December 15th, 2014

Corruption Is Bad, But What Is It?

question marks2Last week, International Anti-Corruption Day was recognized.

This short White House press release used the word “corruption” 13 times. DOJ Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell co-authored this short Huffington Post piece in which the word “corruption” appeared 34 times.  In this short press release from Secretary of State John Kerry, the word “corruption” appeared 14 times. In this post, another State Department official used the word “corruption” 90 times.

Everyone was talking about “corruption” – but what is it?

Are payments to incentivize a low-ranking foreign official with ministerial or clerical duties to do something that the official ought to do anyway – is this corruption?  In passing the FCPA Congress said no, but FCPA enforcement actions in this new era seem to suggest otherwise.

Is it corruption when a foreign tax official threatens to assess penalties and shut down a company’s offices unless a cash payment is made and the company acquiesces so that it can continue to do business in the country?  In the eyes of the DOJ and SEC, the answer seems to be yes.

Why if person x is the recipient of a corporate gift or entertainment or other things of value might we call it effective sales and marketing and maintaining good will with a customer, yet if person y is the recipient we call it corruption?

Who decides what corruption is?  Under our legal system, Congress passes laws, enforcement agencies enforce the laws, and courts oversee an adversarial system in which mitigating facts and potential defenses are weighed to determine if the enforcement agency has met its high burden of proof as to each element of the law that Congress passed.  Yet, FCPA enforcement in this new era has largely bypassed this system that has served our country well since its founding

Is it corruption if the conduct was engaged in with the knowledge and support of the highest levels of the U.S. government?

Indeed, one of the ironies of International Anti-Corruption Day was the release of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA tactics during the aftermath of 9/11.  As detailed in this Forbes piece:

“According to the report, “the CIA provided millions of dollars in cash payments to foreign government officials” to get foreign governments to host and support secret CIA detention sites. For example, the report says that one country that hosted a secret CIA detention facility rejected the transfer of Khalid Shaykh Muhammad, the architect of the 9/11 attacks, but the decision was reversed after the U.S. ambassador to that country intervened. The next month the CIA provided more than $1 million to an unidentified party in that country, the report says. According to a cable referenced in the report, “the CIA Station speculated that the change of position was ‘at least somewhat attributable… to our gift of $ [redacted] million….” Khalid Shaykh Muhammad was reportedly held by the CIA in Poland and Romania before being transferred to Guantanamo Bay.

CIA officials were keenly aware about how easy it would be for them to use money to get certain countries to facilitate the CIA interrogation program. “Do you realize you can buy [Country Redacted] for $,” one chief of station is quoted as saying in the report. Coincidentally, the payments to foreign government officials to facilitate torture occurred at the same time that the U.S. Justice Department was operating the biggest enhanced Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement effort ever, going after dozens of U.S. companies that had allegedly made payments to foreign government officials for business purposes. CIA headquarters also encouraged CIA Stations to construct “wish lists” and “think big” in terms of proposed financial assistance to the arms of foreign governments that could help with the program, the report says.”

If corruption – however defined – is bad, does that mean that all attempts to punish corruption and deter future misconduct is good? Is more FCPA enforcement an inherent good, regardless of resolution vehicles used, regardless of enforcement theories, and regardless of actual outcomes?  Has quantity of FCPA enforcement actions become a higher priority for the enforcement agencies than the quality of the enforcement actions?

On International Anti-Corruption day, the above questions were the ones worthy of examination (and are examined in detail in my book “The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in a New Era“), but the official releases linked above of course shy away from these questions.

However, as Congress recognized when passing the FCPA in 1977, corruption was not the “simple, safe issue it seemed at first blush.”  Indeed, the FCPA’s legislative history further instructs that there will be “countless situations” in which fair-minded individuals “will be hard-put to determine whether a particular payment or practice is a legitimate and permissible business activity or a means of improper influence.”  It was noted that reasonable persons “and even angels will differ on the answers … [and] such distinctions should make us less sweeping in our judgments and less confident in our solutions.”

Posted by Mike Koehler at 12:02 am. Post Categories: International Anti-Corruption Day




December 12th, 2014

Dallas Airmotive Inc. The Latest Aircraft Maintenance Company To Resolve An FCPA Enforcement Action

Dallas Air

First it was Oklahoma-based BizJet International in 2012 (see here).  Then it was Oklahoma-based The NORDAM Group in 2012 (see here). The latest aircraft maintenance company to resolve a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement action is Texas-based Dallas Airmotive.

Earlier this week, the DOJ announced that “Dallas Airmotive Inc., a provider of aircraft engine maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) services based in Grapevine, Texas, has admitted to violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and agreed to pay a $14 million criminal penalty to resolve charges that it bribed Latin American government officials in order to secure lucrative government contracts.”

As highlighted in this post discussing unsealed documents in connection with individual FCPA prosecutions of BizJet executives, all three enforcement actions seemed to be casually related.

Criminal Information

The Dallas Airmotive criminal information focuses on the conduct of Dallas Airmotive do Brasil (DAB), a corporate affiliate under the direction and control of Dallas Airmotive Inc. (DAI), and the information states that DAB’s employees were supervised and managed by directors and managers of DAI.  According to the information, DAB assisted DAI in providing MRO engine services to customers in Latin America, including to governmental and other customers.  The information states that DAB also bid on and secured engine service contracts with Brazilian government and commercial customers, the work for which was often done in part by DAI.

According to the information, DAI conspired with a DAI Sales Director (an individual responsible for overseeing DAI’s sales efforts in Latin America), a DAI Sales Agent (an individual responsible for obtaining and retaining MRO business for DAI and DAB in Latin America, including with commercial and government customers), a DAI Sales Manager (an individual responsible for obtaining and retaining MRO business for DAI and DAB in Latin America, including with commercial and government customers), DAB Manager A (an individual responsible for obtaining and retaining MRO business for DAI and DAB in Latin America, including with commercial and government customers), DAB Manager B (an individual responsible for obtaining and retaining MRO business for DAI and DAB in Latin America, including with government customers), Official 1 (a Sub-Officer in the Brazilian Air Force – BAF), Official 2 (a Sergeant in the BAF), Official 3 (a Captain for the Governor of the Brazilian state of Roraima), Front Company A (a Brazil-based sales and logistics services company that was affiliated with Official 1), Front Company B (a Brazil-based sales and logistics services company that was beneficially owned by Official 1), and a Intermediary Company (a Brazil-based company that was used to make payments for the benefit of Official 3), and others to make improper payments to the foreign officials to assist DAI in obtaining and retaining business.

According to the information, the purpose of the conspiracy was to obtain and retain engine MRO service business for DAI and DAB from foreign government customers in Latin America, including the BAF, the Peruvian Air Force, the Office of the Governor of the Brazilian State of Roraima, and the Office of the Governor of the Argentinean State of San Juan, by paying bribes to foreign officials employed by such customers.

According to the information, DAI, through its employees and agents, including employees of DAB, discussed in person and via e-mail making bribe payments – which they called “commissions” or “consulting fees” – and granting other benefits to employees of customers, including foreign government customers, in order to obtain and retain for DAI and DAB business to perform engine MRO services.  According to the information, certain bribe payments were wired from DAI’s bank account in New York and DAB’s bank account in Brazil to bank accounts of Front Company A, Front Company B, and Intermediary Company in Brazil.

The information also alleges that DAI/ DAB paid for a vacation for Official 2 and his spouse in exchange for Official 2′s assistance in securing MRO business.

As to Peru and Argentina, the information alleges that payments were made to a bank account of a third party commercial representative in Florida and Argentina (respectively) while knowing that the funds, at least in part, would be passed on to officials of the Peruvian Air Force and the office of the Governor of the Argentinean State of San Juan.

In addition to the conspiracy charge, DAI was also charged with one substantive violation of the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions.

Deferred Prosecution Agreement

The above charges were resolved via this DPA in which DAI admitted, accepted and acknowledged that it was responsible for the acts alleged in the information.  The 3 year DPA states, under relevant considerations, as follows.

“The DOJ enters into this Agreement based on the individual facts and circumstances presented by this case and the Company. Among the factors considered were the following: (a) the Company’s substantial cooperation, including conducting an internal investigation, voluntarily making U.S. and foreign employees available for interviews, and collecting, analyzing, and organizing voluminous evidence and information for the DOJ; (b) the Company’s improvements to date to its compliance program and internal controls, as well as its commitment to continue to enhance its compliance program and internal controls, including ensuring that its compliance program satisfies the minimum elements set forth in the DPA; (c) the nature and scope of the offense conduct; and (d) the Company’s agreement to continue to cooperate with the DOJ in any ongoing investigation of the conduct of the Company and its officers, directors, employees, and agents relating to possible violations under investigation by the DOJ.”

As highlighted in the DPA, the advisory guidelines fine range was $17.5 million to $35 million.  The DPA states as follows.

“The Company agrees to pay a monetary penalty in the amount of $14,000,000 to the United States Treasury within ten (10) days of the filing of the Information. The Company and the Office agree that this fine is appropriate given the facts and circumstances of this case, including the cooperation in this matter and the nature and scope of the offense conduct.”

As common in FCPA DPAs, DAI “expressly agree[d] that it shall not, through present or future attorneys, officers, directors, employees, agents or any other person authorized to speak for the Company, make any public statement, in litigation or otherwise, contradicting the acceptance of responsibility by the Company set forth [in the DPA and Information].”

Karen Seymour (Sullivan & Cromwell) represented Dallas Airmotive.

This Wall Street Journal Risk & Compliance post notes:

“A spokeswoman for the company said the U.S. Justice Department acknowledged the firm’s cooperation and the improvements it made to its compliance program. She said the company upholds high standards articulated in its code of business ethics, but it regrets that “those standards were breached by a limited number of third-party agents and employees of Dallas Airmotive’s business in South America” from 2008 through 2012. “These individuals are no longer with the company, and Dallas Airmotive do Brasil and our South American sales team are operating under new leadership,” the spokeswoman said in an email.”

Posted by Mike Koehler at 12:03 am. Post Categories: 2014 Enforcement ActionsAirline IndustryArgentinaBrazilDallas Airmotive Inc.DOJ Enforcement ActionPeru




December 11th, 2014

Here’s What Would Get More Companies To Self-Disclose Bribery

This recent Wall Street Journal Risk & Compliance post asks “what would get more companies to self-disclose bribery?”  The article discusses several  answers (publicize declinations, start a leniency program, lower the amount of fines), but the best answer  is depicted in the below picture (with an FCPA compliance defense being the red arrow).

Compliance Defense As A Gap

There currently exists an informational gap between those with evidence of FCPA violations (i.e. companies and their counsel who conduct FCPA internal investigations) and the government agencies (DOJ and SEC) who enforce the FCPA.

Although – as highlighted in this recent post – approximately 60% of recent FCPA enforcement actions are the result of corporate voluntary disclosures, it should be an uncontroversial observation that many more FCPA violations (at least based on current enforcement theories) are happening in the global marketplace on a daily basis.

This observation is based on my nearly ten years of FCPA practice experience (and will be recognized as a self-evident truth by other FCPA practitioners) as well as my frequent conversations with FCPA practitioners.  While I am not suggesting the following is empirical evidence, the general thrust of comments I hear from FCPA practitioners is that approximately only 50% of FCPA issues in public companies are disclosed to the DOJ/SEC and that very, very few FCPA issues in private companies are disclosed to the DOJ.  The follow-up question I then ask is – in the situations in which the company has not voluntarily disclosed, has the DOJ/SEC ever found out about the problematic conduct at issue.  The universal response I have received is no.

Put this all together and the resulting landscape is that there are many FCPA violations occurring (at least based on current enforcement theories) that are not disclosed to the enforcement agencies.  Because the violations are not disclosed to the enforcement agencies, there is no enforcement action. Because there is no enforcement action, the individual engaging in the problematic conduct are not being held accountable.  Because the individual engaging in the problematic conduct is not being held accountable, FCPA enforcement is not as effective as it could be.

The DOJ (and SEC) clearly recognize the gap that exists and in recent months enforcement officials have tried to articulate policies that can help close this gap (see here, here, and here for summaries of recent speeches).

As highlighted in this prior post,  the policies articulated by DOJ officials are sensible (voluntarily disclose, cooperate, and identify culpable individuals).

Problem is, this is the same policy the enforcement agencies have been talking about for nearly a decade and its seems not to be closing the gap that exists between evidence of FCPA violations and prosecution of FCPA violations, including individuals.  Indeed, as highlighted by this prior post, 82% of corporate SEC FCPA enforcement actions since 2008 have not resulted in any related enforcement action against a company employee and 75% of corporate DOJ FCPA enforcement actions since 2008 have not resulted in any related enforcement action against a company employee.

An FCPA compliance defense will not close this gap completely, but it will help bridge the gap.

As stated in my 2012 article “Revisiting a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Compliance Defense.”

“An FCPA compliance defense will better facilitate the DOJ’s prosecution of culpable individuals and advance the objectives of its FCPA enforcement program. At present, business organizations that learn through internal reporting mechanisms of rogue employee conduct implicating the FCPA are often hesitant to report such conduct to the enforcement authorities. In such situations, business organizations are rightfully diffident to submit to the DOJ’s opaque, inconsistent, and unpredictable decision-making process and are rightfully concerned that its pre-existing FCPA compliance policies and procedures and its good faith compliance efforts will not be properly recognized. The end result is that the DOJ often does not become aware of individuals who make improper payments in violation of the FCPA and the individuals are thus not held legally accountable for their actions. An FCPA compliance defense surely will not cause every business organization that learns of rogue employee conduct to disclose such conduct to the enforcement agencies. However, it is reasonable to conclude that an FCPA compliance defense will cause more organizations with robust FCPA compliance policies and procedures to disclose rogue employee conduct to the enforcement agencies. Thus, an FCPA compliance defense can better facilitate DOJ prosecution of culpable individuals and increase the deterrent effect of FCPA enforcement actions.”

Are the enforcement agencies capable of viewing an FCPA compliance defense, not as a race to the bottom, but a race to the top? Are the enforcement agencies capable of viewing an FCPA compliance defense as helping them better achieve their FCPA policy objectives?

Let’s hope so, because the gap is problematic.

Might a compliance defense result in 1 or 2 fewer corporate enforcement actions per year?  Perhaps, but against this slight drop in “hard” enforcement would be an increase in “soft” enforcement of the FCPA (see here and here), and indeed because the gap would be narrowed there would be more “hard” enforcement of culpable individual actors.

See here and here for prior posts on the same topic.

Posted by Mike Koehler at 12:02 am. Post Categories: Compliance DefenseEnforcement Agency PolicyFCPA ReformIndividual Enforcement ActionVoluntary Disclosure




December 10th, 2014

Voluntary Disclosure Statistics

Recently, the Wall Street Journal published this article titled “Why Companies Might Opt to Self-Report Potential Bribery Issues.” The article contained several observations from FCPA lawyers typically seen in voluntary disclosure articles.

“A lot of companies are self-reporting. And a lot of companies are not self-reporting,” said F. Joseph Warin, chairman of the Washington litigation department at Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP. Companies devote “an enormous effort” analyzing whether to self-report, he said.

“Voluntary disclosure is a business decision,” said Laurence Urgenson, a partner at law firm Mayer Brown LLP. “What are the costs and the benefits? Right now it’s a guessing game.”

For foreign corporations, the Justice Department’s nuanced message about the benefits of self-reporting “is lost in translation,” said Robert Luskin, a partner at Squire Patton Boggs who represents foreign companies in FCPA probes. “They see settlements in the hundreds of millions of dollars.…The view is that it’s better to just keep [the Justice Department] as far away as possible.”

What caught my eye though from the article is the following.

“About a third of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s FCPA cases in recent years have come from companies that self-report, an agency spokeswoman said. A Justice Department spokesman said the department doesn’t track the figure.”

I track voluntary disclosure statistics and the SEC’s claimed one-third statistic is not accurate.

Since 2011, there have been 34 corporate SEC FCPA enforcement actions.  20 of the enforcement actions (59%) have been based on voluntary disclosures per the SEC’s own resolution documents.  This 59% figure actually under-represents the impact of voluntary disclosures on the SEC’s FCPA enforcement program because several other FCPA enforcement actions (for instance against pharmaceutical companies Eli Lilly, Smith & Nephew, and Biomet) are generally viewed as “fruits” of a prior voluntary disclosure (Johnson & Johnson).

What about DOJ FCPA enforcement, given that the agency apparently doesn’t track voluntary disclosure figures?

Since 2011, there have been 31 core corporate DOJ FCPA enforcement actions.  17 of the enforcement actions (55%) have been based on voluntary disclosures per the DOJ’s own resolution documents.  Here again, this 55% figure actually under-represents the impact of voluntary disclosures on the DOJ’s FCPA enforcement program because several other FCPA enforcement actions (for instance against Smith & Nephew and Biomet) are generally viewed as “fruits” of a prior voluntary disclosure (Johnson & Johnson). Moreover, the Bilfinger enforcement action was the direct result of the prior Willbros enforcement action (an enforcement action based on a voluntary disclosure).

Posted by Mike Koehler at 12:03 am. Post Categories: FCPA StatisticsVoluntary Disclosure




December 9th, 2014

“I Have Such Trouble Understanding The Facilitating Payment Exception”

Southern District of Texas Judge Keith P. Ellison.  HANDOUT.

In the minds of some, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act is a clear statute with no ambiguity whatsoever (see here for a prior post on the same subject).  To such commentators, it’s easy –  just don’t bribe.  (The irony of course is that if it was so easy, then why do many of these same commentators devote their practice to FCPA compliance?).

To suggest that the FCPA is an ambiguous statute has been met by claims that such statements are nothing more than pandering to a particular audience.

Well, federal court judges are apparently pandering to a particular audience because if there is one common thread in many FCPA judicial decisions, it is judges finding various FCPA provisions vague or ambiguous.  (See the above prior post for numerous examples).

The latest example occurred in SEC v. Jackson & Ruehlen (the individual enforcement action the SEC settled on the eve of trial this past summer in what could only credibly be called an SEC defeat – see here and here for prior posts).

As to relevant background, in a pre-trial ruling (see here for the prior post), Judge Keith Ellisson (S.D.Tex.) ruled that the SEC had the burden of negating application of the FCPA’s facilitating payment exception.  As noted in this prior post, the enforcement action focused on alleged payments in connection with temporary importation permits in Nigeria for oil rigs.

Deep within the pre-trial transcript (see here), one will find Judge Ellison engage in the following exchange with SEC counsel.

JUDGE:  I have such trouble understanding the facilitating payment exception.  [...] I mean, it almost swallows the rest of the statute.  And I know it’s in the legislative history that these, I think reference is made to grease payments, somehow to grease the skids.  How do I separate those payments, which do seem to be contemplated, from the payments that [the SEC] alleges were made in this case, which you think are squarely within the FCPA’s prohibition?  [...] And I don’t understand it.  Whether we make the distinction based on size of payments, regularity of payments, purpose of payments, nature of the — of the favorable conduct elicited.  I just really struggle with it.”

SEC:  [...] For the — for the exception to apply, the SEC’s position is that two elements must be met.  There must be a purpose to expedite an act and the act must be a routine government action within the meaning of the statute.

JUDGE:  Both those could apply to the temporary — to the temporary import, though, couldn’t it?

SEC:  Well, in what way, Your Honor?

JUDGE: Well, because it purpose was to expedite an act and it was a routine government action.  These import permits were granted all the time.

Elsewhere in the transcript, one will find Judge Ellison expressing concern about the SEC’s position that the defendants violated the FCPA’s books and records provisions because Noble Corp. booked the alleged bribe payments in a special facilitating payments account based on the good faith belief that they were indeed facilitating payments.  The following exchange occurred.

JUDGE:  You also argue that recording the payments as facilitating payments in the company’s book is essentially duplicative or duplicitous.  Would payments to government officials, just say to that, like so, would that be accessible?

SEC:  Your honor, these payments were recorded as a particular kind of payment, a lawful payment.  A payment that meets a legal exception to liability under the FCPA.  As this Court recognized in the motion to dismiss opinion, calling a payment something that it is not is false.

JUDGE: What would they have needed to call it?  That’s what I am asking?

SEC:  Payments to government official — I can’t speculate all the things that it possibly could have been called, but payments to government officials may have been – may have been adequate.  However, they weren’t designated payments to government officials in this case …

Elsewhere in the transcript, the SEC acknowledged that the facilitating payments exception is “a difficult area to understand, largely because of the wording of the exception and the statute overall.”  The following exchange occurred.

SEC: This is how we conceptualize it.  And I think it’s — and it’s clearly evidenced and its manifest in the words of the statute and the exception.  Now, the facilitating payment exception is exactly that. It’s an exception for government actions that are routinely or ordinarily carried out. And you’ll see in the — in the exception itself, a number of examples that Congress set out as — as possible facilitating payment – facilitating payments and government — routine government actions. [...]

JUDGE: In your mind, does “routine” mean frequent or does “routine” mean automatic or does “routine” mean both?

SEC: I think that’s a fact issue, Your Honor. I think there could be situations where a routine governmental action can be something automatic. I think there can be situations where a — a routine governmental action is something that is issued or granted by a government entity or official routinely, so frequently, or without exception.

JUDGE: Well, I’m trying to identify which of the those things.  I mean, what if it were routine but not consistent; or automatic but not routine, it only happened once every five years?

SEC:  [...] Now, what’s important here is that the SEC posits whether a particular action is a routine governmental action is an objective inquiry.  You just take a look at the Nigerian law that governs this particular action.  If the Nigerian law says that it’s nondiscretionary, that’s the end of the inquiry.

JUDGE: Well, that’s what I trying to identify.  The fact that it’s nondiscretionary.  Do you think — do you agree with that?

SEC: No, Your Honor.

JUDGE:  Tell me what the lynchpin is?

SEC: The lynchpin is, again, it’s a fact-intensive inquiry.  What did the defendants – all right – what did the defendants believe was the action here?  And the action here was in — again, tying to the specific — specific facts of this case, the action was applying for temporary import authorizations that had, prior to the relevant period in this case, had been routinely granted.

JUDGE: Meaning — meaning consistently?

SEC: Consistently, to our — to our knowledge, without exception.

JUDGE:  Consistently and frequently?

SEC:  Yes

JUDGE:  Okay.

SEC:  Every — every time an application was put in, they received the authorization.

JUDGE: And those — to the best of your knowledge were those applications put in without — without any further monetary inducement or were they accompanied by monetary inducement?

SEC:  Accompanied by monetary inducement; hence, the payment itself, the facilitating payment, for a government action that was routinely rendered.

JUDGE: So the government would grant these routinely if it was paid?

SEC:  Well, Your Honor, we don’t know whether — we don’t necessarily know whether they were — whether they would have been granted if — if a payment had — payment had not been made, but what — what matters here is the payments were made –

JUDGE:  Isn’t that a big difference, though?  If it would have been granted anyway, without a payment being made, isn’t that signficant?

SEC:  I don’t think so, Your Honor.

In short, while many FCPA commentators continue to believe that the FCPA is a simple, straight-forward statute (and that claims of vagueness and ambiguity are the stuff of sugar plums and tinkerbells), the above example is just the latest of many (and please do visit this prior post for the numerous other examples) where federal court judges remain confused about various aspects of the FCPA.

Posted by Mike Koehler at 12:04 am. Post Categories: AmbiguityCorrupt IntentFacilitating PaymentsFCPA JurisprudenceJames RuehlenMark JacksonPermits / Licenses / Customs / Tax