Archive for the ‘Obtain or Retain Business’ Category

And The Apples Go To …

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014

applepicOften times there seems to be an echo chamber when it comes to Foreign Corrupt Practices Act reporting, commentary, etc.

One such occasion has been the recent Layne Christensen enforcement action (see here for the prior post).  The theme, which appears to have first been floated by lawyers representing Layne Christensen, but repeated by many others (see here and here for instance), is that the enforcement action was SEC only because of the company’s voluntary disclosure, cooperation and remedial actions.

That’s one narrative.

But some have bucked this narrative and have thankfully injected some informed thought into the conversation surrounding the Layne Christensen enforcement action.  And for this, the various individuals identified below receive FCPA Professor apple awards.

This other narrative is that the conduct alleged in the SEC’s enforcement action does not even violate the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions.

This Shearman & Sterling Client publication, with former DOJ FCPA enforcement Philip Urofsky listed as the lead author, states:

“While a relatively unremarkable case at first glance, the SEC’s charges against Layne Christensen reflect a troubling approach by enforcement agencies to disregard the “business nexus element” of the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions. These recent practices appear to contradict the Fifth Circuit’s opinion in United States v. Kay and create greater uncertainty as to the scope of the statute.”

[...]

Although a seemingly unremarkable case in a field known for blockbuster settlements, Layne Christensen illustrates a troubling practice by the SEC and US Department of Justice to disregard the “business nexus element” of the FCPA. Specifically, the FCPA states that to violate the anti-bribery provisions of the law, the defendant must pay a bribe “to assist the issuer in obtaining or retaining business . . . .” While it is often the case that bribes are paid on a quid pro quo basis in exchange for the award of valuable contracts, there are additional scenarios, like that seen in Layne Christensen, where the bribes merely assisted the defendant to improve its profit margins. In United States v. Kay, the Fifth Circuit held that bribes made in exchange for a reduction in tax liability or customs duties did not per se violate the statute without proof that the increased profits were used to obtain or retain some form of business.”

“Layne Christensen is further evidence that the DOJ’s and SEC’s current approach to the “business nexus element” of the FCPA flies in the face of Kay. By charging companies (often under extreme pressure to settle the case against them) with facts that do not show how the bribes were used to assist in obtaining or retaining business, the DOJ and SEC have created significant uncertainty as to the scope of the FCPA.”

[...]

“The SEC’s case against Layne Christensen demonstrates that the government continues to follow the practice … [of] treating the “business nexus requirement” as a seemingly unnecessary feature of the FCPA.”

[...]

“Strikingly, short of simply parroting the language of the statute, the SEC made no effort to allege facts as to what specific business was obtained or retained as a result of the reduced tax liability and customs duties. Such a pleading is clearly at odds with the Fifth Circuit’s opinion in Kay which stated that while bribes in exchange for increased profitability could violate the FCPA, they would not, per se, constitute criminal conduct without an allegation that the increased profits were used to obtain or retain business.”

[...]

“Whether the DOJ’s and SEC’s approach to the business nexus element of the FCPA stems from a misinterpretation of Fifth Circuit’s opinion or an active attempt to challenge Kay remains to be seen. Nevertheless, the lack of clarity ultimately disadvantages defendants who may be pressured to settle charges over conduct which does not necessarily constitute a crime.”

This is not the first time Urofsky, et al have rightly noted the DOJ/SEC’s unhinged enforcement theories relevant to “obtain or retain business.”  (See here for a prior post).

Charles Leeper (DrinkerBiddle) is also deserving of an apple award for his writing on the Layne Christensen enforcement action. He writes:

“According to the Consent Order, between 2005 and 2010 Layne’s subsidiaries made approximately $800,000 in improper payments to foreign officials in various African countries in order to: (1) realize improper tax benefits; (2) secure custom clearance of equipment; (3) avoid assessed customs duties and penalties; and (4) secure work permits for, and avoid deportation of, their employees.  While the SEC alleged that Layne realized financial benefits of approximately $3.9 million by making these payments, the Consent Order does not allege that Layne obtained business from the African governments in question, or even that Layne improved its competitive position in those countries on account of these payments.  Other than a single rote reference to the alleged purpose of “obtain[ing] or retain[ing] business,” the Consent Order contains no indication that the SEC’s investigation produced evidence satisfying the business nexus element of the FCPA.

[...]

Layne’s voluntary disclosure and substantial cooperation likely contributed to the relatively modest penalty that it was assessed by the SEC.  But it is equally likely that the SEC showed uncommon leniency, and the DOJ declined prosecution altogether, because an essential element of the FCPA could not be readily proven.”

Apple awards as well for commentary in this Global Investigations Review article.

“[A] number of lawyers are saying the DoJ failed to file charges as Layne did not satisfy the business-nexus element of the FCPA, which requires violating companies to have paid bribes “to assist the issuer in obtaining or retaining business”. They say the SEC’s decision to bring an administrative proceeding despite the business-nexus element not being met, is part of larger trend in both the SEC and the DoJ to wrongly pursue such cases. Kelly Kramer at Mayer Brown in Washington, DC, agreed that the SEC and DoJ are ignoring the precedent set by Kay. “There is very little court guidance. As a consequence the SEC and DoJ have adopted their own interpretation of the FCPA. Essentially, they presume that bribes that increase corporate profits also help companies to obtain or retain business,” he said. “But that is not always true. The DoJ and SEC seem to be using this presumption to avoid the business-nexus element.” Kramer added that as there are so few appellate FCPA cases, due to the tendency for companies to settle, the SEC and DoJ have created their own “common law of settlement”, which has persuasive value for general counsels, but lacks any legal weight.”

The above commentary should not come as a surprise to frequent readers of FCPA Professor.  The issue of whether the SEC could have actually proved its allegations in the Layne Christensen enforcement action were first flagged in this prior post.

More broadly, I have been writing about the DOJ/SEC’s unhinged “obtain or retain business” theories for years.

See “The Facade of FCPA Enforcement” (an extensive discussion of the Kay case starts at pg. 918 and concludes: Despite the equivocal nature of the Kay holding, the decision clearly energized the enforcement agencies and post-Kay there has been an explosion in FCPA enforcement actions where the alleged improper payments involve customs duties and tax payments or are otherwise alleged to have assisted the payer in securing foreign government licenses, permits, and certifications which assisted the payer in generally doing business in a foreign country. These enforcement actions are profiled [elsewhere in the article.] Because none of these actions have been challenged, it remains an open question whether the payments at issue in these cases, if subjected to judicial scrutiny: (i) would satisfy the FCPA’s “obtain or retain business” element; or (ii) were too attenuated to obtaining or retaining business (such as merely increasing the profitability of an existing profitable business) and thus, per the Kay holding, not a violation of this key FCPA anti-bribery element.”).

See “FCPA Enforcement As Seen Through Wal-Mart’s Potential Exposure” (“[T]he enforcement theory that payments to a foreign official outside the context of foreign government procurement fall under the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions has been subjected to judicial scrutiny four times. The enforcement agencies lost three of those cases and the fourth case—the Fifth Circuit’s decision in Kay—is equivocal. The decision merely holds that payments to a foreign official outside the context of foreign government procurement can, under appropriate circumstances, fall within the statute. Given the facts and circumstances the Kay court found relevant, it is a highly fact-dependent question whether a payment to a foreign official outside the context of foreign government procurement is subject to the FCPA. A key portion from the Kay ruling logically implicated by Wal-Mart’s alleged payments is the following: ‘‘there are bound to be circumstances in which payments outside the context of foreign government procurement merely increase the profitability of an existing profitable company and thus, presumably, does not assist the payer in obtaining or retaining business.’’).

See “Why You Should Be Alarmed by the ADM Enforcement Action” (The Kay court did conclude that payments outside the context of foreign government procurement ‘‘could’’ violate the FCPA, but only if the payments were intended to lower a company’s cost of doing business enough to assist the company in ‘‘obtaining or retaining’’ business. Specifically, the court stated: If the government is correct that anytime operating costs are reduced the beneficiary of such advantage is assisted in getting or keeping business, the FCPA’s language that expresses the necessary element of assisting in obtaining business would be unnecessary, and thus surplusage—a conclusion that we are forbidden to reach.”

[The FCPA Apple Award recognizes informed, candid, and fresh thought-leadership on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act or related topics. There is no prize, medal or plaque awarded to the FCPA Professor Apple Award recipient. Just recognition by a leading FCPA website visited by a diverse group of readers around the world. There is no nomination procedure for the Apple Award. If you are writing something informed, candid and fresh about the FCPA or related topics, chances are high that I will find your work during my daily searches for FCPA content.]

Friday Roundup

Friday, September 12th, 2014

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

The Problem With NPAs and DPAs

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

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

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

How Does Your Product Go To Market In China?

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

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

That makes two of us that are surprised!

Media Coverage in China

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

Victory

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

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

   ”anything of value to

         any foreign official for purposes of

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

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

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

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

   “anything of value to

         any foreign official for purposes of

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

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

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

Subtle yes, but sometimes victory occurs in the shadows.

Scrutiny Alerts and Updates

HP Russia

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

As stated in the DOJ release

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

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

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

Image Sensing Systems

Earlier this week, the company issued the following release:

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

Alstom

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

Reading Stack

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

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

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

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

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

*****

A good weekend to all.

 

Chevron Decision Touches Upon FCPA Issues

Thursday, March 6th, 2014

This 2009 post flagged the “War of Words in Ecuador” between Chevron and plaintiff lawyers representing Ecuadorian villagers alleging environmental contamination at oil fields in the Amazon for its potential FCPA implications.

Earlier this week, as noted in this Wall Street Journal article:

“A federal judge ruled in favor of Chevron … in a civil racketeering case [against New York lawyer Steven Donziger, the plaintiffs' lawyer], saying a record $9.5 billion environmental judgment in Ecuador against the oil giant was “obtained by corrupt means.”  U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan [S.D.N.Y.] found that … Donziger and his litigation team engaged in coercion, bribery, money laundering and other criminal conduct in pursuit of the 2011 verdict.”

As stated by Judge Kaplan:

“This case is extraordinary. The facts are many and sometimes complex. They include things that normally come only out of Hollywood – coded emails among Donziger and his colleagues describing their private interactions with and machinations directed at judges and a court appointed expert, their payments to a supposedly neutral expert out of a secret account, a lawyer who invited a film crew to innumerable private strategy meetings and even to ex parte meetings with judges, an Ecuadorian judge who claims to have written the multibillion dollar decision but who was so inexperienced and uncomfortable with civil cases that he had someone else (a former judge who had been removed from the bench) draft some civil decisions for him, an 18-year old typist who supposedly did Internet research in American, English, and French law for the same judge, who knew only Spanish, and much more. The evidence is voluminous. The transnational elements of the case make it sensitive and challenging. Nevertheless, the Court has had the benefit of a lengthy trial. It has heard 31 witnesses in person and considered deposition and/or other sworn or, in one instance, stipulated testimony of 37 others. It has considered thousands of exhibits. It has made its findings, which of necessity are lengthy and detailed.”

As relevant to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and any potential FCPA liability of Donziger, Judge Kaplan, beginning at pg. 392 of his mammoth 485-page opinion, addressed Chevron’s assertion that “Donziger violated the Travel Act through the use of facilities of interstate or foreign commerce with the intent to facilitate violations of the anti-bribery provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”).”

Judge Kaplan concluded that ”[Donziger] did so by using email and by causing money to be wired to Ecuador to further the payment of money to Cabrera, a court appointee [of the Ecuadorian judicial system].”

Judge Kaplan’s decision most squarely addressed the FCPA’s “obtain or retain business” element.  Judge Kaplan stated as follows.

“The SEC and the Department of Justice interpret the FCPA to prohibit payments to court officials and regularly find that such payments satisfy the business purpose test.  [citing to DOJ FCPA enforcement actions against Pride International and Jim Bob Brown].   This court agrees.”

“Here, the payments increased the likelihood that Donziger’s business – that of contingency litigation – would benefit from a favorable judgment. Roughly 30 percent of the 20 percent contingency fee owed to the litigation team accrues to Donziger. He stood to benefit directly from any judgment and, accordingly, from any act that improved the likelihood that such a judgment would issue and its amount. The improper payments to Cabrera were intended to do, and did, exactly that.”

As to “foreign official,” Judge Kaplan stated: “as an expert appointed by the Lago Agrio court, Cabrera was an officer or official of the Ecuadorian court” (citing to an exhibit which stated:  “The Expert [Cabrera] is hereby reminded that he is an auxiliary to the Court for purposes of providing to the process and to the Court scientific elements for determining the truth.”).

As to the “knowledge” component of the FCPA’s third-party payment provisions, Judge Kaplan stated:  “The Court … finds that Donziger was “aware” that it was “substantially certain” that Cabrera would be paid from the funds he wired to the secret account.”

A judicial finding that Donziger engaged in conduct sufficient to establish an FCPA violation is – to state the obvious – a troubling event for him.

In response to Judge Kaplan’s decision, Donziger issued this statement.  In the above-referenced Wall Street Journal article, Donziger is quoted as follows.  “I am a zealous advocate for my clients.  I woud never bribe a judge or perpetrate a fraud … Ultimately I think the Court of Appeals will reverse this decision and whatever damage caused to my reputation will be restored.”

In this press release, Chevron stated, in pertinent part:

“[Judge Kaplan's decision] finds that Steven Donziger, the lead American lawyer behind the Ecuadorian lawsuit against the company, violated the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), committing extortion, money laundering, wire fraud, Foreign Corrupt Practices Act violations, witness tampering and obstruction of justice in obtaining the Ecuadorian judgment and in trying to cover up his and his associates’ crimes.  [...]  Chevron’s reputation was taken hostage and held for a multibillion-dollar ransom. Rather than give in and pay these criminals off, Chevron exposed the truth. Chevron is pleased with today’s judgment. We are confident that any court that respects the rule of law will likewise find the Ecuadorian judgment to be illegitimate and unenforceable.”

For additional coverage of Judge Kaplan’s decision, see here from the New York Times and here from Reuters.  In addition, this 2013 Wall Street Journal article goes in-depth as to Donziger and the case.

Did Richard Liedo Win Or Lose?

Monday, December 23rd, 2013

[This post is part of a periodic series regarding "old" FCPA enforcement actions]

This previous post highlighted the 1989 Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement action against NAPCO International in connection with military sales to the Republic of Niger.  The previous post noted that the DOJ also criminally charged the Vice President of the Aerospace Division of NAPCO and that this individual exercised his constitutional right to a jury trial and put the DOJ to its burden of proof.

That person was Richard Liedo and his enforcement action is worthy of its own post.

Among other things, the Liebo enforcement action resulted in a rare appellate FCPA decision, and an often overlooked one at that given that the court concluded that a jury could find that a subordinate who acted at his supervisor’s direction in providing a thing of value to a foreign official lacked “corrupt” intent.

In this lengthy 62 page criminal indictment, the DOJ charged Liebo in connection with the same bribery scheme alleged in the NAPCO action.  In pertinent part, the DOJ alleged that in connection with aircraft sales to Niger, Liebo conspired with others to violate the FCPA by making payments or authorizing payments of money to “officials of the Government of Niger, that is, Tahirou Barke Doka [the First Counselor of the Embassy of Niger in Washington, D.C.] and Captain Ali Tiemogo [Chief of Maintenance for the air force component of the Niger Ministry of Defense] and “Fatouma Mailelel Boube and Amadou Mailele, both relatives of Tiemogo, while knowing that all or a portion of such money would be offered, given or promised, directly or indirectly, to foreign officials, namely Barke and Tiemogo” for the purpose of “influencing the acts and decisions of Barke and Tiemogo in their official capacities, and inducing them to use their influence with the Ministry of Defense.”

In addition to the conspiracy charge (count 1), the DOJ also charged Liebo with 10 counts of violating the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions (counts 2 – 11), one count of violating the FCPA’s books and records provisions (count 12), three counts of aiding and abetting in the preparation of false corporate income tax returns (counts 13 – 15), and five counts of making false statements to the Defense Security Assistance Agency (DSAA) of the U.S. Department of Defense in connection with the sales (counts 16 – 20).

Liebo exercised his constitutional right to a jury trial and put the DOJ to its burden of proof.

The jury considered 19 charges against Liebo (on the first day of trial, the court granted the DOJ’s motion to dismiss one of the false statement charges) and he was acquitted of 17 charges.  The only charges Liebo was convicted of was one count of violating the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions and one count of making a false statement to DSAA.  The FCPA charge related to the payment of $2,028 “for the airline tickets purchased for Barke’s wedding and honeymoon travel.”

As noted in this judgment, Liebo was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison.  However, as noted in a Trace Compendium entry, “Liebo only served two of the 18 months, having petitioned for, and eventually received, a retrial.”

As noted in this Eighth Circuit opinion, Liebo appealed and argued on appeal that “his convictions should be reversed because of insufficient evidence and because the district court erred in instructing the jury” and that the “district court abused its discretion by denying his motion for a new trial based on newly discovered evidence.”

As to the FCPA anti-bribery charge Liebo was found guilty on, he argued on appeal that: (1) there was insufficient evidence to show that the airline tickets were given to obtain or retain business; and (2) that there was no evidence to show that his gift of honeymoon tickets was done corruptly.

After setting forth the standard of review (i.e. considering the evidence in the light most favorable to the government with all reasonable inferences and credibility determinations made in support of the jury’s verdict), the court stated as follows as to obtain or retain business.

“There is sufficient evidence that the airplane tickets were given to obtain or retain business. Tiemogo testified that the President of Niger would not approve the contracts without his recommendation. He also testified that Liebo promised to “make gestures” to him before the first contract was approved, and that Liebo promised to continue to “make gestures” if the second and third contracts were approved. There was testimony that Barke helped Liebo establish a bank account with a fictitious name, that Barke used money from that account, and that Barke sent some of the money from that account to Tiemogo. Barke testified that he understood Liebo deposited money in the account as “gestures” to Tiemogo for some “of the business that they do have together.”

Although much of this evidence is directly relevant to those counts on which Liebo was acquitted, we believe it appropriate that we consider it in determining the sufficiency of evidence as to the counts on which Liebo was convicted.

[…]

Moreover, sufficient independent evidence exists that the tickets were given to obtain or retain business. Evidence established that Tiemogo and Barke were cousins and best friends. The relationship between Barke and Tiemogo could have allowed a reasonable jury to infer that Liebo made the gift to Barke intending to buy Tiemogo’s help in getting the contracts approved. Indeed, Tiemogo recommended approval of the third contract and the President of Niger approved that contract just a few weeks after Liebo gave the tickets to Barke. Accordingly, a reasonable jury could conclude that the gift was given “to obtain or retain business.”

As to corrupt intent, the court stated as follows.

“Liebo also contends that the evidence at trial failed to show that Liebo acted “corruptly” by buying Barke the airline tickets. In support of this argument, Liebo points to Barke’s testimony that he considered the tickets a “gift” from Liebo personally. Liebo asserts that “corruptly” means that the offer, payment or gift “must be intended to induce the recipient to misuse his official position….”  […] Because Barke considered the tickets to be a personal gift from Liebo, Liebo reasons that no evidence showed that the tickets wrongfully influenced Barke’s actions.

We are satisfied that sufficient evidence existed from which a reasonable jury could find that the airline tickets were given “corruptly.” For example, Liebo gave the airline tickets to Barke shortly before the third contract was approved. In addition, there was undisputed evidence concerning the close relationship between Tiemogo and Barke and Tiemogo’s important role in the contract approval process. There was also testimony that Liebo classified the airline ticket for accounting purposes as a “commission payment.” This evidence could allow a reasonable jury to infer that Liebo gave the tickets to Barke intending to influence the Niger government’s contract approval process. We conclude, therefore, that a reasonable jury could find that Liebo’s gift to Barke was given “corruptly.” Accordingly, sufficient evidence existed to support Liebo’s conviction.”

As to Liebo’s argument on appeal that the “district court abused its discretion by denying his motion for a new trial based on newly discovered evidence,” Liebo noted that “two months after his conviction, a NAPCO employee provided Liebo with a memorandum showing [a superior's] approval to the charge of the airline tickets.”  Liebo argued that the discovery of this evidence warranted a new trial.  In support, Liebo argued that “he was acquitted on all other bribery counts for which there was evidence that the payment in question was approved [by a superior].  Liebo argued that evidence of a superior’s approval of the wedding trip was a determinative factor in the jury’s verdict by “pointing to a question sent out by the jury during their deliberations asking whether there was ‘any information regarding authorization for payment of wedding trip.’”

After noting that motions for a new trial based on newly discovered evidence are looked upon with disfavor, the court also noted that “courts have granted a new trial based on newly discovered evidence especially when the evidence supporting the defendant’s conviction is weak.”

The court closed its opinion as follows.

“[T]he evidence against Liebo, while sufficient to sustain the conviction, was not overwhelming. Indeed, we believe that the company president’s approval of the purchase of the tickets is strong evidence from which the jury could have found that Liebo acted at his supervisor’s direction and therefore, did not act “corruptly” by giving the tickets to Barke. Furthermore, we are highly persuaded that the jury considered such approval pivotal, especially in light of the question it submitted to the court during its deliberations and its acquittal of Liebo on the other bribery counts in which evidence of approval existed. Accordingly, we hold that the district court clearly abused its discretion in denying Liebo’s motion for a new trial.”

In the re-trial, Liebo was convicted of aiding and abetting FCPA anti-bribery violations and making a false statement to the DSAA.  He was then sentenced to three years probation, two months home detention, and 400 hours of community service.

Based on all of the above, the question is raised – did Richard Liedo win or lose when he put the DOJ to its burden of proof?

In this the exam grading season, I know where I come out when the one with the burden is 90% unsuccessful.

FCPA Guidance Rewrites The FCPA

Tuesday, July 16th, 2013

Readers have likely read the FCPA Guidance by now, if not multiple times.

The Guidance contains an appendix that includes, among other things, the text of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.  In the Guidance, the enforcement agencies have rewritten the text of the FCPA and this post highlights a statutory construction error that even a first year law student would be expected to understand and recognize.

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

   ”anything of value to

         any foreign official for purposes of

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

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

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

Set forth below is how the text of the FCPA is portrayed in the FCPA Guidance.

   “anything of value to

         any foreign official for purposes of

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

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

On one hand, the obvious error and rewriting of the FCPA in the Guidance could be attributed to scrivener’s error.  After all, both the DOJ’s FCPA website and the SEC’s FCPA website contain accurate versions of the FCPA.

On the other hand, scrivener’s error seems unlikely given the substance of the Guidance and that it appears the DOJ and SEC have always wanted an FCPA statute that doesn’t exist.

As I highlight in my article “Grading the FCPA Guidance,” the most disturbing portion of the Guidance concerns the ‘‘obtain or retain business’’ element of the FCPA. The Guidance asserts that ‘‘in 1998, the FCPA was amended to conform to the requirements of the [OECD] Anti-Bribery Convention,’’ and ‘‘these amendments expanded the FCPA’s scope to include payments made to secure ‘‘any improper advantage.’’

The notion that the FCPA’s 1998 amendments conformed the FCPA to the OECD Convention and expanded the FCPA’s scope to include payments made to secure ‘‘any improper advantage’’ is demonstratively false.

Indeed, the DOJ’s position on this specific issue was rejected by both the trial court and the appellate court in United States v. Kay, a case involving payments to Haitian “foreign officials” for the purpose of reducing customs duties and sales taxes a company owed the Haitian government.

The trial court decision stated:

“The OECD Convention had asked Congress to criminalize payments made to foreign officials ‘‘ ‘in order to obtain or retain business or other improper advantage in the conduct of international business.’’ . . . Congress again declined to amend the ‘‘obtain or retain business’’ language in the FCPA . . . . Congress did not insert the ‘‘improper advantage’’ language into the ‘‘obtain or retain business’’ provision of the FCPA.”

Although the Fifth Circuit overruled the trial court’s decision granting the defendants’ motion to dismiss, the appellate likewise court stated as follows concerning the FCPA’s 1998 amendments:

“When Congress amended the language of the FCPA, however, rather than inserting ‘any improper advantage’ immediately following ‘obtaining or retaining business’ within the business nexus requirement (as does the Convention), it chose to add the ‘improper advantage’ provision to the original list of abuses of discretion in consideration for bribes that the statute proscribes.’’

Others have pointed out this key statutory difference as well, including Philip Urofsky, a former DOJ Assistant Chief of the Fraud Section.  Writing after the 2010 CustomsGate cases involving use of Panalpina (see here for the prior post), Urofsky stated (here) as follows.

“When criminal liability is at issue … it is important that the borders of the statute be carefully limned. Unfortunately, the government’s pleadings in the Panalpina cases do more to blur than clarify the limits of the law. For example, in some cases, the DOJ did not even plead the language of the FCPA but used instead that of the OECD Convention. For example, in Pride International, the conspiracy count alleged that the payments in question were ‘to make corrupt payments to a Mexico government official in order to obtain or retain business and to obtain other favorable treatment.’  Similarly, in the Noble NPA, the DOJ stated that the FCPA was intended to prohibit bribes ‘for the purpose of obtaining or retaining business or securing any improper advantage.’  In each case, the italicized language is simply not a part of the statutory element.”

The enforcement agencies state that the Guidance sets forth “what the law is” and has claimed that the document took nearly a year to draft.

Thus, the above statutory construction error is troubling, yet telling at the same time.