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FCPA Enforcement … It’s More Than Just Suitcases Full of Cash to Government Officials

When conducting FCPA training, one of the first things I like to do is immediately dispel the notion that the FCPA only applies to suitcase full of cash to a government official types of situations. While the FCPA does indeed apply to such egregious situations, the FCPA (and certainly DOJ/SEC’s interpretation of the statute) applies to a wide range of other – seemingly less culpable – conduct as well.

My future FCPA training slides will certainly include the recent Control Components Inc. (“CCI”) FCPA enforcement action as it clearly demonstrates the broadness of FCPA enforcement.

First, the big picture.

As described in a recent DOJ release (see here), CCI pleaded guilty to a three-count criminal information charging two counts of violating the FCPA and one count of violating the Travel Act in connection with a “decade-long scheme to secure contracts in approximately 36 countries by paying bribes to officials and employees of various foreign state-owned companies as well as foreign and domestic private companies.”

Pursuant to the plea agreement, CCI agreed to pay a criminal fine of $18.2 million, serve a three-year term of organizational probation and adopt a host of other measures common in FCPA settlements such as create, implement and maintain an anti-bribery compliance program and retain an independent compliance monitor.

The CCI enforcement action demonstrates the broadness of FCPA enforcement in at least two respects: (i) the “foreign official” element; and (ii) the “anything of value” element.

“Foreign Official”

As to the “foreign official” element, para 5 of the Indictment is the key paragraph. It states as follows:

“Defendant CCI’s state-owned customers included, but were not limited to, Jiangsu Nuclear Power Corporation (China), Guohua Electric Power (China), China Petroleum Materials and Equipment Corporation, PetroChina, Dongfang Electric Corporation (China), China National Offshore Oil Company, Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power, Petronas (Malaysia), and National Petroleum Construction Company (United Arab Emirates). Each of these state-owned entities was a department, agency, or instrumentality of a foreign government, within the meaning of the FCPA, Title 15, United States Code, Section 78dd-2(h)(2)(A). The officers and employees of these entities, including but not limited to the Vice-Presidents, Engineering Managers, General Managers, Procurement Managers, and Purchasing Officers, were “foreign officials” within the meaning of the FCPA, Title 15, United States Code, Section 78dd-2(h)(2)(A).

As I’ve stated before in this forum (see here) and likely will in the future until this legal issue is decided by a court, DOJ’s position that employees of state-owned companies, regardless of position, are “foreign officials” under the FCPA is an unchallenged and untested legal theory – and one I believe is ripe for challenge.

Even if DOJ’s position were to be upheld by a court, those subject to the FCPA could certainly benefit from some clarity as to what DOJ considers to be a state-owned entity. Instead, in the CCI Information (and countless others) all that is there is a mere conclusory statement that each of the relevant companies are “state-owned entities” (see para 5).

What attributes of, for instance, Guohua Electric Power, make it a state-owned entity? I’ve long been curious as to what extent of investigation or discovery DOJ undertakes before it concludes that a company is a state-owned entity? If anyone has insight into this issue, please do share.

Also interesting to note is that even though para 6 of the Information states that CCI, through its former officers and employees, made corrupt payments to officers and employees of “numerous state-owned” customers around the world for the purpose of assisting in obtaining or retaining business for CCI, the Information charges only two FCPA violations.

Count two concerns payments to secure a contract with China National Offshore Oil Company and Count three concerns payments to secure a contract with Korean Hydro and Nuclear Power.

Presumably DOJ did not have sufficient evidence to support other FCPA counts as to CCI’s alleged payments to the other “numerous state-owned” customers, including the others specifically listed in para. 5 of the Information.

So why would a company such as CCI plead guilty to violating the FCPA when the “foreign officials” it allegedly bribed are “foreign officials” only under DOJ’s untested and unchallenged legal theory?

That is a good question, but I suspect it has to do with the fact that companies are in the business of making money and not in the business of setting legal precedent. With a settlement comes certainty, whereas with litigation comes uncertainty.

“Anything of Value”

As to the “anything of value” element, the Information lists the following “things of value” given by CCI, directly or indirectly to “foreign officials” – “overseas holidays to places such as Disneyland and Las Vegas” (para 19); “extravagant vacations” with the following expenses “first-class airfare to destinations such as Hawaii, five-star hotel accommodations, charter boat trips, and similar luxuries” (para 20); “college tuition” [for] the children of at least two executives” at CCI’s state-owned customers (para 20); “lavish sales events” including CCI payment of “hotel costs, meals, green fees for golf, and travel expenses” (para 21); and “expensive gifts” (para 21).

What do all these things have in common? They are not “suitcases full of cash” yet still “things of value” under the FCPA.

This is not the first time FCPA followers have heard of CCI and it is likely not the last time either. As described in the DOJ release, two former CCI executives (Mario Covino and Richard Morlok) have already pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the FCPA (see here and here). In addition, six former CCI executives (Stuart Carson, Hong (Rose) Carson, Paul Cosgrove, David Edmonds, Flavio Ricotti, and Han Yong Kim) were criminally indicted in April 2009 on charges of, among other things, violating the FCPA (see here).

SEC To Launch “Specialized Unit” Devoted to FCPA

Robert Khuzami, the SEC’s Director of the Division of Enforcement, spoke this week to the New York City Bar Association (see here for text of his speech).

During his speech, Khuzami announced that the SEC will be creating five “national specialized units dedicated to particular highly specialized and complex areas of securities law.”

One of the units will be an FCPA unit. Here is what Khuzami had to say:

“The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act unit will focus on new and proactive approaches to identifying violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practice Act, which prohibits U.S. companies from bribing foreign officials for government contracts and other business. While we have been active in this area, more needs to be done, including being more proactive in investigations, working more closely with our foreign counterparts, and taking a more global approach to these violations.”

Unlike the DOJ which has historically centralized all FCPA prosecutions at “main Justice” in DC, the SEC has traditionally given its regional offices the authority to independently prosecute FCPA cases. With Khuzami’s announcement, change appears to be in the works and it will be interesting to see whether this new approach will yield any noticeable differences in SEC prosecution of FCPA offenses.

During the speech, Khuzami also announced that the SEC is working on other “initiatives” – two of which I highlight as being of particular interest to FCPA followers.

First, the SEC is seeking to create a “Seaboard” for individuals, “a public policy statement that will set forth standards to evaluate cooperation by individuals in enforcement actions” as Khuzami explained. All SEC enforcement lawyers have committed to memory the original “Seaboard Report” (see here) – the factors the SEC will consider when deciding whether to pursue a corporate enforcement action – and it appears that additional required reading may soon be available.

Second, and seemingly taking a page from the DOJ’s FCPA playbook, Khuzami announced that the Division of Enforcement “will be prepared to recommend to the Commission that the SEC enter into Deferred Prosecution Agreements, in which [Division of Enforcement] agree[s] in the appropriate case to forego an enforcement action against an individual or entity subject to certain terms, including full cooperation, a waiver of statutes of limitations, and compliance with certain undertakings.”

“New and proactive” enforcement … “more needs to be done” … future SEC deferred prosecution agreements … these are sure interesting times to be following the FCPA!

Mixed FCPA Verdict (It Would Seem) in Former Congressman Jefferson Trial

You may have forgotten his name, but you likely have not forgotten the headline grabbing “cash in the freezer” allegations against former Congressman William Jefferson (Louisiana), the first member of Congress ever charged with FCPA violations.

This week, a federal jury delivered a split-verdict on the FCPA charges – or so it would seem (see below).

While Jefferson was found guilty of a variety of other charges (solicitation of bribes, honest services wire fraud, money laundering, racketeering, and conspiracy)(see here for the DOJ release), he was acquitted on the substantive FCPA antibribery charge. That charge, according to the indictment (see here), was principally based on allegations that Jefferson attempted to bribe Nigerian officials (including the former Nigerian Vice President) to assist himself and others obtain or retain business for a Nigerian telecommunications joint venture. The famous “cash in the freezer” was allegedly part of the bribery scheme.

However, the jury did convict Jefferson on a conspiracy count that the indictment charged as conspiracy to solicit bribes, to commit honest services wire fraud, and to violate the FCPA. As reported by Jefferson’s home-state newspaper, the Times-Picayune (see here), “the law only require[d][that] the jury find [Jefferson] guilty on two out of three of those counts — solicit bribes, deprive honest services and violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act– and in announcing the verdict, the deputy clerk did not specify which counts the jury agreed on. It may or may not have included conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.”

Perhaps the FCPA portion of the Jefferson verdict will become more clear in the days to come.

It’s Been A While … DOJ Issues FCPA Opinion Procedure Release

Thousands of companies face FCPA risks every single day. Many of these companies have legitimate questions as to how its operations in foreign countries could implicate the FCPA. If only there was a procedure in place for companies subject to the FCPA to receive guidance from the DOJ as to its enforcement stance as to particular conduct!

Well … actually there is, but if you haven’t heard about it, don’t feel bad, because the Opinion Procedure Release provisions of the FCPA (15 USC 78dd-1(e)) are often overlooked.

After a year hiatus, (the last opinion was released on July 11, 2008), DOJ has penned Opinion Procedure Release 09-01 (see here).

Given the extent to which the health-care sector has come under FCPA scrutiny, it is not a surprise that the “Requestor” is a “domestic concern” “which designs and manufacturers a specific type of medical device.”

Big picture … the Requestor wants to provide a product sample to a foreign government so that government medical centers can evaluate the product to see if it would be eligible for the government subsidized medical device program. Requestor no doubt was nervous about this given that its competitors were already doing business with the foreign government (whereas Requestor was not) and given that the 100 product samples cost $19,000 each – amounting to a $1.9 million donation.

Based on a number of representations from Requestor, including that none of the product samples would go to government officials, the DOJ stated that it did not intend to take any enforcement action with respect to the proposed conduct because “the proposed provision of 100 medical devices and related items and services fall outside the scope of the FCPA in that the donated products will be provided to the foreign government, as opposed to individual government officials, for ultimate use by patient recipients selected in accordance with specific guidelines …”

Requestor, it would seem, got the certainty it was looking for and can proceed with the arrangement free of FCPA worries.

All of which begs the question … why isn’t the FCPA Opinion Procedure process used more frequently? Common answers often include (i) the opinion expresses only the DOJ’s opinion, but not the SEC’s (obviously relevant to issuers); (ii) the procedure takes too long and the proposed business conduct is time sensitive (note that in 09-01 the Requestor made two supplemental disclosures); and (iii) the Requestor may receive an answer it doesn’t like and thus needlessly raises its FCPA profile.

To read more about the detailed requirements of the FCPA Opinion Procedure process (see here).

FCPA Aches and “Payne”s

Helmerich & Payne Inc. (“H&P”) is an international drilling contractor headquartered in Tulsa. It has land and offshore operations in South America. To operate in that region, H&P must import and export equipment and materials. According to the DOJ and SEC, therein lies the problem.

H&P recently settled a DOJ and SEC FCPA enforcement action based on the conduct of two wholly-owned second tier subsidiaries, Helmerich & Payne (Argentina) Drilling Company (“H&P Argentina”) and Helmerich & Payne de Venezuela, C.A. (“H&P Venezuela”).

Pursuant to a two-year DOJ non-prosecution agreement, H&P acknowledged responsibility for the conduct of H&P Argentina and H&P Venezuela in making various improper payments to officials of the Argentine and Venezuelan customs services. According to a DOJ release (see here), the payments “were made in order to import and export goods that were not within regulations, to import good that could not lawfully be imported, and to evade higher duties and taxes on the goods.” Pursuant to the agreement, H&P will pay a $1 million penalty.

In a parallel action, H&P agreed to an SEC settlement under which it agreed to pay approximately $375,000. The SEC cease-and-desist order (“Order”) (see here) finds that: (i) “H&P Argentina paid Argentine customs officials approximately $166,000 to permit the importation and exportation of equipment and materials without required certifications, to expedite the importation of equipment and materials, and to allow the importation of materials that could not imported under Argentine law; and (ii) “H&P Venezuela paid Venezuelan customs officials approximately 19,673 either to permit the importation and exportation of equipment and materials that were not in compliance with Venezuelan importation and exportation regulations or to secure a partial inspection, rather than a full inspection, of the goods being imported.”

According to the Order, the payments were “falsely, or at least misleadingly” described as “additional assessments,” “extra costs,” “extraordinary expenses,” “urgent processing,” “urgent dispatch,” or “customs processing.” The SEC found that as a result of the payments, H&P avoided approximately $320,000 in expenses it would have otherwise incurred had it properly imported and exported the equipment and materials. The subsidiaries’ financial results were included in H&P’s filings with the SEC and, based on the above conduct, the SEC found that H&P violated the FCPA books and records and internal control provisions.

The Order is silent as to H&P’s knowledge of or involvement in the above described payments.

No doubt H&P received an SEC cease and desist order (the least harsh SEC sanction) and a DOJ non-prosecution agreement because of its conduct upon learning of the payments. As described in the Order, during an FCPA training session, an employee voluntarily disclosed some potentially problematic payments, through a customs broker, in Argentina to customs officials. Thereafter, H&P hired FCPA counsel, conducted an internal investigation, and voluntarily reported the conduct at issue to the government.

According to H&P’s Form 8-K filed on July 30, 2009 (see here), “[t]here are no criminal charges involved in the settlements and disciplinary action has been taken by the company with respect to certain employees involved in the matter, including in some cases, termination of employment.” The 8-K also notes that both settlements “recognize the company’s voluntary disclosure, cooperation with both agencies, and its proactive remedial efforts.”

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