Given the frequency in which U.S. judges seem to be rubber-stamping FCPA settlements – including plea deals agreed to by the DOJ under circumstances which arguably violate the DOJ’s own policy as set forth in the US Attorneys’ Manual (see here for a prior post), it is refreshing to read Lord Justice Thomas’s stern rebuke of the DOJ-SFO’s joint settlement in the Innospec matter (see here for more on the Innospec matter).

Lord Justice Thomas (Britain’s second most senior criminal judge) concluded that the Director of the SFO “had no power to enter into the arrangements made” to settle the matter and he warned that “no such arrangements should be made again.” (See here for Lord Justice Thomas’s sentencing remarks).

With the SFO publicly stating on numerous occasions that it seeks to adopt DOJ-like enforcement strategies and procedures and given that the SFO’s conduct in the Innospec mater was very “DOJ-like”, Lord Justice Thomas’s remarks, while heavy on English law, should be more broadly viewed as an indictment of DOJ enforcement strategies as well.

The sentencing remarks begin by providing an interesting glimpse into the “negotiations” between the DOJ and SFO in the Innospec matter – the “first case where a ‘global settlement’ had been sought in respect of concurrent criminal proceedings in the UK and the US.”

The conduct at issue largely centered on Indonesia and Iraq. The sentencing remarks note that “both the SFO and DOJ agreed that the fines and other penalties which might be imposed in the US and the UK might exceed $400m in the US and $150m in the UK.”

However because any such amount “would exceed by many times the ability of Innospec to pay” “both the SFO and the DOJ agreed that, in light of Innospec’s full admission and full co-operation, they should not seek to impose a penalty which would drive the company out of business.”

The sentencing remarks then state:

“In September 2009, when it was anticipated that an acceptable settlement would be reached, discussions began between the SFO and the DOJ about the manner in which the authorities in the US and the SFO should proceed to implement any settlement and divide up the monetary amount to be paid. The discussions took place against the background that it had been agreed that the SFO would have primacy in respect to the Indonesian corruption and the DOJ in respect of the Iraq corruption.”

The sentencing remarks note that “the SFO began by suggesting a 50:50 split based upon the fact that the criminality had been orchestrated and arranged from the UK in respect of the corruption in both Iraq and Indonesia.”

However, the “DOJ would not accept this,” but rather proposed a “methodology that in the result produced a split which was approximately one third to the DOJ, one third to the SFO and one third to the SEC and the OFAC.”

As noted in the sentencing remarks, “after much further discussion on 28 January 2010 the SFO agreed to a split that was approximately one third to the DOJ, one third to the SEC and OFAC and one third to the SFO. It was agreed that the DOJ would ask the court to approve a fine of $14.1m with the balance of the US proportion going to the SEC ($11.2m) and OFAC ($2.2m); $12.7m would be the SFO’s share.”

Lord Justice Thomas next turns to the Innospec-SFO plea (see here) and states that “it became quickly apparent … that a number of difficult issues was raised by the process adopted.”

In his remarks, Lord Justice Thomas cites a paper delivered by Nicholas Purnell QC “The Risk of Abusing A Dominant Position” delivered to the International Bar Association at its New York Conference in June 2009 (see here) which notes, among other things, that newly enacted SFO guidance on “alternative methods to the disposal of criminal investigations by way of negotiated pleas or other resolutions by corporate defendants” may “introduce some unintended risks of abuse.”

Lord Justice Thomas next touches upon such issues.

Among other things, he notes that the “question has arisen as to the extent of [the SFO's Director's] powers and duties in the light of the constitutional position of a prosecutor, the role of the courts in the UK and the rules relating to plea agreements in the U.K.” Lord Justice Thomas specifically notes that “it is clear” that the “SFO cannot enter into an agreement … with an offender as to the penalty in respect of the offence charged,” but that a reading of the papers submitted in connection with Innospec-SFO plea “suggests that a penalty had in fact been agreed.”

In language that all U.S. judges who have rubber-stamped DOJ FCPA settlements (without inquiring into the factual and legal basis for the settlement including whether other charges more accurately fit the crime – see here) should read, Lord Justice Thomas states:

“Principles of transparent and open justice require a court sitting in public itself first to determine by a hearing in open court the extent of the criminal conduct on which the offender has entered the plea and then, on the basis of its determination as to the conduct, the appropriate sentence. It is in the public interest, particularly in relation to the crime of corruption, that … there may be discussion and agreement as to the basis of plea” and that a court “must rigorously scrutinise in open court in the interests of transparency and good governance the basis of that plea and to see whether it reflects the public interest.”

Lord Justice Thomas then states that “those who commit such serious crimes as corruption of senior government officials must not be viewed or treated in any different way to other criminals.” (See here, here and here for my prior posts on the increasing and alarming trend of bribery, yet no bribery FCPA prosecutions).

Lord Justice Thomas states that the $12.7m SFO fine is “wholly inadequate as a fine to reflect the criminality displayed by Innospec” and that if it were up to him the fine would have measured in the “tens of millions.” Nevertheless, because of Innospec’s apparent inability to pay a larger fine, he “reluctantly concluded that, on this occasion, it would neither be just nor fair in the unusual circumstances of this case for this court to impose a penalty greater than the amount allocated to the UK.”

Even so, Lord Justice Thomas is stinging in his final remarks.

He notes:

“The court was faced with an agreement made between the DOJ, the SEC, the OFAC and SFO as to the division of the sum these bodies had considered Innospec was able to pay. This was not a matter that received judicial determination in either the UK or the US (save that inherent in the Federal District Court’s approval of the plea agreement). As it is the position in both the US and the UK that it is for the court ultimately to determine the sanction to be imposed for the criminal conduct, an agreement between prosecutors as to the division, even if it had been within the power of the Director of the SFO (which as I have explained it was not), cannot be accordance with basic constitutional principles.”

Lord Justice Thomas concludes that “the Director of the SFO had no power to enter into the arrangements made and no such arrangements should be made again.”

He notes that “it is essential for the future that, unless any change is made to the rule of procedure or to the practice direction, it is appreciated this court must and will sentence in the way set out in the law, as that is what the rule of law requires” and that “this applies as much to companies as to individual defendants.”

A couple of other interesting tidbits from Lord Justice Thomas’s sentencing remarks.

With cross-border investigations and global corruption settlements seemingly becoming a new norm, Lord Justice Thomas’s comments on uniform financial penalties also bear mention. He states, “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.” He notes that “if the penalties in one state are lower than in another, business in the state with lower penalties will not be deterred so effectively from engaging in corruption in foreign states, whilst businesses in states where the penalties are higher may complain that they are disadvantaged in foreign states.”

Lord Justice Thomas concludes his sentencing remarks with one final dig, a dig aimed at a common feature in all DOJ FCPA pleas, non-prosecution agreements and deferred prosecution agreements – and that is the “don’t issue a press release about this unless you first approve it with us” clause.

Lord Justice Thomas notes: “It would be inconceivable for a prosecutor to approve a press statement to be made by a person convicted of burglary or rape; companies who are guilty of corruption should be treated no differently to others who commit serious crimes.”

*****

A couple of final notes about the SFO’s enforcement action against Innospec. Unlike a typical DOJ FCPA charging document, the SFO “names names.” In its previous Mabey & Johnson prosecution (see here for a prior post), the SFO specifically named the foreign official recipients of the bribe payments. That trend continues in the SFO’s charging documents against Innospec (see here).

Finally, in many cases, FCPA fines and penalties are just one “cost” to a company. While I disagree with the notion that the “costs of getting caught” should somehow factor into the final penalty amount (see here for a prior post), this is a cost that can not be ignored by companies. On this issue, para. 32 of the SFO charging document notes that “at this stage … Innospec’s internal investigation and cooperation with the SFO, DOJ, and SEC globally has cost the Company in excess of US$32 million in costs …”