Top Menu

It’s Been A While Since A DOJ FCPA Opinion Was Released

waiting

The FCPA, when enacted, directed the DOJ Attorney General to establish a procedure to provide responses to specific inquiries by those subject to the FCPA concerning conformance of their conduct with the DOJ’s “present enforcement policy.”

However, it’s been a while since a DOJ FCPA opinion was released. To be specific, the last time the DOJ issued a so-called FCPA opinion procedure release was November 7, 2014.

This post provides a general overview of the DOJ’s FCPA Opinion Procedure Release Program and highlights reasons why it has largely been viewed as a useless program.

Continue Reading

Democratic Senator Asks The DOJ, “As Rapidly As Possible,” To Issue An Advisory Opinion “Whether Executives Of The Trump Organization And Related Companies – Including President Trump Himself” Are Violating The FCPA

blumenthal

Last Friday, Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) issued this press release (with an accompanying letter) asking the DOJ, “as rapidly as possible,” to issue an advisory opinion “whether executives of The Trump Organization and related companies – including President Trump himself” are violating the FCPA.

As highlighted in this post, there are certain deficiencies in Senator Blumenthal’s letter. Moreover, while the FCPA expressly authorizes the DOJ to issue FCPA advisory opinions, Senator Blumenthal clearly does not qualify as a requestor.

Continue Reading

Friday Leftovers

Roundup2

Scrutiny update, a double standard, ripples, that’s interesting, and for the reading stack.  It’s all here in a leftovers edition of the Friday roundup.

Scrutiny Update

One of the longest-lasting instances of FCPA scrutiny concerns PBSJ Corporation (a global engineering and architectural firm) that first disclosed FCPA scrutiny in December 2009.  PBSJ was subsequently acquired by WS Atkins (a U.K. company) and WS Atkins disclosed in a recently regulatory filing as follows.

“There are ongoing discussions regarding the longstanding and previously reported Department of Justice and Securities and Exchange Commission enquiries relating to potential Foreign Corrupt Practices Act violations by the PBSJ Corporation prior to its acquisition by the Group. We anticipate resolution of this matter before the end of the current financial year.”

Double Standard?

Several FCPA enforcement actions or instances of FCPA scrutiny have been based on providing things of value such as meals, entertainment and consulting fees to foreign physicians.

Against this backdrop, the Wall Street Journal reports:

“As it fights to buy Botox maker Allergan Inc.,  Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc. is investing cash and time wooing the doctors it would need on its side after a takeover. A centerpiece of the effort: Valeant said it met with a total of 45 influential cosmetic surgeons and dermatologists in September at events in Aspen, Colo., and Palm Beach, Fla. Valeant paid for the physicians’ airfares, two-night stays at luxury hotels and meals. The company also agreed to provide consulting fees that could amount to as much as $30,000, according to doctors who attended the meetings. Valeant, a smaller player than Allergan in cosmetic medicine, must win over doctors if it wrests control of the Botox maker, since it will rely on the physicians for business. Valeant said the pursuit seems to be paying off. Several doctors who attended the sessions, of what Valeant called its special advisory committee, said they were won over by the company’s plans for Allergan—including attracting patients to physicians’ offices and introducing new products.”

Ripples

My recent article “Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Ripples” highlights that settlement amounts in an actual FCPA enforcement action are often only a relatively minor component of the overall financial consequences that can result from FCPA scrutiny or enforcement in this new era.

One such ripple is offensive use of the FCPA to further advance a litigating position and that is just what Instituto Mexicano Del Seguro Social (“IMSS”) has done in this recent civil complaint against Orthofix International.

You may recall that in July 2012 Orthofix resolved a $7.4 million FCPA enforcement action based on allegations that its Mexican subsidiary paid bribes totaling approximately $317,000 to Mexican officials in order to obtain and retain sales contracts from IMSS. (See here for the prior post).

In the recent civil complaint, IMSS uses the core conduct at issue in the FCPA enforcement action and alleges various RICO claims, fraud claims, and other claims under Mexican law.

That’s Interesting

As has been widely reported (see here for instance), “President Obama called on the Federal Communications Commission … to declare broadband Internet service a public utility, saying that it was essential to the economy …”.

That’s interesting because – as informed readers know – in the 11th Circuit’s “foreign official” decision the court concluded that an otherwise commercial enterprise can be a “instrumentality” of a government if the “entity controlled by the government … performs a function the controlling government treats as its own.”  Among the factors the court articulated for whether an entity performs a “function the controlling government treats as its own” was “whether the public and the government of that foreign country generally perceive the entity to be performing a governmental function.”

Reading Stack

Several law firm client alerts regarding the DOJ’s recent FCPA Opinion Procedure release concerning successor liability (see herehere, here).  In this alert, former DOJ FCPA Unit Chief Charles Duross leads with the headline “Is DOJ Evolving Away from the Halliburton Opinion Standard?” (a reference to this 2008 Opinion Procedure release).

From Foley & Larder and MZM Legal (India) – “Anti-Bribery and Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Compliance Guide for U.S. Companies Doing Business in India.”

Recent interviews (here and here) with Richard Bistrong, a real-world FCPA violator and undercover cooperator.  See here for my previous Q&A with Bistrong.  As noted here, Bistrong recently spoke to my FCPA class at Southern Illinois University School of Law. Having the ability to hear from an individual who violated the law my students were studying, and being able to hear first-hand of real-world business conditions, was of tremendous value to the students and added an important dimension to the class.

Should the government reconsider its use of deferred prosecution agreements?  That is the question posed in this New York Times roundtable (in the context of recent bank prosecutions).

Finally for your viewing pleasure, an FCPA-related interview here of SciClone’s CEO (a company that has been under FCPA scrutiny since approximately August, 2010).

*****

A good weekend to all.

DOJ Gets It Right In Recent FCPA Opinion Procedure Release

i found you!

In this November 2010 post regarding the FCPA guidance, I flagged the below statement as one of the ten most meaningful statements in the Guidance.

“Successor liability does not […] create liability where none existed before. For example, if an issuer were to acquire a foreign company that was not previously subject to the FCPA’s jurisdiction, the mere acquisition of that foreign company would not retroactively create FCPA liability for the acquiring issuer.” (Pg. 28)

I flagged the statement because … well … it was an accurate statement of black-letter law, but one often overlooked when analyzing Foreign Corrupt Practices Act issues in the connection with merger and acquisition activity.

Last Friday, the DOJ released this FCPA opinion release dated November 7th.  The Requester was a U.S. issuer in the consumer products industry and contemplating an acquisition of a foreign target.  In pertinent part, the opinion release states:

“Requestor is a multinational company headquartered in the United States. Requestor intends to acquire a foreign consumer products company and its wholly owned subsidiary (collectively, the “Target Company”), both of which are incorporated and operate in a foreign country (“Foreign Country”). In the course of its pre-acquisition due diligence of the Target Company, Requestor identified a number of likely improper payments – none of which had a discernible jurisdictional nexus to the United States – by the Target Company to government officials of Foreign Country, as well as substantial weaknesses in accounting and recordkeeping. In light of the bribery and other concerns identified in the due diligence process, Requestor has set forth a plan that includes remedial pre-acquisition measures and detailed post-acquisition integration steps.

Requestor seeks an Opinion as to whether the Department, based on the facts and representations provided by Requestor that the pre-acquisition due diligence process did not bring to light any potentially improper payments that were subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, would presently intend to bring an FCPA enforcement action against Requestor for the Target Company’s pre-acquisition conduct. Requestor does not seek an Opinion from the Department as to Requestor’s criminal liability for any post-acquisition conduct by the Target Company.

Requestor intends to acquire 100% of the Target Company’s shares beginning in 2015. The Target Company’s shares are currently held almost exclusively by another foreign corporation (“Seller”), which is listed on the stock exchange of Foreign Country. Seller is a prominent consumer products manufacturer and distributor in Foreign Country, with more than 5,000 full-time employees and annual gross sales in excess of $100 million. The Target Company represents part of Seller’s consumer products business in Foreign Country and sells its products through several related brands.

Seller and the Target Company largely confine their operations to Foreign Country, have never been issuers of securities in the United States, and have had negligible business contacts, including no direct sale or distribution of their products, in the United States.

In preparing for the acquisition, Requestor undertook due diligence aimed at identifying, among other things, potential legal and compliance concerns at the Target Company. Requestor retained an experienced forensic accounting firm (“the Accounting Firm”) to carry out the due diligence review. This review brought to light evidence of apparent improper payments, as well as substantial accounting weaknesses and poor recordkeeping. On the basis of a risk profile analysis of the Target Company, the Accounting Firm reviewed approximately 1,300 transactions with a total value of approximately $12.9 million. The Accounting Firm identified over $100,000 in transactions that raised compliance issues. The vast majority of these transactions involved payments to government officials related to obtaining permits and licenses. Other transactions involved gifts and cash donations to government officials, charitable contributions and sponsorships, and payments to members of the state-controlled media to minimize negative publicity. None of the payments, gifts, donations, contributions, or sponsorships occurred in the United States and none was made by or through a U.S. person or issuer.

The due diligence showed that the Target Company has significant recordkeeping deficiencies. The vast majority of the cash payments and gifts to government officials and the charitable contributions were not supported by documentary records. Expenses were improperly and inaccurately classified in the Target Company’s books. In fact, the Target Company’s accounting records were so disorganized that the Accounting Firm was unable to physically locate or identify many of the underlying records for the tested transactions. Finally, the Target Company has not developed or implemented a written code of conduct or other compliance policies and procedures, nor have the Target Company’s employees, according to the Accounting Firm, shown adequate understanding or awareness of anti-bribery laws and regulations. In light of the Target Company’s glaring compliance, accounting, and recordkeeping deficiencies, Requestor has taken several pre-closing steps to begin to remediate the Target Company’s weaknesses prior to the planned closing in 2015.

Requestor anticipates completing the full integration of the Target Company into Requestor’s compliance and reporting structure within one year of the closing. Requestor has set forth an integration schedule of the Target Company that encompasses risk mitigation, dissemination and training with regard to compliance procedures and policies, standardization of business relationships with third parties, and formalization of the Target Company’s accounting and recordkeeping in accordance with Requestor’s policies and applicable law.”

Under the heading “Analysis” the opinion release states:

“Based upon all of the facts and circumstances, as represented by Requestor, the Department does not presently intend to take any enforcement action with respect to preacquisition bribery Seller or the Target Company may have committed.

It is a basic principle of corporate law that a company assumes certain liabilities when merging with or acquiring another company. In a situation such as this, where a purchaser acquires the stock of a seller and integrates the target into its operations, successor liability may be conferred upon the purchaser for the acquired entity’s pre-existing criminal and civil liabilities, including, for example, for FCPA violations of the target.

“Successor liability does not, however, create liability where none existed before. For example, if an issuer were to acquire a foreign company that was not previously subject to the FCPA’s jurisdiction, the mere acquisition of that foreign company would not retroactively create FCPA liability for the acquiring issuer.” FCPA – A Resource Guide to the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, at 28 (“FCPA Guide”). This principle, illustrated by hypothetical successor liability “Scenario 1” in the FCPA Guide, squarely addresses the situation at hand. See FCPA Guide, at 31 (“Although DOJ and SEC have jurisdiction over Company A because it is an issuer, neither could pursue Company A for conduct that occurred prior to the acquisition of Foreign Company. As Foreign Company was neither an issuer nor a domestic concern and was not subject to U.S. territorial jurisdiction, DOJ and SEC have no jurisdiction over its pre-acquisition misconduct.”).

Assuming the accuracy of Requestor’s representations, none of the potentially improper pre-acquisition payments by Seller or the Target Company was subject to the jurisdiction of the United States. For example, none of the payments occurred in the United States, and Requestor has not identified participation by any U.S. person or issuer in the payments. Requestor also represents that, based on its due diligence, no contracts or other assets were determined to have been acquired through bribery that would remain in operation and from which Requestor would derive financial benefit following the acquisition. The Department would thus lack jurisdiction under the FCPA to prosecute Requestor (or for that matter, Seller or the Target Company) for improper payments made by Seller or the Target Company prior to the acquisition. See 15 U.S.C. §§ 78dd-1, et seq. (setting forth statutory jurisdictional bases for anti-bribery provisions).

The Department expresses no view as to the adequacy or reasonableness of Requestor’s integration of the Target Company. The circumstances of each corporate merger or acquisition are unique and require specifically tailored due diligence and integration processes. Hence, the exact timeline and appropriateness of particular aspects of Requestor’s integration of the Target Company are not necessarily suitable to other situations.

To be sure, the Department encourages companies engaging in mergers and acquisitions to (1) conduct thorough risk-based FCPA and anti-corruption due diligence; (2) implement the acquiring company’s code of conduct and anti-corruption policies as quickly as practicable; (3) conduct FCPA and other relevant training for the acquired entity’s directors and employees, as well as third-party agents and partners; (4) conduct an FCPA-specific audit of the acquired entity  as quickly as practicable; and (5) disclose to the Department any corrupt payments discovered during the due diligence process. See FCPA Guide at 29. Adherence to these elements by Requestor may, among several other factors, determine whether and how the Department would seek to impose post-acquisition successor liability in case of a putative violation.”

In the release, the DOJ got it right.

Not all bribery that allegedly occurs in the world is subject to the DOJ’s jurisdiction and just because a company that is subject to the FCPA acquires a foreign company, such an acquisition does not magically create FCPA liability where there was none before.  In layman’s terms, what happened is similar to the following:  a foreign person – not subject to U.S. law – was speeding in a foreign country and just because a U.S. company then purchases the car does not create liability under U.S. law for speeding.

The DOJ also got it right as a matter of policy.  By its opinion, the contemplated transaction is likely to close whereas a contrary opinion might have caused the Requestor to abandon the transaction.  If the transaction indeed closes, a previously compromised foreign company is going to be brought within the corporate family of a U.S. company subject to the FCPA with an existing internal controls system.

On this score, I am reminded of Richard Alderman’s (former Director of the UK Serious Fraud Office) comment “that society benefits if an ethical corporation takes over and sorts out a corporation that has corruption problems.”

*****

The DOJ’s FCPA Opinion Procedure program is often criticized because of the length of time it takes to obtain an opinion.  On this issue, the opinion release highlights the following dates.  The request was initially submitted on April 30th, the Requestor provided supplemental information on May 12th, July 30th, and October 9, 2014, and the release was issued on November 7th.  Thus, from start to finish, the process took approximately six months.

*****

As to background information of the DOJ’s FCPA Opinion Procedure program:

The FCPA, when enacted, directed the DOJ Attorney General to establish a procedure to provide responses to specific inquiries by those subject to the FCPA concerning conformance of their conduct with the DOJ’s “present enforcement policy.  Pursuant to the governing regulations of the so-called DOJ Opinion Procedure Release Program, only “specified, prospective—not hypothetical—conduct” is subject to a DOJ opinion.  While the DOJ’s opinion has no precedential value, its opinion that contemplated conduct conforms with the FCPA is entitled to a rebuttable presumption should an FCPA enforcement action be brought as a result of the contemplated conduct.  Since the program went live in 1980, the DOJ has issued approximately sixty releases on a wide range of issues from charitable contributions to gifts, travel and entertainment, to third parties.

The 193 Meanings of “Foreign Official”

By most measures, there are 193 countries in the world.

According to the 11th Circuit’s recent “foreign official” ruling (see here), the FCPA’s key “foreign official” element can have 193 different meanings.

As previously highlighted, the key language from the opinion is as follows.

“An ‘instrumentality’ [under the FCPA] is an entity controlled by the government of a foreign country that performs a function the controlling government treats as its own. Certainly, what constitutes control and what constitutes a function the government treats as its own are fact-bound questions. It would be unwise and likely impossible to exhaustively answer them in the abstract. […] [W]e do not purport to list all of the factors that might prove relevant to deciding whether an entity is an instrumentality of a foreign government. For today, we provide a list of some factors that may be relevant to deciding the issue.

To decide if the government ‘controls’ an entity, courts and juries should look to the foreign government’s formal designation of that entity; whether the government has a majority interest in the entity; the government’s ability to hire and fire the entity’s principals; the extent to which the entity’s profits, if any, go directly into the governmental fisc, and, by the same token, the extent to which the government funds the entity if it fails to break even; and the length of time these indicia have existed.

[…]

We then turn to the second element relevant to deciding if an entity is an instrumentality of a foreign government under the FCPA — deciding if the entity performs a function the government treats as its own. Courts and juries should examine whether the entity has a monopoly over the function it exists to carry out; whether the government subsidizes the costs associated with the entity providing services; whether the entity provides services to the public at large in the foreign country; and whether the public and the government of that foreign country generally perceive the entity to be performing a governmental function.”

In sum, the key concepts according to the 11th Circuit in analyzing whether a seemingly commercial enterprise is in fact an “instrumentality” of a foreign government such that its employees are “foreign officials” are control and function.

Yet how is a business organization competing in good-faith in the global marketplace supposed to find answers to these concepts?

The 11th Circuit thinks it will be easy as the court stated:

“We think it will be relatively easy to decide what functions a government treats as its own in the present tense by resort to objective factors, like control, exclusivity, governmental authority to hire and fire, subsidization, and whether an entity finances are treated as part of the public fisc.  Both courts and businesses subject to the FCPA have readily at hand the tools to conduct that inquiry (especially because the statute contains a mechanism by which the Attorney General will render opinions on requests about what foreign entities constitute instrumentalities.”

However, is it really that easy?

I trouble to envision a general counsel or chief compliance officer of a company charged with approving expenditures of things of value in connection with a business purpose (and let’s face it, companies do this all the time in the global marketplace as to certain customers and prospective customers) ever finding answers to certain issues identified by the 11th Circuit as being relevant.

The 11th Circuit’s suggestion to the contrary is somewhat comical.  Does the 11th Circuit envision the following?

  • General Counsel / Chief Compliance Officer:  Pardon me Company A, can you tell me how your principals are hired and fired?
  • General Counsel / Chief Compliance Officer:  Excuse me Company B, but do your profits go directly into the government fisc?  A follow-up if I may – does the government subsidize your operations?  And if so, for how long?

As to the FCPA’s Opinion Procedure program, seemingly lost on the 11th Circuit is that it often takes months for a business organization to receive an answer from the DOJ.  For this reason, among others, the FCPA Opinion Procedure program has been routinely criticized.  As noted in the OECD’s 2010 review of FCPA enforcement:

“So far, the FCPA Opinion Procedure has been used very little by the private sector to obtain DOJ advice on prospective transactions. […] The non-governmental participants in the on-site meetings cited several reasons for the infrequent use of the Opinion Procedure. For instance, legal and private sector representatives felt that the Opinion Procedure is only useful in limited situations where the prospective fact situation is narrow and not going to change. They also find that the response time, which is 30 days after the request is complete, is too long in certain situations, such as entering joint ventures and mergers and acquisitions, where a company normally needs to make decisions relatively quickly. […] The most pervasive concern of the private sector representatives was that availing themselves of the Opinion Procedure could expose them to potential enforcement actions by the DOJ, as well as provide competitors with information about their prospective international business activities.”

Moreover, a significant irony of the 11th Circuit’s resort to foreign characterization and treatment of a seemingly commercial enterprise is that the DOJ itself has rejected this approach in issuing opinions under the FCPA Opinion Procedure program.

For instance in Release 94-01 the Requestor disclosed that its “foreign attorney has advised that under the nation’s law, the individual [at issue] would not be regarded as either a government employee or a public official.”  However, the DOJ stated that “the foreign attorney’s opinion is not dispositive” and the DOJ “considered the foreign individual to be a ‘foreign official’ under the FCPA.”

Even the 11th Circuit noted that it will be a “difficult task – involving divining subjective intentions of a foreign sovereign, parsing history, and interpreting significant amounts of foreign law – to decide what functions a foreign government considers core and traditional.”  Moreover, the 11th Circuit recognized “there may be entities near the definitional line for ‘instrumentality’ that may raise a vagueness concern.”

Yet, the end-result of the 11th Circuit’s decision is that “foreign official” – a key element of the FCPA – may mean 193 different things.

Some may be thinking that this entire post has been wasted ink because the meaning of “foreign official” matters only to those intent on engaging bribery. Such a position is off-base as the meaning of “foreign official” matters for a number of reasons as will be explored in a future post.

Powered by WordPress. Designed by WooThemes