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Plaintiffs Allege Harm At The Hands Of Terrorist Group Funded In Part By Corrupt Sales Practices Of Various Multinational Companies

Mahdi Army

Various courts have held that the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act does not confer a private right of action. However, as highlighted in “FCPA Ripples” and several other posts on this website, private plaintiffs with increasing frequency are using allegations of corruption to allege other substantive causes of action in what amounts to “offensive use” of the FCPA and related topics.

Recently, American service members and civilians and their families who were killed or wounded while serving in Iraq filed this 203 page civil complaint against AstraZeneca, General Electric, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and Roche claiming that the companies’ alleged acts of corruption in Iraq present viable civil claims under the federal Anti-Terrorism Act and for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Specifically, the plaintiffs allege that they or their family members were attacked by a terrorist group (Jaysh al-Mahdi) funded in part by the defendants’ corrupt sales practices.

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Friday Roundup

Roundup

No comment, scrutiny alert, when the obvious is not so obvious, quotable, undercover, follow-up, and for the reading stack. It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

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The recent FCPA enforcement action against Chile-based LAN Airlines (in which the company paid $22 million to resolve DOJ and SEC enforcement actions concerning an alleged payment to resolve an Argentina labor dispute) suggested that both Argentine and Chilean law enforcement officials had commenced investigations of the conduct approximately five years ago.

I’ve tried to find information in the public domain regarding these apparent law enforcement investigations but have generally struck out.

For instance, I contacted LAN’s investor relations office and posed the following question:

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Issues To Consider From The AstraZeneca Enforcement Action

Issues

This post summarized the recent SEC Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement action against AstraZeneca in which the company, without admitting or denying the SEC’s findings, agreed to cough up $5.5 million.

This post continues the analysis by highlighting additional issues to consider.

Timeline

In an August 9, 2010 filing, AstraZeneca first disclosed:

“AstraZeneca PLC has received inquiries from the US Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission in connection with an investigation into Foreign Corrupt Practices Act issues in the pharmaceutical industry. AstraZeneca is cooperating with their inquiries.”

Thus from start to finish, AstraZeneca’s FCPA scrutiny lasted over six years.

It is absolutely inexcusable on any level for FCPA scrutiny to last over six years. If the SEC wants the public to view its FCPA enforcement program as legitimate, credible, and effective, it must resolve instances of FCPA scrutiny much faster.

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AstraZeneca Coughs Up $5.5 Million To Resolve FCPA Action

Astra

Say an English company has Chinese and Russian subsidiaries which, approximately 6-10 years ago, provided various things of value to physicians in those countries.

The end result?

Why of course $5.5 million to the U.S. Treasury because the English company has American Depositary Shares registered with the SEC.

The above description is not make-believe, but a summary of a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement action released yesterday by the SEC against AstraZeneca Plc (a United Kingdom biopharmaceutical company).

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Stay Tuned for More

As have been widely reported (see here for the New York Times article), an FCPA sweep of the pharmaceutical / medical device industry is currently underway. Merck, Medtronic, Zimmer and several other companies are reportedly under investigation.

For instance, last week Eli Lilly disclosed (here) that it is “in advanced discussions with the SEC to resolve their investigation” that began in August 2003 as to “compliance by Polish subsidiaries of certain pharmaceutical companies, including Lilly, with the [FCPA].”

AstraZeneca disclosed (here) last week as follows. “As previously disclosed, AstraZeneca has received inquiries from the US Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission in connection with an investigation into Foreign Corrupt Practices Act issues in the pharmaceutical industry across several countries. AstraZeneca is cooperating with these inquiries and is investigating, among other things, sales practices, internal controls, certain distributors, and interactions with healthcare providers, institutions, and other government officials. AstraZeneca is investigating inappropriate conduct in certain countries, including China.”

Johnson & Johnson, previously included in the group of companies under investigation, resolved an FCPA enforcement action last month (see here for the prior post).

Many have suggested that J&J’s voluntarily disclosed conduct served as the point of entry for the industry wide sweep based on this sentence from the J&J deferred prosecution agreement – “J&J has cooperated and agreed to continue to cooperate with the Department in the Department’s investigations of other companies and individuals in connection with business practices overseas in various markets.”

Thus, the J&J enforcement action in many ways provides a glimpse into potential future FCPA enforcement actions involving the pharmaceutical / medical device industry.

Two issues likely to be found in such future FCPA enforcement actions are discussed below.

42 USC 1320a-7(a)

The J&J deferred prosecution agreement states – for why the DOJ agreed to resolve the case the way it did – as follows. “Were the Department to initiate a prosecution of J&J or one of its operating companies and obtain a conviction, instead of entering into this Agreement to defer prosecution, J&J could be subject to exclusion from participating in federal health care programs pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1320a-7(a).” (See here for those provisions).

This component of the J&J enforcement is nothing new – as many companies such as Siemens, BAE and others – have escaped the most serious consequences of the alleged criminal conduct because of “who” the companies were (i.e. the products sold and to whom).

This feature of FCPA enforcement is controversial (for additional reading – see here for my Q&A exchange with former Senator Arlen Specter and here for the recent article titled “FCPA Sanctions: To Big to Debar”).

In recent months, the DOJ has pledged allegiance to the OECD Convention on Bribery to defend certain of its sentencing and “foreign official” enforcement positions (see here for instance).

Does the OECD Convention say anything about enforcement agencies looking at the unique aspects of an alleged violator and then crafting a resolution to fit that alleged violator?

Yes it does.

Article 5 of the OECD Convention (here), under the heading “Enforcement,” states that investigation and prosecution of bribery offenses “shall not be influenced by considerations of national economic interest, the potential effect upon relations with another State or the identity of the natural or legal persons involved.”

Health-Care Providers as “Foreign Officials”

As noted in the prior J&J post (here) the principal FCPA enforcement theory at issue in the pharmaceutical / medical device industry sweep would seem to be the notion that [insert country] had a national healthcare system wherein most [insert country] hospitals are publicly owned and operated and thus health care providers who work at publicly-owned hospitals are government employees providing health care services in their official capacities. According to the DOJ, the individuals are therefore “foreign officials” “as that term is defined in the FCPA.”

Against this backdrop, it is interesting to observe that in the United States approximately 20% of hospitals are owned by state or local governments (see here). In addition, approximately 150 more medical centers are run by the Veterans Health Administration (see here).

Are we calling 20+% of U.S. health-care providers U.S. officials? If not, why not and why the difference?

Something to keep in mind as additional pharmaceutical / medical device FCPA enforcement actions burst onto the scene.

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