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Did Richard Liedo Win Or Lose?

[This post is part of a periodic series regarding “old” FCPA enforcement actions]

This previous post highlighted the 1989 Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement action against NAPCO International in connection with military sales to the Republic of Niger.  The previous post noted that the DOJ also criminally charged the Vice President of the Aerospace Division of NAPCO and that this individual exercised his constitutional right to a jury trial and put the DOJ to its burden of proof.

That person was Richard Liedo and his enforcement action is worthy of its own post.

Among other things, the Liebo enforcement action resulted in a rare appellate FCPA decision, and an often overlooked one at that given that the court concluded that a jury could find that a subordinate who acted at his supervisor’s direction in providing a thing of value to a foreign official lacked “corrupt” intent.

In this lengthy 62 page criminal indictment, the DOJ charged Liebo in connection with the same bribery scheme alleged in the NAPCO action.  In pertinent part, the DOJ alleged that in connection with aircraft sales to Niger, Liebo conspired with others to violate the FCPA by making payments or authorizing payments of money to “officials of the Government of Niger, that is, Tahirou Barke Doka [the First Counselor of the Embassy of Niger in Washington, D.C.] and Captain Ali Tiemogo [Chief of Maintenance for the air force component of the Niger Ministry of Defense] and “Fatouma Mailelel Boube and Amadou Mailele, both relatives of Tiemogo, while knowing that all or a portion of such money would be offered, given or promised, directly or indirectly, to foreign officials, namely Barke and Tiemogo” for the purpose of “influencing the acts and decisions of Barke and Tiemogo in their official capacities, and inducing them to use their influence with the Ministry of Defense.”

In addition to the conspiracy charge (count 1), the DOJ also charged Liebo with 10 counts of violating the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions (counts 2 – 11), one count of violating the FCPA’s books and records provisions (count 12), three counts of aiding and abetting in the preparation of false corporate income tax returns (counts 13 – 15), and five counts of making false statements to the Defense Security Assistance Agency (DSAA) of the U.S. Department of Defense in connection with the sales (counts 16 – 20).

Liebo exercised his constitutional right to a jury trial and put the DOJ to its burden of proof.

The jury considered 19 charges against Liebo (on the first day of trial, the court granted the DOJ’s motion to dismiss one of the false statement charges) and he was acquitted of 17 charges.  The only charges Liebo was convicted of was one count of violating the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions and one count of making a false statement to DSAA.  The FCPA charge related to the payment of $2,028 “for the airline tickets purchased for Barke’s wedding and honeymoon travel.”

As noted in this judgment, Liebo was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison.  However, as noted in a Trace Compendium entry, “Liebo only served two of the 18 months, having petitioned for, and eventually received, a retrial.”

As noted in this Eighth Circuit opinion, Liebo appealed and argued on appeal that “his convictions should be reversed because of insufficient evidence and because the district court erred in instructing the jury” and that the “district court abused its discretion by denying his motion for a new trial based on newly discovered evidence.”

As to the FCPA anti-bribery charge Liebo was found guilty on, he argued on appeal that: (1) there was insufficient evidence to show that the airline tickets were given to obtain or retain business; and (2) that there was no evidence to show that his gift of honeymoon tickets was done corruptly.

After setting forth the standard of review (i.e. considering the evidence in the light most favorable to the government with all reasonable inferences and credibility determinations made in support of the jury’s verdict), the court stated as follows as to obtain or retain business.

“There is sufficient evidence that the airplane tickets were given to obtain or retain business. Tiemogo testified that the President of Niger would not approve the contracts without his recommendation. He also testified that Liebo promised to “make gestures” to him before the first contract was approved, and that Liebo promised to continue to “make gestures” if the second and third contracts were approved. There was testimony that Barke helped Liebo establish a bank account with a fictitious name, that Barke used money from that account, and that Barke sent some of the money from that account to Tiemogo. Barke testified that he understood Liebo deposited money in the account as “gestures” to Tiemogo for some “of the business that they do have together.”

Although much of this evidence is directly relevant to those counts on which Liebo was acquitted, we believe it appropriate that we consider it in determining the sufficiency of evidence as to the counts on which Liebo was convicted.

[…]

Moreover, sufficient independent evidence exists that the tickets were given to obtain or retain business. Evidence established that Tiemogo and Barke were cousins and best friends. The relationship between Barke and Tiemogo could have allowed a reasonable jury to infer that Liebo made the gift to Barke intending to buy Tiemogo’s help in getting the contracts approved. Indeed, Tiemogo recommended approval of the third contract and the President of Niger approved that contract just a few weeks after Liebo gave the tickets to Barke. Accordingly, a reasonable jury could conclude that the gift was given “to obtain or retain business.”

As to corrupt intent, the court stated as follows.

“Liebo also contends that the evidence at trial failed to show that Liebo acted “corruptly” by buying Barke the airline tickets. In support of this argument, Liebo points to Barke’s testimony that he considered the tickets a “gift” from Liebo personally. Liebo asserts that “corruptly” means that the offer, payment or gift “must be intended to induce the recipient to misuse his official position….”  […] Because Barke considered the tickets to be a personal gift from Liebo, Liebo reasons that no evidence showed that the tickets wrongfully influenced Barke’s actions.

We are satisfied that sufficient evidence existed from which a reasonable jury could find that the airline tickets were given “corruptly.” For example, Liebo gave the airline tickets to Barke shortly before the third contract was approved. In addition, there was undisputed evidence concerning the close relationship between Tiemogo and Barke and Tiemogo’s important role in the contract approval process. There was also testimony that Liebo classified the airline ticket for accounting purposes as a “commission payment.” This evidence could allow a reasonable jury to infer that Liebo gave the tickets to Barke intending to influence the Niger government’s contract approval process. We conclude, therefore, that a reasonable jury could find that Liebo’s gift to Barke was given “corruptly.” Accordingly, sufficient evidence existed to support Liebo’s conviction.”

As to Liebo’s argument on appeal that the “district court abused its discretion by denying his motion for a new trial based on newly discovered evidence,” Liebo noted that “two months after his conviction, a NAPCO employee provided Liebo with a memorandum showing [a superior’s] approval to the charge of the airline tickets.”  Liebo argued that the discovery of this evidence warranted a new trial.  In support, Liebo argued that “he was acquitted on all other bribery counts for which there was evidence that the payment in question was approved [by a superior].  Liebo argued that evidence of a superior’s approval of the wedding trip was a determinative factor in the jury’s verdict by “pointing to a question sent out by the jury during their deliberations asking whether there was ‘any information regarding authorization for payment of wedding trip.'”

After noting that motions for a new trial based on newly discovered evidence are looked upon with disfavor, the court also noted that “courts have granted a new trial based on newly discovered evidence especially when the evidence supporting the defendant’s conviction is weak.”

The court closed its opinion as follows.

“[T]he evidence against Liebo, while sufficient to sustain the conviction, was not overwhelming. Indeed, we believe that the company president’s approval of the purchase of the tickets is strong evidence from which the jury could have found that Liebo acted at his supervisor’s direction and therefore, did not act “corruptly” by giving the tickets to Barke. Furthermore, we are highly persuaded that the jury considered such approval pivotal, especially in light of the question it submitted to the court during its deliberations and its acquittal of Liebo on the other bribery counts in which evidence of approval existed. Accordingly, we hold that the district court clearly abused its discretion in denying Liebo’s motion for a new trial.”

In the re-trial, Liebo was convicted of aiding and abetting FCPA anti-bribery violations and making a false statement to the DSAA.  He was then sentenced to three years probation, two months home detention, and 400 hours of community service.

Based on all of the above, the question is raised – did Richard Liedo win or lose when he put the DOJ to its burden of proof?

In this the exam grading season, I know where I come out when the one with the burden is 90% unsuccessful.

My Two Cents On The FCPA’s Affirmative Defenses

Students looking for scholarship ideas, should consider the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Why?

There is a good chance that publication of an article will generate coverage and discussion on the blogosphere and elsewhere.

Case in point is Kyle Sheahen’s “I’m Not Going to Disneyland: Illusory Affirmative Defenses Under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.” (see here).

For prior coverage of Sheahen’s article see here, here and here.

Sheahen’s article is about the FCPA’s two affirmative defenses – the so-called local law and promotional expense defenses.

Big picture, Sheahen terms these defenses as being “hollow,” “illusory,” and “useless in practice.”

For starters, I respectfully disagree with Sheahen’s statement that “business and businessmen accused of giving bribes to foreign officials have fared poorly in federal courts” as well as the implication that this somehow supports his thesis.

The three FCPA trials cited from 2009 – Frederick Bourke, William Jefferson, and Gerald and Patricia Greene were a mixed bag for the DOJ, not slam-dunk successes.

For starters, the jury found Jefferson not guilty of substantive FCPA anti-bribery violations (see here).

Sure, Bourke was found guilty by a jury of conspiracy to violate the FCPA and the Travel Act (as well as making false statements to the FBI) (see here), yet when the DOJ alleges that one is a key participant of a “massive bribery scheme” yet secures only a 366 day sentence (see here) from a judge who remarks that “after years of supervising this case, it’s still not entirely clear to me whether Mr. Bourke is a victim or a crook or a little bit of both” – I struggle to put such a case in the decisive “win” category for the DOJ. Plus, Bourke’s case is currently on appeal (see here).

The Green case (see here) would seem to represent the cleanest win for the DOJ even though the sentencing judge expressed concerns whether the Green’s conduct caused any harm in sentencing the couple to six months in prison thereby rejecting the DOJ’s recommended ten year sentence. (See here).

Sheahen’s article was published before the Giffen Gaffe (see here). Giffen aggressively mounted a legal defense and, whether for legal, political or other reasons, the case that began with charges that Giffen made “more than $78 million in unlawful payments to two senior officials of the Republic of Kazakhstan in connection with six separate oil transactions, in which the American oil companies Mobil Oil, Amoco, Texaco and Phillips Petroleum acquired valuable oil and gas rights in Kazakhstan” ended with a one-paragraph superseding information charging a misdemeanor tax violation. Further, back in 2004, Giffen was successful in having FCPA-related criminal charges dismissed when the trial court judge (see here) concluded that the DOJ offered “the slenderest of reeds” to support the collateral criminal charge.

Going back in time …

George McLean won his FCPA case when the Fifth Circuit concluded, see 738 F.2d 655 (5th Cir. 1984) that the FCPA, as it then existed because of the subsequently repealed Eckhardt Amendment, barred prosecution.

Donald Castle and Darrell Lowry (two Canadian “foreign officials”) won their FCPA-related cases, see 741 F.Supp. 116 (N.D. Tex. 1990), when the court dismissed their criminal indictments. The DOJ asserted that even though the officials could not be prosecuted under the FCPA, they could be prosecuted under the general conspiracy statute (18 USC 371) for conspiring to violate the FCPA. However, the court declined DOJ’s invitation to extend the reach of the FCPA through the application of the conspiracy statute to Castle and Lowry.

Richard Liebo was acquitted, following a three week jury trial, of several counts including nine counts of violating the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions and one count of violating the FCPA’s accounting and record keeping provisions. See 923 F.2d 1308 (8th Cir. 1991). He was found guilty of one FCPA count concerning his company’s purchase of honeymoon airline tickets for the cousin and close friend of Captain Ali Tiemogo, the chief of maintenance for the Niger Air Force. In connection with this conviction, the Eighth Circuit found that the district court “clearly abused its discretion in denying Liebo’s motion for a new trial” and remanded for a new trial.

Hans Bodmer didn’t fare too badly either in 2004 when Judge Shira Scheindlin (the same judge in the Bourke case) held that the portion of the criminal indictment “charging Bodmer with conspiracy to violate the FCPA contravenes the constitutional fair notice requirement, and the rule of lenity demands its dismissal.”

Of course, the DOJ has had its fair share of FCPA successes, but it remains a misperception that FCPA defendants have “fare[d] so badly” in FCPA trials as Sheahen, and others, have asserted.

Returning to the substance of Sheahen’s article, he discusses the October 2008 Bourke decision by Judge Scheindlin (see 582 F.Supp.2d 535) – a case of first impression on the FCPA’s local law defense.

Bourke argued that the FCPA’s local law affirmative defense was applicable because, under Azeri law even though the payments were illegal, he was relieved from criminal responsibility when he reported the payments at issue to the President of Azerbaijan.

Judge Scheindlin disagreed, drawing a hard line between payments – the focus of the FCPA’s local law affirmative defense in her mind – and the related issue of whether a person could not be prosecuted in the foreign country because a provision may relieve that person from criminal responsibility.

Judge Scheindlin concluded that “an individual may be prosecuted under the FCPA for a payment that violates foreign law even if the individual is relieved of criminal responsibility for his actions by a provision of the foreign law.”

I agree with Sheahen’s statement that Judge Scheindlin’s decision of first impression narrowed the FCPA’s local law defense “to the point of extinction.”

I would go a step further and argue that Judge Scheindlin’s decision would seem to violate the basic axiom that a statute should be construed so that effect is given to all of its provisions, so that no part will be inoperative or superfluous, void or insignificant.

In other words, courts should not suppose that Congress intended to enact unnecessary statutes and there is a presumption against interpreting a statute in a way that renders it ineffective.

The local law affirmative defense was added to the FCPA in 1988 and we must presume that Congress intended to enact the affirmative defense for some reason.

It was widely assumed by Congress in 1977 (when the FCPA was enacted), and by the Congress that amended the FCPA in 1988 to include the local law defense as well, that no nation’s written law permitted bribery of its officials.

Yet, given Judge Scheindlin’s narrow construction of the local law defense, the decision would appear to render the local-law defense (a statutory term that must have some meaning) inoperative, superfluous and insignificant.

As to the promotional expense defense, I would respectfully disagree with Sheahen’s apparent conclusion that the defense is meaningless just because it has never been successfully invoked by an FCPA defendant at trial.

Because of the “carrots” and “sticks” the DOJ and SEC possess in an FCPA enforcement action, and because of the resolution vehicles typically offered to FCPA defendants to resolve an FCPA enforcement action (such as non and deferred prosecution agreements) there is much about the FCPA that has never been subjected to judicial scrutiny.

That does not mean however that an element or defense not successfully invoked at trial renders that element or defense meaningless or hallow.

Indeed, Sheahen discusses the FCPA Opinion Procedure Release process. Through this mechanism, those subject to the FCPA have gained degrees of comfort from DOJ “no enforcement” opinions that are based on the promotional expense defense.

Although the Opinion Procedure Releases are not precedent, countless others in the legal, business, and compliance communities find comfort in these releases, as well as the statute itself, when analyzing real-world conduct for potential FCPA exposure.

FCPA enforcement is in need of many fixes and indeed the Opinion Procedure Release process is likely not the best way for the DOJ to make its enforcement positions known.

However, these structural flaws in FCPA enforcement, coupled with the typical ways in which FCPA enforcement actions are resolved, necessarily leads to the conclusion that the FCPA’s affirmative defenses are “hollow,” “illusory,” and “useless in practice.”

*****

I provided Sheahen with my draft post so that he could respond and here is what he said.

“Professor Koehler,

Thank you for your thorough analysis. Although DOJ’s trial record in FCPA prosecutions is not a clean sheet, the government has still been substantively successful in almost every FCPA case that has gone to trial. Further, the fact remains that no FCPA defendant has successfully invoked either the local law or the promotional expenses defense in an FCPA enforcement action.

Also, while I agree that the promotional expenses defense provides some guidelines for compliance with the FCPA, neither it nor the local law defense provide a meaningful defense to an enforcement action. Accordingly, Congress must take action to ensure that individual and corporate defendants have the actual ability to raise the affirmative defenses contemplated by the statutory scheme.

Thanks again and all the best,

Kyle Sheahen
sheahen2010@lawnet.ucla.edu

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