Readers have likely read the FCPA Guidance by now, if not multiple times.

The Guidance contains an appendix that includes, among other things, the text of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.  In the Guidance, the enforcement agencies have rewritten the text of the FCPA and this post highlights a statutory construction error that even a first year law student would be expected to understand and recognize.

Set forth below is the text of the FCPA regarding the “obtain or retain business” element.

   ”anything of value to

         any foreign official for purposes of

(A) (i) influencing any act or decision of such foreign official in his official capacity, (ii) inducing such foreign official to do or omit to do any act in violation of the lawful duty of such official, or (iii) securing any improper advantage; or

(B) inducing such foreign official to use his influence with a foreign government or instrumentality thereof to affect or influence any act or decision of such government or instrumentality,

         in order to assist such issuer in obtaining or retaining business for or with, or directing business to, any person;

Set forth below is how the text of the FCPA is portrayed in the FCPA Guidance.

   “anything of value to

         any foreign official for purposes of

(A) (i) influencing any act or decision of such foreign official in his official capacity, (ii) inducing such foreign official to do or omit to do any act in violation of the lawful duty of such official, or (iii) securing any improper advantage; or

(B) inducing such foreign official to use his influence with a foreign government or instrumentality thereof to affect or influence any act or decision of such government or instrumentality, in order to assist such issuer in obtaining or retaining business for or with, or directing business to, any person;

On one hand, the obvious error and rewriting of the FCPA in the Guidance could be attributed to scrivener’s error.  After all, both the DOJ’s FCPA website and the SEC’s FCPA website contain accurate versions of the FCPA.

On the other hand, scrivener’s error seems unlikely given the substance of the Guidance and that it appears the DOJ and SEC have always wanted an FCPA statute that doesn’t exist.

As I highlight in my article “Grading the FCPA Guidance,” the most disturbing portion of the Guidance concerns the ‘‘obtain or retain business’’ element of the FCPA. The Guidance asserts that ‘‘in 1998, the FCPA was amended to conform to the requirements of the [OECD] Anti-Bribery Convention,’’ and ‘‘these amendments expanded the FCPA’s scope to include payments made to secure ‘‘any improper advantage.’’

The notion that the FCPA’s 1998 amendments conformed the FCPA to the OECD Convention and expanded the FCPA’s scope to include payments made to secure ‘‘any improper advantage’’ is demonstratively false.

Indeed, the DOJ’s position on this specific issue was rejected by both the trial court and the appellate court in United States v. Kay, a case involving payments to Haitian “foreign officials” for the purpose of reducing customs duties and sales taxes a company owed the Haitian government.

The trial court decision stated:

“The OECD Convention had asked Congress to criminalize payments made to foreign officials ‘‘ ‘in order to obtain or retain business or other improper advantage in the conduct of international business.’’ . . . Congress again declined to amend the ‘‘obtain or retain business’’ language in the FCPA . . . . Congress did not insert the ‘‘improper advantage’’ language into the ‘‘obtain or retain business’’ provision of the FCPA.”

Although the Fifth Circuit overruled the trial court’s decision granting the defendants’ motion to dismiss, the appellate likewise court stated as follows concerning the FCPA’s 1998 amendments:

“When Congress amended the language of the FCPA, however, rather than inserting ‘any improper advantage’ immediately following ‘obtaining or retaining business’ within the business nexus requirement (as does the Convention), it chose to add the ‘improper advantage’ provision to the original list of abuses of discretion in consideration for bribes that the statute proscribes.’’

Others have pointed out this key statutory difference as well, including Philip Urofsky, a former DOJ Assistant Chief of the Fraud Section.  Writing after the 2010 CustomsGate cases involving use of Panalpina (see here for the prior post), Urofsky stated (here) as follows.

“When criminal liability is at issue … it is important that the borders of the statute be carefully limned. Unfortunately, the government’s pleadings in the Panalpina cases do more to blur than clarify the limits of the law. For example, in some cases, the DOJ did not even plead the language of the FCPA but used instead that of the OECD Convention. For example, in Pride International, the conspiracy count alleged that the payments in question were ‘to make corrupt payments to a Mexico government official in order to obtain or retain business and to obtain other favorable treatment.’  Similarly, in the Noble NPA, the DOJ stated that the FCPA was intended to prohibit bribes ‘for the purpose of obtaining or retaining business or securing any improper advantage.’  In each case, the italicized language is simply not a part of the statutory element.”

The enforcement agencies state that the Guidance sets forth “what the law is” and has claimed that the document took nearly a year to draft.

Thus, the above statutory construction error is troubling, yet telling at the same time.