Strange things tend to happen on Halloween, does your foreign local counsel present FCPA risk, insights from the boardroom, checking in on the Wynn-Okada battle royale, tobacco companies in the Middle East, a hat tip, and unmasked. It’s all here in the Friday roundup.
Halloween Hearing Date
Strange things tend to happen on Halloween. Thus, it is fitting that U.S. District Court Judge Keith Ellison (S.D. Tex.) has set October 31st as the hearing date for the motion to dismiss in the SECs FCPA enforcement action against Mark Jackson and James Ruehlen. See here for a prior post linking to the briefs and arguments. How strange is this? It is believed that the last time the SEC stood before a federal court judge to defend its FCPA enforcement theories was in 2002. As noted in this previous post, the SEC lost that case.
Foreign Counsel Risk
A company engages foreign local counsel to help it accomplish a business objective. The company pays thousands of dollars in legal bills to the counsel without probably giving much thought to Foreign Corrupt Practices Act risk.
In this recent article in the Duquesne Business Law Journal, Zachary Cregar (Liberty Mutual Insurance Group, Senior Litigation Auditor) sets forth the need to include foreign legal counsel due diligence and audits within an FCPA compliance program.
Cregar concludes the article as follows. “Foreign outside counsel supervision and legal bill auditing is not only a successful method of detecting corrupt payments, but it pays dividends beyond the realm of FCPA compliance. Cost savings from discovered billing irregularities will likely justify the cost of the program itself. While companies’ bottom lines are impacted by over-billing or fraudulent legal invoices, the financial stakes grow ever higher within the purview of the FCPA. Corporate anti-corruption and due diligence policies may be helpful in reducing hefty FCPA violation penalties after the fact. However, only vigorous, real-time auditing and detection of corrupt payments at the onset will avoid foreign corruption from even occurring.”
Current instances of FCPA scrutiny which involve, at least in part, questions regarding foreign legal counsel include Wal-Mart’s conduct in Mexico and Las Vegas Sands conduct in Macau.
Insights From the Boardroom
PwC’s Annual Corporate Director Survey, “Insights from the Boardroom 2012,” is available for download here. It contains a few FCPA / bribery / corruption related statistics.
Which of the following has your company done in response to the 2011 SEC whistleblower rules? 43% of respondents indicated that their companies have expanded the role of internal audit for bribery and corruption compliance and 11% of respondents indicated that their companies scheduled more board discussions regarding bribery and corruption.
I argue in “Revisiting a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Compliance Defense” here that, among other reasons, the FCPA should be amended to include a compliance defense because such a defense will better incentivize corporate compliance and thus reduce improper conduct. I state that organizations with existing FCPA compliance policies and procedures will be incentivized to make existing programs better and that organizations currently without stand-alone FCPA policies and procedures (and statistics indicate there are many) will be incentivized to spend finite resources to implement compliance policies and procedures.
Imagine the FCPA is amended in 2012 to include a compliance defense. What would the numbers in PwC’s 2013 survey look like if respondents asked “which of the following has your company done in response to the FCPA compliance defense amendment.” I can only speculate as to the exact numbers, but I am confident in saying that more than 43% of respondents would indicate that their companies expanded the role of internal audit for bribery and corruption compliance and that more than 11% of respondents would indicate that their companies scheduled more board discussions regarding bribery and corruption.
Another question in the survey was the following. Indicate if you would like your board to devote more time in the upcoming year to considering the following matters? As to bribery and corruption concerns, 2% said yes, much more time and focus than in the past; 20% said yes, but not a great increase from the past; 75% said no, a change is unnecessary; and 3% said no, decrease our time and focus— we spend too much time on this.
The PwC survery occurred this past summer and was based on responses of 860 public company directors (70% of whom serve on the board of companies with more than $1 billion in annual revenue).
As noted in this previous summary post, it is one of the strangest instances of FCPA scrutiny one can imagine. A corporate board member accuses the company of conduct that could implicate the FCPA, which then causes the SEC to open an inquiry, which then results in the company accusing the board member of separate and distinct conduct that could implicate the FCPA.
Its the Wynn-Okada battle royale.
Earlier this week Kazuo Okada (President of Aruze USA, Inc. – Aruze is the largest stockholder of Wynn Resorts with current ownership of approximately 20% of the outstanding shares) released this letter to Wynn’s shareholders concerning various corporate governance changes.
The letter states, under the heading “Suspicious $135 million donation to the University of Macau Development Foundation” as follows.
“In April 2011, the Board met, discussed, and approved a pledge by Wynn Macau, Limited (“Wynn Macau”), a subsidiary of the Company, to donate HK$1 billion (roughly $135 million) to the University of Macau Development Foundation, at a time when Wynn Macau was seeking local government approval to develop a third casino. This donation is suspicious for a number of reasons, including its enormous size, the fact that the 10-year term of the pledge matches precisely the length of the casino license Wynn Resorts was seeking, and the fact that the lead trustee of the University of Macau Development Foundation also has a position in the Macau government which enables him to influence the issuance of gaming licenses. Mr. Okada questioned and objected to the donation and was ultimately the sole director to vote against it. Mr. Okada has noted that “I am at a complete loss as to the business justification for the donation, other than that it was an attempt to curry favor with those that have ultimate authority for issuing gaming licenses.” Following the April 2011 board meeting, pursuant to his rights as a director of the Company and in furtherance of his fiduciary duties to stockholders of the Company, Mr. Okada, sought to further investigate the Wynn Macau donation and requested additional information from Wynn Resorts concerning the donation and related matters. When the Company refused to provide the information, Mr. Okada took legal action and was vindicated by a court order requiring Wynn Resorts to comply with Mr. Okada’s reasonable requests. As Mr. Okada feared, the questionable Wynn Macau donation has already spawned at least four stockholder lawsuits against the Company and investigations by both the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (for possible violations of law including the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act) and the Nevada Gaming Board. Not only is this enormous financial commitment a drain on the Company’s coffers, but now Wynn Resorts stockholders will be saddled with the added costs associated with responding to the regulatory investigations and lawsuits. If the results of these investigations and lawsuits include the development of facts regarding legally questionable practices by the Company, stockholders will be at still further risk.”
In response, Wynn Resorts issued this statement which states as follows. ““Aruze has not been a stockholder of Wynn Resorts, Limited since February 18, 2012 when its shares were redeemed by the Wynn Board after a lengthy, third-party investigation uncovered prima facie evidence of improper conduct under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act by Mr. Okada, Universal Entertainment and Aruze in their dealings with Philippine officials. This most recent filing is a regrettable attempt to divert attention from the issues facing Mr. Okada and Aruze. Given the fact that Aruze was ejected seven months ago as a Wynn shareholder based on conduct unacceptable for a gaming licensee, it has absolutely no rights as a shareholder to nominate directors and its invalid nominations have been rejected on this basis.”
Tobacco Companies in the Middle East
An interesting article (here) from the Saudi Gazette.
The article states as follows. “In most countries, public smoking is banned. Taxes on the sale of cigarettes and other tobacco related products are high, and labeling on cigarette packs is often very graphic and clear: Smoking kills! From the United States to Australia, governments are clamping down on tobacco companies with regulations to throttle consumption and it seems to be working. And so, tobacco companies have to seek other markets. The Middle East is fertile ground as anti-smoking legislation is weak at best, and a fast growing birthrate means a higher number of potential smokers. As a result, big tobacco companies quickly established regional headquarters for the GCC market in the UAE and set to work.” The article then describes how a source tells of companies reaching out to “area [government] officials to lessen any impact on tobacco sales.”
As noted in this prior post, in August 2010, U.S. tobacco companies Alliance One International and Universal Corporation resolved FCPA enforcement actions.
A hat tip to Christopher Matthews, Samuel Rubenfeld and others associated with the Wall Street Journal’s Corruption Currents page on their two-year anniversary. Corruption Currents (here) is a daily read for me and should be for anyone interested in FCPA and related topics.
Who is that Masked Man?
A small town Midwesterner who saw the world and became interested in a law is who. Thanks to Tom Fox (FCPA Compliance and Ethics Blog) for the opportunity to tell my story. See here for the Q&A.
A good weekend to all.