- FCPA Professor - http://fcpaprofessor.com -

A “Look In The Mirror” Moment

Last month, WikiLeaks announced:

“WikiLeaks release[d] an unprecedented Australian censorship order concerning a multi-million dollar corruption case explicitly naming the current and past heads of state of Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam, their relatives and other senior officials. The super-injunction invokes “national security” grounds to prevent reporting about the case, by anyone, in order to “prevent damage to Australia’s international relations”. The court-issued gag order follows the secret 19 June 2014 indictment of seven senior executives from subsidiaries of Australia’s central bank, the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA). The case concerns allegations of multi-million dollar inducements made by agents of the RBA subsidiaries Securency and Note Printing Australia in order to secure contracts for the supply of Australian-style polymer bank notes to the governments of Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and other countries.

The suppression order lists 17 individuals, including “any current or former Prime Minister of Malaysia”, “Truong Tan San, currently President of Vietnam”, “Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (also known as SBY), currently President of Indonesia (since 2004)”, “Megawati Sukarnoputri (also known as Mega), a former President of Indonesia (2001–2004) and current leader of the PDI-P political party” and 14 other senior officials and relatives from those countries, who specifically may not be named in connection with the corruption investigation.”

For more on the WikiLeaks release, see here [1].

Coverage of the development was not surprisingly negative.  For instance, this [2] Global Investigations Review article stated that the revealed suppression order “undermines Australia’s attempts to bring enforcement of foreign bribery cases up to international standards.”

To which I say … wait a minute, let’s look in the mirror shall we.

For starters, the Australian case was actually filed in court and the order was issued by a judge.  This simple sentence is more than one can say about the vast majority of corporate FCPA enforcement actions that are resolved via non-prosecution agreements or deferred prosecution agreements in the absence of any meaningful judicial scrutiny.  Add to this, the SEC’s increased use of administrative actions in the FCPA context, and the initial take-away point is that the Australian case – even at its earliest stages – involves a court – something that can not be said in the majority of corporate FCPA enforcement actions.

Moreover, are many FCPA enforcement actions actually transparent?

Can one truly say that the BAE enforcement action and charging decisions (see here [3], here [4] and here [5]) were transparent and the true facts and circumstances known to the public?

Can one truly say that the public knows the real story behind the James Giffen enforcement action (see here [6] and here [7])?

In 2003, Giffen was criminally charged [8] with “making more than $78 million in unlawful payments to two senior officials of the Republic of Kazakhstan in connection with six separate oil transactions, in which various American oil companies acquired valuable oil and gas rights in Kazakhstan.”

However, Giffen’s defense was that his actions were made with the knowledge and support of the CIA, the National Security Council, the Department of State and the White House. The DOJ did not dispute that Giffen had frequent contacts with senior U.S. intelligence officials or that he used his ties within the Kazakh government to assist the United States. With the court’s approval, Giffen sought discovery from the government to support his public authority defense and much of the delay in the case was due to the government’s resistance to such discovery and who was actually entitled to see such discovery.

In 2010, the enforcement action took a sudden and mysterious turn when Giffen agreed to plead guilty to a one-paragraph superseding indictment [8] charging a misdemeanor tax violation.  The enforcement action ended with the presiding judge imposing no jail time on Giffen and stating that he was a Cold War hero and that the enforcement action should have never been brought in the first place.

Giffen presumably prevailed over the DOJ not because of the facts or the law, but because he possessed significant leverage over the government in that he asserted his actions were taken with the knowledge and support of the highest levels of the U.S. government.  A Foreign Policy columnist [9] noted that Giffen’s legal team “understood correctly that he could set up a collision between the DOJ and the CIA in which the latter would probably prevail.” Likewise, a Harpers columnist [10] noted that the Giffen enforcement action had “been the focus of political manipulation concern for years” and that the end of the case seemed to ratify that view and “the notion of an independent, politically insulated criminal-justice administration in America [took] another severe hit.”

In short, think what you want about the above-mentioned Australia development.

However, when doing so look in the mirror to realize that U.S. enforcement of the FCPA is, in certain cases, even more troubling.