Archive for the ‘Statute of Limitations’ Category

Items Of Interest From The Layne Christensen Company Enforcement Action

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

Yesterday’s post dived deep into the Layne Christensen Company SEC FCPA enforcement action.

This post continues the analysis by highlighting various issues associated with the enforcement action.

4 for 4

In 2014, there have been four SEC corporate FCPA enforcement actions (Layne Christensen, Smith & Wesson, Alcoa, and HP).  All have been resolved via the SEC’s administrative process.

My recent article, “A Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Narrative,” (see pgs. 991-995) discusses this trend and how it is troubling as it places the SEC in the role of regulator, prosecutor, judge and jury all at the same time.  As Judge Rakoff recently observed, “from where does the constitutional warrant for such unchecked and unbalanced administrative power derive?”

Another noticeable feature of the Layne Christensen action was that the company resolved the SEC’s action without admitting or denying the SEC’s findings.  Smith & Wesson likewise resolved its FCPA enforcement action in this way.

$4

It is reasonable to assume that the SEC included findings in its order for a specific reason (and not just to practice its typing skills).

It is therefore noteworthy that the SEC’s order includes this finding:

“Layne Christensen made more than $10,000 in small payments to foreign officials through various customs and clearing agents that it used in Tanzania, Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, and the DRC. These payments ranged from $4 to $1,700 and were characterized in invoices submitted by the agents as, among other things, “intervention,” “honoraires,” “commissions,” and “service fees.”

Stay tuned for (I predict) coming law firm client alerts and memos on this $4 payment.

As highlighted in this prior post, if the DOJ and SEC are genuine in their message that they are only “focused on bribes of consequence,” on payments of “real and substantial value” and in companies spending compliance dollars in the “most sensible way,” there is something very easy and practical for the enforcement agencies to do.

Only allege conduct that actually determines the ultimate outcome of the enforcement action.

Same Process, Different Results

Does voluntary disclosure and cooperation result in:

An SEC administrative cease and desist order?  Yes, see Layne Christensen.

An SEC non-prosecution agreement?  Yes, see Ralph Lauren.

An SEC deferred prosecution agreement?  Yes, see Tenaris.

An SEC civil complaint?  Yes, see Archer Daniels Midland Company.

Granted, the facts of each FCPA enforcement action are unique, but what drives FCPA practitioners and their clients crazy about the FCPA enforcement process is a lack of transparency and predictability of outcomes.

What Would Have Happened Had The SEC Been Put To Its Burden Of Proof?

Pardon me for being “that guy,” but what would have happened had the SEC been put to its burden of proof on its finding that Layne Christensen violated the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions?  The SEC’s allegations all concerned payments outside the context of government procurement but rather to allegedly secure favorable tax treatment, customs clearance, work permits, relief from regulatory inspections, etc.

It is a matter of fact, that the SEC has been put to its ultimate burden of proof only once concerning alleged payments outside the context of government procurement and it lost that case.  (See here for the discussion of SEC v. Mattson and Harris). For a broader discussion of this issue, including DOJ actions, see this article.

Moreover, many of the SEC’s findings would seem to potentially implicate the FCPA’s facilitating payments exception.  On that score, in SEC v. Jackson & Ruehlen, a court ruled that the SEC has the burden of negating this statutory exception, something the SEC was unable to do in that case (based on certain similar facts as alleged in the Layne Christensen action) which resulted in a defendant-friendly settlement on the eve of trial.  (See here).

Finally, no doubt Layne Christensen as part of its cooperation likely agreed to toll statute of limitations or waive statute of limitations defenses altogether.  Yet it is worth highlighting that the bulk of the SEC’s findings concern conduct that allegedly occurred between 2005 and July 2009; in other words, beyond the FCPA’s typical 5 year statute of limitations.

Timeline

As highlighted in this 2010 post, Layne Christensen initially disclosed its FCPA scrutiny in Fall 2010.  The company’s first disclosure stated, in pertinent part:

“In connection with the Company updating its Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) policy, questions were raised internally in late September 2010 about, among other things, the legality of certain payments to customs clearing agents in connection with importing equipment into the Democratic Republic of Congo (“DRC”) and other countries in Africa.  [...] Although the Company has had a long-standing published policy requiring compliance with the FCPA and broadly prohibiting any improper payments by the Company to foreign or U.S. officials, the Company has adopted additional policies and procedures to enhance compliance with the FCPA and related books and records requirements. Further measures may be required once the investigation is concluded.”

In short, Layne Christensen’s FCPA scrutiny – from point of first public disclosure to resolution – lasted approximately 4 years.

The “Three Buckets” 

In my article, “Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Ripples,” I coin the term “three buckets” of FCPA financial exposure and demonstrate how settlement amounts in an actual FCPA enforcement action (“bucket #1) are often not the most expensive aspect of FCPA scrutiny and enforcement.

In nearly every case in which a comparison can be made, “bucket #1″ (pre-enforcement action professional fees and expenses) is the most expensive aspect of FCPA scrutiny.

The numbers in Layne Christensen serve as another instructive reminder.

Bucket #1 = in excess of $10 million (based on the company’s disclosures)

Bucket #12 = $5.1 million

Bukcet #3 (post enforcement action professional fees and expenses) are to be determined.  A noticeable aspect of the Layne Christensen action (one based on a voluntary disclosure and cooperation) is that the company has a reporting obligation imposed upon it.  As stated in the SEC’s order, Layne Christensen shall “report to the Commission periodically, at no less than nine-month internals during a two-year term, the status of its FCPA and anti-corruption related remediation and implementation of compliance measures.”

Compliance Enhancements, Etc.

During its period of FCPA scrutiny, Layne Christensen previously disclosed the following compliance enhancements.

  • contracted with a third party forensics accounting team to conduct an in-depth review of the operations in Africa and to make recommendations for improvement to the internal control systems;
  • reviewing existing arrangements with third parties interacting with government officials in international locations in an effort to assure that contracts and agreements include anti-corruption terms and conditions;
  • performing due diligence on third parties interacting with government officials in international locations and implementing a process to assess potential new third parties;
  • terminated certain agency and business relationships;
  •  established a separate position of, and appointed, a chief compliance officer, effective March 30, 2011, under the supervision of our Senior Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary to facilitate implementation and maintenance of compliance policies, procedures, training, reporting and internal reviews, with indirect reporting responsibility to the audit committee;
  • developed new procedures to improve the controls over cash handling and record retention;
  • conducting a company-wide risk assessment, including an employee survey, to ascertain whether similar issues may exist elsewhere in the Company;
  • initiated an enhanced company-wide, comprehensive training of Company personnel in the requirements of the FCPA, including training with respect to those areas of the Company’s operations that are most likely to raise FCPA compliance concerns; and
  • continued to enhance our training of management, including our operations managers, to emphasize further the importance of setting the proper tone within their organization to instill an attitude of integrity and control awareness and the use of a thorough and proper analysis of proposed transactions.

 

The Gray Cloud Of FCPA Scrutiny Simply Lasts Too Long

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014

Gray CloudLegal scrutiny – whether in the FCPA context or otherwise – is a cloud hanging over a business organization.  When that legal scrutiny can result in potential criminal liability, the cloud is black or at the very least gray.

For many companies, the gray cloud of FCPA scrutiny simply lasts too long.

If you dig into the details of most corporate FCPA enforcement actions you quickly discover that the alleged conduct at issue occurred 5-7 years, 7-10 years, and in some instances, 10-15 years prior to the enforcement action.

For instance, in a 2012 enforcement action against pharmaceutical company Biomet the conduct at issue went back to 2000; in a 2012 enforcement action against pharmaceutical company Pfizer the conduct at issue went back to 1997; and in a 2012 enforcement action against trading and investment firm Marubeni the conduct at issue went back to 1995.   Likewise, in a 2013 enforcement action against oil and gas company Total, the conduct at issue went back to 1995.   So old was the conduct giving rise to the Total enforcement action that the DOJ made the unusual statement in the DPA that “evidentiary challenges” were present for both parties given that “most of the underlying conduct occurred in the 1990s and early 2000s.”

Statute of limitations are ordinarily the remedy the law provides for legal gray clouds.

In 2013, in Gabelli v. SEC (an SEC enforcement action outside the FCPA context) the Supreme Court stated:

“Statute of limitations are intended to ‘promote justice by preventing surprises through the revival of claims that have been allowed to slumber until evidence has been lost, memories have faded, and witnesses have disappeared.  They provide ‘security and stability to human affairs.  [They] are ‘vital to the welfare of society [and] ‘even wrongdoers are entitled to assume that their sins may be forgotten.’ […] It ‘would be utterly repugnant to the genius of our laws if actions for penalties could ‘be brought at any distance of time.’”

The Supreme Court further stated that statute of limitations are even more important in a government enforcement action compared to a case brought by a private plaintiff.

“There are good reasons why the fraud discovery rule has not been extended to Government enforcement actions for civil penalties. […]  The SEC, for example, is not like an individual victim who relies on apparent injury to learn of a wrong. Rather, a central ‘mission’ of the Commission is to ‘investigate potential violations of the federal securities laws.’ Unlike the private party who has no reason to suspect fraud, the SEC’s very purpose is to root it out, and it has many legal tools at hand to aid in that pursuit. […]  Charged with this mission and armed with these weapons, the SEC as enforcer is a far cry from the defrauded victim the discovery rule evolved to protect.  In a civil penalty action, the Government is not only a different kind of plaintiff, it seeks a different kind of relief. The discovery rule helps to ensure that the injured receive recompense. But this case involves penalties, which go beyond compensation, and are intended to punish, and label defendants wrongdoers.”

Why, despite the importance of statute of limitations to our legal system and Supreme Court recognition that it “would be utterly repugnant to the genius of our laws if actions for penalties could be brought at any distance of time,” do most corporate FCPA enforcement actions concern conduct well beyond the statute of limitations?

Simply put, because in corporate FCPA enforcement actions the fundamental black-letter legal principle of statute of limitations seems not to matter.  Granted counsel for a company under FCPA scrutiny based on conduct beyond the limitations period can argue about statute of limitation defenses around conference room tables behind closed doors in Washington, D.C.  However, like with other FCPA issues, to truly challenge the enforcement agencies first requires that the company be criminally or civilly charged, something few corporate leaders are willing to let happen.

In short, cooperation is the name of the game in corporate FCPA inquiries and to raise bona fide legal arguments such as statute of limitations is not cooperating in an investigation.  Given the “carrots” and “sticks” relevant to resolving corporate FCPA enforcement actions, one of the first steps a company the subject of FCPA scrutiny often does to demonstrate its cooperation is agree to toll the statute of limitations or waive any statute of limitations defenses.

A former DOJ enforcement attorney noted:

“As a practical matter, companies, especially publicly held companies […], typically make a strategic decision to fully cooperate with a DOJ investigation. Despite the potential success of a statute of limitations defense, a company will often make the judgment that the negative press of a protracted investigation and the uncertainty of the outcome at trial make cooperation the more prudent business judgment. The company’s hope is that it will be given credit for the cooperation and it will achieve a better outcome than if it went to trial (i.e., avoid charges, a DPA, or a reduced fine).”

Given this dynamic, the enforcement agencies face little or no time pressure in bringing corporate FCPA enforcement actions.  The end result is that the gray cloud of FCPA scrutiny often hangs over a company far too long.  For instance, Pfizer’s FCPA scrutiny began in 2004 but was not resolved until a 2012 enforcement action.  Likewise, Total’s FCPA scrutiny began in 2003 but was not resolved until a 2013 enforcement action.

Regarding the typical long periods of corporate FCPA scrutiny, an FCPA commentator stated:

“[Companies under FCPA scrutiny are] routinely asked to waive the statute of limitations. They could refuse but none do; refusal might trigger an instant enforcement action against the company or its people. So the waiver gives the feds limitless time to investigate, deliberate, or procrastinate. And no one can force the DOJ or SEC to move on, either with an enforcement action or a declination. The result? Companies [under FCPA scrutiny] get stuck in FCPA limbo.  […] But the DOJ and SEC should always keep one eye on the calendar. The threat of FCPA enforcement […] casts a long shadow. It darkens the future for management, shareholders, lenders, customers, and suppliers. Exactly the problem the statute of limitations was supposed to fix.”

Another FCPA commentator stated:

“The Justice Department and the SEC attorneys have a duty to manage caseloads and move cases responsibly. I called it “cut and run.”  Either the government has the evidence or it does not – and they now fairly early on what direction a case is heading.”

All of the above comments are of course spot-on.

Yet when black letter legal principles matter little, the end result is that the gray cloud of FCPA scrutiny simply lasts too long and the DOJ and SEC are part of the problem.

Former Alstom Executive Lawrence Hoskins Files Motion To Dismiss

Monday, August 4th, 2014

Lawrence Hoskins is a United Kingdom citizen who lived and worked his entire life in the U.K. with the exception of a 35 month period between 2001 and 2004 during which he worked for Alstom in France.  In 2004, he resigned from his job at Alstom to resume his career in the U.K. and retired in 2010.  In April 2014 Hoskins and his wife disembarked from a ferry in the U.S. Virgin Islands en route to Dallas, Texas when he was arrested by U.S. authorities for an alleged bribery scheme dating back to his time at Alstom.

So began the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act journey of Lawrence Hoskins.

As highlighted in this previous post, Hoskins was criminally charged in connection with the same Indonesian power plant project that also resulted in criminal charges against other individuals associated with Alstom - Frederic Pierucci, David Rothschild, and William Pomponi.

Pierucci, Rothschild and Pomponi have all pleaded guilty.  However Hoskins is fighting the criminal charges filed against him and last week he filed a motion to dismiss.

The Memorandum in Support of the Motion to Dismiss states, in pertinent part, as follows.

“Resting as it does, upon an infirm foundation of aged allegations, overly expansive applications of law, and novel theories of criminal liability, the Indictment in this case suffers from numerous and fatal defects of law and logic. Among other things, it charges stale and time-barred conduct that occurred more than a decade ago; it asserts violations of U.S. law by a British citizen who never stepped foot on U.S. soil during the relevant time period; and, it distorts the definition of the time-worn legal concept of agency beyond recognition. In other words, the Indictment marks an excessive and improper exercise of executive authority. This is an Indictment that never should have been brought.

The Indictment seeks to hold Lawrence Hoskins, a retired 63-year-old British citizen, responsible for his alleged conduct that occurred—outside the United States more than ten years ago—while he was working in Paris at Alstom Holdings, SA (―Alstom‖), the parent company of the French conglomerate. The Indictment asserts that Mr. Hoskins, in his capacity as a Senior Vice-President of the Alstom parent company, approved and authorized the retention and compensation of two consultants, knowing that they would bribe Indonesian officials to help a consortium (including Alstom and one of its U.S. subsidiaries) obtain a contract to construct a power plant in Indonesia. According to the Indictment, Mr. Hoskins‘s limited, dated, and purely extraterritorial conduct subjects him to liability for two conspiracies and a total of ten substantive violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (―FCPA‖) and United States‘ money-laundering statutes. These charges all fail.

First, the Indictment is time-barred. Mr. Hoskins resigned from Alstom ten years ago, in August 2004, after 35 months of employment with the parent company and, when he did so, he withdrew from any alleged conspiracy operating therein. Second Circuit precedent makes clear that resignation from a business constitutes withdrawal from any criminal conduct operating within that entity if, following resignation, there is no promotion of or benefit received from the alleged illegal activity. Mr. Hoskins passes the Second Circuit‘s test with ease. After he resigned from Alstom, he immediately moved from Paris back to his home in England and started a new job, at a new company, in a new industry. He had no contact with, and received nothing from, any of his alleged co-conspirators. He also had no involvement with criminal conduct of any kind. To the point, the last act attributable to Mr. Hoskins in the Indictment occurred in March 2004, and the wire transfers that constitute the FCPA and money-laundering offenses all occurred long thereafter, between November 2005 and October 2009. Thus, Mr. Hoskins successfully withdrew from any alleged criminal conduct upon his resignation from Alstom. As such, all of the charges in the Indictment are time-barred and should be dismissed.

Second, the FCPA charges are facially defective. The Indictment alleges that Mr. Hoskins was an ―agent of a domestic concern,‖ to wit, an agent of Alstom‘s U.S. subsidiary. While it is black letter law that the fundamental characteristic of agency is control, the supporting factual allegations in the Indictment make plain that Mr. Hoskins was in no way under the control of the U.S. subsidiary. Indeed, much to the contrary, the Indictment demonstrates that Mr. Hoskins was ―approving‖ and ―authorizing‖ certain requests from employees of subsidiary companies ―in his capacity‖ as an executive of the Alstom parent company. Thus, because the allegations in the Indictment describe conduct bearing no semblance to an agency relationship, the FCPA-related charges are facially defective and should be dismissed.

Third, the Indictment‘s use of the term ―agent‖ is so counter-intuitive to the common understanding of that phrase that its application to Mr. Hoskins‘s relationship with the U.S. subsidiary renders the FCPA unconstitutionally vague as applied. Such a construction of the term ―agent‖ could not have provided Mr. Hoskins with fair warning that his alleged conduct—authorizing and approving matters at the request of employees of subsidiaries in his oversight capacity at the parent company—could expose him to criminal liability. As such, the FCPA charges are also constitutionally flawed and should be dismissed.

Fourth, the FCPA charges do not apply to Mr. Hoskins‘s purely extraterritorial conduct. Though Congress directed certain provisions of the FCPA to have extraterritorial effect, the subsection of the FCPA charged in the Indictment was not included in any such direction. Accordingly, the presumption against extraterritoriality applies. Thus, because all of Mr. Hoskins‘s alleged conduct occurred outside of the United States in the territory of a foreign sovereign, the substantive FCPA charges fail and should be dismissed.

Fifth, given the pronounced defects with the Indictment‘s FCPA charges, any theory of liability premised upon conspiracy and/or aiding and abetting also necessarily fail. Applicable Supreme Court precedent holds that when Congress affirmatively chooses to exclude a certain class of individuals from liability under a criminal statute, the government cannot circumvent that intent by alleging conspiracy. Moreover, federal courts have repeatedly held that ancillary offenses, including aiding and abetting and conspiracy, are only deemed to confer extraterritorial jurisdiction to the extent of the offenses underlying them. For these reasons, the conspiracy and aiding and abetting theories advanced in the Indictment cannot stand once the underlying FCPA charges fail.

Finally, the money-laundering charges are improperly venued in the District of Connecticut. The venue provision of the money-laundering statute establishes that venue lies only where the predicate money laundering transaction was ―conducted. The Indictment makes clear that the allegedly offending transfers were initiated from Maryland. As such, the District of Maryland is the only proper venue for the money-laundering charges, and they should be dismissed.

For the reasons described above and explained below, all of the charges should be dismissed. Mr. Hoskins never should have been charged on such old, infirm, and overextended allegations and legal theories. He should be freed to resume his life in England.”

*****

Hoskins is represented by Christopher Morvillo (Clifford Chance) and Brian Spears (Brian Spears LLC).  Both were previously AUSAs at the DOJ.

Of Note From The Marubeni Enforcement Action

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

This previous post highlighted specifics from the recent Marubeni Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement action and this post continues the coverage by discussing various items of note.

Do Legal Principles Even Matter?

Forgive me for being the law guy, but in the aftermath of the Marubeni enforcement action, like so many others, one can legitimately ask – do legal principles even matter?

As highlighted in the previous post, the most recent alleged overt act in support of Marubeni’s conspiracy charge allegedly occurred in November 2008.  In other words, all of the alleged conduct supporting the conspiracy charge was beyond the five year statute of limitations applicable to FCPA offenses.

In addition, the information also charged 7 substantive FCPA anti-bribery violations.  One charge concerned a 2005 wire transfer, three charges concerned 2006 wire transfers, one charge concerned a 2007 wire transfer, and one charge concerned a 2008 wire transfer.  In other words, 6 of the 7 substantive FCPA anti-bribery charges concerned alleged conduct beyond the five year limitations period applicable to FCPA offenses.  (Note:  the final substantive FCPA charge was based on an October 2009 wire transfer made, not by any Marubeni employee, but Alstom employees).

In corporate FCPA enforcement actions, companies often enter into tolling agreements and statute of limitations can also otherwise be extended in other ways, but the DOJ’s criminal information and plea agreement are silent as to any of these issues relevant to statute of limitations.

Is Marubeni A Recidivist?

As noted in the original Marubeni post, last week’s $88 million FCPA enforcement action followed closely on the heels of Marubeni exiting a deferred prosecution agreement from its 2012 FCPA enforcement action based on conduct at Bonny Island, Nigeria.  (See here for the prior post).

Against this backdrop, it is tempting to call Marubeni an FCPA recidivist.

However, as noted in Marubeni’s release (a release that the DOJ needed to approve per the plea agreement) “the Tarahan conduct pre-dates the execution of Marubeni’s 2012 Deferred Prosecution Agreement with the DOJ.”

At the very least, Marubeni is a repeat FCPA offender and joins a category that also includes IBM, Tyco, Aibel Group, General Electric, Diebold (at least as to books and records and internal controls issues) and Ashland Oil (at least in theory given that the first enforcement action occurred prior to passage of the FCPA in 1977).

The distinction Marubeni has among the group though is the shortest gap between enforcement actions.

More Details Please As to Lack of Cooperation

As noted in the previous post, the $88 million Marubeni enforcement action was a relatively rare instance of a company paying a criminal fine within the advisory guidelines range.  The plea agreement includes the DOJ’s justification as to why, including Marubeni’s lack of cooperation.  However, the plea agreement merely states that Marubeni refused to cooperate with the Department’s investigation when given the opportunity to do so.

It sure would have been nice for the DOJ to provide some additional details regarding Marubeni’s apparent lack of cooperation.

For instance, in the Bonny Island, Nigeria enforcement action against JGC Corp. (also a Japanese company), the DOJ stated that the company declined “to cooperate with the Department based on jurisdictional arguments?”

The DOJ’s statement motivated this prior post, “Does the DOJ Except FCPA Counsel to Roll Over and Play Dead?

While the DOJ declined to provide specifics as to Marubeni’s lack of cooperation, it would be truly frightening if the DOJ’s position is that a company is not cooperating if it raises purely legal issues such as jurisdiction or statute of limitations.

FCPA Enforcement Statistics

FCPA enforcement statistics are literally all over the map given the creative and unique ways in which many FCPA Inc. participants keep such statistics.  (For instance, see this prior post for visual proof).

As I have long maintained, the most reliable and accurate way to keep FCPA enforcement statistics is by using the “core” approach, an approach to tracking FCPA enforcement endorsed by the DOJ and a commonly accepted method used in other areas.

Consider the stark difference in approaches using just the Marubeni enforcement action and the April 2013 FCPA enforcement action against current and former employees of Alstom.  The enforcement actions were virtual carbon copies of each other involving the same project in Indonesia, involving the same alleged “foreign officials,” the same consultants, Marubeni was a central actor in the Alstom related action and the Alstom employees were central actors in the Marubeni enforcement action.

In short, the Marubeni and Alstom related action were the same “core” action.

However, many in FCPA Inc. will no doubt count these actions as five enforcement actions:  Marubeni and Alstom employees Frederic Pierucci, David Rothschild, Lawrence Hoskins and William Pomponi.  Make that six enforcement actions when – in all likelihood – Alstom resolves an enforcement action based, in whole or in part, on the same conduct.   In short, by tracking FCPA enforcement statistics this way the statistics will be distorted.

Former SEC Enforcement Official Throws The Red Challenge Flag

Monday, February 10th, 2014

Today’s post is from Russ Ryan (Partner, King & Spalding).  Prior to joining King & Spalding,  Ryan spent ten years in the SEC’s Division of Enforcement, including his last  three years as Assistant Director of the Division.

*****

Sometimes you see something in a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act case that’s so inexplicable you wish someone would throw the red challenge flag and have the play reviewed under the hood or up in the booth.  Unfortunately, in the largely-overlooked wind-down phase of the SEC’s FCPA case against several former Siemens executives, the last of the defendants defaulted, so nobody was around to throw the challenge flag – and as a result the SEC seems to have gotten away with a doozy of a blown call.

Recall that this is the same 7-defendant case in which only one – Herbert Steffen – actively contested the SEC’s charges.  Of the other six defendants, the SEC voluntarily dismissed one (Carlos Sergi), three others settled without admitting or denying any wrongdoing (Bernd Regendantz, Andres Truppel, and Uriel Sharef), and the last two defaulted (Ulrich Bock and Stephan Signer).  Steffen, a German citizen and the only defendant who actively contested the charges, was dismissed from the case in February 2013 in a widely-noted decision that found a lack of personal jurisdiction over him.  (See here for my prior guest post).  None of the other defendants in the case were U.S. citizens either, and few if any appear to have had any significant contacts with the United States; the SEC alleged the familiar sporadic touching of U.S. bank accounts, along with a single meeting in Miami during the decade-long alleged bribery scheme, but proffered little else to support personal jurisdiction over any of these foreign nationals.

You might think the court’s dismissal of the only defendant who actively contested personal jurisdiction might have led the SEC to tread carefully when seeking penalties and other sanctions against the defaulting defendants.  Think again.

To the contrary, the SEC took an astonishingly aggressive approach to sanctions against the defaulting defendants, and it got everything it asked for.  The overall case raises legal and policy issues too numerous to address here, but two warrant especially close scrutiny.  First, the SEC convinced the court to impose more than a half-million dollars in civil penalties against each of the two defaulting defendants, despite alleging only four alleged bribes and despite the FCPA’s statutory limit of $10,000 per violation (increased for the relevant period to $11,000 through the SEC’s periodic inflation adjustment as authorized by statute).

How did the SEC get away with a penalty demand more than ten times this apparent $44,000 statutory limit for each defendant?  First, by saying that each of the four alleged bribes should be triple-counted as three separate securities law violations – once as a bribe, again as a books-and-records violation, and yet again as an internal-controls violation – thus artificially multiplying four violations to create twelve.  And as the SEC wonks among us well know, books-and-records and internal-controls violations come with their own separate statutory penalty regime.  But even here the SEC was super aggressive, taking the position that these classically non-fraud violations involved “reckless disregard” of a regulatory requirement, thus allowing the SEC to demand the maximum $60,000  per violation in “second-tier” penalties rather than the $6,000 per violation in the “first-tier” penalties ordinarily associated with non-fraud violations.  (The statutory anomaly that permits dramatically higher civil penalties for books-and-records and internal-controls violations than for bribery violations is another topic beyond the scope of this guest post.)

By triple counting each bribe in this way, the SEC demanded $11,000 + $60,000 + $60,000 ($131,000 total) in penalties against each defaulting defendant, and then multiplied that amount yet again for each of the four alleged bribes in question, arriving at a staggering total penalty of $524,000 per defendant.  This penalty for each of the defaulting defendants was much higher than the total penalties paid by all three of the settling defendants combined (which were only $40,000, $80,000, and $275,000 respectively).

But that’s not even the most bizarre aspect of the SEC’s penalty demand.  Of the four bribes alleged by the SEC against the defaulting defendants, three unquestionably occurred – according to the SEC’s own complaint and penalty motion papers – more than five years before the lawsuit was filed in December 2011, thus raising the obvious question of how the SEC could lawfully request, and how the court could lawfully impose, any penalty at all for those bribes.  By now everyone knows that SEC penalty demands are subject to the 5-year statute of limitations codified at 28 U.S.C. § 2462.  Indeed, just last year the Supreme Court unanimously ruled against the SEC in a case that involved the same statute (Gabelli v. SEC), wherein the SEC conceded the statute’s applicability to penalty demands.  (See my prior guest posts here and here).

So how did the SEC overcome this seemingly insurmountable statute of limitations obstacle?  Essentially by ignoring the issue entirely.  Of course, it’s possible the SEC got a tolling agreement from these two foreign nationals who later decided to ignore the ensuing lawsuit altogether, but that seems improbable. In any event, neither the SEC’s complaint nor its penalty motion mentioned any tolling agreement.  Of the $524,000 in penalties demanded and imposed against each of the defaulting defendants, nearly $400,000 seems obviously barred by the statute of limitations, yet neither the SEC nor the court appears to have acknowledged this issue at all.

One final oddity in this case warrants a separate challenge flag.  On top of the $524,000 in penalties imposed against defaulting defendant Bock, the SEC was awarded another $316,000 against him in what the agency euphemistically styled as “disgorgement” of ill-gotten profits from the bribery scheme.  But as described by the SEC, this money bore no resemblance to profits derived from any of the alleged bribes.  The SEC described it as hush money allegedly paid to Bock (and his wife) to buy his silence and false testimony in two arbitration proceedings that occurred long after he had retired from the company and that, according to the SEC, helped prevent the bribery scheme from being uncovered.

In my recent article, The Equity Façade of SEC Disgorgement, I wrote at length about how disgorgement in SEC cases, as a general matter, is often stretched beyond its proper limits.  The default judgment against Bock reflects many of the concerns I raised in that article, but it also reflects an even more fundamental disconnect under settled disgorgement law.  Characterizing the kind of hush money allegedly paid to Bock as ill-gotten profits caused by his alleged securities law violations seems a stretch to say the least.  The SEC’s theory was that the money was paid to induce and reward Bock’s false testimony in two arbitration proceedings – not as his share of any alleged bribes, not as extra compensation he was paid for his securities law violations, and not as his share of profits earned by Siemens as a result of the bribes.  Here too, neither the SEC nor the court addressed the obvious causation issue, and the SEC got the full amount it demanded.

One can only hope that neither the SEC nor the courts will view these default judgments as models for similar treatment of individuals in future FCPA cases.  This case illustrates the oft-lamented perils presented by the multitude of SEC cases that are decided each year without any effective advocacy on behalf of the defendant – typically due to the defendant’s default, pro se status, lack of adequate financial resources, or counsel possessing little or no expertise in securities law.  The perils run not only to the hapless defendants who invariably get steamrolled in such cases, but sometimes also to the credibility and ultimate enforceability of the resulting judgments.

*****

See here for original source documents relevant to the above issues.