Archive for the ‘Las Vegas Sands’ Category

Las Vegas Sands Reporting – Not The Media’s Finest FCPA Moment

Wednesday, March 6th, 2013

Las Vegas Sands has been the subject of much FCPA scrutiny since October 2010 when Steven Jacobs (the former President of the company’s Macau operations) filed a civil cause against the company in Nevada State court alleging various causes of action, including facts implicating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.  (See here for the 2010 post highlighting the action).

This post from September 2012 highlighted various reporting of the Las Vegas Sands (“LVS”) FCPA scrutiny,and that of its CEO Sheldon Adelson, in ProPublica, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.

Last Friday, LVS disclosed in an SEC filing, in pertinent part, as follows.

“On February 9, 2011, LVSC received a subpoena from the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”) requesting that the Company produce documents relating to its compliance with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (the “FCPA”). The Company has also been advised by the Department of Justice (the “DOJ”) that it is conducting a similar investigation. It is the Company’s belief that the subpoena may have emanated from the lawsuit filed by Steven C. Jacobs described above. After the Company’s receipt of the subpoena from the SEC on February 9, 2011, the Board of Directors delegated to the Audit Committee, comprised of three independent members of the Board of Directors, the authority to investigate the matters raised in the SEC subpoena and related inquiry of the DOJ. As part of the annual audit of the Company’s financial statements, the Audit Committee advised the Company and its independent accountants that it had reached certain preliminary findings, including that there were likely violations of the books and records and internal controls provisions of the FCPA and that in recent years, the Company has improved its practices with respect to books and records and internal controls.” (emphasis added).

Given the intense prior media coverage of LVS’s  FCPA scrutiny, the recent disclosure spread like wild-fire this past weekend.  However, the reporting was not the media’s finest FCPA moment.

As is clear from a basic reading of the FCPA, the law has two provisions.  The FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions and the books and records and internal control provisions.  These later provisions are among the most generic substantive legal provisions one can find and are often implicated in situations that have nothing to do with bribery and corruption.

It is also clear from a basic reading of the LVS’s disclosure that it says “likely violations of the books and records and internal controls provisions.”

Notwithstanding the above, the Wall Steet Journal’s lead paragraph stated as follows.

“Las Vegas Sands Corp. told the Securities and Exchange Commission that an internal review found the casino operator had likely violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, a federal law that bans bribing public officials abroad.”

The New York Times’s lead paragraph stated as follows.

“The Las Vegas Sands Corporation, an international gambling empire controlled by the billionaire Sheldon G. Adelson, has informed the Securities and Exchange Commission that it likely violated a federal law against bribing foreign officials.”

ProPublica’s lead paragraph stated as follows.

“Last week’s admission by Sheldon Adelson’s casino company that it had “likely” violated provisions of the federal law barring U.S. companies from bribing foreign officials raises some intriguing questions.”

The media of course plays an important role in our modern society.  However, with that role comes a duty to get things right, particularly so in this day and age when reporting by high-profile media outlets spread like wild-fire on the internet.

The recent reporting of LVS’s latest disclosure (and several other examples could also be cited in the FCPA context) was not the media’s finest FCPA moment.

Thus, LVS was justified in its Sunday press release titled “LVS Fires Back at Misleading and Sensationalistic Reporting of Company’s Most Recent Financial Disclosure” which stated as follows.

“Las Vegas Sands Corp. today fired back at various media headlines and press reports that have suggested that the company violated any of the anti-bribery provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).  The company did not report any violations of the anti-bribery provisions of the FCPA and it said news reports stating otherwise, such as the headline in today’s New York Times which described the matter by saying “Casino Says it Likely Cheated,” are both inflammatory and defamatory. The company said it will vigorously defend itself against that type of uninformed and misleading reporting. In the company’s 10-K disclosure filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission(SEC) last Friday it made no such statement and insists no violations of the anti-bribery provisions of the FCPA have occurred. Instead, the company said that in its preliminary findings the company’s Audit Committee had advised that there were “likely violations” of the books and records and internal controls provisions (i.e. “accounting provisions”) of the FCPA. A potential violation of the accounting provisions could range anywhere from a single transaction recorded incorrectly to other errors in the accounting records. Additionally, the company’s independent auditors — who have been auditing the company for more than a decade — issued an unqualified opinion on the financial statements for the year ended December 31, 2012. Those financial statements also included the disclosure that any violations of the accounting provisions have not had a material impact on the financial statements of the company and did not warrant any restatement of its past financial statements.”

Isn’t It Ironic, Don’t You Think?

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

[Proper citation to Alanis Morissette is in order, this song makes for good background music as well for this post]

This post has been in the works for some time, but with the recent political conventions ending and the election season beginning in earnest, it was time to finish it.  To be sure, this is not the first time I have written about this general topic, see here, here, here, here and here for prior posts regarding the double standard.

Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think, that as the U.S. aggressively expands its Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement theories and snares foreign firms on flimsy jurisdictional theories, the U.S. continues to slide in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (a well-known index that ranks countries on how corrupt their public sector is perceived to be)?  Never in the top 10, the U.S. has now fallen out of the top 20.

Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think, that while the U.S. is bringing enforcement actions against companies for conduct that includes providing $600 bottles of wine, Cartier watches, cameras, kitchen appliances, business suits, and executive education classes to individuals deemed “foreign officials,” the U.S. has legitimized corporate influence over government in this country?

Think about this glaring double standard in the context of Las Vegas Sands (“Sands”) and its CEO Sheldon Adelson.

This ProPublica investigation “Inside the Investigation of Leading Republican Money Man Sheldon Adelson” revealed that “Adelson instructed a top executive to pay about $700,000 in legal fees to Leonel Alves, a Macau legislator whose firm was serving as an outside counsel to Las Vegas Sands” and that the payment was under FCPA scrutiny “because of Alves’ government and political roles in Macau.”  As noted in this previous post, Sands has been under FCPA scrutiny for approximately two years.

Numerous articles for been writing about Sands (and perhaps Adelson’s) FCPA exposure.  See here from the Wall Street Journal “Sands China Deals Scrutinized” (noting that Sands is under investigation by the DOJ and SEC for a variety of potential FCPA issues including a planned Adelson Center for U.S.-China Enterprise designed to help small and medium size U.S. businesses break into the Chinese market, Sands’ sponsorship of a Chinese basketball team, and Sands’ creation of a high-speed ferry services to bring gamblers from Macau to Hong Kong and obtaining a favorable administrative judgment).  See also here from the New York Times “Scrutiny for Casino Mogul’s Frontman in China.”

At the same time, Adelson is a top Republican donor in U.S. elections.  See here from the Wall Street Journal, “Casino Mogul Aids Romney’s Backers” (June 14, 2012) (noting that Aldelson and his wife have given $10 million to the main political action committee supporting Mitt Romney).  As noted in the article, Adelson and his family also previously gave $25 million to other political action committees this election cycle.  In addition, as noted in the article, “during the early primary season Mr. Adelson and his family kept Newt Gingrich’s campaign alive with $21 million in donations.”

Aldeson is not the only corporate titan seeking to influence (and influencing) the political process.  Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal reported here “Investor Bankrolls Big Romney Campaign” how Joe Ricketts, the founder of what become online brokerage TD Ameritrade Inc., “plans to spend $10 million airing ads supporting GOP nominee Mitt Romney.”  The article reported that Ricketts total political spending on the 2012 election is expected to be about $18.5 million.

This is not, of course, just a Republican issue.  The Wall Street Journal Article noted that DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrety Katzenberg and Irwin Jacobs, co-founder of Qualcomm Inc., are big spenders for President Obama and the Democratic Party.  See also here from National Public Radio as to Katzenberg and here from Bloomberg Businessweek as to Jacobs.

Yet the U.S. political expenditures discussed above are perfectly legal.  In Citizens United, the Supreme Court stated that such expenditures ”do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.”

Yet payments made in the foreign context, even payments that pale in magnitude and degree, would be clear crimes under U.S. law. because they indeed give rise to corruption and the appearance of corruption.”

I close with the same questions posed in my previous double standard posts.  Will a U.S. company’s interaction with a “foreign official” be subject to more scrutiny and different standards than its interaction with a U.S. official?  Do we reflexively label a “foreign official” who receives “things of value” directly or indirectly from private business interests as corrupt, yet when a U.S. official similarly receives “things of value” directly or indirectly from private business interests we merely say “well, no one said our system is perfect”?

This is not a question of what the law is, but what the law should be, and whether there is any intellectual and moral consistency between these two extreme opposites.  This is an issue of facing an uncomfortable truth that will be clear display the next several months.

Wynn – Okada And Offensive Use Of The FCPA

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

Rarely does one hear of offensive use of the FCPA to accomplish a business objective.  Usually it is the other way around – the FCPA thwarts a business objective such as acquiring a foreign target, not hiring the foreign agent who says he knows a way to get that lucrative contract, etc.

But then again, rarely does one hear of a corporate board member accusing the company of conduct that could implicate the FCPA, which then causes the SEC to open an inquiry, which then results in the company accusing the board member of separate and distinct conduct that could implicate the FCPA.

This post discusses Wynn’s internal investigation report that accuses Kazuo Okada (a member of its board) of prima facie FCPA violations.  For previous posts on the Wynn-Okada dispute, see here and here.  The Wynn internal investigation report (here) discusses a number of issues (such as breach of fiduciary duty, issues under Nevada gaming laws and issues under Philippine law), but this post will focus on the FCPA issues in the report authored Louis Freeh (former Director of the FBI) of Freeh, Sporkin & Sullivan LLP.

In summary, the Freeh Report states as follows.  “Mr. Okada, his associates and companies appear to have engaged in a longstanding practice of making payments and gifts to his two (2) chief gaming regulators at the Philippines Amusement and Gaming Corporation (“PAGCOR”), who directly oversee and regulate Mr. Okada’s Provisional Licensing Agreement to operate in that country.  Since 2008, Mr. Okada and his associates have made multiple payments to and on behalf of these chief regulators, former PAGCOR Chairman Efraim Genuino and Chairman Cristino Naguiat (his current chief regulator), their families and PAGCOR associates, in an amount exceeding $110,000.”  The report categorizes this conduct as “prima facie violations” of the FCPA.

Because jurisdiction will clearly be an issue in any potential FCPA enforcement action against Okada (a Japanese national currently serving as Director and Chairman of the Board of Universal Entertainment Corporation, a Japanese company), the Freeh Report sensibly begins with a jurisdictional analysis.

According to the report, Aruze USA Inc. (“Aruze USA”) is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Universal incorporated in Nevada and Okada is a Director of Aruze USA and serves as its President, Secretary, and Treasurer.  In addition, the report states that Okada also currently serves as a Director, Secretary, and Treasurer of Aruze Gaming America, Inc. (“Aruze Gaming”), a U.S. company.

Thus, based on the information in the Freeh report, depending upon which “hat” Okada wears at any given time, he is, in the language of the FCPA, a “domestic concern” or “any person other than an issuer or a domestic concern.”  The Freeh Report covers both bases and correctly notes that FCPA violations can be committed by a “domestic concern” regardless of any U.S. nexus (this was part of the FCPA’s 1998 amendments), but that FCPA violations can be committed by “any person” only if the “while in the territory of the U.S.” jurisdictional test is met.  If Okada is merely “any person” under the FCPA, the Freeh Report states that “means or instrumentalties of interstate commerce” were used by Okada.  Specifically, the Freeh Report states that many of Okada payments at issue passed through the accounts (either the Universal City Ledger Account or the Aruze City Ledger Account) ”maintained at the corporate offices of Wynn Resorts, Limited in Las Vegas, Nevada where periodic deposits are made from Universal into the Wynn Resorts, Limited operating account at Bank of America in Las Vegas, Nevada.”

Back to the Freeh Report’s discussion of Philippine PAGCOR Officials at Wynn Resort properties.  The report highlights 36 “separate instances, from May 2008 through June 2011 when Mr. Okada, his associates and companies made payments exceeding $110,000 which directly benefited senior PAGCOR officials, including two chairman and their family members.”  For starters, 35 of the 36 instances involve charges to the Aruze City Ledger account in amounts ranging from $253 to $5,380 for stays (generally multi-night stays) at the Wynn Macau or Wynn Las Vegas.  As separately discussed below, the one instance that sticks out is the September 2010 stay of various PAGCOR officials at the Wynn Macau for which approximately $50,000 was charged to the Aruze City Ledger.

The Freeh Report terms all of these instances “prima facie” FCPA violations, a term presumably chosen carefully because as every first-year law student knows “prima facie” means on first appearance, on the face of it, a fact presumed to be true unless disproved by some evidence to the contrary.

It is here that the Freeh Report is shockingly deficient as it does not contain any discussion of the FCPA’s affirmative defense for payments, gifts, etc. that are a “reasonable and bona fide expenditure, such as travel and lodging expenses, incurred by or on behalf of a foreign official … directly related to (a) the promotion, demonstration, or explanation of products or services; or (b) the execution or performance of a contract with a foreign government or agency thereof.”  The Freeh Report notes, yet disagrees with, Okada’s assertion that “all his efforts in the Philippines prior to the change of presidential administration in the summer of 2010 were undertaken on behalf of and for the benefit of Steve Wynn and Wynn Resorts.”  Summer 2010 is obviously a vague term, but Okada’s assertion could be relevant to 23 of the 36 instances detailed in the Freeh Report.

The one instance identified in the Freeh Report that sticks out is approximately $50,000 charged to the Aruze City Ledger in September 2010 for a five day stay at the Wynn Macau by “then and current PAGCOR Chairman and CEO Cristino L. Naguiat, Jr., his wife, three children, nanny and other PAGCOR officials.”  The Freeh Report devotes five pages to this visit and states, among other things, that Chairman Naguiat occupied Villa 81 (the most expensive accommodation at Wynn Macau – a room that costs approximately $6,000 per day and is mostly reserved for “high-rollers”).  Even if Chairman Naguiat and his delegation visited the resort, in whole or in part, for a business purpose it is unlikely that such expenses would be viewed as “reasonable and bona fide” and directly related to a business purpose – even if the Freeh Report does note that some of the charges may have been reimbursed by Chairman Naguiat’s delegation.

In addition, the Freeh Report says that “Mr. Okada, his associates and companies” made “similar payments to a Korean government official who oversees Mr. Okada’s initial gaming investment in that country.”  The report notes that Okada was pursuing development of a resort complex in the Incheon Free Economic Zone and the report notes six instances in which “possible Korean government officials” stayed at Wynn properties.  Total charges to the Aruze City Account were $5,945 and ranged from $507 to $1,597.  The Freeh Report states that “these payments made for or on behalf of possible Korean government officials may be part of a continuing pattern by Mr. Okada and his associates to commit prima facie violations of the FCPA.”

Finally, the Freeh Report also states that “Universal paid expenses related to then-PAGCOR Chairman Genuino’s trip to Beijing during the 2008 Olympics.

Have there been FCPA enforcement actions focused on excessive and travel entertainment expenses paid to ”foreign officials”?  The answer is yes.  In 2007, Lucent Technologies resolved related DOJ and SEC enforcement actions (see here and here) focused on hundreds of trips for Chinese “foreign officials” that included primarily sightseeing, entertainment and leisure.  According to the allegations in that enforcement action, Chinese “foreign officials” were treated to trips to Boston, Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon and Hawaii “for strictly entertainment, travel and leisure purposes.”  In 2009 UTStarcom resolved related DOJ and SEC enforcement actions (see here for the prior post) focused on hundreds of trips for Chinese “foreign officials” that likewise were to places such as Hawaii, Las Vegas, and New York.

However, in pointing numerous FCPA fingers at Okada, even the Freeh Report points a few fingers back at Wynn.  For instance, as to the accounts Okada allegedly used to make the improper payments the report states as follows.

“As a Director of Wynn Resorts, Mr. Okada is entitled to receive the courtesy of what is called a “City Ledger Account.”  Such accounts were originally instituted as a result of Sarbanes Oxley’s prohibition of extensions of credit, in the form of a personal loan from an issuer to an officer or director.  The accounts were funded by deposits from the director or his company.  Such an account exists for billing conveniences related to charges incurred at various Wynn Resorts locales.  Mr. Okada has availed himself of this courtesy and established such a City Ledger Account.  Within Wynn Resorts, this Okada City Ledger Account is referred to either as the “Universal City Ledger Account” or as the “Aruze City Ledger Account.”"

Elsewhere, the Freeh Report states that funds in connection with the problematic September 2010 visit were “advanced from the Wynn Macau” to a representative of Aruze USA.

In other words, while accusing Okada of committing “prima facie” FCPA violations through his use of the accounts, including the September 2010 visit, the Freeh Report acknowledges that the accounts were provided to him by Wynn as a courtesy for billing conveniences related to charges incurred at various Wynn Resort locales and that portions of the money used in connection with the problematic September 2010 visit were advanced from the Wynn Macau.

The Freeh Report puts the DOJ (and perhaps even the SEC given Okada’s membership on the Wynn Board) in a difficult position.  How can the agencies not investigate the conduct at issue when the former Director of the FBI is terming the conduct “prima facie” FCPA violations.  An analogy would be like calling the fire department to inform that your house is on the fire, but the fire department fails to show up.  Based on media reports, it appears that the agencies are indeed in active investigation mode.  According to a Feb. 24th article in the Financial Times (“US Probes Wynn Resorts’ Allegations), “the US Securities and Exchange Commission’s investigation is looking into allegations that Mr Okada made at least $110,000 in unauthorised payments to two gaming officials in the Philippines” and last week “Wynn’s attorney, Debra Yang, a partner with Gibson Dunn &  Crutcher and former US attorney for the Los Angeles area, flew to Washington and met with criminal prosecutors at the Department of Justice.”

Does the Freeh Report and the FCPA allegations against Okada evidence offensive use of the FCPA to accomplish a business objective?  The FCPA allegations against Okada - a Wynn business rival – contributed to a finding that Okada was “unsuitable” under Nevada gaming regulations, which then facilitated Wynn’s purchase of Okada’s Wynn shares at a substantial discount.

Another way of asking the same question is as follows – if the Freeh report found the same exact conduct (i.e. 36 instances – 35 of which were very minor in scope, totaling $110,000 involving a person other than Okada) would Wynn have gone public with such “prima facie” FCPA violations through a voluntary disclosure?  I highly doubt it.

By publicly stating that Okada’s conduct (36 instances of lodging expenses and entertainment for “foreign officials” – 35 of which were very minor in scope) evidences “prima facie” FCPA violations, is Wynn opening itself up to greater scrutiny as to its own relationships with the “foreign officials” which regulate its businesses abroad?  Is Wynn supremely confident that someone associated with the company did not charge $253 to a corporate account for a ”foreign official” to stay a night at one of its hotels?  Did Wynn leave a chocolate for the “foreign official” on his pillow or pay for a fancy dinner?

In a strange twist to the story, yesterday the Wall Street Journal reported that Wynn competitor Las Vegas Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson stated that “complimentary hotel rooms is a common practice in the gambling industry.”  Las Vegas Sands is already under FCPA scrutiny (see here for the prior post) and if that investigation was not already focused on travel and entertainment issues, you can bet it is headed in that direction.

I agree with Professor Peter Henning who writes the White Collar Crime Watch at the New York Times that Wynn’s accusations against Okada “open up a can of worms” (see here) and that Wynn’s accusations ”means the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission will be scouring the company’s books for possible violations, a front that neither side can control” and that “by invoking the specter of overseas bribery, Wynn has effectively opened itself up to a wide-ranging federal investigation of its dealings in Macao and elsewhere.”

The question Wynn will have to ask itself as this presumably goes forward is whether it was worth using the unhinged FCPA enforcement theories defining this new era to oust a business rival?

As to the big, big picture, if the DOJ or SEC do bring an enforcement action against Okada (or Wynn) for the conduct described in the Freeh Report, are we prepared to confront the glaring double standard increasingly coming into focus during this new era of FCPA enforcement?  For more on the double standard and corporate benefits given to U.S. officials, see here, here, here, and here.

Wynn Resorts $135 Million University of Macau Donation The Subject Of SEC Scrutiny

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

In May 2011,  Wynn Resorts donated $135 million to the University of Macau (see here for the University’s press release).

In an 8-K filing yesterday, Wynn Resorts Ltd. disclosed as follows.

“As previously disclosed, in May 2011, Wynn Macau, a majority owned subsidiary of Wynn Resorts, Limited (the “Company”), made a commitment to the University of Macau Development Foundation in support of the new Asia-Pacific Academy of Economics and Management. This contribution consists of a $25 million payment made in May 2011 and a commitment for additional donations of $10 million each year for the calendar years 2012 through 2022 inclusive. The pledge was consistent with the Company’s longstanding practice of providing philanthropic support for deserving institutions in the markets in which it operates. The pledge was made following an extensive analysis which concluded that the gift was made in accordance with all applicable laws. The pledge was considered by the Boards of Directors of both the Company and Wynn Macau and approved by 15 of the 16 directors who serve on those boards. The sole dissenting vote was Mr. Kazuo Okada whose stated objection was to the length of time over which the donation would occur, not its propriety.

Also as previously disclosed, Mr. Okada commenced litigation on January 11, 2012 [see here for the complaint], in Nevada seeking to compel the Company to produce information relating to the donation to the University of Macau, among other things.

On February 8, 2012, following Mr. Okada’s lawsuit, the Company received a letter from the Salt Lake Regional Office of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) requesting that, in connection with an informal inquiry by the SEC, the Company preserve information relating to the donation to the University of Macau, any donations by the Company to any other educational charitable institutions, including the University of Macau Development Foundation, and the Company’s casino or concession gaming licenses or renewals in Macau. The Company intends to fully comply with the SEC’s request.”

While the Wynn’s disclosure does not specifically mention the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, given that the company’s disclosure of the SEC inquiry appears to link the donation to the “Company’s casino or concession gaming licenses or renewals in Macau” it is likely that the SEC’s interest in the donation is based, at least in part, on the FCPA.  As Okada alleges in his complaint “Wynn Macau’s gaming concession expires in June 2022″ – the last year of Wynn’s donation committment.  According to Okada’s complaint “he objected to this donation, which appears to be unprecedented in the annals of the University” [which he alleges sits on land owned by the government].

According to Wynn’s most recent quarterly filing, the company’s Macau operations constitute approximately 75% of the company’s overall revenue.  Macau is also a focus of the company’s expansion plans.

Charitable donations are not in and of themselves prohibited by the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions.  For instance, see here for a 2009 FCPA Opinion Procedure Release.  Yet, such donations do carry FCPA risk and, as anyone who has reviewed DOJ NPAs and DPAs know, FCPA best practices is to have adequate controls as to charitable donations (see here for the recent Aon NPA – specifically Appendix B).

Charitable donations hit the radars of FCPA practitioners as a result of a 2004 SEC FCPA enforcement action against Schering-Plough (see here).  In the enforcement action, the SEC alleged that Schering-Plough violated the FCPA when its wholly-owned Polish subsidiary (“S-P Poland”) improperly recorded a bona fide charitable donation to a Polish foundation that restored castles where the founder/president of the foundation was also a director of a government health fund  that provided money to hospitals throughout Poland for the purchase of pharmaceutical products.  Although the SEC and Schering-Plough ultimately resolved the matter based only on violations of the FCPA books and records and internal control provisions, the enforcement action is commonly viewed as standing for the proposition that “payments to a bona fide charity could violate the FCPA if made to influence the actions of a government official” (see this client alert from Wilmer Cutler).

Wynn is not the only casino under scrutiny for Macau conduct.  Las Vegas Sands has also been under FCPA scrutiny concerning its operations in Macau.  In a question out of left-field, during the June 2011 FCPA hearing in the House, Representative Quayle (R-AZ) asked the DOJ whether it “looked into the gambling practices in Macau and if there is any illegal activity occurring in that arena?”  (See here page 71).

Like Wynn’s Macau inquiry, the Las Vegas Sands inquiry also seems to have started with a civil lawsuit.  See here for the prior post.

House Hearing – Overview and Observations

Tuesday, June 14th, 2011

Representative James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) today chaired a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security titled “Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.” (See here for the video).

This post provides a chronological overview of the hearing as well as observations.

Compared to the Senate’s FCPA hearing in November 2010 (see here for the prior post) today’s hearing (approximately two hours) was much more contentious. For instance, during the hearing Chairman Sensenbrenner noted that FCPA enforcement has become a “considerable windfall for the federal government” and he concluded the hearing by telling Greg Andres (DOJ) that it “would behoove the DOJ to realize that the statute needs updating” and that those on the Committee will be drafting a reform bill.

The hearing focused on a wide range of issues and in many ways was similar to FCPA reform hearings in the 1980′s in that a common theme explored during the hearing was whether the current state of FCPA enforcement harms U.S. business.

There is clearly a push to introduce FCPA reform legislation and members of both parties appeared receptive (to at least certain) FCPA reform proposals most notably clarifying the FCPA’s definition of “foreign official” / “instrumentality” and exploring an FCPA compliance defense. In fact, John Conyers (D-MI), who appeared most supportive of the current state of FCPA enforcement, stated he would support such reform proposals. The DOJ supports neither of these proposals.

Other issues explored in the hearing included prosecutorial discretion and DOJ declination decisions – including a request that the DOJ provide further information as to its declination decisions.

What happens next is a good question.

It seems like an FCPA reform bill will soon be introduced and hearings as to the specifics of such a bill may occur. Whether such a bill can get out of committee for full consideration by the House, and whether similar bills will be introduced in the Senate, is the open question. Politically, any FCPA reform efforts are likely, because of the topic at issue, to attract substantial opposition – including opposition that is less than informed as to the actual issues.

It bears noting that the last time Congress enacted significant FCPA amendments, the process took eight years and the statute was amended, not through a stand-alone bill, but through Title V, Subtitle A, Part I of the Omnibus Trade and Competiveness Act of 1988.

Opening Statement of Chairman Sensenbrenner

Sensenbrenner began by noting that when Congress passed the FCPA in 1977 the “world was a different place.” In response to slush funds and secret payments to foreign governments that adversely affected U.S. foreign policy, Congress passed the FCPA and the law “sent a strong signal.” (For an overview of the facts and circumstances motivating Congress to pass the FCPA – see here).

Sensenebrenner next observed that thirty-four years later, the world has turned upside down, China is a power, the nature of overseas business has changed, and many countries have some state-control over business.

Sensenbrenner noted that there has been a dramatic increase in FCPA prosecution and that last year approximately 1/2 of all DOJ criminal penalties were in FCPA cases (see here for the DOJ release) – a dynamic he called a “considerable windfall for the federal government.”

In touching upon themes similar to when Congress held substantive FCPA hearings in the mid-1980′s, Sensenbrenner placed the increase in FCPA enforcement in the context of the current economic downturn. Indeed a theme throughout the hearing was that the current state of FCPA enforcement may be harming U.S. business interests.

Sensenbrenner stated that “FCPA prosecutions should be effective and fair,” but also “predictable” so that the “rules of the road are clear” so that “business can start moving again.”

In closing his opening statement, Sensenbrenner stated that the Committee was well-suited to examine the impact of the FCPA and to ask hard questions – such as whether the FCPA was succeeding in its mission or hurting job creation.

Opening Statement of Ranking Member Scott

Robert Scott (D-VA) next made an opening statement. Scott summarized the reform proposals including providing greater clarity to the “foreign official” definition. As a potential compliance affirmative defense, Scott observed that companies are spending substantial sums – millions of dollars in some cases – on FCPA compliance – a result he indicated may often result in “overcompliance” because companies would rather be “safe than sorry.” Scott stated that “punishing those companies and individuals who are operating in good faith runs counter to the basic tenets of fairness and justice.” He also indicated that successor liability “runs counter” to a system of justice that should only punish the guilty party.

In closing, Scott said that effective enforcement of the FCPA is “crucial” and he applauded aggressive enforcement of the law. At the same time, Scott noted the necessity of periodically reviewing laws to make sure “they remain fair and just.”

Opening Statement of John Conyers

John Conyers (D-MI) also made an opening statement. After a few sentences about unemployment figures and the Obama administration, Conyers asked the following question: will somebody explain to me how 140 cases in 10 years is “overly aggressive prosecution.”

Conyers did indicate in his opening statement that he does support certain FCPA reform proposals. As to clarification of “foreign official,” Conyers said he can “support this one” because it can create a problem when those subject to the FCPA do not have a clear understanding of who a “foreign official” is. Conyers also said that he can support the addition of a compliance defenses so that companies can fight imposition of criminal liability if individual employees and agents circumvent compliance measures. Conyers did not support other FCPA reform proposals – such as limiting successor liability, limiting parent company liability for acts of foreign subsidiaries, and adding a wilful mens rea requirement for corporations.

Statement by Greg Andres

Greg Andres (Deputy Assistant Attorney General) next delivered an opening statement. His prepared statement can be found here.

Among other things, Andres noted that DOJ’s FCPA prosecutions involve “systemic long-standing bribery schemes” not the payment of single bribe payments of nominal sums.

Andres specifically cited the Daimler AG and Siemens FCPA prosecutions to support this point. However, the irony is that neither of these FCPA enforcement actions involved FCPA anti-bribery charges against the parent company or any related individual prosecutions.

As to a potential FCPA compliance defense, Andres stated that the DOJ already considers a company’s pre-existing compliance policies and procedures pursuant to the Federal Principles of Prosecution of Business Organizations (see here).

As to providing guidance, Andres noted that the DOJ’s goal “is not simply to prosecute FCPA cases” and that senior DOJ officials often speak publicly on the FCPA and highlight relevant considerations and practices companies should adopt. Andres also discussed the DOJ’s FCPA Opinion Procedure program (see here for more).

In closing, Andres stated that DOJ is proud of its enforcement record and that it looks forward to working with Congress.

Statement by Michael Mukasey

Former Attorney General and current Debevoise & Plimpton partner Michael Mukasey next delivered an opening statement on behalf of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. See here for his prepared statement.

Mukasey began by noting that no one favors bribery and that while the FCPA indeed does have merit, “more than 30 years of experience” with the law demonstrates that it can be improved.

His testimony focused on two of the Chamber’s FCPA reform proposals: clarifying the definition of “foreign official” and “instrumentality” and amending the FCPA to include a compliance defense.

As to the later, Mukasey observed that statutory guidance can be found in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act which provides for something akin to a compliance defense. Mukasey stated that “dozens, if not hundreds of cases are resolved under this compliance defense” and that the defense reduces discrimination by encouraging employers to have robust compliance systems.

As to “foreign official,” Mukasey referenced the recent judicial opinions on this issue (see here and here for the prior posts), yet noted that the judges did very little to clarify the limits of the “foreign official” issue other than say that whether an employee of an alleged state-owned or state-controlled enterprise could constitute a “foreign official” varied depending on the circumstances. Mukasey stated that leaving this issue in the hands of a jury in a criminal trial makes it “impossible” for companies to determine in advance who is a “foreign official” thereby increasing uncertainty and barriers to U.S. business. According to Mukasey, “majority ownership is the most plausible threshold” for whether a state-owned or state-controlled enterprise constitutes a foreign government “instrumentality.”

Statement by George Terwilliger

George Terwilliger (White & Case) next delivered an opening statement. See here for his prepared statement.

Terwilliger opened by stating that he favors “fair enforcement of sensible corruption statutes” and that “leveling the playing field” is essential. He noted that the DOJ and SEC are “realizing their enforcement goal of driving companies into far greater compliance,” but also noted the less desirable effects of stepped-up enforcement. He spoke of the “hidden effect” of foregone business opportunities because of FCPA enforcement concerns and noted that the current state of enforcement may hurt job creation.

According to Terwilliger, the “hidden costs” of FCPA enforcement are the result of uncertainty and that companies sometimes forego deals, take a pass on certain projects and withdraw from other projects – not because such companies are necessarily risk averse – but because of the risk-reward ratio in this current FCPA enforcement environment.

Terwilliger proposed a further FCPA reform proposal related to successor liability and that is a statutory safe harbor provision during which an acquiring company could be shielded from FCPA liability for a defined time period post-closing. During this post-closing period, the acquiring company would undertake a thorough review of the target’s business operations and have the opportunity to self-disclose any FCPA issues to the enforcement authorities.

Statement by Shana-Tara Regon

Shana-Tara Regon (Director, White Collar Crime Policy, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers) next testified. See here for her prepared statement.

She observed that given the general lack of judicial scrutiny over FCPA enforcement, the FCPA says whatever essentially the DOJ says it means and that the FCPA has, in many instances, become a strict liability statute “in ways that those who created the FCPA could never have envisoned.”

Regon stated that NACDL does not advocate bribery and similarly stated that advocating for reform is not akin to advocating for bribery. Her testimony was focused on two reform proposals – clarifying the definition of “foreign official” and strengthening the mens rea requirement for corporate offenses. She stated that the FCPA is “emblematic of the general problem of overcriminalization” and that FCPA enforcement has several “unintended consequences” including over-compliance.

During the hearing, Global Financial Integrity (see here for yesterday’s post) tweeted as follos: ” This group of witnesses is such a sham. All three non-DOJ witnesses spewing disingenuous pro-#bribery #AmChamb talking points #FCPAHearing.” (See here).

Chairman Sensenbrenner reserved his questions for the end and next called on various Representatives present.

Q&A Session

Tom Marino (R-PA) asked Andres (DOJ) about the DOJ’s top enforcement obstacle.

Andres stated that because FCPA violations focus on conduct abroad, the DOJ often needs to rely on MLAT requests which can take longer. He noted that the DOJ is in favor of extending the FCPA’s statute of limitations given that it generally takes a long time to investigate FCPA cases. Andres further stated that while there is much discussion as to the increase in FCPA enforcement, this discussion often “fails to recognize the size and magnitude of the problem.”

Robert Scott (D-VA) next asked Mukasey whether the compliance defense proposed was a total defense or an affirmative defense. Mukasey stated that the proposal was for an affirmative defense and that where there is a proved violation of the FCPA, the question should then become whether the company had a compliance mechanism in place reasonable designed to detect and prevent the conduct. Mukasey noted that this issue may be an “uphill climb” for a company, but that the FCPA ought to at least allow a company to pursue such a defense.

Scott next asked Mukasey about the mens rea reform proposal for corporate liability. Mukasey seemed to be advocating a corporate liability standard similar to the (soon to be old) U.K. standard and the current Canada law standard when he stated that a company should only be held liable if someone in a “policy making position” was involved in or condoned the improper activity.

Scott next asked Andres (DOJ) the general question of whether any de minimis cases have ever been brought by the DOJ. Andres stated “no,” the DOJ has never prosecuted “cup of coffee, lunch, taxi-ride type of cases” and he further stated that because of the FCPA’s corrupt intent element and the affirmative defense for reasonable and bona fide business expenditures, it is an open question as to whether such facts even violate the statute.

Even so, Andres stated that the DOJ is opposed to creating a de minimis exception to the FCPA because small, recurring payments can amount to significant bribery. He stated that the amount of the bribe is not the relevant consideration, rather the intent of the bribe is and that all bribery is inappropriate. Andres said that all the talk of taxi-ride payments and meals being in violation of the FCPA “is not reflected in our enforcement actions.”

Taxi-cabs were a recurring issue throughout the hearing. Mukasey stated, in response to a question, that the taxi-cab example is real and that when “nervous counsel” found out that a company may have paid a “foreign official’s” taxi-cab fare, the company disclosed the conduct to the DOJ and the DOJ requested that the company investigate its entire relationship with the “foreign official.” Mukasey stated that this investigation cost the company approximately $200,000, no violation was found, and that the company could have used this money for something more beneficial than conducting in investigation as to these facts.

Louie Gohmert (R-TX) next stated that those subject to the FCPA “ought to have a clear enough line” so that people don’t have to think “is it or isn’t it a bribe” to make this payment. Gohmert said that Congress can define bribery so that companies “can have a clear line” so that a company does not have to spend $200,000 to figure out whehther paying for a cab is an FCPA violation. Gohmert then made an interesting observing that the FCPA allows a “young prosecutor” or an “FBI agent seeking to make a name for himself” the opportunity to pursue all sorts of enforcement actions and that enforcement then ends up being more aggressive than it should be.

Gohmert next asked Andres (DOJ) as follows: why should a company be prosecuted if a company has a compliance program set up according to the standards set forth in Chapter 8 of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines (see here). Gohmert stated that if a company has done everything it can do, it seems like a strict liability standard if the company is prosecuted because of the act of an employee acting contrary to the company’s policy. Andres stated that the DOJ “does not prosecute companies based on the acts of a single, rogue employee.”

Rather, Andres stated that the DOJ looks at how pervasive was the conduct or whether the conduct involved a high-ranking employee. Andres specifically stated that the DOJ opposes consideration of an FCPA compliance defense. He stated that DOJ already seriously considers compliance programs in its charging decisions, along with other factors such as cooperation and voluntary disclosure.

Andres called a potential compliance defense “novel” and one that is not “well-defined.” He said that such a defense could lead to “paper compliance.” He also referenced the U.K. Bribery Act (which does contain such a compliance defense) yet stated that this defense is not yet in effect and thus there is no precedent to analyze to see whether such a defense is effective.

Given that the DOJ frequently takes FCPA enforcement position that are “novel,” are not “well-defined,” and are not supported by precedent, Andres response on this issue was less than convincing.

In closing, Andres stated that an FCPA compliance defense could “create a loophole” and allow for some bribery to occur. He called such a potential defense “novel and risky” and said that the “time is not right to consider it.”

The floor next returned to John Conyers (D-MI). He stated that ignorance of the law is no excuse and wondered why in the case of bribery does there need to be a de minimis rule. He stated that “corporations have more lawyers than anybody else” and “why do they need to know” how low the bribery threshold should be. He said that “they don’t deserve to know that.”

Conyers also conducted the most contentious Q&A exchange of the hearing with Regon. Conyers asked – “give me some examples of overcriminalization of the FCPA.” He repeatedly interrupted Regon and asked “just give me some examples” “give me an instance of where one case was ever brought by the DOJ that would constitute overcriminalization.” Conyers stated, “only 140 cases have been brought in 10 years -that averages 14 cases a year – is that overcriminalization to you?” Regon stated that overcriminlization occurs when a statute provides no reasonable limits and that she is concerned more about prosecutions that may occur in the future more so than prosecutions that have already occured.

Ted Poe (R-TX) next launched into a criticism of China. He said that “China, through its government, follows a systematic philosophy of corruption” and that China will “do anything in the world to get their way” including stealing from the U.S. and paying bribes. He suggested that “any means necessary” is the Chinese way to get business. “We on the other hand,” Poe stated, “believe in the rule of law.” Poe stated that the “Chinese are effective in their philosophy” and he observed that he just returned from Iraq where he learned that Chinese companies are going to rebuild Iraqi’s oil system and that he suspected money changed hands in order to get this business.

Poe, a former prosecutor, next said that it “disturbs” him when we give DOJ prosecutors too much discretion. Poe said that he was not advocating loosening the standards, but he did prefer “absolute certainty” about what is a violation of the FCPA as “opposed to too much discretion” by the DOJ on what something means and whether it is a bribe.

Judy Chu (D-CA) next asked Andres a series of questions allowing him to further articulate how the DOJ takes into consideration a company’s compliance program and how compliance expectations are stated in public documents such as Chapter 8 of the Sentencing Guidlines and the OECD Guidelines. (See here). Andres further stated that there are situations where the DOJ does not pursue an enforcement action because of a variety of factors, including a company’s pre-existing compliance program, even if these instances are not made public because the DOJ does not issue a press release. Asked by Chu for reasons why FCPA enforcement has expanded, Andres stated that the “problem is as big as it has ever been” and that “at least one reason” for the increase in enforcement is the result of SOX whereby companies have an obligation to test its internal controls – tests that often uncover FCPA issues that are then often disclosed to the DOJ.

Hank Johnson (D-GA) next asked Regon about prosecutorial discretion and whether it is fair to say that the “looser the law the more prosecutorial discretion and the narrower the law the less prosecutorial discretion.” Regon stated that if the DOJ means what it says (i.e. that it targets only explicit instances of bribery and that it does not prosecute based on the actions of rogue employees), then the DOJ should not mind less prosecutorial discretion. Johnson next launched into an unusual statement about illegal crime (blue-collar crime) and legal crime (white collar crime in the sense that prosecutions of white collar crime tend to be less vigorous). Johnson said he was bothered by the fact there has not been much prosecutorial activity as to white collar crime, he said this “seems kind of fishy” and that some “folks are getting off the hook for legal crime.”

Sandra Adams (R-FL) next asked Andres whether the DOJ has a definition of “foreign official” or “instrumentality.” Andres said, in addition to the statute, there are now several decisions by district courts that further “amplified” the definition of foreign official. Andres stated that DOJ does not support a change to the definition of “foreign official” or “instrumentality.”

Adams next Andres several pointed questions about DOJ declination decisions and whether such decisions are published or transparent. Andres stated that this is a difficult area for the government because the DOJ does not want to “penalize a company or individual investigated by not prosecuted.”

I’ve argued before (see here for the prior post) that the DOJ should publish its declination decisions in a manner similar to its FCPA Opinion Procedure decisions. Given that most declination decisions would seem to follow disclosure by a company of FCPA scrutiny (in its SEC filings), Andres’s rationale for not making declination decisions public is less than convincing.

Adams asked – in the last year, how many instances of FCPA conduct have been disclosed to the DOJ where no enforcement action resulted. Andres did not offer any specific number, but retreated to the FCPA Opinion Procedure and noted that if a company ever has a question about the FCPA, it has the ability to ask the DOJ and the DOJ is obligated to give an opinion.

Adams next asked Andres whether the DOJ is defining what the law means. Andres said that “everyone of these cases is negotiated with experienced defense counsel” and that counsel has “ample opportunity” to address any issues concerning the DOJ’s enforcement.

Mukasey then answered that while resolved FCPA enforcement actions make for interesting case studies, such resolutions are not binding in other cases.

Before her time expired, Adams requested that the DOJ provide the Committee with more detail as to its declination decisions, including the DOJ’s reasons and rationale for why enforcement actions did not result. Chairman Sensenbrenner then followed up and said DOJ’s responses will be made part of hearing record.

Shelia Jackson Lee (D-TX) next asked Andres how many attorneys and staff are assigned to FCPA enforcement. He stated that the DOJ’s FCPA unit, includes a core unit in D.C. of 15 to 20 enforcement attorneys and that assistance in trials is given by local prosecutors. Jackson Lee asked “is this an excessive amount” and Andres said “certaintly not in light of the size and magnitude of the bribery problem … it is significant.” Jackson Lee next received a tutorial from Andres as to the FCPA’s jurisdiction over foreign companies.

Ben Quayle (R-AZ) next asked a question very much based on current events and that is the scrutiny of the Macau gaming industry. [Las Vegas Sands recently disclosed that it received subpoenas concerning its conduct in Macau]. Andres stated that it was not appropriate for him to comment on any ongoing investigations.

Quayle next asked Andres whethr General Motors would be considered a U.S. government “instrumentality.” Andres said that in addressing this issue, the DOJ considers government ownership or investment as only one factor. Other factors include characterization of the entity under foreign law, the purpose of the entity, and that under these factors General Motors would likely not qualify as a U.S. government “instrumentality.” Quayle next asked whether it is relevant if the government has communications with the company’s board and the government has the ability to control or influence the entity (a presumed reference to GM’s relationship with the U.S. government). Andres again stated that control and ownership is but one factor and he specifically referenced the recent Lindsey prosecution where the Mexican entity at issue was specifically addressed in the country’s constitution.

Quayle next asked Terwilliger whether he has any knowledge of companies conceding markets to foreign competitors because of the FCPA. Terwilliger stated that “conceding markets” may be a bit strong, but that American companies have become much more circumspect in dealing with foreign business opportunities because of FCPA enforcement. In particular, Terwilliger said that companies may bypass “smaller opportunities” (that might become bigger opportunities) because of the FCPA in that the cost-benefit analysis and FCPA compliance are too much to worry about.

Chairman Sensenbrenner was the last person to ask questions and he began his time by stating as follows. There is “no question in my mind that we have to bring this law up to date.” “No one is in favor of bribery, but there has to be more certainty.” Sensenbrenner said he was “a bit befuddled” by Conyer’s statement that corporations don’t deserve to know what bribery is and he stated that “everyone has a right to know what is illegal.”

Sensenbrenner’s only question (a long one at that as he basically summarized the Chamber’s FCPA reform proposals) was directed to Regon and Andres. Regon focused mostly on the corporate mens rea issue and stated that her organization is supportive of “anything Congress does” to clarify the FCPA. Tara Regon failed to see the rationale for not providing greater clarity as to the FCPA and noted that “we have many bribery statutes on the books, and some of those are written tightly and work well.”

Sensenbrenner then asked Andres – which of Regon’s suggestions do you agree with and Andres said “I don’t agree with any of them.” For instance, Andres said with the definition of “foreign official” that “one thing you need to take into consideration is that the statute covers the whole world” and that what might constitute a “foreign official” in China may be different than what constitutes a “foreign official” in Brazil or France.

Sensenbrenner grasped onto this issue and noted that this part of the uncertainty that people are complaining about.

Andres followed with two points. First, that if there is concern, companies subject to the FCPA can ask for a DOJ opinion. This only seemed to enrange Sensenbrenner further as he stated “come on, China is a communist country – they are not going to tell you what the government involvement is” in a company “they don’t have the type of disclosure we have.”

Andres second point was that the FCPA makes illegal paying a bribe and that if companies aren’t paying bribes they have nothing to fear.

Sensenbrenner then seemed to pose a question at the end of the hearing as to whether the DOJ would support an FCPA amendment that simply makee bribery (all bribery) illegal (perhaps akin to the UK Bribery Act). Sensenbrenner did not pause for Andres to respond and he (Sensenbrenner) concluded the hearing by saying “it would behoove the DOJ to realize that the statute needs updating.” Andres said that the DOJ is “more than willing to work with Congress” to which Sensenbrenner said “see you later we will be drafting a bill.”

Sensenbrenner then commented that if Andres were the general counsel of a corporation advising the CEO and everyone else, he would likely be advising the company in the “most narrow way” and “exercising the greatest amount of caution.” “As a result,” Sensenbrenner stated, legitimate business activity is not pursued and U.S. companies are put in a significant disadvantage compared to foreign companies.

Sensenbrenner then told Andres – “get the message sir and tell that to the AG.”