Out with the tide, a former DOJ Fraud Section Chief speaks on voluntary disclosure, guidance issues, will candy fall from the pinata, schooled in the FCPA, a Section 1504 development, and “Minegolia.”
Tidewater Derivative Complaint Dismissed
As highlighted in this previous post, in November 2010 Tidewater Inc. was one of several companies to resolve a “CustomsGate” case. The conduct at issue focused on Azeri tax officials and Nigerian temporary import permits and the company resolved DOJ and SEC enforcement actions by agreeing to pay $15.7 million in fines and penalties.
As if on cue in this new era of FCPA enforcement, along came the private plaintiff firms representing shareholders who filed a derivative complaint alleging that officers and members of the Board of Directors of Tidewater breached their fiduciary duties “in that they: (1) knew or recklessly disregarded the fact that employees, representatives, agents and/or contractors were paying, had paid and/or had offered to pay bribes to Azerbaijani and Nigerian government officials to obtain favorable treatment for Tidewater; (2) caused Tidewater to pay bribes and to disguise the bribe payments as legitimate expenses in Tidewater’s books and financial disclosures; and (3) failed to maintain adequate internal controls to ensure compliance with the FCPA and Exchange Act.”
Earlier this week, the case was swept out with the tide as U.S. District Court Judge Jane Triche Milazzo dismissed the complaint – see here for the decision. In short, Judge Milazzo found that “Plaintiff did not adequately plead demand futility.” Judge Milazzo utilized various tests in reaching her decision such as director interest and independence and whether the board could impartially consider the merits of the demand without being influenced by improper considerations.
As to interest, Judge Milazzo stated as follows.
“This Court finds that the Complaint is completely devoid of any allegations of an interested director. There is no allegation that any director appeared on both sides of a transaction or expected to derive a personal financial benefit from it. Nowhere in the Complaint can it be found that any one of the directors, much the less a majority of them, benefitted from the bribes themselves, benefitted from failing to establish and maintain adequate internal controls, benefitted from enforcing policies and programs designed to prevent violations, benefitted from improperly recorded payment of bribes in Tidewater’s books and records or benefitted from inadequately training their employees, agents, representatives and/or contractors with respect to compliance with the FCPA.”
As to alleged director participation or knowledge , Judge Milazzo stated that the “Complaint falls woefully short of pleading facts that are sufficient to show that there was any knowledge or conscious disregard on behalf of the directors.”
As to whether the directors exhibited bad faith sufficient to overcome business judgment rule presumptions, Judge Milazzo stated as follows. “While Plaintiff’s allegations are sufficient to show that Tidewater was evidently violating both the FCPA and the Exchange Act, nowhere in the Complaint do Plaintiff’s allegations meet the specificity to show that the Individual Defendants were acting with the intent to violate these laws. ‘[T]he mere fact that a violation occurred does not demonstrate that the board acted in bad faith. Alleging that ‘upon information and belief’ the ‘Headquarters’ made the decision to avoid tax assessments in violation of the FCPA falls woefully short of the pleading requirements. Nowhere can this Court find who made this decision, how this decision was made or that there was an intent to violate any law. Moreover, the Court finds it significant that Tidewater’s directors voted and voluntarily initiated an FCPA investigation and advised the federal government of their violations before the government even suspected any violations.”
Tyrell on Voluntary Disclosure
You know the talking points. The DOJ wants companies to voluntarily disclose, not ifs, ands or buts about it. It’s interesting though how this becomes less of a black and white issues when individuals leave the DOJ.
In this recent Q&A in The Metropolitan Corporate Counsel, Steven Tyrell (a former DOJ Fraud Section Chief and current partner at Weil Gotshal – here) was asked the following question – “what is the role of voluntary reporting in establishing a good relationship with the regulatory and enforcement authorities?”
He stated as follows.
“In the first instance, if a company has a legal obligation to disclose – for example, government contractors are obliged to disclose fraud – then the analysis begins and ends there. Assuming there is no legal obligation that compels disclosure or no imminent threat of disclosure by an outside party, such as a newspaper, then I typically advise clients to take credible allegations of wrongdoing seriously, look into those allegations in a manner that is appropriate under the circumstances, and assess the nature and extent of the company’s exposure and the pros and cons of disclosure. Then, and only then, should a disclosure be made if it is in the best interest of the company – or, for a public company, if the securities laws require it. Of course, it often will not be in a company’s best interest to disclose if, for example, the allegations prove not to be credible or if it is unclear whether the conduct even amounts to a violation of law. Under those circumstances, a disclosure could unnecessarily embroil the company in a lengthy and costly government investigation and result in other repercussions such as triggering civil litigation and harm to a company’s reputation that could otherwise be avoided. It’s a challenging calculus. I can tell you from past experience that there are companies that have strong reputations for compliance with regulators and others that do not. However, the fact that a company doesn’t disclose a problem that ultimately comes to DOJ’s attention is not necessarily going to damage the company’s credibility with DOJ. Regulators recognize that not every allegation should be of interest to them – and, frankly, having counsel that knows when they’ll be interested and when they won’t is really important.”
As highlighted in this previous post, soon after Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer announced in November 2011 that FCPA guidance would be forthcoming in 2012, Senator Grassley sought guidance on the guidance and asked Attorney General Holder several follow-up questions for the record. For a copy of Holder’s responses, see here.
In this previous post, among others, I commented that non-binding DOJ guidance is not the best way to accomplish real and meaningful FCPA reform.
Thus, I completely agree with former DOJ Deputy Attorney General George Terwilliger and former DOJ attorney and Senate counsel Matthew Miner (both currently at White & Case, see here and here) when they state as follows in this article.
“The fact that the Justice Department recognizes the need for such guidance underscores the existence of blurry lines and fuzzy standards surrounding the FCPA. US businesses trying to compete successfully in the international commercial arena deserve better. Justice Department ‘guidance’ is neither enough, nor is it properly the role of prosecutors to be definitive interpreters of ambiguities in criminal laws. Congress writes the laws and, as the US Supreme Court has firmly established, has a responsibility to set clear standards for what is permissible and what is not. It should not stand aside in deference to the Justice Department’s plan to craft guidance, especially when that guidance will have no effect in court.”
It has been said before that anytime a foreign company is the subject of a corruption probe, the U.S. enforcement agencies are like children at a birthday party waiting for some candy to fall from the pinata. Think what you will of the analogy.
The Wall Street Journal recently reported (here) that “Norwegian fertilizer producer Yara International ASA’s chief executive, Jorgen Ole Haslestad, apologized Friday to the company’s employees after an investigation uncovered millions of dollars in ‘unacceptable’ payments in India and Switzerland, as well as ‘unacceptable offers of payments’ in Libya.” According to the article, the “unacceptable offers of payments” in Libya involve “a consultant related to the establishment of the company Libyan Norwegian Fertilizer Co., or Lifeco, in Libya, a joint venture with the Libyan National Oil Corp. and the Libyan Investment Authority.”
As noted on the company’s website here, Yara “has a sponsored Level 1 ADR program for American Depositary Receipts (ADRs), which represent ownership in shares of foreign (non-US) companies that trade on US financial markets.” Whether foreign companies, including those with Level 1 ADR’s can become subject to the FCPA, see this excellent piece “When Does an ADR Program Give U.S. Authorities FCPA Jurisdiction Over a Foreign Issuer?”
Time will tell if the candy falls.
Checking in on Wynn Resorts
Previous posts here, here and here focused on the Wynn-Okada dispute including Wynn’s $135 million charitable contribution to the University of Macau. On that topic, this recent Wall Street Journal article focused on the “web of political ties” between a Macau company paid by Wynn and government officials. Regarding Wynn’s FCPA compliance in expanding in Macau, company CEO Steve Wynn stated as follows. “This whole business of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act—we were schooled in this.”
Final grade is pending.
Section 1504 Development
Several prior posts, see here for example, discussed Section 1504 of Dodd-Frank, the so-called Resource Extraction Disclosure Provisions and the long delay in SEC final rules. As noted in this Corruption Current post by Samuel Rubenfeld, the SEC recently announced here that on August 22nd, “the Commission will consider whether to adopt rules regarding disclosure and reporting obligations with respect to payments to governments made by resource extraction issuers to implement the requirements of Section 1504 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.
There has been only one FCPA enforcement concerning, at least in part, business conduct in Mongolia (see here for the 2009 UTStarcom action). This is hardly surprising, as few companies subject to the FCPA have traditionally engaged in business in the country. However, as noted in this recent Al Jazerra article, Mongolia or “Minegolia” as the country is sometimes called, “is undergoing a rapid transformation, due to its incredible resource wealth in minerals such as coal, copper, and gold.” At the same time, the article notes that “Transparency International placed Mongolia 120th out of 183 nations on its corruption perception index” and that “90 percent of Mongolians believe politicians are benefitting from ‘special arrangements’ with foreign enterprises over mining rights.”
A good weekend to all.