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Avery Dennison Settles FCPA Matter – Is There a Strict Liability Standard for FCPA Books and Records and Internal Controls Violations?

The FCPA’s books and records and internal control provisions, as written, generally state where an issuer “holds 50 per[cent] or less of the voting power with respect to a domestic or foreign firm” the books and records and internal control provisions “require only that the issuer proceed in good faith to use its influence, to the extent reasonable under the issuer’s circumstances, to cause such domestic or foreign firm to devise and maintain a system of internal accounting controls…” See 15 USC 78m(b)(6). The section further notes that “[s]uch circumstances include the relative degree of the issuer’s ownership of the domestic or foreign firm and the laws and practices governing the business operations of the country in which such firm is located. An issuer which demonstrates good faith efforts to use such influence shall be conclusively presumed to have complied with the requirements of [the books and records and internal control provisions].” Id.


As readers of this blog are perhaps keenly aware – the FCPA, as written, and the FCPA, as enforced, are sometimes two different things.

Such is the case with the SEC’s apparent position that issuers are liable (in a way that closely resembles strict liability) for any record keeping or internal control deficiency of any entity (no matter how remotely related to the issuer) in its corporate hierarchy. Although it is sometimes difficult to draw conclusions from negotiated settlement documents, the recent FCPA enforcement action against Avery Dennison Corporation would seem on-point. (See here for the SEC Cease- and-Desist Order, here for the SEC Litigation Release).

“Big picture,” and as noted in the Litigation Release, the SEC filed a settled civil complaint against Avery Dennison (a California-based manufacturer of self-adhesive materials, offices products, labels, and graphics imaging media) (“Avery”), charging Avery with violations of the FCPA’s books and records and internal control provisions. The SEC also issued an administrative cease-and-desist order (“Order”) finding that Avery violated these same provisions.

The alleged violations principally involve Avery (China) Co. Ltd. (“Avery China”), an “indirect subsidiary” of Avery. I wish I knew how to post a flow-chart in this forum, because to connect Avery to Avery China, a flow-chart would indeed be useful. In any event, here is the narrative version as found in para 6 of the Order:

“Avery China is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Avery headquartered in Shanghai, China. It is incorporated under the laws of China and wholly-owned by Avery Dennison Hong Kong BV, which is in turn wholly owned by Avery Dennison Group Danmark ApS, which is in turn wholly owned by Avery Dennison Corporation. The Reflective Division is part of Avery China and is currently part of Avery’s Graphics Division. Avery China is overseen by Avery’s Asia Pacific Group, an unincorporated group based in Hong Kong within the Avery Dennison Hong Kong BV entity.”

As set forth in the Order, the SEC found that: “Avery China’s Reflective Division paid or authorized the payments of several kickbacks, sightseeing trips, and gifts to Chinese government officials” with “the purpose and effect of improperly influencing decisions by foreign officials to assist Avery China to obtain or retain business.” (See para. 2).

The SEC also found that “after Avery acquired a company in June 2007, employees of the acquired company continued their pre-acquisition practice of making illegal petty cash payments to customs or other officials in several foreign countries.” (See para. 3). These findings, which relate to payments to customs officials in Indonesia and Pakistan, and China, are interesting as well from the standpoint that the Order, at various times, refers to these payments as “certain potential [FCPA] violations” (para. 1), “illegal” (para. 3, 16 and 17), “possible improper payments” (para. 15), and “illicit” (para. 17).

The Order is silent as to Avery’s participation in, or knowledge of, any of this conduct.

Yet the SEC found that “Avery failed to accurately record these payments and gifts in the company’s books and records, and failed to implement or maintain a system of internal accounting controls sufficient to detect and prevent such illegal payments or promises of illegal payments.” (See para. 4).

More specifically, the SEC found that:

“Avery’s books, records, and accounts did not properly reflect the illicit payments, sightseeing trips and gifts that Avery China made or provided to government officials, and the illicit payments to customs officials in several countries by employees of the acquired subsidiaries. As a result, Avery violated the [the books and records provisions]” (para. 19).

“Avery also failed to devise or maintain sufficient internal controls to provide reasonable assurance that Avery China and the acquired subsidiaries complied with the FCPA and that payments, gifts or sightseeing expenses they provided to foreign officials were accurately reflected on its books and records. As a result Avery violated [the internal control provisions]” (para 20).

Avery agreed to settle the matter by paying approximately $520,000 (disgorgement, prejudgment interest, and a civil penalty) and agreeing to cease and desist from future violations of the FCPA’s books and records and internal control provisions.

Notwithstanding 15 USC 78m(b)(6), this sure seems like a strict liability standard for multinational issuers. So long as this is the SEC’s position, the FCPA compliance message is clear – multinational issuers will be held responsible for the conduct of all entities within its corporate hierarchy (no matter how remote or indirect) which could potentially implicate the FCPA. For this reason, corporate leaders are wise to fully implement FCPA compliance policies and procedures and audit protocols throughout the entire corporate hierarchy.

Pfizer Under Scrutiny in the Philippines

A question often posed at FCPA conferences to U.S. enforcement attorneys is – “how do you find out about potential FCPA violations?” The usual answers are: a company self-reports, a competitor or disgruntled employee blows the whistle, or foreign law enforcement agencies contact the DOJ or SEC. I’ve never heard though of a foreign legislator issuing a press release and sending a letter to the DOJ and the Commerce Department accusing a U.S. company of violating the FCPA. That is until now.

Earlier this week, Senator Mar Roxas (Philippines) issued a press release (see here) demanding that Pfizer Inc. open its records to a congressional committee investigating Pfizer’s lobbying of the Philippine government in connection with the passage and implementation of the Cheaper Medicines Law (the “Law”). In addition, the release notes that Roxas also sent separate letters to the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Commerce Department. According to the release, in the letters Roxas states his belief that Pfizer’s activities in connection with passage and implementation of the Law “are unethical and violate not only Philippine Anti-Corruption Laws, but also the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act” and he specifically requests “any assistance that [the DOJ] can extend in looking into allegations of bribery against Pfizer…”.

Time will tell whether a future FCPA enforcement action against Pfizer is on the horizon. If there is one, it will not be the first time a U.S. company is subjected to FCPA scrutiny for its efforts to influence foreign legislation impacting its business. In January 2005, Monsanto Co. agreed to pay $1.5 million to settle an FCPA enforcement action based on allegations that it made improper payments to a senior Indonesian environmental official to persuade the official to repeal an environmental impact study requirement that was making it difficult for the company to sell its genetically modified crops in that country. (See here, here and here).

Across the Pond

Some noteworthy anti-corruption developments to report from the United Kingdom.

Landmark Mabey & Johnson Ltd. Prosecution

Like the U.S., the U.K. has domestic anti-corruption statutes (actually a mix of several different statutes on the books for nearly one-hundred years – in March 2009, a new bill – the “Bribery Bill” was presented to the U.K. Parliament – an issue I will be following).

However, unlike the U.S., the U.K. has never brought a corporate prosecution under the statutes. For this, U.K. government has been criticized. If you want to fill your afternoon with reading just “google” BAE, Saudi Arabia, and corruption. If you prefer listening over reading, you may want to check out portions of Frontline’s “Black Money” (See here).

Against this backdrop, it is noteworthy that in July 2009, the U.K.’s Serious Fraud Office (“SFO”) (an enforcement agency similar to the U.S. DOJ) announced “the first prosecution brought in the U.K. against a company for overseas corruption.” (See here for the SFO Press Release).

According to the SFO press release, the prosecution arises from Mabey & Johnson Ltd.’s (a U.K. company that designs and manufacturers steel bridges used in more than 115 countries worldwide) voluntary disclosure to the SFO “of evidence to indicate that the company had sought to influence decision-makers in public contracts in Jamaica and Ghana between 1993 and 2001.” According to the release, the prosecution also involves breach of United Nations sanctions as applied to contracts in connection with the Iraq Oil for Food program.

My efforts to locate the actual Mabey & Johnson charging documents (statement of facts, etc.) have thus far proven fruitless. To the extent such documents are publicly available and you have a copy, please do share them with me.

SFO Memo on Corruption Enforcement and the Benefits of Self-Reporting

Also in July 2009, the SFO released a memo titled “Approach of the Serious Fraud Office to Dealing with Overseas Corruption.” The memo notes that the SFO is significantly expanding its anti-corruption resources and staff and that the office will be using “all of the tools at our disposal in identifying and prosecution cases of corruption” as the office “conduct[s] more criminal investigations and prosecutions in the future (particularly if the Bribery Bill becomes law).”

The memo notes that there has been much interest among business and professional advisers for a system of self-reporting cases of overseas corruption to the SFO and the purpose of the memo is thus to set forth SFO policies on self-reporting and the SFO’s position on the benefits which can be obtained from self-reporting.

The memo specifically notes that the benefit to a corporation of self-reporting will be “the prospect (in appropriate cases) of a civil rather than a criminal outcome,” and that a “negotiated settlement rather than a criminal prosecution means that the mandatory debarment provisions under [the relevant EU Directive] will not apply.”

The remainder of the memo touches on general topics familiar to FCPA practitioners currently found in Title 9, Chapter 9-28.000 of the U.S. Attorney’s Manual (Principles of Federal Prosecution of Business Organizations) (the so-called Filip Memo – see here). It is encouraging to see that the SFO, unlike the DOJ/SEC thus far, is willing to articulate, in a specific memo, its views and enforcement policies on corruption issues.

The benefits of self-reporting and voluntarily disclosing conduct which does, or could, violate the FCPA is indeed a “hot topic.” DOJ/SEC enforcement officials routinely say that the benefits of self-reporting are real, whereas FCPA practitioners and the clients they represent aren’t so sure. It now looks like this topic will be debated on both sides of the Atlantic and it will indeed be an interesting issue to monitor.

Of particular interest to FCPA practitioners, the SFO memo notes as follows: “We would also take the view that the timing of an approach to the U.S. Department of Justice is also relevant. If the case is also within our jurisdiction we would expect to be notified at the same time as the DOJ.” Of further interest to FCPA practitioners, the memo announces an initial opinion procedure along the lines currently offered by the U.S. DOJ. The memo notes, “[t]he circumstances in which this procedure will be appropriate will need to be discussed, but we are ready to offer assistance in one type of case” and that type of case is where an acquiring company, during due diligence of a target, discovers corruption issues.

The Bourke Jury Instructions

As those who follow the FCPA are already aware, Frederic Bourke, Jr. was recently found guilty by a federal jury of (among other charges) conspiracy to violate the FCPA for his role in a scheme to bribe “foreign officials” in Azerbaijan in connection with the privatization of the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan. See here for the DOJ News Release.

Contrary to numerous media reports, Bourke was not on trial for “violating the FCPA” (the original indictment against Bourke contained substantive FCPA charges, however the superseding indictment removed the substantive FCPA charges in favor of conspiracy charges).

Regardless, the Bourke trial was closely followed by the FCPA bar as FCPA trials are very rare. Because FCPA trials are rare, so too are FCPA jury instructions. The Bourke jury instructions (see here) provide for an interesting, albeit frustrating, read. In instructing the jury on the conspiracy counts, the jury was instructed on the seven elements of an FCPA violation.

“Big picture” these FCPA instructions (which begin on Pg. 23 and which the jury was duty-bound to accept) are a mess.

The problem starts with the second element “interstate commerce” and contains a fundamental misstatement of the law. The instructions say (on pg. 24) that a “domestic concern” (as Bourke is under FCPA-speak) “must have intended to make use of the mails or a means or instrumentality of interstate commerce” in order to violate the FCPA. This is the so-called “territorial” jurisdictional provision found at 78dd-2. However, the 1998 amendments to the FCPA expanded the jurisdictional reach of the FCPA, as applied to “domestic concerns,” by adding an alternative “nationality” jurisdictional provision found at 78dd-2(i) which removes the interstate commerce / U.S. territorial nexus requirements. Thus, a “domestic concern” can be charged and found liable for a substantive FCPA violation even if the prohibited activity took place entirely outside of the U.S. The jury instruction that the “domestic concern” “must have intended to make use of the mails or a means or instrumentality of interstate commerce” is thus just plain wrong.

The second problem is found in what the instructions say is the fifth element of a substantive FCPA violation – the knowledge of payment to a foreign official. The instructions say (on pg. 26-27) that a “foreign official” is: (1) an officer or employee of a foreign government; (2) any department, agency, or instrumentality of such foreign government, or (3) any person acting in an official capacity for or on behalf of such government or department, agency, or instrumentality. So far so good as the instruction merely tracks the language of 78dd-2(h)(2). The problem is the next sentence of the instruction – “[a]n ‘instrumentality’ of a foreign government includes government-owned or government-controlled companies” (see pg. 27).

Where did that come from? Certainly not the text of the FCPA, as the statute does not define the term “instrumentality.” While it is true the the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission take the position that government-owned or government-controlled companies are “instrumentalities” of a foreign government and that all employees of such companies (regardless of rank or title) are thus “foreign officials” under the FCPA, this is an unchallenged and untested legal theory.

As I am exploring in a current work-in-progress, DOJ/SEC’s aggressive interpretation of the “foreign official” element – to include employees of government-owned or government-controlled companies – is ripe for challenge in that it is, among other things, not supported by the FCPA’s extensive legislative history and is undermined by reference to other U.S. statutes which cover foreign or domestic government instrumentalities. Another way to look at it is this way – if the DOJ/SEC’s interpretation were to be applied in an intellectually honest fashion, would not all GM or AIG employees be considered U.S. “foreign officials” because the U.S. government owns or controls those companies?

A further problem with the instructions, is that even accepting the broadness by which the instructions define “foreign official” that term is not used consistently throughout the instructions. For instance, in discussing the sixth element of an FCPA violation – purpose of payment, the instructions interchangeably use the terms “foreign official” and “foreign public official.” (see Pg. 28). Even more confusing is that the instructions, when discussing that solicitation of a bribe is not a defense, (see Pg. 29) say that “[i]t is not a defense that the payment was demanded by a government official as a price for gaining entry into a market or to obtain a contract or other beneift.” Thus, literally in the span of three pages, the instructions refer to the key “foreign official” element of an FCPA violation three different ways – “foreign official,” “foreign public official,” and “government official” even though the later two terms appear nowhere in the statute.

What a mess!

Mission Statement

After a decade-long private practice legal career focused on the FCPA, I am pleased to launch “FCPA Professor” in connection with my new academic career. To be sure, there are other websites and blogs which cover FCPA topics. However, “FCPA Professor” seeks to inject a much needed scholarly voice into FCPA issues. Thus, in addition to covering the “who, what, and where” of FCPA enforcement actions, news, and legislative initiatives, this blog will also explore the more analytical “why” questions increasingly present in this current era of aggressive FCPA enforcement. The goal of this blog is thus to foster a forum for critical analysis and discussion of the FCPA (and related topics) among FCPA practitioners, business and compliance professionals, scholars and students, and other interested persons.

Thank you for visiting this blog and I look forward to your participation.

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