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Court Dismisses Wal-Mart Shareholder FCPA-Related Derivative Claims

Dismissed

In the aftermath of Wal-Mart’s Foreign Corrupt Practices Act scrutiny, certain company shareholders (as is fairly typical in instances of FCPA scrutiny) filed derivative actions against various current or former Wal-Mart officers and directors alleging, among other things, breach of fiduciary duties.

By way of background as to derivative claims, the internal affairs of a corporation, such as the rights of corporate directors, are governed by state law.  State law, including most prominently Delaware law, provides directors broad discretion to manage the corporation subject to their fiduciary duties to the corporation and its shareholders.  A director’s fiduciary duties include the duty of care and the duty of loyalty, including its subsidiary component the duty of good faith.

A corporate director’s duty of good faith has evolved over time to include an obligation to attempt in good faith to assure that an adequate corporate information and reporting system exists.  In the notable Caremark decision by the influential Delaware Court of Chancery, the court held that a director’s failure to do so, in certain circumstances, may give rise to individual director liability for breach of fiduciary duty.

In Stone v. Ritter, the Delaware Supreme Court provided the following necessary conditions for director oversight liability under the so-called Caremark standard: (i) a director utterly failed to implement any reporting or information system or controls; or (ii) having implemented such systems or controls, a director failed to monitor or oversee the corporation’s operations. The court held that both situations require a showing that a director knew that they were not discharging their fiduciary obligations and courts have widely recognize that a director’s good faith exercise of oversight responsibility may not necessarily prevent employees from violating criminal laws or from causing the corporation to incur significant financial liability or both.

Derivative claims, such as those filed against Wal-Mart’s current and former officers and directors, are subject to unique pleading requirements.  Ordinarily, a company’s board of directors has the exclusive authority to institute corporate action such as filing a lawsuit on behalf of the corporation when it has been harmed.  However, when the harm to the corporation is the result of an alleged breach of fiduciary duty by the directors, the law recognizes that the board of directors is unlikely to sue itself in such a situation.  Thus, the law provides a mechanism for shareholders to bring a lawsuit, not in their individual capacity, but on behalf of the corporation to recover monetary damages for the corporation.

Because a derivative action usurps a traditional board of director function and can be subject to harassment and abuse, state law often requires shareholders to first make a demand on the corporation to file suit or to plead with particularity so-called demand futility, meaning that demand on the board would be futile because the board is incapable of making an independent judgment concerning the conduct at issue.

Most derivative actions, including those in the FCPA context, are brought as demand futility cases because if a shareholder makes a demand on the board of directors to bring the claim it will be assumed that the shareholder views the board of directors as sufficiently independent to analyze the claim and the board’s decision will be analyzed under the board-friendly business judgment rule.  To survive a motion to dismiss, a shareholder pleading demand futility must allege more than conclusory allegations regarding a breach of fiduciary duty.  Rather, the shareholder must allege with particularly facts suggesting that the majority of directors were interested; or that the directors failed to inform themselves; or that the directors failed to exercise due care as to the conduct at issue.

Those who predicted that the Wal-Mart derivative actions would set a new standard for director liability were once again proven wrong (see here for the prior post).

Earlier this week, in this order U.S. District Judge Susan Hickey (W.D. Ark.) dismissed eight Wal-Mart shareholder FCPA-related derivative claims that were consolidated into one action.

Judge Hickey summarized the shareholders allegations as follows.

“Plaintiffs allege that the Individual Defendants breached their fiduciary duties of loyalty and good faith by: (1) permitting violations of foreign and federal laws and Wal-Mart’s code of ethics; (2) permitting the obstruction of an adequate investigation of known potential (and/or actual) violations of foreign and federal laws; and (3) covering up (or attempting to cover up) known potential (and/or actual) violations of foreign and federal laws. Plaintiffs also allege that Individual Defendants violated Sections 14(a) and 29(b) of the Exchange Act by causing Wal-Mart to make false or misleading statements in its April 2010 and April 2011 proxy materials relating to annual director elections.”

After reviewing applicable Delaware law, Judge Hickey stated, in pertinent part, as follows.

“The Complaint consistently implies that Defendants should have or must have known about the alleged misconduct by virtue of their positions and the supposed reporting structure at Wal-Mart. According to Plaintiffs, “senior executives … knew about” the alleged misconduct, those “executives [were] required to regularly report to the Audit Committee of Wal-Mart’s Board,” and the Audit Committee, in turn, “was obligated to report on [this] to Wal-Mart’s full Board.” Plaintiffs allege that, given the “inference” that information concerning bribery was reported to Wal-Mart’s Board, Wal-Mart made a conscious decision not to act on this information.

Plaintiffs reference vague “decisions” made by Defendants but do not plead with particularity who made these decisions, how these decisions were made, or when the decisions were made. Plaintiffs generally allege that the Board made a decision not to act in response to evidence of criminal conduct. Missing from the Complaint are any particularized facts that link a majority of the Director Defendants to any actual decision. Plaintiffs point to no alleged meeting, discussion, or vote where the Board allegedly made one of these decisions. This lack of such particularized facts regarding a conscious decision about how or whether to respond to the alleged misconduct indicates that an analysis under Aronson is inappropriate.”

Elsewhere, Judge Hickey stated:

“According to Plaintiffs, nine Director Defendants knew about the wrongful conduct in 2005-2006 (the alleged bribery in Mexico and the internal investigation that allegedly concealed the wrongdoing) and either actively participated in it or acquiesced in it. Defendants argue that Plaintiffs have failed to sufficiently plead that a majority of the Board knew about or consciously ignored the alleged wrongful conduct in 2005-2006 and therefore cannot show that a majority of the Director Defendants face a substantial likelihood of personal liability. The Court agrees.

Nothing in the Complaint suggests any particularized basis to infer that a majority of the Board had actual or constructive knowledge of the alleged misconduct, let alone that they acted improperly with scienter. Plaintiffs’ allegations do not provide the particulars for what each Director Defendant knew, how he or she learned of the information, or when he or she learned of the information. Thus, as discussed below, Plaintiffs have failed to plead with particularity that at least eight Director Defendants face a substantial likelihood of personal liability so that their ability to consider a demand impartially would be compromised.”

[…]

“Courts may not impute knowledge of wrongdoing to directors simply because they serve on the board or because the corporate governance structure requires that notice of the wrongdoing reach the board.”

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In a footnote, Judge Hickey’s order states: “The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act prohibits United States companies from bribing foreign officials to secure improper business advantage.”

This is an inaccurate statement of law.

Rather, the FCPA contains an “obtain or retain business” element that must be proved.  Indeed, the DOJ’s position that the FCPA captures payments to “secure an improper business advantage” wholly apart from the “obtain or retain business” element has been specifically rejected by courts. (See here for the prior post).

The inaccurate statement of law in the order is perhaps not surprising given that the Judge referred to the FCPA as the “Federal Corrupt Practices Act.”

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For additional coverage of Judge Hickey’s decision – as well as its potential impact on current Delaware court proceedings arising from the same alleged facts – see here form the D&O Blog.

Just Because “The FCPA Is Not Commonly The Subject Of Litigation” Does Not Create A Substantial Federal Interest In State Law Claims Related To The FCPA

Judicial Decision

In any given year there tends to be 7 – 10 core Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement actions, the vast majority of which are not actually litigated.

While courts have concluded that the FCPA does not contain a private right of action, often times FCPA-related issues are litigated in connection with other substantive causes of action.

For more on this dynamics, see the article “Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Ripples.

Many of these cases tend to be derivative actions in which a shareholder claims that officers and directors breached fiduciary duties by allegedly allowing the company to operate without sufficient FCPA compliance policies or procedures and/or not properly monitoring and supervising those policies and procedures in place.  Such breach of fiduciary duties claims are state law claims arising under the corporation’s state of incorporation.

In connection with its FCPA scrutiny that was resolved in 2014 (see here for the prior post), Avon was hit derivative claims filed in state court, the typical venue for derivative claims.

However, Avon was also hit with a derivative claim filed in federal court and that is the focus of this post.

In Pritika v. Moore, 2015 WL 1190157 (S.D.N.Y., March 16, 2015), an Avon shareholder alleged the typical breach of fiduciary claims against current and former Avon officers and directors and asserted that the federal court had subject matter jurisdiction of the claims because they were “dependent on the resolution of substantial questions of federal law.”  The defendants filed a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and the court (Judge Paul Gardephe) granted the motion.

After noting that federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, the court did acknowledge that “even where a claim finds its origins in state rather than federal law” there may exist a “special and small category of cases in which arising under jurisdiction still lies”

In short, the court concluded that the Avon shareholder’s claims were not within the category.

The analysis section of the opinion states as follows (certain internal citations omitted).

“Here, it is undisputed that Plaintiff’s state law claims for breach of fiduciary duty, waste of corporate assets, and unjust enrichment are predicated on the allegation that Defendants caused or permitted Avon to violate the FCPA. Accordingly, this Court will assume, for purposes of resolving Defendants’ motion to dismiss … that the state law claims (1) raise a federal issue that (2) is actually disputed.

Plaintiff’s jurisdiction argument falters, however … [because they] do not raise a substantial federal issue, because any issue related to the FCPA that is presented by this case lacks the requisite “importance … to the federal system as a whole.” As noted above, “it is not enough that the federal issue be significant to the particular parties in the immediate suit,” and here the significance of the federal issue does not extend beyond the parties to this particular dispute.

Although Avon’s compliance with the FCPA will be one of the critical issues in this litigation, this case does not implicate the validity of the FCPA or the requirements that the Act imposes. Moreover, this case does not involve the application of a “complex federal regulatory scheme,” such as the “complex reimbursement schemes created by Medicare law, or the web of rate-making laws and regulations applicable to cable television providers. The FCPA-as Plaintiff describes it-only “prescribes a ‘reasonableness’ or prudent person standard for assessing [the] adequacy of issuers’ practices.” Finally, this case involves, at best, the application of a federal legal standard to private litigants’ state law claims. It will not have broad consequences to the federal system or the nation as a whole.

The critical issues in this case are primarily factual: whether Avon’s employees committed acts that violate the FCPA and, if so, whether Defendants caused or permitted these violations. While “[t]here is no doubt that resolution of [these questions under the FCPA’s legal standard] is important to the particular parties in the case[,] … something more, demonstrating that the question is significant to the federal system as a whole, is needed.” That “something more” is lacking here.

It is not sufficient-as Plaintiff suggests-that in determining whether Defendants’ conduct meets FCPA standards, a court may be required to interpret certain provisions of the Act, and may thereby affect the development of the law. The same could be said for every case that involves state law claims invoking a federal standard. Whenever a court applies a given legal standard, that court’s opinion could theoretically affect other courts’ interpretation of that legal standard. If this were a sufficient basis for “arising under” jurisdiction, the “extremely rare exception[ ]” discussed in Gunn, 133 S.Ct. at 1064, would swallow up the general rule. “Arising under” jurisdiction would be available in any case premised on state law claims, so long as parties cited a federal statute as providing the legal standard. Such a result is particularly problematic in cases such as this, where Congress has declined to grant a private right of action under the federal statute. See Lamb , 915 F.2d at 1024  (“[N]o private right of action is available under the FCPA.”).“[I]f the federal … standard [under the FCPAJ without a federal cause of action could get a state claim into federal court, so could any other federal standard without a federal cause of action.”

Plaintiff argues, however, that “the body of federal case law interpreting the FCPA is quite small,” and that “[u]nder these circumstances … the federal interest in affording federal courts every opportunity to issue the first authoritative statements about this important federal law is even more substantial.” There is no evidence, of course, that any significant novel issue under the FCPA will be raised in this litigation. But even if such a question could be anticipated, “whether a particular claim arises under federal law” does not turn “on the novelty of the federal issue.”

Accordingly, assuming arguendo that the FCPA is not commonly the subject of litigation, that fact does not create a substantial federal interest in this case.

Finally, this Court could not exercise subject matter jurisdiction here “without disturbing [the] congressionally approved balance of federal and state judicial responsibilities.” While “the absence of a federal private right of action [i]s … not dispositive of the ‘sensitive judgments about congressional intent’ that [arising under jurisdiction requires] Congress’s decision not to grant a private right of action is nonetheless “relevant to” this Court’s inquiry.

Here, exercising subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s state law claims would be tantamount to recognizing a private right of action under the FCPA. Such an approach would “open the floodgates” to federal court litigation of private disputes raising issues under the FCPA, an outcome directly contrary to Congress’s apparent intent. Whenever a company disclosed an FCPA investigation, it could expect a federal court lawsuit founded on state law claims. Congress intended that federal court litigation under the FCPA would proceed by way of SEC and DOJ enforcement actions, however, and not via private suit. Accordingly, exercising subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s state law claims would violate the “congressionally approved balance of federal and state judicial responsibilities.”

In short, shareholder derivative actions in the FCPA context belong in state court, not federal court.

As to those claims filed in state court, shareholders rarely proceed past the motion to dismiss stage.  However, this has not prevented opportunistic plaintiffs’ counsel (who often take such cases on a contingency fee basis) from filing such actions in connection with numerous instances of FCPA scrutiny.

 

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).

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A good weekend to all.

Potpourri

Wal-Mart Related

Here is what Wal-Mart said in its recent 3Q FY 2015 earnings call.

“FCPA and compliance-related costs were approximately $41 million, which represents approximately $30 million for the ongoing inquiries and investigations and approximately $11 million for our global compliance program and organizational enhancements. Last year, FCPA and compliance-related costs were $69 million for the third quarter.  Through the third quarter of this year, we have spent $137 million on FCPA  and compliance-related costs, versus our guidance of between $200 and  $240 million. We expect to be near the low end of the guidance for the full  year.”

Doing the math, that is approximately $640,000 in FCPA-related expenses per working day.

Over the past approximate two years, I have tracked Wal-Mart’s quarterly disclosed pre-enforcement action professional fees and expenses. While some pundits have ridiculed me for doing so, such figures are notable because, as has been noted in prior posts and in my article “Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Ripples,” settlement amounts in an actual FCPA enforcement action are often only a relatively minor component of the overall financial consequences that can result from corporate FCPA scrutiny.  Pre-enforcement action professional fees and expenses are typically the largest (in many cases to a degree of 3, 5, 10 or higher than settlement amounts) financial hit to a company under FCPA scrutiny.

While $640,000 per working day remains eye-popping, Wal-Mart’s recent figure suggests that the company’s pre-enforcement action professional fees and expenses have crested as the figures for the past four quarters have been approximately $662,000, $855,000, $1.1 million and $1.3 million per working day.

In the aggregate, Wal-Mart’s disclosed pre-enforcement professional fees and expenses are as follows.

FY 2013 = $157 million.

FY 2014 = $282 million.

FY 2015 (first three quarters) = $137 million.

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Another ripple of FCPA scrutiny and enforcement highlighted in “Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Ripples” is shareholder litigation in connection with FCPA scrutiny.

On that score, plaintiffs firm Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd LLP recently sued the SEC in federal court seeking certain documents in the SEC’s possession concerning Wal-Mart’s FCPA scrutiny.  In the complaint, Robbins Geller alleges that the SEC has improperly denied its Freedom of Information Act document requests.  The complaint alleges that the SEC’s reliance on a FOIA exemption concerning documents “compiled for law enforcement purposes” does not apply because the documents sought “were provided by and retained by Walmart, the subject of the SEC investigation, and therefore not “compiled for law enforcement purposes.”

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India’s Economic Times reports:

“The Indian arm of American retail giant Walmart has terminated a mid-level manager amid investigations into alleged violations of U.S. anti-bribery laws in the country. Two years ago, when the company was known as Bharti Wal-Mart, it had sacked its chief financial officer and the entire legal team in connection with the same probe. The mid-level manager, who received a termination notice last week, is also required to be available for questioning by the U.S. Department of Justice in the next five years.”

Petrobras

Petrobras, an oil and gas company in Brazil, has been the focus of much recent news.

Recently, the Financial Times reported that the DOJ and SEC have opened investigations into the company and reported that “U.S. authorities are looking into whether Petrobras or its employees, middlemen, or contractors, violated the FCPA.”  It was reported that there is also an open investigation in Brazil and the Financial Times noted that “prosecutors in Brazil allege that Petrobras and its contractors overinflated the cost of capital expenditure projects and acquisitions by hundreds of millions of dollars and paid part of the proceeds to politicians from the ruling Workers’ Party coalition.”  According to the Financial Times, the “ruling coalition politicians received 3 percent of all contracts.”

The apparent FCPA scrutiny of Petrobras is interesting on many levels.

For starters, certain FCPA enforcement actions have involved Petrobras employees – not as a payor of alleged improper payments – but as the recipient of alleged improper payments.  The enforcement theory of course is that the company making the alleged improper payments violated the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions because Petrobras was an alleged “instrumentality” of the Brazilian government and thus Petrobras employees were “foreign officials” under the FCPA.

On the flip side of course is the fact that Petrobras has ADRs listed on a U.S. exchange and thus would be considered by the enforcement agencies to be an “issuer” subject to the FCPA.

In short, the enforcement theory that employees of SOEs are “foreign officials” results in an interesting paradox of sorts should there be an FCPA enforcement action against Petrobras as Petrobras employees would have been on “both sides” of the FCPA – an occurrence that has likely never happened before.  Taking the enforcement theory to its logical conclusion also means that the U.S. government is apparently investigating whether the Brazilian government has engaged in corruption.  A host of legal and policy issues would seem to arise.

Another interesting issue to ponder from Petrobras’s apparent FCPA scrutiny is whether any alleged improper payments by Petrobras – either directly or indirectly through others – to Brazilian officials would truly represent payments to ‘foreign officials.”

As highlighted in this prior post concerning the first FCPA enforcement action against a foreign issuer (albeit not charging violations of the anti-bribery provisions), according to a knowledgeable source at the SEC at the time, there was a belief that there were no “foreign” officials involved because Montedison, an Italian company, allegedly bribed Italian officials.

This dynamic has not been present in other foreign issuer FCPA enforcement actions (for instance Siemens did not allegedly bribe German “officials,” Technip did not allegedly bribe French “officials”, etc.) but would be present in any FCPA enforcement action against Petrobras.

Regarding the potential FCPA scrutiny of Petrobras, it appears that the subject of inquiry concerns potential payments made by third parties on behalf of Petrobras or at least with the knowledge of Petrobras employees.  As I indicated to the Wall Street Journal in this story:

“The vast majority of FCPA enforcement actions are indeed based upon indirect payments. If Petrobras paid an inflated amount to a contractor, the questions will be why, were they aware it was inflated, and what steps did they take to remedy the situation, or did they just accept the inflated amount with an inkling or suspicion that it would go somewhere else?”

More recently, the story continues to evolve and as highlighted in this recent Wall Street Journal article:

“Federal police [in Brazil last week] arrested 18 people, including Renato Duque, former director of engineering and services at Petrobras. Authorities allege he and others were part of a bribery and money-laundering scheme that has siphoned hundreds of millions of dollars from the state-owned oil firm into the pockets of employees, contractors and politicians. Police also served dozens of search warrants and raided the offices of 11 companies they suspect of participating in a scam. The companies, which include Brazilian multinationals Odebrecht SA, Camargo Corrêa SA, Construtora OAS SA and others, are suspected of colluding to inflate the costs of work performed for Petrobras. Prosecutors allege some of the resulting profits were funneled to Petrobras executives and high-level politicians, including some members of the president’s ruling Workers’ Party, a charge the party has repeatedly denied.”

As a result of the controversy swirling about the company, Petrobras recently announced that it was “unable to release its third quarter 2014 financial statements at this time.”

Separately, Reuters reported:

“Petrobras said on Monday it had received a subpoena from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission asking for documents relating to an investigation it is pursuing. […]  Petrobras did not provide details as to what documents the SEC had requested. The company is also under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice, according to a person familiar with the matter who was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter. […] The U.S. investigation, conducted by both the SEC and the DOJ, is “broad” in nature and has been ongoing since at least the start of 2014, the person said.”

In short, the apparent FCPA scrutiny of Petrobras raises several interesting issues worthy of pondering.  Should there be an enforcement action against the company for violating the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions, it would be historic for the reasons discussed above.

Whistleblower Statistics

The Dodd-Frank Act enacted in July 2010 contained whistleblower provisions applicable to all securities law violations including the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.  In this prior post from July 2010, I predicted that the new whistleblower provisions would have a negligible impact on FCPA enforcement.  As noted in this prior post, my prediction was an outlier (so it seemed) compared to the flurry of law firm client alerts that predicted that the whistleblower provisions would have a significant impact on FCPA enforcement.  So anxious was FCPA Inc. for a marketing opportunity to sell its compliance services, some even called the generic whistleblower provision the FCPA’s “new” whistleblower provisions.

So far, there has not been any whistleblower award in connection with an FCPA enforcement action.  Given that enforcement actions (from point of first disclosure to resolution) typically take between 2-4 years, it still may be too early to effectively analyze the impact of the whistleblower provisions on FCPA enforcement.

Whatever your view, I previously noted that the best part of the new whistleblower provisions were that its impact on FCPA enforcement can be monitored and analyzed because the SEC is required to submit annual reports to Congress.  Recently, the SEC released (here) its annual report for FY2014.

Of the 3620 whistleblower tips received by the SEC in FY2014, 4.4% (159) related to the FCPA. As noted in this similar post from last year, of the 3,238 whistleblower tips received by the SEC in FY2013, 4.6% (149) related to the FCPA.  As noted in this similar post from 2012, of the 3,001 whistleblower tips received by the SEC in FY2012, 3.8% (115) related to the FCPA.  In FY2011 (a partial reporting year)  3.9% of the 334 tips received by the SEC related to the FCPA.

Yes, in the future there will be a whistleblower award made in the context of an FCPA enforcement action.  Yes, there will be much ink spilled on this occasion and wild predictions about this “new trend.”  Yet, I stand by my prediction – now 4.5 years old, that Dodd-Frank’s whistleblower provisions will have a negligible impact on FCPA enforcement.

Items Of Interest From The Bio-Rad Enforcement Action

This previous post dived deep into the Bio-Rad Laboratories FCPA enforcement action.

This post continues the analysis by highlighting various issues from the enforcement action.

Play On Words

The enforcement action was the result of Bio-Rad’s voluntary disclosure and both the DOJ and SEC were complimentary of the company’s cooperation.

In the words of the DOJ, “that cooperation included voluntarily making U.S. and foreign employees available for interviews, voluntarily producing documents from overseas, and summarizing the findings of its internal investigation. ”  Elsewhere the DOJ stated that Bio-Rad translated numerous documents and provided timely reports on witness interviews to the DOJ.

Likewise, the SEC noted that Bio-Rad’s investigation “included over 100 in-person interviews, the collection of millions of documents, the production of tens of thousands of documents, and forensic auditing.”

Against this backdrop, the DOJ’s press release contained a most interesting play of words.

“The department pursues corruption from all angles …” (emphasis added).

“The FBI remains committed to identifying and investigating violations of the FCPA.”  (emphasis added).

Bio-Rad’s press release also contained an interesting play on words as well.

As highlighted in several previous posts (see here for instance), the term “declination” is already one of the more amorphous term in the “FCPA vocabulary.”

In a further twist, the company’s press release stated:

“The DOJ declined to prosecute Bio-Rad, and the parties entered into a Non-Prosecution Agreement under which Bio-Rad has agreed to pay a penalty of $14.35 million.” (emphasis added).

A Government Required Transfer of Shareholder Wealth to FCPA Inc?

Bio-Rad was the second FCPA enforcement in the past two weeks – Layne Christensen being the other (see here and here for prior posts).

Both enforcement actions were the result of voluntary disclosures in which the DOJ and/or SEC were complimentary of the company’s internal investigation, remedial actions, and compliance enhancements.

For instance, the DOJ noted that Bio-Rad conducted “an extensive internal investigation in several countries” and noted, among other things, as follows.

“the Company has engaged in significant remedial actions, including enhancing it anti-corruption policies globally, improving its internal controls and compliance functions, developing and implementing additional FCPA compliance procedures, including due diligence and contracting procedures for intermediaries, instituting heightened review of proposals and other transactional documents for all Company contracts … and conducting extensive anti-corruption training throughout the global organization.”

Likewise, the SEC stated, among other things, as follows.

“Bio-Rad also undertook significant and extensive remedial actions including: terminating problematic practices; terminating Bio-Rad employees who were involved in the misconduct; comprehensively re-evaluating and supplementing its anticorruption policies and procedures on a world-wide basis, including its relationship with intermediaries; enhancing its internal controls and compliance functions; developing and implementing FCPA compliance procedures, including the further development and implementation of policies and procedures such as the due diligence and contracting procedure for intermediaries and policies concerning hospitality, entertainment, travel, and other business courtesies; and conducting extensive anticorruption training throughout the organization world-wide.”

In the Layne Christensen action, the SEC likewise stated, as other things, as follows.

“Layne Christensen also took affirmative steps to strengthen its internal compliance policies, procedures, and controls. Layne Christensen issued a standalone anti-bribery policy and procedures, improved its accounting policies relating to cash disbursements, implemented an integrated accounting system worldwide, revamped its anti-corruption training, and conducted extensive due diligence of third parties with which it does business. In addition, Layne Christensen hired a dedicated chief compliance officer and three full-time compliance personnel and retained a consulting firm to conduct an assessment of its anti corruption program and make recommendations.”

Nevertheless, both Bio-Rad and Layne Christensen have two-year reporting obligations to the government after the enforcement action.

The following observation is the same as in this prior post.

In situations involving voluntary disclosures where the enforcement agencies are complimentary of the company’s remedial actions and compliance enhancements, such post-enforcement action reporting obligations seem to be little more than a government required transfer of shareholder wealth to FCPA Inc.

Sure, such post-enforcement action reporting obligations give enforcement agency officials something to do and provide even more work for FCPA Inc., but in the situations discussed above, are such post-enforcement action reporting obligations necessary?

Both Bio-Rad’s (see below) and Layne Christensen’s FCPA scrutiny lasted approximately four years from beginning to enforcement action.  Tack on two more years of reporting obligations and the result is that these two instances of FCPA scrutiny will have provided FCPA Inc. participants an engagement lasting over six years.

This recent Wall Street Journal article asks “what would get more companies to self-disclose bribery” (a more detailed answer to this question will be explored in a future post).

One answer is to ditch the post-enforcement action reporting obligations in cases where there is a voluntary disclosure and the enforcement agencies are complimentary of the company’s remedial actions and compliance enhancements.

Or perhaps the post-enforcement action reporting requirements do indeed lead to more voluntary disclosures when one considers the important gatekeeper role FCPA counsel often play in such corporate decisions.  (See here).

Timeline

As indicated in the resolution documents, Bio-Rad’s initial self-disclosure of potential FCPA violations occurred in May 2010. The length of the company’s FCPA scrutiny – from point of first public disclosure to resolution – thus lasted approximately 4.5 years. (See here for the prior post “The Gray Cloud of FCPA Scrutiny Simply Lasts Too Long”).

5 for 5

In 2014, there have been five SEC corporate FCPA enforcement actions (Bio-Rad, Layne Christensen, Smith & Wesson, Alcoa, and HP).  All have been resolved via the SEC’s administrative process.

My recent article, “A Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Narrative,” (see pgs. 991-995) discusses this trend and how it is troubling as it places the SEC in the role of regulator, prosecutor, judge and jury all at the same time.  As Judge Rakoff recently observed, “from where does the constitutional warrant for such unchecked and unbalanced administrative power derive?”

Here Come the Plaintiffs’ Lawyers

It is as predictable as the sun rising in the east.

No less than 24 hours after release of the Bio-Rad enforcement action documents, plaintiffs’ lawyers began salivating and announcing investigations to determine whether officers and directors of the company breached fiduciary duties owed to shareholders.  (See here, here, here, here, here, and here for releases).

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