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Statoil Charges Dismissed

In October 2006, Statoil ASA (a Norwegian company with shares traded on a U.S. exchange – and thus an “issuer” under the FCPA) settled an FCPA enforcement action by agreeing to pay $21 million in combined DOJ and SEC fines and penalties for improper payments that assisted the company in securing contracts for the South Pars field in Iran.

The DOJ action was settled through a three-year deferred prosecution agreement (see here).

Under a deferred prosecution agreement, criminal charges against the company are filed with a court, but prosecution of the charges is deferred if the company adheres to the requirements of the agreement (such as acknowledging and accepting responsibility for the alleged conduct, cooperating with the DOJ’s continued investigation, engaging a compliance monitor, and implementing more stringent FCPA policies and procedures, etc.) throughout the term of the agreement.

At the end of the term, usually 2-3 years, and if the company has complied with its obligations, DOJ agrees that it will seek dismissal of the charges.

Deferred prosecution agreements and non-prosecution agreements have become the most common method of resolving corporate FCPA enforcement actions.

The Statoil prosecution was precedent setting at the time as it was the first time the DOJ brought criminal FCPA charges against a non-U.S. company.

The DOJ announced today (see here) that Statoil satisfied its obligations under the deferred prosecution agreement and that a court has formally dismissed the charges.

In this respect, Statoil may again be precedent setting as I am not aware of any other instance in which the DOJ has issued a press release announcing the end of a deferred prosecution agreement (even though it would seem that several others have ended).

If my recollection is correct and if this perhaps is a change in DOJ policy, “hear-hear” as it increases transparency.

Other posts which have mentioned Statoil can be found here and here.

The FCPA As A Foreign Policy Stick

Michael Jacobson’s piece (see here) about using the FCPA as perhaps a way to increase pressure on Iran has been discussed elsewhere (see here).

Below are some additional issues to consider.

The suggestion that the FCPA “gives the government extraterritorial reach over non-U.S. companies” and that “any foreign company listed on the U.S. stock exchange falls under FCPA jurisdiction” is not entirely accurate.

True, the FCPA’s books and records and internal control provisions apply to non-U.S. companies which issue stock on a U.S. exchange, and true the books and records and internal control provisions contain no specific jurisdictional requirement. If a company is an issuer (including a foreign issuer) it must comply with the books and records and internal control provisions.

However, the jurisdictional reach of the anti-bribery provisions as to foreign companies is a different story.

The anti-bribery provisions were amended in 1998 to include an alternative “nationality” jurisdictional test for U.S. issuers and domestic concerns (see 78dd-1(g) and 78dd-2(i)).

As a result of these amendments, the original “use of the mails or any means or instrumentality of interstate commerce” nexus is no longer required and the reach of the anti-bribery provisions as to U.S. companies and U.S. citizens is indeed extraterritorial.

However, for a foreign issuer, the old “use of the mails or any means or instrumentality of interstate commerce” jurisdictional nexus is still applicable because the alternative jurisdictional test in 78dd-1(g) only applies to an “issuer organized under the laws of the U.S.”

The other way in which a foreign company (other than an issuer) or foreign national can become subject to the FCPA anti-bribery provisions is through application of 78dd-3 (also added by the 1998 amendments). However, 78dd-3 has a “while in the territory of the U.S. […] make use of the mails or any means or instrumentality of interstate commerce” jurisdictional requirement as well.

Big picture, for foreign companies (whether issuers or not) there is a U.S. jurisdictional requirement for the anti-bribery provisions to apply.

One sees this when looking at the Statoil enforcement action, which as Jacobson points out, is indeed the first time the U.S. held a foreign company accountable under the FCPA’s criminal anti-bribery provisions – in the Statoil case for improper payments to Iranian officials to secure oil and gas rights in Iran.

However, the U.S. did not assert anti-bribery jurisdiction over Statoil merely on the basis of “its listing on the U.S. stock exchange.”

Rather, Statoil was subject to the anti-bribery provisions because the improper payments were routed through a U.S. bank in New York, thus providing the U.S. the nexus needed to hold a foreign company accountable (see here for the criminal information describing the payments through the U.S. bank account and invoking the “means and instrumentality of interstate commerce” jurisdictional clause and here for the SEC cease and desist order finding violations of the anti-bribery provisions and finding that the improper payments were routed through a U.S. bank account in New York).

The point is, because of the U.S. nexus jurisdictional requirement of the anti-bribery provisions as to foreign companies, using the FCPA to hold foreign companies accountable in Iran is not as simple as Jacobson makes it seem.

Two “bigger picture” points as well.

First, I remain skeptical as to the suggestion that increased FCPA focus by U.S. enforcement authorities as to conduct in a particular country “could sufficiently deter many companies from doing business” in that particular country.

Those that adhere to this theory have, for instance, a “China issue” to address (i.e. it is common knowledge that U.S. enforcement authorities have announced several FCPA enforcement actions relating to conduct in China, yet such increased focus by the U.S. as to China business conduct has done little to deter companies from doing business in China).

Second, and more relevant to Jacobson’s assertion that “even the suggestion of increased focus by the United States […] could sufficiently deter many companies from doing business with Iran,” is the following fact regarding Statoil in Iran.

In 2006 (as discussed above) Statoil paid $21 million in combined DOJ and SEC fines and penalties for improper payments that assisted the company in securing contracts for the South Pars field in Iran.

To my knowledge, the Statoil enforcement action is the only FCPA enforcement action concerning business conduct in Iran.

The Statoil case is thus the only “test case.”

And it is a unique test case at that because both the DOJ and SEC material specifically refer to the South Pars field (often times DOJ/SEC material is silent as to specific projects), as does the company’s annual reports filed with the SEC.

No doubt Jacobson is right when he says that the 2006 FCPA enforcement action had a “major impact” on Statoil. As Jacobson points out, “[s]ince then, Statoil has spent millions of dollars in building a more robust internal anti corruption compliance system and putting good governance procedures into place.”

You know what else Statoil has done since the 2006 enforcement action?

It has continued to do business in Iran, including in the same South Pars fields that were the subject of the 2006 FCPA enforcement action.

Here is what the company’s website says about its activity in Iran (see here).

“StatoilHydro is offshore development operator for phases 6, 7 & 8 of the South Pars gas and condensate field in the Iranian sector of the Persian Gulf. We have also engaged in onshore exploration and drilling activities.”

More specifically, here is what Statoil’s website says about South Pars (see here).

“Phases 6, 7 & 8 of South Pars – the world’s largest gas field – are being developed by StatoilHydro as operator under an agreement signed with its local partner Petropars and the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) in October 2002.”

For those who enjoy reading SEC’s filings, Statoil’s Annual Report on Form 20-F (2008) (see here) indicates the company has invested $225 million in developing South Pars.

So, what does the only Iran “test case” show?

At least from public documents, it appears to show that enforcing the FCPA against a foreign company doing business in Iran does not even deter the subject of the enforcement action from continuing to do business in Iran.

Welcome to the Club

Initial Public Offerings (IPO’s) were back in the news this week. Leading the way was Shanda Games Ltd. By raising $1.04 billion, Shanda’s IPO was the largest since April 2008.

Shanda is a Beijing, China based online computer game company and its listing is the latest example of a foreign issuer (frequently a Chinese company) electing to trade its shares (or a portion of its shares) on a U.S. Exchange.

By becoming an “issuer” Shanda becomes subject to the FCPA.

Presumably, Shanda had experienced securities counsel advising it on its listing and the consequences that flow from such a listing. If not, and if you are listening, welcome to the club Shanda.

Your potential FCPA exposure is not just limited to the books and records and internal control provisions. The FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions also apply to you.

Don’t take my word for it, listen to the Department of Justice.

In 2006, the Department of Justice announced an FCPA enforcement action against Statoil ASA, a Norwegian company, for making improper payments to Iranian foreign officials – the first time DOJ brought criminal FCPA charges against a non-U.S. company. (See here for the deferred prosecution agreement).

The U.S. prosecuting a Norwegian company for making improper payments to Iranian foreign officials … how did that happen?

Statoil had shares traded on a U.S. exchange and was thus an “issuer” subject to the FCPA.

In announcing the settlement, the DOJ had this to say – “Although Statoil is a foreign issuer, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act applies to foreign and domestic public companies alike, where the company’s stock trades on American exchanges” (see here).

And this – “This prosecution demonstrates the Justice Department’s commitment vigorously to enforce the FCPA against all international businesses whose conduct falls within its scope.”

The Statoil FCPA enforcement action is certainly not the only FCPA enforcement action against a foreign issuer. In fact, the largest FCPA enforcement action ever was settled in December 2008 involving Siemens AG, a German company (see here and here).

Despite these, and other, enforcement actions, there is still a common misperception that the FCPA is “the law that applies to only U.S. companies.”

With the IPO market showing signs of life again, with foreign companies (like Shanda) increasingly turning to U.S. capital markets, and with many of these companies doing business in FCPA high-risk countries, the number of FCPA enforcement actions against foreign issuers is likely to increase.

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