Archive for the ‘SEC’ Category

Second Circuit Concludes That SEC Settlements Are Not About The Truth, But Pragmatism

Thursday, June 5th, 2014

Although outside the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act context, these pages have covered from day one (see here and here) Judge Rakoff’s concerns about SEC settlement policy as expressed in SEC v. Citigroup.  As noted in this December 2011 post, Judge Rakoff refused to sign off on the settlement and in pertinent part stated:

“Purely private parties can settle a case without ever agreeing on the facts, for all that is required is that a plaintiff dismiss his complaint.  But when a public agency asks a court to become its partner in enforcement by imposing wide-ranging injunctive remedies on a defendant, enforced by the formidable judicial power of contempt, the court, and the public, need some knowledge of what the underlying facts are: for otherwise, the court becomes a mere handmaiden to a settlement privately negotiated on the basis of unknown facts, while the public is deprived of ever knowing the truth in a matter of obvious public importance.”

Judge Rakoff called the SEC’s long-standing resolution policy ”hallowed by history, but not by reason” and stated that the policy “deprives the Court of even the most minimal assurance that the substantial injunctive relief it is being asked to impose has any basis in fact.”  Judge Rakoff’s stated that the “SEC, of all agencies, has a duty, inherent in its statutory mission, to see that the truth emerges; and if it fails to do so, this Court must not, in the name of deference or convenience, grant judicial enforcement to the agency’s contrivances.”

Yesterday, the Second Circuit concluded (see here for the decision) that the SEC does not need to establish “the truth” of the allegations against a settling party as a condition for approving consent decrees because, in the words of the Court, “trials are primarily about truth” whereas “consent decrees are primarily about pragmatism.”  The Second Circuit’s rebuke of Judge Rakoff was hardly a surprise given the same court’s March 2012 procedural decision in the same case (see here for the prior post) in which it stated – as to SEC settlement policy – that “it is not … the proper function of federal courts to dictate policy to executive administrative agencies.”

In pertinent part, the Second Circuit concluded that “there is no basis in the law for the district court to require an admission of liability as a condition for approving a settlement between the parties. The decision to require an admission of liability before entering into a consent decree rests squarely with the S.E.C.”

Under the heading “scope of deference” the opinion states in pertinent part as follows (internal citations omitted).

“We turn, then, to the far thornier question of what deference the district court owes an agency seeking a consent decree. Our Court recognizes a “strong federal policy favoring the approval and enforcement of consent decrees.” “To be sure, when the district judge is presented with a proposed consent judgment, he is not merely a ‘rubber stamp.’”

The district court here found it was “required, even after giving substantial deference to the views of the administrative agency, to be satisfied that it is not being used as a tool to enforce an agreement that is unfair, unreasonable, inadequate, or in contravention of the public interest.” Other district courts in our Circuit view “[t]he role of the Court in reviewing and approving proposed consent judgments in S.E.C. enforcement actions [as] ’restricted to assessing whether the settlement is fair, reasonable and adequate within the limitations Congress has imposed on the S.E.C.to recover investor losses.’”

The “fair, reasonable, adequate and in the public interest” standard invoked by the district court finds its origins in a variety of cases. Our Court previously held, in the context of assessing a plan for distributing the proceeds of a proposed disgorgement order, that “once the district court satisfies itself that the distribution of proceeds in a proposed S.E.C. disgorgement plan is fair and reasonable, its review is at an end.” The Ninth Circuit— in circumstances similar to those presented here, a proposed consent decree aimed at settling an S.E.C. enforcement action—noted that “[u]nless a consent decree is unfair, inadequate, or unreasonable, it ought to be approved.”

Today we clarify that the proper standard for reviewing a proposed consent judgment involving an enforcement agency requires that the district court determine whether the proposed consent decree is fair and reasonable, with  the additional requirement that the “public interest would not be disserved,” in the event that the consent decree includes injunctive relief. Absent a substantial basis in the record for concluding that the proposed consent decree does not meet these requirements, the district court is required to enter the order.

We omit “adequacy” from the standard. Scrutinizing a proposed consent decree for “adequacy” appears borrowed from the review applied to class action settlements, and strikes us as particularly inapt in the context of a proposed S.E.C. consent decree.

The adequacy requirement makes perfect sense in the context of a class action settlement—a class action settlement typically precludes future claims, and a court is rightly concerned that the settlement achieved be adequate. By the same token, a consent decree does not pose the same concerns regarding adequacy—if there are potential plaintiffs with a private right of action, those plaintiffs are free to bring their own actions. If there is no private right of action, then the S.E.C. is the entity charged with representing the victims, and is politically liable if it fails to adequately perform its duties.

A court evaluating a proposed S.E.C. consent decree for fairness and reasonableness should, at a minimum, assess (1) the basic legality of the decree, (2) whether the terms of the decree, including its enforcement mechanism, are clear; (3) whether the consent decree reflects a resolution of the actual claims in the complaint; and (4) whether the consent decree is tainted by improper collusion or corruption of some kind.  Consent decrees vary, and depending on the decree a district court may need to make additional inquiry to ensure that the consent decree is fair and reasonable. The primary focus of the inquiry, however, should be on ensuring the consent decree is procedurally proper, using objective measures similar to the factors set out above, taking care not to infringe on the S.E.C.’s discretionary authority to settle on a particular set of terms.

It is an abuse of discretion to require, as the district court did here, that the S.E.C. establish the “truth” of the allegations against a settling party as a condition for approving the consent decrees. Trials are primarily about the truth. Consent decrees are primarily about pragmatism. “[C]onsent decrees are normally compromises in which the parties give up something they might have won in litigation and waive their rights to litigation.”

Thus, a consent decree “must be construed as . . . written, and not as it might have been written had the plaintiff established his factual claims and legal theories in litigation.” Consent decrees provide parties with a means to manage risk. “The numerous factors that affect a litigant’s decision whether to compromise a case or litigate it to the end include the value of the particular proposed compromise, the perceived likelihood of obtaining a still better settlement, the prospects of coming out better, or worse, after a full trial, and the resources that would need to be expended in the attempt.“  These assessments are uniquely for the litigants to make. It is not within the district court’s purview to demand “cold, hard, solid facts, established either by admissions or by trials,” as to the truth of the allegations in the complaint as a condition for approving a consent decree.

As part of its review, the district court will necessarily establish that a factual basis exists for the proposed decree. In many cases, setting out the colorable claims, supported by factual averments by the S.E.C., neither admitted nor denied by the wrongdoer, will suffice to allow the district court to conduct its  review. Other cases may require more of a showing, for example, if the district court’s initial review of the record raises a suspicion that the consent decree was entered into as a result of improper collusion between the S.E.C. and the settling party. We need not, and do not, delineate the precise contours of the factual basis required to obtain approval for each consent decree that may pass before the court. It is enough to state that the district court here, with the benefit of copious submissions by the parties, likely had a sufficient record before it on which to determine if the proposed decree was fair and reasonable.

[…]

The job of determining whether the proposed S.E.C. consent decree best serves the public interest, however, rests squarely with the S.E.C., and its decision merits significant deference.  [F]ederal judges—who have no constituency—have a duty to respect legitimate policy choices made by those who do. The responsibilities for assessing the wisdom of such policy choices and resolving the struggle between competing views of the public interest are not judicial ones: “Our Constitution vests such responsibilities in the public branches.”

[…]

To the extent the district court withheld approval of the consent decree on the ground that it believed the S.E.C. failed to bring the proper charges against Citigroup, that constituted an abuse of discretion.  […] The exclusive right to choose which charges to levy against a defendant rests with the S.E.C.

[…]

Finally, we note that to the extent that the S.E.C. does not wish to engage with the courts, it is free to eschew the involvement of the courts and employ its own arsenal of remedies instead. The S.E.C. can also order the disgorgement of profits.  Admittedly, these remedies may not  be on par with the relief afforded by a so‐ordered consent decree and federal  court injunctions. But if the S.E.C. prefers to call upon the power of the courts in ordering a consent decree and issuing an injunction, then the S.E.C. must be willing to assure the court that the settlement proposed is fair and reasonable. “Consent decrees are a hybrid in the sense that they are at once both contracts and orders; they are construed largely as contracts, but are enforced as orders.”  For the courts to simply accept a proposed S.E.C. consent decree without any review would be a dereliction of the court’s duty to ensure the orders it enters are proper.”

*****

Judge Rakoff may have lost this case, but I agree with this New York Times article “that he had already secured a victory of sorts, having set in motion a series of events that swayed public opinion and influenced the S.E.C.’s broader enforcement agenda.”  For instance, the SEC’s revision to its long-standing neither admit nor deny settlement policy (see here) is largely attributable to Judge Rakoff.

For additional analysis of the Second Circuit’s decision, see here from Professor Peter Henning writing at the NY Times Dealbook, here from Professor Eric Gerding writing at the Conglomerate.

*****

In Gabelli v. SEC (see here for the prior post) a unanimous Supreme Court recognized that the SEC is a different type of plaintiff. Thus, the most troubling aspect of the Second Circuit’s opinion is the statement that if the “S.E.C. does not wish to engage with the courts, it is free to eschew the involvement of the courts and employ its own arsenal of remedies instead.”

As highlighted in my article “A Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Narrative,” in the FCPA context this is largely the path the SEC has chosen.  As noted,  in 2013 50% of SEC corporate FCPA enforcement actions were not subjected to one ounce of judicial scrutiny either because the actions were resolved via a non-prosecution agreement or administrative cease and desist orders.

SEC Chair White’s Recent Speech Touches Upon Several FCPA Related Issues

Thursday, May 22nd, 2014

SEC Chair Mary Jo White recently delivered this speech titled “Three Key Pressure Points in the Current Enforcement Environment.”  White addressed the following “pressure points” through her “lens as the Chair of the SEC”

(1) the pressure of multiple regulators in the same or overlapping investigations;

(2) the decision to charge individuals, entities, or both; and

(3) the range of remedies and ultimate resolutions.

The SEC’s FCPA enforcement program touches upon all of these issues and this post highlights certain ironies in White’s speech.

 As to the first “pressure point” –  ”which regulators are involved,” White stated in pertinent part:

“The first variable is which regulators are, or are likely to be, involved.  The answer, of course, will depend on the nature of the alleged conduct as well as the jurisdiction and interest of regulators and prosecutors.  And the number and type of regulators involved will define the range of possible outcomes, and dictate the kind of advice you will give clients.

When I first went back into private practice in 2002, investigations were often conducted by one, maybe two, regulators.  Frequently, investigations were conducted in parallel by the SEC and criminal authorities, as they are today.  But usually, that was it.  Now, it is common to have investigations with more – sometimes many more – than two regulators, whether they are additional federal regulators, state prosecutors, attorneys general, or foreign regulators.  There are many reasons for this, including: the internationalization of enforcement; the global nature of many of today’s securities frauds; the increased regulatory activity on the state level; and the increased complexity of our markets.

So, with numerous regulators with overlapping mandates to investigate any given potential case, how do we stay in our lanes?  Or is it inevitable that we overcrowd every domestic and international highway on today’s enforcement landscape?

Of course, each agency makes its own decision about which investigations to pursue, thus leading to a crowded highway in many investigations.  Enforcers may perceive that outcome as both necessary and desirable if their mandates are to be strongly implemented and their messages heard.  From my perch at the SEC, I surely have that inclination, wanting us to be involved in any matter that touches our jurisdiction, so that we can shape the outcome in a way that is consistent with our view of the law and appropriate conduct.

But, at the same time, we regulators need to keep in mind the impact we have on those we regulate and ensure that our own respective interests do not lead to unjust, duplicative outcomes.  Especially in an era of scarce resources, regulatory choices and coordination are critical.  Each agency should make a frank assessment of whether it brings the right expertise, jurisdictional authority, and appropriate remedies to the table.

There are actually some coordination successes we can point to and build upon.  For example, in the FCPA area, the SEC and DOJ, and frequently other international regulators, have a long history of coordinating effectively, to the point that the SEC and DOJ jointly developed the “Resource Guide” that closely examines the SEC and DOJ approach to FCPA enforcement.  In the typical case, the SEC and DOJ will investigate in parallel from the outset, and if the matter settles, the SEC usually obtains the disgorgement as part of its resolution and DOJ obtains the penalty.  This division of labor and remedies achieves full accountability without regulatory “double dipping.”

[...]

Collectively, we should also try to avoid unnecessary competition among ourselves for cases and headlines.  While I realize we may not always achieve this goal in practice, enforcement is serious business and we have a professional responsibility to use our agency resources wisely and in a manner that best applies our specific expertise and enforcement tools.  And there is never room for anything other than a thorough investigation of all the evidence – wherever and to whomever it may lead.  Rushes to judgment or to the courthouse can potentially result in both injustices and charges that may not capture all of the culpable parties or misconduct.

Of course, there is often good reason for conducting criminal and regulatory investigations in parallel.  In appropriate cases, we need to rely on our criminal law enforcement colleagues, who have the power to jail, to work with us.  But what does and should determine whether a securities fraud case is brought civilly, criminally, or both?

It may help to think about the cases in three categories.  The first are those that do not involve intentional wrongdoing, but rather failures of controls or reporting obligations.  These cases fall squarely within the SEC’s wheelhouse and will rarely, if ever, be brought criminally.  Examples include failure to supervise cases; violations of broker-dealer rules like the market access rule, Rule15c3-5; cases involving unprofessional, but not fraudulent, audits; failures of investment advisers to follow compliance rules; or violations by exchanges of their own rules.  These are important cases that influence conduct in the industry and ensure a significant focus on compliance and controls.  But they are not criminal cases because the misconduct rarely involves intent.

The second category of cases are those that clearly have a criminal component – those involving egregious, fraud-based conduct with a strong evidentiary trail.  These cases are often the most sophisticated frauds causing significant investor harm, brazen attempts to steal money through offering frauds or Ponzi schemes, or blatant frauds on the markets through insider trading.  There is no ambiguity in these cases – egregious conduct deserves the severe sanction of imprisonment, and often in these cases, the criminal authorities are participants in the investigation from the beginning.

The third category – the most difficult to define – are those on the line, where a criminal case is possible but not necessarily apparent on the face of the conduct.Often, such cases rely on prosecutors ready to bring cases where the evidence is not overwhelming but is sufficient to find the offense beyond a reasonable doubt.  It is often in these cases that the criminal authorities monitor the SEC investigations to determine whether sufficient evidence has developed to justify criminal interest.  And it is in these cases that we at the SEC must maintain open channels of communication with the criminal authorities to determine whether they have sufficient interest in the matter to participate in interviews of witnesses and other evidence gathering exercises.

The bottom line is that the decision of whether a case will go criminal will typically turn on the strength of the evidence and the type of offense under investigation – which are the appropriate factors to consider in making such a determination.”

White’s concerns regarding “overcrowding,” “duplicative outcomes” and “double dipping” of course were spot-on.  Indeed “double dipping” is what occurs in most FCPA enforcement actions involving issuers – see here for the prior post.

The irony of course is that she mentioned the DOJ/SEC’s overlapping FCPA jurisdiction as a success when, in the minds of many, overlapping FCPA jurisdiction is Exhibit A for “overcrowding,” “duplicative outcomes” and “double dipping.”  For starters, as highlighted in “The Story of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act,” the SEC never wanted any part in enforcing the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions.

Among the FCPA reform proposals advanced by Philip Urofosky (former DOJ Assistant Chief of the Fraud Section) in this article is to “eliminate overlapping enforcement jurisdiction” – in other words Urofosky writes, “the SEC should get out of the anti-bribery business.”

He writes as follows.

“The SEC’s enforcement of the anti-bribery provisions raises a fundamental matter of fairness.  Take two companies, one public and one private, and assume that both violate the FCPA and realize the same illicit gain from the violation.  The private company will be subject only to DOJ’s jurisdiction and will therefore be exposed to a criminal fine of up to twice its gain.  The public company, on the other hand, will be subject both to that criminal fine and to a civil fine and disgorgement of the illicit proceeds, thus potentially paying a third more in fines than the private company for the same conduct.”

For additional support for this reform proposal, see Professor Barbara Black’s article (here) “The SEC and the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act:  Fighting Global Corruption Is Not Part of the SEC’s Mission.”

As to the second “pressure point” –  ”what defendants are being charged,” White stated in pertinent part:

“Irrespective of which and how many investigators you face, the second decision point in nearly every securities enforcement investigation is who will be charged as a defendant – a decision that again is, and should be, dictated by the nature of the misconduct and strength of the evidence.

[...]

First, I want to dispel any notion that the SEC does not charge individuals often enough or that we will settle with entities in lieu of charging individuals.

The simple fact is that the SEC charges individuals in most of our cases, which is as it should be.  A recent Harvard survey shows that since 2000, the SEC has charged individuals in 93% of our actions involving nationally listed firms in which we charged fraud or violations of books and records and internal control rules.  An internal, back-of-the envelope, analysis the staff did recently indicates that since the beginning of the 2011 fiscal year, we charged individuals in 83% of our actions. Under either calculation, those percentages are very high – which means that the cases where individuals are not charged are by far the exception, not the rule.

I expect that this is probably not news to most of you who have had individual clients charged by the SEC.  It should also not be a surprise that we focus our investigations initially on the individuals closest to the wrongdoing and work outward and upward from there to determine who else should be charged, including whether to charge the corporation.  A company, after all, can only act through its employees and if an enforcement program is to have a strong deterrent effect, it is critical that responsible individuals be charged, as high up as the evidence takes us.  And we look for ways to innovate in order to further strengthen our ability to charge individuals.

One new approach to charging individuals is to use Section 20(b) of the Exchange Act.  Although this section dates back to the original Exchange Act of 1934, chances are you may not be very familiar with it because, frankly, it has not been a common charge.  Before you start reaching for your smart phones to look it up, let me save you the trouble.  Section 20(b) imposes primary liability on a person who, directly or indirectly, does anything “by means of any other person” that would be unlawful for that person to do on his or her own. This is analogous in the criminal context to 18 U.S.C. Section 2(b), which provides for criminal liability as a principal for anyone who “willfully causes an act to be done which if directly performed by him or another would be” a criminal violation.

We are focusing on Section 20(b) charges where – as is frequently the case in microcap and other frauds – individuals have engaged in unlawful activity but attempted to insulate themselves from liability by avoiding direct communication with the defrauded investors.  It is potentially a very powerful tool that can reach those who have participated in disseminating false or misleading information to investors through offering materials, stock promotional materials, or earnings call transcripts, but who might not be liable under Rule 10b-5(b) following the Supreme Court’s decision in Janus because they may not be the “maker” of the statement.

Just as importantly, though, as with 18 U.S.C. Section 2(b), Exchange Act Section 20(b) is a form of primary liability, rather than secondary liability, which would require proof of a separate violation by someone other than the defendant.  So, we can use Section 20(b) where aiding and abetting or controlling person theories may fall short because there is no underlying violation by someone else, such as, for example, when the other person who publicly makes the misleading statements lacks knowledge that they were misleading.

In this portion of her speech, White stated:  ”the simple fact is that the SEC charges individuals in most of our cases, which is as it should be.”

Fact-check.

As highlighted in this prior post, between 2008 – 2013, 82% of corporate SEC FCPA enforcement actions have not (at least yet) resulted in any SEC charges against company employees.  Thus far in 2014 there have been two corporate SEC FCPA enforcement actions and none have involved (at least yet) charges against company employees.  The last time the SEC has brought an FCPA enforcement action against individuals in connection with a corporate enforcement action was in February 2012 (see here).

As to the third “pressure point,” – “determining the appropriate resolution,” White stated in pertinent part:

“[L]let me share a bit about our current thinking on some of the non-monetary remedies and resolutions we are currently emphasizing at the SEC – the use of bars, monitors, and admissions.

One the SEC’s most powerful non-monetary remedies to protect the public from future harm is our authority to bar wrongdoers who work in the industry or appear before the SEC.  And I have encouraged our Enforcement Division to increase the use of these bars in appropriate cases and to ensure that we obtain bars for periods of time that respond to the seriousness of the misconduct.

We have also been more focused on seeking and obtaining undertakings requiring the use of monitors or independent compliance consultants, and doing so in a way that directly addresses the root causes of the misconduct.  Ensuring that defendants address their deficiencies and implement corrective actions is critical to making sure that our actions protect investors from future harm.

Another popular tool we have implemented since I became Chair is to require admissions of wrongdoing in certain cases.  As I have described before, we seek admissions in cases where there is a heightened need for public accountability or for the investing public to know the unambiguous facts.  And, we have now required admissions in a number of significant cases. Expect to see more as we go forward and the new protocol evolves.”

As highlighted over the past several years in SEC FCPA enforcement year in review posts, it is a mystery to many how and why certain FCPA enforcement actions include a civil penalty, disgorgement and prejudgment interest, whereas other enforcement actions include only disgorgement and prejudgment interest, whereas other enforcement actions include only disgorgement, whereas other enforcement actions include only a civil penalty.

****

In this recent speech, Andrew Ceresney (SEC Division of Enforcement Director) stated:

“I have found that you can predict a lot about the likelihood of an enforcement action by asking a few simple questions about the role of the company’s legal and compliance departments in the firm.  Are legal and compliance personnel included in critical meetings?  Are their views typically sought and followed?  Do legal and compliance officers report to the CEO and have significant visibility with the board?  Are the legal and compliance departments viewed as an important partner in the business and not simply as support functions or a cost center?  Far too often, the answer to these questions is no, and the absence of real legal and compliance involvement in company deliberations can lead to compliance lapses, which, in turn, result in enforcement issues.

When I was in private practice, I always could detect a significant difference between companies that prioritized legal and compliance and those that did not.  When legal and compliance were not equal partners in the business, and were not consulted as a matter of course, problems were inevitable. “

In this recent speech SEC Commissioner Kara Stein talked about the important “role of gatekeepers” and stated:

The Role of Gatekeepers

“So who is in a position, either within or outside a firm, to help? In effect, who are the gatekeepers that are able to disrupt or prevent misconduct? Certainly auditors and outside legal counsel can play this role. As most of you know, it doesn’t stop there. Executives, compliance officers, in-house counsels, and boards of directors also can help.

Each of these persons is in a unique position to monitor and promote legal compliance. Accountants and lawyers provide services that issuers need to access our capital markets. And their services are provided to multiple firms, which enables them to promote compliance broadly.

Internal gatekeepers play just as vital a role in compliance. Compliance officers must design, test, and update firm policies. Firm management and the board generally must approve these policies and monitor compliance with them. Executives, hopefully with the help of a good Chief Compliance Officer (CCO), must establish a strong “tone at the top.” Because, as we all know, the compliance function won’t work without buy-in and commitment at the top.

A recurring theme in many of the cases that I review each week is the failure of some of these important players or gatekeepers to disrupt or prevent misconduct. This troubles me greatly, and I know it troubles all of you as well.

How can the Commission help you make prevention more effective? What are the best incentives? Carrots? Sticks? Or both?

First, let’s talk about sticks. The Commission recently imposed a $200 million penalty against a large bank for misstating financial results and lacking effective internal controls. This breakdown in controls, a core part of compliance, contributed to billions – yes billions – in trading losses. The penalty was unprecedented for this type of case and is one of the largest penalties in the history of the Commission. Yet it amounted to a tiny fraction of the firm’s net income for just one quarter.

If our actions become nothing more than a footnote in the litigation reserve section of a firm’s financial statements, or a brief media storm that can be easily weathered before it is back to business as usual, have we been effective?

Or is it more effective to hold individuals to account? The people who could have, and should have, prevented the harm? This may help empower each of you in making the case to your clients and your firms that they should heed your advice.

I applaud our enforcement staff for bringing some tough and important cases. For example, we recently brought a financial fraud case against the Chief Financial Officer of a large public company, a case against a Chief Compliance Officer for violations of custody and compliance rules, and a case against the directors of an investment company for failing to properly oversee the fair valuation of fund securities.

But one gatekeeper that often is absent from the list of cases I see every week are the lawyers. Lawyers often serve as trusted advisers, and they give advice on almost every corporate transaction. They prepare and review disclosures that investors rely upon – disclosures that are at the core of the Commission’s regulatory program. And in most cases, they do a good job. But when lawyers provide bad advice or effectively assist in a fraud, sometimes their involvement is used as a shield against liability for both themselves, and for others.

Are we treating lawyers differently from other gatekeepers, such as accountants? I think we should carefully review the role that lawyers play in our markets, with a view towards how they can better help deter misconduct and prevent fraud.

Another critical partner is the CCO. Many of you in the audience are CCOs, and I appreciate the important work that you do each day. The CCO is a relatively new position, and the role has evolved significantly over time.

It is clear to me that the vast majority of CCOs are working hard and getting good results. But many of you are nonetheless concerned about possible enforcement actions against CCOs. There is a concern that charging CCOs will have the unintended consequence of weakening the compliance function. I have heard it said that these cases may lead to a drop in the quality of CCOs, because the best candidates will not be willing to serve. And those CCOs that remain willing to assume the role will be less effective because, for example, they may avoid certain functions such as participating in firm committees. That is not the intention.

If you read the facts in the cases we bring, you will see that they are not cases against CCOs that were promoting compliance. Instead, they are cases against CCOs that were assisting fraud, ignoring red flags, not asking the tough questions, and not demanding answers.

These cases should empower you within your firms to continue to be vigilant and assertive. And know that we “have your back” when others try to prevent you from doing your job. For example, the Commission recently brought a case against a portfolio manager for misleading the firm’s CCO by forging documents to conceal his failure to report personal trades.

While these enforcement cases are important, carrots to incentivize the right behavior may be even more critical. This, of course, raises an important threshold question – what is the right behavior? It will depend on the type of gatekeeper, the role that he or she plays, and the facts and circumstances of each case. For some gatekeepers, such as accountants, the role is well-defined. For others, such as CCOs, it is less so.

This creates uncertainty, which I believe is at the heart of the concerns that I’ve heard about CCO liability. We owe it to you to remove some of this uncertainty so that you can fully unleash your power to prevent harm.

One way to do this is for the Commission to provide guidance that sets clearer expectations on what it means to act appropriately. And when those expectations are met, a CCO can have comfort that he or she will not face liability.

What are the right expectations for CCOs? Again, I need your input. Should the Commission establish a minimum baseline of conduct for CCOs? It could contain basic obligations, such as requiring the CCO to establish and implement policies, and escalate issues that arise. And to whom should the CCO escalate issues? Executives at the firm? The board? A firm committee? And what happens if the CCO receives an unsatisfactory response? There are no easy answers here, but we must make the effort to bring guidance and clarity to you on these issues. And we need your help to get it right.”

Friday Roundup

Friday, May 2nd, 2014

U.S. reportedly did not cooperate, Avon’s reaches a settlement “understanding” and other scrutiny alerts, the “financial SWAT team,” at the SEC, FCPA Inc. news, and for the reading stack.  It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

U.S. Reportedly Did Not Cooperate

The DOJ talks a lot about cooperation with foreign law enforcement partners with its comes to its Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement program.  For instance, and as noted in this prior post, in June 2013 the DOJ’s Acting Assistant Attorney General stated:

“Through our increased work on prosecutions with our foreign counterparts and our participation in various multi-lateral fora like the OECD and United Nations, it is safe to say that we are cooperating with foreign law enforcement on foreign bribery cases more closely today than at any time in history.  This type of collaboration is absolutely critical if we are going to have a meaningful impact on corruption internationally.  As our economies become more interdependent, corruption itself is increasingly transnational.  What may be a domestic corruption concern for one country may very well be a foreign bribery concern for another.”

In 2012 and 2013 (see here and here) the DOJ brought related FCPA enforcement actions against BizJet and various former executives regarding, in part, conduct involving officials from Panama’s Aviation Authority.

Panama also investigated the conduct at issue, but according to this report in Panama-Guide.com (a website that provides English translations of original source news articles):

“Panama’s Superior Prosecutor for Organized Crime requested the judges responsible for the case to provisionally close a case involving allegations of the payments of bribes to officials of the Civil Aviation Authority by the US company BizJet, that received the contract to maintain the presidential aircraft between 2004 and 2009. The prosecutor sent his request in early March 2014, because law enforcement authorities in the United States failed to respond to a second request for judicial assistance in order to clarify key pieces of data (evidence) contained in the Panamanian investigation. The prosecutor sent their first request for assistance to the United States in May 2012 asking for collaboration, but the answer they sent in response to the Panamanian investigators was not enough (insufficient) for them to continue the investigation. They sent a second request for assistance in 2013, asking for the evidence that linked the Panamanians to the alleged bribes.  According to judicial sources, these elements would be important to the process. The director of the AAC, Rafael Barcenas, confirmed that the officials mentioned in investigation in the United States are still working for the entity, and while there is no legal decision his office will not take any action against them.”

Scrutiny Alerts

Avon

Yesterday, Avon disclosed as follows regarding the FCPA scrutiny it has been under since 2008.

“We have now reached an understanding with respect to terms of settlement with each of the DOJ and the staff of the SEC. Based on these understandings, the Company would, among other things: pay aggregate fines, disgorgement and prejudgment interest of $135 [million] with respect to alleged violations of the books and records and internal control provisions of the FCPA, with $68 [million] payable to the DOJ and $67 [million] payable to the SEC; enter into a deferred prosecution agreement (“DPA”) with the DOJ under which the DOJ would defer criminal prosecution of the Company for a period of three years in connection with alleged violations of the books and records and internal control provisions of the FCPA; agree to have a compliance monitor which, with the approval of the government, can be replaced after 18 months by the Company’s agreement to undertake self monitoring and reporting obligations for an additional 18 months. If the Company remains in compliance with the DPA during its term, the charges against the Company would be dismissed with prejudice. In addition, as part of any settlement with the DOJ, a subsidiary of Avon operating in China would enter a guilty plea in connection with alleged violations of the books and records provision of the FCPA. The expected terms of settlement do not require any change to our historical financial statements. Final resolution of these matters is subject to preparation and negotiation of documentation satisfactory to all the parties, including approval by our board of directors and, in the case of the SEC, authorization by the Commission; court approval of the SEC settlement; and court approval of the DPA and acceptance of the expected guilty plea by an Avon subsidiary operating in China. We can provide no assurances that satisfactory final agreements will be reached, that authorization by the Commission or the court approvals will be obtained or that the court will accept the guilty plea or with respect to the timing or terms of any such agreements, authorization, and approvals and acceptance.”

A $135 million settlement will be the 11th largest in terms of fine / penalty amounts.

Some media outlets were quick to link disclosure of the future FCPA settlement to the approximate 10% slide in Avon’s stock price yesterday.  For instance, USA Today stated:

“Avon Products stock swooned more than 12% in mid-day trading after the company agreed to pay $135 million for long-standing federal changes that it paid bribes in China and other countries.”

However, Avon’s FCPA disclosure was in the same SEC filing in which the company disclosed, among other things, a 6% drop in total units sold during Q1, beauty sales were off 12%, and sales in North America fell 22%.

Johnson Controls

In its most recent quarterly filing, Johnson Controls first disclosed the following:

“In June 2013, the Company self-reported to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) alleged Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) violations related to its Building Efficiency marine business in China dating back to 2007. These allegations were isolated to the Company’s marine business in China which had annual sales ranging from $20 million to $50 million during this period. The Company, under the oversight of its Audit Committee and Board of Directors, proactively initiated an investigation into this matter with the assistance of external legal counsel and external forensic accountants. In connection with this investigation, the Company has made and continues to evaluate certain enhancements to its FCPA compliance program. The Company continues to fully cooperate with the SEC and the DOJ; however, at this time, the Company is unable to predict the ultimate resolution of this matter with these agencies.”

In 2007, Johnson Controls was a signatory to the York International FCPA enforcement action (see here and here) principally involving alleged conduct in connection with the Iraq Oil for Food Program.  According to the DOJ, “nearly all of the conduct described in the [York International Criminal] Information took place prior to York’s acquisition by Johnson Controls, Inc. on December 9, 2005.”

JPMorgan

In its most recent quarterly filing, JPMorgan disclosed as follows regarding its pending FCPA scrutiny:

“Referral Hiring Practices Investigations. Various regulators are investigating, among other things, the Firm’s compliance with the  Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and other laws with respect to the  Firm’s hiring practices related to candidates referred by clients, potential clients and government officials, and its engagement of consultants in the Asia Pacific region. The Firm is cooperating with these investigations.”

Teva Pharamaceuticals

In August 2012, the company first disclosed its FCPA scrutiny and in its most recent SEC filing disclosed as follows.

“Beginning in 2012, Teva received subpoenas and informal document requests from the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) and the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) to produce documents with respect to compliance with the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (the “FCPA”) in certain countries. Teva has provided and will continue to provide documents and other information to the SEC and the DOJ, and is cooperating with the government in their investigations of these matters. Teva is also conducting a voluntary worldwide investigation into certain business practices that may have FCPA implications and has engaged independent counsel to assist in its investigation. In the course of its investigation, which is continuing, Teva has identified issues in Russia, certain Eastern European countries, certain Latin American countries and other countries where it conducts business that could rise to the level of FCPA violations and/or violations of local law. In connection with its investigation of these issues, Teva has become aware that Teva affiliates in certain countries under investigation provided to local authorities inaccurate or altered information relating to marketing or promotional practices. Teva continues to bring these issues to the attention of the SEC and the DOJ. No conclusion can be drawn at this time as to any likely outcomes in these matters.”

Och-Ziff

Och-Ziff Capital Management disclosed as follows in its recent quarterly filing:

“Beginning in 2011, and from time to time thereafter, the Company has received subpoenas from the Securities and Exchange Commission and requests for information from the U.S. Department of Justice in connection with an investigation involving the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and related laws. The investigation concerns an investment by a foreign sovereign wealth fund in some of the Och-Ziff funds in 2007 and investments by some of the funds, both directly and indirectly, in a number of companies in Africa. At this time, the Company is unable to determine how the investigation will be resolved and what impact, if any, it will have. An adverse outcome could have a material effect on the Company’s consolidated financial statements. “

“Financial SWAT Team”

It receives scant attention compared to FCPA enforcement, but another prong of the DOJ’s efforts to combat bribery and corruption is its Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative under which prosecutors in the DOJ Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section work in partnership with federal law enforcement agencies to forfeit the proceeds of foreign official corruption. (See this 2009 post highlighting Attorney General Holder’s announcement of the program).

Earlier this week, speaking at Ukraine Forum on Asset Recovery Attorney General Holder announced “the creation of a dedicated Kleptocracy squad within the FBI.”  He stated:

“This specialized unit will partner with our Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section to aggressively investigate and prosecute corruption cases – not only in Ukraine, but around the world. The squad of about a dozen personnel will consist of case agents and forensic analysts who are capable of unraveling the intricate money laundering transactions commonly employed by kleptocrats. Their sophisticated work will be supported by deputy marshals from the United States Marshals Service and analysts from FinCEN, which is our financial intelligence unit. And this new initiative will provide the United States with increased capacity to respond rapidly to political crises as they arise – so we can help prevent stolen assets from being dissipated or secreted away by deposed regimes.”

At the SEC

Further to the notion that SEC enforcement seems at times to be a numbers game, SEC Chair Mary Jo White testified as follows before the House Financial Services Committee.

“The Commission continues to pursue companies that bribe foreign officials to obtain or retain business, and over the last two-and-a-half years, we have obtained over $679 million in monetary relief from FCPA actions. For example, the SEC has brought FCPA actions charging a company with a bribe scheme involving business with Aluminum Bahrain; another company with various bribes and improper payments in the Middle East and Africa and violations of U.S. sanctions and export control laws involving Cuba, Iran, Syria, and Sudan; and a third company with bribe schemes involving business with the National Iranian Oil Company. The Commission is also focused on holding individuals accountable, with ongoing FCPA-related litigation against former executives of a number of corporations.”

Fact check.

Since 2008,  approximately 82% of corporate SEC FCPA enforcement actions have not (at least yet) resulted in any SEC charges against company employees and the SEC has not brought an individual FCPA enforcement action since 2012.

Although White’s FCPA testimony focused on the numbers, elsewhere she was quick to point out that:

“Quantitative metrics alone, however, are not the proper yardstick of the measure of Enforcement’s effectiveness. Enforcement considers the quality, breadth, and effect of the actions pursued.”

Staying with the SEC, its tough to beat the following for lack of transparency.  Recently in an insider trading enforcement action, the SEC entered into a non-prosecution agreement with an “individual.”

FCPA Inc. News

Few FCPA Inc. participants are publicy-traded companies.  Thus, it is often difficult to take the pulse of FCPA Inc. other than anecdotal information.  However, one FCPA Inc. participant that is publicly traded is FTI Consulting.  In a recent earnings release, the company stated:

“The major driver of quarterly results was Forensic and Litigation Consulting with a record quarter, fueled by a number of front-page newspaper assignments from across the globe relating to high-stakes client events ranging from FCPA investigations to mortgage-backed security litigations. Similarly, our Technology business continued to perform very well, driven by ongoing FCPA and financial services investigations as well as increased cross-border M&A related ‘second request’ activity.”

As previously highlighted, as Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division, Mythili Raman often carried forward much of the same rhetoric former Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer frequently articulated concerning the DOJ’s FCPA enforcement program.  Raman will now be joining Breuer at Covington & Burling.  The firm announced that “Mythili Raman … is joining Covington & Burling as a partner. Ms. Raman will practice in the firm’s litigation and white collar groups and be resident in the Washington office.”

As noted in this Covington biography:

“As Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Criminal Division from 2013-2014, and before then, as the Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General of the Criminal Division from 2009-2013, Ms. Raman oversaw the work of more than 600 prosecutors and led the Justice Department’s national and international criminal law enforcement initiatives, including investigations of [among other things] violations of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.”

For additional coverage see here from the New York Times and here from the Wall Street Journal.

For the Reading Stack

ProPublica takes a look at various aspects of white-collar law enforcement, including the “Breu Crew” (a reference to former Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer”) in “The Rise of Corporate Impunity.”  See here for my article “Lanny Breuer and Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Enforcement.”

Three cheers for Northwestern Professors Juliet Sorensen and Karen Alter for resisting the “feel good” notion that the International Criminal Court ought to be prosecuting corruption.  Writing in “Let Nations, Not the World, Prosecute Corruption,” the authors state:

“It is easy to understand the attraction of adding the crime of corruption to the International Criminal Court’s jurisdiction. Like violent atrocities, embezzlement and blackmail may be perpetrated on innocents. Corruption can be an international crime, featuring offshore accounts, money laundering and bribery of foreign officials. Moreover, when political leaders are involved in mass corruption, their crimes can become too dangerous for local judges and prosecutors to tackle. [...] But to add this crime to the court’s jurisdiction would be a mistake. It is limited for good reason to genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and in the future, the crime of aggression.  [...]  Before we give the court a new and even harder crime to prosecute, we must make sure that it can succeed in its core mandate. What international criminal law does best is prosecute those most responsible, at the apex of the pyramid, when individual nations are unwilling or unable to do so.  Finally, we must recognize that already the International Criminal Court faces a crisis of political support. [...]  The status quo is surely not a perfect one. But international intervention is not a panacea. The International Criminal Court needs to stay focused on the important task of prosecuting those most responsible for mass atrocities. Rather than put more resources into international criminal prosecution, the resources and energy of the international community should go towards bolstering national resources to investigate, prosecute, and deter public corruption.”

See here for “Anti-Corruption Compliance:  Meeting the Global Standard” recently published in Bloomberg BNA’s Corporate Law and Accountability Report by Arnold & Porter attorneys Keith Korenchuk, Samuel Witten and Daniel Bernstein:

“Designing an effective anti-corruption compliance program that meets the requirements of many different jurisdictions seems like a daunting task. Executives at global companies are likely to ask themselves: Do we need dozens of different compliance programs? Will we be subject to conflicting standards in the various countries where we do business? How can we ensure proper oversight of activity that occurs all over the globe? In addressing these questions, multinational companies should take note of the broad global consensus that has developed around what governments and international organizations expect of corporate anti corruption compliance programs. While there is no one-size-fits-all program—and a company must bear in mind applicable local laws—this global standard is welcome news. Here we review the commonly accepted best practices for an anti-corruption compliance program.”

From various Jones Day attorneys (here), “India’s New Corporate Social Responsibility Requirements – Beware of the Pitfalls”:

“In August 2013, the Indian parliament passed the Indian Companies Act, 2013 (the “New Act”), which has replaced the Companies Act of 1956. The New Act has made far-reaching changes affecting company formation, administration and governance, and it has increased shareholder control over board decisions. [...]  One of the New Act’s most startling changes—which came into effect on April 1, 2014—has been to impose compulsory corporate social responsibility  obligations (“CSR”) upon Indian companies and foreign companies operating in India. These obligations mainly come in the form of mandatory amounts companies must contribute to remediating social problems. This is a wholly new requirement; although companies were permitted, within certain limits, to make charitable contributions in the past, the New Act is essentially a self-administered tax.  [...] If the Indian company undertaking CSR is a subsidiary of a United States entity, or if its business activities “touch” the U.K., then the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) or the U.K. Bribery Act (“UKBA”), respectively, as well as other regulatory laws of these jurisdictions, may apply to the Indian company’s CSR payments. This may raise serious issues of compliance and liability.”

See here for “China Introduces New Health Care Sector Anti-Corruption Regulations” by Richard Grams and Allan Golder:

“As part of a concerted effort to tackle systemic commercial bribery in the country’s health care sector, China’s National Health and Family Planning Commission recently introduced separate new regulations aimed at hospitals and physicians, as well as the medical product companies that supply them.”

*****

A good weekend to all.

Friday Roundup

Friday, April 11th, 2014

It’s a complex world, you ask – I answer, scrutiny alerts and updates, quotable, and for the reading stack.  It’s all here in the Friday Roundup.

It’s a Complex World

The world in which we live in is seldom simple and straight-forward.  This includes the so-called “fight” against corruption and bribery.  Regarding China’s “crackdown” on bribery, the BBC China Blog reports:

“Much has been written about China’s ongoing crackdown on corruption, but now one of the world’s biggest banks has put a price on it.  According to a report published by Bank of America Merrill Lynch this week, the Chinese government’s anti-graft campaign could cost the economy more than $100bn this year alone. [...]  Many of the micro effects of Xi Jingping’s anti-corruption drive have already been well documented of course; a slowdown in the restaurant trade for example, and a big dip in sales of luxury goods.  Over the past year or so, in Shanghai’s posh malls and boutique designer shops – once at the centre of the happy merry-go-round of official largesse and gift giving – you’ve almost been able to hear the sound of the weeping and gnashing of teeth. But the BofAML report suggests that the campaign is also having a significant and troubling macroeconomic effect.  Since early last year, it says, government bank deposits have been soaring, up almost 30% year on year. Even honest officials, the report suggests, are now so terrified of starting new projects, for fear of being seen as corrupt, that they’re simply keeping public funds in the bank.  [...] The report’s authors admit their calculations are a “back-of-the-envelope estimate of fiscal contraction”, but even if they are only half right it is an extraordinary amount of money and it highlights some of the challenges facing China’s anti-corruption crusader-in-chief, President Xi Jinping.”

Some-what related to the above topic, as noted in this Washington Times article:

“A key player in Nigeria’s emergence as Africa’s largest economy says U.S. companies are ceding investment opportunities to China and the Obama administration should do more to reverse the trend.  “The Obama administration has to focus more on Nigeria, said Prince Adetokunbo Sijuwade, whose family holds royal status in a vital corner of southern Nigeria and is invested heavily in transportation and oil infrastructures. “We feel that we can learn from the U.S. in terms of expertise. [...]  Prince Sijuwade speculated that several factors may have deterred U.S. investors in recent years, from concerns about government corruption to security. But he argued that allegations of widespread corruption in Nigeria are “overstated.”“Corruption is all over the world,” he said, noting potential U.S. investors’ fears of violating the Justice Department’s anti-corruption laws as an inhibiting factor on Nigerian investment.”

You Ask – I Answer

This op-ed poses the question “what’s driving pharma’s international bribery scandals?”

You ask – I answer.

A dubious and untested enforcement theory + extreme risk aversion because of potential exclusion from government sponsored healthcare programs + other typical reasons for why other companies face FCPA scrutiny, such as employees and third parties acting contrary to a company’s good-faith compliance policies and procedures = several FCPA enforcement actions against pharma and healthcare related companies.

Scrutiny Alerts and Updates

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week:

“GlaxoSmithKline PLC is investigating allegations of bribery by employees in the Middle East, according to emails reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, opening a new front for the company as it manages a separate corruption probe in China.  A person familiar with Glaxo’s Mideast operations emailed the U.K. drug company late last year and earlier this year to report what the person said were corrupt practices in Iraq, including continuing issues and alleged misconduct dating from last year and 2012. The emails cite behavior similar to Glaxo’s alleged misconduct in China, including alleged bribery of physicians. [...]  In an email, the person said Glaxo hired 16 government-employed physicians and pharmacists in Iraq as paid sales representatives for the company while they continued to work for the government. A government-employed Iraqi emergency-room physician has prescribed Glaxo products, even when they weren’t in the hospital’s pharmacy and a competitor’s brand was in stock, an email from the person said. Glaxo has been hiring government-employed Iraqi doctors as medical representatives and paying their expenses to attend international conferences, the person alleged in the emails. Glaxo pays other doctors high fees to give lectures in exchange for promoting and prescribing its drugs, the allegations continued. After Glaxo won a contract with the Iraqi Ministry of Health in 2012 to supply the company’s Rotarix vaccine, Glaxo paid for a workshop in Lebanon for Iraqi Ministry of Health officials, the email said. That included paying for a doctor’s family to travel to Lebanon “so it would be a family vacation for him at the hotel.”

As noted in the article, GSK has been under FCPA scrutiny since 2011 and GSK’s scrutiny China was the frequent focus of media attention last summer (see here for the prior post).

Quotable

Russel Ryan (King & Spalding and former high-ranking SEC enforcement attorney) hits a home run with this recent Wall Street Journal editorial titled:  ”When Regulators Think They Are Prosecutors.”  It states, in pertinent part:

“[A]dministrative agencies like the SEC were never intended to become arms of law enforcement. They were created to regulate, not prosecute. [...]  There are good constitutional reasons why agencies like the SEC were not born with this power to prosecute and punish. Prosecuting private citizens and companies is serious business. It’s a core executive branch function historically entrusted to the attorney general, a “principal Officer” subject to unfettered presidential control under Article II of the Constitution. [...]   [I]f policy makers insist on transforming the commission and similar agencies into quasi-criminal prosecutors with ever-increasing power to seek harsh punitive sanctions, those agencies should be brought under the stewardship of the attorney general or given cabinet rank with leaders who are removable at the president’s pleasure. Even that wouldn’t cure a second level of constitutional infirmity. Based mostly on precedent established before the SEC had any power to punish, courts have exempted SEC prosecutions from many bedrock due-process protections taken for granted in criminal cases. The presumption of innocence, for example, is largely meaningless because the SEC can win by a mere “preponderance of the evidence” rather than proof beyond reasonable doubt. The right to remain silent is equally hollow because courts let the SEC treat silence as evidence of guilt. For SEC defendants who can’t afford a good lawyer, tough luck, because there’s no right to have counsel appointed at government expense as there would be in a criminal prosecution. And even when the SEC loses after trial, double jeopardy doesn’t prevent it from trying to reverse the verdict or force a retrial, as it would a criminal prosecutor.  Dodd-Frank made things even worse by expanding the SEC’s ability to impose draconian financial penalties in administrative proceedings that have lax evidentiary rules, no jury trial, and limited judicial oversight.Basic constitutional safeguards should protect American citizens and businesses whenever a law-enforcement agency seeks to punish them for alleged wrongdoing, even in nominally civil proceedings. It’s time to incorporate those safeguards into an increasingly penal administrative prosecution system that is quickly sliding down a slick and constitutionally hazardous slope.”

For Ryan’s previous guest post on similar issues, see here.

Reading Stack

Certain of the conduct at issue in this week’s FCPA enforcement action against HP and related entities concerned alleged conduct in Poland.  This article from a Polish news service looks at what happens “when the dust settles.”

An insightful post on the Trace Blog from a former DOJ FCPA enforcement attorney who oversaw several monitors titled “Five Questions That can Keep Your Monitor From Running Away.”  Perhaps the best question though is: are monitors truly needed in many FCPA resolutions?  (See here and here for prior posts).

For your viewing enjoyment here, recently indicted Ukrainian businessman Dmytro Firtash (see here) has released a video which insists he is an innocent party caught at the center of a “battlefield for the two biggest global players of Russia and the USA”.

*****

A good weekend to all.

Ipse Dixit

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014

This post last week highlighted the recent activity in SEC v. Mark Jackson & James Ruehlen (a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement action scheduled for trial this summer).  As noted in the post, among other things, the SEC is seeking to exclude various defense expert witnesses on a variety of issues including internal controls issues.

If you read the SEC’s motions (see here – condensed into one document) you will see that a primary basis for exclusion is the SEC’s argument that the experts are merely offering their own naked ipse dixit.

I must confess – arcane latin phrases not being in my strike zone – I had to look up the meaning of ipse dixit.

Ipse Dixit – Latin for He himself said it – an unsupported statement that rests solely on the authority of the individual who makes it.

The term ipse dixit appears approximately 30 times in the SEC’s motions – and related to it – is the SEC’s argument that the experts’ internal controls opinions should be excluded because the experts fail to define certain terms and/or there is no discernible methodology underlying their opinions.

For instance, in seeking to exclude Alan Bell (CPA – regarding, among other things, internal controls) the SEC states:

“Bell could not define what constitutes a “circumvention” of an internal control.”

“Bell concedes that there are no written standards to evaluate what constitutes, in his view, a “circumvention” of an internal control.”

“Bell’s opinions are not the product of a reliable methodology applied to the facts of this case. In fact, Bell employed no methodology at all; instead, his opinions are “based on [his] 40 years of experience.”

In seeking to exclude Gary Goolsby (CPA – regarding, among other things, internal controls issues) the SEC states:

“There is also no discernible methodology underlying his opinion on Jackson’s purported reliance [on Noble's internal controls], other than Goolsby’s own naked ipse dixit. Goolsby’s methodology reduces to the proposition that “I know what I’m looking at.” Yet, in deposition, he could not explain what his opinion means, as a practical matter, with reference to the conduct at issue in this case. Goolsby’s testimony thus confirms what is apparent from his report – his factual findings are based on nothing more than his subjective say-so.”

In seeking to exclude Lowell Brown (regarding various FCPA compliance issues) the SEC states:

“There is no discernible analysis or methodology underlying Brown’s opinion as to Jackson’s purported reliance, other than Brown’s own naked ipse dixit – a manifestly improper basis for expert testimony.”

In seeking to exclude Professor Ronald Gilson (regarding, among other things, internal controls issues) the SEC states:

“There is no genuine methodology here, other than Gilson’s own ipse dixit based on his subjective interpretation of the evidence

In the final analysis, Gilson is an advocate for the defense who proffers nothing but his ipse dixit in the place of rigorous analytical connection between his deficient methodology (reading deposition transcripts and exhibits) and his expert conclusion (the inference that if Ruehlen told others at Noble what he was doing, he lacked the corrupt intent to violate the FCPA, as opposed to simply colluding to bribe foreign officials).”

The irony of course is that while attacking the defendants’ experts for their own ipse dixit, many of the SEC’s FCPA internal controls enforcement theories are nothing more than ipse dixit.

For instance, as noted in this prior post, the SEC alleged that Oracle violated the FCPA’s internal control provisions. The only allegations against Oracle itself is that it failed to audit distributor margins against end user prices and that it failed to audit third party payments made by distributors.  The SEC did not allege any red flags to suggest why Oracle should have done this.  Thus, how did Oracle violate the FCPA’s internal controls provisions?  What was the methodology the SEC used?

Ipse dixit.

Indeed, in a pointed critique of the SEC’s Oracle enforcement theory, the former Assistant Chief of the DOJ’s FCPA unit stated:

“Oracle is the latest example of the SEC’s expansive enforcement of the FCPA’s internal controls provision, and it potentially paints a bleak picture—one in which the provision is essentially enforced as a strict liability statute that means whatever the SEC says it means (after the fact).”  (See here for the prior post).

In many SEC FCPA enforcement actions, the SEC merely makes conclusory statements for why the company allegedly violated the FCPA’s internal controls provisions.  For instance, in the Philips enforcement action (see here for the prior post) the SEC states:

“Philips failed to devise and maintain a system of internal accounting controls sufficient to provide reasonable assurances that transactions were properly recorded by Philips in its books and records. Philips also failed to implement an FCPA compliance and training program commensurate with the extent of its international operations. Accordingly, Philips violated [the internal control provisions].”

Source?  Methodology?

Ipse dixit.

As noted in my recent article “Why You Should Be Alarmed by the ADM FCPA Enforcement Action” one reason, among others, why you should be alarmed by the action is because of the “failure to prevent” standard invoked by the SEC for why ADM violated the FCPA’s internal controls provisions.  As noted in the article, this standard  does not even exist in the FCPA and is inconsistent with actual legal authority.  (See here for the previous post regarding SEC v. World-Wide Coin – the only judicial decision to directly address the FCPA’s internal controls provisions).

Moreover, as noted in the article, the “failure to prevent standard” is inconsistent with SEC guidance relevant to the internal-controls provisions.  (See also this prior post).  The SEC’s most extensive guidance on the internal controls provisions states, in pertinent part, as follows:

“The Act does not mandate any particular kind of internal controls system. The test is whether a system, taken as a whole, reasonably meets the statute’s specified objectives. ‘‘Reasonableness,’’ a familiar legal concept, depends on an evaluation of all the facts and circumstances.

Private sector decisions implementing these statutory objectives are business decisions. And, reasonable business decisions should be afforded deference. This means that the issuer need not always select the best or the most effective control measure. However, the one selected must be reasonable under all the circumstances.

Inherent in this concept [of reasonableness] is a toleration of deviations from the absolute. One measure of the reasonableness of a system relates to whether the expected benefits from improving it would be significantly greater than the anticipated costs of doing so. Thousands of dollars ordinarily should not be spent conserving hundreds. Further, not every procedure which may be individually cost-justifiable need be implemented; the Act allows a range of reasonable judgments.

The test of a company’s internal control system is not whether occasional failings can occur. Those will happen in the most ideally managed company. But, an adequate system of internal controls means that, when such breaches do arise, they will be isolated rather than systemic, and they will be subject to a reasonable likelihood of being uncovered in a timely manner and then remedied promptly.”

What is the source for the “failure to prevent” standard in ADM?  What is the methodology?

Ipse dixit.

In short, while attacking the defendants’ experts for their lack of defined methodology regarding internal controls issues, the SEC itself has long recognized that the FCPA’s internal controls lack a defined methodology.

As noted in this post, in a 2013 speech SEC Chair Mary Jo White reminded us why trials are important.  Among other things, White stated that “trials allow for more thoughtful and nuanced interpretations of the law in a way that settlements and summary judgments cannot.”

The SEC’s enforcement action against Jackson and Ruehlen represents an extremely rare instance in which the SEC is being forced to articulate its FCPA positions in the context of an adversary proceeding.

The SEC’s motions seeking to exclude defendants’ experts – while primarily based on ipse dixit – reminds us that a large portion of the SEC’s (and DOJ’s) FCPA enforcement program is nothing more than ipse dixit – and subjective say so.