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Friday Roundup

Roundup2

Scrutiny alerts and updates, guilty pleas, across the pond, and admiration.  It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Scrutiny Alerts and Updates

Airbus

The largest FCPA enforcement action of all-time (Siemens) began with a raid by Munich law enforcement on company offices.  Will this be the origin of another large FCPA enforcement action?  Reuters reports:

“Munich prosecutors are carrying out an investigation at Airbus’s defence unit over alleged corruption linked to contracts with Romania and Saudi Arabia […] The Munich prosecutor’s office said it was investigating EADS, as Airbus Group was formerly called, over suspicion of paying bribes to foreign officials and tax evasion in connection with business in the two countries. It said a small number of people were under investigation and that material confiscated from searches related to those people and different companies was now being evaluated. Prosecutors searched offices on suspicion that bribes were paid to enable the company to obtain contracts worth 3 billion euros (2.3 billion pounds) in Saudi Arabia and Romania […] Airbus said prosecutors were investigating irregularities in border security projects awarded to Airbus’s defence business, but declined to confirm details.”

Airbus has American Depositary Receipts that trad on U.S. exchanges.

Och-Ziff Capital Management Group

The Wall Street Journal recently reported:

“U.S. investigators probing Och-Ziff Capital Management Group LLC’s  dealings in Libya are focused on a multimillion-dollar payment by the big hedge-fund firm they believe was funneled in part to a friend of Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s son, said people briefed on the inquiry. The scrutiny is part of a broad, three-year foreign bribery investigation by the Justice Department and Securities and Exchange Commission into how Wall Street firms obtained investments from the regime of the former dictator, who was deposed and killed in the country’s 2011 revolution. A key part of the Och-Ziff investigation relates to a fee that Och-Ziff paid to the company of a London middleman for help winning a $300 million investment in Och-Ziff funds from the Gadhafi regime, the people briefed on the matter said.”

Petrobras

In Petrobras-related news and further to “Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Ripples,” Reuters reports:

“State-controlled oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA and its top executives face a class-action lawsuit in a federal court in New York over an alleged contract fixing, bribery and kickback scheme that lawyers say inflated the value of the company’s assets. The suit was filed by law firm Wolf Popper LLP in the Southern District of New York on Monday on behalf of investors who bought U.S.-traded shares of the Brazilian company, commonly known as Petrobras, between May 20, 2010, and Nov. 21, 2014. […] The complaint alleges that Rio de Janeiro-based Petrobras “made false and misleading statements by misrepresenting facts and failing to disclose a culture of corruption at the company that consisted of a multi-billion dollar money-laundering and bribery scheme embedded in the company since 2006.”

Guilty Pleas

As highlighted in this prior post, in April 2014 two additional individual defendants (Benito Chinea and Joseph DeMeneses, the Chief Executive Officer and a Managing Partner, respectively of Direct Access Partners) were added to the FCPA (and related) enforcement action against individuals associated with broker dealer Direct Access Partners.  (See here for the original May 2013 enforcement action against Jose Hurtado and Tomas Clarke and here for an additional individual, Ernesto Lujan, being added to the enforcement action in June 2013). Like in the previous enforcement actions, the additional defendants Chinea and DeMeneses  were criminally charged in connection with alleged improper payments to Maria Gonzalez (V.P. of Finance / Executive Manager of Finance and Funds Administration at Bandes, an alleged Venezuelan state-owned banking entity that acted as the financial agent of the state to finance economic development projects).

The DOJ recently announced that:

Chinea and DeMeneses pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and the Travel Act.  Chinea and De Meneses have also agreed to pay $3,636,432 and $2,670,612 in forfeiture, respectively, which amounts represent their earnings from the bribery scheme.  Sentencing hearings are scheduled for March 27, 2015.

In the release, DOJ Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell stated:

“Benito Chinea and Joseph DeMeneses are the fifth and sixth defendants to plead guilty in connection with this far-reaching bribery scheme, which ranged from Wall Street to the streets of Caracas. The guilty pleas and the forfeiture of assets once again demonstrate that the Department is committed to holding corporate executives who engage in foreign bribery individually accountable and to deny them the proceeds of their corruption.”

Across the Pond

Alstom-Related Charges

The recent FCPA enforcement action against Alstom and related entities was just one prong of the enforcement action.

The enforcement action also involved a United Kingdom component as the Serious Fraud Office announced charges against Alstom Power Limited, Nicholas Reynolds, and John Venskus for violating section 1 of the Prevention of Corruption Act 1906 and conspiracy in violation of section 1 of the Criminal Act 1977.

The charges were based on the following allegation.

Alstom Power Limited, Nicholas Reynolds, John Venskus and others, between February 14, 2002 and March 31, 2010 “did corruptly give or agree to give an official or officials or other agents of AB Lietuvos Elektrine, gifts or consideration, namely money, disguised as payments in respect of a Consultancy Agreement with Vilmentrona UAB as an inducement or reward for showing favour to the Alstom Group in relation to the award or performance of a contract between Alstom Power Limited and said AB Lietuvos Elektrine for the Low NOx Burners project at the Elektrenai Power Plant in Lithuania.”

See here for Alstom’s January 2012 release regarding the project.

According to a SFO release, “Alstom Power Ltd, Nicholas Reynolds and John Venskus’ case has been formally sent from Westminster Magistrates’ Court, for a Preliminary Hearing at Southwark Crown Court on 5 January 2015.”

Smith and Ouzman Ltd., et al

Earlier this week, the SFO announced:

“Smith and Ouzman Ltd and two employees were convicted today at Southwark Crown Court as a result of a Serious Fraud Office investigation into corrupt payments made for the award of business contracts to the company.  The corrupt payments totalling £395,074 were made to public officials for business contracts in Kenya and Mauritania. The company, Smith and Ouzman Ltd, a printing firm based in Eastbourne which specialises in security documents such as ballot papers and certificates, was convicted of three counts of corruptly agreeing to make payments, contrary to section 1(1) of the Prevention of Corruption Act 1906. Christopher John Smith, former chairman of Smith and Ouzman, age 71, from East Sussex, was convicted of two counts of corruptly agreeing to make payments. Nicholas Charles Smith, former sales and marketing director of Smith and Ouzman, age 43, from East Sussex was convicted of three counts of corruptly agreeing to make payments. Timothy Hamilton Forrester, former international sales manager of Smith and Ouzman, age 57, from East Sussex was acquitted of all three counts of corruptly agreeing to make payments. Mr Abdirahman Mohamed Omar, a sales agent for Smith and Ouzman, age 38, from London, was acquitted of one count of corruptly agreeing to make payments in relation to a contract in Somaliland.”

Director of the SFO, David Green commented:

“This is the SFO’s first conviction, after trial, of a corporate for offences involving bribery of foreign public officials. Such criminality, whether involving companies large or small severely damages the UK’s commercial reputation and feeds corrupt governance in the developing world. We are very grateful to the Kenyan authorities for their assistance in this case.”

Sentencing is due to take place on 12 February 2015.

Anti-Corruption Plan

The U.K. government recently released this “Anti-Corruption Plan.” It is described as “bring[ing] together, for the first time, all of the UK’s activity against corruption in one place.”

The pamphlet-style document is so general in nature, it is difficult to offer any constructive comments.

Admiration

My admiration for Judge Jed Rakoff (S.D.N.Y.) continues.

In this recent piece titled “Why Innocent People Plead Guilty,” Judge Rakoff writes:

“The criminal justice system in the United States today bears little relationship to what the Founding Fathers contemplated, what the movies and television portray, or what the average American believes. To the Founding Fathers, the critical element in the system was the jury trial, which served not only as a truth-seeking mechanism and a means of achieving fairness, but also as a shield against tyranny. As Thomas Jefferson famously said, “I consider [trial by jury] as the only anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution.” The Sixth Amendment guarantees that “in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury.” The Constitution further guarantees that at the trial, the accused will have the assistance of counsel, who can confront and cross-examine his accusers and present evidence on the accused’s behalf. He may be convicted only if an impartial jury of his peers is unanimously of the view that he is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and so states, publicly, in its verdict. The drama inherent in these guarantees is regularly portrayed in movies and television programs as an open battle played out in public before a judge and jury. But this is all a mirage. In actuality, our criminal justice system is almost exclusively a system of plea bargaining, negotiated behind closed doors and with no judicial oversight. The outcome is very largely determined by the prosecutor alone.”

Job Opening

Sig Sauer Inc. (based in Newington, NH) is actively looking for an Associate General Counsel and Chief Compliance Officer with corporate compliance experience. If interested, please contact Jeff.Chartier@sigsauer.com.

*****

A good weekend to all.

 

Across The Pond

Posts last week largely focused on two Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement actions (see here, here and here).

This post goes across the pond to check in on three U.K. developments.

First, a recent Serious Fraud Office (“SFO”) pre-Bribery Act enforcement action against Smith & Ouzman Ltd. and related individuals, second recent speeches by SFO officials, and third the start of criminal trials against various former top-level executives of News Corp.’s News of the World publication.

SFO Flexes Its Pre-Bribery Act Muscle

The U.K. Bribery Act went live on July 1, 2011 and its provisions are forward looking only (this is the most obvious reason why there has yet been a FCPA-like Bribery Act enforcement).  However, the SFO recently flexed its muscles in an enforcement action concerning conduct pre-dating the Bribery Act.

Last week, the SFO announced that “Smith & Ouzman Limited [a U.K. based printing company specialising in security documents such as ballot papers], two of its directors, an employee and one agent have been charged by the Serious Fraud Office with offences of corruptly agreeing to make payments totaling nearly half a million pounds, contrary to section 1 Prevention of Corruption Act 1906.”

According to the SFO release:

“The individuals, all British nationals, are:

Chris Smith – the former Chairman of Smith and Ouzman Limited

Nick Smith – the Sales and Marketing Director of Smith and Ouzman Limited

Tim Forrester –  the International Sales Manager for Smith and Ouzman Limited

Abdirahman Omar – an agent for Smith and Ouzman Limited

The alleged offences are said to have taken place between November 2006 and December 2010 and relate to transactions in Mauritania, Ghana, Somaliland and Kenya.”

SFO Director David Green On Self-Reporting

This October 2012 post highlighted an SFO release detailing “revised policies” concerning, among other things, corporate self-reporting.

Last week, SFO Director released this statement concerning self-reporting.

“It is now a year since I changed the published SFO guidance on self-reporting by corporates.  The guidance I inherited contained an implied presumption that self-reported misconduct would be dealt with by civil settlement rather than prosecution.  I took the view that no prosecutor should appear to offer such a guarantee in advance. As a prosecutor, you can never anticipate what set of facts and conduct might be next in through the door.  I took the guidance back to the historic position agreed with the Director of Public Prosecutions: that we would apply the full code test for crown prosecutors to self-reported criminality. In other words, we ask (after our own investigation): is there sufficient evidence to prosecute, and if so, is a prosecution in the public interest?  The SFO’s message is carefully expressed and nuanced. Assume the evidential sufficiency test is passed. If a company made a genuine self-report to us (that is, told us something we did not already know and did so in an open- handed, unspun way), in circumstances where they were willing to cooperate in a full investigation and to take steps to prevent recurrence, then in those circumstances it is difficult to see that the public interest would require a prosecution of the corporate. Some parts of the blogosphere seem to have difficulty with this, writing that it means self-reporters will be prosecuted. It means no such thing.”

As to Green’s comment about the blogosphere, the prior post stated.  “For the most part, although much ink is likely to be spilled by FCPA Inc. / Bribery Act Inc. in the coming days, the SFO’s “revised policies” are a yawner.”

Back to Green’s statement.

“Some corporate lawyers complain that the new approach (actually, the principled, established approach) creates “uncertainty”. I disagree: and I think that when they say “certainty” it is code for “guarantee”.  For the avoidance of doubt, the SFO continues to receive self-reports, and I anticipate the numbers will only rise as Deferred Prosecution Agreements (DPAs) bed in next year.  So why should a company self-report instances of suspected criminal misconduct to the SFO?

(i) A self-report at the very least mitigates the chances of a corporate being prosecuted.  It opens up the possibility of civil recovery or a DPA; (ii) There is the moral and reputational imperative: it is the right thing to do and it demonstrates that the corporate is serious about behaving ethically; (iii) If the corporate chooses to bury the misconduct rather than self-report, the risk of discovery is unquantifiable. There are so many potential channels leading to exposure: whistle-blowers; disgruntled counterparties; cheated competing companies; other Criminal Justice agencies in the UK; overseas agencies in communication with SFO; and the SFO’s own developing intelligence capability, to name but a few;(iv) If criminality is buried and then discovered by any of the above routes, the penalty paid by the corporate in terms of shareholder outrage, counterparty and competitor distrust, reputational damage, regulatory action and possible prosecution, is surely disproportionate; (v) Last but not least, burying such information is likely to involve criminal offences related to money laundering under sections 327-9 of the Proceeds of Crime Act.

There are, I suggest, very powerful arguments in favour of self-reporting.  Once the decision to self-report has been made by the corporate, then the question of timing arises. Common sense suggests that an initial report of suspected criminality should be made to the SFO as soon as it is discovered. This surely protects the company against the SFO finding out by other means whilst the company investigates further. The corporate can then investigate in depth and report back to the SFO. The SFO will carry out its own assessment with possible use of S2A powers (in the case of bribery), and, if justified, the opening of a criminal investigation and the exercise of S2 powers.  One argument I have heard against self-reporting is that the SFO does not prosecute corporates, because it is said to be too difficult in our jurisdiction.  Certainly I am used to unfavourable comparisons being made of the SFO with US prosecutors in this area of activity.  The reason is simple: a US prosecutor uses the respondeat superior principle: a corporate is vicariously liable for the acts of its managers and employees.”

There is another simple reason for the disparity between U.S. and U.K. “prosecutions” for bribery and corruption offenses.  Simply put, the U.S. has the option of a non-prosecution or deferred prosecution agreement.  At present, the U.K. does not have these options, although it is close to utilizing DPAs.  As even the OECD has observed (see here) “it seems quite clear that [NPAs and DPAs] is one of the reasons for the impressive FCPA enforcement record in the U.S.”  I’ve long viewed the U.K.’s desire to use DPAs as a public relations tactic to catch up in the enforcement competition game (see here).

Back to Green’s statement.

“In English law, the test for corporate criminal liability requires proof that the “controlling mind” of the company (ie, board level senior management) was complicit in the relevant criminality. Absent emails, or a cooperating witness, that is never an easy thing to show.  An answer to this would be to extend the principle contained in S7 of the Bribery Act 2010, which creates the corporate offence of a company failing to prevent bribery by its employees, with a statutory defence of adequate procedures.  The reach of the section could easily be extended to cover not just bribery but acts of fraud by employees.

I have heard objections to such a change:-  (a)  That this would be punishing mere corporate negligence (to which I say, it would be about improving bad corporate culture).  (b) That prosecution of the corporate adds nothing to the prosecution of the guilty individuals (I am not proposing that a corporate should face prosecution in every case- far from it. But there will be cases where it is right and just that failure to prevent certain types of conduct should result in the corporate being marked with a criminal conviction).  (c)  That it would simply punish the shareholders (shareholders, particularly large institutional shareholders, should be vigilant about where they invest and how the corporate in which they invest behaves).

I would argue that prosecution of a corporate would be appropriate where, for example, the company profited from fraud by its employees; where a particular illegal practice was common and tolerated in a particular sector; where deterrence was needed in a sector; or where a company has brought in a compliance regime but senior management had failed to ensure enforcement of that regime.  Such a change would also cure a problem inherent in the DPA regime. If prosecution of a corporate is currently difficult, why should a corporate agree to enter a DPA at all?  DPA’s represent a very useful addition to the prosecutors’ toolbox for use in appropriate circumstances. They avoid the collateral damage caused by a full blown prosecution of a corporate. They are not a panacea. But the problem I have highlighted (which admittedly will not necessarily arise in every case) needs to be addressed. I think it comes to this: if the public interest demands more corporate prosecutions, then this change would help make that happen.”

In a separate speech before the World Bribery and Corruption Compliance Forum in London, Alun Milford (General Counsel of the SFO) touched upon many of the same issues Green discussed.

Among other things, Milford talked about the “Bribery Act industry” and I took note of Milford’s following statement given my often expressed view that an FCPA compliance defense can better incentivize corporate conduct and further advance the objectives of the FCPA.  Milford stated that “the Bribery Act [which contains an adequate procedures defense] has led to a significant amount of work in developing stronger, more ethical corporate cultures.”

Former News Corp. Exec Trials

In July 2011, worldwide media attention was focused on News Corp (see here).

The conduct at issue had many prongs, including various privacy issues.  One prong concerned allegations that News Corp’s News of the World publication paid up to five U.K. police officers to obtain information that better allowed it to write juicy stories.  Thus began News Corp.’s FCPA-like scrutiny and since then the original point of inquiry has – as is typical – expanded to include other conduct.

As to the alleged U.K. payments at issue, focus turned to the old “who knew what and when did they know it” question.  Several individuals associated with News of the World were criminally charged, including for conduct implicating the alleged bribery prong of News Corp’s scrutiny.

Two individual charged were Rebekah Brooks, the former editor of News of the World and Andy Coulson, another former News of the World editor.  The criminal trial of these individuals, along with others, began this week in London.

What happens in these trials concerning the bribery offenses will not determine the outcome of any potential News Corp. FCPA enforcement action.  But you can bet that the DOJ and SEC will be interested in the ultimate outcome.  In short, if there is a judicial finding that Brooks and/or Coulson or other high-level executives in London authorized or otherwise knew of the alleged improper payments, this will likely be a factor in how the DOJ and SEC ultimately resolve any potential enforcement action and how News Corp.’s overall culpability score may be calculated under the advisory Sentencing Guidelines.

For more on the trials and individuals involved see here, here, here and here.

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