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A Double Standard? Part III

A government official sets up a foundation to aid local organizations. It is funded by business entities that often turn to the government official for help – and usually succeed in getting such help.

Over a six week period, a company sends at least $45,000 in donations to four charitable programs founded by government officials – just as the companies were seeking approval of favorable legislation.

Another company supports a fundraiser for the scholarship fund of a government official.

Another company sponsors a sport competition to help the favorite food bank of a government official.

Another company subsidizes a spa outing in a popular tourist destination to aid the charity of a government official.

Another company helps sponsor a golf tournament benefiting the foundation of a government official.

Another company acknowledges that it participates in government officials’ charitable events to get access to the officials to push the company’s agenda.

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“Google” Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and charitable giving and you will have enough reading material to keep you busy the rest of the day.

This material will likely reference the 2004 FCPA enforcement action against Schering-Plough (see here).

In that action, the SEC alleged (here) that Schering-Plough violated the FCPA when its wholly-owned Polish subsidiary (“S-P Poland”) improperly recorded a bona fide charitable donation to a Polish foundation where the founder/president of the foundation was also the director of a government health fund (the “Director”) that provided money to hospitals throughout Poland for the purchase of pharmaceutical products.

Although the SEC and Schering-Plough ultimately resolved the matter based only on violations of the FCPA’s books and records and internal control provisions, the enforcement action is commonly viewed as broadening the “anything of value” element of an FCPA anti-bribery violation. (See here).

The SEC’s tacit interpretation of the “anything of value” element in the Schering-Plough matter is significant because there was no allegation or indication that any tangible monetary benefit accrued to the Director, an individual deemed by the SEC to be a “foreign official” under the FCPA.

Rather, the SEC brought the enforcement action on the basis of its apparent conclusion that S-P Poland’s bona fide charitable donations constituted a “thing of value” to the “foreign official” because the donations were subjectively valued by the official and provided him with an intangible benefit of enhanced self-worth or
prestige.

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So will the above donations to government official charities result in FCPA scrutiny?

Nope!

Why not?

Because the government officials are U.S. government officials. See here for the recent New York Times story.

The U.S. has a domestic bribery statute (18 USC 201) (see here) which has similar elements to the FCPA. Yet, I would not hold your breath waiting for domestic bribery prosecutions.

This all begs the question – is there a double standard?

Will a U.S. company’s interaction with a “foreign official” (however that term is interpreted) 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 private business interests as corrupt, yet when a U.S. official similarly receives “things of value” from private business interests we merely say “well, no one said our system is perfect”?

For more on the FCPA’s double standard (see here and here).

Schumer Calls For BP Investigation

Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) has requested a Department of Justice investigation of BP.

It has nothing to do with the Gulf of Mexico, but rather the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

BP is British company, but its ADR shares trade on the New York Stock Exchange and BP is thus subject to the FCPA.

In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder (see here) Schumer requests that the DOJ investigate whether BP violated any of the provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) in connection with the August 2009 release of Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, the Libyan terrorist convicted of the 1988 bombing of Pan-Am flight 103 that killed 270 people, including 189 Americans. [This post is limited to a discussion of the FCPA, and not the above referenced release.]

Why does Schumer think BP may have violated the FCPA?

Because, according to Schumer’s letter – “BP has admitted that it lobbied United Kingdom government officials to wrap up a proposed prisoner transfer agreement (PTA) with the Libyan government amid concerns that a delay in reaching this agreement would harm a deal BP had signed with Libya’s National Oil Company to explore for oil and gas in the Gulf of Sidra and in parts of Libya’s western desert—an agreement which BP estimated could lead to eventual earnings of up to $20 billion.”

Hold the phone and stop the presses … a large corporation has admitted that it lobbied its own government in connection with a business purpose.

This would seem to be yet another example of the FCPA’s double standard in that what is routinely done at home suddenly becomes a potential criminal matter when done in connection with international business. For other examples of the double standard see here and here.

Unless there is a finding that something of value went to a foreign official, the FCPA is not implicated because the law does not apply to giving things of value to a foreign government itself. Strange you say, but that is how the FCPA is written – a fact even the DOJ recognizes. See here for DOJ Opinion Procedure Release 09-01 in which the DOJ states that the proposed course of conduct “fall[s] outside the scope of the FCPA in that the [thing of value] will be provided to the foreign government, as opposed to individual government officials …”

Schumer’s letter also states:

“If BP, or its officials, promised the Libyan Government that it would secure al-Megrahi’s release from detention in exchange for oil exploration rights—or even that it would provide lobbying services for such a release on the Libyan Government’s behalf—BP may have been unlawfully authorizing performance of valuable services to the Libyan Government in exchange for profitable oil exploration rights in express violation of the FCPA. Similarly, if BP promised anything of value to United Kingdom government officials to secure al-Megrahi’s release, this would also violate the FCPA.”

According to Schumer’s press release, he and “Senators Gillibrand, Menendez, and Lautenberg last week requested the British government investigate the circumstances surrounding al-Megrahi’s release and requested that BP and the British government turn over all documents related to the oil companies’ efforts lobbying for a prison-release agreement with Libya. They also called for the US State Department to press the British to investigate BP’s involvement in the incident.”

It is unusual for a U.S. politician to call upon DOJ to investigate a foreign-based company (or any company for that matter) for FCPA violations – particularly when the conduct at issue largely centers on conduct between the company and its own government officials.

Although the U.K. Bribery Act is not yet law (see yesterday’s post here), when enacted, it is expected to have a broad jurisdictional scope and apply to certain U.S. companies, just as the FCPA applies to certain U.K. companies.

Following Schumer’s lead will a British politician request that the U.K. Serious Fraud Office investigate a U.S. company because it lobbied its own government officials in connection with a business purpose? As John Gapper, the associate editor and chief business commentator of the U.K. based Financial Times, stated in an editorial on the subject, “the US has been no stranger to dubious deals with foreign governments that benefit both its strategic interests and US companies.”

For more, see here for Christopher Matthew’s Main Justice story on the topic.

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.

A Double Standard?

A government official (and his wife) tour a foreign vineyard and castle and spend an afternoon at a ski resort in the Alps. A company can’t foot the bill directly, so it funds a group that then picks up the tab.

Another government official is flown across the world to help close a business deal for a large corporate financial backer (and friend).

Sounds like some potential FCPA issues, right?

Wrong.

Why?

Because the government officials involved are not “foreign officials,” but rather U.S. government officials. (See here for the recent story in the NY Times. The WSJ also recently ran a similar story here – although less focused on privately funded travel).

For those interested in other examples, you will want to visit LegiStorm.com (here) a web site that allows one to search such trips by U.S. official, sponsor, most active sponsor, most expensive trips, etc.

This raises the question of whether there is a double standard.

Will a U.S. company’s interaction with a “foreign official” (however that term is interpreted) 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 private business interests as corrupt, yet when a U.S. official similarly receives “things of value” from private business interests we merely say “well, no one said our system is perfect”?

The U.S. has a domestic bribery statute (18 USC 201) (see here) which has similar (yet not identical) elements to the FCPA. Should not there at least be some level of intellectual and enforcement consistency with these statutes?

No doubt many of the trips identified by LegiStorm had a core, legitimate purpose. However, often times payment of a “foreign official’s” travel expenses also have a core, legitimate purpose. The FCPA enforcement action most “on-point” is the 2007 action against Lucent (see here and here).

It’s just not payment of a “foreign official’s” travel expenses which seem to be subject to a double standard, but also corporate donations as well. It’s common knowledge in this country that corporate interests donate, either directly or indirectly, to political campaigns, political action groups, or other causes to curry favor with politicians (or shall I say “participate in the political process”).

Yet, if a company makes even a bona fide charitable contribution abroad, they will be subject to FCPA scrutiny. The FCPA enforcement action most “on-point” is the 2004 action against Schering-Plough (see here) involving a donation to a legitimate Polish castle restoration foundation where the founder/president of the foundation was also the director of a government health fund which provided money to hospitals throughout Poland for the purchase of pharmaceutical products.

All interesting issues/questions to ponder in what seems to be another example of how FCPA enforcement has indeed because the unique creature that it is. (See here for a prior post on this issue).

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