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

As Foreign Scrutiny Grows, Dollars Continue To Flow In The U.S.

This [1] 2012 post highlighted the origins and prominence of an enforcement theory in this new era of Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement.

The enforcement theory is that employees (such as physicians, nurses, mid-wives, lab personnel, etc.) of various foreign health care systems are “foreign officials” under the FCPA.  The prior post detailed eleven corporate enforcement actions in which the enforcement theory was used, in whole or in part, and since then four additional corporate enforcement actions (Stryker, Philips Electronics, Tyco and Eli Lilly) have been based, in whole or in part, on the same enforcement theory.  Perhaps telling, the DOJ has never charged an individual based on this FCPA enforcement theory.

In most of the corporate enforcement actions based on the enforcement theory, the “things of value” provided to the alleged “foreign officials” have included consulting opportunities and services contracts and payment of travel and entertainment expenses such as  wine, speciality foods, visits to bath houses, card games, karaoke bars, door prizes, spa treatments and cigarettes.

The enforcement theory continues to be the reason certain companies are under FCPA scrutiny as evidenced by the on-going FCPA scrutiny of GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi to name just a few (see here [2]).

Yet as this foreign scrutiny of pharmaceutical and other healthcare related companies continues, the dollars continue to flow in the United States.

Recently, the Wall Street Journal ran articles here [3] (“Doctors Net Billions From Drug Firms”) and here [4] (“Payments Reveal Range of Doctors’ Ties With Industry”) based on information from “a new federal government transparency initiative [5] mandated in the 2010 Affordable Care Act which required manufacturers of drugs and medical devices to disclose the payments they make to physicians and teaching hospitals every year.

In the words of the Wall Street Journal:

“The payments and so-called transfers of value to an estimated 546,000 doctors and 1,360 teaching hospitals include such items as free meals that company sales representatives bring to physicians’ offices, fees paid to doctors to speak about a company’s drug to other doctors at restaurants, and compensation for clinical trial research and consulting fees. Some doctors earned tens of thousands of dollars annual from drug companies by flying to various cities to give paid speeches, while some surgeons received even larger amounts from medical device makers, partly from royalties on products they helped develop.”

In short, many of the “things of value” are similar to those alleged in FCPA enforcement actions involving foreign physicians and other healthcare personnel.

Against this backdrop, it is interesting to note that in the United States approximately 20% of hospitals are owned by state or local governments (see here [6]). In addition, approximately 150 more medical centers are run by the Veterans Health Administration (see here [7]).

Presumably then, a healthy percentage of the “things of value” are going to U.S. officials – at least so long as one applies the FCPA enforcement theory to the U.S. context.

Yet, one should not hold their breath waiting for enforcement actions under 18 U.S.C 201, the U.S. domestic bribery statute with very similar elements to the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions.  Nor should one hold their breath as to any books and records or internal controls enforcement actions regarding such payments by issuer companies.

But the question is why?

Assuming that foreign physicians and healthcare personnel are indeed “foreign officials” under the FCPA, why should corporate interaction with a “foreign official” be subject to greater scrutiny and different standards of enforcement than corporate interaction with a U.S. official?  Why do we reflexively label a “foreign official” who receives “things of value” from private business interests as corrupt, yet generally turn a blind eye when it happens here at home?

For numerous other prior posts on the “double standard,” see this [8] tag.