Archive for the ‘Internal Investigation Issues’ Category

Friday Roundup

Friday, August 29th, 2014

Some reading material to keep you occupied and engaged over the three-day holiday weekend.

*****

This recent Wall Street Journal article is about China’s recent antitrust crackdown, but the same could perhaps be said about China’s recent corruption crackdown against foreign multinationals doing business in China.

“The fact that regulators are going after allegedly dubious practices by multinationals isn’t what bothers trade officials at Western embassies in Beijing, even if they suspect that the probes sometimes have the effect of strengthening Chinese state-owned competitors.

What concerns them the most is the heavy-handed way that investigations are being pursued—and highly charged media coverage that makes for a troubling atmosphere for Western companies.

Foreign executives have learned two early lessons from the antitrust probes. First, the law provides little refuge. The message that the National Development and Reform Commission, the government agency that sets pricing rules, delivers in private to multinationals at the outset of a price-fixing investigation is not to bring in their foreign lawyers, according to numerous accounts by foreign executives, diplomats and lawyers themselves.

The second lesson is connected to the first: Resistance is futile. There’s scant need for lawyers when companies face a choice of either bowing to demands for quick remedies or becoming involved in a protracted wrangle with regulators in what is still a state-dominated economy. In almost every antitrust case launched so far, foreign companies have capitulated without a fight.

Voluntary price cuts of up to 20% are the norm, accompanied by board-level expressions of remorse and promises to do better.

And these cuts are offered at the very outset of investigations—and, sometimes, to get ahead of them. Chrysler described its abrupt decision to slash car-part prices as a “proactive response” to the price-fixing probe as it got under way. These price-fixing investigations have been accompanied by heated nationalistic rhetoric in the state media with antiforeign overtones. Taking down multinationals a peg plays well among the large sections of the public that view them as arrogant.”

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The always informative Debevoise & Plimption FCPA Update is particularly stellar this month.  It contains articles about the recent Wal-Mart – investor dispute in the Delaware Supreme Court as well as the recent settlement in SEC v. Jackson & Ruehlen.

Wal-Mart Delaware Action

The Wal-Mart Delaware action remains in my mind much to do about little at least as to the monumental corporate governance issues some had hoped for.

Nevertheless, the FCPA Update makes several valid points about the decision.

“In the wake of Wal-Mart, stockholders in future cases are likely to raise questions about the ways in which investigations have been conducted to see whether those questions also provide a “colorable basis” for seeking a broad range of investigative records. Companies that conduct investigations, therefore, will want to structure the investigation from the outset in a way that limits the ability of shareholders to assert that it was done improperly or otherwise may give rise to any legitimate shareholder concern. This, in turn, will place a premium on early decisions about who should conduct the review, who should supervise the review and the scope of the inquiry. Those decisions, which are generally made before any review has been conducted and based upon limited information, are sure to get close scrutiny from stockholders and should be undertaken with the utmost deliberation and care.”

SEC v. Jackson & Ruehlen

This previous post highlighted the recent settlement in SEC v. Jackson & Ruehlen and noted that the SEC, a law enforcement agency with merely a civil burden of proof, was never able to carry its burden and this was among other reasons why the SEC’s case against Jackson and Ruehlen failed – and yes – this is the only reasonable conclusion to be drawn from the settlement.

The FCPA Update states:

“In the realm of FCPA enforcement, where the vast majority of cases are settled before the filing and litigation of formal  charges, it is often hard to compare the outcomes of early and eve-of-trial or post-trial settlements in any meaningful way. The Noble case, however, provides  a rare opportunity to engage in such a comparison, not only because it was litigated by the SEC farther than almost any other FCPA case has been, but also because it involved both pre-and post-litigation settlements for individual defendants based on charges arising out of the same series of events.

In February 2012, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) charged three executives of Noble Corporation with violating various provisions of the FCPA and related laws in the course of their interactions with public officials in Nigeria’s energy sector. One of these defendants, Thomas O’Rourke, promptly settled with the SEC, accepting permanent injunctions against future violations as to every count on which he was charged, and agreeing to pay a $35,000 civil penalty.

The remaining individual defendants, Mark Jackson and James Ruehlen, decided to litigate. On July 2, 2014 – less than a week before trial was to start and after more than two years of litigation – the SEC settled with these two defendants. Although Jackson and Ruehlen agreed to be enjoined from future violations of the books and records provision of the FCPA, the settlements in their matters were notable in that the vast majority of the charges in the initial complaint, including the bribery charges, were conspicuously absent from the settlements, and no monetary penalties were imposed.

Although the Noble case offers just one data point, the outcomes for the three defendants raise important questions about both the difficulties of litigating these types of cases for the SEC and the potential advantages of declining pre-trial settlement for would-be defendants. In addition, the SEC’s litigation strategy in these cases highlights some possible problems with the expansive interpretation of the FCPA that the SEC and the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) have advanced in recent FCPA cases. These problems, highlighted in the District Court’s refusal to accept the SEC’s interpretation on certain key issues, such as the scope of the facilitation payments exception, as well as the concrete impact of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Gabelli decision (133 S. Ct. 1216 (2013)) in gutting large portions of the SEC’s claims for penalty relief, will doubtless affect future litigation, as well as the “market” for SEC (and in certain respects, DOJ) settlements for years to come. But at the same time, the SEC’s losses on these key issues, which drove the favorable settlements with Jackson and Ruehlen, could well incentivize the SEC to dig deeper, and earlier, for the evidence needed to sustain its burdens in FCPA matters.”

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The Economist states – in a general article not specific to the FCPA – that “the [U.S.] legal system has become an extortion racket.” According to the article,

“[J]ustice should not be based on extortion behind closed doors. The increasing criminalisation of corporate behaviour in America is bad for the rule of law and for capitalism.  [...] Perhaps the most destructive part of it all is the secrecy and opacity. The public never finds out the full facts of the case, nor discovers which specific people—with souls and bodies—were to blame. Since the cases never go to court, precedent is not established, so it is unclear what exactly is illegal. That enables future shakedowns, but hurts the rule of law and imposes enormous costs.”

In the FCPA context, see here for my 2010 article “The Facade of FCPA Enforcement.

*****

A series of informative posts here, here, here and here from Thomas Fox (FCPA Compliance and Ethics Blog) regarding risk assessment.

*****

A good weekend to all.

Friday Roundup

Friday, April 4th, 2014

Contorted, interesting, deserving?, scrutiny alerts and updates, and for the reading stack.  It’s all here in the Friday Roundup.

Contorted

One of the most contorted words in the FCPA vocabulary is “declination” (see here among other posts).

This K&L Gates report contains a useful summary of DOJ and SEC comments at a recent conference.  It states:

“Mr. Knox [DOJ Criminal Division Fraud Section Chief] stated that companies continue to request specific information regarding the Department’s declinations, but that it is the Department’s long-standing practice not to publish details of declinations without a company’s permission, which is rarely given.  According to Mr. Knox, however, over the last two years, the Department has declined to prosecute dozens of cases.  Notably, Mr. Knox stated that, aside from finding no evidence of criminal conduct, the Department may issue a declination when a case involves an isolated incident, the company had a strong compliance program, and the problem was remediated.”

Newsflash.

If the DOJ does not find evidence of criminal conduct and therefore does not bring a case, this is not a “declination,” it is what the law commands.

On the topic of voluntary disclosure, the K&L Gates report states:

“Mr. Cain [SEC FCPA Unit Deputy Chief] started by stating “there is no perfect compliance program;” therefore, companies will always have some “background issues” which need to be addressed, especially as business and risk profiles change.  Mr. Cain does not expect companies to disclose these “normative” problems; however, companies should disclose “significant problems.”  These “significant problems” are the types of issues which may end up being enforcement actions if the SEC learns of them through means other than self-disclosure.”

“Mr. Knox took the position that it would be “very reckless and foolish” for him “to try and draw a line between matters which should be self-disclosed and matters which shouldn’t.”  In making the decision of whether to self-disclose, he advised companies and counsel to apply “common sense” and ask whether this is “something that [the Department] would be interested in hearing about?”  According to Mr. Knox, if the answer to that question is “yes,” then the Department would “probably want [a company] to self-disclose it.”  Nonetheless, there are instances which are not worthy of self-disclosure because the conduct is “minor” and “isolated” or the allegation of wrongdoing is “much too vague.”  Mr. Knox advised companies to “be thoughtful” when making disclosure decisions and carefully document any decision not to disclose.”

If the above leaves you scratching your head, join the club.

Interesting

My article “Why You Should Be Alarmed by the ADM FCPA Enforcement Action” highlights how ADM and its shareholders were victims of a corrupt Ukrainian government in that the government refused to give ADM something even the DOJ and SEC acknowledged ADM was owed – VAT refunds.  Among other things, the article discusses how VAT refund refusals were well-known and frequently criticized prior to the ADM enforcement action in late 2013.

Fast forward to the present day and VAT refund refusals remain a problem in Ukraine.  Recently the International Monetary Fund issued this release concerning a potential aid package for Ukraine.  Among the conditions is that Ukraine  adopt “reforms to strengthen governance, enhance transparency, and improve the business climate” such as taking “measures to facilitate VAT refunds to businesses.”

Deserving?

Earlier this week, the African Development Bank Group (AfDB) released this statement

“Kellogg Brown & Root LLC, Technip S.A. and JGC Corp. agree to pay the equivalent of US $17 million in financial penalties as part of Negotiated Resolution Agreements with the African Development Bank following admission of corrupt practices by affiliated companies in relation to the award of services contracts for liquefied natural gas production plants on Bonny Island, Nigeria, from 1995 until 2004.”

The Director of the AfDB’s Integrity and Anti-Corruption Department stated:

“This settlement demonstrates a strong commitment from the African Development Bank to ensure that development funds are used for their intended purpose.  At the same time, it is a clear signal to multinational companies that corrupt practices in Bank-financed projects will be aggressively investigated and severely sanctioned. These ground-breaking Negotiated Resolution Agreements substantially advance the Bank’s anti-corruption and governance agenda, a strategic priority of our institution.”

Pardon me for interrupting this feel good moment (i.e. a corporation paying money to a development bank), but why is AfDB deserving of any money from the companies?  As noted here, AfDB’s role in the Bonny Island project was relatively minor as numerous banks provided financing in connection with the project.  Moreover, as noted here, the AfDB “invested in the oil and gas sector through a USD 100 million loan to NLNG [Nigeria LNG Limited] to finance the expansion of a gas liquefaction plant located on Bonny Island.”

As alleged in the U.S. Bonny Island FCPA enforcement actions, the above-mentioned companies allegedly made corrupt payments to, among others, NLNG officials.  And for this, the specific companies paid $579 million (KBR, et al), $338 million Technip, and $219 million (JGC).

Why is the bank that loaned money to NLNG deserving of anything?  Is there any evidence to suggest that the $100 million given to NLNG was not used for its “intended purpose” of building the Bonny Island project?

Scrutiny Alerts and Updates

SBM Offshore, Sweett Group, Citigroup, Cisco, and Societe Generale.

SBM Offshore

The Netherlands-based company (with ADRs traded in the U.S. that provides floating production solutions to the offshore energy industry) has been under FCPA scrutiny for approximately two years.  It recently issued this statement which states, in summary, as follows.

“SBM Offshore presents the findings of its internal investigation, which it started in the first quarter of 2012, as the investigators have completed their investigative activities. The investigation, which was carried out by independent external counsel and forensic accountants, focused on the use of agents over the period 2007 through 2011. In summary, the main findings are:

  • The Company paid approximately US$200 million in commissions to agents during that period of which the majority relate to three countries: US$18.8 million to Equatorial Guinea, US$22.7 million to Angola and US$139.1 million to Brazil;
  • In respect of Angola and Equatorial Guinea there is some evidence that payments may have been made directly or indirectly to government officials;
  • In respect of Brazil there were certain red flags but the investigation did not find any credible evidence that the Company or the Company’s agent made improper payments to government officials (including state company employees). Rather, the agent provided substantial and legitimate services in a market which is by far the largest for the Company;
  • The Company voluntarily reported its internal investigation to the Dutch Openbaar Ministerie and the US Department of Justice in April 2012. It is presently discussing the disclosure of its definitive findings with the Openbaar Ministerie, whilst simultaneously continuing its engagement with the US Department of Justice. New information could surface in the context of the review by these authorities or otherwise which has not come up in the internal investigation to date;
  • At this time, the Company is still not in a position to estimate the ultimate consequences, financial or otherwise, if any, of that review;
  • Since its appointment in the course of 2012 the Company’s new Management Board has taken extensive remedial measures in respect of people, procedures, compliance programs and organization in order to prevent any potential violations of applicable anti-corruption laws and regulations. Both it and the Company’s Supervisory Board remain committed to the Company conducting its business activities in an honest, ethical, respectful and professional manner.”

The SBM Offshore release contains a detailed description of the scope and methodology of its review, as well as remedial measures the company has undertaken.  For this reason, the full release is an instructive read.

Sweett Group

As noted in this prior post, in June 2013 Sweett Group Ltd. (a U.K. based construction company) was the subject of a Wall Street Journal article titled “Inside U.S. Firm’s Bribery Probe.” The focus of the article concerned the construction of a hospital in Morocco and allegations that the company would get the contract if money was paid to “an official inside the United Arab Emirates President’s personal foundation, which was funding the project.”

Earlier this week, the company issued this release which stated:

“[T]here have been further discussions with the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) in the UK and initial discussions with the Department of Justice (DOJ) in the USA.  The Group is cooperating with both bodies and no proceedings have so far been issued by either of them.  The Group has commissioned a further independent investigation which is being undertaken on its behalf by Mayer Brown LLP.  Whilst this investigation is at an early stage and is ongoing, to date still no conclusive evidence to support the original allegation has been found.  However, evidence has come to light that suggests that material instances of deception may have been perpetrated by a former employee or employees of the Group during the period 2009 – 2011.  These findings are being investigated further.”

Citigroup

When first discussing Citigroup’s “FCPA scrutiny” I noted the importance of understanding that the FCPA contains generic books and records and internal controls provisions that can be implicated in the absence of any FCPA anti-bribery issues. (See here for a prior post on this subject).  As highlighted in this recent New York Times Dealbook article, this appears to be what Citigroup’s scrutiny involves.  According to the article:

“Federal authorities have opened a criminal investigation into a recent $400 million fraud involving Citigroup’s Mexican unit, according to people briefed on the matter …  The investigation, overseen by the FBI and prosecutors from the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan, is focusing in part on whether holes in the bank’s internal controls contributed to the fraud in Mexico. The question for investigators is whether Citigroup — as other banks have been accused of doing in the context of money laundering — ignored warning signs.”

Cisco

BuzzFeed goes in-depth as to Cisco’s alleged conduct in Russia that has resulted in FCPA scrutiny for the company. The article states, in pertinent part:

“[T]he iconic American firm is facing a federal investigation for possible bribery violations on a massive scale in Russia. At the heart of the probe by the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission, sources tell BuzzFeed, are allegations that for years Cisco, after selling billions of dollars worth of routers, communications equipment, and networks to Russian companies and government entities, routed what may have amounted to tens of millions of dollars to offshore havens including Cyprus, Tortola, and Bermuda.”

“Two former Cisco insiders have described to BuzzFeed what they say was an elaborate kickback scheme that used intermediary companies and went on until 2011. And, they said, Cisco employees deliberately looked the other way.”

“No one is suggesting that Cisco bribed Russia’s top leaders. Instead, the investigation is centered on day-to-day kickbacks to officials who ran or helped run major state agencies or companies. Such kickbacks, according to the allegations, enabled the firm to dominate Russia’s market for IT infrastructure.”

“Last year, according to sources close to the investigation, a whistleblower came forward to the SEC, sketching out a vast otkat [kickback] scheme and providing documents as evidence.”

“The two former Cisco executives laid out for BuzzFeed how the alleged scheme worked:  In Cisco’s Russia operations, funds for kickbacks were built into the large discounts Cisco gave certain middleman distributors that were well-connected in Russia. The size of the discounts are head-turning, usually 35% to 40%, but sometimes as high as 68% percent off the list price.  And there was a catch: Instead of discounting equipment in the normal way, by lowering the price, parts of the discounts were often structured as rebates: Cisco sent money back to the middlemen after a sale. Some intermediaries were so close to the Russian companies and government agencies — Cisco’s end customers — that these intermediaries functioned as their agents. These middleman companies would direct the rebate money to be sent to bank accounts in offshore havens such as Cyprus, the British Virgin Islands, or Bermuda.”

According to the article, WilmerHale is conducting the internal investigation.

Societe Generale

Like other financial services company, Societe Generale has come under FCPA scrutiny for business dealings in Libya.  (See here for the prior post).  As noted in this recent article in the Wall Street Journal, in a U.K. lawsuit the Libyan Investment Authority has alleged that the company “paid a middleman $58 million in alleged bribes to secure almost $2 billion in business … during the final years of dictator Moammar Gadhafi’s rule.”

Reading Stack

The most recent issue of the always informative FCPA Update from Debevoise & Plimpton contains a useful analysis of the DOJ’s recent opinion procedure release (see here for the prior post).  Among other things, the Update states:

“[W]hy did it take eight months for the DOJ to issue an Opinion which could have simply cited [a prior Opinion Release]? The delay does not appear to be related to the DOJ’s heavy workload or bureaucratic inertia, as “significant backup documentation” was provided and “several follow up discussions” took place during the eight months.”

*****

A good weekend to all.  On Wisconsin!

Friday Roundup

Friday, September 27th, 2013

Cooperation vs. capitulation, quotable, and for the reading stack.  It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Cooperation vs. Capitulation

A good read (here) from George Terwilliger (Morgan, Lewis &  Bockius and a former Deputy Attorney General) regarding the difference between cooperation vs. capitulation in DOJ inquiries.  All sound advice and worth noting.

However, when the DOJ publicly states that a foreign company declined “to cooperate with the DOJ based on jurisdictional arguments” – as it did in the JGC FCPA enforcement action – the message being sent is that indeed the DOJ expects FCPA counsel to roll over and play dead.  (See here for the prior post).

When the DOJ publicly “warn[s] defendants facing charges under the foreign bribery law against contesting [the] definition [of foreign official]” – as it did in connection with the Carson enforcement action - the message being sent is to capitulate.  (See here for the prior post).

Quotable

Regarding JPMorgan’s recent $920 million to settle civil allegations brought by the SEC and other regulators in connection with a multibillion-dollar trading loss that’s come to be known as the London Whale case, the New York Times DealBook states:

“At first glance, it sounded like a lot of money and, frankly, it sounded as if the S.E.C. had a strong case and had exacted quite a settlement.  But look closer and scrutinize the S.E.C.’s 15-page description of its findings. Then think about this: When the S.E.C. says that JPMorgan is ‘paying’ a record fine, where is the money actually coming from?  The answer: shareholders. The same shareholders who were ostensibly the victims of the scandal that already cost them $6 billion. The victims, if you want to call them that, become victimized twice.”

The article then quotes Columbia University Law Professor John Coffee as follows.

“It is perversely inappropriate. You are adding injury to injury. All we’re doing is punishing the shareholders more,” said John C. Coffee Jr., a professor of securities law at Columbia Law School. “This is a case where the victims are the shareholders.”

If you’re wondering why the S.E.C. sought to settle with “the firm” — in truth, JPMorgan’s shareholders, who don’t have say in the matter — rather than bring cases against the individuals who were responsible for the admitted failures of “the firm,” Mr. Coffee has a skeptical, if not necessarily cynical, theory that bears repeating: “You could have tried to sue some individuals for negligence, but I don’t think those cases they would have easily won.”

Instead, he said, the S.E.C. pursued what he described as “the path of least resistance” by suing the firm itself.

“It is much easier for the S.E.C. to settle for very high penalties which are borne by the shareholders,” he said. “The S.E.C. often desperately needs a victory. This way you can get a victory that you can celebrate.”

But on the merits of the case, the settlement, Mr. Coffee said, begins to look a lot like bribery — to some degree, on both sides. Without a strong case against any individuals, the S.E.C. looks as if it held the firm for ransom. And on the other side, the firm’s senior management appears to have bribed the S.E.C., using shareholder money, not to bring cases against individuals.

“It’s a form of self-dealing,” Mr. Coffee said.”

Reading Stack

See here for the upswing in white collar defense work among large Philadelphia firms.  The article stated, “to promote its white-collar practice, [a firm] recently began showing a corporate training film to potential clients that depicts the travails of a multinational company whose share price crashed after employees were charged with bribery in a foreign jurisdiction.  The takeaway: This is what can happen without good white-collar legal advice.”

For a better way to prosecute corporations, look overseas says Professors Brandon Garrett and David Zaring in the NY Times DealBook.

*****

A good weekend to all.

Friday Roundup

Friday, August 2nd, 2013

Scrutiny alerts, misleading yet interesting, the flip side, and for the reading stack.  It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Scrutiny Updates

Baxter International

The Wall Street Journal reports that Baxter International “investigated a joint venture in China and discovered expense violations there last year.”  According to the article, Baxter took action after employees of Guangzhou Baxter Qiaoguang Healthcare Co., reported problems internally in July 2012.  According to the article, similar allegations were made in July 2013 that “employees at Baxter’s joint venture paid travel agencies for arranging conferences between 2011 and 2012 for Chinese health officials.”  According to the article, “employees at several hotels identified as the conference sites in the documents said they had no records of the conferences.”

ENI

IntelliNews report here:  “ENI SpA  chief executive Paolo Scaroni will become a target of a major US Foreign Corruption Practices Act investigation by the US Department of Justice and the US Securities Exchange Commission in connection with an Algerian bribery scandal, [Italian] judicial sources said.” Among other things, the article states: “Judicial sources in Milan said they have compelling evidence Scaroni had personal knowledge of the bribe paid by SAIPEM and that SAIPEM is directly controlled by ENI and its management.”

As noted in this previous post, Eni has ADRs registered with the SEC.  In 2010, Eni resolved (see here) an SEC FCPA enforcement action concerning Bonny Island, Nigeria conduct.  In resolving the action, Eni consented to the entry of a court order permanently enjoining it from violating the FCPA’s books and record and internal controls provisions.

Weatherford

The company recently disclosed as follows concerning its long-lasting FCPA scrutiny.

“During the quarter ended June 30, 2013, negotiations related to the oil-for-food and FCPA matters progressed to a point where we recognized a liability for a  loss contingency that we believe is probable and for which a reasonable estimate  can be made.  Certain significant issues remain unresolved in the negotiations and, if these issues are not resolved to the Company’s satisfaction,  negotiations may be discontinued and such unresolved issues may ultimately  impact our ability to reach a negotiated resolution of the matters.  At this  time, the Company estimates that the most likely amount of this loss is $153 million.”

A $153 million settlement would be the eighth largest in FCPA history.

Avon

The company recently disclosed as follows concerning its long-lasting FCPA scrutiny.

“As previously reported in August 2012, we are in discussions with the SEC and the DOJ regarding resolving the government investigations. Our factual presentations as part of these discussions are substantially complete. In June 2013, we made an offer of settlement to the DOJ and the SEC that, among other terms, included payment of monetary penalties of approximately $12. The DOJ and the SEC have rejected the terms of our offer. Although we expect that the DOJ and the SEC will make a counterproposal to our offer, they have not yet done so. Our discussions with the DOJ and the SEC are ongoing.

There can be no assurance that a settlement with the SEC and the DOJ will be reached or, if a settlement is reached, the timing of any such settlement or the terms of any such settlement. We expect any such settlement will include civil and/or criminal fines and penalties, and may also include non-monetary remedies, such as oversight requirements and additional remediation and compliance requirements. We may be required to incur significant future costs to comply with the non-monetary terms of any settlement with the SEC and the DOJ. Under certain circumstances, we may also be required to advance significant professional fees and expenses to certain current and former Company employees in connection with these matters. Until any settlement or other resolution of these matters, we expect to continue to incur costs, primarily professional fees and expenses, which may be significant, in connection with the government investigations.
At this point we are unable to predict the developments in, outcome of, and economic and other consequences of the government investigations or their impact on our earnings, cash flows, liquidity, financial condition and ongoing business.  However, based on our most recent discussions with the DOJ and the SEC, the Company believes that it is probable that the Company will incur a loss upon settlement that is higher than the offer made by the Company of approximately $12, which was accrued by the Company as of June 30, 2013. We are unable to reasonably estimate the amount of any additional loss above the amount accrued to date; however it is reasonably possible that such additional loss will be material.”

Owens-Illinois

The beverage company recently disclosed as follows.

“The Company conducted an internal investigation into conduct in certain of its overseas operations that may have violated the anti-bribery provisions of the United States Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (the “FCPA”), the FCPA’s books and records and internal controls provisions, the Company’s own internal policies, and various local laws. In October 2012, the Company voluntarily disclosed these matters to the U.S. Department of Justice (the “DOJ”) and the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”). The Company intends to cooperate with any investigation by U.S. authorities. On July 18, 2013, the Company received a letter from the DOJ indicating that it presently did not intend to take any enforcement action and is closing its inquiry into the matter. The Company is presently unable to predict the duration, scope or result of any investigation by the SEC or whether the SEC will commence any legal action.”

AB InBev

The beverage company recently disclosed as follows.

“As previously disclosed, we have been informed by the SEC that it is conducting an investigation into our affiliates in India, including our non-consolidated Indian joint venture, InBev India Int’l Private Ltd, and whether certain relationships of agents and employees were compliant with the FCPA. We continue to cooperate in this investigation and have been informed by the Department of Justice (DOJ) that it is also conducting a similar investigation. Our investigation into the conduct in question is ongoing and we are cooperating with the SEC and the DOJ.”

Misleading Yet Interesting

Perhaps one reason for why there appears to much confusion about the FCPA and FCPA enforcement is due to the vast amount of misleading information in the public domain concerning the FCPA.

This recent article in the Economic Times of India concerning Wal-Mart is an instructive example.

Stating that the FCPA is a “law that prohibits American companies and their foreign subsidiaries from bribing officials” is not a completely accurate statement concerning the scope of the law.  Stating that “the anti-bribery provisions of the FCPA are enforced by the Department of Justice and the accounting provisions by the Securities and Exchange Commission” is not completely accurate either.  The SEC can also bring civil actions for FCPA anti-bribery violations and the DOJ can also bring criminal actions for wilful violations of the accounting provisions.

“In 2008, for example, Siemens paid a fine of $1.6 billion, the largest ever for an FCPA violation.”  This is a false statement.  While the Siemens enforcement action is indeed the largest in FCPA history in terms of fine and penalty amount, the amount was $800 million.”

Citing a source that says Wal-Mart’s FCPA scrutiny could result in an enforcement action ”between $4.5 billion and $9 billion” is outrageous beyond belief.

Despite its deficiencies, the article highlights an interesting tension between conducting a thorough internal investigation and the treatment of employees.  The article states:

“The long shadow of Bentonville, channelled by the permanent gaze of investigators, is causing angst among the Indian staff of Walmart. A company official quoted earlier says the army of investigators, who enjoy sweeping powers to seize documents and equipment of the staff, are seen by many employees as intrusive and as an extra-judicial authority in the office. For example, the investigators scan even the couriers sent out by the staff. The official quoted above says the objective to ensure FCPA compliance is causing even minor situations to snowball.”

[...]

“In another case, Richard Leonard, a British citizen and general manager for asset protection in India, was on a store visit to Ludhiana, that too with Asia head Price, when he received a frantic call from a colleague that KPMG executives were trying to seize his desktop computer and break open his drawer. He immediately called other colleagues, asking them to stop the investigators from taking possession of his workstation. On his return to the office, Leonard dashed off e-mails to his bosses, including Walmart’s global head Mike Duke, on how employees like him have lost respect in the office and they are being portrayed as “criminals” by independent auditors.”

The article also states:

“Walmart is asking all India employees who have left or been suspended to sign a three-page ‘consultancy and cooperation agreement’, ostensibly with the FCPA fallout in mind. The agreement essentially requires them to make themselves available to provide any information or explanation of materials or documents requested by Walmart or any government authority. “The manner in which lawyers and audit team are going about doing their business, I have started believing that I have done something wrong,” says an employee.”

The Flip Side

This Forbes columnist asks – in the context of GlaxoSmithKline –  ”is big pharma addicted to fraud?”

The question reminded me of the spot-on statement previously profiled here.  In a Law360 interview, Stephen Jonas (here), a partner in the Boston office of WilmerHale, was asked “what aspects of law in your practice are in need of reform, and why?”  He stated:

“One area greatly in need of reform, in my view, is the investigation of alleged health care fraud. This is an area in which the government regularly secures enormous settlements, starting in the tens of millions of dollars, and now exponentially expanding to the billions of dollars. Virtually every pharmaceutical company has now been subjected to one or more of these investigations and the results are predictable — enormous monetary contributions to the federal government. I find it hard to believe that wrongdoing is so rampant in this industry that every company has at least several hundred million dollars worth of it. The more likely answer is that these settlements often have far more to do with the leverage the government enjoys than the merits of what the company did or didn’t do. In order to stay in business, pharmaceutical and medical device companies must be able to sell products that can be paid for by Medicaid and Medicare. But a conviction for a health care offense would result in exclusion of the companies from federal health insurance and essentially a death sentence for their business. So they cannot afford to fight even the most debatable of charges. One of the results is that novel legal theories and sketchy evidence will never be tested in a court of law and negotiated settlements (under threat of exclusion) serve as “precedent” for the next case. That is a system badly in need of reform.”

Related to GSK, see here for my recent TV interview with LinkAsia.

Reading Stack

The always informative Miller & Chevalier FCPA Summer Review 2013.  As noted in the review “while investigation activity levels appear robust, the overall pace of  enforcement in 2013, in terms of resolved dispositions, remains at its lowest  level since 2006.”  This is correct, although difficult to square with a recent article from Compliance Week titled “FCPA Enforcement on the Rise Once Again.”  This is why an FCPA lingua franca is so important.  (See prior posts here and here).  Among other things, the Miller & Chevalier review contains useful charts including the nationality of companies under FCPA investigation and the countries implicated most frequently in FCPA enforcement actions.

Press coverage of BSG Resources and Beny Steinmetz (the wealthy Israeli for whom BSG Resources is named) regarding its business in Guinea continues.  (See this recent article from the U.K. Guardian).

An informative read from John Rupp (Covington) on how corporate interests and individual interests in a bribery investigation can collide and what corporate counsel can do to prevent this dynamic.

An interesting read from Trace Blog on how bribery schemes fall apart.  The post states:

“The reality is that many bribery schemes simply self-implode.  Think of it this way, once a bribe is paid, a corresponding debt is created to all who are involved in the scheme:  to the business partner who provides the funds; to the third party “consultant” who launders them through false pretense; to the accountant who cooks the books; to the bagman who delivers the payment; to each and every role player, big or small, who helps to bring about the bribe. At the time, loyalties may seem obvious: each co-conspirator will usually have a clear self-interest in keeping the bribery scheme hidden.  But as situations change, so too do incentives, and in business there are few guarantees as unsure as the honor among thieves.  [...] Think of all the bribery stories that have come to light simply by their own accord.”

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A good weekend to all.

 

Defamation Claims Increase Costs Of Cooperation With Government Investigations

Monday, July 15th, 2013

A guest post today from Jeremy Byrum (McGuireWoods LLP).  The post concerns a civil defamation claim relating to Royal Dutch Shell’s 2010 FCPA enforcement action.  (See here for the prior post regarding the enforcement action).

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Defamation Claims Increase Costs of Cooperation with Government Investigations

Disclosing the results of a company’s internal investigation to government investigators is always fraught with potential problems.  The most obvious is the danger of waiving attorney-client privilege and work product protections that would otherwise shield the internal investigation from discovery in parallel litigation.  But another less heralded danger is the risk of defamation claims by employees identified through the investigation as having participated in illegal activity.  The risk associated with such claims was on display in a recent ruling by a Texas court of appeals, which held that Shell Oil Company was only entitled to a conditional privilege, and not “immunity,” for statements it made in a written report to the Department of Justice (DOJ) regarding alleged violations of the FCPA.

On November 4, 2010, the DOJ announced more than $236 million in civil and criminal penalties from the settlement of alleged FCPA violations in Nigeria.  The settlements followed a lengthy investigation of Panalpina Group, a Swiss logistics company, and several of its oil and gas clients, including Shell.  According to the Texas court of appeals’ decision, the DOJ first requested a meeting to discuss Shell’s business with Panalpina in July 2007.  Following that meeting, Shell agreed to conduct an internal investigation, which eventually culminated in a written report that was submitted to the DOJ in February 2009.

Following the 2010 settlements, a former employee sued Shell for defamation, claiming that Shell’s written report falsely stated that he recommended reimbursement to contractors for payments that he knew were bribes.  The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Shell, finding that Shell had an absolute privilege (i.e., immunity) for the statements it made to the DOJ.  The Texas court of appeals reversed that finding on June 24, 2013, holding that Shell’s written report was only covered by a conditional privilege.  Consequently, Shell is not immune from suit if the former employee can show that Shell’s actions were motivated by malice.

The key legal issue in the case was whether Shell’s statements were made in the context of an ongoing or proposed judicial or quasi-judicial proceeding.  If so, then the statements would be absolutely privileged.  But the appeals court rejected Shell’s argument that the DOJ’s solicitation and the resulting internal investigation were evidence of a proposed judicial proceeding.  Likewise, the court rejected Shell’s argument that the 2010 settlement was evidence of a proposed judicial proceeding.  In the absence of direct evidence that the DOJ was contemplating a judicial proceeding in February 2009, the court rejected Shell’s absolute privilege claim.

The case is also noteworthy for the policy arguments made in the majority and dissenting opinions.  The dissent takes on the key policy issue—the potential chilling effect of the court’s ruling: “If absolute privilege is not available, a cooperating party runs the risk of defamation actions by anyone identified as having involvement in a potentially prohibited transaction.  This risk creates a disincentive for companies to conduct their own investigations, to make frank assessments of fault, and to communicate findings to DOJ.”  The majority focused on a rival policy argument, however, suggesting that absolute immunity would “discourage, rather than encourage, truth-telling” because companies have a “strong motive to deflect blame.”  The majority concluded that a conditional privilege was sufficient protection to encourage companies to cooperate with law enforcement.

The court’s ruling no doubt raises additional concerns for companies considering the already difficult decision whether to disclose the results of an internal investigation.  As the dissent notes: “A company like Shell is, in the face of a DOJ inquiry, in a quandary: it can provide inculpatory statements regarding actions taken on its behalf by its employees, recognizing that it is exposed to a defamation claim.  Or it can face criminal prosecution or penalization for a failure to comply and cooperate adequately with the DOJ’s investigation.”  But this may be less of a dilemma than the dissent imagines.  A company’s concerns about potential defamation claims ordinarily will pale in comparison to the high stakes risks associated with a criminal investigation by the DOJ.  Thus, the feared chilling effect is likely overstated.

Although the Texas court’s decision increases the potential costs of cooperating with a government investigation, it probably will not alter the level of cooperation in most cases.  In all likelihood, companies will continue to assess the appropriate level of cooperation necessary to avoid or minimize their exposure in a criminal investigation, and will simply accept the possibility of defamation claims as an unfortunate cost of doing business.