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Potpourri

Potpourri

Disgraceful, scrutiny alerts, resource alert, for the reading stack, and for your consideration.  It’s all here in a potpourri edition of FCPA Professor.

Disgraceful

It’s a disgraceful practice.

A for-profit business invites a high-ranking DOJ official to its private event in which people have to pay to hear the public official speak.

It’s a disgraceful practice.

The for-profit company treats the DOJ official’s comments as if they own his words and then put the words behind a paywall.

Andrew Weissmann, the DOJ’s fraud section chief, recently spoke at GIR Live, an event hosted by a private for-profit company. According to this teaser post Weissmann spoke about issues of public concern including “how the department will factor in compliance, how it intends to reward those that self-report, and how it aims to increase transparency around resolutions and declinations.”

I requested a transcript of Mr. Weissmann’s remarks from the DOJ press office and was told: “[Mr. Weissmann] did not prepare formal remarks but spoke from notes, so I don’t have anything to provide. You’re welcome to check with the event organizers to see if they have a recording of it.”

Thankfully, Carlos Ayres was at the event and publicly posted a summary of Mr. Weisssmann’s remarks on the FCPAmericas website. According to his post:

“Weissmann said that the DOJ will publish in the next weeks a list of questions that companies can expect to be asked when being assessed by the DOJ’s new compliance consultant.”

“Weissmann said that the DOJ will shed more light on declination decisions in the short term, publishing related data with aggregate information.”

“Weissmann stated that DOJ will make an effort to complete cases for companies that self-report within one year.”

Thank you Mr. Ayres for your public service in sharing the comments of a high-ranking DOJ official on matters of public concern.

Scrutiny Alerts

HSBC Holdings

The company recently disclosed:

“Hiring practices investigation

The US Securities and Exchange Commission (the ‘SEC’) is investigating multiple financial institutions, including HSBC, in relation to hiring practices of candidates referred by or related to government officials or employees of state-owned enterprises in AsiaPacific. HSBC has received various requests for information and is cooperating with the SEC’s investigation. Based on the facts currently known, it is not practicable at this time for HSBC to predict the resolution of this matter, including the timing or any possible impact on HSBC, which could be significant.”

Novartis

The Swiss company, which qualifies as an issuer under the FCPA, was recently the focus of news reports. According to this article:

“South Korean authorities raided Novartis offices in search of evidence the company provided bribes to local doctors, according to media reports. The Seoul Western District Prosecutors’ Office confiscated various documents, including account books, in order to determine whether rebates the drug maker offered physicians may have actually been bribes.”

Mondelēz International, Inc.

Approximately five years ago (see here for the prior post), Kraft Foods disclosed FCPA scrutiny resulting from its acquisition of Cadbury in connection with a manufacturing facility in India.  Kraft, now known as Mondelēz International, Inc., recently disclosed:

“As we previously disclosed, on February 1, 2011, we received a subpoena from the SEC in connection with an investigation under the FCPA, primarily related to a facility in India that we acquired in the Cadbury acquisition. The subpoena primarily requests information regarding dealings with Indian governmental agencies and officials to obtain approvals related to the operation of that facility. We are continuing to cooperate with the U.S. and Indian governments in their investigations of these matters, including through ongoing meetings with the U.S. government to discuss potential conclusion of the U.S. government investigation. On February 11, 2016, we received a “Wells” notice from the SEC indicating that the staff has made a preliminary determination to recommend that the SEC file an enforcement action against us for violations of the books and records and internal controls provisions of the Exchange Act in connection with the investigation. We intend to make a submission to the staff of the SEC in response to the notice.”

So-called Wells Notices are rare in the FCPA context for the simple reason that few issuers actually publicly push back against the SEC.  See here for an example of a company that prevailed against the SEC after receiving a Wells Notice.

Key Energy Services

The company has been under FCPA scrutiny since Spring 2014 and continues to bleed cash in connection with its scrutiny. In this recent filing, the company disclosed $2.7 million “related to” its FCPA scrutiny.

Sweet Group

The U.K. Serious Fraud Office recently announced:

“Construction and professional services company Sweett Group PLC was … sentenced and ordered to pay £2.25 million as a result of a conviction arising from a Serious Fraud Office investigation into its activities in the United Arab Emirates. The company pleaded guilty in December 2015 to a charge of failing to prevent an act of bribery intended to secure and retain a contract with Al Ain Ahlia Insurance Company (AAAI), contrary to Section 7(1)(b) of the Bribery Act 2010. The relevant conduct occurred between 1 December 2012 and 1 December 2015.”

In the release, David Green (Director of the SFO) stated:

“Acts of bribery by UK companies significantly damage this country’s commercial reputation. This conviction and punishment, the SFO’s first under section 7 of the Bribery Act, sends a strong message that UK companies must take full responsibility for the actions of their employees and in their commercial activities act in accordance with the law.”

As further noted in the release:

“His Honour Judge Beddoe described the offence as a system failure and said that the offending was patently committed over a period of time. Referring to Section 7 of the Bribery Act 2010 and to Sweett’s ignorance of its subsidiary’s actions , HHJ Bedoe said:

The whole point of section 7 is to impose a duty on those running such companies throughout the world properly to supervise them. Rogue elements can only operate in this way – and operate for so long – because of a failure properly to supervise what they are doing and the way they are doing it.

The SFO’s investigation into Sweett Group PLC, which commenced on 14 July 2014, uncovered that its subsidiary company, Cyril Sweett International Limited had made corrupt payments to Khaled Al Badie, the Vice Chairman of the Board and Chairman of the Real Estate and Investment Committee of AAAI to secure the award of a contract with AAAI for the building of the Rotana Hotel in Abu Dhabi. The amount is broken down as £1.4m in fine, £851,152.23 in confiscation. Additionally, £95,031.97 in costs were awarded to the SFO.”

Maxwell Technologies

In 2011, Maxwell Technologies (a California-based manufacturer of energy storage and power delivery products) resolved parallel DOJ and SEC FCPA enforcement actions concerning alleged business conduct in China by agreeing to pay approximately $14 million. The company recently disclosed:

“In January 2011, we reached settlements with the SEC and the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) with respect to charges asserted by the SEC and DOJ relating to the anti-bribery, books and records, internal controls, and disclosure provisions of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) and other securities laws violations. We paid the monetary penalties under these settlements in installments such that all monetary penalties were paid in full by January 2013. With respect to the DOJ charges, a judgment of dismissal was issued in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California on March 28, 2014.

On October 15, 2013, we received an informal notice from the DOJ that an indictment against the former Senior Vice President and General Manager of our Swiss subsidiary had been filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. The indictment is against the individual, a former officer, and not against the Company and we do not foresee that further penalties or fines could be assessed against us as a corporate entity for this matter. However, we may be required throughout the term of the action to advance the legal fees and costs incurred by the individual defendant and to incur other financial obligations. While we maintain directors’ and officers’ insurance policies which are intended to cover legal expenses related to our indemnification obligations in situations such as these, we cannot determine if and to what extent the insurance policy will cover the legal fees for this matter. Accordingly, the legal fees that may be incurred by us in defending this former officer could have a material impact on our financial condition and results of operation.

Swiss Bribery Matter

In August 2013, our Swiss subsidiary was served with a search warrant from the Swiss federal prosecutor’s office. At the end of the search, the Swiss federal prosecutor presented us with a listing of the materials gathered by the representatives and then removed the materials from our premises for keeping at the prosecutor’s office. Based upon the our exposure to the case, we believe this action to be related to the same or similar facts and circumstances as the FCPA action previously settled with the SEC and the DOJ. During initial discussions, the Swiss prosecutor has acknowledged both the existence of our deferred prosecution agreement (“DPA”) with the DOJ and our cooperation efforts thereunder, both of which should have a positive impact on discussions going forward. Additionally, other than the activities previously reviewed in conjunction with the SEC and DOJ matters under the FCPA, we have no reason to believe that additional facts or circumstances are under review by the Swiss authorities. In late March 2015, we were informed that the Swiss prosecutor intended to inform the parties in April 2015 as to whether the prosecutor’s office would bring charges or abandon the proceedings. However, to date, the Swiss prosecutor has not issued its formal decision. At this stage in the investigation, we are currently unable to determine the extent to which we will be subject to fines in accordance with Swiss bribery laws and what additional expenses will be incurred in order to defend this matter. As such, we cannot determine whether there is a reasonable possibility that a loss will be incurred nor can we estimate the range of any such potential loss. Accordingly, we have not accrued an amount for any potential loss associated with this action, but an adverse result could have a material adverse impact on our financial condition and results of operation.”

As noted here by Wall Street Journal – Risk & Compliance Journal, in the same disclosure Maxwell disclosed approximately $2.4 million in FCPA professional fees and expenses in 2015.

Resource Alert

As highlighted here, Stanford Law School and Sullivan & Cromwell recently announced the launch of an FCPA clearinghouse –  “a public database that aggregates and curates source documents and provides analytic tools related to enforcement of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).”

For the Reading Stack

An informative read here in Bloomberg Law from John Cunningham and Geoff Martin (both of Baker & McKenzie) titled “Casting a Wider Net: Conspiracy Charges in FCPA Cases.”

Another informative read here in the New York Times regarding the DOJ’s Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative.

For Your Consideration

Did U.S. involvement in Afghanistan result in more corruption? Did the U.S. fail to conduct adequate due diligence on intermediaries (a frequent FCPA enforcement theory against companies)? NPR explores the issue here.

We Really Ought To Pause And Reflect

As noted in this prior post, in October 2010 Judge Jackson Kiser (W.D. Va.) sentenced Bobby Elkin Jr.  Elkin (the former Country Manager for tobacco company Dimon International Kyrgyzstan) pleaded guilty to a one count criminal information charging conspiracy to violate the FCPA. (See here for the prior post).  Like many federal court judges before him and after him, Judge Kiser did not see the FCPA conduct at issue in the black and white terms the DOJ often portrays, but rather saw shades of gray.  In rejecting the DOJ’s requested 38 month sentence, Kiser sentenced Elkin to probation.  According to media reports, Judge Kiser stated that the CIA routinely bribes Afghan warlords, but the CIA’s conduct is not illegal and that this “sort of goes to the morality of the situation.”

Yes it does and it took this recent New York Times story “With Bags of Cash, CIA Seeks Influence in Afghanistan” to put our stark double standards in the headlines once again.  (See this tag for numerous double standard posts).  The NY article states, in pertinent part, as follows.

“For more than a decade, wads of American dollars packed into suitcases, backpacks and, on occasion, plastic shopping bags have been dropped off every month or so at the offices of Afghanistan’s president — courtesy of the Central Intelligence Agency.   All told, tens of millions of dollars have flowed from the C.I.A. to the office of President Hamid Karzai, according to current and former advisers to the Afghan leader.  […] The C.I.A., which declined to comment for this article, has long been known to support some relatives and close aides of Mr. Karzai. But the new accounts of off-the-books cash delivered directly to his office show payments on a vaster scale, and with a far greater impact on everyday governing.  […] The cash does not appear to be subject to the oversight and restrictions placed on official American aid to the country or even the C.I.A.’s formal assistance programs, like financing Afghan intelligence agencies. […]”

For additional coverage, see videos here and here from NBC and CNN.

As noted in my recent article, in this new era of FCPA enforcement those subject to the FCPA have been frequently reminded that ‘‘we in the United States are in a unique position to spread the gospel of anti-corruption, because there is no country that enforces its anti-bribery laws more vigorously than we do.’’  We have been told that “robust FCPA enforcement has become part of the fabric of the Justice Department” and that its “global anti-corruption mission has seeped into the Criminal Division.”  We have been told by the DOJ that FCPA enforcement is “our way of ensuring not only that the Justice Department is on the right side of history, but also that it has a hand in advancing that history.”

The conduct at issue in the NY Times article of course goes above the DOJ,  but what to think of our “unique position to spread the gospel of anti-corruption” after the NY Times article?

Is the U.S. truly on the “right side of history”?

During this era of FCPA enforcement, enforcement actions frequently include allegations of corporate payments to “foreign officials” for such items as wine, watches, cameras, kitchen appliances, business suits, television sets, laptops, tea sets and office furniture.  Last week’s Ralph Lauren enforcement action (here) included allegations related to perfume, dresses and handbags.

This conduct pales in relation to the conduct described in the NY Times article and is made even more egregious given that FCPA enforcement actions invariably involve use of private shareholder/owner funds, whereas the campaign of bribery in Afghan is using public funds.

One of the best statements found in the FCPA’s extensive legislative history (see here for my article “The Story of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act”) was from Theodore Sorensen.   Sorensen’s career included several notable accomplishments and, as President Kennedy’s speechwriter, he had a way with words.

As to the basic issue of defining bribery, Sorensen observed as follows: [T]here will be countless situations in which a fair-minded investigator or judge will be hard-put to determine whether a particular payment or practice is a legitimate and permissible business activity or a means of improper influence.  […] Reasonable men and even angels will differ on the answers to these and similar questions. At the very least such distinctions should make us less sweeping in our judgments and less confident of our solutions.”

Sorensen’s insight was spot-on when made approximately 35 years ago and still holds true today.

The recent NY Times article concerning government sanctioned bribery using public funds really ought to cause us to pause and reflect on much in the bribery and corruption space.

Friday Roundup

Fear mongering and the dark empire, FCPA scrutiny of Hamid Karzai’s brother, the DOJ’s kleptocracy unit takes shape, and survey findings … it’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Fear Mongering and the Dark Empire

What does Sharie Brown (here), Chair of DLA Piper’s Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, Anti-Corruption and Corporate Compliance Practice, think about the U.K. Bribery Act, the surge in FCPA Inc., and the revolving door? See here for a recent interview with Corporate Crime Reporter.

A Future Afghanistan Related FCPA Enforcement Action?

A federal grand jury in the Southern District of New York is reportedly hearing evidence against Mahmood Karzai (a dual Afghan and U.S. citizen and the brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai) including possible evidence that Afghan Investment Co. (incorporated in Virgina until 2010) bribed Afghanistan’s then mining minister to secure a lease on the country’s only cement factory. See Matthew Rosenberg “Grand Jury Investigates Karzai Brother) (Wall Street Journal – Feb. 16th).

If evidence exists that Karzai did indeed violate the FCPA, one can only imagine the political / foreign policy considerations of criminally indicting the brother of the Afghan President. I like to think that the government blindly goes where the evidence leads them, but the BAE and James Giffen enforcement actions suggests that may not always be the case.

To my knowledge, there has never been an FCPA enforcement action involving conduct in Afghanistan.

DOJ Kleptocracy Unit

Joe Palazzolo (Wall Street Journal Corruption Current) recently spoke with several officials involved in the DOJ’s nascent kleptocracy unit. See here for previous discussion and other links regarding the kleptocracy initiative.

Palazzolo reports (here) that the unit will be housed in the DOJ’s Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section and staffed by five lawyers. The FBI’s Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Unit will also divert two agents to the new unit. According to the report, “U.S. officials expect that most cases will involve foreign politicians who have left office and are no longer in a position to obstruct investigations.” Palazzolo reports that the unit’s “first major case could be ready in the next month and several more are expected this year.”

Survey Findings

Among the findings in Deloitte and Forbes Insights 4th annual “Look Before You Leap” survey (here) is the following:

“Almost two-thirds (63%) of total survey respondents identified Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and anti-corruption issues that led to an aborted deal or a renegotiation over the past three years. Lack of transparency or unusual payment structures in contracts was cited by one in five and 18% pointed to the use of agents, consultants, distributors, or third parties to obtain or facilitate business.”

The survey results indicate that strategic buyers are more impacted (and perhaps more sensitive to FCPA issues) than financial buyers such as private equity firms and hedge funds.

*****

A good weekend to all.

Friday Roundup

Fear mongering and the dark empire, FCPA scrutiny of Hamid Karzai’s brother, the DOJ’s kleptocracy unit takes shape, and survey findings … it’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Fear Mongering and the Dark Empire

What does Sharie Brown (here), Chair of DLA Piper’s Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, Anti-Corruption and Corporate Compliance Practice, think about the U.K. Bribery Act, the surge in FCPA Inc., and the revolving door? See here for a recent interview with Corporate Crime Reporter.

A Future Afghanistan Related FCPA Enforcement Action?

A federal grand jury in the Southern District of New York is reportedly hearing evidence against Mahmood Karzai (a dual Afghan and U.S. citizen and the brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai) including possible evidence that Afghan Investment Co. (incorporated in Virgina until 2010) bribed Afghanistan’s then mining minister to secure a lease on the country’s only cement factory. See Matthew Rosenberg “Grand Jury Investigates Karzai Brother) (Wall Street Journal – Feb. 16th).

If evidence exists that Karzai did indeed violate the FCPA, one can only imagine the political / foreign policy considerations of criminally indicting the brother of the Afghan President. I like to think that the government blindly goes where the evidence leads them, but the BAE and James Giffen enforcement actions suggests that may not always be the case.

To my knowledge, there has never been an FCPA enforcement action involving conduct in Afghanistan.

DOJ Kleptocracy Unit

Joe Palazzolo (Wall Street Journal Corruption Current) recently spoke with several officials involved in the DOJ’s nascent kleptocracy unit. See here for previous discussion and other links regarding the kleptocracy initiative.

Palazzolo reports (here) that the unit will be housed in the DOJ’s Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section and staffed by five lawyers. The FBI’s Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Unit will also divert two agents to the new unit. According to the report, “U.S. officials expect that most cases will involve foreign politicians who have left office and are no longer in a position to obstruct investigations.” Palazzolo reports that the unit’s “first major case could be ready in the next month and several more are expected this year.”

Survey Findings

Among the findings in Deloitte and Forbes Insights 4th annual “Look Before You Leap” survey (here) is the following:

“Almost two-thirds (63%) of total survey respondents identified Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and anti-corruption issues that led to an aborted deal or a renegotiation over the past three years. Lack of transparency or unusual payment structures in contracts was cited by one in five and 18% pointed to the use of agents, consultants, distributors, or third parties to obtain or facilitate business.”

The survey results indicate that strategic buyers are more impacted (and perhaps more sensitive to FCPA issues) than financial buyers such as private equity firms and hedge funds.

*****

A good weekend to all.

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