After focusing on the FCPA guidance for the past few weeks, this post goes across the pond to check in on three U.K. developments.
First Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate, the independent Inspectorate for the U.K. Crown Prosecution Service, recently released (see here) a “Report to the Attorney General On The Inspection of the Serious Fraud Office.” The report focuses mostly on general issues, but readers may be most interested in Chapter 8 dealing with “Asset Recovery and Alternative Resolution.”
Second, the Crown Office (the agency responsible for prosecution of crime in Scotland) recently announced (here) a £5.6 million civil recovery enforcement action against Aberdeen, Scotland based drilling company Abbot Group Limited. According to the release, Abbot “admitted that it had benefited from corrupt payments made in connection with a  contract entered into by one of its overseas subsidiaries and an overseas oil and gas company.” According to the release, ”the sum to be paid by Abbot represents the profit made by the company under the contract.” Two things to note. First, the release makes much of the fact that Abbot “self-reported” the conduct at issue. Yet, the release itself states that ”the corrupt payments were brought to light in May 2011 following enquiries by an overseas tax authority which resulted in an investigation by a firm of solicitors and a firm of accountants instructed by Abbot itself.” Second, the release notes that the enforcement proceeds “will be invested in the Scottish Government’s hugely successful CashBack for Communities Programme which takes cash from the Proceeds of Crime and invests it in a range of sporting, cultural, community mentoring projects and sports facilities for the benefit of our young people and their communities.”
Third, David Green (Director of the U.K. Serious Fraud Office) recently answered questions before a House of Commons Justice Committee. (See here for the transcript). In his comments, Green: (i) says FCPA / Bribery Act Inc. created unnecessary “spin” regarding the SFO’s recent policy revisions; (ii) discusses the role of the SFO; (iii) makes an apt analogy to early enforcement of the FCPA; and (iv) talks about the prospect of DPAs in the U.K.
Below are excerpts from the Q&A’s that touch upon bribery and corruption issues.
“Q24 Steve Brine: [...] I want to ask you about the notes that I have been reading about facilitating payments, business expenditure and corporate self-reporting. What is your intention behind the revision of policies on those three areas? Are they really a radical departure from the previous guidance, or is there a bit of spin there?
David Green: It is not my spin. What you might call the bribery and corruption industry-by which, I suppose, if I was being unkind, I might mean lawyers who make an enormous amount of money out of it, advising corporates-wants to put it that way. In fact, it is not that. What I have done, as you know, is to withdraw policies in relation to bribery and corruption, and they have been replaced with a statement that we are subject to the joint guidance agreed with the Crown Prosecution Service. In other words, all I have done is to remove what is actually a unilateral gloss placed on that joint guidance by my predecessor at the SFO. It was also done in order to comply with the recommendations of the OECD which, as you will know, are about being careful how a self-report is defined.
What I have done most specifically, which certainly excited some-perhaps they are easily excited-is to withdraw the exclusive pledge that the SFO would not prosecute if you self-report. Why did I do that? In my view, it is not something that a responsible prosecutor should be saying, simply because you have no idea what kind of facts or combination of facts you might be presented with when somebody comes through your door with an expensive lawyer. You have no idea, so you cannot cater for it in advance. What you can say, without question, is that the fact of a genuine self-report-by a genuine self-report I mean, in its purest form, telling us something that we did not know already, and the corporate acting proactively to investigate it-must be very significant as a factor in weighing up the public interest limb of the decision to prosecute; that is the code test. That is what I am about. That is why I did that.
There is one other thing. I have said that I wanted to restate the SFO’s role as a crime-fighting agency. In addition, frankly, so far as I am concerned, we are not there to give advice to people. They can get their advice from their lawyers and their other experts, which they have in spades. I am not there, nor are my staff there, to give advice. We are there to investigate and prosecute serious fraud, bribery and corruption.”
Q26 Steve Brine: [...] “Without specifying details, would you give us some indication of how many investigations you are currently undertaking into potential offences under the Act?
David Green: Under the new Act?
Q27 Steve Brine: Yes, because you are also bringing cases under old bribery legislation, are you not? Let us just look at the new Act. It is not retrospective, if I am correct.
David Green: That is exactly right. We are just concerned with stuff after July 2011. It is important to understand that section 2A of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 added a pre-investigation power in relation to bribery and corruption, which enables us basically to look at the facts and assess them, and to see whether there is material that would justify, in law, my launching a full-scale investigation. If I may, for the sake of clarity, I shall call those pre-investigation investigations “projects”.
From recollection, we have seven cases that are in the project phase. What will come of them I cannot tell you; I really do not know, but if we can we will turn them into investigations if we are justified in doing so. We have another half dozen cases that relate to pre-Bribery Act law; again, they are in the same phase.
Understandably, legislators, journalists and, indeed, members of the public may say, “Well, you have this marvellous new Bribery Act. What are you doing about it?” As a kind of private project, I have been looking at the fortunes of the FCPA-the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of the United States. That was enacted in the late 1970s, and the first prosecution was in 1981. It did not get any teeth, in a really meaningful way, until the penalties were enhanced, and so forth, in the 1990s. I am not saying for a moment that you are going to have to wait 20 years for your first Bribery Act prosecution, but things are in hand and no one would be keener than I would to see a good, solid Bribery Act prosecution. We are working on it.”
“Q30 Mr Buckland: May I move on to the question of deferred prosecution agreements? I have read very carefully the memorandum and evidence that you have submitted to the Committee, and it is clear that the SFO supports the Government’s proposals to amend the current Crime and Courts Bill and to bring in DPAs. I do not know whether you or your office have troubled yourselves with the potential impact assessment, in terms of financial benefit and whether the SFO directly would receive either a share or the entirety of any receipts from financial settlements pursuant to DPAs.
David Green: As I understand it, all funds from DPAs will go directly to the Treasury, to avoid concerns over conflicts of interest.
Q31 Mr Buckland: So there is no hypothecation. Would it be fair to say that the SFO would have a legitimate expectation that, even though the moneys were not hypothecated, you could end up receiving some additional funding to help deal with the work that you are doing?
David Green: It has always been my view, Mr Buckland, that the SFO is here to stay, but that it needs to prove itself. Assuming that it proves itself-I hope fervently that it does-I would be the first to join any negotiation on an enhanced budget to get us more resources to do more good work. But I would say that, wouldn’t I?
Q32 Mr Buckland: I would expect you to, and I am glad to hear it. Having looked at the impact assessment prepared by the MoJ on DPAs, I was a little concerned. My reading of it is that there was an assumption in the document that there would not be an overall increase in the number of cases dealt with. In other words, there would potentially be a shift from early guilty pleas to DPAs, meaning no overall increase in the number of cases dealt with. Would that be your expectation, or would you hope for something more ambitious?
David Green: I would be far more ambitious. I would expect our case load-including cases dealt with under DPAs-to increase significantly once they kick off. I hope, as I am sure you do, that we will have our first DPA in place in early 2014.
Q33 Mr Buckland: Obviously, public perception is very important. Two aspects of DPAs as currently proposed may cause some concern. The first is having the preliminary hearings in private, as opposed to having all hearings in public. Does the SFO have a view on the reasons for that proposal?
David Green: I do not, as I sit here, have a particular view on that. What I would say is that later on, as the process develops, it does of course become public. Obviously a big difference between our DPAs and the US model is judicial involvement from day one. I would not be happy in expressing a particular view on that. It is something that I would have to think about, but I would be happy to let you know in due course.
Q34 Mr Buckland: I would be very grateful, Mr Green. Thank you. Again, public perception is important. The idea that you are doing some sort of niche job is wholly wrong, I think. The public are genuinely concerned about a culture of impunity that is perceived to have grown up around corporate and serious fraud. Is there a danger, with DPAs, that we could end up with white-collar crime somehow being seen as less serious than other types of crime?
David Green: That is obviously something that I have thought about a lot-indeed, it has troubled me-and I think that the answer is this. It is important that DPAs are seen as just one additional tool in the prosecutor’s toolkit. They are certainly not, in any sense, a universal panacea for corporate misconduct. They will be used in the right circumstances only. An example of what I think would be the right circumstance is where an incoming board chooses to self-report past misconduct by a previous board, which it has unearthed and proactively investigated. That would be just the sort of challenge to be met, in my view, by a DPA. It would certainly not be appropriate if, for instance, the corporate had been set up and used as a vehicle for fraud. That would be quite wrong. Obviously our first principle, as I hope I have made clear, is that serious fraud, bribery and corruption must always be prosecuted where that is possible-always.
Q35 Mr Buckland: Do you see this as having the potential to deal with the common scenario of when a legitimate business becomes dishonest? I am sure that, like me, you have had plenty of experience of that sort of scenario.
David Green: Of course, we would only be dealing with the corporate itself, under a DPA.
Q36 Mr Buckland: Not the individual.
David Green: Indeed. If there was a case against individuals, we would obviously prosecute if we could.
Q37 Mr Buckland: One concern that has been put to me about DPAs is that we have looked to the United States as an example, but that the US has a very big stick in terms of how they-I won’t say aggressively, but certainly robustly-police their free market, and the penalties available under the criminal justice system in the various US states to deal with wrongdoers. Do you think that the British scenario, where the stick is much less potent, is a good parallel to draw with the United States?
David Green: Just as we have adapted the US model for our circumstances, so we have adapted the carrot and stick equation. I have touched on this twice, but I cannot overemphasize the importance of our decision to enhance our intelligence capability. I really mean business on that. At the moment, our intelligence capability-the one I inherited-is really a sort of vetting process. I want to be far more aggressive in our intelligence activities, not to run it ourselves but to buy it in from, say, the City of London police or external agencies, going up to all sorts of exotic intelligence. The intelligence capability being built up-that is the stick. These people may well be found out, and they need to understand that. The carrot, of course, is often said to be certainty. Actually, it is not really certainty, because when they come along to self-report, they are not sure how they are going to end up. What they mean, I think, is finality. In other words, a line will be drawn in the sand under previous corporate misconduct, under certain conditions, and a company can then move on. Having thought about it quite a lot, I think that that is really what a corporate wants.”