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The FCPA … It’s Not Just For Americans

In 1998, the FCPA’s antibribery provisions were amended to, among other things, broaden the jurisdictional reach of the statute to prohibit “any person” “while in the territory of the U.S.” from making improper payments through “use of the mails or any means or instrumentality of interstate commerce” or from doing “any other act in furtherance” of an improper payment. (see 15 USC 78dd-3(a)). “Any person” is generally defined to include any person other than a U.S. national or any business organization organized under the laws of a foreign nation. (see 15 USC 78dd-3(f)).

Thus, since 1998, and contrary to a still widely-held misperception, foreign nationals can be subject to the FCPA.

Ousama Naaman apparently did not get the memo as the DOJ recently unsealed a criminal indictment charging him with violating the FCPA and conspiracy to violate the FCPA and commit wire fraud. According to a DOJ release (see here) Naaman (a Canadian citizen), acting on behalf of a U.S. public chemical company and its subsidiary, allegedly offered and paid kickbacks to the Iraqi government on five contracts under the United Nations Oil for Food Program. In addition, the indictment alleges that Naaman paid $150,000 on behalf of a U.S. company to Iraqi Ministry of Oil officials to keep a competing product out of the Iraqi market.

This is certainly not the first time a foreign national has been subject to an FCPA enforcement action. Other recent examples include Jeffrey Tesler and Wojciech Chodan (both U.K. citizens criminally indicted for their roles in the KBR / Halliburton bribery scheme)(see here) and Chrisitan Sapsizian (a French citizen who pleaded guilty to violating the FCPA for his role in a scheme to bribe Costa Rican foreign officials) (see here).

The Bourke Jury Instructions

As those who follow the FCPA are already aware, Frederic Bourke, Jr. was recently found guilty by a federal jury of (among other charges) conspiracy to violate the FCPA for his role in a scheme to bribe “foreign officials” in Azerbaijan in connection with the privatization of the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan. See here for the DOJ News Release.

Contrary to numerous media reports, Bourke was not on trial for “violating the FCPA” (the original indictment against Bourke contained substantive FCPA charges, however the superseding indictment removed the substantive FCPA charges in favor of conspiracy charges).

Regardless, the Bourke trial was closely followed by the FCPA bar as FCPA trials are very rare. Because FCPA trials are rare, so too are FCPA jury instructions. The Bourke jury instructions (see here) provide for an interesting, albeit frustrating, read. In instructing the jury on the conspiracy counts, the jury was instructed on the seven elements of an FCPA violation.

“Big picture” these FCPA instructions (which begin on Pg. 23 and which the jury was duty-bound to accept) are a mess.

The problem starts with the second element “interstate commerce” and contains a fundamental misstatement of the law. The instructions say (on pg. 24) that a “domestic concern” (as Bourke is under FCPA-speak) “must have intended to make use of the mails or a means or instrumentality of interstate commerce” in order to violate the FCPA. This is the so-called “territorial” jurisdictional provision found at 78dd-2. However, the 1998 amendments to the FCPA expanded the jurisdictional reach of the FCPA, as applied to “domestic concerns,” by adding an alternative “nationality” jurisdictional provision found at 78dd-2(i) which removes the interstate commerce / U.S. territorial nexus requirements. Thus, a “domestic concern” can be charged and found liable for a substantive FCPA violation even if the prohibited activity took place entirely outside of the U.S. The jury instruction that the “domestic concern” “must have intended to make use of the mails or a means or instrumentality of interstate commerce” is thus just plain wrong.

The second problem is found in what the instructions say is the fifth element of a substantive FCPA violation – the knowledge of payment to a foreign official. The instructions say (on pg. 26-27) that a “foreign official” is: (1) an officer or employee of a foreign government; (2) any department, agency, or instrumentality of such foreign government, or (3) any person acting in an official capacity for or on behalf of such government or department, agency, or instrumentality. So far so good as the instruction merely tracks the language of 78dd-2(h)(2). The problem is the next sentence of the instruction – “[a]n ‘instrumentality’ of a foreign government includes government-owned or government-controlled companies” (see pg. 27).

Where did that come from? Certainly not the text of the FCPA, as the statute does not define the term “instrumentality.” While it is true the the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission take the position that government-owned or government-controlled companies are “instrumentalities” of a foreign government and that all employees of such companies (regardless of rank or title) are thus “foreign officials” under the FCPA, this is an unchallenged and untested legal theory.

As I am exploring in a current work-in-progress, DOJ/SEC’s aggressive interpretation of the “foreign official” element – to include employees of government-owned or government-controlled companies – is ripe for challenge in that it is, among other things, not supported by the FCPA’s extensive legislative history and is undermined by reference to other U.S. statutes which cover foreign or domestic government instrumentalities. Another way to look at it is this way – if the DOJ/SEC’s interpretation were to be applied in an intellectually honest fashion, would not all GM or AIG employees be considered U.S. “foreign officials” because the U.S. government owns or controls those companies?

A further problem with the instructions, is that even accepting the broadness by which the instructions define “foreign official” that term is not used consistently throughout the instructions. For instance, in discussing the sixth element of an FCPA violation – purpose of payment, the instructions interchangeably use the terms “foreign official” and “foreign public official.” (see Pg. 28). Even more confusing is that the instructions, when discussing that solicitation of a bribe is not a defense, (see Pg. 29) say that “[i]t is not a defense that the payment was demanded by a government official as a price for gaining entry into a market or to obtain a contract or other beneift.” Thus, literally in the span of three pages, the instructions refer to the key “foreign official” element of an FCPA violation three different ways – “foreign official,” “foreign public official,” and “government official” even though the later two terms appear nowhere in the statute.

What a mess!

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