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The 1981 GAO Report

The year was 1981.

The FCPA was a mere infant – approximately 3.5 years old. Those living with it were concerned with its ambiguities and complying with it.

In March 1981, the “investigative arm” of Congress, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report, “Impact of Foreign Corrupt Practices Act on U.S. Business.” (See here and here).

The report was based, in part, on a GAO questionnaire survey of 250 companies randomly selected from the Fortune 1000 list of the largest industrial firms in the U.S.

The questionnaire addressed the FCPA’s relationship to the following four areas: (1) corporate policies and/or codes of conduct, (2) corporate systems of accountability, (3) cost burdens, if any, incurred by management to comply with the act, and (4) corporate opinions regarding the (i) acts effect on U.S. corporate foreign sales, (ii) the clarity of the act’s provisions, (iii) the potential effectiveness of an international antibribery agreement, and (iv) perceived effectiveness of the act in reducing questionable payments.

The GAO also discussed the FCPA’s impact with leading public accounting firms, professional accounting and auditing organizations, professional legal associations and business and public interest groups. In addition, the GAO discussed enforcement of the FCPA with DOJ and SEC officials and examined documentation relating to enforcement activities. Also interviewed by the GAO were officials from the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, Department of Commerce, Treasury, and State.

The GAO report covers all the topics listed above. However, this post relates to the clarity of the FCPA’s provisions.

Chapter 4 of the Report is titled “Issues Surrounding the Act’s Antibribery Provisions.”

The chapter begins by noting that there is “confusion over what constitutes compliance with the act’s antibribery provisions.”

The report notes that “corporate and governmental officials have criticized the anti-bribery provisions as being ambiguous about what constitutes compliance.”

The ambiguities include confusion or uncertainty about a host of issues, including the “definition of ‘foreign official.””

At the time, the term “foreign official” specifically excluded any employee whose duties are essentially ministerial or clerical.” This exclusion was eliminated in the 1988 amendments to the FCPA. Otherwise the definition of “foreign official” the GAO report found to be ambiguous is same today – “any officer or employee of a foreign government or one of its departments, agencies or instrumentalties.” [Note -the public international organization prong was added in 1998].

The report notes:

“This definition has been criticized as unclear. Lawyers we contacted questioned whether employees of public corporations, such as national airlines or nationalized companies, are considered foreign officials. Similar questions have surfaced in countries – particularly developing countries – where there are small and frequently closely related groups, including both business and government relationships as well as families. Individuals within these groups frequently move between the private and public sectors, often without a clear distinction.”

The report then discusses the DOJ’s guidance program and begins by noting that “President Carter expressed concern over the potential effect of the act’s alleged ambiguities in September 1978 – only 9 months after its passage.” “To reduce this uncertainty, he directed the Department of Justice to give the business community guidance concerning its enforcement intentions under the act.”

The report notes that in March 1980, the DOJ implemented its “long awaited guidance program” but that the “program has yet to effectively address the ambiguities, and it is doubtful it will.”

In concluding Chapter 4 of the Report, the GAO notes:

“the act is an expression of congressional policy, and rigorously defined and completely unambiguous requirements may be impractical and could provide a roadmap for corporate bribery. On other hand, companies, whether registered with SEC or domestic concerns under Department of Justice jurisdiction, should be subject to clear and consistent demands by the Government agencies responsible for enforcing the act.”

An option the GAO recommends is that “the Justice Department, SEC, and other interested agencies […] offer legislative proposals which would amend the act to more explicitly define the antibribery provisions and [such an amendment] could cover concepts such as the definition of “foreign official.”

GAO notes “because of the importance of the act and the questions and concerns about the antibribery provisions, close congressional oversight is needed.”

Not surprsingly, both DOJ and SEC disagreed with the GAO’s findings. In its responses, the agencies attack, not the substance of the findings, but the GAO’s methodology.

The GAO report states:

“Both SEC and Justice disagree with our recommendations that they develop alternative ways to address the antibribery provisions. They contend that our statistics suggest that ambiguities in the act are not a sigifnicaint problem.”

In 1981, the investigative arm of Congress found, based on extensive study, that the FCPA’s “foreign official” element was ambiguous.

Here we are some thirty years later having the same discussion.

[Here is another interesting nugget. In June 1981, John Fedders was named to be the SEC’s Director of Enforcement, replacing Stanley Sporkin who left to become general counsel at the CIA. During a news conference, Fedders “pledged to enforce, with discretion, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which he criticized as being ambiguous.” See Owen Ullmann, “Corporate Lawyer Gets SEC Enforcement Post,” Associated Press, June 29, 1981.]

Potpourri

Back in active blogging “mode” here on the campus of the Sweet 16 bound Butler Bulldogs after an enjoyable few days in Washington D.C. where I participated in Georgetown Law’s Combating Global Corruption Conference. It was nice to see some familiar faces, connect faces to some names I have met through this blog, and to meet new people. The title of my presentation and upcoming paper in the Georgetown Journal of International Law is “The Facade of FCPA Enforcement” and I will post in the coming days a short abstract of the paper as well as my presentation slides.

In the meantime, some items of note.

Africa Sting

Christopher Matthews at Main Justice continues to follow the Africa Sting case and has this report of yesterday’s hearing.

Shearman & Sterling Update

Shearman & Sterling pioneered the concept of keeping track of FCPA enforcement actions in an “FCPA Digest” (see here) and it supplements the digest with occasional “Recent Trends and Patters” update. For the latest, see here from Philip Urofsky & Danforth Newcomb.

FCPA Compliance in Phnom Penh

Looking for additional evidence that the FCPA is indeed a hot topic. How about this article from Phnom Penh Post of Cambodia. As noted in the article, a recent FCPA seminar, hosted in part by the American Chamber of Commerce, attracted more than 100 local business leaders.

I wonder if anywhere in the discussion of Siemens and/or BAE the point was made that neither of these entities were charged with FCPA antibribery violations?

Further, I remain perplexed by the curious (and frequent) tendency of FCPA conferences including representatives from FCPA violators – a regional compliance officer for Siemens Singapore presented at the seminar.

A Post-Holiday Stocking Stuffer

January can be a dismal month. The joy of the holiday season has diminished, our waistlines have expanded, it’s cold, and for many readers of this blog – it is time to start cranking out the billable hours again upon realizing, at this point, you are “annualized” at 600 hours.

But for FCPA watchers, it’s a different story as the holiday season has traditionally extended into the first week of January – the week in which Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher releases its Year-End FCPA Report (see here).

Part year in review, part marketing document, the report is a useful resource for those interested in following FCPA developments.

A couple of thoughts.

The number of DOJ FCPA enforcement actions noted in the report (26) is significantly inflated by separately including corporate prosecutions and related individual prosecutions. While this number is a good attention grabber, it is subject to debate whether 2009 was a record-enforcement year as corporate FCPA prosecutions by the DOJ slowed to a trickle in the second half of 2009. Since July 2009, there have been only two substantive DOJ FCPA enforcement actions against corporations (Control Components and UTStarcom). Whether the widely reported 100+ cases in the “pipeline” are taking longer to resolve, being resolved informally with no public disclosure, or about to burst onto the scene in 2010 is an open question and remains to be seen.

I’ve noted before that FCPA enforcement is a “unique creature.” I’ll say it again after reading this sentence in the report concerning the SEC’s charges against Bobby Benton (see here for a prior post) – “the fact that Benton did not settle the charges against him is remarkable in and of itself.”

Some Data to Chew On

It’s been a while (see here) since I passed along what seems like a constant stream of FCPA survey results.

This morning in my inbox were the results of the Dow Jones State of Anti-Corruption Compliance Survey which I pass along (here).

The survey included responses from 182 company executives worldwide and among the more interesting survey results is that “51% of companies delayed key business plans such as new business partnerships and entry into new or developing markets and another 14% abandoned them completely because of legal questions arising from unclear anti-corruption regulations.”

The managing director of Risk & Compliance at Dow Jones & Company noted that the “findings appear to indicate improvements should be made” including that “regulators must provide clearer guidance to help companies better understand and comply with current laws.”

Today is U.N. International Anti-Corruption Day.

In observance of this day, the U.S. government agencies which enforce the FCPA (the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission) should commit to providing those subject to the FCPA clear guidance, reasoned rationale and legal support for certain of their FCPA prosecution theories. As reflected by the Dow Jones survey results, such clarity and transparency is greatly needed.

FCPA … the “Law Version” of Baseball

October is a month for baseball – the playoffs are under way and the World Series is right around the corner. Baseball aficionados are found of their statistics, and with good reason, there are a ton of baseball statistics to digest.

Well, the FCPA is quickly becoming the “law version” of baseball when it comes to statistics. Every few weeks it seems (see here for a prior post) FCPA aficionados have new statistics to digest.

The latest FCPA statistics come courtesy of Fulbright & Jaworski’s 6th Annual Litigation Trends Survey (see here for download).

According to a survey of over 400 corporate counsel in the U.S. and the U.K.:

(1) “the percentage of companies that has engaged outside counsel in the past 12 months to assist with a corruption or bribery investigation (i.e., FCPA and U.K. equivalent) has nearly doubled …” (see p. 37) and;

(2) “the incidence of due diligence for bribery or corruption relating to mergers, acquisitions or other transactions in foreign countries has more than doubled …” (p. 38).

These statistics should come as no surprise to followers of this blog who well know that FCPA compliance is a hot topic given the current aggressive enforcement climate.

Yet, the Fulbright survey (much like the prior Deloitte survey – see here) also shows that very few companies address FCPA risks on a pro-active basis. For instance, even though Fulbright’s survey found that the incidence of FCPA/bribery due diligence in M&A transactions has doubled, the number of companies engaging in such due diligence remains below 20%.

As to the “big picture” issue of whether perceived levels of corruption in a foreign country result in a company doing less business in that country, the survey shows that “only about half as many respondents as last year say their companies, at some point in the past, have decided against doing business in a country due to the perceived degree of local corruption.” (see p. 38). The one exception appears to be in the manufacturing sector “where 39% have made that decision v. 27% last year.”

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