Archive for the ‘Third Parties’ Category

Survey Results Should Cause Concern

Monday, June 2nd, 2014

Senator Frank Church, Senator William Proxmire and Representative Robert Eckhardt were the main Congressional leaders when it came to passage of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.  None are with us today, but if they were, it would be interesting to hear their reaction to the plethora of FCPA related survey information in the public domain 37 years after passage of the FCPA.

My hunch is that these Congressional leaders would be flabbergasted.

For instance, Kroll and Compliance Week recently released a joint “2014 Anti-Bribery and Corruption Benchmarking Report” (see here to download).  The self-reported survey produced 197 responses from a range of industries and respondents were employed by companies with a median worldwide employee headcount of approximately 9.600.

The survey result that most caught my eye is the following:  81% of respondents anticipate the bribery and corruption risks to their company over the next 2-3 years to increase (51%) or remain the same (30%).

This response ought to prompt questions whether the current approach to enforcement – as well as enforcement policy – are effective.

I’ve long maintained that while ad hoc enforcement of alleged bribe payers is an important aspect of reducing bribery and corruption, the singular focus on actual enforcement statistics and the “pound the pavement” for more enforcement mantra of many does little to address the root causes of bribery and corruption in many instances.  Foreign trade barriers and distortions are often the root causes of bribery and a reduction in bribery will not be achieved without a reduction in trade barriers and distortions.

Moreover, enforcement policy ought to be focused on creating the best positive incentives.  The DOJ and SEC recognized this basic point in the FCPA Guidance, yet recent survey responses also ought to prompt many questions whether current enforcement policy is indeed creating the best positive incentives.

The vast majority of FCPA enforcement actions are based, in whole or in part, on the conduct of various third parties.  Yet, the Kroll / Compliance Week survey reports that 58% of respondents said they never train third parties on anti-corruption efforts. (Survey respondents reported an average of 3,868 third parties).

This Grant Thorton General Counsel survey also contained survey results that should cause concern as to the effectiveness of current enforcement policy.  According to the survey:

“Even with the movement towards the codification of compliance plans by the DOJ and the SEC over a year ago, only 29% of survey respondents state that they have implemented all of the guidelines, while 47% are “not sufficiently familiar” with the guidelines to reply. Among organizations that have not fully implemented the DOJ and SEC guidelines, 65% responded that a “lack of compliance staff and budgets” was the primary reason.”

Ditto for the recent LRN “2014 Ethics & Compliance Program Effectiveness Report” which found:

“Fewer than half of all programs average at least substantial progress on the critical hallmarks identified in the DOJ/SEC guidance on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.”

So what would the best positive incentive be to achieve greater adoption of best practices and thus FCPA compliance?

I have long submitted that an FCPA compliance defense (along the lines outlined in my article “Revisiting a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Compliance Defense“) is an appropriate answer. So have several former high-ranking DOJ enforcement officials (see here among other posts).

I am not suggesting that an FCPA compliance defense is a panacea, but what I am suggesting and what I hoped to demonstrate in this post is that a compliance defense is the best positive incentive to achieve greater FCPA compliance.

While I can only speculate what various survey responses would be if there was an FCPA compliance defense, I am confident in predicting that more than 42% of companies would train third-parties on anti-corruption efforts, more than 29% of companies would be acting fully consistent with widely accepted best practices, and that more compliance staff and budgets would result.

And I further submit that these would all be good developments as an FCPA compliance defense is not a race to the bottom (as has been suggested) but rather a race to the top.

Friday Roundup

Friday, May 9th, 2014

Is trust “reasonable,” Sigelman formally indicted, scrutiny alerts and updates, and for the reading stack.  It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Is Trust “Reasonable”

This prior post asked:

Would FCPA compliance be better achieved if companies had fewer formal internal controls and instead devoted greater effort to fostering trust within a business organization?  Would such an approach even satisfy an issuer’s obligations under the FCPA’s internal controls provisions which require that issuers devise and maintain a system of internal accounting controls sufficient to provide reasonable assurances that transactions are properly authorized, recorded, and accounted for by the issuer?

The questions are posed once again after reading this New York Times article titled “Berkshire’s Radical Strategy: Trust.”  In the article, Charlie Munger, vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway (arguably one of the most well-respected companies in America) “ruminates on the state of corporate governance, offering a counternarrative to the distrustful culture of most businesses: instead of filling your ranks with lawyers and compliance people, he argued, hire people that you actually trust and let them do their job.”

As highlighted in the article:

“Here’s a little-known fact: Berkshire Hathaway, the fifth-largest company in the United States, with some $162.5 billion in revenue and 300,000 employees worldwide, has no general counsel that oversees the holding company’s dozens of units. There is no human resources department, either.

If that sounds like a corporate utopia, that’s probably because it is. To some people in this day and age — given the daily onslaught of headlines about scandal and fraud in corporate America — that also may sound almost like corporate negligence.”

Sigelman Formally Indicted

In January 2014, the DOJ announced FCPA and related charges against former executives of PetroTiger Ltd., a British Virgin Islands oil and gas company with operations in Colombia and offices in New Jersey, “for their alleged participation in a scheme to pay bribes to foreign government officials in violation of the FCPA, to defraud PetroTiger, and to launder proceeds of those crimes.”  The individuals charged were former co-CEOs of PetroTiger Joseph Sigelman and Knut Hammarskjold and former general counsel Gregory Weisman.  (See this prior post for additional details).

In this criminal complaint, Sigelman was charged with conspiracy to violate the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions as well as three substantive FCPA charges.  The FCPA charges were based on allegations that Sigelman and others made at least four transfers of money in the approximate amount of $333,500 to an account in Colombia of a “foreign government official in Colombia.”

In this release, the DOJ announced today that Sigelman was formally criminally indicted for the same conduct.  The release states that Sigelman “charged with conspiracy to violate the FCPA and to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to launder money, and substantive FCPA and money laundering violations.”

The DOJ release further states:  ”The case was brought to the attention of the department through a voluntary disclosure by PetroTiger, which cooperated with the department’s investigation.”

As previously noted, both Hammarskjold and Weisman have pleaded guilty.

Scrutiny Alerts

Key Energy Services

Key Energy Services disclosed in its recent SEC filing:

“The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has advised us that it is investigating possible violations of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act involving business activities of Key’s operations in Russia. We take any such allegations very seriously and are conducting an investigation into the allegations. We are fully cooperating with and sharing the results of our investigation with the Commission. While the outcome of our investigation is currently not determinable, we do not expect that it will have a material adverse effect on our consolidated financial position, results of operations, or cash flows.”

Quanta Services

Quanta Services (an engineering, procurement and construction services company) disclosed in its recent SEC filing:

“On March 10, 2014, the SEC notified Quanta of an inquiry into certain aspects of Quanta’s activities in certain foreign jurisdictions, including South Africa and the United Arab Emirates. The SEC also requested that Quanta take necessary steps to preserve and retain categories of relevant documents, including those pertaining to Quanta’s U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act compliance program. The SEC has not alleged any violations of law by Quanta or its employees. Quanta has complied with the preservation request and is cooperating with the SEC.”

PTC Inc.

PTC Inc. (formerly known as Parametric Technology) first disclosed its FCPA scrutiny in August 2011 and recently disclosed in this  SEC filing:

China Investigation
We have been cooperating to provide information to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the Department of Justice concerning payments and expenses by certain of our business partners in China and/or by employees of our Chinese subsidiary that raise questions concerning compliance with laws, including the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Our internal review is ongoing and now includes periods earlier than those previously examined. We continue to respond to requests for information from these agencies, including a subpoena issued to the company by the SEC. We cannot predict when or how this matter may be resolved. Resolution of this matter could include fines and penalties; however we are unable to estimate an amount that could be associated with any resolution and, accordingly, we have not recorded a liability for this matter. If resolution of this matter includes substantial fines or penalties, this could materially impact our results for the period in which the associated liability is recorded or such amounts are paid. Further, any settlement or other resolution of this matter could have collateral effects on our business in China, the United States and elsewhere.”
Fresenius Medical Care
Germany-based Fresenius Medical Care first disclosed FCPA scrutiny in August 2012 and stated as follows in its recent SEC filing:
“[The previously disclosed internal] review has identified conduct that raises concerns under the FCPA or other anti-bribery laws that may result in monetary penalties or other sanctions.  In addition, the Company’s ability to conduct business in certain jurisdictions could be negatively impacted.  The Company has recorded a non-material accrual for an identified matter.  Given the current status of the internal review, the Company cannot reasonably estimate the range of possible loss that may result from additional identified matters or from the final outcome of the continuing internal review.”
Financial Services Industry

In case you had not heard that numerous financial services companies were under FCPA scrutiny for alleged hiring practices, the Wall Street Journal reports:

“U.S. regulators have expanded their investigation into large banks’ hiring practices in Asia, seeking more information from at least five U.S. and European firms, according to people close to the probe.  The Securities and Exchange Commission in early March sent letters to a group of companies including Credit Suisse Group AG, Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Morgan Stanley, Citigroup Inc. and UBS AG seeking more information about their hiring in Asia, according to people.  [...]  The SEC late last year issued a round of letter to at least six banks, seeking information on their hiring practices, such as whether the firms had special programs dedicated to relatives of influential officials, according to people close to the inquiry.  The second round of requests reflects a deepening of the probe.  The agency is seeking more data on the banks’ recruiting in Asia, including lists of employees hired as a result of referrals from foreign officials and clients, added the people familiar with the investigation.”

As to the above, Goldman disclosed in its most recent SEC filing:

“Regulatory Investigations and Reviews and Related Litigation.

[The company] and certain of its affiliates are subject to a number of other investigations and reviews by, and in some cases have received subpoenas and requests for documents and information from, various governmental and regulatory bodies and self-regulatory organizations and litigation relating to various matters relating to the firm’s businesses and operations, including:

compliance with the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, including with respect to the firm’s hiring practices …”

Reading Stack

No surprise that an individual who paid $174 million to post bail has hired an A-list legal team in defense of DOJ allegations that he violated, among other laws, the FCPA.  (See here for a recent New York Times article regarding Dmitry Firtash).

Sound advice from former DOJ FCPA Unit Chief Chuck Duross in this MoFo Tech article concerning FCPA risk and the technology industry:

“[T]echnology companies are also at risk from the distribution model that’s often used in the industry. Many companies sell their products to channel partners, which add some value to the product or service—such as other hardware, software, an installation, or a service plan—and then resell it at a higher price. That’s an entirely appropriate business model. But as with any third party, companies need to appreciate the potential risk if, for example, the distributor is simply reselling at a higher price without adding any legitimate value and using that profit as a slush fund to funnel bribes to government officials. It may seem to the company that it is not violating the FCPA. It has simply sold its product to another company. But if a company’s employees are aware that the distributor is paying (or just offering) bribes to government officials to help sell the product, the company and its employees could be criminally liable as conspirators and aiders and abettors.

What should tech companies be doing to avoid these issues?

One thing is to know the third parties they’re doing business with. It is also fundamental to understand the business reason for working with third parties. One of the first questions asked during a DOJ or SEC investigation will often be, “What was the business purpose behind working with X?” Having a clear answer will earn credibility with regulators and underscore the company’s commitment to compliance. Also, making sure employees—and third parties—understand company policies, are properly trained, execute FCPA certifications, and are subject to appropriate ongoing reviews can prevent violations and mitigate (or avoid altogether) penalties if a problem does occur. That is just good business. Corruption tends to occur at companies with loose control environments. While I was at DOJ, we routinely saw loose control environments leading to embezzlement, self-dealing, fraud, and even antitrust violations. When a company doesn’t know where its money is going, that’s bad business and negatively impacts shareholder value. When companies invest in a compliance program, they are investing in the health of the business.”

This Kyiv Post article notes:

“Some of Ukraine’s underpaid cadre of civil servants might get bonuses from international finance institutions to reduce the temptation of taking bribes. According to Ukrainian Tax Service chief Ihor Bilous, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development is exploring the idea of setting up a fund that would provide officials with additional pay. ‘Last week I had a meeting with EBRD representatives and they proposed to create a fund to pay money for people who serve the state in high positions,’ Bilous told the Kyiv Post. This idea was successfully implemented in Georgia, he adds, “we need to change the system, state salaries are very low and this situation creates some kind of temptation.”

*****

A good weekend to all, and to all mothers, Happy Mother’s Day!

Friday Roundup

Friday, February 28th, 2014

Most admired, from the U.K., one way to avoid judicial scrutiny is to avoid the courts, another DOJ official departs, scrutiny updates, and survey says.  It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Most Admired

Are companies that resolve a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement or are otherwise under FCPA scrutiny bad or unethical companies?  To be sure, certain companies that have resolved FCPA enforcement actions are deserving of this label, yet most are not.  Indeed, as detailed in this prior post several companies have earned designation as “World Most Ethical Companies” during the same general time period relevant to an enforcement action or instance of FCPA scrutiny.

In a similar vein, several FCPA violators or companies under FCPA scrutiny can be found on Fortune’s recent “Most Admired Company” list.  In the top 50, I count 12 such companies including IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Microsoft, Wal-Mart, JPMorgan, and Cisco.

Let’s face it, not all companies that resolve FCPA enforcement actions or are under FCPA scrutiny are bad or unethical companies.  If more people would realize this and accept this fact, perhaps a substantive discussion could take place regarding FCPA reform absent the misinformed rhetoric.

From the U.K.

In this October 2013 post at the beginning of the U.K. trial of former News Corp. executives Rebekah Brooks, the former editor of News of the World, and Andy Coulson, another former News of the World editor, I observed as follows.

“What happens in these trials concerning the bribery offenses will not determine the outcome of any potential News Corp. FCPA enforcement action.  But you can bet that the DOJ and SEC will be interested in the ultimate outcome.  In short, if there is a judicial finding that Brooks and/or Coulson or other high-level executives in London authorized or otherwise knew of the alleged improper payments, this will likely be a factor in how the DOJ and SEC ultimately resolve any potential enforcement action and how News Corp.’s overall culpability score may be calculated under the advisory Sentencing Guidelines.”

Well …, this Wall Street Journal article reports as follows.

“[Rebekah Brooks testified that] she authorized payments to public officials in exchange for information on “half a dozen occasions” during her time as a newspaper editor—but did so only in what she said was the public interest. [...]  On the stand, Ms. Brooks, who edited News Corp’s Sun newspaper and its now-closed News of the World sister title, said the payments were made for good reasons, and done so on rare occasions and after careful consideration. “My view at the time was that there had to be an overwhelming public interest to justify payments in the very narrow circumstances of a public official being paid for information directly in line with their jobs,” said Ms. Brooks.”

As noted in this previous post at the beginning of News Corp.’s FCPA scrutiny, any suggestion that the media industry is somehow excluded from the FCPA’s prohibitions is entirely off-base.

One Way to Avoid Judicial Scrutiny is to Avoid the Courts

In recent years, the SEC has had some notable struggles in the FCPA context and otherwise when put to its burden of proof in litigated actions or otherwise having to defend its settlement policies to federal court judges.  For instance, Judge Shira Scheindlin (S.D.N.Y.) dismissed the SEC’s FCPA enforcement against former Siemens executive Herbert Steffen.  In another FCPA enforcement action,  Judge Keith Ellison (S.D.Tex.) granted without prejudice Mark Jackson and James Ruehlen’s motion to dismiss the SEC’s claims that sought monetary damages.  In Gabelli, the Supreme Court unanimously rejected the SEC’s statute of limitations position.  Judge Richard Leon (D.D.C.) expressed concerns regarding the SEC’s settlement of FCPA enforcement actions against Tyco and IBM and approved the settlements only after imposing additional reporting requirements on the companies.  In addition, the SEC’s neither admit nor deny settlement policy has been questioned by several judges (most notably Judge Jed Rakoff) and the merits of this policy is currently before the Second Circuit.

The SEC’s response to this judicial scrutiny has been, as strange as it may sound, to bypass the judicial system altogether  when resolving many of its enforcement actions including in the FCPA context.  As detailed in this previous post concerning SEC FCPA enforcement in 2013, of the 8 corporate enforcement actions from 2013, 3 enforcement actions were administrative actions (Philips Electronics, Total, and Stryker) and 1 action (Ralph Lauren) was a non-prosecution agreement.  In other words, there was no judicial scrutiny of 50% of SEC FCPA enforcement actions from 2013.

Based on recent statements from SEC officials at the “SEC Speaks” conference this trend is going to continue.

According to this Vedder Price bulletin:

“Charlotte Buford, Assistant Chief Counsel, spoke about the SEC’s intention to use the administrative proceeding forum more frequently and in a wider variety of upcoming enforcement actions. Ms. Buford stated that in choosing the forum, the SEC considers factors such as speed and efficiency, the nature of the case, litigation considerations such as the amount of discovery needed, and settlement considerations. Ms. Buford noted that, although certain types of actions such as insider trading cases were historically brought in district court, two insider trading cases were recently brought as administrative actions. She also referenced the SEC’s recent action against Alcoa, Inc. involving FCPA violations, which was filed as a settled administrative proceeding. Ms. Buford indicated that the SEC will continue to increase its use of administrative proceedings in the coming years.”

This Perkins Coie alert adds the following:

“[Kara Brockmeyer - Chief of the SEC's FCPA Unit] also noted that companies can expect to see more cases resolved in administrative proceedings, and that the FCPA Unit is considering bringing litigated FCPA cases through administrative proceedings as well.”

SEC administrative settlements in the FCPA context were rare prior to 2010 largely because the SEC could not impose monetary penalties in such proceedings absent certain exceptions.  However, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act granted the SEC broad authority to impose civil monetary penalties in administrative proceedings in which the SEC staff seeks a cease-and-desist order.  However, Congress’s grant of such authority to the SEC – no doubt politically popular in the aftermath of the so-called financial crisis – has directly resulted in less judicial scrutiny of SEC enforcement theories including in the FCPA context.

Like so much of what is happening in the FCPA space (and government regulation of corporate conduct generally), this is a troubling development.

In other “SEC Speaks” tidbits, the Vedder Price bulletin also states:

“Kara Brockmeyer, Chief of the FCPA Unit, noted that her unit brought a variety of cases in 2013, which included “old school” bribery cases funneling money, improper travel and entertainment, and improper charitable donations. Ms. Brockmeyer stated that the SEC continues to see issues with third-party intermediaries, as many companies enter into arrangements with third parties without adequately explaining the roles of the third parties. Ms. Brockmeyer lauded companies for “putting more thought” into compliance programs and internal controls, as well as for their decisions to self-report. She also discussed the Cross-border working group, which has brought 21 fraud actions involving 90 individuals or entities and has revoked the registrations of 63 companies since this initiative started three years ago.”

The Perkins Coie alert also states:

“Turning to the area of cooperation credit and non-prosecution agreements (NPAs), Chief Brockmeyer stated that the 2013 Ralph Lauren case is a good example of where such an outcome was warranted.  Several factors that weighed in favor of that favorable NPA settlement resulted from the company: self-reporting the suspected bribery within two weeks of finding violations; discovering the violations on its own through internal monitoring activities; assisting the SEC’s investigation by providing English language translations of foreign documents, and bringing witnesses to the United States for questioning; and undertaking extensive remediation efforts, including a worldwide investigation to determine if there were any systemic issues.  Finally, Chief Brockmeyer added that it was significant that Ralph Lauren’s investigation determined that the bribery issues were confined to one country; if the violations were found to be more widespread, the company would likely still have received cooperation credit, but would not have been a candidate for a NPA.

Chief Brockmeyer stated that the SEC will continue to address Compliance Monitorship requirements on a case-by-case basis.  Recently, the SEC has imposed both “full” monitorships, as well as some “hybrid” monitorships that include 18 months of monitoring, combined with 18 months of self-monitoring by the company.  She noted that some companies might even qualify for just internal monitoring, but all these considerations depend heavily on the state of the company’s compliance program.

Finally, Chief Brockmeyer indicated that whistleblower tips continue to serve as a primary lead for the SEC in identifying potential FCPA actions.  The SEC is using these tips to identify specific sectors or industries that are not paying sufficient attention to corporate compliance or internal controls.  The SEC is also focused on enforcing the anti-retaliation whistleblower provisions in Dodd Frank.  In some instances, the SEC has observed that companies have required employees to sign confidentiality agreements that appear to bar an employee from becoming a whistleblower.  She opined that such agreements would violate Dodd-Frank’s prohibition against regulated entities taking actions to impede employees from making whistleblower complaints.”

Another DOJ Official Departs

When Lanny Breuer departed as DOJ Assistant Attorney Criminal Division in March 2013, Mythili Raman became Acting Assistant Attorney and carried forward much of the same rhetoric Breuer frequently articulated concerning the DOJ’s FCPA enforcement program.  (See here for my article “Lanny Breuer and Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Enforcement).

In speeches (here and here) Raman stated that the DOJ’s “stellar FCPA Unit continues to go gangbusters, bringing case after case,” “our recent string of successful prosecutions of corporate executives is worth highlighting” and “we are not going away … our efforts to fight foreign bribery are more robust than ever.”

Like other DOJ FCPA officials before her, Raman frequently highlighted certain enforcement statistics, yet conveniently ignored the most telling enforcement statistic of all – the DOJ’s dismal record when actually put to its burden of proof in FCPA enforcement actions.  In short, for a long time the DOJ’s FCPA Unit has had a distorted view of success.

Certainly, the DOJ and SEC have had “success” in this new era of FCPA enforcement exercising leverage and securing large corporate FCPA settlements against risk-averse corporations through resolution vehicles often not subjected to any meaningful judicial scrutiny.  However, by focusing on the quantity of FCPA enforcement, the quality of that enforcement is often left unexplored.  The simplistic notion advanced by the enforcement agencies seems to be that more FCPA enforcement is an inherent good regardless of enforcement theories, regardless of resolution vehicles, and regardless of actual outcomes when put to its burden of proof.  This logic is troubling and ought to be rejected.  In a legal system founded on the rule of law, a more meaningful form of government enforcement agency success is prevailing in the context of an adversarial system when put to the burden of proof.  As to this form of success, during this new era of FCPA enforcement, the DOJ and SEC have had far less “success” in enforcing the FCPA.

Recently the DOJ announced that Raman is departing from her position. (See here).  In this related Q&A with the Wall Street Journal Law Blog (LB) Raman confirmed that the DOJ measures success in terms of quantity without regard to quality.

LB: [On enforcement of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which has increased in recent years] do you think you’re winning? Are there fewer bribes being paid now?

MR: We often measure our success by numbers of enforcement actions but actually at the end of the day…. the deterrent effect is what actually matters. I don’t know if fewer bribes are being paid or not. But I do know that there are many more companies who know what their obligations are now.

For additional coverage of Raman’s departure, see here and here.

Scrutiny Alerts

Last summer German healthcare firm Fresenius Medical Care AG disclosed an FCPA internal investigation (see here for the prior post).  In its recently filed annual report, the company stated as follows:

“The Company has received communications alleging certain conduct in certain countries outside the U.S. and Germany that may violate the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) or other anti-bribery laws. The Audit and Corporate Governance Committee of the Company’s Supervisory Board is conducting an internal review with the assistance of independent counsel retained for such purpose. The Company  voluntarily advised the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) and the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) that allegations have been made and of the Company’s internal review. The Company’s review and dialogue with the SEC and DOJ are ongoing.  The review has identified conduct that raises concerns under the FCPA or other anti-bribery laws that may result in monetary penalties or other sanctions. In addition, the Company’s ability to conduct business in certain jurisdictions could be negatively impacted. Given the current status of the internal review, the Company cannot reasonably estimate the possible loss or range of possible loss that may result from the identified matters or from the final outcome of the continuing internal review. Accordingly, no provision with respect to these matters has been made in the accompanying consolidated financial statements.  The Company’s independent counsel, in conjunction with the Company’s Compliance Department, have reviewed the Company’s anti-corruption compliance program, including internal controls related to compliance with international anti-bribery laws, and appropriate enhancements are being implemented. The Company is fully committed to FCPA compliance.”

Bio-Rad Laboratories disclosed as follows yesterday in an earnings release.

“[Fourth quarter] results included an accrued expense of $15 million in connection with the Company’s efforts to resolve the previously disclosed investigation of the Company in connection with the United States Foreign Corrupt Practices Act; this is in addition to an accrued expense of $20 million in the third quarter of 2013.”

Survey Says

The American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai recently released its China Business Report (2013-2014).

Notable findings include the following:

“Generally consistent with previous years, 80 percent of respondents cited bureaucracy as the No. 1 challenge, with 72 percent declaring difficulties from an unclear regulatory environment and 70 percent were concerned over problems with tax administration rounding out the top three leading legal and regulatory challenges that companies said hindered their business.”

As I’ve frequently stated, the root causes of much bribery and corruption are various trade barriers and distortions. These barriers and distortions – whether complex customs procedures, import documentation and inspection requirements, local sponsor or other third-party requirements, arcane licensing and certification requirements, quality standards that require product testing and inspection visits, or other foreign government procurement practices – all serve as breeding grounds for harassment bribes to be requested. Simply put, trade barriers and distortions create bureaucracy. Bureaucracy creates points of contact with foreign officials. Points of contact with foreign officials create discretion. Discretion creates the opportunity for a foreign official to misuse their position by making demand bribes.

The report also stated:

“Efforts by the Chinese government to target companies for corruption investigations have sharply increased companies’ concern over compliance with China’s laws and regulations. In 2013, 46 percent of companies said compliance with domestic laws was more important to their business, up from 31 percent in 2012, compared to international anti-bribery laws such as the FCPA (32 percent).

Twice as many respondents said that China’s more aggressive regulatory enforcement for anti-corruption and anti-competition has greatly increased or increased their own business risk (18 percent) than those who say their business risk has greatly decreased or decreased (8 percent). The issue of corruption and fraud was most strongly felt in the healthcare industry (24 percent), which contended with high profile government investigations of foreign and domestic pharmaceutical companies in 2013.”

The impetus for much of this concern is the result of GSK’s (and other pharma and healthcare related companies) scrutiny by Chinese authorities for alleged improper business practices.  (See here for the prior post).

*****

A good weekend to all.

Friday Roundup

Friday, February 14th, 2014

Cisco’s discreet blog post, McDonald’s receives the “princeling” treatment, Avon update, further to the free-for-all, more candy, and for the reading stack.  It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Cisco’s Discreet Disclosure

There is not much that slips through the cracks when it comes to the FCPA space.

However, this December 23, 2013 Cisco blog post by a Vice President for Compliance Services under the discreet heading “The Importance of Ethics in Global Business” has not otherwise been reported.  The post states, after noting that “for the sixth time in as many years, the Ethisphere Institute honored Cisco by naming us to its list of the “World’s Most Ethical Companies,” as follows:

“Recently, at the request of the Securities and Exchange Commission and the US Department of Justice, Cisco began an investigation into our business activities and discounting practices in Russia and other Commonwealth of Independent States in response to a communication those agencies had received. We are cooperating with the agencies and will fully share the results of our investigation with them. Despite the extensive investigation that we have undertaken thus far, we have found no basis to believe that Cisco’s activities are in violation of any law, and indeed the information we were provided does not allege wrongdoing by any of Cisco’s executive management. While this investigation is ongoing, we do not expect the outcome to have any material adverse effect on our business or operations.”

For a prior post concerning companies that have resolved FCPA enforcement actions or have otherwise been under FCPA scrutiny while at the same general time earning “world’s most ethical” company status see here.

McDonald’s

The word of the last six months would seem to be “princeling.”  In “princeling” updates:

This Wall Street Journal article “Vietnam Gets Its First McDonald’s” states:

“McDonald’s chose Henry Nguyen, a Vietnamese-American investor and the son-in-law of Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, as its main franchise partner in the country.”

This Quartz article “McDonald’s Partnered with a Vietnamese Princeling”  notes:

“Partnering up with a well-connected member of one of Vietnam’s most prominent political families has raised remarkably few eyebrows for McDonald’s—especially given the growing scandal in China over investment banks that have done much the same thing.”

Among other things, the article notes:

“Nguyen, who also heads Vietnam’s Pizza Hut franchise business, worked hard for a decade to convince McDonald’s he was the right person for the partnership, he told Reuters last year. A McDonald’s spokeswoman said then, “His marriage did not preclude him for participating in what was a very competitive selection process.”

As noted in this prior post “Regarding Princelings and Family Members” there is nothing inherently illegal about hiring family members of alleged “foreign officials” and various DOJ FCPA Opinion Procedure Releases have blessed such arrangements.  Even so, several FCPA enforcement actions have been based, at least in part, on the hiring of family members of alleged “foreign officials” – see here.
Speaking of princelings, this Bloomberg article asks “If JPMorgan Has to Shun China’s Princelings, Shouldn’t Harvard?”

Avon

Avon has been under FCPA scrutiny since 2008 and disclosed yesterday as follows.

“The Company recorded an aggregate accrual related to the previously disclosed government Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) investigations of $89 million, or $0.20 per diluted share, within operating profit, of which $12 million was recorded in the second quarter. Based on the status of the Company’s current settlement negotiations with the DOJ and the staff of the SEC, including the level of monetary penalties being discussed, an additional $77 million was recorded in the fourth quarter, and the Company estimates the aggregate amount of any potential settlements with the government could exceed this accrual by up to approximately $43 million. There can be no assurance that the Company’s efforts to reach settlements with the government will be successful or, if they are, what the timing or terms of such settlements will be.”
During yesterday’s earnings conference call, Avon’s CEO stated:
“As you saw in our press release this morning, we’ve continued our discussions with that SEC and DOJ and we’ve made significant progress. Based on the status of our recent discussions, we believe that a reasonable range for settlement with both agencies would be $89 million to $132 million. Our discussions with the government are ongoing and differences remain, but the team is working hard in an effort to bring these matters to a close.”

Free-For-All

In my recent article “Why You Should Be Alarmed by the ADM FCPA Enforcement Action,” I noted that with increasing frequency in this new era of FCPA enforcement, it appears that the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission have
transformed FCPA enforcement into a free-for-all in which any conduct the enforcement agencies find objectionable is fair game to extract a multimillion-dollar settlement from a risk-averse corporation.  In this post regarding the recent Alcoa enforcement action I noted that it was hard to square the enforcement action (the fourth largest FCPA enforcement action of all-time in terms of a settlement amount) when the alleged consultant at the center of the alleged bribery scheme was criminally charged by another law enforcement agency, put the law enforcement agency to its burden of proof at trial, and the law enforcement agency dismissed
the case because there was no ”realistic prospect of conviction.”

Further to the free-for-all, Wiley Rein attorneys Gregory Williams, Ralph Caccia and Richard Smith write here as follows.

“[I]t is remarkable that such a large monetary sanction was imposed when the criminal charges brought by the U.K. Serious Fraud Office against the consultant central to the alleged bribery scheme were dismissed on the grounds that there was no “realistic prospect of conviction.” Perhaps most striking, however, is the theory of parent corporate liability that the settlement reflects. Although there is no allegation that an Alcoa official participated in, or knew of, the improper payments made by its subsidiaries, the government held the parent corporation liable for FCPA anti-bribery violations under purported “agency” principles. Alcoa serves as an important marker in what appears to be a steady progression toward a strict liability FCPA regime.

[...]

Such an enforcement approach appears to abrogate basic tenets of corporate liability. A parent company is not liable for the acts of its subsidiary except when the companies disregard corporate formalities (alter ego theory) or when the subsidiary acts as the agent of the parent for a specific purpose.  For the latter, the parent is required to control the particular activity in question. The government’s new agency theory of enforcement represents an aggressive expansion of corporate liability, with significant the implications for parent companies both in terms of the compliance and potentially liability.”

For additional reading, see this recent post (“Dig into certain corporate Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement actions and it would appear that legal liability seems to hop, skip, and jump around a multinational company.  This of course would be inconceivable in other areas, such as contract liability, tort liability, etc. absent an “alter ego” / “piercing the veil” analysis for the simple reason that is what the black letter law commands”).

More Candy

Previous posts here and here have dispensed FCPA candy (that is year in reviews).  You can be tardy for the party, but still be included in the fun and set forth below are three additional worthwhile reads.

BakerHostetler 2013 Year-End Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Update

“This [recent] decrease [in corporate FCPA enforcement actions] appears to be the result of proactive internal investigations and remediation by U.S. companies that recognize the importance of retaining external resources to investigate FCPA issues in light of the substantial fines levied by the government over recent years.”

That’s a nice way to spin it, but the better answer by far is to have a proper perspective on FCPA statistics and to realize that 35% of all corporate FCPA enforcement actions in recent years and 55% of the settlement amounts were the direct result of just three unique events.

WilmerHale Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Alert

Kudos for the following statement regarding so-called “declinations.”

“[W]hile these corporate disclosures are frequently referred to generically as “declinations,” that term seems to encompass not only genuine declinations where the government exercises discretion to decline prosecution of an otherwise chargeable offense, but also cases where the government decides not to prosecute because it has found insufficient evidence of FCPA violations or faces insurmountable legal hurdles in bringing a case.”

For more on so-called “declinations” see prior posts here, here and here.

Miller & Chevalier FCPA Winter Review 2014 

Once again, be warned – the divergent enforcement statistics are likely to make you dizzy at times and as to certain issues.  [Given the increase in FCPA Inc. statistical information and the growing interest in empirical FCPA-related research, I again highlight the need for an FCPA lingua franca (see here for the prior post), including adoption of the “core” approach to FCPA enforcement statistics (see here for the prior post), an approach endorsed by even the DOJ (see here), as well as commonly used by others outside the FCPA context (see here)]

For the Reading Stack

From the Washington Post, a look at New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and the rise and controversy of non-prosecution and deferred prosecution agreements.

In this recent NY Times Dealbook article, “S.E.C.’s Losing Streak in Court Puts Agency in Spotlight,” Professor Peter Henning (a former SEC enforcement official) begins as follows.

“Every litigator says that trials are messy affairs because no one can predict how they will play out.  After a string of recent unfavorable verdicts in fraud cases, the Securities and Exchange Commission may, too, be concerned with that trend. The S.E.C. is a bit like the New York Yankees, because every defeat is magnified, so we should be careful not to read too much into the anecdotal evidence as garnered by the results of a few recent trials.  Most cases filed by the agency are settled, garnering only modest publicity, so the effectiveness of its enforcement program is not tied solely to its wins in the courtroom.”

For more on the SEC’s recent losses, see here from Marc Fagel and Mary Kay Dunning (Gibson Dunn).

“One likely consequence [of the SEC's recent losses] may be an increase in the number of enforcement matters filed as administrative cease-and-desist proceedings rather than as federal district court actions.”

Spot-on observation, but again a sorry state of affairs in that a way for the SEC to avoid litigated losses when put to its burden of proof is to avoid the judicial system altogether.

A recent survey from AlixPartners conducted in November 2013.  (The survey group consisted of executives at companies based in North America, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia that have annual revenues of $150 million or more).  “The survey also found that although some companies have expanded the scope of their reviews of their foreign subsidiaries, one-third said they have not done that. Less than half (43%) of respondents said they regularly conduct due diligence on third-party agents.”  (See here for the prior post “It’s More Like Bronze Dust.”).

Friday Roundup

Friday, February 7th, 2014

Siemens delists, former Siemens execs fail to show up, quotable, to FCPA Inc. and for the reading stack.  It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Siemens to Delist ADRs

The record-setting 2008 FCPA enforcement action against Siemens A.G. was primarily based on the fact that the company had its shares listed on a U.S. exchange and was thus subject to the FCPA’s books and records and internal controls provisions.  (Note:  Siemens AG itself was not charged with FCPA anti-bribery violations).

I doubt – six years after the fact – that there is a cause and effect relationship here, but it is interesting nevertheless to note that last week Siemens announced that ”it is planning to delist its American Depositary Receipts (ADR) from the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE).”  The company further announced that ”Siemens intends to terminate its reporting obligations (deregistration) to the American Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).”  As stated in the release:

“The goal of the delisting and deregistration is to address the change in the behavior of its investors. As a consequence processes of financial reporting are simplified and efficiency is improved. The trading of Siemens shares is nowadays conducted predominantly in Germany and via electronic trading platforms (‘over-the-counter’). Trading volume of Siemens shares in the USA is low, amounting to significantly less than 5% of its global trading volume in the year 2013.”

A delisting of course does not remove Siemens from the reach of the FCPA.  There still is the 78dd-3 prong of the FCPA, but the jurisdictional reach of it is the most restrictive found in the FCPA.

For a moment, let’s just pretend that Siemens delisting was related, in some way, to the FCPA.  If so, is this a good thing or a negative impact of the DOJ and SEC’s expansive jurisdictional theories of FCPA liability against foreign actors?

For instance, as noted in this 2010 post, approximately one month after Daimler resolved its FCPA enforcement action it decided – after 17 years on being on the NYSE to delist from the exchange.  (See here for more).

Former Siemens Execs

One way for the SEC to win its FCPA cases is when the defendants do not show up.

As highlighted here, in December 2011 the SEC filed a civil lawsuit against former Siemens executives Uriel Sharef, Herbert Steffen, Andres Truppel, Ulrich Bock, Stephan Signer, Carlos Sergi, and Bernd Regendantz.  The complaint was based on conduct concerning the Argentine prong of the 2008 Siemens enforcement action.

On the same day the enforcement action was announced, Regendatz agreed to resolve the enforcement action.  As noted in the SEC release, Regendatz “paid a €30,000 administrative fine ordered by the Munich prosecutor (equivalent to $40,000 in U.S. dollars).”

As highlighted in this prior post, when put to its burden by Steffen, Judge Shira Scheindlin dismissed the SEC’s complaint in February 2013 for lack of personal jurisdiction (an initial threshold issue not unique to the FCPA).

As noted in this prior post, in April 2013 Uriel Sharef agreed to resolve the enforcement action by paying a $275,000 civil penalty.  (See here).

The SEC voluntarily dismissed its claims against Carlos Sergi in October 2013.

Earlier this week, on February 3rd, Truppel consented to a final judgment in which he agreed to pay a $80,000 civil penalty.

Also earlier this week, on February 4th,  Judge Scheindlin entered a default judgment as to Bock and Signer.  As part of the order, Bock was ordered to pay $937,957 (a $524,000 civil penalty, $316,452 in disgorgement, plus prejudgment interest of $97,505) and Signer was ordered to pay a $524,000 civil penalty.  The Bock and Signer settlement amounts rank first and third in terms of individual SEC FCPA settlements amounts with Ousama Naaman (approximately $877,000) ranking second.

The burning question of course is whether the SEC would have prevailed against Truppel, Bock and Signer if put to its burden of proof.  Like in Steffen, there would no doubt have been an initial threshold issue of personal jurisdiction before turning to FCPA specific jurisdictional issues.

The relevant jurisdictional allegations against Truppel were as follows.

“Truppel participated in meetings in Miami, Florida, and New York, NY, in which bribes to Argentine officials were negotiated and promised. He caused Siemens to pay, and promise to pay, millions of dollars in bribes in an effort to retain the DNI Contract. Some ofthe bribes were paid via bank accounts in the United States.”

The relevant jurisdiction allegations against Bock were as follows.

“Bock participated in a meeting in Miami, Florida, at which bribes to Argentine officials were negotiated and promised. Bock also provided false testimony in two arbitration proceedings, one of which was filed in Washington, D.C., in an effort to conceal Siemens’ corrupt payments and recover its expected profits from the DNI Contract.”

The relevant jurisdictional allegations against Signer were as follows.

“Signer authorized the payment of bribes to government officials in Argentina. Some of the bribes were paid to bank accounts in the United States.”

Quotable

As noted here OECD Secretary General Angel Gurria warned that the bribery of foreign public officials by businesses was contributing to an “erosion of public trust.”  True, but “enforcing” bribery and corruption laws through resolution vehicles not subjected to judicial scrutiny and otherwise inconsistent with rule of law principles (see here for my recent article) also contribute to an “erosion of public trust.”

Gurria also reportedly stated:  “corporations need to stop bribing public officials, and that is going to help recover public trust and legitimacy, that is going to help markets work.”

In all due respect, this is just such a naive way to view the problem of bribery and corruption.

I like what Alexandra Wrage (President of Trace International) said here:

“Whether they’re stating it expressly or acting on it quietly, governments are using corporations as their primary tool to reduce international bribery. They alarm companies with vast fines and terrify individuals with substantial prison sentences with the hope of ending the payment of bribes because they cannot, in most cases, do much of anything about those demanding them. This is not inappropriate. Companies are regulated, subject to laws and answerable to shareholders. The worst offenders demanding bribes, on the other hand, do so with impunity, hiding behind sovereign immunity and, often, their own, complicit local law enforcement. Abacha. Suharto. Marcos. Duvalier. It’s a longstanding tradition, still thriving in many countries today. U.S. and some European law enforcement agencies have been extraordinarily successful, with fines in the United States now counted in the billions of dollars and other jurisdictions promising to catch up soon. While these efforts have done more than anything else to reduce bribery, they have yet to convince us that companies are both the sole source and solution of all international corruption — and that’s insupportable. [...] The simple reality is that there are just some things that companies can’t do about corruption.”

See here and here for further reasons why Gurria’s statement is off-base.

To FCPA Inc.

Weil Gotshal announced that Adam Safwat, most recently the Deputy Chief in the DOJ’s Fraud Section where he worked on – among other things – FCPA enforcement actions – has joined the firm.  According to the release, “with several years of senior level experience in the DOJ, as well as experience as a former federal prosecutor, [Safwat] brings a deep understanding of criminal and regulatory enforcement to the Firm, including with regard to corporate securities fraud and Foreign Corrupt Practices Act investigations.”

Reading Stack

A handy-dandy “Master List of Third Party Corruption Red Flags” courtesy of the FCPAmericas Blog.

For your viewing enjoyment, the recent program at Fordham Law School “China and the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act:  Challenges for the 21st Century.”

For your viewing enjoyment, Senator Elizabeth Warren talking about an issue discussed in last week’s Friday roundup regarding JPMorgan.

I’ve written before about “offensive use” of the FCPA, but I am still trying to figure out the purpose of this press release.

*****

A good weekend to all.