Archive for the ‘Third Parties’ Category

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.

What’s On Your Mind?

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

The dog days of summer.  A time for reflection, a time to think.

I posed the question “what’s on your mind” to the following FCPA practitioners and below are their responses.

Philip Rohlik (Debevoise & Plimpton – Hong Kong)

“While I have been working on Asian related FCPA matters for more than seven years, I moved to the region two years ago.  Living here and interacting with local employees in situations other than investigations has given me a different perspective of the cost and difficulties associated with compliance.

Facilitating payments and transnational legal regimes that seek to bar them are on my mind.  While it is correct and easy to say that ethical multinational corporations should not give in to the petty extortion that characterizes facilitation payments, the issue is not so simple when looked at from the reality of an employee in a high-risk jurisdiction — the kind of employee who recently asked me for advice on “how do I make the police go away?” when they visit the second or third week of every month (about the time their last month’s paycheck runs out).  It is easy for a compliance officer or lawyer who encounters random government officials on his or her way to or from the airport to make full use of the ICC’s Resist handbook.  Local (and, let’s face it, not that well paid) employees who must deal with specific officials on a regular basis are in a different situation especially if they have no desire to test the limits of “imminent physical harm.”

When laws impose vicarious or respondeat superior liability, situations to which the law applies should not be determined from the abstract perspective of a corporation but from the realities faced by the company’s employees.  Is the fight against corruption really furthered by having zero tolerance policies for facilitation payments at the corporate level, but local employees very rationally believing that such grand pronouncements leave them in a situation that will either (i) make their life very difficult or (ii) force them to circumvent internal controls in order to make the payment (thereby creating a potential mechanism for more nefarious payments)?  In this respect, the U.S. law that exempts facilitating payments from the anti-bribery provisions of the FCPA may be less anachronistic than it is often made out to be.

Also often on my mind is third party due diligence.  Right now, one of our concerns is attending to our clients’ needs for right-sizing third party due diligence. Businesses are concerned that the continued lack of clarity from regulators as to the required steps results in excessive cost and a misallocation of compliance resources.  While some third parties deserve thorough diligence, how much diligence is due other third-parties?  Is a basic questionnaire and (the often-not-inexpensive) outsourcing of a public records check sufficient?  What if such checks are almost always inconclusive in countries with limited public records?  Do they just become inefficient box ticking?  We are actively working with both clients as well as due diligence firms providing cloud-based and world-wide investigative services to help get these costs under control.  Among the solutions we are working on are greater use of in-house information.  If there are adequate internal controls on the evaluation of in-house experience with a third party, we believe that the greater use of on-hand information to evaluate third parties can be a real cost-saver.  Doing so would free up resources for other compliance tasks as well as improve the client’s bottom line.”

John Rupp (Covington & Burling – London)

“As we continue to struggle on behalf of clients with demands for bribes, large and small, by government officials in a depressing number of countries, I have become ever more convinced that a new approach to the campaign against bribery – in particular, by western countries – is needed.  The approach that western countries have taken thus far to the bribery of foreign government officials is to punish the bribe giver.  The premise appears to be that international companies, including those subject to the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and the UK Bribery Act 2010, rather like bribing foreign government officials, seeing it as a convenient way to win business without having to compete fairly with other companies operating in the same space.

A completely different picture emerges, of course, when one spends a good part of each working day developing strategies to enable clients to operate in countries where official corruption is endemic.  The international company employee who wakes up in the morning, steadies himself or herself in the mirror and then looks forward to winning business through bribery is an exceedingly rare bird in my experience.  Overwhelming, the reflected image of the vast majority of employees of international companies grappling with bribery demands is of consternation – how does one continue to operate in Country X when everyone on the government payroll in the country is demanding a bribe for everything?

A fully developed, and maximally effective, anti-bribery program by a western country would involve, I believe, much more attention than has been paid in the past to assisting international companies when they are confronting demands for bribes by foreign government officials.  The US State and Commerce Departments, UK and German Foreign Ministries, World Bank – and many others – should put much more emphasis in the future than they have in the past on assisting companies fend off official demands for bribes.  In many, many cases, they have the resources – and the leverage – to do so.

I’m not suggesting that western countries consider repealing statutes punishing the bribery of foreign government officials.  What I am suggesting is that they balance that approach with an equally concerted effort to deal with the demand side of the bribery equation.

Thomas Fox (Solo Practitioner, Founder and Editor of the FCPA Compliance and Ethics Blog)

“The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is investigating JPMorgan Chase regarding its hiring practices in China. It appears that JP Morgan Chase hired children of Chinese government officials or heads of state owned enterprises. While such hirings do not violate the FCPA per se, they do raise red flags. The FCPA Professor was quoted in the New York Times, “While the hire of a son or daughter itself is not illegal, red flags would be raised if the person hired was not qualified for the position, or, for example, if a firm never received business before and then lo and behold, the hire brought in business.” Such a hire may be a FCPA noteworthy event if the timing of the alleged hiring is closely connected to important business victories and awards of government business.

While the questions of corrupt intent will be paramount I think that this episode emphasizes the continuing key concept of the three most important things in any FCPA compliance program; that being: Document, Document, Document. If your compliance program does not document its successes there is simply no evidence that it has succeeded. In addition to providing to your company support to put forward to the DOJ, it is the only manner in which to gauge the overall effectiveness of your compliance program. To negate corrupt intent, JP Morgan Chase will have to dis-link any hiring with the obtaining of business. It will be the documentary efforts of the company in answering this query that may well decide the question of whether the SEC will consider the matter a FCPA violation or not.”

At The 11th Hour

Monday, August 12th, 2013

[This post is part of a periodic series regarding "old" Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement actions]

The 1989 Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement action against advertising agency Young & Rubicam, Inc. (“Y&R”) and its executives Arthur Klein, Thomas Spangenberg and others is one of the more interesting enforcement actions of all-time.

For starters, the enforcement action had an unusual origin.  According to media reports, in connection with an unrelated tax fraud case against Robin Moore (the author of the “French Connection” and “The Green Berets”), law enforcement officials confiscated his diaries.  Moore was a friend of Jamaican Prime Minister Edward Seaga and the diaries led to the investigation of Y&R and its executives.

The indictment alleges a conspiracy between Y&R, Klein, Spangenberg and others to induce Eric Abrahams and Arnold Foote “in their official capacities with respect to the selection and retention of an advertising agency for the Jamaica Tourist Board” and to induce Abrahams and Foote “to use their influence with the Jamaica Tourist Board to affect and influence the decisions of the Board with respect to the selection and retention of an advertising agency.”

Eric Abrahams is described in the indictment as the Minister of Tourism of the Government of Jamaica and Arnold Foote is described as “a prominent Jamaican citizen with close political ties to the Jamaican Labor Party and to the Administration of Prime Minister Edward Seaga”.  As to Foote, the indictment further alleges as follows.  “Foote served as executive chairman of Martin’s Travel, an instrumentality of the Government of Jamaica, and he also acted in an official capacity on behalf of the Minister of Tourism and the Jamaica Tourist Board as an advisor to the Government of Jamaica with respect to tourism, advertising and public relations matters, including the selection and retention of an advertising agency for the Jamaica Tourist Board.

According to the indictment, the defendants “would and did arrange for and pay kickbacks” to Foote and through Foote, to Abrahams.  The indictment alleges that the “kickbacks and the manner in which they were paid would and did cause the Jamaica Tourist Board to make unnecessary and excessive expenditures for advertising services and deprived the Board of economically material information in its business dealings” with Y&R.

According to the indictment, as part of the conspiracy Robin Moore (described as a well-known author residing in Connecticut who had longstanding ties to the Island of Jamaica and was a close friend of Foote and Jamaican Prime Minister Seaga) and Frederick Sturges (described as a resident of Connecticut and an associate of Moore and Foote) “would and did act as middlemen and ‘go betweens’ for the communication of information and monies between and among the conspirators, and that certain kickback payments would be and were funnelled through bank accounts established and controlled by them.”

According to the indictment, “in order to disguise and conceal their unlawful activities, the conspirators would and did cause Y&R to enter into a contract with Ad Ventures, Ltd. a Cayman Island corporation created for the purposes of funneling kickbacks to Foote and Abrahams and affording Y&R an ostensibly legitimate reason for making such payments.”  According to the indictment, various means and devices were used to conceal the unlawful activities including: false statements to government investigators; testifying falsely before the Grand Jury; making some kickback payments in cash and others to a Cayman Islands bank account so as to make the tracing of funds more difficult; and Y&R failed to reflect the kickback payments on reports it filed with the DOJ pursuant to the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

In addition to the conspiracy charge, Y&R, Klein, Spangenberg - along with the “foreign officials” Abrahams and Foote – were also charged with violating RICO.  The predicate offenses alleged were multiple violations of the Travel Act.

The indictment further alleged that the defendants sought to buy the silence of various individuals who had threatened to expose the unlawful conduct.

Y&R, Klein and Spangenberg all pleaded not guilty and the case resulted in extensive media coverage.  In a statement, Y&R said that the criminal charges were “based on speculation and innuendo and [were] without substance or merit.”  A Y&R attorney (Thomas Barr of Cravath, Swaine and Moore) stated at the courthouse as follows.  “This is a lawsuit that involves characterization.  If you pull the characterization out, you haven’t got anything.”  Referring to the labeling of Foote in the indictment as a foreign official, Barr is quoted as follows.  “The reality is this.  Y&R makes very simple, conventional business arrangements in Jamaica.  By calling an advertising man a foreign official the prosecution has converted these charges into one of the most bizarre criminal allegations.”

According to media reports, many were shocked that Klein and Spangenberg were criminally charged.  Quotes to the media included the following.

“[Klein] is the straightest guy in the world.  I was absolutely shocked at the charges.  Of all the people I know in advertising, I don’t know anyone I’d least expect this to happen to.”

“Of all the people I’ve worked with, I’d rank them in the upper 10 percent for their ethical conduct.”

Y&R and Klein moved to dismiss the RICO charge.  Among other things, the defendants argued that the FCPA ”cannot serve as a basis for a Travel Act violation, nor in turn as a predicate for a RICO violation.”  The court denied the motion to dismiss the RICO charge.  (See here for the decision).

The defendants also moved to dismiss the conspiracy charge concerning payments to Abrahams on the ground that prosecution of that aspect was time-barred.  The defendants argued that “Abrahams ceased to be Jamaica’s Minister of Tourism more than five years prior to the return of the indictment.”  The court noted that a conspiracy charge is timely if it alleges the commission of at least one overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy within the applicable five-year statute of limitations and rejected the defendants’ arguments.  The court stated as follows.

“Whether Abrahams withdrew from the conspiracy is a question of fact for the jury.  Nor does Abrahams’ resignation as Minister of Tourism necessarily end the alleged conspiracy or his participation in it.  The indictment charges overt acts committed in furtherance of a single conspiracy from 1984 until 1989.  The allegation of overt acts committed within five years meets the requirements of the statute of limitations.”

The defendants also moved for a bill of particulars requesting specific information as to particular allegations including: the facts which supported the allegations that Mr. Foote was a foreign official within the meaning of the FCPA.  The court stated that “adequate notice of the manner in which Mr. Foote obtained his status as a foreign official” was provided in the indictment.  [See the above description of Foote's status]. 

Of further interest from the pre-trial proceedings, the DOJ moved to make an opening statement at trial.  The opinion states as follows.

“The government claims that the complexity of this case, both factually and legally, as well as the nature of the evidence to be presented warrant the need for opening statements.  First, the government argues that the term ‘foreign official’ as defined in the FCPA has a meaning broader than the ordinary meaning of the phrase.  Without categorizing the evidence for the jury, the government claims that the jury might misinterpret the significance of the evidence.  This amounts to a request to make a legal argument during opening statement which is precisely what should be avoided in opening statements.  Second, the government contends that a substantial portion of its case depends on ‘a complex confluence of circumstantial evidence’ which a jury may not understand if it is not allowed to make an opening statement.  However, ‘a mere recitation’ of what evidence is going to be presented does not necessarily ‘help jurors better understand the evidence when it is introduced.’  To go beyond that would risk stepping into the realm of legal argument which is not allowed.”

Shortly before the trial was to begin in February 1990, Y&R pleaded guilty (see here for the plea agreement).  Pursuant to the plea agreement, Y&R agreed to pay a $500,000 criminal fine.  Although not apparent from the plea agreement, Y&R pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA.

If your only source of FCPA information is the DOJ’s FCPA website, this is where the story stops.  But the story does indeed continue.

The company issued the following press release on February 9, 1990.

“Young &  Rubicam Inc., announced today that it had reached an agreement with  the U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut under which the  government agreed to drop all RICO charges against the agency that had been brought in indictments on Oct. 6, 1989.  The charges were  made in connection with the agency’s successful attempts to obtain the advertising account of the Jamaica Tourist Board in 1981.

Further, the government dropped all the indictments charging that the agency was guilty of bribery of Arnold Foote, a Jamaican advertising executive, for the purposes of his bribing the Minister of Tourism, Eric Anthony Abrahams.  In addition, all  charges against Arthur Klein, an executive vice president of Young & Rubicam, and Thomas  Spangenberg, a former senior vice president of the agency  were dismissed.

The company, in order to put the case entirely behind it, agreed to plead guilty to conspiring to violate a section of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and accepted a fine of  $500,000.  The section of the Act under which the plea is made has been a controversial part of the law because it requires organizations and people who are placed in positions where criminal  activities may be taking place in a “reason to know” relationship with those activities, whether or not they, in fact, did know or if the events did or didn’t occur.  This section of the Act is no longer in the statute, having been removed by Congress in 1988.  Y&R was charged with events that allegedly took place in 1981 when this portion of the statute was in effect.  Ironically, if the case were brought today there would have been no such charge.

A Young & Rubicam spokesperson said, ‘We are particularly  pleased that one of Y&R’s finest individuals, Arthur Klein, has been cleared completely of all charges made against him.  The failed indictments caused Klein and his family extraordinary grief, and to  us this was the worst part of this entire procedure.  His complete exoneration is a cause for major celebration around Y&R.

The government no longer claims that the agency won the competition for the account on anything but the merits of its  presentation, or that Arnold Foote was a public official, as had  been charged.  To the best of Y&R’s knowledge, there is no  evidence that any monies were given to Abrahams.

For  its part, Young & Rubicam did agree that beginning in late 1981, some of its employees did on occasions hear reports of alleged  bribery efforts.  These rumors alleged that Foote, who had been  retained by Y&R to represent the agency in Jamaica, was using  money paid to him by the agency to bribe Abrahams.  Young &  Rubicam itself is not charged with paying bribes.  In fact, an  investigation by the agency in 1986 could find no evidence to support those rumors, and the government has conducted a four-year  investigation, and it has never proved that such bribes occurred.  Both of the individuals deny that any bribes were paid.  There is now no charge that any Young & Rubicam employee, past or present, knew enough ‘individually’ about these rumors to cause a violation.  Thus the agency agreed that because of that knowledge by ‘some’ of its employees it can be construed that it ‘technically’ entered into a “conspiracy.”

The  spokesperson stated, ‘In hindsight, we agree that an early investigation should have been carried out sometime during 1982 when these rumors began surfacing.  We did complete an investigation in 1986 and discovered no evidence of bribery.  The government in its four-year investigation has also not made such a discovery.  So, in  fact, we would have looked and found nothing.  But looking back, we agree that we should have done it in 1982; hence our guilty plea to that violation. ‘In fact we have been pressing since early October for an early decision so that the agency can put the matter  behind us and get on with our business.  This certainly allows us to  do just that.’”

[For on the FCPA’ original knowledge standard applicable to third-party payments, see this prior post.]

As to the “reason to know” standard, media reports quote U.S. Attorney Stanley Twardy as follows.  “The ‘reason to know’ plea meant that while no individual within Y&R knew enough to understand that a law was being violated, the cumulative knowledge of the group working on the account, who should have been in touch with each other, would have given the agency the requisite information.”

According to media reports, the DOJ’s case “fell apart” on the eve of trial “when Y&R’s attorneys submitted to the [DOJ] a document that had been subpoenaed two years ago and that made clear, in the words of U.S. Attorney Twardy, “that Arthur Klein was not aware of what was going on.”  Twardy further stated that the document “suggested quite strongly that Spangenberg did not have criminal intent.”  Twardy further stated:  “We got a transcript of a tape of a phone conversation that made it obvious that the accusations against Mr. Klein were totally without merit.  Ironically, we’d been trying for two years to get a hold of that tape.”  Another media report quoted Twardy as follows.  “The transcript of the conversation was extremely exculpatory, meaning it gave evidence that Klein and in turn Spangenberg were not knowledgeable of the illegal aspects of the payments …”.

Friday Roundup

Friday, June 7th, 2013

Survey says, an editorial, I’ll second that, and spot-on.  It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Survey Says

The recently issued Kroll / Compliance Week Anti-Bribery and Corruption Benchmarking Report was based on responses from “nearly 300 executives” and “participants hailed from all manner of industry.”

Survey findings of note.

“Was the FCPA Guidance any help?  Nearly 53 percent rated the guidance as “a good read, but it didn’t tell me anything new.” Another 23.5 percent deemed it very helpful, 18.8 percent didn’t know, and 4.6 percent said the guidance actually left them more confused.”

Regarding third parties:

  • “The average respondent reports that his/her company conducts business with more than 3,500 third parties”
  • “Most companies (79 percent) will drop a potential third party even upon rumor of bribery without any hard proof”
  • “47 percent of all respondents said they conduct no anti-corruption training with their third parties at all”

Financial Times Editorial on Bribery Act

I was pleased to speak to the Financial Times in connection with its recent Bribery Act editorial.  It stated in full as follows.

Government Needs to Clarify Application of Bribery Act

Britain was once considered a laggard in the international battle against corruption. The Bribery Act, which came into force in 2011, was the first overhaul of anti-corruption laws in almost a century. Two years on, the government wants to review it. This is sensible, as new legislation can have unintended consequences. But any review should not result in a weaker law. That would only allow greater scope for graft.

The government is responding to complaints from small and medium-sized businesses that the costs of compliance are too high. In particular, they are worried about the ban on facilitation payments, small amounts paid to officials to expedite services such as visas or customs checks. Businesses argue that Britain holds its companies to a higher standard than other countries – particularly the US, where such payments are not banned. They say this puts them at a disadvantage.

These concerns are understandable, but exaggerated. Facilitation payments have always been illegal in the UK. Yet conflicting signals from the authorities have sown confusion. Moreover, the absence of case law leaves companies in the dark as to how the law will be applied and what defence is valid. This has created a climate in which companies easily fall prey to firms peddling overly-prescriptive and costly advice on compliance.

More can and should be done to clarify the circumstances under which a company will be pursued. This will help to counter the scaremongering that has led some businesses to pass up export opportunities. To be fair, the guidelines already allow some flexibility for smaller businesses. They are not expected to use the same procedures as big multinationals. When choosing an agent to open a new market, for example, it might be sufficient to verify business references, conduct an internet search and refer to the local chamber of commerce or UK embassy, as long as the anti-corruption policy is widely enough disseminated. The government’s duty is to ensure resources are sufficient to meet such requests.

Authorities must also be consistent. Businesses will not respond to demands that breaches be reported if they fear they will be prosecuted for any and all transgressions.

British companies have other competitive advantages to win business with than bribery. Graft is an evil that blights developing economies and the companies which resort to it. The Bribery Act does not need changing. It just needs supporting.

I’ll Second That

Earlier this week in a Wall Street Journal editorial titled “Mum’s the Word About SEC Defeats”  Russ Ryan (Partner, King & Spalding and former Assistant Director of the SEC Enforcement Division) stated as follows.  “Like other federal agencies, the SEC has long been good at publicizing its initial accusations of wrongdoing – which is fair enough – but not so good at letting the public know when those accusations turn out to be unfounded or an overreach.”  As Ryan rightly noted, in this internet age, “SEC publicity is permanent and widely dispersed.  The regulator’s accusations can persist indefinitely among the top search-engine results for the names of those accused.”

I’ll second that and have previousy written about the same dynamics Ryan highlights under the heading ”Writer’s Cramp at the DOJ.”  See prior posts here and here.

Spot On

Colleen Conry (Ropes Gray) stated as follows in a recent Law360 interview.

Q: What aspects of your practice area are in need of reform and why?

A: The government’s attempts to hold foreign companies accountable for having compliance programs that are on par with those we see at companies that are headquartered in the United States are challenging. Foreign companies often lack notice of that expectation and as a result suffer the consequences. Over time, I hope the government will at least consider as one factor the compliance standards that are the norm in the country in which the foreign entity operates.

*****

A good weekend to all.

Does The DOJ Really Believe That A Significant Percentage Of Issuers Are Engaged In Criminal Acts?

Wednesday, June 5th, 2013

The DOJ has stated that non-prosecution and deferred prosecution agreements “benefit the public and industries by providing guidance on what constitutes improper conduct.”  (See here).

With that in mind, consider the recent Total enforcement action (see here for the prior post).  The DOJ alleged, in support of criminal FCPA internal controls violations, as follows.

“Total:  (a) failed to implement adequate anti-bribery compliance policies and procedures; (b) failed to maintain an adequate system for the selection and approval of consultants; (c) failed to conduct adequate audits of payments to purported consultants; (d) failed to establish a sufficiently empowered and competent corporate compliance office; (e) failed to take reasonable steps to ensure the company’s compliance and ethics program was followed; (f) failed to evaluate regularly the effectiveness of the company’s compliance and ethics program; (g) failed to provide appropriate incentives to perform in accordance with the compliance and ethics program; (h) concealed the consulting agreements’ true nature and true participants; (i) performed no due diligence concerning the named or unnamed parties to these agreements; and (j) lacked controls sufficient to provide reasonable assurances that the consulting agreements complied with applicable laws.”

If the DOJ believes that each of the above constitutes a criminal violation of the internal controls provisions, then a significant percentage of issuers are engaged in criminal acts.

Survey after survey indicates that a significant percentage of companies, including issuer’s subject to the FCPA’s internal controls provisions, fail to maintain an adequate system for selection and approval of consultants, fail to conduct audits of payments to consultants, fail to conduct due diligence of third-parties, and fail to regularly evaluate the effectiveness of its compliance and ethics program.

For instance, the recently issued Kroll / Compliance Week Anti-Bribery and Corruption Benchmarking Report found “that 47 percent of all respondents say they conduct no anti-corruption training with their third parties” and  “of the remainder who do train their third parties on anti-corruption, only 30 percent of that group believe their efforts are effective.”

Likewise, as noted in this recent post, according to a recent survey “only 30% of all survey respondents say their companies always conduct a risk review of existing business relationships and ties to agents in foreign countries.”

Further, as noted in this prior post, a survey found as follows.  “Despite the significant risks and specified demands of regulators [as to third parties], our survey suggests that the corporate response to mitigating third-party risks is still inadequate. Many companies are failing to adopt even the most basic controls to manage their third-party relationships.”  “Effective third-party management does not end at the performance of due diligence. Third parties also should be monitored on an ongoing basis, including regular compliance assessments and audits. It is therefore worrying that only 45% of respondents identified audit rights or regular audits of the third party as a process in place to monitor the relationship.”

Indeed, as even the DOJ and SEC recognized in the November 2012 FCPA guidance, “64% of general counsel whose companies are subject to the FCPA say there is room for improvement in their FCPA training and compliance programs.”  (See here for the prior post).

The DOJ’s allegations in the Total enforcement action are all the more alarming given that the time period relevant to the conduct at issue was between 1995 to 2004.  Is the DOJ suggesting that nearly every issuer during this time period was engaged in criminal acts given that issuers during that time period likely failed to engage in all of the compliance practices identified in the Total enforcement action?

Perhaps the Total enforcement action is the product of vague and sloppy pleading.  Because there is little chance that the DOJ will ever have to prove its allegations, this tends to happen in many FCPA enforcement actions.  Yet, if the DOJ truly believes that all of the above generic allegations in the Total enforcement action represent issuer criminal violations, then the DOJ is suggesting that a significant percentage of issuers are engaged in criminal acts.

If so, this is troubling.

In my article “Grading the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Guidance” and in this prior post, I detailed how DOJ officials stated that the legal community can have confidence that the enforcement agencies will act consistently with the Guidance.  I then observed that the FCPA Guidance can serve as a useful measuring stick for future enforcement agency activity and detailed various statements in the Guidance that can serve this purpose.

Certain statements concerned the FCPA’s book and records and internal controls provisions, including that the FCPA “does not specify a particular set of controls that companies are required to implement” and that the concept of reasonableness (a key statutory element) “of necessity contemplates the weighing of a number of relevant factors, including the costs of compliance.”