Archive for the ‘Whistleblowers’ Category

Friday Roundup

Friday, September 26th, 2014

An invite, ripples, the odd dynamic, and scrutiny alerts and updates.  It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

You Are Invited

King & Spalding is pleased to host Professor Mike Koehler for an informal lunch discussion of his recently published book The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in a New Era. The conversation and related question-and-answer session will be of interest to anyone seeking a candid and comprehensive discussion of legal and policy issues present in this new era of FCPA enforcement.

The event takes place on Thursday, October 2nd at noon at King & Spalding’s office (1700 Pennsylvania Avenue N.W. Washington, D.C.). There is no charge for this event, but pre-registration is required. If you would like to attend, please send your name and contact information to Sylvia Gates at sgates@kslaw.com.  For additional information, see here.

Ripples

My recent article “Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Ripples” highlights how settlement amounts in an actual FCPA enforcement action are often only a relatively minor component of the overall financial consequences that can result from FCPA scrutiny or enforcement in this new era.

Regarding those ripples, Canada’s Globe and Mail reports:

“Hewlett-Packard Co., one of the leading technology suppliers to the Canadian government, is facing a possible 10-year ban on selling products and services to Ottawa in the wake of a high-profile U.S. bribery conviction. The recent criminal conviction, involving bribes paid to Russian government officials, marks the first major test of strict new Canadian integrity rules quietly introduced in March by Public Works and Government Services. Under the new regime, companies face an automatic ban on future government contracts if they or any of their affiliates are convicted of a list of various crimes, such as bribery, even if those crimes occurred outside Canada. “The department is reviewing the recent U.S. court decision regarding HP Russia and is examining the impact of this court decision on our current and future business with HP Canada,” confirmed Alyson Queen, communications director for Public Works Minister Diane Finley. The department will conduct its review “as quickly as possible,” Ms. Queen insisted, adding that the government is “committed to doing business with suppliers who respect the law and act with integrity, including affiliates of suppliers.”

The main point of “Foreign Corrupt Practices Ripples” was described above.  However, the article also states:

“This Article accepts the fact that FCPA scrutiny and enforcement results in many other ripples in this new era. Yet, throughout this Article many questions are posed regarding the legitimacy of certain ripples. Moreover, while it is beyond the focus of this Article, it must nevertheless be highlighted that because of the many ripples of FCPA enforcement, it is important that FCPA enforcement be subjected to meaningful judicial scrutiny and that enforcement actions represent legitimate instances of provable FCPA violations, not merely settlements entered into for reasons of risk aversion. This would seem like an obvious statement. However, the reality is that the majority of corporate FCPA enforcement actions in this new era are based on aggressive and controversial enforcement theories, yet resolved via non-prosecution and deferred prosecution agreements (NPAs / DPAs) not subjected to any meaningful judicial scrutiny by risk-averse business organizations mindful of the adverse consequences of putting the enforcement agencies to its burden of proof in an adversarial proceeding.”

Perhaps Canadian authorities should review this prior post “HP Enforcement Action – Where to Begin.”  The post begins:

“Where to begin? That is the question when analyzing last week’s $108 million Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement action against HP and related entities.  (See here). Should the title of this post have been “The FCPA’s Free-For-All Continues”? Should the title have been “HP = Hocus Pocus” (as in look what the enforcement agencies pulled out their hats this time)? Should the title have been “Warning In-House and Compliance Professionals:  This Post Will Induce Mental Anguish”? Unable to arrive at the best specific title for this post, I simply picked the generic “Where to Begin?” In short, if the HP enforcement action does not leave you troubled as to various aspects of FCPA enforcement you: (i) may not be well-versed in actual FCPA legal authority; (ii) don’t care about the rule of law; or (iii) somehow derive satisfaction from government required transfers of shareholder money to the U.S. treasury regardless of theory. Least there be any misunderstanding, let me begin this post by stating that the enforcement actions against HP Poland, HP Russia and HP Mexico allege bad conduct by certain individuals –  a “small fraction of HP’s global workforce” to use the exact words of the DOJ. As to that “small fraction,” those individuals should be held accountable for their actions by relevant law enforcement authorities. However, as to the actual defendants charged in the enforcement actions – HP Russia, HP Poland and HP Mexico in the DOJ actions – and HP in the SEC administrative proceeding – there are actual legal elements that must be met and there is also prior enforcement agency guidance that ought to be followed.  The entire credibility and legitimacy of the DOJ and SEC’s FCPA enforcement programs depend on these two basics points.”

The Odd Dynamic

I have consistently stated (see here for the most recent iteration) that, based on recent judicial decisions, an odd dynamic exists between application of Dodd-Frank’s anti-retaliation provisions and Dodd-Frank’s whistleblower bounty provisions. As noted in the recent post concerning the Second Circuit’s decision in Liu Meng-Lin v. Siemens, courts have held that the former provisions lack extraterritorial effect while acknowledging that a foreign national could receive a bounty under the whistleblower provisions.

The odd dynamic is front-and-center in the SEC’s recent announcement of “an expected award of more than $30 million to a whistleblower who provided key original information that led to a successful SEC enforcement action.”  According to the release,  ”the award will be the largest made by the SEC’s whistleblower program to date and the fourth award to a whistleblower living in a foreign country, demonstrating the program’s international reach.”

In the release, Sean McKessy, Chief of the SEC’s Office of the Whistleblower states:

“This award of more than $30 million shows the international breadth of our whistleblower program as we effectively utilize valuable tips from anyone, anywhere to bring wrongdoers to justice.  Whistleblowers from all over the world should feel similarly incentivized to come forward with credible information about potential violations of the U.S. securities laws.”

Regarding the odd dynamic, the SEC’s order states:

“We believe an award payment is appropriate here notwithstanding the existence of certain extraterritorial aspects of Claimant’s application. See generally Morrison v. Nat’l Austl. Bank Ltd., 561 U.S. 247, 266 (2010) (discussing analytical framework for determining whether an application of a statutory provision that involves certain foreign aspects is an extraterritorial or domestic application of the provision; explaining that it is a domestic application of the provision if the particular aspect that is the “focus of congressional concern” has a sufficient U.S. territorial nexus); European Community v. RJR Nabisco, Inc., F.3d , 2014 WL 1613878, *10 (2d Cir. Apr. 23, 2014) (applying Morrison framework and finding that “[i]f domestic conduct satisfies every essential element to prove a violation of a United States statute that does not apply extraterritorially, that statute is violated even if some further conduct contributing to the violation occurred outside the United States.”). In our view, there is a sufficient U.S.  territorial nexus whenever a claimant’s information leads to the successful enforcement of a covered action brought in the United States, concerning violations of the U.S. securities laws, by the Commission, the U.S. regulatory agency with enforcement authority for such violations.  When these key territorial connections exist, it makes no difference whether, for example, the claimant was a foreign national, the claimant resides overseas, the information was submitted from overseas, or the misconduct comprising the U.S. securities law violation occurred entirely overseas. We believe this approach best effectuates the clear Congressional purpose underlying the award program, which was to further the effective enforcement of the U.S. securities laws by encouraging individuals with knowledge of violations of these U.S. laws to voluntarily provide that information to the Commission. See S. Rep. No. 111-176 at 110 (2010) (“to motivate those with inside knowledge to come forward and assist the Government to identify and prosecute persons who have violated the securities laws ….”). Finally, although we recognize that the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit recently held that there was an insufficient territorial nexus for the anti-retaliation protections of Section 21F(h) to apply to a foreign whistleblower who experienced employment retaliation overseas after making certain reports about his foreign employer, Liu v. Siemens, F.3d , 2014 WL 3953672 (2d Cir. Aug. 14, 2014), we do not findthat decision controlling here; the whistleblower award provisions have a different Congressional focus than the anti-retaliation provisions, which are generally focused on preventing retaliatory employment actions and protecting the employment relationship.”

Scrutiny Alerts and Updates

BHP Billiton

In its most recent annual report the company stated:

“As previously disclosed, BHP Billiton received requests for information in August 2009 from the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Following that request, the Group commenced an internal investigation and disclosed to relevant authorities evidence that it has uncovered regarding possible violations of applicable anticorruption laws involving interactions with government officials. The issues relate primarily to matters in connection with previously terminated exploration and development efforts, as well as hospitality provided as part of the Company’s sponsorship of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The Group is currently discussing a potential resolution of the matter. As has been publicly reported, the Australian Federal Police has indicated that it has commenced an investigation and the Group continues to fully cooperate with the relevant authorities. In light of the continuing nature of the investigations, it is not appropriate at this stage for BHP Billiton to predict outcomes.”

General Cable Corp.

General Cable Corporation (a Kentucky-based company involved in the development, design, manufacture, marketing and distribution of copper, aluminum and fiber optic wire and cable products and systems for the energy, industrial, specialty, construction and communications markets) recently disclosed:

“We have been reviewing, with the assistance of external counsel, certain commission payments involving sales to customers of our subsidiary in Angola. The review has focused upon payment practices with respect to employees of public utility companies, use of agents in connection with such payment practices, and the manner in which the payments were reflected on our books and records. We have determined at this time that certain employees in our Portugal and Angola subsidiaries directly and indirectly made payments at various times from 2002 through 2013 to officials of Angola government owned public utilities that raise concerns under the FCPA and possibly under the laws of other jurisdictions. We also have been reviewing, with the assistance of external counsel, our use and payment of agents in connection with our Thailand and India operations, which may have implications under the FCPA. We have voluntarily disclosed these matters to the SEC and the United States Department of Justice (“DOJ”) and have provided them with additional information at their request. The SEC and DOJ inquiries into these matters are ongoing. We continue to cooperate with the DOJ and the SEC with respect to these matters. We are implementing a screening process relating to sales agents that we use outside of the United States, including, among other things, a review of the agreements under which they were retained and a risk-based assessment of such agents to determine the scope of due diligence measures to be performed by a third-party investigative firm. However, this screening process may not be effective in preventing future payments or other activities that may raise concerns under the FCPA or other laws. At this time, we are unable to predict the nature of any action that may be taken by the DOJ or SEC or any remedies these agencies may pursue as a result of such actions. Any determination that our operations or activities are not in compliance with existing laws or regulations could result in the imposition of substantial fines, civil and criminal penalties, and equitable remedies, including disgorgement and injunctive relief. Because our review regarding commission payment practices and our use and payment of agents described above is ongoing, we are unable to predict its duration, scope, results, or consequences. Dispositions of these types of matters can result in modifications to business practices and compliance programs, and in some cases the appointment of a monitor to review future business and practices with the objective of effecting compliance with the FCPA and other applicable laws.”

In the first trading day after the disclosure, the company’s stock dropped 6.4% to 17.74.

Embraer-Related

As highlighted in this previous post, Brazil based Embraer (one of  the world’s largest manufacturer of commercial jets with shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange) has been under FCPA scrutiny since 2010.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

“Brazilian authorities have filed a criminal action against eight Embraer employees accusing them of bribing officials in the Dominican Republic in return for a $92 million contract to provide the country’s armed forces with attack planes.”

According to the article:

“[The DOJ and SEC] are also investigating the company’s dealings in the Dominican Republic and elsewhere and have provided their Brazilian counterparts with evidence, according to a request last year for legal assistance from Brazilian prosecutors.

[...]

Brazilian prosecutors filed the 31-page complaint in a criminal court in Rio de Janeiro in August, the first step in a criminal prosecution. A spokesman for the Brazilian prosecutors’ office declined to comment on the case.

The complaint alleges that Embraer sales executives agreed to pay a $3.5 million bribe to a retired Dominican Air Force colonel, who then leaned on legislators to approve the deal and a financing agreement between the Dominican Republic and the National Economic and Social Development Bank. The sale was completed and the aircraft were delivered.

The retired colonel, Carlos Piccini Nunez, was serving as the Dominican Republic’s director of special projects for the armed forces in 2008, around the time of the contract negotiations. The contract provided the Dominican Republic with eight Embraer Super Tucanos, turboprop attack support aircraft that have been a darling of air forces in developing countries for their low maintenance and affordability.

[...]

The criminal complaint alleges that an Embraer vice president for sales, Eduardo Munhos de Campos, promised to pay the bribe, and that he was assisted in arranging the payments by Orlando Jose Ferreira Neto, another vice president; Embraer regional directors Acir Luiz de Almeida Padilha Jr., Luiz Eduardo Zorzenon Fumagalli and Ricardo Marcelo Bester ; and managers Albert Phillip Close, Luiz Alberto Lage da Fonseca and Eduardo Augusto Fernandes Fagundes.”

Goldman Sachs

The company was recently the focus of this Wall Street Journal article which began:

“A yearslong probe of Goldman Sachs Group’s ties to Libya’s sovereign-wealth fund is focusing on an internship and other perks allegedly offered by the Wall Street bank to win business from the Gadhafi regime, according to people familiar with the matter. The Securities and Exchange Commission is reviewing the New York-based bank’s decision in June 2008 to hire as an intern the brother of Mustafa Zarti, then deputy chief of the Libyan Investment Authority, the people said. The move came after Goldman entered into more than $1 billion worth of trades with the authority, and just as the firm’s relationship with the Libyan fund had begun to sour. The investigators are also reviewing why the brother, Haitem Zarti, was allowed to remain at the firm for almost a year, long after most Wall Street internships last, the people added.”

AgustaWestland / Finmeccanica Related

The Wall Street Journal goes in-depth into the Italian trial of Giuseppe Orsi, former CEO of AgustaWestland – a unit of Finmeccanica Spa, concerning bribery allegations in India. As highlighted in this previous post, Finmeccanica, which is approximately 30% owned by the Italian government, has ADRs registered with the SEC and AgustaWestland does extensive business in the U.S. (see here), including with the U.S. government.

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A good weekend to all.

The Odd Dynamic Persists

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

What happens when Congress passes a law with various provisions that generically apply to any securities law violations without thinking through, on a micro level, the intersection of such provisions?

The answer is this recent Second Circuit decision in the Liu Meng-Lin v. Siemens.

This observation is the same as it was in 2012 concerning Khaled Asadi v. GE Energy (see here for the prior post) and as it was in 2013 concerning the trial court decision in the Liu case (see here for the prior post).

To repeat, an odd dynamic exists when a foreign national is unable to maintain a private cause of action under Dodd-Frank’s anti-retaliation provisions based on allegations that his foreign employer retaliated against him for internally reporting conduct that could implicate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, yet that same foreign national can be awarded a whistleblower bounty under Dodd-Frank should the SEC bring an enforcement action based on the information the foreign national provided to it.

In Liu, the Second Circuit held, consistent with the trial court, that the anti-retaliation provisions of Dodd-Frank do not apply extraterritorially because “a statute is presumed, in the absence of clear congressional intent, to apply only domestically.”

Thus, the Second Circuit dismissed Liu’s complaint because Liu alleged that he was a non-citizen (a citizen and resident of Taiwan), employed by a foreign company (a former compliance officer of Siemens China, a Chinese corporation that is a wholly owned subsidiary of Siemens, a German corporation with shares listed on the New York Stock Exchange), and that all the events allegedly giving rise to liability occurred outside the United States (Liu alleged that Siemens employees were indirectly making improper payments to officials in North Korea and China in connection with the sale of medical equipment in those countries).

Consistent with the odd dynamic referenced above, Liu argued that Dodd-Frank’s anti-retaliation provisions should have extraterritorial application because Dodd-Frank’s whistleblower bounty provisions seemingly do citing to SEC guidance and regulations for support.

As to Liu’s argument regarding the whistleblower bounty provisions, the Second Circuit initially observed in dicta that “it is far from clear that [the SEC's] assertion that a statute has extraterritorial effect, unmoored from any plausible statutory basis for rebutting the presumption against extraterritoriality, should be given deference.”

More to the point, the Second Court concluded as to the anti-retailiation provisions follows.

“[E]ven if we assume that the [SEC regulations] clearly apply the bounty program to whistleblowers located abroad and that some deference would be due such an agency interpretation, it would not follow that Congress intended the anti-retailiation provision to apply similarly.  [...] [A] regulation addressing the bounty provision cannot be taken to support the proposition that the anti-retailiation provision should apply extraterritoriality. [...]  [E]xtraterritorial application of the bounty and anti-retailiation provisions have far different international ramifications.  Providing rewardings to persons, foreign or domestic, who supply information about lawbreaking is far less intrusive into other countries’ sovereignity than seeking to regulate the employment practices of foreign companies with respect to the foreign nationals they employ in foreign countries.  Applying the anti-retaliation provision in circumstances such as Liu’s would effect such an intrusion.  Thus, whatever their merits, none of the arguments that the bounty provision is meant to have extraterritorial reach provide any support for Liu’s claim that the anti-retaliation provision is meant to have extraterritorial reach.”  (emphasis is original).

From my perspective, the most interesting aspect of the Second Circuit’s decision is the above dicta statement which calls into question whether Dodd-Frank’s bounty provisions have extraterritorial application.

This will be an interesting issue to follow and once again the current odd dynamic (as well as potential future odd dynamics) are the direct result of Congress being sloppy in passing a law with various provisions that generically apply to any securities law violations without thinking through, on a micro level, the intersection of such provisions.

Checking In Down Under

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

Today’s post is from Robert Wyld (Partner, Johnson Winter & Slattery).  Wyld is the Australia Expert for FCPA Professor.

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This update covers a range of important developments in Australia and overseas in the area of foreign bribery policy, investigations and regulation in the first quarter of 2014.

The key issues that are covered in this Update include:

  • Australia’s address to the G20 Anti-Corruption Roundtable
  • The Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) and whistleblower protections
  • ASIC and civil penalties
  • Australian foreign bribery investigations and prosecutions – media updates
  • Asia Pacific developments

Australia and the G20 Anti-Corruption Roundtable

The Australian Government has been remarkably quiet in the foreign bribery space. A Consultation Paper into whether facilitation payments should be abolished (published in November 2011) appears to have died an unfortunate death by inertia.

It was refreshing to read that the Attorney General, George Brandis QC, in delivering his opening address to the G20 Anti-Corruption Roundtable, made it clear that corruption is and remains one of the greatest barriers to global growth and that all governments must address the systemic problems flowing from corruption.

The Attorney General highlighted three specific issues that warranted close attention by the Roundtable group – judicial integrity, foreign bribery and the transparency of legal structures, and the identity of beneficial owners. While little was said on the detail, it is encouraging to see the topic of foreign bribery (whatever that entails) is firmly on the agenda while Australia chairs the G20 in 2014.

ASIC and Whistleblower Protections

On 18 February 2014, ASIC published its Information Sheet No. 52 entitled ‘Whistleblowers and whistleblower protection’. ASIC’s responsibilities are to regulate companies acting in contravention of the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth) (Act). ASIC’s focus is on conduct which is disclosed to it which involves a potential contravention of the Act. The Act provides a statutory framework to protect whistleblowers (see Pt9.4AAA, sections 1317AA to 1317AE).

The key elements under the statutory whistleblower protection regime that must be satisfied are:

  • the whistleblower must be an officer or an employee of the company or a contractor or employee of a contractor which has a current contract to supply goods or services to the company the disclosure is about;
  • the disclosure must be to the company’s auditor, a director, secretary or senior manager within the company, a person authorised by the company to receive whistleblower disclosures or ASIC;
  • the whistleblower must identify himself when making the disclosure;
  • the whistleblower must have reasonable grounds to suspect that the information disclosed indicates the company or company officers may have breached the Act (or ASIC’s Act); and
  • the whistleblower must make the disclosure in good faith.

The tenor of ASIC’s approach is that it still has limited resources, it prefers to focus on the disclosed conduct and it keeps emphasising that a whistleblower should seek independent legal advice. ASIC has been criticised in the past for responding very slowly at times to significant complaints. ASIC will now appoint a dedicated Liaison Officer to be in regular contact with the whistleblower. While a whistleblower may have protection from victimisation, any complaint about how a whistleblower is treated is a private matter between the whistleblower and the company.

In an Ethics Conversation hosted by the St James Ethics Centre in Sydney on 8 April 2014, the ASIC Chairman, Greg Medcraft indicated that while the protection of whistleblowers was important, he appeared less enamoured of the US whistleblower bounty scheme established under the US Securities Exchange Act. Mr Medcraft felt that such a scheme sat uncomfortably with the Australian culture of “not dobbing in a mate”. At the same event, Rod Sims, the Chairman of the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission, was concerned about how Australian courts might treat an individual who had a financial interest in a prosecution and the impact that might have on a whistleblower’s overall credibility. Perhaps the pioneering research work of Prof AJ Brown at Griffith University might help to debunk the myth of not dobbing in a mate – and encourage regulators to realise that the vast majority of Australians consider that whistleblowers who report serious misconduct should be both praised and protected. It remains to be seen how ASIC will act in the future towards whistleblowers.

ASIC and Civil Penalties

In March 2014, ASIC published its Report No. 387 entitled ‘Penalties for corporate wrongdoing’ which considered the penalties available to ASIC and whether they were proportionate and consistent with those for comparable wrongdoing in selected overseas jurisdictions. The key findings of the Report were as follows:

  • ASIC rated effective enforcement as critical to achieving its strategic priorities of fair and efficient financial markets with a range of penalties designed to deter contravention and promote greater compliance;
  • in relation to imprisonment and fines open to ASIC to seek through litigation: the maximum fines are broadly consistent with other comparable jurisdictions save for the US; other jurisdictions have greater flexibility to impose higher non-criminal fines; other jurisdictions can seek the disgorgement of profit generated by the wrongdoing,
  • within Australian legislation, there are examples where non-criminal fines can be imposed at a much higher amount than those available to ASIC.

ASIC has called for greater penalties to be available to it for corporate wrongdoing. While ASIC made it clear that it will pursue the sanctions and remedies best suited to each case on its merits, Mr Medcraft made it clear at the St James Ethic Centre Conversation that he wanted to target individuals as it was only through “scaring the hell out of people” faced with imprisonment, that he believed commercial behaviour might, in fact, change.

Australian Foreign Bribery Investigations and Prosecutions – Media Updates

The Securency banknote printing corruption prosecution continues to roll on slowly in Victoria. While the whole process is subject to suppression orders in Victoria, it is hoped significant public progress in the case occurs during 2014.

The Australian media has continued to follow the saga of an AFP investigation into the Middle East business activities of Leighton Holdings, its various entities and senior officers. While no criminal prosecution has occurred, the opening salvos in a securities class action in Victoria concerning non-disclosure to the market between aggrieved Leighton shareholders and the company suggests the case will continue to affect the company, currently under new Spanish management.

Asia Pacific Developments

The Asia Pacific region is home to both many of the world’s most active economies and to those where the perception of systemic corruption is the greatest.

Developments in China, as one of Australia’s most significant trading partners, must be followed. From mid-2013, the Chinese Government started to target multinational companies in the pharmaceutical sector, in the “supply side” of corruption rather than its traditional focus on the “demand side” of corruption, being the local Chinese public official. This must ring warnings to all Australian business that they are not immune from Chinese Government investigation.

In addition, the role of the US – China Joint Liaison Group on Law Enforcement, may yet see an increase in parallel US and China investigations, although human rights issues may see such investigations undertaken only in limited cases.

In the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Bali Declaration in late 2013, APEC called for greater regional cooperation on corruption and collaboration between regulators. A new regional authority is to be established, called the APEC Network of Anti-Corruption Authorities & Law Enforcement Agencies (ACT-NET). The goal of this agency is to, in part, “encouraging private sector stakeholders to implement APEC’s high standard principles for codes of business ethics”.

At the meeting of the APEC Anti-Corruption and Transparency Working Group held in Ningbo in China in February 2014, members agreed to further discuss ACT-NET’s development and implementation during 2014. The goal of the ACT-NET was said to advance greater collaboration among law enforcement authorities in combating corruption, bribery, money laundering, and illicit trade.. Future meetings of ACT-NET will take place during 2014.

Friday Roundup

Friday, February 28th, 2014

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

Most Admired

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

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

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

From the U.K.

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

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

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

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

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

One Way to Avoid Judicial Scrutiny is to Avoid the Courts

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

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

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

According to this Vedder Price bulletin:

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

This Perkins Coie alert adds the following:

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

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

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

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

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

The Perkins Coie alert also states:

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

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

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

Another DOJ Official Departs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scrutiny Alerts

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

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

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

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

Survey Says

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

Notable findings include the following:

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

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

The report also stated:

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

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

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

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A good weekend to all.

Congress Remains Interested In FCPA Issues

Wednesday, February 26th, 2014

Foreign Corrupt Practices reform may not be the hot issue it was circa 2011 (political posturing by the DOJ in connection with the FCPA Guidance as well as certain headlines caused the issue to simmer), but Congress remains interested in FCPA issues.

For instance, in connection with a recent confirmation hearing for Leslie Caldwell to be the DOJ’s Assistant Attorney General of the Criminal Division, Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA), Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, asked Caldwell several FCPA-related questions for the record.

Caldwell punted on every question (perhaps not surprising given that Caldwell is not currently at the DOJ), but the questions posed nevertheless highlight specific FCPA issues on the minds of certain members of Congress.

Set forth in full below are the FCPA-related questions by Senator Grassley and Caldwell’s responses.

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“I recently asked Attorney General Holder these questions and have not yet received response.  As the FCPA falls within the Criminal Division, would you please respond to the following questions.

What are the Department’s current enforcement priorities under the FCPA?

Answer:  I am not in the Department; therefore, I am not in a position to address this question.  If I am confirmed as the Assistant Attorney General of the Criminal Division, I assure you that I will be vigilant in pursuing cases under the FCPA.

What particular industries, markets or practices is the Department focusing on, and why?

Answer:  I am not in the Department; therefore, I am not in a position to address this question.  As noted above, if I am confirmed as the Assistant Attorney General of the Criminal Division, I assure you that I will be vigilant in pursuing cases under the FCPA.

What proportion of the Department’s enforcement activity during 2013 involved non-U.S. companies?

Answer:  I am not in the Department; therefore, I am not in a position to address this question.  If I am confirmed as the Assistant Attorney General of the Criminal Division, I assure you that I will be vigilant in pursuing cases against U.S. and non-U.S. companies that violate the FCPA.

Has the Department seen a recent increase in whistleblower claims of FCPA violations?  If so, to what would you attribute that?  How has the Department responded?

Answer:  I am not in the Department; therefore, I am not in a position to address these questions.

Although the Department does not publicize each particular instance in which it declines prosecution despite evidence of an FCPA violation, what characterized the Department’s declinations during 2013?  Did the number increase from 2012?  What factors were most important in leading the Department to decline prosecution?

Answer:  I am not in the Department; therefore, I am not in a position to address these questions.  While I have not been privy to the internal deliberations surrounding the Department’s declination decisions, if confirmed as the Assistant Attorney General of the Criminal Division, I assure you that declination decisions will be based on the law and the evidence presented.

In November 2012, the Department and SEC issued the FCPA ”Resource Guide,” which reflected guidance from your agencies regarding the interpretation and enforcement of the FCPA.  Does the Department anticipate updating, supplementing or amending the “Resource Guide” in the foreseeable future?

Answer:  I am not in the Department; therefore, I am not in a position to address this question.

In 2013, the Department issued only one Opinion Release concerning the FCPA.  Does the Department consider the “Resource Guide” a substitute for its opinion release program?

Answer:  I am not in the Department; therefore, I am not in a position to address this question.