Archive for the ‘Permits / Licenses / Customs / Tax’ Category

The 100th Edition Of The Friday Roundup

Friday, November 15th, 2013

Scrutiny alerts and updates, a first, blunt, and quotable.   It’s all here in this – the 100th edition - of the Friday roundup.

[I hope the Friday roundup is a value added end to your work week.  The Friday roundup alone represents several hours of work by highlighting recent FCPA and related news and developments not otherwise covered Monday - Thursday on FCPA Professor.  Ask yourself:  do you get your FCPA from FCPA Professor? If the answer is yes, you can help support this free website here]

Scrutiny Alerts and Updates

Wal-Mart

During its third quarter earnings call yesterday, Wal-Mart disclosed $69 million in “FCPA and compliance related expenses” in the quarter.  According to the company “approximately $43.0 million of these expenses represented costs incurred for the ongoing inquiries and investigations and approximately $26.0 million is related to our global compliance program and organizational enhancements.”

Doing the math, $69 million in the third quarter is approximately $1.06 million per working day.  As noted here, the figure for Q2 was approximately $1.26 million per working day and as noted here the figure for Q1 was approximately $1.16 million per working day.  For more on Wal-Mart’s pre-enforcement action professional fees and expenses, see this prior post.

For the fourth quarter, Wal-Mart estimated $75 – $80 million in expenses related to FCPA matters.

JPMorgan

The NY Times returns (here) to the JPMorgan story it first reported in August (see here for the prior post).  The article states:

“To promote its standing in China, JPMorgan Chase turned to a seemingly obscure consulting firm [Fullmark Consultants] run by a 32-year-old executive named Lily Chang.  Ms. Chang’s firm, which received a $75,000-a-month contract from JPMorgan, appeared to have only two employees. And on the surface, Ms. Chang lacked the influence and public name recognition needed to unlock business for the bank. But what was known to JPMorgan executives in Hong Kong, and some executives at other major companies, was that “Lily Chang” was not her real name. It was an alias for Wen Ruchun, the only daughter of Wen Jiabao, who at the time was China’s prime minister, with oversight of the economy and its financial institutions.

[...]

Now, United States authorities are scrutinizing JPMorgan’s ties to Ms. Wen, whose alias was government approved, as part of a wider bribery investigation into whether the bank swapped contracts and jobs for business deals with state-owned Chinese companies, according to the documents and interviews. The bank, which is cooperating with the inquiries and conducting its own internal review, has not been accused of any wrongdoing.  The investigation began with an examination of the bank’s decision to hire the daughter of a Chinese railway official and the son of a former banking regulator who is now the chairman of a state-controlled financial conglomerate.

[...]

Executives at JPMorgan’s headquarters in New York did not appear to be involved in retaining Fullmark, a decision that seemed to have fallen to executives in Hong Kong. And the documents reviewed by The Times do not identify a concrete link between the bank’s decision to hire children of Chinese officials and its ability to secure coveted business deals, a connection that authorities would probably need to demonstrate that the bank violated anti-bribery laws.”

Park-Ohio Holdings Corp.

The diversified manufacturing services and products holding company (here) disclosed as follows in a recent quarterly filing:

“In August 2013, the Company received a subpoena from the staff of the SEC in connection with the staff’s investigation of a third party. At that time, the Company also learned that the Department of Justice (DOJ) is conducting a criminal investigation of the third party. In connection with responding to the staff’s subpoena, the Company disclosed to the staff of the SEC that, in November 2007, the third party participated in a payment on behalf of the Company to a foreign tax official that implicates the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). The Board of Directors of the Company has formed a special committee to review the Company’s transactions with the third party and to make any recommendations to the Board of Directors with respect thereto. The Company intends to cooperate fully with the SEC and the DOJ in connection with their investigations of the third party and with the SEC in light of the Company’s disclosure. The Company is unable to predict the outcome or impact of the special committee’s investigation or the length, scope or results of the SEC’s review or the impact, if any, on its results of operations.”

Wynn Resorts

This previous Friday roundup highlighted the company’s disclosure that the SEC has ended its investigation of the company concerning a $135 million donation to the University of Macau.  In this recent filing, Wynn states as follows concerning a related DOJ investigation.

“[The DOJ] has been conducting a criminal investigation into Wynn Resorts’ donation to the University of Macau [...]. Wynn Resorts has not received any target letter or subpoena in connection with such an investigation.  Wynn Resorts intends to cooperate fully with the government in response to any inquiry related to the donation to the University of Macau.”

SEC’s First Individual DPA

When the SEC announced in January 2010 (see here for the prior post) a series of measures, including non-prosecution and deferred prosecution agreements, “to further strengthen its enforcement program by encouraging greater cooperation from individuals and companies in the agency’s investigations and enforcement actions,” I called the development a blow to those who prefer government law enforcement agencies to enforce a law in an open, transparent matter and in the context of an adversary proceeding.  Not that there was much judicial scrutiny of SEC enforcement prior to January 2010 (largely on account of the SEC’s then neither admit nor deny settlement policy), but the new measures, I noted, would lead to even less judicial scrutiny.

Earlier this week, the SEC announced ”a [five year] deferred prosecution agreement with a former hedge fund administrator who helped the agency take action against a hedge fund manager who stole investor assets.”  According to the SEC, the DPA – outside the context of the FCPA – is the SEC’s “first with an individual” and the SEC’s release further states:

“Deferred prosecution agreements (DPAs) encourage individuals and companies to provide the SEC with forthcoming information about misconduct and assist with a subsequent investigation.  In return, the SEC refrains from prosecuting cooperators for their own violations if they comply with certain undertakings.”

Obviously the above statement is an opinion statement, not a factual statement.

As highlighted in this prior post, the FCPA Guidance indicated that the DOJ has in the past used non-public non-prosecution against individuals in the FCPA context.  Despite claims by the DOJ that its FCPA enforcement program is transparent, my attempts to learn more about these secret FCPA NPA’s with individuals was unsuccessful.

Blunt

DOJ FCPA enforcement attorneys have publicly stated that among the many ways they learn of conduct which could implicate the FCPA is by reading the newspaper.

If so, this recent article in the Miami Herald may generate some interest.  In the article concerning the satellite telephone business in Cuba, a “Miami Man” states that ”he installs each system in Cuba for $3,500 to $4,200 — cash paid in South Florida, with part of the mark up going to bribes on the island. The costs are usually paid by U.S. relatives of the recipients.”

Quotable

From a recent poll regarding corruption in Africa: “corruption is a national sport every day at the direction of customs officials” (see here).

An extensive interview with U.K. Serious Fraud Director David Green (“DG”) in Fraud Magazine (“FM”) in which he discusses:  corporate criminal liability, facilitation payments, Bribery Act Inc., voluntary disclosure and DPAs.  Relevant excerpts include:

FM: What current changes, if any, to the legal system and or legislation would make the SFO more efficient?

DG: To our effectiveness and our reach, I would very much like the test for corporate criminal liability to be looked at again. As you know, in this country, it is extremely difficult to convict a company of an offence because the prosecution has to show that the controlling minds of the company — somebody at the board level — were complicit in the criminality you are trying to prove.  I think that bar is too high, and is a very unrealistic test — not least because I think anyone will agree that if you’re looking into allegations of corporate misconduct spookily the e-mail trail tends to dry up at a fairly junior level.  Where it can be shown that the company had really profited from the criminality of its employees then I think there is a sound case for expanding the ambit of section 7 of the U.K. Bribery Act. Section 7 creates the corporate offence of ‘failing to prevent bribery or corruption by an agent or employee’ with a statutory defence that they took all reasonable precautions.  Now why can’t that be extended to cover fraud and offences of dishonesty so the offence would be failing to prevent fraud or offenses of dishonesty by members of your staff? It seems to me absolutely right that a corporation should have criminal liability for that when it has profited from it. Why should a company which has, in the way I’ve explained, been complicit in criminality just throw a few people over the side and sail bravely on? Why shouldn’t it have its ears clipped and marked as a company that has had dishonest employees and benefitted from it?  Another argument is: Well you’d just be punishing a company for negligence. I would say it would be a pretty high degree of negligence when a company acts in that way and benefits from the dishonesty of its employees.

FM: Doesn’t the Bribery Act prejudice British business in that is a bit too harsh in relation to facilitation payments and hospitality payments?

DG: First of all, I don’t buy this argument that complying with the law is going to hold business back. Secondly, facilitation payments have always been illegal. However, it is a question of the public interest as to whether or not they are prosecuted.  What would be a common facilitation payment? A 20-pound note and a bottle of whisky to some [maritime] pilot to take your ship from somewhere to somewhere else in a single payment; the SFO wouldn’t be interested in that. [Maritime pilots will guide ships into ports for hire.] But if it was a course of conduct over a number of years, then, of course, that becomes not just a very small insignificant little bribe but actually a regular payment over time to ensure that you get that business.

FM: What do you say about those medium to small companies who have ignored the preventative measures required by the Bribery Act?

DG: Well, it’s always difficult, isn’t it? On the one hand, I am very conscious that since the enactment of the act there has grown up a Bribery Act industry in London populated by a lot of American and British lawyers, accountants and so-called experts. I even came across a firm the other day that actually offers certificates to companies saying that they are compliant, and I suppose if the company were to land in court they would try to produce this certificate to say, “We can’t be prosecuted because we’ve got a certificate.”  The effect of this is that these so-called experts have scared the pants off of medium and small enterprises. It is really a question of getting some sensible, reasonably priced legal advice to discern their risk areas and put in place basic safeguards. But the idea that the Serious Fraud Office is going after a ticket to Wimbledon or a bottle of Champagne is, and always has been, utter nonsense.  If, on the other hand, we saw a situation in which the entire board and their spouses of a major corporation were put up in London for a week and then given tickets for the men’s finals at Wimbledon with a couple of banquets before, during and afterwards, then that would be very worrying. Throw in first-class airfare and that would become extremely worrying.  But the key to all this in relation to bribery investigations and whether or not we are interested in them has to do with value and importance but also timing, the motive and the effect of it — was it done at a time when some enormously important decision was going down with a view to influencing it? This is fairly common sense; we use a reasonable approach.

FM: Will companies that self-report escape criminal proceedings?

DG: My predecessor had guidance on self-reporting, in which though it did not say it in so many words, was a very clear implication that if you self-reported as a company you would not be prosecuted, and there would be a civil disposal of what you had done. I disagree with that absolutely and fundamentally as a matter of principle because no prosecutor can ever give guarantees in advance. We have no idea what set of facts are going to come in through the door next. So, we have returned to the old guidance, which has always been there; we will apply the Code for the Crown Prosecutors. In other words, in each situation we would see if there’s enough evidence to prosecute. If there is, we consider if it’s in the public interest to prosecute this company. Now if a company were to come in and say, “Look, we have discovered this misconduct. We have conducted a full investigation; here are the results. We are willing for you to investigate it as you wish. We’ve gotten rid of all the people involved in this, we will hand over any illegal profits obtained as a result of this crime.” In such circumstances, one does struggle to think how it would be in the public interest to prosecute such a company. But it is a question of principle here. If you start — and I feel very strongly about this — if you start blurring the boundaries between what people involved in the criminal justice system do then it’s a dangerous path to follow. Prosecutors shouldn’t be doing deals or making offers in advance and defenders shouldn’t be too familiar with prosecutors. We need to stay where we are and within our own divisions. That’s my view.

FM: Could the deferred prosecution arrangement (DPA) be seen as a type of deal?

DG: Well, I think if you looked at the American model of DPAs you might think it could be described as a deal. We’ve adapted it for use in this country to have judicial involvement and scrutiny from the very beginning. The reason for that is to preserve the principle we have in this country, which they don’t have in the States, that sentencing is a matter for the judge. It’s not a matter for some cozy deal between prosecutor and defence.  If we believe a case is appropriate for a DPA we would go before a judge and say, “Judge, these are the charges which we would be minded to bring against these people. However, we think for these reasons it’s an appropriate case for a DPA. Do you agree?”  Now if the judge says, “No, I don’t I think this is a suitable case for a DPA,” we’ll carry on prosecuting. So, it is a transparent process. Ultimately, if a DPA did go ahead there would be a statement of facts read in court. Nothing would be hushed up.  You can’t really go wrong if you’re transparent. Things go wrong in the criminal justice system if anything appears to be opaque. You lose public confidence and you lose the confidence of the people involved.

Professor Ellen Podgor states, in pertinent part, in this New York Times opinion piece:

“If we intend to punish people, shouldn’t we reasonably expect that they knew their actions were crimes?  [...]  The accumulation of laws and rules has made it harder to assure that individuals who are punished understood that they were breaking the law.  When the law is clear, and an individual deliberately transgresses the law, punishment serves an important purpose.  Attributing criminality to business-related activities is not always so easy. The line between criminal activities and acceptable business judgments can be fuzzy. The conduct may not have a long biblical history of being offensive, and there may be no posted signs. [...]  In the corporate or financial world, multiple individuals may have a finger in a business decision — and some may be unaware that one has breached the law.  Add to this ambiguity in both the law and the corporate world that business-related decisions are often made by individuals who find themselves placed in a forest of regulations and criminal statutes with varying interpretations that even legal scholars can’t agree upon.  Overcriminalization presents unique issues in the white collar and business arena.  There are thousands of criminal statutes scattered throughout the federal code, and there are thousands of regulations with accompanying criminal penalties. The prosecutor’s toolbox also includes overly broad statutes like RICO, mail fraud, wire fraud and offenses like making false statements.   The bottom line is that the government’s power to indict has few restrictions, and overcriminalization provides federal prosecutors with super powers that they can easily abuse.  Congress’s continuous and haphazard adding of criminal statutes and regulations is making it more difficult to assure that individuals who are punished truly understand that they are breaking the law.”

*****

A good weekend to all.

Secretary Of State Kerry Gets It Right

Monday, November 11th, 2013

Secretary of State John Kerry got it right recently when he linked trade barriers and other distortions to – among other things – corruption.

Speaking to American Chamber of Commerce participants in Poland, Secretary of State Kerry focused his remarks “about the possibilities of the TTIP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership” and stated:

“And a market of that size [envisioned by the TTIP] can have a profound impact on the choices that other countries must begin to make with respect to transparency, accountability, corruption, all of the things that are really the key to attracting investment with the kind of confidence that money seeks, as it has many choices around this planet as to where to go and where to invest. TTIP will improve the rules that govern trade and it will level the playing field.

And by strengthening the rules-based trading and promoting greater transparency and regulations and standards that become more compatible, we will break some of the resistance to trade that exists and encourage this very, very important standardization, which is, in the end, I think, in the interest of everybody. If you know what the rules of the road are and you know the rules of the road are top level, you are much more prone to invest and locate and do business than you are at a place where you know you can’t get a decision from the government because they don’t have those rules or getting that decision from the government may require all kinds of hoops you have to jump through. And for our companies that adhere to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, that can be a particular challenge against countries where they don’t.”

When looking for the root causes of bribery and corruption, there are several, but trade barriers and distortions are at the top of the list.

These barriers and distortions – whether complex customs procedures, import documentation and inspection requirements, local sponsor or other third-party requirements, arcane licensing and certification requirements, quality standards that require product testing and inspection visits, or other foreign government procurement practices – all serve as breeding grounds for harassment bribes to be requested.

Simply put, trade barriers and distortions create bureaucracy.

Bureaucracy creates points of contact with foreign officials.

Points of contact with foreign officials create discretion.

Discretion creates the opportunity for a foreign official to misuse their position by making demand bribes.

Several FCPA enforcement actions demonstrate this point (see my article “Revisiting a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Compliance Defense” pgs. 619-625).  In addition, as highlighted in this prior post, there is a positive correlation between regulatory burdens when doing business in a foreign country and corruption in that foreign country.

In short, removal of trade barrier and distortions can help reduce bribe demands.

The focus of the anti-corruption community should be less narrowly focused on pounding the pavement for more enforcement of FCPA-like laws (see prior posts here and here).  Among other things, enforcement of FCPA-like laws only addresses the supply of bribes, not the demand of bribes.

More energy should be spent on encouraging nations to eliminate trade barriers and distortions.

On this score, Secretary of State Kerry got it right.

Friday Roundup

Friday, June 14th, 2013

Another individual defendant added to the broker-dealer enforcement action, scrutiny alert, want to open a building in China open to the public?, and additional boondoggle specifics.  It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Additional Individual Defendant Added to the Broker-Dealer Enforcement Action

This previous post highlighted the SEC examination that led to DOJ and SEC charges (including FCPA charges) against Tomas Clarke (a Direct Access Partners (“DAP”) Executive Vice President who worked out of the company’s Miami office) and Alejandro Hurtado (a back-office employee of DAP in Miami).  The enforcement action is based on alleged improper payments to Maria Gonzalez (V.P. of Finance / Executive Manager of Finance and Funds Administration at Bandes, an alleged Venezuelan state-owned banking entity that acts as the financial agent of the state to finance economic development projects).

Earlier this week, the DOJ announced here that Ernesto Lujana (a managing partner at DAP and a branch manager of its Miami offices) was arrested and charged (see here for the criminal complaint) in connection with the same alleged bribery scheme.   As noted in the DOJ’s release “Lujan was charged with one count each of conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), violation of the FCPA, conspiracy to violate the Travel Act and violation of the Travel Act [as well as] conspiracy to commit money laundering and money laundering.

Like in the previous enforcement action, the SEC also brought an enforcement action (see here for the complaint) against Lujana.  In this SEC release, Andrew Calamari (Director of the SEC’s New York Regional Office) stated as follows.  “For a scheme this bold to succeed, it required the sneaky collaboration of several individuals including the head of the Miami office.  Lujan and the others may have believed they were covering their tracks, but the SEC’s exam and enforcement teams unraveled their fraud.”

Scrutiny Alert

The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday in this article that GlaxcoSmithKline “is investigating allegations from an anonymous tipster that it sales staff in China was involved in widespread bribery of doctors to prescribe drugs, in some cases for unauthorized uses, between 2004 and 2010.”

The article reported as follows.  “According to e-mails and other documents reviewed by the Wall Street Journal, the tipster has alleged that Glaxo’s China sales staff provided doctors with speaking fees, cash payments, lavish dinners and all-expenses-paid trips in return for prescribing the drug firm’s products.”  As reported in the WSJ article, a Glaxo spokesman confirmed that the company is investigating the allegations, but that after thoroughly investigating “each and every claim” from the anonymous source, the company “has found no evidence of corruption or bribery in or China business.”

The WSJ article further noted that “in 2010 Glaxo disclosed it had been contacted by the Justice Department and the SEC about its overseas operations as part of a wider FCPA investigation into pharmaceutical industry practices abroad.”

As noted in this prior year in review post,  in 2012 50% of corporate FCPA enforcement actions involved, in whole or in part, foreign health care providers (such as physicians, nurses, mid-wives, lab personnel, etc.).  See here for a prior post on the origins and prominence of this enforcement theory.

Want to Open a Building in China Open to the Public?

This recent article in the South China Morning Post reminded me of the many business barriers (including arcane and complex licensing, certification and inspection requirements) which often funnel companies seeking to do business in a foreign country into an arbitrary world of low-paying civil servants who frequently supplement their meager salaries through payments condoned in the host country.

The article states, in pertinent part, as follows.

“To obtain a fire-safety certificate from a local fire department, a business owner must pass five ‘checkpoints’ in a complicated and lengthy administrative process.  Each checkpoint is guarded by officials in charge of site inspections and reviewing construction blueprints, equipment and contingency plans. Bribes considerably expedite the process that officials might otherwise draw out for weeks, months or years. Bribes range from a few thousand yuan to hundreds of thousands, per official, depending on their rank and the size of the project. But money isn’t everything – some officials must be wined and dined or given luxury cigarettes. Others request the services of prostitutes. [...] Salaries of firefighters are quite low – about 3,400 yuan (HK$4,300) a month in Shanghai – and many come from poor or rural families, as the job hazards dissuade many people from joining. [...] However, competition for administrative posts within fire departments was fierce, and only those with strong connections or family influence would stand a chance of winning non-frontline jobs where the real money was made.”

Additional Boondoggle Specifics

This recent Friday roundup detailed boondoggle specifics concerning Wal-Mart’s FCPA scrutiny and related investigation.  As noted here, Jeff Gearheart, the executive officer overseeing global compliance for Wal-Mart Stores Inc., told analysts last week that “300 legal and accounting professionals have logged more than 100,000 hours toward FCPA issues.”

*****

A good weekend to all.

Ralph Lauren Enforcement Action Commentary – Hits And Misses

Monday, April 29th, 2013

Much of what is written about Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement these days seems to be mere carrying forward of DOJ and SEC statements, as if those comments represent a universal truth.

Last year at this time, Morgan Stanley’s so-called “declination” dominated the conversation.  Why was it a “declination”?  It seemed simply because the DOJ said it was, even though a bit of independent analysis would quickly reveal that there was likely no criminal case to be made against Morgan Stanley based on the DOJ’s own allegations and comments from the judge who sentenced Garth Peterson.  (See here for the prior post “Stop Drinking the Kool-Aid”).

Last week, the DOJ and SEC announced double non-prosecution agreements against Ralph Lauren Corporation (“RLC”).  (See here for the prior post).  Because it was the SEC’s first use of an NPA in the FCPA context, the SEC portion of the enforcement action received the most attention.

Why did the SEC use an NPA to resolve RLC’s alleged scrutiny?  The SEC said that it was because RLC voluntarily disclosed, provided extensive and thorough cooperation, and implemented various remedial measures.

Sensing an avalanche of FCPA Inc. information carrying forward the SEC’s comments, I noted in this post last Tuesday as follows.

“Of course, these are not distinguishing factors.  Many SEC FCPA enforcement actions are the result of corporate voluntary disclosures where companies are likewise commended on the information and cooperation provided.  In the Tenaris DPA action, the SEC (see here) said substantively the same thing.  In the recent Philips SEC enforcement action, the SEC (see here) said substantively the same thing.”

The RLC enforcement action was released during the early days of a new era of SEC leadership and one law firm alert on the action stated that ”the SEC’s enforcement division is clearly using the NPA with RLC as an opportunity to do some cheerleading for the Enforcement Cooperation Initiative” (see here for more of that initiative launched in January 2010).

Many FCPA Inc. industry participants picked up the pom-poms are started cheering alongside the SEC.

One headline read –  ”Self-Reporting FCPA Violations Pays Off: Just Ask Ralph Lauren.”

Another headline read – “Another Example Of The Benefits Of FCPA Self-Reporting.”

A law firm alert stated as follows.  “The NPA in this case resulted from Lauren’s prompt self-reporting and extensive cooperation. Prior to the Lauren NPA, the SEC seemed to provide limited credit to public companies for cooperation in FCPA investigations.”

Another law firm alert stated as follows.   ”With the announcement of the Ralph Lauren resolution … the SEC and DOJ have taken pains to highlight that beyond self-disclosure, the expedient and thorough reporting of a potential violation, real-time cooperation, and implementation of effective remedial measures may yield more positive results for companies subject to the FCPA.”

As is often the case, the FCPA Inc. material then closed with marketing pitches concerning FCPA compliance services.

Many others highlighted that the SEC mentioned that “Ralph Lauren Corporation has ceased operations in Argentina” and “is in the process of formally winding down all operations there” to make the causal inference that RLC did this because of the FCPA enforcement action and/or risk associated with the FCPA.  However, as noted in my post last Tuesday, a few minutes of internet research will quickly reveal that RLC made the decision in August 2012 to suspend and wind-down its Argentine operations based on import controls put on foreign companies and associated foreign currency controls intended to control one of highest rates of inflation in the world.  In doing so, RLC joined several other luxury brands Ermenegildo Zegna, Escada, Calvin Klein Underwear, Cartier, Yves Saint Laurent, Hermes, and Louis Vuitton – to have abandoned or are considering leaving Argentina.

Against the backdrop of misses, it was refreshing to read a hit - Covington & Burling’s release titled “The Ralph Lauren Case:  Inadequate Rewards for Exemplary Corporate Cooperation.”  The alert states, in pertinent part, as follows.

“Although the government will no doubt cite these NPAs as an exemplar of the benefits of self-reporting and cooperation, we think they reaffirm the importance of careful consideration before a company decides to self-report potential unlawful conduct.

Based on the facts recited in the SEC NPA, Ralph Lauren appears to have held itself to an extremely high standard of compliance. On its own initiative, the company adopted a new Foreign Corrupt Practices Act policy and distributed it to employees, which led some Argentine employees to raise concerns about the company’s customs broker. The company immediately conducted an internal investigation, which ultimately uncovered improper payments and gifts to government officials. Within two weeks of this discovery, Ralph Lauren self-reported its findings to both the SEC and the DOJ. The NPA also highlights that Ralph Lauren adopted numerous remedial measures, including firing its customs broker and implementing further enhancements to its compliance program, cooperated extensively with the SEC, and undertook a world-wide review of its operations that uncovered no other violations.

It is difficult to imagine a set of facts more deserving of a non-public declination based on the criteria outlined by the SEC and the DOJ late last year in their FCPA Resource Guide: detection of the wrongdoing by the corporation itself; a thorough internal investigation of the misconduct; implementation of remedial measures, including termination of employees engaged in wrongdoing and improvements in internal controls and compliance programs; and voluntary disclosure to the DOJ and/or the SEC.

[…]

The Ralph Lauren NPAs are far less advantageous to the company than a declination, which would have involved no public allegations of wrongdoing and no fines. By contrast, in addition to paying approximately $1.6 million in penalties and disgorgement, under the DOJ NPA, the company had to publicly admit and accept responsibility for the illegal conduct, which potentially exposes it to shareholder lawsuits and reputational damage. The company also was required to agree to toll the statute of limitations, implement further extensive changes to its compliance program, and submit annual reports to the DOJ detailing its remediation efforts. If Ralph Lauren is found to have breached any of the terms of the agreements — determined solely by the SEC or the DOJ — it may still face the original charges by both agencies, plus potentially new charges based on any information collected during the course of the NPAs.

The benefits to the government from entering into these NPAs are clear. NPAs — unlike deferred prosecution agreements and SEC injunctive actions — are not filed with any court, thus escaping the kind of judicial scrutiny that has recently been given to some SEC settlements. Moreover, the SEC and DOJ are able to emphasize, once again, the importance of voluntary disclosure and cooperation, while still requiring significant ongoing obligations on the part of the company.

The benefits to Ralph Lauren, on the other hand, are less clear. It is likely that the government applied a discount when deciding what sanctions to impose based on the company’s self-reporting and cooperation. However, it is not at all clear that any such discount was sufficient to cover the incremental investigative and other costs incurred by the company as a result of the self-report, and the additional burdens the company has agreed to shoulder by entering into the NPAs. For other companies contemplating whether to self-report potential FCPA violations, the case reinforces the importance of closely evaluating the risks and rewards of potential outcomes, especially given the government’s apparent reluctance to grant a declination even when presented with a textbook case of extraordinary cooperation.”

Covington & Burling of course is the law firm former Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer recently joined as Vice-Chair (see here for the prior post).  Breuer was not listed as an author of the alert, but several former DOJ and SEC enforcement attorneys, including Steve Fagell (a former member of Breuer’s DOJ senior leadership team) are listed as authors.

The RLC enforcement action involved, per the DOJ / SEC allegations, payments by one person in one of RLC’s approximate 95 subsidiaries.  The payments at issue, involving customs issues, likey did not even violate the FCPA as Congress intended[For more on what Congress intended - including, as to alleged payments to ministerial officials, see my article "The Story of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.').  Indeed, when the government has been put to its ultimate burden of proof in cases occurring outside the context of procurement, the government has an overall losing record.  (See this prior post).  In the only case that the government has won in this context, - the Fifth Circuit decision in U.S. v. Kay- the decision was equivocal and the Court recognized that “there are bound to be circumstances” in which a custom or tax reduction merely increases the profitability of an existing profitable company and thus, presumably, does not assist the payer in obtaining or retaining business."  Indeed, the Court specifically rejected the DOJ's contrary argument and stated as follows.  “[I]f 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 or retaining business would be unnecessary, and thus surplusage – a conclusion that we are forbidden to reach.”]

Against this backdrop and as a further sign of just how backwards the FCPA conversation of late has become, the Society of Corporate Compliance & Ethics (SCCE) released this statement praising the DOJ and SEC for its handling of the RLC action.

SCCE representatives stated as follows.

“As with the recent Morgan Stanley case, the government has made it clear that companies who take compliance seriously and are committed to finding, fixing, and solving legal and regulatory problems are in a far better position than those who do not invest in real, robust, and effective compliance programs. I can think of no better proof of the value of strong compliance and ethics programs than the DOJ’s and SEC’s recent actions.”

“When the government visibly acknowledges and credits internal compliance efforts, Boards and management take note of their tangible value and are reminded of the need to support empowered, independent compliance officers and functions.”

When the DOJ (and now the SEC) use resolution vehicles that are not subject to one ounce of judicial scrutiny, this is not something to praise, it is something to lament.

When the DOJ and SEC take action against an entity (one of the world’s most admired companies according to this recent Fortune list) that had an isolated instance of conduct that likely did not even violate the FCPA as Congress intended, this is not something to praise, it is something to lament.

When the DOJ and SEC extract approximately $1.6 million from an entity that acted like a responsible corporate citizen upon learning of an issue, and then imposes annual government reporting obligations on that company, and otherwise “muzzles” the company, this is not something to praise, it is something to lament.

Friday Roundup

Friday, April 26th, 2013

Simply inexcusable, tell us who, an interesting case study, and for the reading stack.  It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Simply Inexcusable

The government holds those subject to the FCPA to high standards.  If the proverbial “right hand” in a company doesn’t know what the “left hand” is doing, the government is likely to call that an internal control failure.

Ought not the government be held to the same standard?

What follows is simply inexcusable.

In February 2012, Judge Lynn Hughes (S.D.Tex.) signed this final dismissal of the FCPA enforcement action against John O’Shea.  The motion followed Judge Hughes granting O’Shea’s motion for acquittal after the DOJ’s case in chief in the FCPA trial.  (See here for the prior post).  During the case, Judge Hughes stated, among other things, as follows.  “The problem here is that the principal witness against Mr. O’Shea . . . knows almost nothing. . . .;  The government should have been prepared before they brought the charges to the Grand Jury. . . . You shouldn’t indict people on stuff you can’t prove.’’

Following the acquittal and dismissal, O’Shea has attempted to resume a normal life without the specter of criminal charges and possible jail time occupying his mind.  It is understandable that O’Shea wants his reputation and “old” life back.  But removing the taint of being labeled a criminal law violator by the government has not come easy for O’Shea.

Case in point is the following story.

O’Shea was recently hired by a company and traveled to Canada for a business trip.  The trip was uneventful until O’Shea tried to enter Canada.  It turns out the relevant government databases were not updated to reflect the disposition of his case – something that happened 14 months ago!

O’Shea indicated that he spent the entire afternoon with officials of the Canadian government to persuade them that he should not be put on the next plane back to the U.S. with U.S. marshals.  O’Shea reports that the Canadian official was open-minded enough to visit internet sites suggested by O’Shea (including FCPA Professor) as proof that he was no longer a criminal defendant in the U.S.

After his business trip to Canada, O’Shea also had problems re-entering the U.S. from Canada and could not help but wonder whether someone would be waiting for him upon arrival in Houston.  O’Shea reports that thankfully his fears were not realized, but he can not help but wonder what would have happened if his business trip was to some country other than Canada.

In short, the government’s internal control failure was simply inexcusable.

Tell Us Who

In the aftermath of this week’s Ralph Lauren enforcement action (see here for the prior post) alleging payments to Argentine customs officials, the Argentine government wants to know who the customs officials are.

As noted in a Law360 article, “in a letter to U.S. Ambassador to Argentina Vilma Martinez, the head of Argentina’s tax agency, Ricardo Echegaray, said that it was necessary for the Argentine government to have names and more detailed information about the alleged bribery to aid in a newly launched criminal investigation into the matter.”  The article further stated as follows.  “While seeking the names of Argentine officials implicated in the scheme, Echegaray also put the blame on Ralph Lauren’s customs brokers, who are not government officials, but rather private professionals hired to deal with trade matters. Echegaray likened these brokers’ roles to those of a tax adviser or accountant which companies hire for assistance.”

The question asked by the Argentine official is obviously a legitimate question.

But query whether the DOJ and/or SEC even know who the officials are.

As noted in this previous post concerning the SEC’s briefing in the Jackson and Ruehlen case involving alleged payments to Nigerian customs officials, the SEC argued that the name, titles and exact positions of foreign officials allegedly bribed need not be known in order to state a claim under the FCPAs anti-bribery provisions.

As highlighted in this previous post, in ruling on Jackson and Ruehlen’s motion to dismiss, Judge Keith Ellison (S.D.Tex.) noted in a footnote as follows.

“[T]he Court must disagree with Judge Hughes’s oral statements in a recent criminal FCPA prosecution. [U.S. v. O'Shea] (“You can’t convict a man promising to pay unless you have a particular promise to a particular person for a particular benefit. If you call up the Basurtos and say, look, I’m going to send you 50 grand, bribe somebody, that does not meet the statute.”). This Court holds that asking a third-party to bribe a government official, in order to induce that official to act in one of the proscribed ways detailed in [the FCPA], would meet the statute. The government does not have to “connect the payment to a particular official.”
Case Study

This post earlier this week regarding Wal-Mart noted that savvy investors should have recognized the NY Times induced “FCPA dip” of the company’s stock as a buying opportunity because the market often overreacts to FCPA issues.

In this post earlier this week regarding Ralph Lauren Corp.’s (RLC) FCPA enforcement action, it was noted that the RLC enforcement action was a rare instance of an issuer not previously disclosing its FCPA scrutiny.  Thus, the first instance of public scrutiny appears to have been announcement of the enforcement action on Monday morning.  RLC’s stock dipped approximately 2% on the news and closed at $165.93.  The “FCPA dip” lasted only a day, as Tuesday the stock rebounded and then some and closed yesterday at $175.38.

Reading Stack

Miller & Chevalier’s seasonal FCPA alerts are always information reads.  The firm recently released its FCPA Spring Review 2013.

Is sex as a “thing of value”?   See here from Wendy Wysong (Clifford Chance) – with a particular focus on Asia.

Should you be looking for further citations that more FCPA enforcement is good for FCPA Inc., see this recent article in Lawyers Weekly, an Australian publication.  The article begins as follows.   “A crackdown on foreign bribery has created “a mountain of work” for lawyers, a Jones Day partner has said ahead of a major international anti-corruption conference.”

*****

A good weekend to all.