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Yet Again, The Supreme Court Rejects The DOJ’s Overly Expansive Interpretation Of A Criminal Law

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Today’s post is very similar to this post from last month. In other words, yet another post (see here and here for prior posts) generally regarding the topic “if only the Supreme Court accepted the “foreign official” challenge” in 2014.

In a statutory interpretation case released yesterday that was very similar to the statutory interpretation issues in the “foreign official” challenge, the Supreme Court in a 7-2 opinion authored by Justice Breyer once again rejected the DOJ’s overly expansive interpretation of a criminal law.

As stated by the opinion, the issue presented in Marinello v. U.S. was: “A clause in §7212(a) of the Internal Revenue Code makes it a felony “corruptly or by force” to “endeavo[r] to obstruct or imped[e] the due administration of this title.” 26 U. S. C. §7212(a). The question here concerns the breadth of that statutory phrase. Does it cover virtually all governmental efforts to collect taxes? Or does it have a narrower scope?”

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If Only The Supreme Court Had Accepted Cert In The “Foreign Official” Challenge

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I was directly involved in the “foreign official” challenges (i.e. are employees of so-called state-owned or state-controlled enterprises “foreign officials” under the FCPA) between 2011 and 2014.

Among other things: (i) I was engaged in connection with the original Carson challenge which relied in part on my “foreign official” declaration; (ii) I was engaged in connection with the Lindsey Manufacturing challenge which also relied in part on my declaration; (iii) I assisted the families of Joel Esquenazi and Carlos Rodriguez secure competent appellant FCPA counsel and assisted the pro bono counsel in that case; and (iv) after the 11th Circuit’s flawed “foreign official” decision in Esquenazi in 2014 (for a full discussion, see this article), I urged the Supreme Court in this amicus brief to accept cert.

In short, I am very familiar with the challenges and the statutory interpretation issues presented to the Supreme Court.

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Supreme Court Declines To Hear “Foreign Official” Challenge

As highlighted in previous posts (here, here and here), the defendants in U.S. v. Esquenazi (see here for the May 2014 11th Circuit decision) petitioned the Supreme Court to hear the case – principally on the “foreign official” issue.  As previously noted, the cert petition was believed to be the first substantive FCPA cert petition in FCPA history and was supported by amicus briefs, including my own.

This morning, the Supreme Court, which decides its own docket, released this Orders List declining to hear the “foreign official” challenge in U.S. v. Esquenazi.

Cert denial in the case means that the 11th Circuit decision stands as a final decision.  Cert denial does not mean that the Supreme Court agreed or disagreed with the 11th Circuit decision.

As noted in previous posts, the Supreme Court has never heard an FCPA case.

*****

The below statement may be attributed to Professor Koehler.

“The reasoning of the Supreme Court in declining to hear the petition is not known, but is likely due to the absence of a circuit split on the “foreign official” issue.  This absence is largely a result of alternative resolution vehicles used by the DOJ (and SEC) as well as other discretionary decisions by the enforcement agencies. So long as these dynamics continue, Supreme Court review of the key elements of a top-priority federal criminal statute of significant importance to all businesses and individuals engaged in international commerce is unlikely.”

Counsel for Esquenazi (Markus Funk and Michael Sink – both of Perkins Coie) offered the following statement.

“Statistically speaking, having the Supreme Court hear Mr. Esquenazi’s case was of course a long-shot.  But, as the amicus petitions highlighted, the confusion the appellate court’s ruling added to the ongoing muddle of what qualifies as an ‘instrumentality’ of a foreign government provided some hope that the Court might weigh in on this issue of great concern to the global business community.  That the Court decided to pass on the opportunity is disappointing.”

This And That

What Others Are Saying About the “Foreign Official” Cert Petition

From this Law360 article.

Rita Glavin, a partner at Seward & Kissel who previously served as head of the DOJ’s criminal division, called [the cert petition] “tremendously significant.”  “The definition of what constitutes a foreign official has been expanding into the abyss,” Glavin said. “That’s a real problem for companies. Instrumentality pretty much becomes whatever the DOJ says it is.” Glavin compared the expansion of the foreign official provision to that of the “honest services fraud” statute — a provision that served for years as a blunt legal instrument in public corruption cases but was curtailed in the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Skilling v. United States. “The government was pushing that statute in cases where people could not have comfort as to where the line was drawn and conduct crossed into criminality,” Glavin said. “The Supreme Court finally put a stop to it.”

Morgan Lewis & Bockius partner George Terwilliger, who served as a top Justice Department official under presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, noted that companies have spent large sums of money policing activities that fall into a legal gray area under the FCPA. He said a ruling on the instrumentality language would provide helpful guidance. “To have a statute of this scope and geographical reach, where some of the key terms remain subject to legitimate debate among legal experts, is unconscionable,” said Terwilliger, who co-chairs Morgan Lewis’ white collar litigation and government investigations practice. “It’s not an appropriate way to administer the law.”

Larry Urgenson, a partner at Mayer Brown, … called [last week’s] petition “a useful landmark” for FCPA attorneys. He previously served in several leadership positions at the DOJ, including as acting deputy assistant attorney general and chief of the FCPA unit.  “It is very important in terms of whether the government is properly executing its prosecutorial powers to the right subjects and the right targets,” Urgenson said.

From this Global Investigations Review article:

Steven Michaels at Debevoise & Plimpton in New York said the petition involves issues which the current Supreme Court Justices are potentially keen to examine. “The Justices may find this case attractive, as they would hear arguments about statutory interpretation and whether the standard set forth by the Eleventh Circuit improperly encourage over-reaching by the government,” he said. “The Supreme Court likes to see criminal liability based on precision and clarity, and given the uncertainty in the law governing FCPA enforcement they may be willing to hear this case.” FCPA cases are also rarely litigated, Michaels said. This may encourage the court to grant the petition, as the court may have to wait a long time before the issue is litigated again in a court of appeals. The Supreme Court typically expects to see a split between US appeals courts before it hears a case, but such a split is also unlikely to occur soon.

John Chesley at Gibson Dunn & Crutcher in Washington, DC said the lack of a circuit split is “the main uphill battle” the petitioners will have to fight. “The lack of clarity in the FCPA’s definition of instrumentality could get the justices interested, especially Justice Antonin Scalia who has written extensively in this area, but the petitioners will nevertheless have a hard time overcoming the court’s preference for only acting when there is a split.” Chesley said the Esquenazi decision was controversial, as the Eleventh Circuit’s complex, multi-factored test for determining whether a company is a government instrumentality makes it difficult to determine whether the recipient of an alleged bribe is a foreign official. “There’s certainly a lot of concern about vagueness,” he said. “For example, one of the factors in the Esquenazi test revolves around whether companies are perceived as government entities in their home jurisdiction. How do you advise a client on that?”

Jessie Liu at Jenner & Block in Washington, DC, said Supreme Court guidance on instrumentality would be “fantastic”, but also said such guidance is unlikely in the near future. “The Eleventh Circuit’s reasoning was pretty robust,” she said. “We would probably need to see another appeals court go the opposite way for the Supreme Court to get involved, but there’s a good chance the Eleventh Circuit’s reasoning will dissuade future litigants from fighting the issue.”

Wal-Mart’s Pre-Enforcement Action Professional Fees and Expenses

In its August 14th second quarter earnings call, Wal-Mart disclosed:

“FCPA and compliance-related costs were approximately $43 million, which represented approximately $31 million for the ongoing inquires and investigations and roughly $12 million related to our global compliance program and organizational enhancements.”

Doing the math, that is approximately $662,000 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 $662,000 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 three quarters were approximately $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 two quarters) = $96 million.

Scrutiny Alerts and Updates

Layne Christensen Company

Layne Christensen Company has been under FCPA scrutiny since 2010 concerning conduct in Africa (see here for the prior post).  As noted in this November 2013 post, the company disclosed that it was “engaged in discussions with the DOJ and the SEC regarding a potential negotiated resolution” of the matter.

However, last week the company issued this release stating:

“The DOJ has decided to not file any charges against the Company in connection with the previously disclosed investigation into potential violations of the FCPA.  The DOJ has notified Layne that it considers the matter closed.

As previously reported by Layne, in connection with updating its FCPA policy, questions were raised internally in September 2010 about, among other things, the legality of certain payments by Layne to agents and other third parties interacting with government officials in certain countries in Africa.  The audit committee of the board of directors engaged outside counsel to conduct an internal investigation to review these payments with assistance from outside accounting firms.  Layne has been consistent and forthcoming in providing voluntary disclosure to the DOJ and the SEC regarding the results of the investigation, and has cooperated fully with those agencies in connection with their review of the matter.  The parallel investigation by the SEC remains open and the Company is actively engaged in settlement discussions with the SEC to resolve this matter.

Layne had previously accrued a reserve of $10.4 million for the settlement of the investigations. Based on the decision by the DOJ, the Company will reduce the accrual related to this investigation by approximately $5.3 million, which will be reflected in Layne’s results of operations for the second fiscal quarter ended July 31, 2014.

David A.B. Brown, President & CEO, commented, “We are very pleased to conclude the DOJ investigation without any charges being brought against Layne and we hope to settle the SEC investigation in the near future. From the very beginning, we have maintained a position of full disclosure and complete cooperation with the authorities and have worked diligently to implement remedial measures to enhance our internal controls and compliance efforts. Based on conversations with the DOJ, we understand that our voluntary disclosure, cooperation and remediation efforts have been recognized and appreciated by the staff of the DOJ and that the resolution of the investigation reflects these matters.”

Qualcomm

As noted in this previous post, in April 2014 Qualcomm disclosed:

“As previously disclosed, the Company discovered, and as a part of its cooperation with these investigations informed the SEC and the DOJ of, instances in which special hiring consideration, gifts or other benefits (collectively, benefits) were provided to several individuals associated with Chinese state-owned companies or agencies. Based on the facts currently known, the Company believes the aggregate monetary value of the benefits in question to be less than $250,000, excluding employment compensation.

On March 13, 2014, the Company received a Wells Notice from the SEC’s Los Angeles Regional Office indicating that the staff has made a preliminary determination to recommend that the SEC file an enforcement action against the Company for violations of the anti-bribery, books and records and internal control provisions of the FCPA. The bribery allegations relate to benefits offered or provided to individuals associated with Chinese state-owned companies or agencies.

[…]

On April 4, 2014, the Company made a Wells submission to the staff of the Los Angeles Regional Office explaining why the Company believes it has not violated the FCPA and therefore enforcement action is not warranted.”

Is this recent New York Times article the reason for Qualcomm’s FCPA scrutiny?  The article states that “an adviser to a Chinese government antitrust committee has been dismissed, accused of accepting payments from Qualcomm, an American technology company under investigation in China on suspicion of antitrust violations.”  According to the article, Qualcomm “had made ‘large payments’ to Zhang Xinzhu, an economist at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, while he also was an adviser on an antimonopoly committee under the State Council, China’s cabinet.”  As noted in this Reuters article, Qualcomm said “it had no direct financial links with an antitrust expert sacked from a government advisory post after state media reported he had received payments from the firm.”

Derwick Associates / ProEnergy Services

This August 2013 post predicted FCPA scrutiny for Derwick Associates based on a civil RICO lawsuit filed alleging conduct in Venezuela.

Sure enough.  This recent Wall Street Journal article reports:

“The U.S. Department of Justice and the Manhattan district attorney’s office are probing Derwick Associates … a company awarded hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts in little more than a year to build power plants in Venezuela, shortly after the country’s power grid began to sputter in 2009.  […]  ProEnergy Services, a Sedalia, Mo.-based engineering, procurement and construction company that sold dozens of turbines to Derwick and helped build the plants, is also under investigation …”.

Cubist Pharmaceuticals

This previous post highlighted the FCPA scrutiny of Optimer Pharmaceuticals.  The company has since been acquired by Cubist Pharmaceutical which recently disclosed as follows.

Optimer U.S. Governmental Investigations

We are continuing to cooperate with the investigations by the SEC and the U.S. Department of Justice in their review of potential violations by Optimer of certain applicable laws, which occurred prior to our acquisition of Optimer. The investigations relate to an attempted share grant by Optimer and certain related matters in 2011, including a potentially improper payment to a research laboratory involving an individual associated with the share grant, that may have violated certain applicable laws, including the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). Optimer had already taken remedial steps in response to its internal investigation of these matters; nonetheless, these events could result in lawsuits being filed against us or Optimer and certain of Optimer’s former employees and directors, or certain of our employees. Such persons could also be the subject of criminal or civil enforcement proceedings and we may be required to indemnify such persons for any costs or losses incurred in connection with such proceedings. We cannot predict the ultimate resolution of these matters, whether we or such persons will be charged with violations of applicable civil or criminal laws, or whether the scope of the investigations will be extended to new issues. We also cannot predict what potential penalties or other remedies, if any, the authorities may seek against us, any of our employees, or any of Optimer’s former employees and directors, or what the collateral consequences may be of any such government actions. We do not have any amounts accrued related to potential penalties or other remedies related to these matters as of June 30, 2014, and cannot estimate a reasonably possible range of loss. In the event any such lawsuit is filed or enforcement proceeding is initiated, we could be subject to a variety of risks and uncertainties that could have material adverse effects on our business, results of operations and financial condition.”

Quotable

Returning to a theme previously explored in the “The Bribery Racket” (Forbes) and “FCPA Inc. and the Business of Bribery” (Wall Street Journal), not to mention my own article “The Facade of FCPA Enforcement,” Robert Amsterdam writes in this Forbes piece titled “When Anti-Corruption Becomes Corrupted,” as follows.

“Like many laws born out of politics, anti-corruption has become alarmingly mired in ambiguity, abuse, and misapplication. In the United Kingdom, the introduction of the Bribery Act, in conjunction with the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), means that now essentially the globe is covered with a bundle of vague principles and unfettered prosecutorial discretions that leaves multinational businesses dangerously exposed. Not only are the laws vague, but they are accompanied by incredible powers on behalf of prosecutors, who can issue orders to freeze assets, cripple business operations, harass employees, and destroy reputations, all before you’ve even had a chance to defend yourself in court. This ambiguity is heightened by the outsourcing of prosecutorial responsibilities to white collar criminal “defense” lawyers, who have embraced emerging regimes of “self reporting,” placing the onus on corporate decisions to avoid the stigma of criminal charges, requiring them to inform on themselves or their own senior employees, often in the absence of any substance.

[…]

[P]art of the problem is the proliferation of Deferred Prosecution Agreements (DPAs) and Non-Prosecution Agreements (NPAs), which entail the company surrendering its rights to defense and admitting to a series of accusations that are not subjected to exhaustive judicial scrutiny.

[…]

Many big law firms now feature celebrity prosecutors who formerly worked in enforcement, so they see their new job as a continuation of their old job, specializing in negotiating NDAs and DPAs.

In several cases that we are familiar with, the self-reporting doctrine has ended up causing much more damage than benefit. Particularly with respect to non-public companies, a better strategy would be to fight against any untrue or exaggerated accusation, uphold basic rights to defense, take internal measures to address any issues, but above all else, refuse to be bullied into a position of confessing to actions that the company has not committed or destroying the careers and personal lives of a handful of executives to serve as the sacrifice to save the company.

We do fear that if this trend of prosecutorial hubris is not checked, we may face a very dangerous future. The potential consequences of these laws, which include lengthy periods of incarceration, could morph beyond big business and impact other areas of society, where the accused are always guilty, where rights to defense do not exist, and dirty deals replace due process.

The philosophy of self reporting, impacting as it does the lives and reputations of executives in major corporations, requires a dramatic rethink. We must carefully examine the incentives driving prosecutors and how they choose their targets, review sentencing guidelines in both the United States and United Kingdom, and reinforce the core values of the presumption of innocence and due process in order to effectively address genuine issues of corruption practices abroad while sparing compliant businesses from the burden of unnecessary harassment.”

In-House Position

Avon Products, Inc., is looking for an attorney to join the Ethics & Compliance team.

The Regional Legal & Compliance Counsel (RLCC), Latam, reports to the Regional Ethics & Compliance Director for compliance matters and V.P. & General Counsel, Legal, Ethics & Compliance, Latam for legal matters.  The position resides in Miami.  The RLCC plays an active role in the execution of the Global Ethics & Compliance program and provides legal support to the region.  The Company’s Ethics & Compliance program seeks to minimize exposure of corporate and regulatory risks through company guidance and controls.  Working with Legal Department colleagues, especially the legal leadership and Compliance Counsels in the markets and the Regional Compliance Director, the RLCC counsels on compliance-related questions, implementation and execution of policies and procedures, with a particular focus on the anti-corruption policy, as well as assists with the design and implementation of compliance enhancements, as necessary.  The RLCC may spend appreciable time implementing anti-corruption policy controls, such as those concerning third party engagements, gift giving, and donations, thereby facilitating legitimate commercial activities while mitigating risk exposure.

Interested candidates may send their CV directly to Gregory Bates (Director, Ethics & Compliance, Latam) (gregory.bates@avon.com)  and should also apply via the http://www.avoncompany.com/aboutavon/careers/index.html.

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