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Judge (Again) Significantly Rejects DOJ’s Recommendation In Sentencing Garth Peterson, Peterson Goes On Offense And Says The DOJ Is Lying About Morgan Stanley’s FCPA Compliance Procedures

While FCPA enforcement is largely devoid of judicial scrutiny, sentencing of individual FCPA defendants remains a judicial function and provides an opportunity for someone other than the DOJ to have input on some aspect of the DOJ’s positions when it comes to FCPA enforcement.

While there are a few examples of federal court judges harshly sentencing defendants consistent with DOJ sentencing recommendations (the majority of those sentences have been issued by Judge Jose Martinez in the S.D. of Florida), the clear trend is for judges to significantly reject the DOJ’s FCPA sentencing recommendations.  See here, here, here and here for previous posts among others.

Given this trend, it is not surprising that last week Judge Jack Weinsten (E.D.N.Y.) significantly rejected the DOJ’s sentencing recommendation of 51-60 months in sentencing Garth Peterson to 9 months in prison.  See here for the Reuters article.  See here for the previous post discussing the April 2012 DOJ and SEC enforcement action against Peterson.

Of note, in its sentencing memo (here), the DOJ accused Peterson of making several misrepresentations in his sentencing submission.  The DOJ stated as follows.  “Peterson’s efforts to mislead the Court concerning the genesis of his crime – a crime fundamentally based upon deceit – call into serious question his assertion that he understands the gravity of the crime he committed, that he is unlikly to engage in such deception in the future, and that he accepts responsibiity for his wrongful conduct.  Peterson should be sentenced within the advisory guidelines because he circumvented Morgan Stanley’s internal controls to bribe an official of the Chinese government – an action that has serious consequences for the United States and for American companies transacting business in China.”

The sentencing memos of both parties (see here for Peterson’s sentencing submission and here for his reply) also shed light on additional information relevant to Morgan Stanley’s so-called declination (see here for the prior post).  In its submission, the DOJ stated that Peterson “repeatedly and consistently lied to his Moran Stanley supervisors and c0-workers” concerning the conduct at issue and that  “each of Peterson’s [Morgan Stanley required FCPA certifications] was but another lie that lulled his employer in trusting Peterson.”  In his sentencing submission, Peterson stated as follows concerning the Chinese Official he had a relationship with prior to joining Morgan Stanely.  “The Chinese Official was a close friend of Peterson’s – in many ways a father figure to him – and Peterson helped him in order to repay the help that the Chinese Official had given him through his career.”  Peterson also asserts that his attempt to influence the “father figure” Chinese Official in the investment project giving rise to the enforcement action was an attempt to recoup an investment for this mother.

*****

On the eve of his sentence, Peterson sat for an exclusive interview on CNBC.  See here a video clip, here for the transcript.

In the interview, Peterson stated as follows concerning the investment at issue in the enforcement action.

“The government hasn’t released some important background about that. I made that investment before I joined Morgan Stanley. When I joined, I declared it to Morgan Stanley. Then, Morgan Stanley became familiar with that deal, and decided they wanted to buy in as well. So, I helped them to do that. Then, in– two– about a year and a half after that– essentially, just to make it very simple, Morgan Stanley forced me out of that deal. And I felt that was unfair, because it had been something I’d had before. Then, I brought them in, and then they were forcing me out. And so, about a year after that, I found a way to buy back in at the same price that I’d been forced out at. That’s still—a wrong action. When Morgan Stanley forced me out of the deal, I should’ve either quit, and thereby kept the investment, or I should’ve just accepted that they didn’t want me to be involved in the deal as long as the company was involved. But I don’t believe that that should be characterized as a, “web of deceit,” and whatever, to– you know, to take things from Morgan Stanley.”

The following exchange occurred between Scott Cohn (CNBC) and Peterson as to his decision to plead guilty.

COHN: So, why did you plead guilty to anything?

PETERSON: You know, it’s– I think, hopefully most people will never be in the position I had to be in. But when you’re an individual against the weight of the U.S. Government– and the U.S. Government, the Department of Justice, the SEC, perhaps it’s their way of doing things. They can have—a heavy stick, you know. That if you don’t cooperate with us, you’ll– you know, we’re going to do all these other things. And so, I just cooperated. You know, everybody’s different. Some people are fighters. I guess I’m not.

COHN: But, I mean, you– you’re giving away a lot. You’re– potentially giving away your freedom for a number of years?

PETERSON: In some sense, they took that away a long time ago in reality. Because once I started to cooperate– when they wanted to speak to me, I had to go speak to them. They were– literally, the SEC was harassing my family for years. But– at the end of the day, like I said, I agreed to cooperate, and so, I took that path.

In the interview Peterson criticized Morgan Stanley’s FCPA procedures and said the DOJ is lying to the public.

COHN: Do you– do you– do you feel like Morgan Stanley threw you overboard?

PETERSON: Yeah. Look, I did things wrong. I deserved to get fired. I never bribed anybody, so it’s still a mystery, a little bit why– you know, this whole case is– has been focused on that. Because as I’ve said, I know what I did. These are the things I did wrong.  Morgan Stanley got off scot-free. And I think, you know, I have no– you know, desire for them to be harmed in any way, or you know. So– it’s not that. But what I feel bad about is– the government lying to the– to the public. And– saying that– they had this wonderful compliance– program, when in fact the government knows that it wasn’t getting into people’s heads. Which is what really matters.

Morgan Stanley’s So-Called “Declination”

This past spring, FCPA Inc. was abuzz when, in the context of the Garth Peterson individual enforcement action (see here for the prior post), the DOJ publicly stated it declined to prosecute Peterson’s employer, Morgan Stanley.

Specifically, in its release (here), the DOJ stated as follows.  “After considering all the available facts and circumstances, including that Morgan Stanley constructed and maintained a system of internal controls, which provided reasonable assurances that its employees were not bribing government officials, the Department of Justice declined to bring any enforcement action against Morgan Stanley related to Peterson’s conduct.  The company voluntarily disclosed this matter and has cooperated throughout the department’s investigation.”

In this update, Arent Fox noted that the development “shows the government is ready to give a corporation credit for ‘adequate procedures’ in evaluating any potential FCPA violation.”  The authors concluded that “only time will tell whether  [the DOJ’s actions] reflect the government’s adoption of a de facto ‘adequate procedures’ defense to FCPA violations.”

In this client memo, Willkie Farr stated as follows.  “While the government charged the former managing director with FCPA violations, the government notably declined to charge the firm, Morgan Stanley, with any wrongdoing due in large part to the company’s established system of internal controls and its continued efforts to enforce its anticorruption policies among company employees, including the individual who was charged in the government’s civil and criminal cases.”

Let’s pause for a moment and consider what the term declination means in the FCPA context. 

In talking to others, I know that there is a range of opinions on this issue, but here is my definition of declination –  an instance in which the DOJ has concluded it can prove beyond a reasonable doubt all the necessary elements of a cause of action, yet decides not to pursue the action.

With this definition in mind, was the DOJ’s decision not to prosecute Morgan Stanley based on Peterson’s conduct truly a declination?

Let’s start by analyzing certain relevant allegations made by the DOJ in the Peterson information (here) which involved a real estate investment scheme with Chinese Official 1. 

According to the information, “Peterson and Chinese Official 1 had a close personal relationship before Peterson joined Morgan Stanley.”

According to the information, a shell company (Asiasphere Holdings Limited) used to facilitate the scheme was owned 47% by Chinese Official 1 and 53% by Peterson and a Canadian Attorney.

According to the information, “without the knowledge or consent of his superiors at Morgan Stanley, Peterson sought to compensate Chinese Official 1”

According to the information, “Peterson concealed Chinese Official l’s personal investment [in certain properties] from Morgan Stanley.”

According to the information, “Peterson used Morgan Stanley’s past, extensive due diligence [as to certain of the investment properties] to benefit his own interests and to act contrary to Morgan Stanley’s interests.”

Consistent with these allegations, in the DOJ’s release Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer stated as follows.  “Mr. Peterson admitted … that he actively sought to evade Morgan Stanley’s internal controls in an effort to enrich himself and a Chinese government official.”

Based on the above, was there even a basis to hold Morgan Stanley criminally accountable even under the lenient respondeat superior standards?

Like with most things in the corporate FCPA enforcement context, we will never know.  However, if the answer is no, then the DOJ’s decision not to charge Morgan Stanley was not a declination, it was what the law commanded and it is a sorry state of affairs indeed to praise the DOJ for concluding what the law commands.

In this article, Steptoe & Johnson rightly stated as follows.  “… [T]he element of personal benefit derived by Peterson from his conduct is likely significant. […] Such benefits call into question whether Peterson was really acting for the benefit of his employer, a key requirement for corporate vicarious liability. Moreover, it seems clear that the government believes Morgan Stanley was ultimately duped by its employee and entered into transactions in good faith, without knowledge of the personal benefits being derived, despite their controls.”

The timing of the DOJ’s first-ever publicly stated so-called declination is also noteworthy.  As Larry Boyd (Executive Vice President, Secretary & General Counsel, Ingram Micro, Inc.) recently stated at this Chief Legal Officer Leadership forum – “If you’re of a cynical frame of mind like I am, though, I will tell you that I suspect that this announcement by the Justice Department had as much to do with the effort that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has been mounting over the last 18 months to try to get Congress to amend the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act as it does with Morgan Stanley’s good conduct.”

Likewise, Steptoe & Johnson (in the article linked above) identified the same issue as follows.  “[D]eclination was [possibly] motivated by the enforcement agencies’ desire to respond to entreaties from companies and business groups to demonstrate the value of compliance efforts. The Peterson case comes as the DOJ and SEC are drafting long-awaited public guidance on the statute, in the wake of concerns that the implementing regulations for the Dodd-Frank whistleblower provisions gave short shift to corporate compliance efforts.”

Too Much Guanxi

“In the end, Garth Peterson, a rising star at Morgan Stanley in China, was undone by his pursuit of “guanxi.”  So begins this 2009 Reuters article that details the rise and fall of Peterson, fired by Morgan Stanley in 2008, “amid suspicions” that he had violated the FCPA.  According to the article, Morgan Stanley, voluntarily reported the case to U.S. authorities after a nine month internal investigation.

Yesterday the DOJ and SEC announced a joint enforcement against Peterson.

DOJ

In this release, the DOJ announced that Peterson, a former managing director for Morgan Stanley’s real estate business in China, pleaded guilty to a one count criminal information (unavailable at this point) for “conspiring to evade internal accounting controls that Morgan Stanley was required to maintain under the FCPA.”

The release states as follows.

“According to court documents, Morgan Stanley maintained a system of internal controls meant to ensure accountability for its assets and to prevent employees from offering, promising or paying anything of value to foreign government officials.  Morgan Stanley’s internal policies, which were updated regularly to reflect regulatory developments and specific risks, prohibited bribery and addressed corruption risks associated with the giving of gifts, business entertainment, travel, lodging, meals, charitable contributions and employment.  Morgan Stanley frequently trained its employees on its internal policies, the FCPA and other anti-corruption laws.  Between 2002 and 2008, Morgan Stanley trained various groups of Asia-based personnel on anti-corruption policies 54 times.  During the same period, Morgan Stanley trained Peterson on the FCPA seven times and reminded him to comply with the FCPA at least 35 times.  Morgan Stanley’s compliance personnel regularly monitored transactions, randomly audited particular employees, transactions and business units, and tested to identify illicit payments.  Moreover, Morgan Stanley conducted extensive due diligence on all new business partners and imposed stringent controls on payments made to business partners.”

“According to court documents, Peterson conspired with others to circumvent Morgan Stanley’s internal controls in order to transfer a multi-million dollar ownership interest in a Shanghai building to himself and a Chinese public official with whom he had a personal friendship.  The corruption scheme began when Peterson encouraged Morgan Stanley to sell an interest in a Shanghai real-estate deal to Shanghai Yongye Enterprise (Group) Co. Ltd., a state-owned and state-controlled entity through which Shanghai’s Luwan District managed its own property and facilitated outside investment in the district.  Peterson falsely represented to others within Morgan Stanley that Yongye was purchasing the real-estate interest, when in fact Peterson knew the interest would be conveyed to a shell company controlled by him, a Chinese public official associated with Yongye and a Canadian attorney.  After Peterson and his co-conspirators falsely represented to Morgan Stanley that Yongye owned the shell company, Morgan Stanley sold the real-estate interest in 2006 to the shell company at a discount to the interest’s actual 2006 market value.  As a result, the conspirators realized an immediate paper profit of more than $2.5 million.  Even after the sale, Peterson and his co-conspirators continued to claim falsely that Yongye owned the shell company, which in reality they owned.  In the years since Peterson and his co-conspirators gained control of the real-estate interest, they have periodically accepted equity distributions and the real-estate interest has appreciated in value.”

Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer stated as follows.  “Mr. Peterson admitted today that he actively sought to evade Morgan Stanley’s internal controls in an effort to enrich himself and a Chinese government official.  As a managing director for Morgan Stanley, he had an obligation to adhere to the company’s internal controls; instead, he lied and cheated his way to personal profit.  Because of his corrupt conduct, he now faces the prospect of prison time.”

Peterson is to be sentenced on July 17th.

As to Morgan Stanley, the release states as follows.

“After considering all the available facts and circumstances, including that Morgan Stanley constructed and maintained a system of internal controls, which provided reasonable assurances that its employees were not bribing government officials, the Department of Justice declined to bring any enforcement action against Morgan Stanley related to Peterson’s conduct.  The company voluntarily disclosed this matter and has cooperated throughout the department’s investigation.”

Kudos to the DOJ.  Would anything really change with an FCPA compliance defense – see here for “Revisiting a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Compliance Defense”?

SEC

In this complaint, the SEC alleged in summary as follows.

From at least 2004 to 2007, Defendant Garth Peterson, while employed at Morgan Stanley & Co., Inc. ‘s (“Morgan Stanley”) real estate investment and fund advisory business, secretly acquired millions of dollars worth of real estate investments from Morgan Stanley’s funds for himself, the former Chairman of Yongye Enterprise (Group) Co. (“Yongye”) -a Chinese state-owned entity with influence over the success of Morgan Stanley’s real estate business in Shanghai-and others. Peterson also arranged to have paid to himself and the former Chairman of Yongye (“the Chinese Official”) at least $1.8 million in what he misrepresented were finder’s fees Morgan Stanley’s funds owed to third parties. In exchange for offers and payments from Peterson, the Chinese Official helped Peterson and Morgan Stanley obtain business while personally benefitting from some of these same investments. This self-dealing and misappropriation by Peterson breached the fiduciary duties he and Morgan Stanley owed to their clients.”

Based on the above conduct, the SEC charged Peterson with violating the FCPA’s anti-bribery and internal controls provisions, as well as aiding and abetting violations of the anti-fraud provisions of the Investment Advisers Act.

In this release, the SEC noted that Peterson agreed to a settlement of the SEC’s charges “in which he will be permanently barred from the securities industry, pay more than $250,000 in disgorgement, and relinquish his interest in the valuable Shanghai real estate (currently valued at approximately $3.4 million) that he secretly acquired through his misconduct.”

Robert Khuzami (Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement) stated as follows.  “Peterson crossed the line not once, but twice. He secretly bribed a government official to illegally win business for his employer and enriched himself in violation of his fiduciary duty to Morgan Stanley’s clients.  This case illustrates the SEC’s commitment to holding individuals accountable for FCPA violations, particularly employees who intentionally circumvent their company’s internal controls.”

Kara Novaco Brockmeyer (Chief of the SEC Enforcement Division’s FCPA Unit) stated as follows.  “As a rogue employee who took advantage of his firm and its investment advisory clients, Peterson orchestrated a scheme to illegally win business while lining his own pockets and those of an influential Chinese official.”

As to Yongye and the Chinese Official, the complaint states as follows.

“Yongye Enterprise (Group) Co. Ltd. was a large real estate development arm of the Luwan District Government in Shanghai, China.  Since its inception in 1994, Yongye held leases for many prime areas in the Luwan District. Yongye’s business was to keep or take a small share in real estate joint ventures, including with Morgan Stanley and its funds, in exchange for helping its joint venture partner obtain the proper licensing from the local government.  Yongye owned and developed residential and commercial real property, sold and brokered real estate to Morgan Stanley and its funds, and partnered with Morgan Stanley and its funds in various real estate investments.”

“The Chinese Official was the Chairman of Yongye at all pertinent times until his retirement in September 2006. As Chairman, he exercised control over Y ongye and had the authority to make investment decisions for it. Before Yongye, the Chinese Official worked for the Luwan District government. After his retirement in September 2006, the Chinese Official continued to work with Morgan Stanley as a private real estate developer and broker until approximately the time Peterson was terminated in 2008.”

The complaint contains an entire section titled “Morgan Stanley’s FCPA Compliance Program and Internal Controls” which states as follows.

“Morgan Stanley trained Peterson on the FCPA numerous times during his employment, as follows:

(1) Morgan Stanley trained Peterson on anti-corruption policies and the FCPA at least seven times between 2002 and 2008. In addition to other live and web-based training, Peterson participated in a teleconference training conducted by Morgan Stanley’s Global Head of Litigation and Global Head of Morgan Stanley’s Anti-Corruption Group in June 2006.

(2) Morgan Stanley distributed to Peterson written training materials specifically addressing the FCPA, which Peterson maintained in his office.

(3) A Morgan Stanley compliance officer specifically informed Peterson in 2004 that employees of Yongye, a Chinese state-owned entity, were government officials for purposes of the FCPA.

(4) Peterson received from Morgan Stanley at least thirty five FCPA-compliance reminders. These reminders included FCPA-specific distributions; circulations and reminders of Morgan Stanley’s Code of Conduct, which included policies that directly addressed the FCPA; various reminders concerning Morgan Stanley’s policies on gift-giving and entertainment; the circulation of Morgan Stanley’s Global Anti-Bribery Policy; guidance on the engagement of consultants; and policies addressing specific high-risk events, including the Beijing Olympics.

(5) Morgan Stanley required Peterson on multiple occasions to certify his compliance with the FCPA. These written certifications were maintained in Peterson’s permanent employment record.

Morgan Stanley required each of its employees, including Peterson, annually to certify adherence to Morgan Stanley’s Code of Conduct, which included a portion specifically addressing corruption risks and activities that would violate the FCPA.  Morgan Stanley required its employees, including Peterson, annually to disclose their outside business interests.  Morgan Stanley had policies to conduct due diligence on its foreign business partners, conducted due diligence on the Chinese Official and Yongye before initially conducting business with them, and generally imposed an approval process for payments made in the course of its real estate investments. Both were meant to ensure, among other things, that transactions were conducted in accordance with management’s authorization and to prevent improper payments, including the transfer of things of value to officials of foreign governments.”

In the News

Some interesting news articles to pass along.

The first piece is from today’s New York Times and is titled “Blackwater Said to Pursue Bribes to Iraq After 17 Died” (see here).

The article suggests, based on former company sources, that Blackwater (and its executives) could … well … be in some murky FCPA water in connection with alleged secret payments to Iraqi officials.

According to former company officials, the payments were intended to silence the officials’ “criticism and buy their support after a September 2007 episode in which Blackwater security guards fatally shot 17 Iraqi civilians” an event which generated much media coverage and congressional interest (see here among other sources).

The specific recipients of the payments? According to sources, officials in the Iraqi Interior Ministry who demanded that Blackwater secure an operating license after the September 2007 incident in order to continue doing business in the country.

The FCPA anti-bribery provisions contain an obtain or retain business element.

You ask, does making payments to foreign officials to secure a license satisfy that important element?

This general issue was addressed by the Fifth Circuit in U.S. v. Kay, 359 F.3d 738 (5th Cir. 2004) (one of the few instances in which a court has rendered a substantive FCPA decision).

The issue in Kay was whether payments to Haitian officials for the purpose of avoiding custom duties and sales taxes in Haiti could satisfy the FCPA’s obtain or retain business element.

Concluding that the obtain or retain business element was vague, the court analyzed the FCPA’s legislative history and concluded that such payments (even though they do not lead to specific government contracts) could nevertheless provide an unfair advantage to the payor over competitors and thereby assist the payor in obtaining and retaining business.

The court did not hold that ALL such payments could satisfy the FCPA’s obtain or retain business element, only that such payments COULD satisfy this key element if, for instance (as in the Kay case), the payments were intended to lower the company’s cost of doing business in the foreign country.

Post-Kay there has been an explosion in FCPA enforcement actions involving payments made to secure foreign government licenses, permits, and certifications or otherwise involving custom duties and the like. Because these enforcement actions have not been contested, it remains an open question as to whether all such payments can indeed satisfy the FCPA’s obtain or retain business element and under what circumstances.

Blackwater (now called Xe Services), through a spokeswomen, dismissed the allegations as baseless.

Nevertheless, some juicy stuff here – the U.S. military’s then prime security contractor in Iraq (and a company which did classified work for the CIA) making bribe payments in a war zone.

One wonders who knew what within official Washington.

Will this alleged conduct be pursued by the DOJ or put on the backshelf due to national security / foreign policy issues?

To my knowledge, this angle of Blackwater’s activities in Iraq has never been disclosed and, if so, the piece would seem to represent a dandy piece of investigative journalism.

The second article, titled “A Morgan Stanley Star Falls In China,” is from Reuters (see here).

The piece examines the rise and fall of Garth Peterson, a U.S. citizen, who joined Morgan Stanley’s Hong Kong office earlier this decade and quickly rose through the ranks of V.P., executive director, and ultimately managing director of Morgan Stanley’s real estate investment operation in China.

Peterson was fired by Morgan Stanley last December over concerns that he may have violated the FCPA.

Morgan Stanley disclosed the results of its internal investigation into Peterson’s conduct to both the DOJ and the SEC. Here is the company’s February 2009 8-K filing.

What did Peterson do that may have violated the FCPA?

The article suggests that Peterson’s relationship with Shanghai Yongye Group (a real estate developer) and its former Chairman, Wu Yonghua, and his daughter, Linda Wu, are at issue. Also relevant, it appears, is Shanghai Dragon Investment Co.

I hate to be the one always bringing up this issue, but if employees of Shanghai Yongye Group and Shanghai Dragon Investment Co., are somehow being considered “foreign officials” under the FCPA, I would sure love to see that legal analysis.

Anyway, back to the story.

The article is an interesting read on a number of fronts and provides an insight into one company’s handling of an FCPA issue.

First, the article notes that Morgan Stanley sent Peterson to an FCPA workshop. Given that this occured in 2008, it is debatable whether this was “too little too late.”

Second, comes an internal review, which from the article, appears to have been done in the ordinary course of business. The ordinary internal review uncovers some extraordinary issues.

Next, the company initiates an internal investigation to look into the suspicious issues. And what an internal investigation it was. According to the article, more than 7.4 million pages of e-mails were reviewed. According to the article, the investigation “found that in a discrete number of instances, investment assets were used for improper purposes not authorized by senior management” an occurrence which would seem to violate, at the very least, the FCPA’s internal control provisions which require, among other things, that an issuer like Morgan Stanley devise and maintain a system of internal accounting controls sufficient to provide reasonable assurances that: (i) transactions are executed in accordance with management’s general or specific authorization; and (ii) access to assets is permitted only in accordance with management’s general or specific authorization.

Next, comes the corrective measures, in this case, Peterson was fired.

Next, comes the disclosure (see above).

The article closes by saying that even if found guilty Peterson is “unlikely to be jailed as he and the firm are expected to pay damages and fees, possibly through a deferred prosecution agreement.”

Spot-on with the company likely entering into a deferred prosecution agreement.

However, the authors (and their sources) apparently have never heard the names of Frederic Bourke, Albert Jack Stanley, Steven Ott, Roger Michael Young (and many others) who are currently living in a federal prison (or waiting to check in) for violating or conspiring to violate the FCPA.

According to article, Peterson currently lives in Singapore.

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