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Friday Roundup

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Quotable, SEC Annual Report, it’s called the rule of law – deal with it, across the pond, more ISO 37001 puff pieces, monitor related, for your viewing pleasure, and for the reading stack. It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Quotable

To those still hyperventilating about Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement in the Trump administration (see here and here), perhaps this might calm you down. As reported here by Wall Street Journal Risk & Compliance: “[FCPA Unit Chief Daniel Kahn dismissed the suggestion that President Donald Trump‘s previous criticism of the FCPA has had any effect on the department’s enforcement of the law. Mr. Kahn said he “spanned both administrations,” referring to Mr. Trump’s predecessor, President Barack Obama, adding, “I am continuing to do what I do.”

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Friday Roundup

Roundup

Quotable, no reliable way to measure, Microsoft explains, scrutiny alert, a direct selling license in China, and offensive use of the FCPA. It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Quotable

Some think – or at least I’ve been told – that certain of my Foreign Corrupt Practices Act views are controversial or out of the “main stream” (whatever the “main stream” actually is or means). Yet, I am confident that much of what I write and talk about represents silent majority views.

Indeed, as I’ve commented before, one of the interesting things about writing about the FCPA and related issues on a daily basis is that often I just need to wait for a former FCPA enforcement official to say the same thing. 

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Friday Roundup

Roundup

Is ISO 37001 a flop?, scrutiny alerts and updates, and for the reading stack. It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Is ISO 37001 a Flop?

Microsoft has been under FCPA scrutiny since March 2013.

This recent blog post by David Howard (Microsoft’s Corporate Vice President & Deputy General Counsel) titled “An Update on Microsoft’s Approach to Compliance” caught my eye. It begins:

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Microsoft Business In Romania The Subject Of Romanian Prosecution

Microsoft has been under Foreign Corrupt Practices Act scrutiny since spring 2013.  (See here and here for prior posts).  The conduct at issue concerns the company’s relationships with resellers and consultants in China, Romania, Italy, Pakistan and Russia.

Regarding the Romania prong of Microsoft’s scrutiny, last week Romania’s National Anti-Corruption Directorate announced the start of a prosecution against nine former ministers related to an investigation of Microsoft IT licenses for schools. According to the announcement and this article, it appears that the prosecution concerns a “47% discount granted by Microsoft to the government, which allowed the payment of commissions” to the former ministers.

According to this article and quoting the former director of Romania’s Foreign Intelligence Service, the origins of the Romanian prosecution is an investigation conducted by the FBI.

Discounts to distributors have served as a basis for FCPA enforcement actions in the past (see here, here, and here for examples among others).

Microsoft’s FCPA scrutiny has been highlighted on these pages before because it debunks the fallacy of “good companies don’t bribe period.” (See here for the prior post).

“Good companies don’t bribe – period” was the title of a Minneapolis StarTribune business column which assailed those who have criticized various aspects of the FCPA or FCPA enforcement.  In support of the position that “good companies don’t bribe – period,” the article stated:

“The [FCPA] has established America’s reputation as a strong proponent of ethical business practices abroad.  As Microsoft recognizes in its anti-corruption policy: ‘corruption promotes poverty, hunger, disease and crime, and keeps societies and individuals from reaching their full potential. Corruption is one of the leading obstacles to economic and social development. Microsoft is committed to observing the standards of conduct set forth in the [FCPA] and the anti-corruption and anti-money-laundering laws of the countries in which it operates.’”

The absolutist position that “good companies don’t bribe – period” was undermined a few months after the article was written and after Microsoft was put on a pedestal by the authors when it was reported that the DOJ and SEC both open FCPA inquiries concerning various aspects of Microsoft’s business.  A Microsoft executive acknowledged the investigation at the time and stated:

“Like other large companies with operations around the world, we sometimes receive allegations about potential misconduct by employees or business partners, and we investigate them fully regardless of the source. We also invest heavily in proactive training, monitoring and audits to ensure our business operations around the world meet the highest legal and ethical standards.  […] We are a global company with operations in 112 countries, nearly 98,000 employees and 640,000 business partners. […]  We have more than 50 people whose primary role is investigating potential breaches of company policy, and an additional 120 people whose primary role is compliance. In addition, we sometimes retain outside law firms to conduct or assist with investigations. This is a reflection of the size and complexity of our business and the seriousness with which we take meeting our obligations. We also invest in proactive measures including annual training programs for every employee, regular internal audits and multiple levels of approval for contracting and expenditure. In a company of our size, allegations of this nature will be made from time to time. It is also possible there will sometimes be individual employees or business partners who violate our policies and break the law. In a community of 98,000 people and 640,000 partners, it isn’t possible to say there will never be wrongdoing.”

How is it that Microsoft, a company championed as a leader in ethical and compliant business conduct, became the subject of FCPA scrutiny?  For the same reasons that many ethically sound business organizations have resolved FCPA enforcement actions and for the same reasons that over one-hundred companies are currently the subject of active FCPA scrutiny.  These reasons are broad concepts of corporate criminal liability and the inherent realities of doing business in the global marketplace.

Friday Roundup

Did you notice?, scrutiny updates, quotable, too narrow, save the date and for the reading and viewing stack.  It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Did You Notice?

This previous post – “Double Dipping” – spotlighted a common trend in issuer FCPA enforcement actions.  That is, the company pays twice for the improper conduct.  First, to the DOJ because alleged improper gain is a key factor in the advisory U.S. sentencing guidelines which guide criminal fine amounts, and again to the SEC because alleged improper gain often equates to a disgorgement amount.

Did you notice the following in the recent Alcoa enforcement action?  In the DOJ’s plea agreement with Alcoa World Alumina LLC the DOJ set forth various factors justifying a reduced criminal fine amount including:  “the significant remedy being imposed on the Defendant’s majority shareholder, Alcoa, by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for Alcoa’s conduct in this matter.”

FCPA practitioners would be wise to file this someplace important and the DOJ’s recognition of such “double-dipping” is a welcome development.  Time will tell whether it was case specific.

Scrutiny Updates

Companies have different disclosure practices.  Some companies disclose specific FCPA internal investigation costs, others do not.  When a company falls into the former category, it is a relevant datapoint.  Nordion (see this prior post for its initial disclosure) recently disclosed that its “full year expenses associated with [its] investigation was $11.8 million.”

Microsoft, which first became the subject of FCPA scrutiny in March 2013 (see here) – thereby exposing the fallacy of the “good companies, don’t bribe period” position (see here) –  “is now requiring its partners to educate their employees on the legal
consequences of bribery and other illegal activity.”  So says this recent article in CRN which further states:   “A new Microsoft partner program requirement that went into effect this month calls for partners to “provide anti-corruption training to all employees who resell, distribute, or market Microsoft products or services,” Microsoft said in a document sent recently to partners, which was viewed by CRN.”

Quotable

Homer Moyer (Miller & Chevalier and a dean of the FCPA) steps up to the plate and hits another one out of the park.  In this recent article he states:

“One reality is the [FCPA] enforcement agencies’ views on issues and enforcement policies, positions on which they are rarely challenged in court.  The other is what knowledgeable counsel believe the government could sustain in court, should their interpretations or positions be challenged.  The two may not be the same.  The operative rules of the game are the agencies’ views unless a company is prepared to go to court or to mount a serious challenge within the agencies.”

Spot-on.

While the decision of one risk-averse business organization to settle an FCPA enforcement action may seem case specific, the long-term effects of such a decision affect not only the settling company, but other business organizations subject to increasingly aggressive FCPA enforcement theories.  (See here for a previous guest post titled “Prosecutorial Common Law”).

As former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales rightly noted:

“In an ironic twist, the more that American companies elect to settle and not force the DOJ to defend its aggressive interpretation of the [FCPA], the more aggressive DOJ has become in its interpretation of the law and its prosecution decisions.”

Too Narrow

See here, and here for the Truth in Settlements Act recently introduced by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Tom Coburn (R-OK).  As stated here:

“Federal agencies are charged with holding companies and individuals accountable when they break the law, and their investigations regularly end in settlement agreements rather than public trials. All too often, the critical details of these agreements are hidden from the public.”

The bill is too narrow.  The rule of law would be better advanced and transparency achieved by abolishing non-prosecution and deferred prosecution agreements.

Save the Date

On January 29th, Fordham Law School in New York City and the Chinese Business Lawyers Association will jointly host a panel titled “China and the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act:  Challenges for the 21st Century.” The event will be held from 6:00–7:30 p.m. in the Law School’s McNally Amphitheatre.  Speaker include:

Ohio State University Professor Daniel Chow, author of China Under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act; Nathaniel Edmonds, Partner at Paul Hastings and Former Assistant Chief of the FCPA Unit of the Department of Justice; and Thomas O. Gorman, Partner at Dorsey & Whitney and Former Senior Counsel, Division of Enforcement, Securities and Exchange Commission.

To learn more and to register see here.

For the Reading and Viewing Stack

It would not be a major sporting event without FCPA Inc. marketing material.  But then again, certain FCPA enforcement actions in recent years have included such allegations.

For the latest on JPMorgan’s hiring scrutiny in China, see here from Bloomberg which reports that a former “regional chief who expanded the bank’s business in Asia … was met by FBI agents while traveling through a New York-area airport late last year and then interviewed.”

For the latest on the FCPA related case against Frederic Cilins, see here from Bloomberg.  As noted in the article, Cilins “won approval from [the judge] to run forensic tests on contracts that were sought by a grand jury probing claims of bribes paid to win mining rights in Guinea.”

Multimedia content here from down under questioning the lack of Australia bribery related enforcement actions.  (An interesting view, even if the program begins with a false statement).

*****

A good weekend to all.

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