Archive for the ‘United Kingdom’ Category

Friday Roundup

Friday, March 28th, 2014

Further trimmed, scrutiny alerts and updates, facts and figures, quotable, and for the reading stack.  It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Further Trimmed

When the SEC announced its enforcement action against James Ruehlen and Mark Jackson  (a current and former executive of Noble Corp.) in February 2012, I said that this would be an interesting case to follow because the SEC is rarely put to its burden of proof in FCPA enforcement actions – and when it has been put to its ultimate burden of proof – the SEC has never prevailed in an FCPA enforcement action.

Over the past two years, the SEC’s case has been repeatedly trimmed.  (See this recent post containing a summary).  In the latest cut, the SEC filed an unopposed motion for partial voluntary dismissal with prejudice on March 25th.  In pertinent part, the motion states as follows.

“To narrow this case and streamline the presentation of evidence to the jury, the SEC hereby moves for leave to voluntarily dismiss with prejudice all portions of its claims … predicated upon Noble Corporation’s violation of [the FCPA's internal controls provisions".

For additional specifics, see the filing.

As highlighted in this previous post, in 2010 the SEC charged Noble Corporation with violating the FCPA's anti-bribery, books and records and internal controls provisions based on the same core conduct alleged in the Jackson/Ruehlen action. Without admitting or denying the SEC’s allegations, Noble agreed to agreed to an injunction and payment of disgorgement and prejudgment interest of $5,576,998.

In short, the SEC's enforcement action against Ruehlen and Jackson is a shell of its former self.   Interesting, isn't it, what happens when the government is put to its burden of proof in FCPA enforcement actions.

Scrutiny Alerts and Updates

Alstom

Bloomberg reports speculation that a future FCPA enforcement action against Alstom could top the charts in terms of overall fine and penalty amounts.  (See here for the current Top 10).

The article states:

"The Justice Department is building a bribery case against Alstom SA , the French maker of trains and power equipment, that is likely to result in one of the largest U.S. anticorruption enforcement actions, according to two people with knowledge of the probe. Alstom, which has a history checkered with corruption allegations, has hindered the U.S. investigation of possible bribery in Indonesia and now faces an expanded probe including power projects in China and India, according to court documents in a related case. Settlement talks haven’t begun, the company said."

In response to the Bloomberg article, Alston released this statement.

"Robert Luskin of Patton Boggs, Alstom’s principal outside legal advisor in the USA, states that the Bloomberg article published on 27 March 2014, regarding the investigation of Alstom by the US Department of Justice, does not accurately reflect the current situation: “Alstom is cooperating closely, actively, and in good faith with the DOJ investigation. In the course of our regular consultations, the DOJ has not identified any on-going shortcomings with the scope, level, or sincerity of the company’s effort”.

“The discussions with the DOJ have not evolved to the point of negotiating a potential resolution of any claims. Any effort to estimate the size of any possible fine is sheer speculation, as would be any comparison with other cases that have recently been resolved. Alstom has agreed to focus its efforts on investigating a limited number of projects that we and the DOJ have identified in our discussions. We are working diligently with the DOJ to answer questions and produce documents associated with these specific projects so that we can address any possible improper conduct”.

VimpelCom

Netherlands-based and NASDAQ traded telecommunications company VimpelCom recently disclosed:

"[T]hat in addition to the previously disclosed investigations by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and Dutch public prosecutor office, the Company has been notified that it is also the focus of an investigation by the United States Department of Justice. This investigation also appears to be concerned with the Company’s operations in Uzbekistan. The Company intends to continue to fully cooperate with these investigations.”

On March 12, 2014, VimpelCom disclosed:

“The Company received from the staff of the United States Securities and Exchange Commission a letter stating that they are conducting an investigation related to VimpelCom and requesting documents. Also, on March 11, 2014, the Company’s headquarter in Amsterdam was visited by representatives of the Dutch authorities, including the Dutch public prosecutor office, who obtained documents and informed the Company that it was the focus of a criminal investigation in the Netherlands. The investigations appear to be concerned with the Company’s operations in Uzbekistan. The Company intends to fully cooperate with these investigations.”

Orthofix International

As noted in this Wall Street Journal Risk & Compliance post, Orthofix International recently disclosed:

“We are investigating allegations involving potential improper payments with respect to our subsidiary in Brazil.

In August 2013, the Company’s internal legal department was notified of certain allegations involving potential improper payments with respect to our Brazilian subsidiary, Orthofix do Brasil. The Company engaged outside counsel to assist in the review of these matters, focusing on compliance with applicable anti-bribery laws, including the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (the “FCPA”). This review remains ongoing.”

As noted in this previous post, in July 2012 Orthofix International resolved a DOJ/SEC FCPA enforcement action concerning alleged conduct by a Mexican subsidiary.  In resolving that action, the company agreed to a three year deferred prosecution agreement.  As is typical in FCPA DPAs, in the Orthofix DPA the DOJ agreed not continue the criminal prosecution of Orthofix for the Mexican conduct so long as the company complied with all of its obligations under the DPA, including not committing any felony under U.S. federal law subsequent to the signing of the agreement.

See this prior post for a similar situation involving Willbros Group (i.e. while the company while under a DPA it was investigating potential additional improper conduct).  As noted here, Willbros was released from its DPA in April 2012, the original criminal charges were dismissed and no additional action was taken.

Besso Limited

Across the pond, the U.K. Financial Conduct Authority (“FCA”) recently issued this final notice to Besso Limited imposing a financial penalty of £315,000 for failing “to take reasonable care to establish and maintain effective systems and controls for countering the risks of bribery and corruption associated with making payments to parties who entered into commission sharing agreements with Besso or assisted Besso in winning and retaining business (“Third Parties”).”

Specifically, the FCA stated:

“The failings at Besso continued throughout the Relevant Period [2005-2011] and contributed to a weak control environment surrounding the making of payments to Third Parties. This gave rise to an unacceptable risk that payments made by Besso to Third Parties could be used for corrupt purposes, including paying bribes to persons connected with the insured or public officials. In particular Besso:  (1) had limited bribery and corruption policies and procedures in place between January 2005 and October 2009. It introduced written bribery and corruption policies and procedures in November 2009, but these were not adequate in their content or implementation; (2) failed to conduct an adequate risk assessment of Third Parties before entering into business relationships; (3) did not carry out adequate due diligence on Third Parties to evaluate the risks involved in doing business with them; (4) failed to establish and record an adequate commercial rationale to support payments to Third Parties; (5) failed to review its relationships with Third Parties, in sufficient detail and on a regular basis, to confirm that it was still appropriate to continue with the business relationship; (6) did not adequately monitor its staff to ensure that each time it engaged a Third Party an adequate commercial rationale had been recorded and that sufficient due diligence had been carried out; and (7) failed to maintain adequate records of the anti-bribery and corruption measures taken on its Third Party account files.”

The FCA has previously brought similar enforcement actions against Aon Limited (see here), Willis Limited (see here), and JLT Speciality Limited (see here).    For more on the U.K. FCA and its focus on adequate procedures to prevent bribery , see this guest post.

Facts and Figures

Trace International recently released its Global Enforcement Report (GER) 2013 – see here to download.  Given my own focus on FCPA enforcement statistics and the various counting methods used by others (see here for a recent post), I particularly like the Introduction of the GER in which Trace articulates a similar “core” approach that I use in keeping my enforcement statistics.  The GER states:

“[W]hen a company and its employees or representatives face multiple investigations or cases in one country involving substantially the same conduct, only one enforcement action is counted in the GER 2013.  An enforcement action in a country with multiple investigating authorities, such as the U.S., is also counted as one enforcement action in the GER 2013.”

The Conference Board recently released summary statistics regarding anti-bribery policies.  It found as follows.

39% of companies in the S&P Global 1200; 23% of companies in the S&P 500; and 14% of companies in the Russell 1000 reported having a policy specifically against bribery.

Given the results of other prior surveys which reported materially higher numbers, these results are very surprising.

Quotable

This recent Wall Street Journal article “Global Bribery Crackdown Gains Steam” notes as follows.

“Cash-strapped countries are seeing the financial appeal of passing antibribery laws because of the large settlements collected by the U.S., according to Nathaniel Edmonds, a former assistant chief at the U.S. Department of Justice’s FCPA division.  ”Countries as a whole are recognizing that being on the anticorruption train is a very good train to be on,” said Mr. Edmonds, a partner at Paul Hastings law firm.”

The train analogy is similar to the horse comment former DOJ FCPA enforcement attorney William Jacobson made in 2010 in an American Lawyer article that “[t]he government sees a profitable program, and it’s going to ride that horse until it can’t ride it anymore.”  For additional comments related to the general topic, see this prior post.

Reading Stack

This recent Wall Street Journal Risk & Compliance Journal post contains a Q&A with former DOJ FCPA Unit Chief Chuck Duross.  Contrary to the inference / suggestion in the post, Duross did not bring “tougher tactics” such as wires and sting operations to the FCPA Unit.  As detailed in prior posts here and here, undercover tactics and even sting operations had been used in FCPA enforcement actions prior to the Africa Sting case.

Speaking of the Africa Sting case, the Q&A mentions reasons for why the Africa Sting case was dropped.  Not mentioned, and perhaps relevant, is that the jury foreman of the second Africa Sting trial published this guest post on FCPA Professor after the DOJ failed in the second trial.  Two weeks later, the DOJ dismissed all charges against all Africa Sting defendants.

Further relevant to the Africa Sting case, the Wall Street Journal recently ran this article highlighting the role of Richard Bistrong, the “undercover cooperator” in the case.  Bistrong has recently launched an FCPA Blog – see here.

*****

A good weekend to all.

An Odd Speech By The SFO Director

Monday, March 17th, 2014

U.K. Serious Fraud Office Director David Green recently delivered this speech titled “Ethical Business Conduct:  An Enforcement Perspective” at an event sponsored by PwC.

It is an odd speech.

Contrary to the “active engagement” position of his predecessor Richard Alderman, Green stated as follows.

“The role of the SFO is to investigate and to prosecute the topmost tier of serious and complex fraud and bribery. As part of that process, we are engaging and will continue to engage in a straight-forward way, by a process which is now underpinned by statute and a Code of Practice, with companies which self-report misconduct to us. We totally get the importance of generating trust and, in the right circumstances, legitimate expectation based on a track record of our dealings with companies who self-report. But the SFO is not a regulator, an educator, an advisor, a confessor, or an apologist. I am not funded for any of those activities. The SFO is a law enforcement agency dealing with top end, well-heeled, well-lawyered crime. We enforce the law in our specialist field. It follows that I am not here to preach. The SFO does not do lectures on ethics. We do not issue guidance on how not to rob banks. I would not dream of telling you how I think you should behave. It is for business and senior managers to decide appropriate standards of ethics and integrity in their commercial activities. They have access to the best expertise and advice available from the law and accountancy sectors of the Bribery Act industry. That advice would doubtless take account of the legitimate profit motive, and the interests of employees, shareholders, investors and pensioners. So I cannot help you on ethics. But the SFO will continue to engage with companies who want to do the right thing, and we are very interested in building trust.”

However, after stating that he would not “preach,” that “the SFO does not do lectures on ethics,” and that he “would not dream of telling you how I think you should behave,” Mr. Green proceeds to do the things he said he would not do.

For instance, “why should a company self-report suspected criminal misconduct to the SFO.”

In the words of Green, because “there is a moral and reputational imperative to self-report:  it is the right thing to do and demonstrates that the corporate is serious about behaving ethically.”

Mr. Green’s speech was not entirely an air ball.

He did state as follows regarding the difference between U.K. style deferred prosecution agreements and U.S. deferred prosecution agreements.

“The US model for DPAs has no statutory foundation; it has developed through practice. The downsides are that some judges feel they are used as rubber stamps for deals agreed between prosecutor and corporate and that the public may perceive a DPA as a “sweet-heart deal” which lacks transparency.

The British model for DPAs is adapted to the British context.

It is a creature of statute, explained by a published Code of Conduct.It is available only in relation to corporates, not individuals.

It is designed to take account of the frustration expressed by very senior judges in the Innospec and BAE hearings that they had been presented with fait accompli as to penalty agreed between prosecution and defence. [See prior posts here and here]

The whole process, from preliminary hearing to application for approval to pronouncement of approval, takes place under judicial supervision.

The judge has to be persuaded that the DPA is in the interests of justice, reasonable, fair and proportionate.

The final hearing (the pronouncement of approval of the DPA, with reasons) will almost always be in open court.

It is by invitation only.

It is not a panacea.

Prosecution remains an option and the prosecution of individuals remains likely.As experience is built up by all parties, this will generate consistency and therefore predictability around the likelihood of achieving a DPA.”

Even so, it remains troubling that Mr. Green defends the new DPA model by calling it “cheaper” and “quicker.”  As noted in this prior post, ease and efficiency are not concepts normally associated with the rule of law and justice.

*****

What is the DOJ’s primary role when it comes to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act?  As highlighted in this previous post, in  Lamb v. Phillip Morris Inc., 915 F.2d 1024 (6th Cir. 1990) the court, after reviewing the FCPA’s legislative history, concluded that the “legislative action clearly evinces a preference for compliance in lieu of prosecution …”.

U.K. Sentencing Guidelines For Organizations: Implications For Violators Of The U.K. Anti-Bribery Regime

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

Today’s post is from Karlos Seeger, Matthew Getz and Robin Lööf (all from the London office of Debevoise & Plimpton).

As regular readers of FCPA Professor will no doubt be aware, the UK legislative regime in relation to bribery and corruption, foreign as well as domestic, has changed dramatically in recent years, both in terms of substance and procedure.  These changes are particularly important for commercial organisations and, what is more, are all linked.  To re-cap:

  • The Bribery Act 2010 (“the Bribery Act”) did away with the patch-work of late 19th and early 20th century statutes which until recently, with some amendments and complemented by the common law, constituted the UK’s substantive anti-bribery laws.  It criminalises active and passive bribery both in the private and public sectors, and also creates a new, specific “FCPA offence” of bribing a foreign public official.  The most revolutionary aspect of the Bribery Act, however, is that in relation to activities on or after 1 July 2011, organisations will be held criminally liable for failing to prevent bribery by their employees, or other persons associated with them, unless they can prove that they had an effective compliance programme in place (the so-called “corporate offence”).
  • The Crime and Courts Act 2013 introduced Deferred Prosecution Agreements (“DPAs”) into UK law.  Previously, although plea agreements were possible and covered by specific guidance, attempts by prosecutors and defendants to present courts with agreed sentences had been deprecated by the judiciary on the basis that for an English prosecutor to agree on a sentence with a defendant would be contrary to “the constitutional principle that … the imposition of a sentence is a matter for the judiciary.” (Lord Justice Thomas [since appointed Lord Chief Justice] in R v Innospec Limited; see below)  DPAs will make this possible and will be available to organisations suspected of, inter alia, offences under the Bribery Act.  DPAs come into force on 24 February 2014.
  • On 31 January 2014, the Sentencing Council, the independent body responsible for developing guidelines for courts in England & Wales to use when passing sentence, issued a definitive guideline for sentencing organisations convicted of, inter alia, offences under the Bribery Act (“the Guideline”).  The Guideline will also constitute the basis for calculating the financial penalties levied under a DPA.

In this post, we look first at previous English practice in relation to sentencing for organisations convicted of bribery offences.  We then describe the new Guideline, draw comparisons with US practice, and attempt to assess what changes, if any, it will bring for organisations convicted of bribery.  Finally, we seek to predict how the Guideline will be used to calculate the financial penalties due under a DPA, with particular focus on the corporate offence.

Analysis of the Current State of the Law

Unlike in the US where the application of the principle of respondeat superior makes organisations vicariously liable for many criminal acts of their employees, English prosecutors seeking to hold organisations responsible for most criminal offences, including bribery, have had to prove that some part of the organisation’s “directing mind” – a director or senior executive, was involved in the wrongdoing.  As a result, few prosecutions have been brought and there are, consequently, very few examples of criminal fines imposed on organisations guilty of foreign corruption.  In addition, as a likely consequence of the uncertainty surrounding agreements between prosecutors and offending organisations, particularly as regards sentencing, a number of instances of corporate foreign corruption were dealt with civilly with Civil Recovery Orders which can be agreed between the investigating body and the corporate concerned.  With the introduction of DPAs, however, similar certainty of outcome can now be achieved through the criminal process which should reduce the need to resort to civil procedures to deal with criminal behaviour.

The Existing Case Law

In September 2009, engineering company Mabey & Johnson Ltd was sentenced for having sought to influence decision makers in relation to the award of public contracts in Ghana, Jamaica, and Iraq.  The company had paid some £832,000 in bribes in return for contracts worth approximately £44 million.  It was agreed between the Serious Fraud Office (“SFO”) and the company that there was a maximum of £4.65 million (ca. $7.4 million) available for confiscation and/or fines.  On its guilty pleas, the company was sentenced to pay confiscation of £1.1 million, and fines of £3.5 million.  The company also committed to paying reparations to the three countries concerned of, in total, £1,415,000.  There was a joint submission by the SFO and the company that the £4.65 million maximum was the most the company could afford to pay and still stay in business.  His Honour Judge Rivlin QC endorsed this sum, stating that he found it “realistic and just”.

In March 2010, Innospec Ltd was sentenced by Lord Justice Thomas (since appointed Lord Chief Justice) in respect of “systematic and large-scale corruption of senior Government officials” in Indonesia.  Innospec manufactured a fuel additive (TEL) which had been banned in most countries on environmental grounds and in order to preserve one of the few remaining markets for TEL, it had paid an estimated $8 million in bribes in order, as Thomas LJ found, to “block legislative moves to ban or enforce the ban of TEL on environmental grounds in Indonesia.”  As part of a global settlement between the company, on the one hand, and the SFO, as well as the US DoJ, SEC, and OFAC, on the other, a figured had been arrived at which represented the maximum the company could afford to pay and stay in business.  Before Thomas LJ, it was submitted that there was only $12.7 million available for confiscation and/or fines in the UK if the company was to survive.  This represented roughly one third of the global settlement sum.  Thomas LJ noted that the benefit from this campaign may have been as high as $160 million and that the US Federal Sentencing Guidelines indicated a sentencing range in respect of the company’s offending in Iraq (“no more serious than the Indonesian corruption”) would have been between $101.5 and $203 million.  In terms of what the appropriate UK fine would have been, Thomas LJ confined himself to indicating that it “would have been measured in the tens of millions.”  However, “with considerable reluctance”, Thomas LJ ordered that the sterling equivalent of $12.7 million be paid as a fine.  His Lordship explained his decision: “in all the circumstances and given the protracted period of time in which the agreement had been hammered out, I do not think it would have been fair to impose a penalty greater than that.”  Importantly, Thomas LJ made it clear that “the circumstances of this case are unique.  There will be no reason for any such limitation in any other case and the court will not consider itself in any way restricted in its powers by any such agreement.”  In fact, in His Lordship’s view, the division of the global sum between the UK and the US was not “one which on the facts of the case accorded with principle.” 

Finally, in December 2010, as part of a global settlement with the SFO and the US DoJ, BAE Systems plc pleaded guilty to a failure to keep adequate accounting records in relation to a contract worth $39.97 million for the provision of a radar system to Tanzania.  BAE accepted that there was a high probability that part of $12.4 million paid to a local adviser, Mr. Vithlani, had been used to favour BAE in the contract negotiations.

An agreement between the SFO and BAE was presented to the court under which BAE undertook to pay £30m to Tanzania, less any financial orders imposed by the court.  In his sentencing remarks, Mr. Justice Bean made no reference to this agreement.  His Lordship did however state that he was “astonished” at the SFO’s approach to the evidence and, in particular, branded the SFO’s preparedness to accept that Mr. Vithlani was simply a well-paid lobbyist as “naïve in the extreme”.  Whilst refusing to accept this interpretation of the evidence, Mr. Justice Bean pointed out that “I … cannot sentence for an offence which the prosecution has chosen not to charge.  There is no charge of conspiracy to corrupt …”  Noting that there were no relevant sentencing precedents for the offence charged, Mr. Justice Bean fined BAE £500,000.

Assessment of the Existing Case Law

Two things are noteworthy from the above sentences:

First, the recognised lack of precedent for UK sentences in foreign bribery cases.  In only one of the cases (Mabey & Johnson) did the sentencing judge indicate that the sentence passed was appropriate.  Having no doubt carefully studied the “success” of the approach in that case, the lawyers involved in Innospec approached the sentencing exercise in a structurally very similar manner only to be faced with the ire of one of the most senior judges in the country.  Disapproving of every aspect of the situation in which the sentencing court found itself, Thomas LJ made it very clear that the result in Innospec was in no way to be seen as a precedent for the future.

Second, the comparison with the US is instructive.  In Innospec, US prosecutors obtained $26.7 million compared to the SFO’s $12.7 million.  As far as BAE is concerned, however, in March 2010, prior to being fined £500,000 in the UK, BAE had agreed a settlement with the US DoJ including a $400 million criminal fine in respect of virtually identical conduct as that charged in the UK, albeit in a different jurisdiction.

This disparity in relation to BAE led to criticisms of the UK sentencing regime for organisations.  Notably, the UK Labour party included it in its Policy Review on Serious Fraud and White Collar Crime as an example of the apparent comparative laxity of the UK regime.  However, in the most authoritative ruling on these matters we have, Lord Justice Thomas’s sentencing of Innospec Ltd, there is the following statement of principle: “there is every reason for states to adopt a uniform approach to financial penalties for corruption of foreign government officials so that the penalties in each country do not discriminate either favourably or unfavourably against a company in a particular state.

In any event, whatever the theoretical position might be under existing English case law, from 1 October 2014, courts will sentence organisations convicted of bribery offences under the Guideline which puts in place a sentencing system which should feel familiar to US lawyers.

The New Guideline:  Background and Context

Offences under the Bribery Act are covered by the new DPA regime.  This is seen as particularly significant in relation to the corporate offence which, with its lower evidential threshold for conviction, is expected to make prosecutions of organisations for bribery offences easier and therefore, potentially, more common.  The Act introducing DPAs provides that the financial penalty agreed under a DPA “must be broadly comparable to” the fine the organisation would have received had it pleaded guilty and been convicted.  However, as is apparent from the review of the authorities above, there is not much by way of guidance in this regard, in case law or otherwise.

Recognising this lack of guidance which risked introducing unnecessary but critical additional uncertainty into initial DPA negotiations, the Sentencing Council, which had been working on it for years, expedited its work on sentencing guidelines for corporates convicted of fraud, bribery, and money laundering.

The Basic Fine Calculation

The basic principle of the Guideline for calculating the fine is that the “[a]mount obtained or intended to be obtained (or loss avoided or intended to be avoided)” from the offence (the “harm figure”) is multiplied by a figure based on the corporate offender’s culpability (the “harm figure multiplier”).

For bribery offences, the harm figure “will normally be the gross profit from the contract obtained, retained or sought as a result of the offending.”  For the corporate offence, an alternative measure is suggested, namely “the likely cost avoided by failing to put in place appropriate measures to prevent bribery.

Culpability is assessed with reference to the offender’s “role and motivation” in the offence(s) and categorised as “high”, “medium”, or “lesser”, depending on the characteristics and circumstances of the offending.  Characteristics indicating high culpability include the corruption of governmental or law enforcement officials, and factors indicating lesser culpability include the existence of some, but insufficient, bribery prevention measures.

Each culpability level has both a starting point for the harm figure multiplier (100% for lesser, 200% for medium, and 300% for high culpability) and a range: 20-150% for lesser, 100-300% for medium, and 250-400% for high.  The presence of aggravating and mitigating factors (of which the Guideline provides non-exhaustive lists) will determine where within the relevant range a defendant organisation falls.  Listed factors increasing seriousness, and thus raising the harm figure multiplier, include corporate structures set up to commit offences and cross-border offending.  Mitigating factors that lower the harm figure multiplier include co-operation with the investigation, self-reporting and early admissions.

Having applied the relevant multiplier to the harm figure, a sentencing court would have to take into account further factors such as discounts due on account of guilty pleas (up to one third, according to the current guidance), particularly valuable co-operation, and the consequences on third parties of the proposed totality of the financial orders.  The court could then adjust as appropriate.

In setting out this basis for the calculation of fines, the Sentencing Council acknowledged having considered Chapter 8 of the US Federal Sentencing Guidelines.  US lawyers will recognise in the harm figure the UK equivalent of the “base fine” in §8C2.4, and in the harm figure multiplier the equivalent of the “culpability score” multipliers pursuant to §§8C2.5 to 8C2.8.

The Guideline – What Likely Changes in Practice?

Although a highly hypothetical exercise, it may be illustrative to seek to predict what fines would be imposed under the Guideline on the facts of some of the cases discussed above.

On the facts of Mabey & Johnson, the following can be deduced:

  • The contracts obtained as a result of the offending were said to be worth some £44 million.  Included in that figure was the £2.56 million Iraqi contract for which the “gross margin” was said to be approximately £700,000.  If the same rate of gross profit to contract value (approximately 27%) is applied to the totality of the offending, the harm figure would be approximately £12 million.
  • In terms of culpability, the company’s accepted behaviour included the organised and planned corruption of government officials over a sustained period of time.  Therefore the culpability level under the Guideline would likely be deemed “high”, establishing the range for the harm figure multiplier of 250-400%.
  • In terms of the appropriate harm figure multiplier within that range, account would have to be taken of the many facts presented to the court and not disputed which, under the Guideline, would constitute factors increasing seriousness: The company had set up the “Ghana Development Fund” in order to make corrupt payments; fraudulent activity could be said to have been endemic within the company; the revelations caused considerable political fall-out in both Ghana and Jamaica; the offences were committed across borders in that many of the payments were made to officials while they were in the UK.  In terms of factors reducing seriousness, the main one would be that the offending was committed under the previous management.  Taken together, a harm figure towards the top end of the range would be likely.

If the harm figure multiplier chosen had been, say, 350%, the starting point for the appropriate fine for offending like that in Mabey & Johnson would be £42 million.  Even if a court had found that a reduction of the maximum of one third for the company’s guilty plea was due, as well as some further reduction on account of its co-operation, on the facts in Mabey & Johnson, the resulting fine of £20-25 million would be many times higher than the fine (£3.5) the court found “realistic and just”.

Taking the facts of Innospec and applying them to the Guideline the result is staggering: If it a court had found that the benefit to the company was indeed $160 million, and that the conduct was as serious as in Mabey & Johnson, the resulting fine under the Guideline could very well be upwards of £190 million; considerably more than the “tens of millions” Thomas LJ indicated would have been appropriate, and even higher than the top of the US range in that case.  Even so, however, it needs to be borne in mind that in both Mabey & Johnson and Innospec the sentencing courts took into account the fact that if higher fines had been imposed, the companies concerned would have been made bankrupt to the detriment of current employees and other third parties.  Such considerations along with the resulting adjustments remain possible under the Guideline.

Likely Approach to Financial Penalties Under a DPA – Focus on the Corporate Offence

A UK-based organisation faced with evidence of bribes paid by, for example, one of its agents after 1 July 2011 will have some difficult decisions to make.  On the assumption that it reports this evidence to the SFO, it would risk being charged with the corporate offence.  If charged the organisation could seek to rely on the defence, created by the Bribery Act, of adequate procedures to prevent bribery and even if those procedures are ultimately found insufficient to shield the organisation from liability, their presence would still be an indicator of “lesser” culpability for the purposes of the Guideline.  However, having run an unsuccessful defence on the merits, the organisation would not benefit from the substantial reduction in fines it would have been due had it pleaded guilty.

Assuming, however, that the organisation indicated a willingness to admit to not having adequate anti-bribery procedures in place, and entered into negotiations with the SFO to conclude a DPA, how would the Guideline be used to calculate the financial penalty?

The assessment of the organisation’s culpability would not be affected by being conducted in the context of the negotiation of a DPA.  However, the presence of some, albeit insufficient, anti-bribery procedures would be an indicator of “lesser” culpability.  Further, the very fact that the organisation was considered for a DPA would imply that a number of factors tending to lower the reference fine under the Guideline were present:

First, among the mitigating factors lowering the harm figure multiplier is co-operation with the investigation, the making of early admissions and/or voluntary self-reporting.  Under the DPA Code of Practice (published on 14 February 2014), pro-active and early co-operation with the authorities is one of the public interest factors weighing in favour of entering into a DPA (and against a full prosecution) in the first place.  There will therefore be a strong mitigating factor already assumed.  Consequently, absent extraordinary circumstances, the tops of the ranges for the harm figure multiplier ought not to be applied in the context of DPAs.

Second, as already mentioned, the final figure could be adjusted with reference not only to the totality of the various financial orders, but also on account of the nature and extent of the organisation’s overall assistance to the authorities and admissions of offending.  Applying the Sentencing Council overarching guideline on reductions in sentence for guilty pleas, an organisation that co-operates with the authorities and is convicted on its guilty plea can expect a reduction of a third.  In Innospec, Thomas LJ held that the company was entitled to a reduction in sentence of “well in excess of 50%” on account of its guilty plea and cooperation with the authorities.  Following this logic, organisations negotiating a DPA might be able to persuade prosecutors (and the courts) that a further “DPA discount” should apply on account of the substantial cost savings their co-operation has entailed, and the good faith they have shown.

All in all, it is not unreasonable to assume that an organisation facing charges under the corporate offence could benefit from a reduction of any financial penalties of between 50-75% under a DPA compared to the fine it would face if it lost a trial on the adequacy of its anti-bribery programme.  Add to that the legal costs avoided and the greater ability to manage the outcome and we entertain some doubt whether many conscientious organisations that discover bribery in its business would risk a trial.

Conclusion

No organisation has yet been prosecuted under the new corporate offence in the Bribery Act but the SFO has publicly indicated that several organisations are being investigated in circumstances where – the SFO hopes – such prosecutions may well result.  If that were to happen, the first applications of the Guideline may take place sooner rather than later.

The director of the SFO, David Green QC, is a vocal advocate of extending the principle of the corporate offence in the Bribery Act to other corporate offending such as fraud and market manipulation.  The government is understood to be consulting internally on such a reform.  If enacted, prosecutions and convictions of organisations can be expected to cease to be a curiosity and potentially become as common as in the US and under the Guideline, the resulting fines could well equal those in the US.

The U.K. Enters The Facade Era

Monday, February 24th, 2014

In my 2010 article “The Facade of FCPA Enforcement,” I warned that this was going to happen.

Under the heading “why the facade of FCPA enforcement matters,” I noted, among other things, the “increasing frequency by which other nations are modeling enforcement of their own bribery laws on U.S. enforcement methods and theories” and stated that ”these methods and theories, unless addressed and corrected here in this country, will continue to be replicated elsewhere, perhaps leading to a global facade of enforcement.”

Today, the U.K. formally enters the facade era as deferred prosecution agreements become available to U.K. prosecutors.  (See here and here for relevant documents recently released by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS)).

To anyone who values the rule of law, reading these documents is truly distressing and I imagine Sir William Blackstone (the famed English jurist best known for his Commentaries on the Laws of England) has flipped in his grave.

Why did the U.K. adopt DPAs?

In short, the SFO and CPS tell us that doing things the old-fashioned way (i.e. proving a criminal violation in an adversarial system) is too difficult and takes too long.  The SFO Director’s language on this issue is blunt as he states that “one of the principal purposes of DPAs is to bring resolution to cases of corporate criminality more quickly.”

The U.K.’s justification for DPAs is really quite sad as ease and efficiency are not concepts normally associated with the rule of law and justice.  Yet, when politicians and civil society groups are clamoring for more prosecutions this is the end result.

Before highlighting certain troublesome features of the U.K.’s new system, it is important nevertheless to recognize the following.

When the U.K. was considering its approach, it rejected U.S. style non-prosecution agreements and stated that such agreement

 ”[Are] unsuitable for the constitutional arrangements and legal traditions in England and Wales.  We have concluded that [NPAs] are not suitable for this jurisdiction due to their markedly lesser degree of transparency, including the absence of judicial oversight.”  (See here for the prior post).

Moreover, even though the U.K. is adopting DPAs, the DPA regime is most certainly different from the U.S. regime in that the U.K. regime contemplates active and early involvement by the judiciary.

U.K. DPAs will be used to resolve a variety of corporate criminal actions, not just actions under the Bribery Act.  My opposition to the U.K. adopting DPAs has been limited to application to Bribery Act offenses (see here for my prior submission to the U.K. Ministry of Justice as well as prior posts here, here and here).  The questions I posed have never been answered.

“Why does a law with an adequate procedures defense require the third option of a deferred prosecution agreement (the first two options being prosecute vs. not prosecute)? If a corporate has adequate procedures, but an isolated act of bribery nevertheless occurs within its organization, the corporate presumably would not face prosecution under the Bribery Act. This seems like a just and reasonable result and there is no need for a third option in such a case. On the other hand, if a corporate does not have adequate procedures (thus demonstrating a lack of commitment to anti-bribery compliance) and an act of bribery occurs within its organization, it presumably would face prosecution under the Bribery Act. This seems like a just and reasonable result. Does a third option really need to be created for corporates who do not implement adequate procedures? I submit the answer is no and urge the MoJ to reject use of DPAs in the Bribery Act context.”

For years, I have been highlighting how the DOJ picks and chooses which aspects of the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions it chooses to follow.  When the DOJ wants to justify a position it is taking and feels like the OECD Convention supports this position, the DOJ cites to the OECD Convention.  However, when the DOJ is acting inconsistent with the OECD Convention, it simply ignores the Convention.

For instance, OECD Convention Article 5, under the heading “Enforcement,” states that investigation and prosecution of bribery offenses “shall not be influenced by considerations of national economic interest, the potential effect upon relations with another State or the identity of the natural or legal persons involved.”  Every time the DOJ enters into an NPA or DPA and justifies its decision through reference to potential collateral consequences that may result to a particular company, the DOJ is considering the “identity” of the “legal persons involved” in violation of Article 5.

The U.K.’s Code of Practice for DPAs does the same thing.

Section 2.7 of the Code of Practice states:

“Prosecutors should have regard when considering the public interest stage to the U.K.’s commitment to abide by the OECD Convention on ‘Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions’ in particular Article 5.  Investigation and prosecution of the bribery of a foreign public official should not be influenced by considerations of national economic interest, the potential effect upon relations with another State or the identity of the natural or legal persons involved.”

Yet a page later, at Section 2.8 under the heading ”additional public interest factors against prosecution,” the Code of Practice sets forth the following:

“[whether] a conviction is likely to have disproportionate consequences for [an organization], under domestic law, the law of another jurisdiction including but not limited to that of the European Union …”

“[whether] a conviction is likely to have collateral effects on the public, [an organization's] employees and shareholders of [an organization] and/or institutional pension holders.”

In other words and contrary to Article 5, the U.K., like the U.S., will take into account the identity of the legal person involved.

Notwithstanding the above, the most troubling feature of the Code of Practice concerns the evidence sufficient for U.K. prosecutors to resolve an action via a DPA.  In defending adoption of the “lower evidential test” in the Code of Practice and addressing concerns that this standard “was so easily satisfied as to have very little substance,” the SFO’s response is, in pertinent part, as follows.

“One of the principal purposes of DPAs is to bring a resolution to cases of corporate criminality more quickly.  [...] If a prosecutor had to be satisfied that the evidence against an organization was sufficient to meet the Full Code Test (“Prosecutors must be satisfied that there is sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction against each suspect on each charge”) without the alternative of the ‘lower’ evidential test before considering whether a DPA was in the public interest, a key purpose of DPAs, as was the express intention of parliament, would become redundant.  In order to achieve one of parliament’s key intentions in legislating for the introduction of DPAs a ‘lower’ evidential test is necessary.”

“Satisfaction of the Full Code Test, particularly in view of the well documented difficulties in proving corporate liability, would in most circumstances require a complete an full scale investigation, sometimes spanning many jurisdictions, which inevitably is time consuming and expensive.  It is not intended for there to be such an investigation before a DPA is entered into.”

This response is nothing short of laughable and truly distressing to anyone who values the rule of law.  The SFO is defending the DPA regime by saying that the old regime of proving corporate criminal liability required a complete and full scale investigation that took too long.

At the end of the day, the U.K.’s adoption of DPAs is a political response to show results.  Because this new system expands the market for legal services, you will find few opposing it.

What a sad state of affairs the U.S. has started and is now spreading across the world.

The U.K. Financial Conduct Authority And Its Focus On Adequate Procedures To Prevent Bribery

Monday, January 27th, 2014

Today’s post is from Robert Amaee (Covington & Burling), the United Kingdom Expert for FCPA Professor.

In the post, Amaee notes that while the U.K. Bribery Act does not have formal books and records and internal controls provisions like the FCPA, the U.K. Financial Conduct Authority (which regulates firms in the U.K. that provide financial products and services to U.K. and overseas customers and is the U.K. listing authority) has brought several recent enforcement actions against regulated entities on grounds similar to typical FCPA books and records and internal controls actions.

*****

The recent enforcement action taken by the U.K. Financial Conduct Authority (“FCA”) against JLT Specialty Limited (“JLTSL”) is the latest example of the regulator’s drive to penalize companies in the financial sector for failures in their anti-corruption policies and procedures, even in the absence of any evidence of bribery.  There is every indication that the FCA will continue to use its regulatory powers to bring enforcement actions against companies that it deems not to have adequate anti-corruption controls.  In the words of Tracy McDermott, the FCA’s Director of enforcement and financial crime:

“[b]ribery and corruption from overseas payments is an issue we expect all firms to do everything they can to tackle. Firms cannot be complacent about their controls – when we take enforcement action we expect the industry to sit up and take notice.”

This article outlines the FCA’s role in combating financial crime and discusses some pertinent aspects of the JLTSL case as well as previous cases against Willis Limited (“Willis”), and Aon Limited (“Aon”).

The remit and track record of the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) in enforcing the internal control and accounting provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act 1977 is well known to readers of FCPA Professor.  Companies that are US issuers have an obligation to keep accurate books, records and accounts, and to devise and maintain sufficient internal accounting controls to ensure such accuracy.  In the UK, the Bribery Act 2010, does not contain equivalent internal control or accounting provisions.

In the case of a company that is suspected of failing to prevent bribery, the Serious Fraud Office (“SFO”) — the lead agency tasked with enforcing the Bribery Act — must assess the adequacy of the company’s procedures (i.e., whether the company has a defence) before deciding to bring Bribery Act charges (see Sec. 7 of the Bribery Act).   In the absence of evidence of bribery, however, the SFO cannot simply take enforcement action under the Bribery Act against a company for failures in its anti-corruption procedures.  In respect of a suspected failure to keep adequate accounting records, UK Prosecutors have in the past resorted to bringing action under the provisions of the Companies Acts of 1985 and 2006.  In 2010, for example, the SFO relied on section 221 of the Companies Act 1985 (now replaced, in substantially the same form, by the sections 386 and 387 of the Companies Act 2006) to sanction BAE for a failure to keep adequate accounting records in relation to payments made to a third party intermediary.

The FCA

The FCA, which took over the majority of the responsibilities of the Financial Services Authority (“FSA”) in April 2013, however, has a statutory objective under the Financial Services & Markets Act 2000 (as amended by the Financial Services Act 2012) to protect and enhance the integrity of the UK financial system.  This market integrity objective includes tackling the risk that the financial sector companies that it regulates may be used for a purpose connected with financial crime, including fraud, money laundering, and bribery and corruption.  In its July 2013 publication, The FCA’s Approach to Advancing its Objectives, the FCA states: “we will take action against firms found to be using corrupt practices, or failing to prevent bribes being paid to win business.”

To achieve this objective, the FCA has imposed, via the FCA Handbook, a number of financial crime requirements on the financial sector companies that it regulates. The key requirements are set out in Principles 1 (integrity), 2 (skill, care and diligence), 3 (management and control) and 11 (relations with regulators) of the FCA’s Principles for Businesses (“PRIN”); and Chapters 3 and 6 of the FCA’s Senior Management Arrangements, Systems and Controls sourcebook (“SYSC”).

In addition, the FCA’s recently published Thematic Review TR13/9 (October 2013) (here) on Anti-Money Laundering and Anti-Bribery and Corruption Systems and Controls, based on an assessment of 22 companies, sets out a case-based analysis of good and bad practice examples for businesses dealing with the risks of bribery and corruption. The October 2013 review followed previous thematic reviews of anti-corruption controls in commercial insurance broking (2010), in investment banking (2012), and AML and sanctions controls in trade finance (2013). The foregoing, together with the FCA’s Financial Crime: A Guide for Firms (here), provide companies with a clear indication of the FCA’s expectations in relation to the implementation and monitoring of anti-corruption systems and controls.

The recent JLTSL enforcement action followed the FCA findings of a breach of Principle 3 of PRIN.  Principle 3 provides that “A firm must take reasonable care to organise and control its affairs responsibly and effectively, with adequate risk management systems.”  This includes implementing checks and controls designed to prevent bribery and corruption overseas.   For a breach of Principle 3 to be established, there is no need for the FCA to show that suspicious payments were made or that an act of bribery has taken place.  In both the Aon and Willis cases investigations did show that suspicious payments were in fact made, while in the JLTSL case there was no evidence of suspicious payments having been made.

JLT Speciality Limited

On December 19, 2013 JLTSL, a wholly owned subsidiary of JLT Group (the largest European broker quoted on the London Stock Exchange), was fined £1,876,000 in respect of breaches of Principle 3 of PRIN.  The FCA found that JLTSL had failed to carry out effective due diligence before entering into relationships with, and making payments to overseas introducers.  The FCA found that the overseas introducers had been paid in excess of £11.7 million, representing some 57% of the total amount received by JLTSL from the business that had been introduced by the overseas introducers.  There was no evidence of bribery or any improper intent on the part of JLTSL, but the FCA concluded that the failings gave rise to an unacceptable risk that the payments made to the overseas introducers could have been used to pay bribes “to persons connected with the insured clients and/or public officials.”

It is worth noting that the FCA brought this action against JLTSL in spite of the fact that it found that JLTSL had (i) implemented policies and procedures aimed at countering the risk of bribery and corruption, including an Employee handbook and a Group Anti-Bribery and Corruption Policy which prohibited JLTSL employees from engaging in any form of bribery, an Operating Procedure Manual which contained more detailed procedures that employees had to follow in order to establish relationships with overseas introducers, and a 7 Alarm Bells policy to assess the bribery and corruption risk associated with entering into a relationship with an overseas introducer; and (ii) engaged an external adviser to review its systems and controls to assess compliance with the provisions of the Bribery Act 2010, concluding that the due diligence procedures in relation to introducer/facilitator relationships appeared comprehensive and broadly in line with the Act.

The FCA took the position that there was a failure to conduct adequate due diligence, and the external advisor had not conducted aholistic” review of JLTSL’s systems and controls.  JLTSL also was found to have failed to adequately assess bribery and corruption risks, only carrying out a risk assessment at the start of each relationship not every time that overseas introducer introduced a new piece of business.  JLTSL also failed to adequately implement its own anti-bribery and corruption policies, which resulted in the risk of JLTSL entering into higher risk relationships with overseas introducers without senior management oversight and approval.

Specifically, JLTSL failed to assess whether or not there were any connections between the overseas introducers and the clients or any public officials.  Although both the OPM and the Alarm Bells highlighted the importance of carrying out due diligence, there was a lack of practical guidance “to employees in order to establish whether the Overseas Introducer was connected to the client it was introducing.”  On reviewing 17 of JLTSL’s relationships with overseas introducers, the FCA found that in the majority of cases in which the overseas introducer was a company, JLTSL had failed to screen one or more directors or beneficial owners.  In one example, a major shareholder of the overseas introducer was known to JLTSL to be a Nigerian public official. The FCA concluded that as a Nigerian public official it was entirely possible even probable that the shareholder of the overseas introducer would have connections to West African public officials.

Willis Limited

On July 21, 2011 the insurance broker Willis was fined £6,895,000 for failings in its anti-corruption systems and controls (breaches were for Principle 3 of PRIN and Rule 3.2.6 R of the SYSC) which “contributed to a weak control environment surrounding the making of payments to Overseas Third Parties.”

The FSA found that overseas third parties had received commissions of approximately £27 million, representing some 45% of the brokerage earned by Willis from the business that had been introduced by the overseas third parties.  The FSA’s findings were supported by Willis’ own internal investigation which identified a number of suspicious payments made to overseas third parties, two of which formed the subject of suspicious activity reports that Willis submitted to the Serious Organised Crime Agency (“SOCA”) (now replaced by the National Crime Agency (“NCA”)).

The FSA did not find any evidence to suggest that Willis’s conduct was either deliberate or reckless.  It acknowledged that Willis had introduced improved anti-corruption policies and guidance in 2008, reviewed how its new policies were operating in practice and further revised its guidance in 2009.  The FSA, however, formed the view that Willis had failed to ensure its policies were adequately implemented, that failures by staff to adhere to the new policies were identified in a timely manner, or that the Board was provided with sufficient relevant management information regarding the performance of the new policies.

Specifically, the FSA concluded, inter alia, that Willis had (i) failed to ensure that it had established and recorded an adequate commercial rationale for using overseas third parties; (ii) failed to provide formal training or adequate guidance for staff who only recorded brief descriptions of the reason for making commission payments; and (iii) conducted inadequate due diligence on overseas third parties to establish, for example, any connections with the insured, insurer or public officials.

Aon Limited

On January 6, 2009 Aon was fined £5,250,000 for failing to “take reasonable care to organise and control its affairs responsibly and effectively, with adequate risk management systems” (breach of Principle 3 of PRIN).  In particular, the FSA highlighted Aon’s failure to establish and maintain effective systems and controls for countering the risks of bribery and corruption associated with its use of overseas Third parties in high risk jurisdictions.

As in the Willis case, the FSA found that the failings led to a weak control environment that gave rise to an unacceptable risk that Aon could become involved in potentially corrupt payments to win or retain business. The FSA highlighted 66 suspicious payments totalling in excess of US$7 million that were paid to nine overseas third parties.  Aon’s own internal investigation identified a number of suspicious payments that it later reported to SOCA.

The FSA concluded, inter alia, that (i) procedures lacked adequate levels of due diligence either before commencing relationships with overseas third parties or before payments were made; (ii) Aon failed to monitor its relationships with overseas third parties in respect of specific bribery risks; (iii) Aon did not provide its staff with sufficient training and guidance on bribery and corruption matters; and (iv) Aon failed to ensure that the committees it appointed to oversee bribery and corruption risks received relevant management information or routinely assessed whether bribery and corruption risks were managed effectively.  Aon also failed to implement effective internal systems and controls to mitigate those risks.  Margaret Cole, FSA director of enforcement at the time, described the case as sending a clear message that it is completely unacceptable for firms to conduct business overseas without having in place appropriate anti-bribery and corruption systems and controls”.

Adequate Procedures

The FSA’s 2009 action against Aon marked the start of period of concerted effort by the regulator to take action against companies deemed to have inadequate policies and controls, in particular in respect of the risks associated with making payments to overseas third parties.  The Aon action was followed in 2011 by the FSA’s action against Willis for failings in its anti- corruption policies and controls.  In bringing its recent action against JLTSL, the FCA has clearly signalled its intention to continue the focus on companies’ internal anti-corruption control environment. In addition, a number of separate enforcement actions have confirmed that the FCA remains focused on ensuring companies also maintain adequate anti-money laundering policies and controls.  See here, here, here and here.

It is clear, in particular from the JLTSL case, that the FCA will not be impressed by the volume of policies and controls that have been drafted or the fact that an external vendor has given the anti-corruption program the all clear.  The FCA is focused on the effectiveness of the policies and controls and how they have been implemented, and how they are being monitored in practice.  There is little doubt that when the SFO starts to bring enforcement actions against companies under the failure to prevent bribery offence contained in section 7 of the Bribery Act, its assessment of the adequacy of a company’s policies and controls will similarly focus on their real life implementation, and not on the elegance of the prose, or the sign off of external vendors.