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Year Two … Plus The Friday Roundup

I missed my own anniversary, the anniversary of FCPA Professor that is.

On July 17, 2009, I formally launched FCPA Professor with this Mission Statement.

Approximately 220 posts later, year two has arrived and the mission remains the same.

It is a pleasure to make frequent deliveries to the marketplace of ideas. FCPA Professor is read worldwide by a diverse group of readers and I thank you for making this space a part of your day.

Now for the Friday roundup.

BAE U.K. Settlement Still Pending

BAE’s bribery, yet no bribery U.S. settlement has long been signed, sealed and delivered. See here and here for more. Yet things are taking a bit longer on the other side of the Atlantic according to this report from a U.K. financial website.

According to the report, Serious Fraud Office director Richard Alderman has admitted “that legal challenges by anti-arms campaigners, and the need to get the case’s extensive documentation in order, have seen the conclusion of the bribery investigation put off until autumn at the earliest.”

With the lashing the SFO took in the Innospec enforcement action (see here), the SFO understandably wants to get this one right.

The BAE U.K. settlement is not the only event that has been delayed. As highlighted in this post from earlier week so too is the new U.K. Bribery Act.

Business is Booming

Furthering the notion that anti-bribery and compliance work is an industry in and of itself, the San Jose Business Journal reports in this recent piece that business is booming – and not just among law firms – as the article profiles Deloitte and KPMG.

The article touches upon certain topics highlighted by others, including Nathan Vardi in this Forbes piece, and Steve Pearlstein in this Washington Post piece.

Noble and Nigeria

A recent post (see here) described Nigeria as a challenging market and highlighted a recent report that found that one in three companies reported paying a bribe to Nigerian public officials in undertaking administrative tasks. The post talked about facilitation payments, which are allowed by the FCPA – at least as written, yet highlighted the many FCPA enforcement actions seemingly based on facilitating payments.

Throw a pending enforcement action against Noble Corporation into that mix.

Here is what the company said in its recent 8-K filing:

“In 2007, we began, and voluntarily contacted the SEC and the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) to advise them of, an internal investigation of the legality under the FCPA and local laws of certain reimbursement payments made by our Nigerian affiliate to customs agents in Nigeria. The SEC and the DOJ have indicated that they believe that violations of the FCPA occurred and will seek civil and/or criminal sanctions against us, including monetary penalties, and may include additional sanctions against us and/or certain of our employees, as well as additional changes to our business practices and compliance programs. We could also face fines or sanctions in relevant foreign jurisdictions.

We consider the matter relating to the Nigeria investigation to be ongoing and cannot predict (a) when it will conclude, (b) whether either the SEC or the DOJ will open its own proceeding to investigate this matter, or (c) if a proceeding is opened, what potential sanctions, penalties or other remedies these agencies may seek. Based on information obtained to date, we believe it is probable that we will pay an amount to settle this matter with the DOJ and SEC. Given that the matter is not finally resolved, we cannot predict with certainty what amount we will pay in civil and criminal fines and penalties; however, as of June 30, 2010, we accrued approximately $5.1 million relating to this ongoing matter. Any of the sanctions as a result of the Nigerian investigation or any other future violation of the FCPA or similar law could have a material adverse effect on our business or financial condition and could damage our reputation and ability to do business, to attract and retain employees and to access capital markets.

Frontier identified certain payments totaling approximately $35,000 made by one of its former agents to Nigeria immigration officials in 2009 and reported this matter to the DOJ as a possible violation of the FCPA. We reviewed this matter as part of our diligence investigation of Frontier. The DOJ has not indicated what, if any, action it may take with respect to such payments, although the DOJ could seek civil and/or criminal sanctions against Frontier. Upon closing the Frontier acquisition, we would be responsible for such sanctions as well as any other sanctions relating to violations of applicable laws by Frontier, except to the extent that they may be covered by indemnities contained in the merger agreement with Frontier. Any such sanctions could have a material adverse effect on our business or financial condition.”

Schumer Calls For BP Investigation

Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) has requested a Department of Justice investigation of BP.

It has nothing to do with the Gulf of Mexico, but rather the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

BP is British company, but its ADR shares trade on the New York Stock Exchange and BP is thus subject to the FCPA.

In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder (see here) Schumer requests that the DOJ investigate whether BP violated any of the provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) in connection with the August 2009 release of Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, the Libyan terrorist convicted of the 1988 bombing of Pan-Am flight 103 that killed 270 people, including 189 Americans. [This post is limited to a discussion of the FCPA, and not the above referenced release.]

Why does Schumer think BP may have violated the FCPA?

Because, according to Schumer’s letter – “BP has admitted that it lobbied United Kingdom government officials to wrap up a proposed prisoner transfer agreement (PTA) with the Libyan government amid concerns that a delay in reaching this agreement would harm a deal BP had signed with Libya’s National Oil Company to explore for oil and gas in the Gulf of Sidra and in parts of Libya’s western desert—an agreement which BP estimated could lead to eventual earnings of up to $20 billion.”

Hold the phone and stop the presses … a large corporation has admitted that it lobbied its own government in connection with a business purpose.

This would seem to be yet another example of the FCPA’s double standard in that what is routinely done at home suddenly becomes a potential criminal matter when done in connection with international business. For other examples of the double standard see here and here.

Unless there is a finding that something of value went to a foreign official, the FCPA is not implicated because the law does not apply to giving things of value to a foreign government itself. Strange you say, but that is how the FCPA is written – a fact even the DOJ recognizes. See here for DOJ Opinion Procedure Release 09-01 in which the DOJ states that the proposed course of conduct “fall[s] outside the scope of the FCPA in that the [thing of value] will be provided to the foreign government, as opposed to individual government officials …”

Schumer’s letter also states:

“If BP, or its officials, promised the Libyan Government that it would secure al-Megrahi’s release from detention in exchange for oil exploration rights—or even that it would provide lobbying services for such a release on the Libyan Government’s behalf—BP may have been unlawfully authorizing performance of valuable services to the Libyan Government in exchange for profitable oil exploration rights in express violation of the FCPA. Similarly, if BP promised anything of value to United Kingdom government officials to secure al-Megrahi’s release, this would also violate the FCPA.”

According to Schumer’s press release, he and “Senators Gillibrand, Menendez, and Lautenberg last week requested the British government investigate the circumstances surrounding al-Megrahi’s release and requested that BP and the British government turn over all documents related to the oil companies’ efforts lobbying for a prison-release agreement with Libya. They also called for the US State Department to press the British to investigate BP’s involvement in the incident.”

It is unusual for a U.S. politician to call upon DOJ to investigate a foreign-based company (or any company for that matter) for FCPA violations – particularly when the conduct at issue largely centers on conduct between the company and its own government officials.

Although the U.K. Bribery Act is not yet law (see yesterday’s post here), when enacted, it is expected to have a broad jurisdictional scope and apply to certain U.S. companies, just as the FCPA applies to certain U.K. companies.

Following Schumer’s lead will a British politician request that the U.K. Serious Fraud Office investigate a U.S. company because it lobbied its own government officials in connection with a business purpose? As John Gapper, the associate editor and chief business commentator of the U.K. based Financial Times, stated in an editorial on the subject, “the US has been no stranger to dubious deals with foreign governments that benefit both its strategic interests and US companies.”

For more, see here for Christopher Matthew’s Main Justice story on the topic.

U.K. Bribery Act Delayed

The U.K. Ministry of Justice announced yesterday (see here) that implementation of the Bribery Act will be delayed until April 2011. Among other things, the release states as follows:

“In September the Government will launch a short consultation exercise on the guidance about procedures which commercial organisations can put in place to prevent bribery on their behalf.

This will be published early in the New Year to allow businesses an adequate familiarisation period before the Act commences.

The consultation will be followed by a series of awareness-raising events to ensure everyone is aware of the changes the Bribery Act makes to the current law.”

The Bribery Act (see here) is generally viewed as being more broad in scope than the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Originally planned to “go live” in Fall 2010, the Bribery Act was creating much angst among the business community as to how to comply with many of its vague provisions.

The Financial Times reports that Kenneth Clarke, recently appointed as the U.K. international anti-corruption champion (see here), “bowed to pressure from business by delaying implementation of the long-awaited Bribery Act by six months, a move anti-corruption activists claimed could lead to it being watered down.”

The Financial Times article quotes Chandrashekhar Krishnan, the executive director of Transparency International – UK, as saying that the delay is “extremely disappointing” and that the “danger is that under the guise of consultation attempts” attempts may be made to “water down the Act.”

Whatever the reason or motivation for the delay, it is always a good idea to have clear laws which put all on notice of what is prohibited. If that is the end result of the additional consultations, that is a result all can cheeer.

For more on the U.K.’s enforcement of anti-corruption laws, including how the U.K. Serious Fraud Office is adopting DOJ-like enforcement strategies see here and here.

The Financial Reform Bill’s Whistleblower Provisions And The FCPA

Section 1504 (see here for the prior post) of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act is not the only provision of the “financial reform package” that may impact Foreign Corrupt Practices Act compliance and enforcement.

Sections 922-924 of the Act President Obama is expected to sign soon also has the potential to impact FCPA enforcement.

Why?

Because it creates new whistleblower provisions applicable to all securities laws violations and the FCPA is part of the Securities and Exchange Act of 1934.

This post will cover three topics: an overview of the new whistleblower provisions; some thoughts on whether whistleblower provisions applicable to FCPA enforcement is wise policy; and some thoughts on whether the new whistleblower provisions will impact FCPA enforcement, and if so, to what extent.

Overview

Section 922 amends the Exchange Act by including a new section, 21F, titled “Securities Whistleblower Incentives and Protection.”

Pursuant to the new section:

* any whistleblower (meaning “any individual who provides, or 2 more more individuals acting jointly who provide, information relating to a violation of the securities laws” to the SEC)

* who voluntarily provides original information (meaning information that: (a) “is derived from the independent knowledge or analysis of a whistleblower;” (b) “is not known to the [SEC] from any other source, unless the whistleblower is the original source of the information;” and (c) “is not exclusively derived from an allegation made in a judicial or administrative hearing, in a governmental report, hearing, audit, or investigation, or from the news media, unless the whistleblower is a source of the information”)

* to the SEC that leads “to the successful enforcement” of a “covered judicial or administrative action” (meaning “any judicial or administrative action brought by the [SEC] under the securities laws that results in monetary sanctions exceeding $1,000,000”)

* shall be entitled to an award equal to “not less than 10%” and “not more than 30%” “of what has been collected of the monetary sanctions imposed” in the underlying SEC enforcement action.

Monetary sanctions include “any monies, including penalties, disgorgement, and interest ordered to be paid” by the SEC.

In determining the amount of the award the whistleblower shall receive, the SEC “shall take into consideration: (i) the significance of the information provided by the whisteblower to the success [of the enforcement action]; (ii) the degree of assistance provided by the whistleblower [or the whistleblower’s legal representative] [in the enforcement action]; (iii) “the programmatic interest of the [SEC] in deterring violations of the securities laws by making awards to whistleblowers who provide information that lead to the successful enforcement of such laws; and (iv) such additional relevant factors as the [SEC] may establish by rule or regulation.”

Pursuant to the new whistleblower provisions, a whistleblower may be represented by counsel.

The provisions allow a whistleblower to submit information to the SEC anonymously, however in such a case, the whistleblower “shall be represented by counsel” and the whistleblower’s identity must be disclosed to the SEC before an award is made to such a whistleblower.

Section 922 specifically authorizes a whisteblower to receive an award “regardless of whether any violation of a provision of the securities laws, or a rule or regulation thereunder” underlying the SEC enforcement action “occurred prior to the date of enactment” of the provisions.

As with many whistleblower provisions, Section 922 prohibits employers from directly or indirectly discharging, demoting, suspending, threatening, harassing, or in any other manner discriminating against a whistleblower.

Section 922 also authorizes the SEC to share whistleblower provided information with other U.S. government agencies, including the Attorney General, as well as foreign securities authorities and foreign law enforcement.

In addition to the “original information” limitation discussed above, Section 922 also precludes the following categories of persons from receiving whistleblower awards: (a) various government and law enforcement agency employees; (b) “any whistleblower who is convicted of a criminal violation related to the [enforcement action];” and (c) “any whistleblower who gains the information through the performance of an audit of financial statements required under the securities laws and for whom such submission would be contrary to the requirements of section 10A of the Exchange Act.”

Pursuant to Section 922, the SEC “shall have the authority to issue such rules and regulations as may be necessary or appropriate” to implement the above-described provisions.

Wise Policy As Applied to FCPA Enforcement?

As indicated above, the new whistleblower provisions are applicable to all securities laws violations – not just the FCPA.

While the new provisions may or may not represent needed legislation as applied to non-FCPA securities law violations, I do not believe that the whistleblower provisions represent wise policy as applied to FCPA enforcement.

Why?

Quite simply the FCPA is enforced like no other securities law (at least that I am aware of).

Against the backdrop of little substantive FCPA case law, the FCPA is enforced based largely on government enforcement agency interpretations that have never been accepted by a court. For every FCPA enforcement action alleging conduct that all reasonable minds would agree violates the FCPA, there is seemingly three FCPA enforcement actions alleging conduct that many reasonable minds question whether the conduct even violates the FCPA. Yet, these latter FCPA enforcement actions, notwithstanding the dubious and untested legal theories they are based on, are routinely settled by companies via a resolution vehicle that does not require the company to admit or deny the SEC’s allegations. Quite simply, a settled SEC FCPA enforcement action does not necessarily represent the triumph of the SEC’s legal position over the company’s, but rather reflects a risk-based decision primarily grounded in issues other than facts and the law. It is simply easier and more cost-efficient for a company to settle an SEC FCPA enforcement (notwithstanding whatever dubious and untested legal theory it is based on) than to participate in long, protracted litigation with its principal government regulator. Ask any seasoned FCPA practitioner and, in a candid moment, they will tell you the same thing.

Against this backdrop, is it wise to award a whistleblower 10-30% of the fines, penalties and disgorgement the SEC recovers in an FCPA enforcement action? Is it wise to award a whistleblower in connection with an FCPA enforcement action when the contours of the FCPA largely remain undefined by the courts? It is wise to award a whistleblower when the company, for reasons other than law or fact, does not even mount a legal defense?

I submit that the answer to each of these questions is no.

Impact on FCPA Enforcement?

Much has been written about the whistleblower provisions and the impact on FCPA enforcement – beginning when the provisions were first included in Congressional financial reform bill drafts.

Among other law firms with an FCPA practice or FCPA practitioners writing about the subject, Morgan Lewis stated that the “new law is likely to greatly increase the number of FCPA matters under government investigation” (see here); Fried Frank predicted that the “new whistleblower program may end up playing a key role in identifying and prosecuting violations of the FCPA” (see here); and Richard Cassin on the FCPA Blog guessed that the “bounty program will result in more FCPA cases against corporations” (see here).

I am not so sure and my guess is that the new whistleblower provisions will have a negligible impact on FCPA enforcement.

My reasons?

For starters, the SEC has long had a similar whistleblower program for insider trading. The results? According to a Senate report accompanying the financial reform package, less than $160,000 paid out to five whistleblowers.

In addition, the new whistleblower provisions will only be triggered when a public company issuer is the subject of an FCPA enforcement action. No public company issuer, means no SEC jurisdiction, means no whistleblower awards. There are many more private companies subject to the FCPA than public company issuers and the new whistleblower provisions should not impact this prong of FCPA enforcement which is indeed large. For instance, with a few exceptions, the vast majority of companies indirectly implicated (at least at this point) in the Africa Sting case are all private companies.

Furthermore, and perhaps most important, most FCPA enforcement actions already result from voluntary disclosures. Is the universe of FCPA enforcement actions really going to expand when public company issuers are already largely voluntarily disclosing conduct to the SEC – presumably the same conduct that a whistleblower would disclose?

On this issue, one thing the new whistleblower provisions may do is pit the whistleblower vs. the company in a strange, yet competitive, high-stakes game of “who has the fastest car” to Washington to disclose the conduct. Simply put, if the whistleblower loses, the information he or she discloses will no longer be “original information” and thus no award. If the company loses, the disclosure will no longer be “voluntary” and the hoped for credit under the DOJ’s Principles of Prosecution of Business Organizations and the Sentencing Guidelines will disappear. Against this backdrop, it may be that more conduct will be disclosed that may not even violate the FCPA because the risks of having the “slower car” are to great to pass up. But then again (as detailed in this post) a company voluntarily disclosing conduct that may not even violate the FCPA seems to a norm these days.

If the new whistleblower provisions do indeed have an appreciable impact on FCPA enforcement, the following questions, among others, come to my mind.

Will a law firm with an established FCPA practice start representing whistleblowers on the theory that a contingent fee on a 10-30% cut of an FCPA settlement is more profitable than hourly fee investigations or compliance?

Will a go-to FCPA plaintiffs firm emerge? Which firm/lawyer will it be?

Will the new whistleblower provisions trigger more substantive FCPA case law? How many enforcement actions based on whistleblower information that a company paid for a bottle of wine and opera tickets for an employee of a Chinese state-owned enterprise (ignoring the fact that the company did the same thing for other customers) will it take before a company says – enough of this silliness – will someone please litigate the enforcement agencies “foreign official” interpretation?

Will a “sophisticated” whistleblower with knowledge of the enforcement agencies many dubious and untested legal interpretations use this “gray space” as a point of entry into a much larger potential award on the theory that the “sophisticated” whistleblower is well aware that the enforcement agencies will ask the “where else” question before agreeing to resolve an enforcement action even if the whistleblower is unaware of anything else besides the provided information (which may not even violate the statute) guessing that there is some books or records or internal control issue somewhere in the company that will crop up and raise the award level? (For more on this “where else” question see this prior post).

The new whistleblower provisions provide much to think about and raise the above (and no doubt numerous other) questions.

The best part of the new whistleblower provisions would seem to be that its impact on FCPA enforcement can be monitored and analyzed as Section 922 requires the SEC to submit annual reports to Congress on its whistleblower award program including “the type of cases in which awards were granted.” Section 922 also requires the SEC to “establish a separate office within the [SEC] to administer and enforce” the new whistleblower provisions and requires the SEC Inspector General to conduct a study of the whistleblower provisions.

Giffen Update

When your case has slogged along for over seven years, a two week delay is a minor occurence.

In any event, James Giffen’s court hearing scheduled for last week has been delayed until July 29th reports Bloomberg’s David Glovin in this interesting piece. For more on the Giffen case (see here).

As Glovin notes, the long delay in the Giffen case has spawned “conspiracy theories” and open guessing “whether the U.S. remains committed” to this case.

For starters, Giffen is accused of funneling payments to foreign officials in Kazahstan, including its current President Nursultan Nazarbayev, a U.S. ally who met with President Bush in 2006 “to discuss ways to expand U.S. access to Kazakh oil,” according to Glovin.

Adding to the intrigue, Giffen has claimed, as Glovin notes, that “U.S. intelligence services, including the Central Intelligence Agency, authorized him to pay off Kazakh leaders.” Giffen’s public authority defense has caused most of the delays in the trial as the government has fought to withhold or redact many classified documents.

Over at Harper’s Magazine (see here) Scott Horton asks the question – “why is this case languishing?”

Horton states:

“Over the past decade, I discussed the case many times with Kazakhstani officials and businessmen. They were uniformly intrigued by it and keen to learn the details of their government’s darker practices—details that have steadily emerged from the case. They were also all of the same view: this case would ultimately go nowhere because it was not in the interest of the United States to expose damaging information about President Nazarbayev. Moreover, several offered that the Kazakhstani government fully understood how to ‘spin’ the American system by hiring prominent lobbyists and consultants and engaging the right political figures. It would be able to forestall the case, they assured me. I would reply that the American system didn’t work that way—that our Justice Department was independent and that prosecutorial decisions were insulated from such lobbying. Truth is, I was never myself absolutely convinced of that, and I always felt a bit naïve saying it.”

Horton concludes with this statement:

“Today, Justice Department spokesmen tell Congress that battling corruption in foreign business dealings is a high priority. They argue that corruption is undermining the war on terror, costing taxpayers billions of dollars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the handling of the Giffen case provides skeptics with plenty of reason to doubt the sincerity of the Justice Department’s claims. Within the government there are no shortage of career personnel who believe that a properly delivered bribe to a foreign government official is a necessary sort of compromise. A government that winks at corruption in the supposed name of national security may have a hard time prosecuting it in a commercial setting.”

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