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House Hearing – Pregame

Yesterday, Global Financial Integrity (“GFI”) and The Task Force on Financial Integrity and Economic Development issued identical press releases (here and here) regarding today’s House Judiciary subcommittee hearing on the FCPA (see here).

The releases, titled “Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Under Attack” portray today’s hearing as a U.S. Chamber of Commerce sponsored event and states as follows. “Among other things, the hearing will specifically consider amendments proposed to the act by the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, an affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which FCPA-proponents charge will significantly weaken the anti-corruption legislation and undermine efforts to tackle corruption and illicit financial practices abroad. The Chamber’s proposed changes would seriously undermine one of the most important anti-corruption statues we have on the books. […] This is a blatant attempt by the business lobby to limit accountability and reduce a company’s risk of prosecution for paying bribes. It is a real threat to global efforts to stamp out corruption and foster economic development.”

GFI legislative affairs director and legal affairs council Heather Lowe states as follows. “With the exception of [the DOJ witness – Greg Andres], the witness lineup represents commercial interests. There is no witness on the panel representing those who are working to fight corruption without a commercial interest or government policy driving their testimony. Members of Congress need to have an opportunity to hear those voices as well.”

Attached to the releases are two documents.

The first document is titled “Concerns About the U.S. Chamber Institute of Legal Reform’s Proposals for Amending the FCPA.” (For a copy of the Chamber’s reform proposals – see here).

The document addresses five topics: (i) limiting liability of a parent company for acts of its subsidiaries; (ii) defining “foreign official”; (iii) allowing companies with compliance programs to escape liability (compliance as an affirmative defense); (iv) limiting the liability of a successor company for the prior acts of a company that has merged into it or that it has acquired; and (v) adding a “willfulness” requirement for corporate criminal liability.

As to “foreign official,” the document states as follows. “The U.S. Chamber is promoting the creation of a definition of “foreign official” so that companies have greater legal certainty. Greater certainty of what? Greater certainty of who they are permitted to bribe and who they are not permitted to bribe.”

In all due respect, this is a naive statement.

As I noted in this article, because of the enforcement agencies’ current interpretation of “foreign official,” those subject to the FCPA are spending significant time and money investigating the ownership structure of foreign customers and potential customers for any trace of foreign government ownership or control. Such a costly investigation, often involving lawyers and other investigative firms, is not motivated by the company’s desire to make improper payments to the foreign customer or potential customer to obtain or retain business should the investigation reveal no foreign government ownership or control. Rather, the costly investigation is often motivated for the simple reason that the company wants to treat these foreign customers the same as it treats its other customers. That means hosting such customers at corporate events in which some fun may take place (e.g., golf) or inviting such customers to an industry trade show—events that often take place in tourist locations. Companies fear providing such “things of value” to a “foreign official” (under the enforcement agencies’ interpretation) even though the company is legitimately and legally providing the exact same thing to its non- “foreign official” customers or potential customers. It is highly questionable whether Congress foresaw company lawyers being involved in the simple decision of whether to invite a particular customer to the company’s golf outing or trade show.

As to a potential compliance defense, the document states as follows. “If a company is found to be in violation of the FCPA, then the existence of a company’s compliance program must not have prevented the acts of bribery. So why should the existence of their compliance program be a defense to the charge of bribery?”

Again, an unsophisticated statement.

For instance, the U.K. Bribery Act Guidance (here) states as follows. “The objective of the Act is not to bring the full force of the criminal law to bear upon well run commercial organizations that experience an isolated incident of bribery on their behalf.”

“[N]o bribery prevention regime will be capable of preventing bribery at all times.”

“[A] commercial organization will have a full defense if it can show that despite a particular case of bribery, it nevertheless had adequate procedures in place to prevent persons associated with it from bribing.”

Similarly, in a 1981 FCPA speech (to be profiled in a future post) the SEC Chairman noted as follows. “The test of a company’s internal control system is not whether occasional failings can occur. Those will happen in the most ideally managed company. But, an adequate system of internal controls means that, when such breaches do arise, they will be isolated rather than systemic, and they will be subject to a reasonable likelihood of being uncovered in a timely manner and then remedied promptly. Barring, of course, the participation or complicity of senior company officials in the deed, when discovery and correction expeditiously follow, no failing in the company’s internal accounting system would have existed. To the contrary, routine discovery and correction would evidence its effectiveness.”

Elsewhere in the speech, the SEC Chairman stated as follows. “If a violation was committed by a low level employee, without the knowledge of top management, with an adequate system of internal control, and with appropriate corrective action taken by the issuer, we do not believe that any action against the company would be called for.”

This speech was given during the same general time frame when Congress was last seriously considering substantial FCPA reform in the 1980’s. Numerous FCPA reform bills included a specific defense which stated a company would not be held vicariously liable for a violation of the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions by its employees or agents, who were not an officer or director, if the company established procedures reasonably designed to prevent and detect FCPA violations by employees and agents. An FCPA reform bill containing such a provision did pass the U.S. House.

In my forthcoming scholarship, “Revisiting an FCPA Compliance Defense” (to be presented at the Wisconsin Law Review symposium – see here), I argue that amending the FCPA to include a compliance defense (a defense found in the “FCPA-like” laws of other nations) will best incentivize corporate FCPA compliance and not put a company at risk of FCPA scrutiny, costly FCPA internal investigations, and the growing collateral consequences of FCPA inquiries should a non-executive employee engage in conduct contrary to a company’s pre-existing FCPA compliance policies and procedures and compliance culture.

The second document attached to the GFI releases is titled “The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in Context.” The 2 page document ends with the following in red caps. “WE HAVE SHOWN THE WORLD THAT THE U.S. IS SERIOUS ABOUT COMBATING BRIBERY, AND THE WORLD IS FOLLOWING OUR LEAD. WEAKENING THE FCPA NOW WILL SEND A MESSAGE TO THE WORLD THAT THE U.S. IS SOFT ON CORRUPTION AND OUR COMPANIES ARE DEEP POCKETS FOR BRIBE-SEEKERS. THE U.S. SHOULD FOCUS ON ENCOURAGING WORLDWIDE ENFORCEMENT, NOT CRIPPLING A STATUTE THAT HAS BEEN THE MODEL FOR INTERNATIONAL ANTI-BRIBERY LEGISLATION.”

Enjoy today’s hearing.

No – The Consistent Answer In DOJ Responses to Senator Questions Regarding FCPA Reform

On November 30, 2010, the Senate Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs (chaired by then Senator Arlen Specter) held a hearing titled “Examining Enforcement of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.” (See here for the prior post).

Following the hearing, Senator Christopher Coons and Senator Amy Klobuchar submitted written questions to Greg Andres (DOJ) – one of the witnesses who testified at the hearing.

The DOJ responses are here.

As evident from the DOJ responses, certain of which are highlighted below, the consistent DOJ response to FCPA-related reform proposals is no.

Profiled below are DOJ’s substantive responses to Senator questions regarding mandatory debarment for egregious FCPA violators; a potential FCPA compliance defense; a potential FCPA amnesty program; whether businesses face FCPA uncertainty; whether clarification of the “foreign official” element is needed; and whether the statute’s corporate intent element needs revising.

Mandatory Debarment

Does the DOJ favor a “mandatory, conduct-based, debarment remedy for companies that engage in egregious bribery”?

No.

The DOJ says that such “mandatory debarment would likely be counterproductive, as it would reduce the number of voluntary disclosures and concomitantly limit corporate remediation and the implementation of enhanced compliance programs.”

In a related question, the DOJ adds that “a mandatory conduct-based debarment for companies could well have a negative impact on the Government’s ability to investigate and prosecute transnational corruption effectively.” “Linking mandatory debarment to a criminal resolution would fundamentally alter the incentives of a contractor-company to reach an FCPA resolution because such a resolution would likely lead to the cessation of revenues for a government contractor – a virtual death knell for the contractor-company. Similarly, mandatory debarment would impinge negatively on prosecutorial discretion. If every criminal FCPA resolution were to carry with it mandatory debarment consequences, then prosecutors would lose the necessary flexibility to tailor an appropriate resolution given the facts and circumstances of each individual case.”

Boiled down to one sentence, the DOJ’s opposition to mandatory debarment for egregious FCPA violators seems to be this – it would lessen our FCPA caseload, it would make our jobs more difficult, and it would take away our flexibility and leverage.

This is hardly a convincing argument to the position I articulated at the Senate hearing (see here) that “egregious instances of corporate bribery that legitimately satisfy the elements of an FCPA anti-bribery violation involving high-level executives and/or board participation should be followed with debarment proceedings against the offender.”

As I noted in this previous post, H.R. 5366 (which passed the House in September 2010) is not the answer. However, the issue of mandatory debarment, in certain instances, remains a valid and legitimate issue notwithstanding the DOJ’s responses.

Compliance Defense

Does the DOJ favor exploring a “formal compliance defense” to the FCPA?

No.

The DOJ “opposes the adoption of a formal compliance defense.”

According to the DOJ, it “already considers a company’s compliance efforts in making appropriate prosecutorial decisions, and the United States Sentencing Guidelines also appropriately credits a company’s compliance efforts in any sentencing determination.” “Among other things” the DOJ states, “the creation of such a defense would transform criminal FCPA trials into a battle of experts over whether the company had established a sufficient compliance mechanism.” “Against this backdrop, companies may feel the need to implement a purely paper compliance program that could be defended by an ‘expert,’ even if the measures are not effective in stopping bribery.” “If the FCPA were amended to permit companies to hide behind such programs, it would erect an additional hurdle for prosecutors in what are already difficult and complex cases to prove.”

As readers likely know, the U.K. Bribery Act, set to go live on July 1st, contains a so-called adequate procedures defense and such a defense should be considered under the FCPA as well.

Amending the FCPA to include a compliance defense is not a new idea. In the mid-1980’s numerous FCPA reform bills included such a defense and provided that a company would not be held vicariously liable for a violation of the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions by its employees or agents, who were not an officer or director, if the company established procedures reasonably designed to prevent and detect FCPA violations by employees and agents. In fact, an FCPA reform bill containing such a provision did pass the U.S. House.

A compliance defense is not about hiding behind “paper programs” as the DOJ asserts. Rather a so-called compliance defense, one that would be inapplicable in cases such as Siemens, it is about properly incentivizing corporate FCPA compliance and not putting a company at risk of FCPA scrutiny, costly FCPA internal investigations, and the growing collateral consequences of FCPA inquiries should a non-executive employee engage in conduct contrary to a company’s pre-existing, published, and trained on FCPA compliance policies and procedures.

Amnesty Program

Is the DOJ in favor of a so-called “amnesty program” as recently advocated by some?

No.

The DOJ says it “does not support the idea of an FCPA amnesty program.” Among other things, the DOJ says that “as the beneficiary of [several established sources of information such as voluntary disclosures] the Department does not presently face difficulty in identifying sources of information of FCPA criminal violations.” “Consequently, an amnesty program would provide protection for corporations who violate the law without providing accompanying meaningful benefits to law enforcement.” “Finally, consistent with the United States Sentencing Guidelines and the Department’s Principles of Federal Prosecution of Business Organizations, the Department already provides meaningful credit for voluntary self-disclosures, extraordinary cooperation, and substantial remediation by corporations where appropriate and deserved.”

Uncertainty?

Does the DOJ believe that “well-meaning businesses are faced with significant uncertainty as to their potential exposure to civil and criminal penalties under the FCPA?”

No.

The DOJ says that “it provides clear guidance to companies with respect to FCPA enforcement through a variety of means.” It lists the DOJ’s Lay Person Guide to the FCPA, various charging documents, plea agreements, non-prosecution and deferred prosecution agreements [see here for a recent guest post on prosecutorial common law] and the DOJ’s FCPA Opinion Procedure Releases.

The DOJ concludes its response by saying “in the end, a review of the Department’s FCPA enforcement actions makes clear that companies have never been charged for minor or incidental issues.” “By contrast, the Department’s prosecutions involved extensive and often widespread corruption over significant periods of time.”

As explored in this prior guest post, in the FCPA’s 1988 amendments, Congress directed the DOJ to consider providing formal guidance. However, in 1990 the DOJ declined to issue guidelines and stated as follows. “After consideration of the comments received, and after consultation with the appropriate agencies, the Attorney General has determined that no guidelines are necessary…. [C]ompliance with the [anti-bribery provisions] would not be enhanced nor would the business community be assisted by further clarification of these provisions through the issuance of guidelines.”

“Foreign Official”

Does the DOJ agree that statutory clarification of “foreign official” would help clarify to businesses which of their transactions could be subject to the FCPA?”

No.

The DOJ response begins as follows. “The term ‘foreign official’ has been defined in relevant case law and opinion releases. Some defense attorneys have attempted to argue that the definition of ‘foreign official’ does not extend to the employees of state-owned or state-controlled enterprises.”

For the record, I am not a “defense attorney.” See here for my declaration as to the legislative history on “foreign official.”

In a related question, the DOJ further stated that it “has provided significant guidance regarding the definition of ‘foreign official.'”

Intent

Should the FCPA be amended to “bring the intent standard for corporations in line with the current ‘willfulness” standard that applies to individuals?”

No.

The DOJ responded that it “does not believe that it is necessary or appropriate to amend the FCPA’s intent standard with respect to corporations.” “The Principles of Federal Prosecution of Business Organizations already governs the Department’s decisions regarding whether to charge corporations for federal crimes, including under the FCPA.” “Furthermore, the Department is not prosecuting FCPA matters where a corporation engaged in something less than willful criminal conduct.”

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