Bribery

Monday, January 27th, 2014

Today’s post is from Robert Amaee (Covington & Burling), the United Kingdom Expert for FCPA Professor.

In the post, Amaee notes that while the U.K. Bribery Act does not have formal books and records and internal controls provisions like the FCPA, the U.K. Financial Conduct Authority (which regulates firms in the U.K. that provide financial products and services to U.K. and overseas customers and is the U.K. listing authority) has brought several recent enforcement actions against regulated entities on grounds similar to typical FCPA books and records and internal controls actions.

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The recent enforcement action taken by the U.K. Financial Conduct Authority (“FCA”) against JLT Specialty Limited (“JLTSL”) is the latest example of the regulator’s drive to penalize companies in the financial sector for failures in their anti-corruption policies and procedures, even in the absence of any evidence of bribery.  There is every indication that the FCA will continue to use its regulatory powers to bring enforcement actions against companies that it deems not to have adequate anti-corruption controls.  In the words of Tracy McDermott, the FCA’s Director of enforcement and financial crime:

“[b]ribery and corruption from overseas payments is an issue we expect all firms to do everything they can to tackle. Firms cannot be complacent about their controls – when we take enforcement action we expect the industry to sit up and take notice.”

This article outlines the FCA’s role in combating financial crime and discusses some pertinent aspects of the JLTSL case as well as previous cases against Willis Limited (“Willis”), and Aon Limited (“Aon”).

The remit and track record of the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) in enforcing the internal control and accounting provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act 1977 is well known to readers of FCPA Professor.  Companies that are US issuers have an obligation to keep accurate books, records and accounts, and to devise and maintain sufficient internal accounting controls to ensure such accuracy.  In the UK, the Bribery Act 2010, does not contain equivalent internal control or accounting provisions.

In the case of a company that is suspected of failing to prevent bribery, the Serious Fraud Office (“SFO”) — the lead agency tasked with enforcing the Bribery Act — must assess the adequacy of the company’s procedures (i.e., whether the company has a defence) before deciding to bring Bribery Act charges (see Sec. 7 of the Bribery Act).   In the absence of evidence of bribery, however, the SFO cannot simply take enforcement action under the Bribery Act against a company for failures in its anti-corruption procedures.  In respect of a suspected failure to keep adequate accounting records, UK Prosecutors have in the past resorted to bringing action under the provisions of the Companies Acts of 1985 and 2006.  In 2010, for example, the SFO relied on section 221 of the Companies Act 1985 (now replaced, in substantially the same form, by the sections 386 and 387 of the Companies Act 2006) to sanction BAE for a failure to keep adequate accounting records in relation to payments made to a third party intermediary.

The FCA

The FCA, which took over the majority of the responsibilities of the Financial Services Authority (“FSA”) in April 2013, however, has a statutory objective under the Financial Services & Markets Act 2000 (as amended by the Financial Services Act 2012) to protect and enhance the integrity of the UK financial system.  This market integrity objective includes tackling the risk that the financial sector companies that it regulates may be used for a purpose connected with financial crime, including fraud, money laundering, and bribery and corruption.  In its July 2013 publication, The FCA’s Approach to Advancing its Objectives, the FCA states: “we will take action against firms found to be using corrupt practices, or failing to prevent bribes being paid to win business.”

To achieve this objective, the FCA has imposed, via the FCA Handbook, a number of financial crime requirements on the financial sector companies that it regulates. The key requirements are set out in Principles 1 (integrity), 2 (skill, care and diligence), 3 (management and control) and 11 (relations with regulators) of the FCA’s Principles for Businesses (“PRIN”); and Chapters 3 and 6 of the FCA’s Senior Management Arrangements, Systems and Controls sourcebook (“SYSC”).

In addition, the FCA’s recently published Thematic Review TR13/9 (October 2013) (here) on Anti-Money Laundering and Anti-Bribery and Corruption Systems and Controls, based on an assessment of 22 companies, sets out a case-based analysis of good and bad practice examples for businesses dealing with the risks of bribery and corruption. The October 2013 review followed previous thematic reviews of anti-corruption controls in commercial insurance broking (2010), in investment banking (2012), and AML and sanctions controls in trade finance (2013). The foregoing, together with the FCA’s Financial Crime: A Guide for Firms (here), provide companies with a clear indication of the FCA’s expectations in relation to the implementation and monitoring of anti-corruption systems and controls.

The recent JLTSL enforcement action followed the FCA findings of a breach of Principle 3 of PRIN.  Principle 3 provides that “A firm must take reasonable care to organise and control its affairs responsibly and effectively, with adequate risk management systems.”  This includes implementing checks and controls designed to prevent bribery and corruption overseas.   For a breach of Principle 3 to be established, there is no need for the FCA to show that suspicious payments were made or that an act of bribery has taken place.  In both the Aon and Willis cases investigations did show that suspicious payments were in fact made, while in the JLTSL case there was no evidence of suspicious payments having been made.

JLT Speciality Limited

On December 19, 2013 JLTSL, a wholly owned subsidiary of JLT Group (the largest European broker quoted on the London Stock Exchange), was fined £1,876,000 in respect of breaches of Principle 3 of PRIN.  The FCA found that JLTSL had failed to carry out effective due diligence before entering into relationships with, and making payments to overseas introducers.  The FCA found that the overseas introducers had been paid in excess of £11.7 million, representing some 57% of the total amount received by JLTSL from the business that had been introduced by the overseas introducers.  There was no evidence of bribery or any improper intent on the part of JLTSL, but the FCA concluded that the failings gave rise to an unacceptable risk that the payments made to the overseas introducers could have been used to pay bribes “to persons connected with the insured clients and/or public officials.”

It is worth noting that the FCA brought this action against JLTSL in spite of the fact that it found that JLTSL had (i) implemented policies and procedures aimed at countering the risk of bribery and corruption, including an Employee handbook and a Group Anti-Bribery and Corruption Policy which prohibited JLTSL employees from engaging in any form of bribery, an Operating Procedure Manual which contained more detailed procedures that employees had to follow in order to establish relationships with overseas introducers, and a 7 Alarm Bells policy to assess the bribery and corruption risk associated with entering into a relationship with an overseas introducer; and (ii) engaged an external adviser to review its systems and controls to assess compliance with the provisions of the Bribery Act 2010, concluding that the due diligence procedures in relation to introducer/facilitator relationships appeared comprehensive and broadly in line with the Act.

The FCA took the position that there was a failure to conduct adequate due diligence, and the external advisor had not conducted aholistic” review of JLTSL’s systems and controls.  JLTSL also was found to have failed to adequately assess bribery and corruption risks, only carrying out a risk assessment at the start of each relationship not every time that overseas introducer introduced a new piece of business.  JLTSL also failed to adequately implement its own anti-bribery and corruption policies, which resulted in the risk of JLTSL entering into higher risk relationships with overseas introducers without senior management oversight and approval.

Specifically, JLTSL failed to assess whether or not there were any connections between the overseas introducers and the clients or any public officials.  Although both the OPM and the Alarm Bells highlighted the importance of carrying out due diligence, there was a lack of practical guidance “to employees in order to establish whether the Overseas Introducer was connected to the client it was introducing.”  On reviewing 17 of JLTSL’s relationships with overseas introducers, the FCA found that in the majority of cases in which the overseas introducer was a company, JLTSL had failed to screen one or more directors or beneficial owners.  In one example, a major shareholder of the overseas introducer was known to JLTSL to be a Nigerian public official. The FCA concluded that as a Nigerian public official it was entirely possible even probable that the shareholder of the overseas introducer would have connections to West African public officials.

Willis Limited

On July 21, 2011 the insurance broker Willis was fined £6,895,000 for failings in its anti-corruption systems and controls (breaches were for Principle 3 of PRIN and Rule 3.2.6 R of the SYSC) which “contributed to a weak control environment surrounding the making of payments to Overseas Third Parties.”

The FSA found that overseas third parties had received commissions of approximately £27 million, representing some 45% of the brokerage earned by Willis from the business that had been introduced by the overseas third parties.  The FSA’s findings were supported by Willis’ own internal investigation which identified a number of suspicious payments made to overseas third parties, two of which formed the subject of suspicious activity reports that Willis submitted to the Serious Organised Crime Agency (“SOCA”) (now replaced by the National Crime Agency (“NCA”)).

The FSA did not find any evidence to suggest that Willis’s conduct was either deliberate or reckless.  It acknowledged that Willis had introduced improved anti-corruption policies and guidance in 2008, reviewed how its new policies were operating in practice and further revised its guidance in 2009.  The FSA, however, formed the view that Willis had failed to ensure its policies were adequately implemented, that failures by staff to adhere to the new policies were identified in a timely manner, or that the Board was provided with sufficient relevant management information regarding the performance of the new policies.

Specifically, the FSA concluded, inter alia, that Willis had (i) failed to ensure that it had established and recorded an adequate commercial rationale for using overseas third parties; (ii) failed to provide formal training or adequate guidance for staff who only recorded brief descriptions of the reason for making commission payments; and (iii) conducted inadequate due diligence on overseas third parties to establish, for example, any connections with the insured, insurer or public officials.

Aon Limited

On January 6, 2009 Aon was fined £5,250,000 for failing to “take reasonable care to organise and control its affairs responsibly and effectively, with adequate risk management systems” (breach of Principle 3 of PRIN).  In particular, the FSA highlighted Aon’s failure to establish and maintain effective systems and controls for countering the risks of bribery and corruption associated with its use of overseas Third parties in high risk jurisdictions.

As in the Willis case, the FSA found that the failings led to a weak control environment that gave rise to an unacceptable risk that Aon could become involved in potentially corrupt payments to win or retain business. The FSA highlighted 66 suspicious payments totalling in excess of US$7 million that were paid to nine overseas third parties.  Aon’s own internal investigation identified a number of suspicious payments that it later reported to SOCA.

The FSA concluded, inter alia, that (i) procedures lacked adequate levels of due diligence either before commencing relationships with overseas third parties or before payments were made; (ii) Aon failed to monitor its relationships with overseas third parties in respect of specific bribery risks; (iii) Aon did not provide its staff with sufficient training and guidance on bribery and corruption matters; and (iv) Aon failed to ensure that the committees it appointed to oversee bribery and corruption risks received relevant management information or routinely assessed whether bribery and corruption risks were managed effectively.  Aon also failed to implement effective internal systems and controls to mitigate those risks.  Margaret Cole, FSA director of enforcement at the time, described the case as sending a clear message that it is completely unacceptable for firms to conduct business overseas without having in place appropriate anti-bribery and corruption systems and controls”.

Adequate Procedures

The FSA’s 2009 action against Aon marked the start of period of concerted effort by the regulator to take action against companies deemed to have inadequate policies and controls, in particular in respect of the risks associated with making payments to overseas third parties.  The Aon action was followed in 2011 by the FSA’s action against Willis for failings in its anti- corruption policies and controls.  In bringing its recent action against JLTSL, the FCA has clearly signalled its intention to continue the focus on companies’ internal anti-corruption control environment. In addition, a number of separate enforcement actions have confirmed that the FCA remains focused on ensuring companies also maintain adequate anti-money laundering policies and controls.  See here, here, here and here.

It is clear, in particular from the JLTSL case, that the FCA will not be impressed by the volume of policies and controls that have been drafted or the fact that an external vendor has given the anti-corruption program the all clear.  The FCA is focused on the effectiveness of the policies and controls and how they have been implemented, and how they are being monitored in practice.  There is little doubt that when the SFO starts to bring enforcement actions against companies under the failure to prevent bribery offence contained in section 7 of the Bribery Act, its assessment of the adequacy of a company’s policies and controls will similarly focus on their real life implementation, and not on the elegance of the prose, or the sign off of external vendors.

Of Note From The Weatherford Enforcement Action

Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013

This previous post went long and deep as to the Weatherford International enforcement action.  This post continues the analysis by highlighting additional notable issues.

Why Do FCPA Violations Occur?

The question has been explored numerous times on this site (see here for instance).

Why do Foreign Corrupt Practices Act violations occur?

Do companies subject to the FCPA do business in foreign markets: (i) intent on engaging in bribery as a business strategy; or (ii) subject to difficult business conditions, trade distortions and barriers which create conditions in which harassment bribery flourishes.

As Joseph Covington (a former DOJ FCPA Unit Chief) commented in this prior guest post, he has “rarely seen [companies subject to the FCPA] affirmatively offering bribes in the first instance.”  Rather, Covington observed that companies doing business in international markets are “reacting to a world not of their making” and that “as the world shrinks companies who seek to do the right thing can’t help but confront corrupt officials – as customers, regulator and adjudicators – and confront them often.”

Consider the allegations against Weatherford Services Ltd. in Angola.

Per the DOJ’s allegations, if the company wanted a well screens business in Angola, it needed to have a local sponsor.  That trade distortion and barrier funneled Weatherford into a situation in which alleged “foreign officials” were given the ability to suggest the local partner(s) … and the rest is history as they say.

Per the DOJ’s other Angola allegations, even if Weatherford wanted to do business with non-governmental customers in Angola, an alleged “foreign official” was given the ability under Angolan law to approve the business arrangement.  The alleged “foreign official” demanded a bribe … and the rest is history as they say.

The above discussion should not be interpreted as excusing Weatherford’s alleged conduct, but it is certainly relevant to addressing the key question of why do FCPA violations occur.

As highlighted in this recent post, the root causes of much bribery and corruption are trade barriers and distortions.  Simply put, trade barriers and distortions create bureaucracy. Bureaucracy creates points of contact with foreign officials. Points of contact with foreign officials create discretion. Discretion creates the opportunity for a foreign official to misuse their position by making demand bribes.

[Note:  the original version of this post discussed the Swiss Freight Forwarding Agent identified in both the DOJ and SEC resolution documents as being Panalpina.  A knowledgeable source has informed me that Panalpina was not the Swiss Freight Forwarding Agent identified in the resolution documents]

The Last Iraq Oil for Food Enforcement Action?

One circumstance that has contributed to the bulk of FCPA enforcement activity in recent years was the Iraq Oil for Food Program (see here for the statistics).  As noted in this July 2012 post, with the exception of the then-pending Weatherford action, Iraq Oil for Food Program enforcement actions had largely run their course.

The Weatherford enforcement action was the only Iraq Oil for Food related enforcement action since the April 2011 enforcement action against Johnson & Johnson (see here for the prior post).

Will the Weatherford action be the last Iraq Oil for Food related enforcement action?

Are a Significant Percentage of Issuers Engaged in Criminal Acts?

The question posed is the same as in this prior post.

Does the DOJ really believe that a significant percentage of issuers are engaged in criminal acts?

The DOJ has stated that non-prosecution and deferred prosecution agreements “benefit the public and industries by providing guidance on what constitutes improper conduct.”  (See here).

With that in mind, in the Weatherford action the DOJ alleged, in support of criminal FCPA internal controls violations, in pertinent part that Weatherford:

“failed to institute effective internal accounting controls, including corruption-related due diligence on appropriate third parties and  business transactions, limits of authority, and documentation requirements”

“did not have adequate internal accounting controls and processes in place that effectively evaluated business transactions, including acquisitions and joint ventures, for corruption risks and to investigate those risks when detected”

“did not have an effective internal accounting control system for gifts, travel, and entertainment.  In practice, expenses were not typically adequately vetted to ensure that they were reasonable, bona fide, or properly documented”

“did not have a dedicated compliance officer or compliance personnel” and “although [the Company] promulgated an anti-corruption policy that it made available on its internal website, it did not translate that policy into any language other than English, and it did not conduct anti-corruption training”

If the DOJ believes that each of the above constitutes a criminal violation of the internal controls provisions, then a significant percentage of issuers are engaged in criminal acts as survey after survey indicates that a significant percentage of companies, including issuer’s subject to the FCPA’s internal controls provisions, fail to do such things.

The DOJ’s allegations in the Weatherford enforcement action are all the more notable given that the time period relevant to the conduct at issue was generally prior to 2008.  Is the DOJ suggesting that nearly every issuer during this time period was engaged in criminal acts given that issuers during that time period likely failed to engage in all of the compliance practices identified in the Weatherford enforcement action?

In Depth On The Weatherford Enforcement Action

Monday, December 2nd, 2013

Last week, the DOJ and SEC announced (here and here) that Switzerland-based oil and gas services company Weatherford International agreed to resolve a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement action based primarily on alleged conduct by its subsidiaries in Angola, the Middle East, and in connection with the Iraq Oil for Food program.  The enforcement action has been expected for some time (as noted in this prior post, in November the company disclosed that it had agreed in principle to the settlement announced last week).

The enforcement action involved a DOJ criminal information against Weatherford Services Ltd. resolved via a plea agreement, a criminal information against Weatherford International Ltd. (“Weatherford”) resolved via a deferred prosecution agreement, and a SEC settled civil complaint against Weatherford.  [Note, the SEC enforcement action also alleged violations of the books and records and internal controls provisions in regards to commercial transactions with various sanctioned countries in violation of U.S. sanction and export controls laws.  The DOJ - or other government entities - also alleged such conduct, but in resolution documents separate and apart from the FCPA resolution documents highlighted below].

Weatherford agreed to pay approximately $153 million to resolve its alleged FCPA scrutiny ($87 million to resolve the DOJ enforcement action and $66 million to resolve the SEC enforcement action).  The Weatherford action is the 8th largest FCPA settlement of all-time (see here for the top ten FCPA settlements).

DOJ

Weatherford Services Ltd.

Weatherford Services (“WSL”), incorporated in Bermuda, is identified as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Weatherford International that “managed most of Weatherford’s activities in Angola.”

The conduct at issue involved “two schemes to bribe Sonangol officials to obtain or retain business.”

Sonangol is alleged to be a “government-owned and controlled corporation” of the Angolan government. The information specifically states:

“Sonangol was the sole concessionaire for exploration of oil and gas in Angola, and was solely responsible for the exploration, production, manufacturing, transportation, and marketing of hydrocarbons in Angola.  Sonangol was run by a board of directors established by governmental decree in 1999.  Each member of the board was also appointed or renewed in their position by governmental decree.  Because Sonangol was wholly owned, controlled, and managed by the Angolan government, it was an ‘agency’ and ‘instrumentality’ of a foreign government and its employees were ‘foreign officials’” under the FCPA.

According to the information, the first bribery scheme “centered around a joint venture which WSL and other Weatherford employees established with two local Angolan entities.”  The information alleges that “Angolan Officials 1, 2, and 3 (described as “high-level, senior officials of Sonangol” with influence over contracts) controlled and represented one of the entities” and that a “relative of Angolan Official 4 (described as a “high-level, senior official of Angola’s Ministry of Petroleum” with influence over contracts entered into by the Angolan government) controlled and represented the other.”

The information alleges that the “joint venture began because WSL sought a way to increase its share of the well screens market in Angola” and states that “WSL learned that Sonangol was encouraging oil services companies to establish a well screens manufacturing operations in Angola with a local partner.”  Thereafter, “a high-level Weatherford executive sent Angolan Official 1 a letter expressing Weatherford’s intent to form a well screens manufacturing operation in Angola with a local partner and requesting Sonangol’s participation in the process.”

The information next alleges that “Angolan Official 1 advised WSL that Sonangol had selected local partners for WSL and that Sonangol would support the joint venture.”  According to the information:

“… the parties agreed that two local Angolan entities (“Angolan Company A” and Angolan Company B”) would be WSL’s joint venture partners.  Angolan Officials 1, 2 and 3 conducted all business with WSL on behalf of Angolan Company A.  Angolan Company B was owned in part by the daughter of Angolan Official 4.”

According to the information, “certain WSL and Weatherford employees knew from the outset of discussions regarding the joint venture that the members of Angolan Company A included a Sonangol employee and Angolan Official 3′s wife, while Angolan Company B’s members included Angolan Official 4′s daughter and son-in-law.”

According to the information, “prior to entering into the joint venture, neither Weatherford nor WSL conducted any meaningful due diligence of either joint venture partner.”  The information specifically alleges that Weatherford Legal Counsel A (a citizen of the U.S. and a Senior Corporate Counsel at Weatherford from 2004 to 2008) reached out to a law firm “to discuss whether partnering with the Angolan companies raised issues under the FCPA,” but that Weatherford Legal Counsel A “did not follow the advice” that had been provided to him.  In addition, the information alleges that Weatherford Legal Counsel A “falsely told [another] outside counsel that the joint venture had been vetted and approved by another outside counsel, when, in fact, no outside law firm ever conducted such vetting or gave such approval.”

The information alleges that WSL signed the final joint venture agreement with Angolan Company A and Angolan Company B in 2005, but that “neither Angolan Company A nor Angolan Company B provided any personnel or expertise to the joint venture, nor did they make any capital contributions.”

According to the information:

“In 2008, Angolan Company A and Angolan Company B received joint venture dividends for 2005 and 2006, including on revenues received in 2005 [before the joint venture agreement was executed].  [...]  In total, the joint venture paid Angolan Company A $689,995 and paid Angolan Company B $136,901.”

The information alleges that “prior to the distribution of joint venture dividends, WSL executives knew that Angolan officials were directing the distribution of those dividends.”

According to the information, “WSL benefitted from the joint venture arrangement” in the following ways: ”Sonangol began taking well screens business away from WSL’s competitors, even when a competitor was supplying non-governmental companies, and awarding it to WSL”  and “WSL received awards of business for which its bids were, by its own admission, not price competitive.”

The second bribery scheme alleged in the information relates to the “Cabinda Region Contract Renewal” in which WSL allegedly “bribed Angolan Official 5 (described as “a Sonangol official with decision-making authority in Angola’s Cabinda region”) so that he would approve the renewal of a contract under which WSL provided oil services to a non-governmental oil company in the Cabinda region of Angola.”  The information alleges that even though the contract was between WSL and a non-governmental company, Angolan law required “that it be approved by Sonangol before being finalized” and that “Angolan Official 5 was the Sonangol official responsible for approving or denying the renewal contract.”

The information alleges that Angolan Official 5 solicited the bribe and that “WSL executives agreed to pay the bribe Angolan Official 5 had demanded” even though a prior WSL Manager had refused to pay it.  According to the information, WSL made the payments to Angolan Official 5 through the Freight Forwarding Agent (described as a Swiss Company who provided freight forwarding and logistics services in Angola) who had previously paid bribes on behalf of WSL.”

As to the Freight Forwarding Agent, the information alleges that WSL retained the agent via a consultancy agreement in which the agent rejected a specific FCPA clause, but that “WSL and Weatherford acquiesced by removing the FCPA clause and inserting a clause requiring the Freight Forwarding Agent to ‘comply with all applicable laws, rules, and regulations issued by any governmental entity in the countries of business involved.”  According to the information, “WSL generated sham purchase orders for consulting services the Freight Forwarding Agent never performed, and the Freight Forwarding Agent, in turn, generated sham invoices for those non-existent services.”  The information alleges that the Freight Forwarding Agent passed money on to Angolan Official 5.

Based on the above, the information charges WSL with one count of violating the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions and specifically invokes the dd-3 prong of the statute applicable to “persons” other than issuers or domestic concerns.

Pursuant to the plea agreement, WSL agreed to pay a criminal fine in the amount of $420,000.

Weatherford International

The Weatherford information largely focuses on the company’s internal accounting controls and alleges as follows.

“Weatherford, which operated in an industry with a substantial corruption risk profile, grew its global footprint in large part by purchasing existing companies, often themselves in countries with high corruption risks.  Despite these manifest corruption risks, Weatherford knowingly failed to establish effective corruption-related internal accounting controls designed to detect and prevent corruption-related violations, including FCPA violations, prior to 2008.

Prior to 2008, Weatherford failed to institute effective internal accounting controls, including corruption-related due diligence on appropriate third parties and business transactions, limits of authority, and documentation requirements.  This failure was particularly acute when it came to third parties, including channel partners, distributors, consultants, and agents.  Weatherford failed to establish effective corruption-related due diligence on third parties with interaction with government officials, such as appropriately understanding a given third party’s ownership and qualifications, evaluating the business justification for the third party’s retention in the first instance, and establishing and implementing adequate screening of third parties for derogatory information.  Moreover, Weatherford failed to implement effective controls for the meaningful approval process of third parties.  Weatherford also did not require, in practice, adequate documentation supporting retention and in support of payments to third parties, such as appropriate invoices and purchase orders.

Prior to 2008, Weatherford did not have adequate internal accounting controls and processes in place that effectively evaluated business transactions, including acquisitions and joint ventures, for corruption risks and to investigate those risks when detected.  Moreover, following the establishment of joint ventures and certain other business transactions, Weatherford did not appropriately implement its policies and procedures to ensure an effective internal accounting control environment through proper integration.

Prior to 2008, Weatherford also did not have an effective internal accounting control system for gifts, travel, and entertainment.  In practice, expenses were not typically adequately vetted to ensure that they were reasonable, bona fide, or properly documented.

These issues were exacerbated by the fact that, prior to 2009, a company as large and complex as Weatherford – with its substantial risk profile – did not have a dedicated compliance officer or compliance personnel.  Although Weatherford promulgated an anti-corruption policy that it made available on its internal website, it did not translate that policy into any language other than English, and it did not conduct anti-corruption training.

Prior to 2008, Weatherford did not have an effective system for investigating employee reporting of ethics and compliance violations.  If an employee’s ethics questionnaire response indicated an awareness of payments or offers of payments to foreign officials or of undisclosed or unallocated funds, Weatherford did not have a protocol in place to perform any further investigation into the alleged corruption.  As a matter of practice, in fact, Weatherford did not conduct additional investigation of such allegations.  Prior to 2004, Weatherford did not require any employee to complete any kind of ethics questionnaire.

Further, Weatherford lack effective mechanisms to control its many foreign subsidiaries’ activities to ensure that they maintained internal accounting controls adequate to detect, investigate, or deter corrupt payments made to government officials.”

Under the heading “corrupt conduct” the information alleges – in summary form – as follows:

“Due to Weatherford’s failure to implement such internal accounting controls, a permissive and uncontrolled environment existed within Weatherford in which employees of certain of its wholly owned subsidiaries in Africa and the Middle East were able to engage in various corrupt conduct over the course of many years, including both bribery of foreign officials and fraudulent misuse of the United Nations’ Oil for Food Program.”

Thereafter, the information contains nine paragraphs of allegations that track the Angola allegations in the WSL information.

In addition, the information contains allegations about another alleged “scheme, in the Middle East, from 2005 through 2011″ in which “employees of another Weatherford subsidiary [Weatherford Oil Tool Middle East Limited (WOTME) - described as a British Virgin Islands corporation headquartered in Dubai that was a wholly-owned subsidiary of Weatherford and responsible for managing most of Weatherford's activities in North Africa and the Middle East] awarded improper ‘volume discounts’ to a distributor who supplied Weatherford products to a government-owned national oil company, believing those discounts were being used to create a slush fund with which to make bribe payments to decision makers at the national oil company.”

According to the information, “officials at the national oil company had directed WOTME to sell goods to the company through this particular distributor” and the information alleges:

“Prior to entering into the contract with the distributor, neither WOTME nor Weatherford conducted any due diligence on the distributor, despite (a) the fact that the Distributor would be furnishing Weatherford goods directly to an instrumentality of a foreign government; (b) the fact that a foreign official had specifically directed WOTME to contract with that particular distributor, and (c) the fact that executives at WOTME knew that a member of the country’s royal family had an ownership interest in the distributor.”

According to the information, “between 2005 and 2011, WOTME paid approximately $15 million in volume discounts to the distributor” that were “recorded in WOTME’s general ledger under a heading titled “Volume Discount Account.”

The information next contains four paragraphs of allegations relevant to the Iraq Oil for Food program and how Weatherford’s “failure to implement effective internal accounting controls also permitted corrupt conduct relating” to the program.

In a summary allegation, under the heading “Profits from the Corrupt Conduct in Africa and the Middle East” the information states:

“Due to Weatherford’s failure to implement internal accounting controls, an environment existed within Weatherford in which employees of certain of its wholly owned subsidiaries in Africa and the Middle East were able to engage in various corrupt business transactions, which conduct earned profits of $54,486,410, which were included in the consolidated financial statements that Weatherford filed with the SEC.”

Based on the above conduct, the information charges Weatherford with violating the FCPA’s internal controls provisions – specifically – that Weatherford knowingly:

“(a) failed to implement, monitor, and impose internal accounting controls and to maintain their effectiveness; (b) failed adequately to train key personnel to implement internal accounting controls to detect and avoid illegal payments and to identify and deter violations of those controls; (c) failed to monitor and control the financial transactions of its subsidiaries, in a manner that provided reasonable assurances that its subsidiaries’ transactions were executed in accordance with management’s general and specific authorization; (d) failed to monitor and control the financial transactions of its subsidiaries, in a manner that provided reasonable assurances that its subsidiaries’ transactions were recorded as necessary to permit preparation of financial statements in conformity with generally accepted accounting principles and any other criteria applicable to such statements; (e) failed to maintain a sufficient system for the selection and approval of, and performance of corruption-related due diligence on, third party business partners and joint venture partners, which, in turn, permitted corrupt conduct to occur at subsidiaries; (f) failed to investigate appropriately and respond to allegations of corrupt payments and discipline employees involved in making corrupt payments; (g) failed to take reasonable steps to ensure the company’s compliance and ethics program was followed, including training employees, and performing monitoring to detect criminal conduct; (h) failed to maintain internal accounting controls sufficient to prevent a subsidiary from entering into a joint venture agreement to funnel improper benefits to, and receive preferential treatment from, foreign government officials; (i) failed to maintain internal accounting controls sufficient to prevent a subsidiary from making payments to a channel partner not authorized by contract knowing there was a substantial likelihood that those payments were used to make corrupt payments; and (j) failed to maintain internal accounting controls sufficient to prevent kickbacks paid to the government of Iraq by a subsidiary.”

The charge against Weatherford was resolved via a DPA in which the company admitted, accepted, and acknowledged that it was responsible for the acts of its officers, directors, employees, and agents as charged in the information.

The DPA has a term of three years and under the heading “relevant considerations” it states:

“The Department enters into this Agreement based on the individual facts and circumstances presented by this case and the Company.  Among the facts considered were the following:  (a) the Company’s cooperation has been, on the whole, strong, including conducting an extensive worldwide internal investigation, voluntarily making U.S. and foreign employees available for interviews, and collecting, analyzing, and organizing voluminous evidence and information for the Department, including the production of more than 3.8 million pages of data; (b) the Company has engaged in extensive remediation, including terminating the employment of officers and employees responsible for the corrupt misconduct of its subsidiaries, establishing a Compliance Officer position that is a member of the Company’s executive board, as well as a compliance office of approximately 38 full-time compliance professionals, including attorneys and accountants, that the Compliance Officer oversees, conducting more than 30 anti-corruption compliance reviews in many of the countries in which it operates, enhancing its anti-corruption due diligence protocol for third-party agents and consultants, and retaining an ethics and compliance professional to conduct an assessment of the Company’s ethics and compliance policies and procedures designed to ensure compliance with the FCPA and other applicable anti-corruption laws; (c) the Company has committed to continue to enhancing its compliance program and internal accounting controls …; (d) the Company has already significantly enhanced, and is committed to continue to enhance, its compliance program and internal controls …; and (e) the Company has agreed to continue to cooperate with the Department in any ongoing investigation …”

Pursuant to the DPA, the advisory Sentencing Guidelines range for the conduct at issue was $87.2 million to $174.4 million.  The DPA states that the monetary penalty of $87.2 million “is appropriate given the facts and circumstances of this case, including the nature and extent of the Company’s criminal conduct, the Company’s extensive cooperation, and its extensive remediation in this matter.”

The DPA specifically states that “any criminal penalties that might be imposed by the Court on WSL in connection with WSL’s guilty plea to a one-count Criminal Information charging WSL with violations of the FCPA, and the plea agreement entered into simultaneously, will be deducted from the $87.2 million penalty agreed to under this Agreement.”

Pursuant to the DPA, Weatherford agreed to review its existing internal controls, policies and procedures regarding compliance with the FCPA and other applicable anti-corruption laws.   The specifics are detailed in Attachment C to the DPA.  The DPA also requires Weatherford to engage a corporate compliance monitor for ”a period of not less than 18 months from the date the monitor is selected.”  The specifics, including the Monitor’s reporting obligations to the DOJ, are detailed in Attachment D to the DPA.

As is common in FCPA corporate enforcement actions, the DPA contains a “muzzle clause” prohibiting Weatherford or anyone on its behalf from “contradicting the acceptance of responsibility by the company” as set forth in the DPA.

In the DOJ’s release, Acting Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman stated:

“Effective internal accounting controls are not only good policy, they are required by law for publicly traded companies – and for good reason.  This case demonstrates how loose controls and an anemic compliance environment can foster foreign bribery and fraud by a company’s subsidiaries around the globe.  Although Weatherford’s extensive remediation and its efforts to improve its compliance functions are positive signs, the corrupt conduct of Weatherford International’s subsidiaries allowed it to earn millions of dollars in illicit profits, for which it is now paying a significant price.”

Valerie Parlave, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office, stated:

“When business executives engage in bribery and pay-offs in order to obtain contracts, an uneven marketplace is created and honest competitor companies are put at a disadvantage.  The FBI is committed to investigating corrupt backroom deals that influence contract procurement and threaten our global commerce.”

SEC

The SEC’s complaint (here) is largely based on the same core set of facts alleged in the above DOJ action.

In summary fashion, the complaint alleges:

“Between at least 2002 and July 2011, Weatherford and its subsidiaries authorized bribes and improper travel and entertainment intended for foreign officials in multiple countries to obtain or retain business or for other benefits. Weatherford and its subsidiaries also authorized illicit payments to obtain commercial business in Congo and authorized kickbacks in Iraq to obtain United Nations Oil for Food contracts.  Weatherford realized over $59.3 million in profits from business obtained through the use of illicit payments.”

As to the additional Congo allegations, the complaint states:

“In addition to bribery schemes involving Angolan government officials, WSL made over $500,000 in commercial bribe payments through the Swiss Agent to employees of a commercial customer, a wholly-owned subsidiary of an Italian energy company, between March 2002 and December 2008.

[...]

WSL mischaracterized the bribe payments as legitimate expenses on its books and records. Bank account records and a U.S. brokerage account statement show that among the recipients were two employees of the commercial customer who were responsible for awarding contracts to WSL. Weatherford obtained profits of$1,304,912 from commercial business in Congo relating to payments made by Swiss Agent.”

The SEC complaint also contains allegations concerning conduct in Algeria and Albania.

Under the heading “Improper Travel and Entertainment in Algeria,” the complaint alleges:

Weatherford also provided improper travel and entertainment to officials of Sonatrach, an Algerian state-owned company, that were not justified by a legitimate business purpose. The improper travel and entertainment to Sonatrach officials include:

• June 2006 trip by two Sonatrach officials to the FIFA World Cup soccer tournament in Hanover, Germany;

• July 2006 honeymoon trip of the daughter of a Sonatrach official; and

• October 2005 trip by a Sonatrach employee and his family to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, for religious reasons that were improperly booked as a donation

In addition, on at least two other occasions, Weatherford provided Sonatrach officials with cash sums while they were visiting Houston. For example, in May 2007, Weatherford paid for four Sonatrach officials, including a tender committee official, to attend a conference in Houston. Prior to the trip, a Weatherford finance executive sent an email to a Weatherford officer requesting $10,000 cash to be advanced to a WOTME employee without providing any explanation tor the cash advance. The request was approved and a portion of the funds was provided to the tender committee official. There is no evidence the cash was used for legitimate business or promotional expenses. In connection with a December 2007 trip by three Sonatrach officials traveling to Houston, a Weatherford finance employee questioned the propriety of a WOTME employee’s request for a $14,000 cash advance in connection with the trip.  The finance employee’s concern was disregarded and the request was ultimately approved at high levels within Weatherford and a portion of the funds was provided to the officials.  In total, Weatherford spent $35,260 on improper travel, entertainment and gifts for Algerian officials from May 2005 through November 2008 that were recorded in the company’s books and records as legitimate expenses.”

Under the heading “Improper Payments to Albanian Tax Authorites,” the complaint alleges:

“From 2001 to 2006, the general manager and financial manager at a Weatherford Italian subsidiary, WEMESP A, misappropriated over $200,000 of company funds, a portion of which was improperly paid to Albanian tax auditors. WEMESPA’s general manager and financial manager misappropriated the funds by taking advantage of Weatherford’s inadequate system of internal accounting controls. They misreported cash advances, diverted payments on previously paid invoices, misappropriated government rebate checks and received reimbursement of expenses that did not relate to business activities, such as golf equipment and perfume. 

[...]

In addition to the cash payments, in 2005, after a regime shift in Albania, the Country Manager provided three laptop computers for the tax director and two members of Albania’s National Petroleum Agency, which the WEMESPA executives approved and misrecorded in the books and records.”

Under the heading “Misconduct During the Investigation and Subsequent Remediation Efforts,” the complaint states:

“Certain conduct by Weatherford and its employees during the course of the Commission staffs investigation compromised the investigation. These activities involved the failure to provide the staff with complete and accurate information, resulting in significant delay. In one instance, the staff sought information concerning the Iraq Country Manager who signed letters agreeing to pay bribes to Iraqi officials during the Oil for Food Program. The staff was informed that the Country Manager was missing or dead when, in fact, he remained employed by Weatherford. In at least two instances, email was deleted by employees prior to the imaging of their computers. On another occasion, Weatherford failed to secure important computers and documents and allowed potentially complicit employees to collect documents subpoenaed by the staff.  Subsequent to the misconduct, Weatherford greatly improved its cooperation and engaged in remediation efforts, including disciplining employees responsible for the misconduct, establishing a high level Compliance Officer position, significantly increasing the size of its compliance department, and conducting numerous anti-corruption reviews in many of the countries in which it operates.”

Under the heading “Anti-Bribery Violations,” the complaint states in pertinent part:

“Weatherford’s conduct in the Middle East and Angola violated [the FCPA's anti-bribery provisions]. From 2005 through 2011, Weatherford authorized $11.8 million in payments to national oil company officials through a distributor intended to wrongfully influence national oil company decision makers to obtain and retain business.  Weatherford also violated [the anti-bribery provisions] when it retained the Swiss Agent to funnel bribes to a Sonangol official to obtain the Cabinda contract. Weatherford similarly violated [the anti-bribery provisions] by bribing other Sonangol officials via the joint venture in return for contracts and preferential treatment.”

Under the heading “Failure to Maintain Books and Records,” the complaint states in pertinent part:

“Weatherford, directly and through its subsidiaries, also violated [the books and records provisions] when it made numerous payments and engaged in many transactions that were incorrectly described in the companys books and records. In the Middle East, for example, the money given to a distributor to be used as bribes was reflected in Weatherfords books and records as legitimate volume discounts. In Angola and Congo, payments to foreign officials and others were described as legitimate consulting fees rather than bribe payments.  Payments to Sonangol executives through the joint venture were misrecorded as legitimate dividend payments.”

Under the heading “Failure to Maintain Adequate Internal Controls,” the complaint states in pertinent part:

“Weatherford violated [the internal controls provisions] by failing to devise and maintain an adequate system of internal accounting controls.  The violations were widespread and involved conduct at Weatherford’s headquarters as well as at numerous subsidiaries. Executives, managers and employees throughout the organization were aware of the conduct, which lasted a decade.  Weatherford paid millions of dollars to consultants, agents and joint venture partners without adequate due diligence. Weatherford approved cash payments to Algerian officials traveling to Houston without any justification for the payments. Employees made payments to agents without regard to grants of authority and, on some occasions, without even receiving an invoice. In Italy, internal accounting controls were ineffective, allowing executives to embezzle and pay bribes for years.

In the Middle East, the company failed on several occasions to perform due diligence on the distributor it used, despite the fact that the agent was imposed upon them by a national oil company official and would be selling to a government entity. The use of large volume discounts was not routinely reviewed.  [...] Weatherford also failed to provide FCPA … training.  While Weatherford did require certain employees to complete a yearly ethics questionnaire seeking instances of alleged misconduct, Weatherford failed to investigate or even review the responses.”

As noted in the SEC’s release, Weatherford agreed to pay approximately $65.6 million to the SEC, including an approximate $1.9 million penalty assessed in part for lack of cooperation early in the investigation.

In the SEC’s release, Andrew Ceresney (Co-Director of the SEC’s enforcement division) stated:

“The nonexistence of internal controls at Weatherford fostered an environment where employees across the globe engaged in bribery and failed to maintain accurate books and records.  They used code names like ‘Dubai across the water’ to conceal references to Iran in internal correspondence, placed key transaction documents in mislabeled binders, and created whatever bogus accounting and inventory records were necessary to hide illegal transactions.”

Kara Brockmeyer (Chief of the SEC’s FCPA Unit) stated:

“Whether the money went to tax auditors in Albania or officials at the state-owned oil company in Angola, bribes and improper payments were an accustomed way for Weatherford to conduct business.  While the profits may have seemed bountiful at the time, the costs far outweigh the benefits in the end as coordinated law enforcement efforts have unraveled the widespread schemes and heavily sanctioned the misconduct.”

Joseph Warin (Gibson Dunn) represented Weatherford.

In this statement, Bernard Duroc-Danner (Weatherford’s Chairman, President and CEO) stated:

“This matter is now behind us. We move forward fully committed to a sustainable culture of compliance.  With the internal policies and controls currently in place, we maintain a best-in-class compliance program and uphold the highest of ethical standards as we provide the industry’s leading products and services to our customers worldwide.”

On the day of the enforcement action, Weatherford’s shares closed up approximately 1.2%.

In A Way, It Is Like Gambling

Tuesday, November 12th, 2013

Last week Penn National Gaming Inc. Chairman Peter Carlino spoke at the Baron Investment Conference in New York.  This article by CNBC’s Lawrence Delevingne states:

“The U.S. government is too restrictive in trying to prevent its companies from corruption abroad and it’s hurting business expansion in Asia and elsewhere, according to Carlino. ‘There’s a little bit of overzealousness in this,’ Carlino said during a speech at the Baron Conference. ‘Those are limitations that American companies face that others don’t.’  Carlino said he wants to get into the lucrative Asian casino market—Las Vegas Sands already has a large presence in Macau, for example—but hasn’t been able to out of fear of violating U.S. rules.  [...] ‘There’s a problem for U.S. businesses, frankly. We had an interesting opportunity in a country that I won’t name; we were hampered in a major way by the American Foreign Corrupt Practices Act,’ he said.  [...]  Carlino said Penn looked at expanding into the Asian country via an existing company but one of the line items of the business was to pay off the border guards.  ‘It seems OK to me, frankly. If that’s the game, we’ll play it,’ Carlino said to chuckles from the mostly retiree Baron fund-shareholder audience. ‘There are problems for American companies trying to do business.’  ‘If it’s there, we’re looking at it. Problem is, the pickings are slim,’ he said of countries like Burma, India and Sri Lanka. ‘So finding the right opportunity, although we look and I trust we will, is tough,’ Carlino added.”

There are two ways to view Carlino’s comments.

The first is that Carlino meant that the FCPA - the law passed by Congress – is hurting U.S. business abroad.  If so, well that is a correct policy decision that Congress knew and accepted when it passed the FCPA in 1977.  For instance, as highlighted in “The Story of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act,” during a Congressional hearing Representative John Moss stated:

“To think that no loss of business would occur in every instance would be unrealistic. Can we allow this to occur? Yes, if that is the small price we must pay to return morality to corporate practice. Yes, if that is the small price we pay to show that U.S. firms compete in terms of price, quality, and service and not in terms of the size of a bribe. Real competition works. The vast majority of American companies have operated successfully in foreign countries without the need to resort to bribery.”

Likewise, Treasury Secretary Michael Blumenthal stated:

 “To the very, very small extent a particular company may lose a particular contract because it refuses to engage in this practice, I would be willing to say, all right, we will be at a slight competitive disadvantage and we will all sleep the better for it.”

The second way to view Carlino’s comments is that he conflated FCPA enforcement with the actual FCPA – as Donald Trump also did as highlighted in this prior post.  In other words, Carlino confused FCPA enforcement with the FCPA.

Simply put, there is often a difference between FCPA enforcement and the FCPA.

For instance, Congress specifically exempted facilitation payments from the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions.  However, it is an open question whether the facilitating payments exception has any real meaning or whether the enforcement agencies have essentially repealed this exception through its enforcement theories.  For instance, the SEC’s former Assistant Director of Enforcement has called the FCPA’s facilitating payment exception “illusory” and stated:

“The drafters of the FCPA recognized that such demands for ‘grease payments’ are a reality in many countries, and accordingly made clear that certain payments made to expedite the approval of permits or licenses, or to prompt the expeditious performance of similar low-level ministerial duties, fell outside the ambit of the statute’s anti-bribery provisions. Yet that exception for ‘facilitating payments’ […] is becoming harder and harder to rely on. […]  The DOJ and SEC have pressed a narrow view of the exception in recent years … […] Of course, the fact that the FCPA’s twin enforcement agencies have treated certain payments as prohibited despite their possible categorization as facilitating payments does not mean a federal court would agree. But because the vast majority of enforcement actions are resolved through DPAs and NPAs, and other settlement devices, these cases never make it to trial. As a result, the DOJ and the SEC’s narrow interpretation of the facilitating payments exception is making that exception ever more illusory, regardless of whether the federal courts – or Congress – would agree.”

Similarly, the FCPA’s books and records and internal controls provisions are qualified by the term “reasonable” and the only substantive judicial decision on these provisions (see here for the prior post) stated:

“The definition of accounting controls does comprehend reasonable, but not absolute, assurances that the objectives expressed in it will be accomplished by the system. The concept of ‘reasonable assurances’ contained in [internal control provisions] recognizes that the costs of internal controls should not exceed the benefits expected to be derived. It does not appear that either the SEC or Congress, which adopted the SEC’s recommendations, intended that the statute should require that each affected issuer install a fail-safe accounting control system at all costs. It appears that Congress was fully cognizant of the cost-effective considerations which confront companies as they consider the institution of accounting controls and of the subjective elements which may lead reasonable individuals to arrive at different conclusions. Congress has demanded only that judgment be exercised in applying the standard of reasonableness. [...] It is also true that the internal accounting controls provisions contemplate the financial principle of proportionality—what is material to a small company is not necessarily material to a large company.”

SEC guidance on the FCPA’s books and records and internal controls provisions stand for the following propositions:

  • not all books and records are within the purview of the provisions;
  • issuers should not face liability when its management was not aware and reasonably should not have known of the conduct at issue;
  • the principal objective of the provisions is to reach knowing or reckless conduct;
  • thousands of dollars ordinarily should not be spent conserving hundreds;
  • the provisions are not an independent unrestrained mandate to establish novel or unprecedented corporate recordkeeping standards;
  • if conduct was engaged in by a low-level employee, without the knowledge of top management, and with appropriate corrective action taken, an enforcement action against the issuer is not warranted; and
  • the provisions do not require a company or its senior officials to be guarantors of all conduct of company employees.

Nevertheless, the enforcement agencies frequently bring FCPA enforcement actions against issuers without any allegation or suggestion that the conduct at issue was known or approved by top management (see here for example).  In this new era of FCPA enforcement, the position of the enforcement agencies appear to be that indeed corporate officers are guarantors of all conduct of company employees and that fail-safe accounting and internal controls measures are indeed the standard (see here for example).

Against this backdrop, seeking to do business in challenging foreign markets through employees or agents may indeed be- based on the current enforcement theories - in a way like gambling.

If this is what Carlino meant, perhaps he has a point.  The Congress that enacted the FCPA in 1977 and the Congress that amended the FCPA in 1988 certainly appeared to empathize.

Is Trust Prudent And Reasonable?

Wednesday, August 14th, 2013

This new era of Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement has resulted in many things, including FCPA Inc. marketing and selling the latest solution, software, or other strategy to purportedly achieve FCPA compliance.  This previous post noted:

“Annual FCPA training, annual FCPA certifications, databases full of customers with government ownership, an automated process for this and that, periodic FCPA compliance reminders, FCPA compliance as an agenda item on each meeting, etc.  All of these are considered best practices, but the question is asked – is too much FCPA compliance actually a net negative?”

This recent article “Trust:  The Unwritten Contract in Corporate Governance” by David Larcker (the Morgan Stanley Director of the Center for Leadership Development and Research at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and senior faculty member at the Rock Center for Corporate Governance at Stanford University) and Brian Tayan (a researcher with Stanford’s Center for Leadership Development and Research) caught my eye.

The authors ask:

“Companies spend tens of millions of dollars annually on incentive compensation, director salaries, audit fees, internal auditors, and compliance efforts to satisfy a long list of rules, regulations, and procedures imposed by legislators and the market. Would corporate governance improve if companies instead had fewer controls.  Would shareholders be better off if organizations instead demonstrated more trust in employees and executives?”

The authors state:

“Once established, a high-trust governance system allows for the reduction or elimination of many of the costs, controls, and procedures that characterize today’s governance systems.  [...]  “[C]ompanies could eliminate many of the bureaucratic checks and controls that are often implemented to prevent and detect legal or regulatory violations. Instead, employees would self monitor, with line-managers responsible for reporting inadvertent legal or regulatory missteps to higher level executives.” [...] “High-trust settings are characterized by lower bureaucracy, simpler procedures, and higher productivity. Would shareholders be better off if companies had fewer formal corporate governance requirements and instead devoted greater effort to fostering trust?”

Applied to the FCPA context, would FCPA compliance be better achieved if companies had fewer formal internal controls and instead devoted greater effort to fostering trust within a business organization?

Would such an approach even satisfy an issuer’s obligations under the FCPA’s internal controls provisions which require that issuers devise and maintain a system of internal accounting controls sufficient to provide reasonable assurances that transactions are properly authorized, recorded, and accounted for by the issuer?

The FCPA defines “reasonable assurances” as “such level of detail and degree of assurance as would satisfy prudent officials in the conduct of their own affairs.”

Relevant legislative history from 1988 when this definition was added to the FCPA states:

“The prudent [person] qualification [was adopted] in order to clarify that the current standard does not connote an unrealistic degree of exactitude or precision.  The concept of reasonableness of necessity contemplates the weighing of a number of relevant factors, including the costs of compliance.”

The only substantive judicial decision concerning the FCPA’s internal controls provisions (SEC v. World-Wide Coin – see here for the prior post) states:

“The concept of ’reasonable assurances contained in [the internal controls provision] recognizes that the costs of internal controls should not exceed the benefits expected to be delivered.”

Beyond this legal authority, in FCPA guidance issued in 1981, the SEC stated:

“The [FCPA] does not mandate any particular kind of internal controls system. The test is whether a system, taken as a whole, reasonably meets the statute’s specified objectives. ‘Reasonableness,’ a familiar legal concept, depends on an evaluation of all the facts and circumstances.” […] Private sector decisions implementing these statutory objectives are business decisions. And, reasonable business decisions should be afforded deference. This means that the issuer need not always select the best or the most effective control measure. However, the one selected must be reasonable under all the circumstances.”

Likewise in the 2012 FCPA Guidance the DOJ and SEC stated:

“Like the ‘reasonable detail’ requirement in the books and records provision, the Act defines ‘reasonable assurances’ as ‘such level of detail and degree of assurance as would satisfy prudent officials in the conduct of their own affairs.’”

“The Act does not specify a particular set of controls that companies are required to implement. Rather, the internal controls provision gives companies the flexibility to develop and maintain a system of controls that is appro­priate to their particular needs and circumstances.”

Imagine a situation in which an issuer becomes the subject of FCPA scrutiny based on the conduct of a foreign country manager or sales representative.

During a meeting with the DOJ and SEC, the enforcement attorneys ask company counsel what internal controls existed as relevant to the country manager or sales representative.

Company counsel responds – “we trusted” him or her.  This would likely cause the enforcement attorneys to laugh out loud.

However, the relevant legal question is - was trust prudent and reasonable?