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Interesting, Significant and Bold

Last week I had the pleasure of participating in Securities Docket’s Year in Review webcast (see here for viewing – the FCPA portion begins at about 51 minutes).

For those of you who missed the event, below are my thoughts on four significant events from 2010, three interesting events from 2010, and two bold predictions for 2011.

The FCPA in 2010 was interesting, significant, and bold all at once. Among other things, it was a year in which Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer declared a “new era of FCPA enforcement.” (see here).

Significant Events

The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act

If anyone out there still believes that the FCPA is a law that only applies to U.S. companies, you clearly have been living under a rock.

2010 was the year of non-U.S. companies resolving FCPA exposure.

BAE (here)(I am hesitant to call this matter an FCPA enforcement action because it wasn’t, but everyone seems to be doing so), Daimler (here), Technip (here), Eni/Snamprogetti (here), ABB (here), Panalpina (here), and most recently Alcatel-Lucent (more in a future post).

It has been reported that approximately 90% of 2010 FCPA fines and penalties were paid by foreign companies.

I expect this trend to continue – albeit perhaps not at the level seen in 2010. The 4th member of the JV involved in Bonny Island bribery – JGC of Japan – has yet to settle, certain of the medical device and pharma companies that have disclosed FCPA issues are non-U.S. companies, and an emerging trend I see is an increased focus on China-based issuers. For instance, last year, 25% of the IPOs were China based issuers and last month, Rino International (see here) disclosed an FCPA inquiry, the first time I believe a China-based issuer has been the focus of an FCPA inquiry.

Two Tiers of Justice

Under basic rule of law principles, the law is to be equally and consistently applied to all subject to the law, regardless of how big or small the company is and regardless of what type of company is involved.

In a troubling trend, two tiers of justice have emerged from FCPA enforcement.
If the company is a large multinational company, the company will end up paying large fine, but chances are the company will not be charged with FCPA anti-bribery violations.

For instance, the DOJ’s allegations against BAE (see here) included that the company provided various benefits – through U.S. payment mechanisms – to influence Saudi officials through and through other conduct that clearly had a U.S. nexus. Yet, BAE, one of the world’s largest defense contractors, was not charged with any FCPA anti-bribery violation.

Daimler, according to the DOJ (see here), had a corporate culture that tolerated and/or encouraged bribery and its numerous bribery schemes involved various high-ranking executives. Yet, Daimler, was not charged with any FCPA anti-bribery violations.

It’s bribery yet no bribery, and it contributes to what I’ve called the façade of FCPA enforcement (see here).

While certain companies in certain industries appear immune from FCPA anti-bribery charges, in other instances, instances generally involving small companies such as Nexus Technologies (here) or Lindsey Manufacturing (here), the DOJ seems to come out with guns a blazing and criminally indicts the company for violating the FCPA. One can legitimately ask what did these companies do that BAE, Daimler, and some other companies didn’t do?

The two tiers of justice is also present when it comes to individual enforcement actions. As was highlighted in the recent Senate hearing, one odd aspect of the most high-profile, egregious instances of corporate bribery is that, for the most part, no individuals are charged. Yet in cases that can only be called minor in comparison, Nexus Technologies, Lindsey Manufacturing and the Haiti Teleco cases come to mind, the DOJ again seems to come out with guns a blazing and criminally indicts multiple individuals.

Companies that commit bribery on a major scale, involving hundreds of millions dollars, are still able to secure multi-million dollar U.S. government contracts (see here and here). On the other hand, individuals like Charles Jumet are sent to prison for nearly 7 years for making a $200,000 payment to secure a lighthouse and buoy contract and conspiring to violate the same law that major companies are apparently immune from violating. (See here).

DOJ officials frequently talk about the rule of law (here), and the importance of consistency and transparency in charging decisions (here), but these examples raise the issue of whether such principles are followed when it comes to FCPA enforcement.

Is the Facilitating Payments Exception Meaningless?

When Congress passed the FCPA in 1977 and amended it in 1988 it clearly understood and accepted that the statute was not going to cover every conceivable unethical payment made in transacting overseas business. (See here). The legislative history is clear on this point and that is why the FCPA contains an express exception for so-called facilitating or grease payments.

Yet one can legitimately ask whether this exception intended by Congress has any meaning.

In November, a group of companies collectively paid approximately $235 million to settle FCPA enforcement actions principally involving import permits for oil rigs, other customs and duty payments to Nigerian officials, and payments to expedite shipment of product in Nigeria and some other jurisdictions. (See here for a summary of the CustomsGate enforcement actions).

It seems a bit silly when several major companies settle an FCPA enforcement action for this amount of money to ask the question – did the conduct at issue even violate the FCPA, but this question should be asked in connection with the CustomsGate enforcement actions. It is also a question that can legitimately be asked as to several other recent FCPA enforcement actions that involve permits, licenses, certifications and other administrative tasks that have nothing to do with obtaining or retaining government contracts.

The issue as I see it is not whether such payments are ethical, but whether such payments violate the narrow anti-bribery provisions Congress intended and whether, once again, the DOJ and the SEC are actually enforcing the FCPA as Congress intended or whether the FCPA has morphed into a broader corporate ethics statute.

If the FCPA should become a broader corporate ethics statute, let Congress make that decision – not the DOJ or the SEC.

Emergence of a Plaintiff’s Bar

The FCPA, it has been held by some courts, does not contain a private right of action – yet there are other legal avenues available to plaintiffs to hold companies that violate the FCPA accountable. (See here).

Common causes of action include derivative claims against officers and directors, securities fraud claims by investors, RICO claims, unfair competition claims and antitrust claims such as last year when one of Innospec’s competitors sued it in Virginia state court in connection with its recently settled FCPA enforcement action. (See here).

Such causes of action have been pursued before 2010, but 2010 witnessed an explosion in such claims and so-called investigations by plaintiff firms representing investors.

The most noteworthy example is what I called the feeding frenzy surrounding SciClone Pharamaceutials. (See here). Last August, the company simply made an FCPA disclosure – that it was contacted by the SEC and the DOJ in connection with the government’s pharma industry sweep. The company’s stock dropped about 30%. Within weeks about a dozen plaintiff firms announced “investigations” and/or filed securities fraud cases – never mind the company’s stock price regained all that value within about a month.

When a company’s FCPA violations are found to be condoned or encouraged by the board or officers, such plaintiff causes of action would seem to be warranted.

However, these types of FCPA violations are rare – the more typical situation is where, because of respondeant superior, a company faces FCPA exposure because of the actions of a single or small group of employees whose conduct was in violation of the company’s FCPA policies and procedures. In these typical situations, I question what value these so-called “investigations” by plaintiff firms have or what purpose these derivative or securities fraud claims serve.

Interesting Events

Giffen Enforcement Action

When an enforcement action begins with allegations (here) that James Giffen made more than $78 million in unlawful payments to two senior Kazakhstan officials in connection with oil transactions for major American oil companies and abruptly ends with a one-paragraph superceding information (here) charging a misdemeanor tax violation and the company he worked for settling an FCPA enforcement action focused solely on two snowmobiles (here) – I call that interesting.

Even more interesting is that part of Giffen’s defense was that his actions were taken with the knowledge and support of the CIA, the National Security Council, the Department of State and the White House. (See here for a prior post).

A few years ago George Clooney and Matt Damon starred in Syriana (here) a movie about the FCPA.

The Giffen enforcement action presents a superb Hollywood script – it is the most mysterious conclusion to an FCPA enforcement action ever – made even more interesting given that the presiding judge called Giffen a cold war hero and stated that the case should never have been brought in the first place. (See here for the prior post).

Africa Sting Cases

In January 2010, the DOJ arrested 22 defendants – most while attending a gun show in Las Vegas – in connection with a major undercover sting operation in which the government, utilizing an individual who had already pleaded guilty to separate FCPA violations, assisted the government in manufacturing a case involving a fake foreign official from Gabon. (See here, here and here for prior posts).

The defendants (see here) are principally owners or employees of small gun and weapons companies.

I would put this case in the interesting category.

Contrary to media reports and even DOJ statements, it is not the first time undercover tactics were used in connection with an FCPA investigation (see here), but the magnitude and breadth of the tactics were indeed unprecedented.

This case is far from over and the remaining defendants are sure to raise entrapment, among other legal issues, and this will be an interesting case to follow in 2011.

The Africa Sting case has draw the attention of an industry that probably had never thought much about FCPA compliance. Thus, regardless of the ultimate outcome of the case, it has likely resulted in an industry and small enterprises thinking more proactively about FCPA compliance and risk assessment.

Greater Scrutiny and Why Questions

2010 also saw greater scrutiny and why questions about the FCPA, FCPA enforcement and what I have called FCPA Inc.

For the time time in nearly a decade, Congress held hearings (see here) on the FCPA in which some basic why questions were asked.

The U.S. Chamber sponsored a paper (here) titled “Restoring Balance – Proposed Amendments to the FCPA” that was widely covered and, in some circles, railed.

Several members of Congress are legitimately scratching their heads as to why companies that settle fraud, bribery and corruption cases continue to secure lucrative U.S. government contracts and the House passed a bill (here) that seeks to debar companies found to be in violation of the FCPA from receiving U.S. government contracts. Problem is, because of the façade of FCPA enforcement (see here), it will be an impotent bill.

In May 2010, Congressman Towns, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, sent a letter to Attorney General Holder expressing concern that settlements of civil and criminal cases, including FCPA cases, by the DOJ are being used as a shield to foreclose other appropriate remedies such as suspension and debarment. (See here for the prior post).

And in Spring 2010, Forbes ran a front-page story titled “The Bribery Racket,” an article, notwithstanding some of its flamboyant language, raised several valid and legitimate questions and issues when it comes to FCPA enforcement. (See here for the prior post).

This scrutiny in 2010 raised valid and legitimate public policy questions that hopefully will be picked up on in 2011.

Bold Predictions

After a year in which (1) the largest individual prosecutions involved a fake “foreign official” (2) the most egregious cases of corporate bribery were prosecuted without FCPA anti-bribery charges; and (3) a signature case abruptly ended with a misdeamenor tax violation and a corporate prosecution involving two snowmobiles, I wonder what bold will look like in 2011.

Here are two bold predictions for 2011.

The Dodd-Frank Whistleblower Provisions Will Have a Negligible Impact on FCPA Enforcement

My (what seems) contrarian thoughts are the same as when I first made this post in July.

Enforcement of the U.K. Bribery Act Will Be Disciplined and Measured

The U.K. Bribery Act, already delayed, and with implementation slated for April 2011, has been the subject of much discussion and much over-hype in my opinion.

It has been called the FCPA “on steroids” (here) and if one subscribes to the industry marketing material, you might be left with the impression that the end of the world is near.

True, the Bribery Act is broader than the FCPA. For starters, it is an all-purpose bribery and corruption statute and addresses bribery and corruption in the private sector – not just bribery to “foreign officials” like the FCPA.

True, the Bribery Act has potentially a very broad reach – so does the FCPA.

True, the Bribery Act has no exception for facilitating payments – the FCPA does – although as highlighted above, query whether this exception means anything.

However, the Bribery Act has the “adequate procedures” defense – something the FCPA does not have – but query whether it should.

Thus, while the Bribery Act is indeed more broad than the FCPA, because of this defense, it is at the same time more narrow than the FCPA.

Public statements by U.K. officials suggest that this adequate procedures defense is a meaningful defense. For instance, in September at the World Corruption and Compliance Forum, an event I chaired in London, the U.K. Attorney General (Dominic Grieve) stated (see here) that “any company small or large” that puts into place a system of adequate procedures “has nothing to fear” when an employee or agent “goes off the rails” and makes a bribe payment. Attorney Grieve said that a company should have nothing to fear if it is “walking the walk, and talking the talk” when a rogue employee makes an improper payment. On the other hand, Attorney Grieve stated that that “those who don’t heed the warnings and don’t take the necessary steps have something to fear.” Richard Alderman, the Director of the U.K. Serious Fraud Office, stated in October (see here) as follows. “I have heard some people say that this offence is one of strict liability. I do not agree. No offence will have been committed if there were adequate procedures. I have also heard people say that the fact of bribery might mean that there were inadequate procedures by definition and so the defence can never be made out. Again, I do not agree. In the real world there may be occasional lapses despite adequate procedures rigorously enforced. The issue ultimately for the Judge and jury (and for the SFO in deciding on a prosecution) will be – were those procedures adequate?” As to the adequate procedures defense, Vivian Robinson (General Counsel of the Serious Fraud Office) said in an October webcast (here) that because of the defense “there is every reason to be optimistic that we won’t get as a result of the Act and this particular section a huge expanse in the number of prosecutions of corporates.”

As demonstrated by the Innospec matter (see here), the U.K. courts are playing, and rightfully so, a much greater role than U.S. courts in reviewing bribery and corruption cases. I’ve been told that even if the SFO prosecutes a corporate bribery case with an NPA or DPA, the U.K. courts will still play a meaningful oversight role – a role that is unfortunately not true here in the U.S.

In sum, I don’t see how companies already subject to the FCPA and already thinking about compliance in a pro-active manner, have much to worry about when it comes to the U.K. Bribery Act because of the adequate procedures defense.

I will be surprised if U.K. enforcement of the Bribery Act reaches the level of U.S. enforcement of the FCPA and I will be surprised if the U.K. Bribery Act develops outside of the judicial system as has generally been true with U.S. enforcement of the FCPA.

A Practical Resource For Managers and Executives

Aaron Murphy (Latham & Watkins – here) has published a new book – “The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act: A Practical Resource For Managers and Executives” (here).

In this Q&A exchange, Murphy describes his book and his motivations for writing it. He also answers a few questions about FCPA reform proposals and the U.K. Bribery Act.

*****

Having spent several years at a large law firm with an FCPA practice, I know how busy the practice can be. Where did you find the time to write such an extensive book?

I spend a lot of my life on airplanes and in hotel rooms.

This book is different from the treatises and manuals that are already out there. Why did you write this book, and in particular, this kind of book?

There are some good legal treatises and manuals. But they aren’t aimed at educating the managers and employees who can be on the receiving end of an FCPA investigation. My book is written for managers and others who are on-the-ground in foreign countries. I wanted to write an engaging book that changed the kinds of internal questions that get asked about expenses, agents, state-owned entities, and other issues.

The book grew out of the fact that I was having the same conversation with clients and their managers over and over again. It occurred to me that despite sitting through a couple of PowerPoint slides about the FCPA during a compliance training, the managers did not understand how and where bribery occurs.

I’d be interviewing the manger of a company’s foreign operations in a high risk country and have a stack of documents to go through with him. I’d ask him a series of questions about some fairly run-of-the-mill issues – why certain dinners occurred with some government officials, what the thousand dollars of “miscellaneous” expenses on a hotel bill were for, whether the manager ever saw any of the holiday gifts he approved a large budget for – and it would often become clear to me that the manager had no idea that I was asking him about possible bribes. It had simply never occurred to him that there could be FCPA risks associated with any of these kinds of expenses. And those kinds of blind spots existed with managers who supposedly had received FCPA training.

Numerous times people have told me that they remember the FCPA training they had, but that they never thought the Act applied to the kinds of expenses I’m asking them about.

I tried to keep this book tethered to real-world situations. Theoretical discussions and policy debates are interesting and important – and there is some of that in the book – but it doesn’t really help a manager spot concrete issues. It doesn’t tell a manager what to watch out for. And that was the aim of this book.

I think there is plenty to debate about anticorruption enforcement generally, but whether you agree with the DOJ or the SEC’s position on something doesn’t really matter a whole lot when you’re trying to answer a question on a live issue, in real time. Can we make this payment or not? Should we use this agent, despite these rumors? Can I take this guy from a state-owned company out for a round of golf and dinner? Those are real questions. Hard, fact-specific questions that often need to be answered immediately. My goal was to make sure that managers understand that those are the questions they need to ask. Those are the questions they need to get some help answering. Theoretical debates don’t help a manager who is faced with a situation in the real world.

Do you think business personnel are surprised by the breadth of the FCPA, at least as it is interpreted and enforced by the DOJ and SEC?

Absolutely. Everyone thinks bribery is about suitcases full of money. Even though managers get trained and are told it’s much broader, they either don’t hear it, don’t believe it, or just think “Yeah, but it couldn’t happen in my organization.” They walk out of the training and it’s business as usual. Senior executives back at headquarters think everything is fine because their people have all been shown some slides with FCPA language. But there’s often a fundamental disconnect between the training and life on the ground in a company’s foreign operations.

I kept thinking there had to be a better way to help companies train their people on the front end, so I would quit having those conversations on the back end, after violations have already occurred.

I set out to write a book that was non-technical. A book that was practical. Something that takes managers – and I use that term loosely, meaning anyone who is in charge of other people – through all of the areas where FCPA issues typically come up and show them how they come up. I wanted something that gave managers a guided tour of the kinds of things FCPA practitioners see everyday.

What do you think is behind the inadequacy of much FCPA training?

I think it’s mostly a function of resources. I’m really sympathetic to in-house compliance personnel who are tasked with FCPA training. Usually, FCPA is just one of several areas they’re responsible for, and their organization is spread out over ten, twenty, fifty, or a hundred countries. It just becomes impossible for them to get out there and directly train all of their company’s employees. And, with constant turnover, acquisitions, mergers, it’s a never-ending task. New people are always joining a large organization. And FCPA training is just one of the things they have to do.

So you see the FCPA getting a few slides in a much larger PowerPoint that tries to cover insider trading, antitrust, OFAC and money laundering issues, regulatory issues, and all kinds of other stuff. Employees walk out with a glazed look on their faces and they haven’t really learned anything.

I wanted to help solve that problem. Here is something that companies can make required reading for all finance people and every manager over a certain level. Put it in their new hire package. Make them sign a certification that they’ve read and understood it, and put that in their personnel file. Then companies at least have documentation that the people charged with overseeing their business really were trained in detail. It hopefully gives companies some protection down the road if there is a problem, and, most importantly, it will educate employees about how the FCPA works and how FCPA compliance issues come up in the real world. If it does that, the book isn’t just insurance against future violations, it will actually result in compliance.

Plus, making the book required reading sets expectations and sends a serious message to management that this is an issue the company cares about.

In terms of FCPA compliance, one often hears about “tone at the top.” Is this just a buzzword or do you think it has real-world application?

I think it’s extremely important with an issue like bribery. Small shifts in attitudes can have huge consequences. I think just making off-hand jokes along the lines of “we all know how it is in Country X” sends a powerful message that low-level regulatory bribery is okay. Meaning, as long as we’re not talking about suitcases full of cash, it’s no big deal, no one is really going to get upset about it.

But regulatory issues can be huge. Just look at the recent Panalpina settlements.

At the end of the day, my mantra is this: Companies don’t pay bribes. People do. The best thing a company can do is to train its people by showing them how real world situations affect them. That’s what this book is about.

There is a lot of talk these days about FCPA reform. What are your thoughts on this issue?

Well, it makes for good controversy, but I always say that no politician ever got elected by saying it was time to get soft on crime. Certainly not a pro-corruption platform. So I think there’s very little chance of any overhaul that is going to make compliance easier on companies. That said, there may well be some chance for clarifying legislation.

Everyone out there lobbying for reform needs to be very careful what they wish for. Corruption is a topic that makes for good headlines and politicians love good headlines. It’s not hard to imagine a politician who doesn’t care too much about the FCPA trying to do away with facilitating payments, or press for more severe jail time, just to make a name for themselves. So as I see it, there’s a risk that any reform process could get hijacked, and we could end up with a statute that looks more like the UK Bribery Act. Although that might not be a bad thing if US companies could get a very solid and clear adequate procedures defense out of it.

Although, as you know because you were there at the recent Senate hearings, the DOJ’s current position is that it’s not interested in what it views as a compliance amnesty program. I suspect we’re stuck where we are for the time being. Although the forthcoming enforcement of the UK Bribery Act will keep things interesting.

If the DOJ is enforcing, in many cases, a statute in a way that Congress did not intend, why is this a political issue? Can any legislative reform proposal address this structural issue?

These things are always ultimately political. There’s no question that DOJ has an aggressive interpretation of certain FCPA provisions. Whether DOJ is transcending Congressional intent or not is no different from any other problem of interpretation. The difference in the FCPA context, as you have raised in your work, is that there is only limited judicial oversight of those interpretations because so few of these matters ever get litigated. And while that point is well-taken, many courts might well interpret the FCPA the same way DOJ interprets it. So my view is that whether we take issue with DOJ’s interpretation or court interpretations, the solution always becomes a political issue. Congress is aware of the DOJ’s view and can take steps to modify or clarify the statute if it disagrees with that view, the same as it can and often does when it dislikes court interpretations of any other statute.

Now, whether any Congressional solution would result in anything better than what we currently have is anyone’s guess.

Do you think the UK Bribery Act is going to be a real game-changer? A lot of people are talking about the lack of a facilitating payments exception. Do you think the landscape is going to be very different once the Bribery Act comes into force?

I actually think that the biggest effect that it’s going to have is that it’s going to force large British companies that may not have focused on corruption issues before to finally have to focus on them. But for most multinationals – many of whom will be subject to both the FCPA and the Bribery Act – I think the landscape stays largely unchanged. The biggest deal for them is going to be getting an adequate compliance program in place.

The underlying ways in which bribery occurs inside of companies will remain the same. The controls and procedures that can address bribery will also remain the same. At the margins, there are some obvious differences between the FCPA and the Bribery Act, but the conduct they cover is mostly identical.

A lot of people have been talking about the different treatment of facilitating payments. I don’t think that’s nearly as big of a deal as the other main difference, which is the criminalization of private conduct. The UK statute explicitly looks to whether a relevant function of an employee’s job has been performed improperly as a result of a payment or gift. Who defines what the proper performance of an employee’s job is? The employer, of course.

So has the UK Bribery Act essentially transformed employee manuals and company policy manuals into de facto statutes? Improperly perform your job in violation of your company policy and you’ve committed a crime under British law? I see a potentially serious problem there. After all, many companies have policies that prohibit their employees from giving or receiving gifts from people with whom they do business. Do they need to think more carefully about what they put in those policies in light of what the UK Bribery Act does with them?

Examining Enforcement of the FCPA

It was a honor to participate in yesterday’s hearing “Examining Enforcement of the FCPA” before the Senate Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs chaired by Senator Specter.

See here for C-SPAN coverage of the hearing.

See here for the prepared statement of Greg Andres (DOJ).

See here for my prepared statement.

See here for Andrew Weissmann’s prepared statement.

See here for Michael Volkov’s prepared statement.

Guiding Words

FCPA reform proposals circulating on what seems like a weekly basis.

Claims that the FCPA is bad for business.

Questions about how the FCPA enforcement agencies resolve matters.

In some circles these valid and legitimate questions or calls for reform are being met with claims that some want to weaken the FCPA and pave the way for corporations to go on a bribery binge.

Within days of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce sponsored piece (here – I will do a separate post on this in the near future) various commentators assailed mere discussion of reforming the FCPA as being pro-bribery.

For instance, Keith Olbermann began his October 27th MSNBC Countdown program as follows: “The plot to buy America. U.S. Chamber of Commerce job one: It wants the Congress it thinks it‘s going to buy to roll back enforcement of the anti-bribery Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.” Later in the program Olbermann noted: “The Chamber of Commerce—the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the biggest secret right-wing ad buyer, today released a report calling for weakening the FCPA. What the hell‘s that? The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which punishes American businesses for bribing officials overseas. Quote, “Unfortunately for the business community, an active FCPA enforcement environment appears likely to continue.” The chamber wants to make it easier for American companies to do business with corrupt officials, even, quote, “in countries where many companies are state owned, e.g., China.” Later in the program, Olbermann stated as follows: “I mentioned the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and this call on the new Congress to make it easier for rich Americans to bribe officials overseas and then get away with it if they‘re caught—which seems to sort of represent part of the American spirit, in a bizarre way.”

It is unfortunate that any discussion of examining and perhaps reforming the FCPA, or more importantly FCPA enforcement, is met in some circles with naive and reactionary claims of being “pro-bribery.”

In many ways, we are back to the 1980’s.

In 1980, Congress set about amending the FCPA. The FCPA, at that time: contained a broad “reason to know” knowledge standard as to indirect payments to “foreign officials;” no affirmative defenses; and no express facilitating payment exception.

It took Congress eight years to wrestle with the issues and the FCPA was finally amended in 1988.

In 1981, Senator Alfonse D’Amato opened Senate hearings on a bill to amend the FCPA. He stated that the bill “provides us with a good opportunity to assess the effect of recently enacted legislation and its implementation.” Senator D’Amato noted as follows. “The discussion which takes place during these hearings is not a debate between those who oppose bribery and those who support it. I see the major issue before us to be whether the law, including both its antibribery and accounting provisions, is the best approach, or whether it has created unnecessary costs and burdens out of proportion to the purposes for which it was enacted, and whether it serves our national interests.”

In an opening statement during Senate hearings, Senator John Chafee, a leader in the FCPA reform movement stated: “We’ve learned a great deal about the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in the last three years. We’ve learned that the best of intentions can go awry and create confusion and great cost to our economy.”

During the hearing, Senator Chafee further stated as follows: “Critics have attempted to characterize my bill as a signal to U.S. companies that they can return to the ‘bad old days’ of foreign bribery. That is not my intent, nor should it be the signal. I abhor bribery, whether domestic or foreign, but I also dislike confusion. Thus, my bill will eliminate uncertainty while maintaining strong prohibitions against bribery. The ambiguities and murkiness of the bill’s language have caused U.S. companies to withdraw from legitimate markets and contributed to the decline in the U.S. share of world exports. We need to end this confusion.”

During Senate hearings, Senator D’Amato noted as follows: “The thing that bothers me about this kind of a debate is that we tend to posture this thing as if somebody were for or against bribery. I think it is important to state for the record that bribery of any foreign official by any U.S. concern is bad for our national health, and it is something that we have got to stop, we have got to deal with, and we have, I think, gone a long way with the FCPA. What we proposed to do is to simplify that law and to make it workable so that we can set that standard in concrete from now on and not have the abuses that occurred prior to 1977, but not by stopping exports, but by stopping bribery. That is the objective.”

Senator D’Amato further stated as follows. “I think it is very important that in the committee’s work that we not create the attitude that this committee is making it easier for businesses to engage in illegal activity. That has, in fact, been suggested, not only by our distinguished colleague from Wisconsin [Senator Proxmire, a Senate leader in enactment of the FCPA who generally opposed the reform efforts], but also by certain journalists, who are questioning the need for proposed changes. I think that rather than hampering prosecution of illegal acts, [the reform bill at issue] would clarify and make possible just prosecution of those who engage in bribery. It would eliminate any ‘gray area’ by clearly spelling out the limits of the law.”

During Senate hearings, Senator John Heinz stated as follows. “… There are many people that are extremist, and there are others who get carried away by their enthusiasm who are going to argue that even if we change the provisions in the present act, that are unnecessary or ambiguous or uncertain, that even though we are not doing so, we are legalizing bribery. That strikes me as the worst kind of demagoguery, because it implies that everything that Congress has done in the past is perfect. And does anybody believe that?”

During the Senate hearing, William Satterwhite (Senior VP, General Counsel and Chief Legal Officer of Enserch Corp.) testified. He began his testimony as follows: “Before I begin my comments, I would like to state for the record, Enserch Corp. is not in favor of bribery. It is a sad commentary on the political atmosphere surrounding this legislation that those who support the bill feel compelled to make clear that they do not condone corruption.”

The interesting thing about these representative comments is that they occurred during an era when the FCPA was, for all practical purposes, not even enforced!

As noted in yesterday’s post, we are, in the words of Assistant Attorney General Breuer, in a new era of FCPA enforcement.

Part of this new era should be a renewed effort to examine the FCPA and more importantly FCPA enforcement.

The above comments from the 1980’s should serve as useful guiding words.

The FCPA and Potential Reforms

Last week’s U.S. Chamber of Commerce Annual Legal Reform Summit included a panel titled: “Navigating a Global Marketplace — Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and Potential Reforms.”

Amanda Ulrich (here), an associate in the New York office of Debevoise & Plimpton, LLP, provides a summary in this guest post.

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The recent expansion of FCPA enforcement and new FCPA-related bounty provisions in the Dodd Frank Act had audience members thoroughly engaged as an impressive assembly of speakers from the public and private sectors gathered to discuss these issues at the United States Chamber of Commerce’s Annual Legal Reform Summit last week.

Michael B. Mukasey, former Attorney General of the United States and current partner at Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, introduced and moderated a panel that also included John S. Darden, former Assistant Chief of the Fraud Section of the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) and currently a partner at Patton Boggs, LLP, Cheryl J. Scarboro, Chief of the FCPA Unit within the Division of Enforcement at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”), George J. Terwilliger III, former DOJ Deputy Attorney General and currently global head of the White Collar Practice Group of White & Case LLP, and Andrew Weissmann, former Chief of the Criminal Division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York and Co-Chair of the White Collar Practice at Jenner & Block LLP. The audience was treated to a vigorous debate on FCPA enforcement between representatives of the private sector who called for more clarity and predictability in enforcement, and individuals arguing the federal government’s perspective, looking to level the playing field for business through increased enforcement and increased cooperation among foreign and domestic agencies.

The discussion opened with remarks by Judge Mukasey, who commented that the rapid expansion of FCPA enforcement in the United States since 2004 has brought increased anxiety to companies, which are concerned about competitive disadvantages in the global business environment. Judge Mukasey suggested, however, that this anxiety should be tempered by the fact that 34 countries have signed on to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development’s Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Transactions. He noted further that although the United States remains in the forefront of enforcement, with the UK’s Anti-Bribery Bill coming into effect next year, there is a global trend towards more vigorous enforcement of anti-bribery laws.

Expanding Views on Jurisdiction have led to Global Enforcement by the DOJ

Mr. Darden presented the DOJ’s perspective on the expansion of FCPA enforcement, and explained that, since 2005, the DOJ’s Fraud Section has concluded more than 40 criminal FCPA matters and collected over $2 billion in criminal fines. He noted that the six largest FCPA investigations have been resolved in the past 22 months, that more than 75 individuals have been criminally charged with FCPA violations since 2005, and that more than 45 of those individual prosecutions have taken place in the past two years. These statistics dwarf those of the first thirty years of FCPA enforcement.

According to Mr. Darden, the recent surge in enforcement is the result of an expanding view of jurisdiction by the government, as applied to both corporations and individuals. For corporations, the FCPA applies not only to U.S. corporations and foreign companies whose shares are traded on U.S. exchanges and regulated by the SEC, but also individuals and companies that take any action in the United States in furtherance of a bribery scheme. As a result of a more expansive jurisdictional reach, Mr. Darden argued that the idea that U.S. companies are disadvantaged by stringent FCPA provisions has been turned on its head; he noted that five of the six largest FCPA actions have involved foreign corporations.

Mr. Darden pointed out that the expanding fight against bribery has extended beyond the scope of the FCPA itself. Although the FCPA punishes only the payor (as opposed to the Federal Anti-Kick Back Law, which punishes both the payor and the payee), at least two FCPA-related cases in the last few months have involved charges against foreign officials under other statutes.

SEC stepping up enforcement, increasing cooperation with other agencies, but approaching remedies with more flexibility

Ms. Scarboro described the FCPA program at the SEC, where, she noted, FCPA enforcement has been a high priority for quite some time. In 2010 alone, with several cases still ongoing, the SEC has settled with 11 corporations and 7 individuals, recovering over $400 million in disgorgement and civil penalties.

Ms. Scarboro reminded the audience that the SEC has reorganized its efforts and now has a dedicated unit focused exclusively on combating foreign bribery. She said that the division has become smarter, more proactive, and more internally coordinated; the unit has also increased the SEC’s coordination with the DOJ. In addition, there have been more coordinated efforts with investigative authorities in other countries, including in connection with the Siemens investigation and this year’s Innospec case. Ms. Scarboro said that the SEC and the DOJ have been at the forefront of enforcing this country’s OECD obligations and have begun encouraging and engaging international counterparts in the pursuit of anti-bribery enforcement.

Ms. Scarboro emphasized that the SEC will continue to pursue disgorgement of profits in its FCPA investigations, and also explained that the SEC has begun to focus on industry-wide corruption, taking individual instances of bribery and investigating whether patterns emerge within a given industry. The SEC has stepped up its pursuit of individuals, she said, viewing enforcement against individuals as a better deterrent than enforcing sanctions against a company.

The SEC has pursued a more flexible approach to remedies in its investigations. To encourage cooperation by businesses under scrutiny by federal agencies, Ms. Scarboro explained, the SEC has begun pursuing deferred prosecution and cooperation agreements with companies that voluntarily report and cooperate with the SEC. She said that the SEC fashions relief on a case-by-case basis, given that the facts and circumstances of each case, as well as the level of cooperation, differ significantly, and the SEC considers a broad range of factors in determining the relief in each case.

Calls for Reform from the Private Sector

Andrew Weissman has written critically about the statute in the past, and recently released an article, sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for Legal Reform, calling for specific reforms to the statute. Mr. Weissmann expressed concern that, because the vast majority of FCPA-related cases against corporations, like those involving allegations of other criminal law violations, are settled without trial, the DOJ and the SEC serve as the judge and jury; thus, there is no meaningful way to question their interpretation of the FCPA’s grey areas.

Mr. Weissman’s second major stated concern was that, due to the lack of clarity in enforcement, companies are less likely to pursue business opportunities in countries seen as highly corrupt, such as China, where the risks of running afoul of the FCPA are high. The potential for FCPA enforcement hangs over such business ventures, and Mr. Weissman characterized this as a tax on companies looking to do business abroad.

Mr. Weissman encouraged the United States to adopt a provision similar to one contained in the UK’s Anti-Bribery Bill, which, when it becomes effective in April 2011, will provide a defense to enforcement actions for companies that devote “adequate” resources to creating and enforcing anti-bribery procedures. Mr. Weissman suggested that the British statute recognizes the limitations of what a corporation can do about the actions of its individual employees.

Mr. Weissman also called for more clarity with respect to what constitutes an “instrumentality” of a foreign government, light-heartedly suggesting that almost everyone in China is an instrumentality of the government. Mr. Weissman fears that, without more clarity, a business would not know whether it could take someone employed at General Motors out to dinner (as the U.S. government is now a shareholder). Similar arguments might apply to hospitality provided to an employee of Bloomberg (as New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg owns 85% of that company), or a Professor at Columbia (a school that receives public grants).

Judge Mukasey noted that the United States has a facilitation payment exception that the UK statute does not have, but Mr. Weissman described the facilitation payment exception as very narrow, and limited to grease payments that expedite inevitable occurrences. Judge Mukasey characterized this exception as applying to payments that help a company to “move up the list” toward an approval it would obtain in any event as opposed to helping a company “get on the list.” Mr. Weissman also noted that there is no de-minimis exception in the FCPA, putting companies at risk of FCPA violations even for very minor favors or transactions.

Although the new UK statute goes beyond the FCPA in some ways – including its extension to commercial bribery – Mr. Weissmann believes that the availability of the “adequate procedures” defense makes that statute more reasonable than the FCPA.

The intent standard applied in FCPA enforcement actions also concerns Mr. Weissman. For individual prosecutions under the FCPA, he explained, the intent standard is “willfulness,” which is considerably more stringent than the “knowing” standard applied to corporations. The “knowing” standard, Mr. Weissman argued, makes doing business in certain countries very risky, as the act in furtherance of the bribery needs to be only an intentional act, that is, not one that is a mistake.

Anomalies Resulting from Increased Enforcement

Mr. Terwilliger began his discussion of anomalies in increased enforcement by noting that U.S. companies are devoted to free market principles, and that corrupt markets are not free – a principle sufficient to justify anti-bribery enforcement but not necessarily sufficient to justify uneven enforcement.

Mr. Terwilliger outlined problems with what he described as the great leverage held by the DOJ and the SEC in FCPA enforcement: few trials (almost no trials involving corporate defendants) and no body of jurisprudence governing the field, which results in no real opportunity for corporations to contest the government’s decision to pursue an FCPA enforcement action.

Although prosecutors stress the benefits of self-reporting and internal investigations, Mr. Terwilliger expressed an ongoing concern of many corporations that plaintiff’s lawyers representing shareholders and sometimes competitors have begun to latch on to those self-reports in pursuing litigation against companies who report bribery activities.

Similarly, Mr. Terwilliger explained that, in his view, the new bounty provisions of the Dodd Frank Act, which provide for recoveries of up to 30% of settlements with the SEC in excess of $1 million, misalign incentives that are crucial for successful self-reporting. The best source for self policing bribery issues are a company’s employees, and as such, companies are now required to rely on people who have financial incentive to go directly to the government to report these issues. Mr. Terwilliger said he viewed this as a major concern given that a company’s willingness to self-report is often a consideration in the remedies pursued by government agencies.

Incentives for Self-Reporting

Mr. Terwilliger argued that the incentives for companies faced with potential FCPA violations are also skewed in the self-reporting context. The better the procedures to detect bribery, the more likely the company will be to uncover bribery and face the decision of whether or not to self-report. Rather than being rewarded for voluntarily rooting out bribery problems, companies are often faced with costly punishment, an anomaly that weighs heavily in the board room when determining whether to self-report. Mr. Terwilliger called for the creation of a presumption of non-criminal disposition and reduced penalties for companies voluntarily reporting FCPA violations. Judge Mukasey added that such an approach could help lawyers in advising their clients on FCPA compliance policies.

Mr. Darden responded that the DOJ would see this as an unnecessary step, because the program is working well without such a “carrot.” Characterizing Mr. Terwilliger’s suggestion as amnesty and comparing it to the anti-trust division’s amnesty program, Mr. Darden said that the DOJ does not need companies to come forward and voluntarily report, whereas the anti-trust division’s amnesty policy is justified by the fact that it is impossible to investigate a cartel without one member of that cartel coming forward. Mr. Darden said that additional carrots are not needed in anti-bribery enforcement, as companies have shown that there is enough incentive to come forward.

Mr. Terwilliger argued that, in his experience with certain long-running voluntary FCPA investigations, it would have been impossible for the DOJ to gather the same evidence as was gathered in a voluntary investigation, and said that the anti-trust program is a very good analogy to the DOJ’s program. He also noted that he was not discussing amnesty, but rather a reduced penalty that would give the company better incentives to self-report.

Mr. Darden and Ms. Scarboro both stated that only about one-third of FCPA investigations are voluntarily reported to the DOJ or the SEC, but the proportion of cases that are resolved with cooperation of the companies being investigated is much higher than one-third, and in those cases that cooperation factors significantly into the remedies the agencies seek.

Ms. Scarboro noted that the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, which the DOJ uses (and courts apply) in assessing fines for FCPA violations, provide for downward departures, and the availability of non-prosecution agreements gives the DOJ added flexibility. While other enforcement models, like the UK’s, provide for the negotiation of remedies prior to the investigation, the U.S. model gives federal agencies discretion to account for a variety of facts and circumstances after an investigation to assess the proper penalty. The SEC, for example, in determining whether to bring an action against a corporation, considers the corporation’s cooperation in the investigation and its remediation efforts in determining what remedies the SEC will seek, if any.

Ms. Scarboro noted that, in many cases, the level of cooperation is sufficient that the SEC will not initiate a full investigation. Those cases are generally not publicized in order to avoid unwanted publicity or embarrassment for the cooperating companies. Mr. Darden echoed that sentiment, and said that, while some companies affirmatively publicize their avoidance of FCPA charges, in many cases when the DOJ determines not to pursue charges, companies do not want the publicity of the DOJ’s decision not to prosecute or investigate, because that publicity could give rise to the need to issue a new 8-K.

During a Q&A period, Mr. Darden stated that the Federal Prosecution Principles, which were supposed to add clarity, have in some cases raised more questions than answers. In an attempt to give more clarity, especially in the area of compliance, the Prosecution Principles fail to give guidance about the type of cases the DOJ seeks to pursue. For example, the DOJ cares less about a company with some far flung employee who did not “get the memo” on the company’s anti-bribery compliance policy, than it does about a higher level corporate employee generating phony documents. Mr. Darden said that the failure to distinguish these schemes is a weakness in the Federal Prosecution Principles and is driving a need for more clarity.

Conclusion

Although the private sector has called for reform, the federal agencies responsible for FCPA enforcement have signaled no reversal of the trend of increased enforcement of the FCPA against companies and individuals at home and abroad.

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