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Blackwater In Hot Water

The New York Times (here) reports that the DOJ “is investigating whether officials of Blackwater Worldwide tried to bribe Iraqi government officials in hopes of retaining the firm’s security work in Iraq.”

According to the Times, the DOJ’s fraud section open an investigation “late last year” to determine whether Blackwater employees violated the FCPA. The investigation follows a November 2009 times article (here) which first raised questions about Blackwater’s (now known as Xe Services) conduct in Iraq. That article suggested that the alleged payments at issue were made to Iraqi “foreign officials” to help secure an operating license the company needed to continue doing business in Iraq.

As noted in a prior post (here), this case is interesting on several levels.

First, the case (from an FCPA antibribery perspective) would seem to hinge on the FCPA’s “obtain or retain” business element, and is another example of the post-Kay explosion in enforcement actions in which alleged improper payments were made to help secure foreign government licenses, permits, etc. An interesting wrinkle to this analysis is that the Iraqi license was apparently needed so that Blackwater could retain its contract with the U.S. State Department – not with a foreign entity as is usually the case.

Second, rarely if perhaps ever, has an FCPA inquiry focused on the conduct of a company so intertwined with U.S. government agencies (State Department and CIA) operating in a war zone.

A Double Standard? Part II

A government official has over $7,000 of expenses paid for by an organization hoping to establish a personal connection with the official and seeking access to the official to educate him on a multibillion dollar program favored by the organization.

The same organization spends over $20,000 for baggage-handling tips, alcohol, snacks, refreshments, and other “trip supplies” for another government official.

Sounds like the organization has some FCPA issues, right?

Wrong.

Why?

Because the government officials involved are not “foreign officials,” but rather U.S. government officials and the organization is the U.S. military. (See here for the recent story from the Wall Street Journal).

According to the article, members of Congress are not required to be disclose such expenses and the information is from military expense records obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.

While not a perfect parallel to an FCPA enforcement action, the above, as well as “A Double Standard Part I” (see here) raise the question of whether there is a double standard.

Will a U.S. company’s interaction with a “foreign official” be subject to more scrutiny and different standards than its interaction with a U.S. official?

Do we reflexively label a “foreign official” who receives “things of value” from an organization with a business interest as corrupt, yet when a U.S. official similarly receives “things of value” from an organization with a business interest we merely say “well, no one said our system is perfect”?

Is there any difference between the bottles of wine given to the Thai “foreign officials” in the UTStarcom, Inc. matter (see here para. 23 of the complaint) and the bottles of wine and alcohol given to the U.S. officials by an organization with a business interest pending before the U.S. officials? Is there any difference between the sightseeing trips provided to the Chinese “foreign officials” in the UTStarcom matter and the corporate funded sightseeing trip by the U.S. official discussed in Part I?

One is a crime and the other is … well what is it, just the way things get done?

As always, your comments are welcome.

Potpourri

A Friday roundup of recent FCPA events.

An FCPA Sentencing Trend?

As noted in yesterday’s DOJ release (here), two former executives of Willbros International Inc. (a subsidiary of Houston-based Willbros Group Inc.) were sentenced for their roles in a conspiracy to make improper payments to “foreign officials” in Nigeria and Ecuador.

Jason Edward Steph was sentenced to 15 months in prison and Jim Bob Brown was sentenced to 366 days in prison.

For more on the Willbros matter, see here and here.

The DOJ’s sentencing recommendations appear to be sealed, but one can assume, given the “light” sentences, that perhaps the DOJ likely sought sentences greater than those issued by District Court Judge Simeon Lake.

If so, this would appear to continue a trend of judges sentencing FCPA defendants to prison sentences less than those recommended by DOJ.

For instance, in Frederic Bourke case, a case which involved a “massive bribery scheme” according to DOJ, Judge Shira Scheindin rejected the 10-year prison sentence proposed by DOJ and sentenced Bourke to 366 days in prison. (see here). In sentencing Bourke, Judge Scheindin is reported to have said “after years of supervising this case, it’s still not entirely clear to me whether Mr. Bourke is a victim or a crok or a little bit of both.”

With several FCPA sentencing dates on the horizon, this apparent trend will be an issue to watch.

See here for local media coverage regarding the sentences.

Kozeny’s Tan Not in Jeopardy

While Bourke (see here) prepares his appeal, Viktor Kozeny, the alleged master-mind of the scheme to bribe officials in Azerbaijan in connection with privatization of the state-owned oil company, will be staying put in The Bahamas as an appellate court again rejected DOJ’s extradition attempts.

As noted in the recent Bahamian Court of Appeals decision (here), Kozeny, a Czech national, has been living in The Bahamas since 1995 and has not departed the country since 1999.

The opinion notes that there is no dispute “that there was a conspiracy to corrupt the Azeri officials and that such officials were paid money, given gifts and provided shares in certain companies under the control of [Kozeny] without payment; and had certain medical procedures paid for them by [Kozeny].

Even so, the court concluded that while The Bahamas did indeed have a bribery/corruption statute, it applied only to bribes within The Bahamas or given to a Bahamian public officer. Thus, because Kozeny’s conduct would not violate Bahamian law, the appellate court upheld the lower court’s denial of the extradition request.

For additional coverage (see here and here and here).

According to these reports, the decision may be appealed to London’s Privy Council pursuant to Bahamian legal procedure. Kozeny’s U.S. lawyer is quoted as saying “enough is enough” and U.S. prosecutors should finally accept the fact that Kozney, a non-U.S. citizen, could not violate the FCPA as it existed in 1998 – the year in which the bribe scheme perhaps ended – although, as noted in the opinion, the U.S. alleges that the bribe scheme continued into 1999.

Why is this relevant?

Because the FCPA was amended in 1998 to include, among other provisions, 78dd-3 which applies the antibribery provisions to “any person” (i.e. foreigners) “while in the territory of the U.S.” from making use of the mails or any other means or instrumentality of interstate commerce in furtherance of an improper payment.

The SFO Continues to “Step-It-Up”

Today, the U.K. Serious Fraud Office (the functional equivalent of the DOJ) issued a release (here) indicating that a former BAE agent has been charged with “conspiracy to corrupt” for “conspiring with others to give or agree to give corrupt payments […] to unknown officials and other agents of certain Eastern and Central European governments, including the Czech Republic, Hungary and Austria as inducements to secure, or as rewards for having secured, contracts from those governments for the supply of goods to them, namely SAAB/Gripen fighter jets, by BAE Systems Plc.”

For local media coverage of the charges (see here).

With a new Bribery Bill expected in the U.K. by years end, the SFO continues to “step-it-up” (see here for more on the SFO).

Disclosing FCPA Compliance

Public companies dislose FCPA issues all the time. Rarely though do the disclosures concern issues other than internal investigations and potential enforcement actions.

Accordingly, two recent SEC filings caught my eye.

China MediaExpress Holdings, Inc. (a Delaware company) recently disclosed (here) that it:

“[e]ntered into a securities purchase agreement with Starr Investments Cayman II, Inc. Under this agreement, Starr will, subject to various terms and conditions, purchase from the Company 1,000,000 shares of Series A Convertible Preferred Stock and warrants to purchase 1,545,455 shares of the Common Stock of the Company for an aggregate purchase price of US$30,000,000.”

One of the conditions was that the company “shall have adopted a program with respect to compliance with the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act” and a post-closing covenant obligates the company to “implement a program regarding compliance with the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act not later than April 30, 2010.”

Cardtronics Inc. (an operator of ATM networks around the world) (here) recently disclosed (here) that:

“On January 25, 2010, the Board of Directors by unanimous vote approved three management proposed modifications to the Company’s Code of Business Conduct and Ethics. The modifications as approved by the Board include: (i) adding a section that addressed compliance with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and International Anti-Bribery and Fair Competition Act of 1998.”

Costa Rica Joins the Club

Last, but certainly not least, Costa Rica recently announced a first … the first time a foreign corporation has paid the government damages for corruption.

As noted here, telecom company Alcatel-Lucent recently disclosed a $10 million payment to settle a corruption case in Costa Rica in which it was accused of paying kicbacks to former Costa Rican President Miguel Angel Rodriguez (and others government officials) in return for a 2001 contract worth $149 million.

There has been FCPA/corruption issues on both sides “of the hyphen” as noted here in this recent Main Justice article.

And with that, have a nice weekend.

Africa Sting – Press Release Parade

As indicated in a prior post (here), the Africa Sting charges, at this point, only involve individuals.

However, these individuals are employees, executives, and in some cases owners of business organizations and under respondeat superior principles the organization can be accountable for the illegal acts of its employees and agents.
This is not to suggest that prosecution of the organizations employing the indicted individuals is likely or even probable; rather the ultimate issue will be one of prosecutorial discretion applying the Principles of Federal Prosecution of Business Organizations (see here).

With that in mind, it is interesting to see the different ways in which the various business organizations are “publicly speaking” on this issue. Many of the business organizations involved are small and the websites do not have a separate news or press release tab or otherwise address the issue.

In the public statements available, you will see that the organizational responses fall across a wide spectrum from solemn yet forceful, to combative and rambling, to short and diplomatic.

ALS Technologies Inc.

Employer of Daniel Alvirez and Lee Allen Tolleson.

Yesterday, the company released this statement (here).

“A Message from Founder, Owner, and Chairman of the Board, David Alvirez”

I would first like to say thank you to all those who know Linda and me for your continuing support.

As everyone in our community knows, A.L.S. has been a good corporate citizen and a strong contributor to the community and the economic well being of Arkansas citizens. A.L.S. has always – and will continue – to operate and support the fine people of this community. It was my intention to share the facts of the case but I have been instructed that I cannot because they are facts in an on going investigation but when the facts are revealable we will prevail.

The federal government has alleged that a manager at our company engaged in illegal activity. These charges will be dealt with in a court of law.

For years A.L.S. has sold its products to many foreign governments and businesses and has conducted these transactions in compliance with all federal, state and local laws. Each international transaction requires State Department or Department of Commerce approval and without exception, every transaction conducted by A.L.S has had proper authorization to move forward.

The management of A.L.S Technologies had no information that there was anything questionable about any of their transactions with the foreign governments. A.L.S. is a law-abiding family business, and having faith in our judicial system will see our people back in good standing soon.

We appreciate your continued support, encouragement, and prayers as we navigate through this situation.”

Heavy Metal Armory / Machinegun.com / The Gun Search.com LLC

Entities associated with Andrew Bigelow.

Last weekend, the entities released this statement (here).

“Statement on FBI Sting Operation

Heavy Metal Armory has operated legally and within the confines of the law for many many years. Look around this site for yourself. Here you’ll find information everywhere on the correct and legal manner in which we and this industry should operate within the law. We have always taken great pride in doing things correctly and is the only way we believe defense exports should be accomplished, within the law.

While we cannot comment on the details of the case, we can say the following:

The recent FBI / DOJ undercover sting operation which entrapped many executives from many different countries is a clear-cut case of overzealous law enforcement looking to grandstand by targeting law abiding citizens who have no history whatsoever of this sort of alleged activity and in many cases actually fought to improve accountability in the industry to the benefit of law enforcement.

The person who caused this entire mess is Richard Bistrong who is a former Armor Holdings vice president. Mr Bistrong was caught providing more than $4.4 million in bribes to foreign officials including officials of the UN in an ongoing pattern for many many years. His subsequent firing by Armor Holdings and law enforcement contact was never reported. During due diligence process before meeting with Mr. Bistrong, there was no record of his known criminal activities on any of the debarred persons lists nor through background checks which would have alerted industry to a potential issue with this individual such as on the 7 debarred persons/entities lists here on our site. Had law enforcement acted on criminal prosecution of this individual as they should have, this information would have caused his listing on one of the aforementioned alert lists and we are doubtful anyone indicted would have even spoken to Mr. Bistrong for any reason. Mr. Bistrong, then a known criminal and con-man was engaged by law enforcement to spend the next years, yes YEARS, setting up anyone he could come into contact with in the industry.

We thank everyone who has shown support during these difficult times and trust that everyone will listen closely to what is said in court and not believe the media hype. There is so much more to this than most can possibly imagine.”

Protective Products of America, Inc.

Employers of R. Patrick Caldwell and Stephen Gerard Giordanella.

Last week, the company released this statement (here) (relevant portions only).

“Protective Products of America, Inc., a leading manufacturer and
distributor of advanced products in ballistics protection, announced today an internal investigation into certain allegations against its Chief Executive Officer, R. Patrick Caldwell, being brought by the U.S. government. Mr. Caldwell was one of 22executives and employees of different companies in the military and law enforcement products industry charged in a criminal indictment with violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The Company noted that no charges have been filed against PPA, and Mr. Caldwell is the only present employee of PPA to be implicated in the investigation. An internal investigation regarding the allegations has been commenced by the Company’s Audit Committee, which is comprised solely of independent directors.

Pending the outcome of its internal investigation, Mr. Caldwell will be on administrative leave from his position as Chief Executive Officer and as a member of the Board of Directors.”

Smith and Wesson Holding Corporation

Employer of Amaro Goncalves.

On the day the indictments were announced, the company, a public-company issuer, released this statement (here).

“Smith & Wesson(R) Holding Corporation, parent company of Smith & Wesson Corp., today made the following statement in response to Justice Department enforcement actions that were announced today regarding one of its employees.

Through media reports today, we became aware of the Justice Department enforcement actions which were taken yesterday and which made reference to an employee of our company. We have no information beyond what has been reported and are prepared to cooperate fully with law enforcement in their investigation into this matter.”

*****

The organizations employing the indicted individuals are not the only ones with a float in this press release parade.

Yesterday, the FBI released a statement (here) equating the undercover operation to a “ruse [that] played out with all the intrigue of a spy novel.”

Africa Sting – Entrapment?

As previously indicated (here) a key FCPA issue presented in the Africa Sting indictments is whether offering to bribe or paying a bribe to a fictitious “foreign official” or a real, but non-participating “foreign official” can constitute a substantive FCPA violation given the influence and induce language in the statute.

Another obvious legal issue raised by the Africa Sting indictments is entrapment.

This is an area of law that is a bit “outside of my strike zone” so I went to the bullpen.

On the mound, Dru Stevenson, a Professor of Law at South Texas College of Law (here). With several entrapment publications (here), Professor Stevenson drops in today for a guest post on the law of entrapment and the legal landscape facing the Africa Sting defendants.

*****

There are two versions of the entrapment defense, the “subjective test” (which is the majority rule, and focuses on the defendant’s predisposition) and the “objective test,” (favored by the Model Penal Code and about 15 states, and focused on the egregiousness of the government’s conduct). Given that this “Africa Sting” case is in federal court (brought under a federal statute, the FCPA), the court will have to apply the subjective test, because the United States Supreme Court adopted this rule in a series of five cases spread over several decades.

All federal courts use the subjective test; so this case will focus on the defendant’s “predisposition” rather than the actual government conduct in the case. The conduct of the FBI or their agents (including non-agency individuals recruited to act as informants or recruiters for the sting operation) will matter only to the extent that it sheds light on how much persuasion was necessary to convince the defendant(s) to violate the law, because this is one factor in showing “predisposition.” The same is true for the “inducement” or enticement (in this case, substantial kickbacks or bribes) involved – it will not really matter except to the extent that it suggests the defendant would never have committed the crime “but for” the undercover agent’s inducement.

Other factors that can show “predisposition” by the defendant are a history of committing similar acts, the alacrity/resistance with which the defendant responded to the undercover agent’s proposition, and the amount of time it took to entangle the defendant in the illegal activity. The subjective test is really a “but-for” test: “but for” the government’s inducement, the defense must show, the culprit would never have pursued such a course of action. It is important to keep this idea distinct from the notion of opportunity. The subjective test does not ask whether it was wrong for the government to provide an opportunity, or even if the undercover agents were deceptive or somewhat unethical in the approach that they used. It is a question of the defendant’s predisposition, which relates to both character and willingness, not opportunity. The subjective test looks at the defendant’s subjective preferences, choices, and history.

This is an uphill battle for defendants in sting operations, because the sting itself was planned out ahead of time to catch the defendant “in the act” with plenty of documentation about the time, place, and manner in which the crime occurred (stings are often on video!). It takes a lot of creativity and charisma to convince a jury that the defendant was actually not inclined to commit the act that he did in fact commit. The conventional wisdom among defense attorneys and legal scholars is that the entrapment defense usually does not work, and there is empirical evidence suggesting that fewer and fewer defendants use it each year.

There is also a significant hazard with raising the entrapment defense in federal court: the defendant’s criminal history becomes admissible evidence at the trial, where it otherwise might be excluded completely. Normally, the federal rules of evidence prohibit prosecutors from introducing the defendant’s prior convictions, because this could be so prejudicial for jurors (they might punish the defendant again for his previous crimes, regardless of his guilt under the present charges). With the entrapment defense, however, the defendant has put his own “predisposition” into issue in the case, arguing that he would never have committed the crime but for the government’s pressure. This opens the door for the prosecutor to submit the defendant’s “rap sheet” or “priors” to rebut his assertion that he lacked the predisposition to commit the crime.

The entrapment defense is, in fact, our country’s primary way of regulating sting operations. On a secondary level, the internal, administrative regulation of sting operations comes from the U.S. Attorney General’s Guidelines on Federal Bureau of Investigation Undercover Operations, which set rules for sting operations that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (the “FBI”) may conduct. The rules (see here) are the subject of modifications every few years, at the discretion of the Attorney General, and the last modification occurred in 2002, under John Ashcroft, mostly in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the reactionary “War on Terror” that ensued thereafter. These Guidelines help illuminate the type of planning that went into this sting operation, but provide no remedies whatsoever for a defendant who is the victim of entrapment. The Guidelines, however, are a contributing factor to the difficulty of prevailing with an entrapment defense – the FBI knows the rules, is required to plan the sting operation carefully before proceeding or obtaining funding, and will generally plan the operation so that they steer clear of providing a potential entrapment defense to their targets.

A final note that may be relevant for these FCPA cases: there is no such thing as “private entrapment,” and even the notion of “vicarious entrapment” gets little traction in the federal courts. By private entrapment, I mean solicitation to commit a crime by someone who is not working for the government – that is, a false friend setting you up to get caught committing a crime, or even a fellow criminal who makes an “offer you cannot refuse.” If the defendant was induced to commit the crime by a private actor, not working for the FBI, no entrapment defense is available. “Vicarious entrapment” is similar: this is the situation where a defendant was recruited to commit a crime by another defendant, who might actually have a valid entrapment defense. In other words, suppose the FBI really crossed the line and recruited otherwise-innocent Defendant A, who was not predisposed to commit the crime but was overwhelmed by the undercover agent’s pressure or enticements; Defendant A might have a valid entrapment defense. If, however, Defendant A went and recruited his ever-willing colleague, Defendant B, into the conspiracy, Defendant B does NOT have a valid entrapment defense. Defendant A’s entrapment claim is non-transferable.

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