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Companies That Have Resolved FCPA Enforcement Actions Or Are Currently Under FCPA Scrutiny Are Helping To Change The World

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In the minds of some, companies that have resolved Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement actions or are currently under FCPA scrutiny are bad or unethical companies.

It is a tempting position to take. After all, the FCPA is about bribery and corruption.

However, it is a wrong position to take in many (but certainly not all) instances.

Certain members of the FCPA and anti-corruption space need to realize that many (but certainly not all) FCPA enforcement actions and/or instances of FCPA scrutiny are based on the conduct of just a few individuals in a business organization that employs thousands or tens of thousands of individuals and a business organization otherwise making good faith efforts to comply with the FCPA.

Previous posts here, here and here highlighted how companies that have resolved FCPA enforcement actions or were currently under FCPA scrutiny have always been well-represented on Ethisphere’s “World’s Most Ethical Companies” list. This post highlights how such companies have been well-represented on Fortune’s “Most Admired Companies” list.

This post highlights how such companies are well-represented on Fortune’s recent companies that are “Changing the World” list.

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Friday Roundup

Roundup2

World’s most ethical FCPA violators, scrutiny alerts and updates, and shareholder meeting action.  It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

World’s Most Ethical FCPA Violators

This 2011 post coined the term “World’s Most Ethical FCPA Violators” (that is, companies recognized on Ethisphere’s World’s Most Ethical Companies list, yet also companies that have resolved FCPA enforcement actions and/or been the subject of FCPA scrutiny).

Highlighting this dynamic is not a dig at Ethisphere’s methodology or the companies themselves.

Rather, it is further to the point of how easy it can be for a multi-national company to become the subject of FCPA scrutiny as well as debunking the fallacy of “good companies don’t bribe period” (see here for the prior post).

The 2015 version of the “World’s Most Ethical Companies” list contains several companies that have resolved FCPA enforcement actions and/or been the subject of FCPA scrutiny in recent years.

By my estimation, the companies are as follows: 3M Company, ABB Group, CBRE Group, Cisco, Deere & Co., Dun & Bradstreet, Fluor, GE, Microsoft, Rockwell Automation, Schnitzer Steel, and Sempra Energy.

Scrutiny Alerts and Updates

Barry Keller, etc.

The Wall Street Journal went in-depth in this article about a pending FCPA investigation.  In pertinent part, the article states:

“A widening U.S. bribery probe involving Russian uranium has reached from Moscow to a company in the heart of America’s Rust Belt.

U.S. authorities are investigating whether an executive in Bremen, Ohio—a rural community with about 1,500 residents roughly 40 miles southeast of Columbus—bribed Russian energy officials to win his company millions of dollars in contracts to supply shipping containers for uranium, according to people familiar with the matter.

People familiar with the investigation identified that company as Westerman Cos., which was acquired by Worthington Industries Inc. in 2012 and now operates as Worthington Cylinders. Court records refer to the company as Cylinder Corporation A and identify its location as Bremen.

[…]

Authorities suspect that the Westerman executive, who became part of a long-running criminal probe, paid Russian officials tens of thousands of dollars in bribes between 2011 and 2013, court documents say.

People familiar with the investigation say the man, identified by the documents as “Executive A” or “Barry,” is Barry Keller, a Bremen native who has spent more than three decades at Westerman, working his way up from the shop floor to senior management.

Mr. Keller couldn’t be reached for comment. Neither he nor the company has been charged with any crime.

Worthington, through a spokeswoman, declined to comment on Mr. Keller.

“We first learned of [the investigation] in November, and we are fully cooperating with the Justice Department,” said Worthington Industries general counsel Dale Brinkman.He said the company hasn’t heard from federal investigators since January.

Mr. Brinkman stressed that Westerman’s ties with the Russians began before Worthington acquired it. “When we became aware of this [investigation], we quit selling to them,” he added.”

Gold Fields

In September 2013 (see here for the prior post), South African company Gold Fields Limited was the subject of a South African newspaper article which then prompted the company with ADRs listed on a U.S. exchange to disclose:

“Gold Fields Limited has been informed that it is the subject of a regulatory investigation in the United States by the US Securities and Exchange Commission relating to the Black Economic Empowerment transaction associated with the granting of the mining license for its South Deep operation. Given the early stage of this investigation, it is not possible to estimate reliably what effect, the outcome this investigation, any regulatory findings and any related developments may have on the Company.”

Recently Gold Fields disclosed:

“[The company] been informed by the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Unit of the United States Securities Exchange Commission (the Commission) that it has concluded its investigation in connection with the Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) transaction related to South Deep and, based on the information available to them, will not recommend to the Commission that enforcement action be taken against Gold Fields.”

According to the “declination” crowd, this is another example of a “declination.”  This Compliance Week article went so far as to suggest that Gold Fields “dodged” FCPA charges.

Both assertions are off-target for the same reason it would be off-target to say that a sober driver who passes through a field sobriety test “dodged” drug driving charges or that law enforcement “declined” to prosecute the driver for drunk driving.

Compass Group

The U.K. catering company with ADRs listed on a U.S. exchange was recently the focus of this U.K. Guardian article.  According to the article:

“An international subsidiary of Compass Group, the British catering giant … paid bribes to government officials in Kazakhstan, documents seen by the Guardian reveal.

The unit’s agents made “facilitation payments” to customs officers in the former Soviet republic for an unspecified period up to 2011, internal Compass papers show, with the transactions originating in the same international division that was separately accused of bribing a UN official to win contracts.

The company paid £40m to settle civil litigation in the UN case in 2006, without admitting legal liability.

The new allegations are detailed in documents that relate to an employment tribunal claim brought by a former finance director of a Compass subsidiary in Kazakhstan. Karim Pabani says he was sacked after blowing the whistle on corruption, but Compass is fighting the claim.”

Shareholder Meeting Action

Corporate shareholder meetings are often boring affairs.  (See here for a recent Wall Street Journal article).

This is until a shareholder stands up and goes on an uninformed FCPA rant.

As noted in this article:

“The annual meeting of Time Warner shareholders in Atlanta on Friday somehow managed not to be soul-drainingly boring for a few minutes, when an unhinged female shareholder launched into a lengthy rant about George Clooney and his wife, attorney Amal Alamuddin.

“I have a compensation question … How much have we paid George Clooney for ‘Gravity’ and ‘Argo?’” the shareholder asked Time Warner chairman and CEO Jeff Bewkes, before unspooling a scatter-shot jeremiad with xenophobic overtones.

“How much money went to Amal Alamuddin, a foreign fiancée and spouse? To her family, to Lebanon, to the mayor of Rome to officiate at the wedding? To Arab contractors to renovate his home in London? Are there violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act?””

*****

A good weekend to all.

Friday Roundup

Guilty plea in FCPA obstruction case, SEC trims a pending case, across the pond, turnabout is fair play, and for the reading stack.  It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Cilins Pleads Guilty

Earlier this week, the DOJ announced that Frederic Cilins pleaded guilty “to obstructing a federal criminal investigation into whether a mining company paid bribes to win lucrative mining rights in the Republic of Guinea.”  The DOJ release further states:

“Cilins pleaded guilty to a one-count superseding information …, which alleges that Cilins agreed to pay money to induce a witness to destroy, or provide to him for destruction, documents sought by the FBI.   According to the superseding information, those documents related to allegations concerning the payment of bribes to obtain mining concessions in the Simandou region of the Republic of Guinea.”

Cilins was originally charged in April 2013 (see this prior post for a summary of the criminal complaint) and there was much activity leading up to Cilins’s March 31st trial date.  For instance, on February 18th the DOJ filed a superseding indictment and on March 4th Cilins filed this motion to dismiss.  In pertinent part, the motion stated:

“For almost a year, the government has proceeded against Mr. Cilins under the theory that he criminally obstructed an investigation conducted by a federal grand jury in the Southern District of New York and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, after he first learned of that investigation in the spring of 2013. Now, on the eve of trial, the government has charged Mr. Cilins with conspiracy to commit criminal obstruction. The supposed conspiracy began in 2012, when, as the government admits, he had no intent to obstruct an American investigation—indeed, well before any such investigation had even been contemplated. The charge is instead based on a radical new theory: that Mr. Cilins interfered with a Guinean civil licensing investigation, which somehow amounts to a violation of U.S. obstruction law under 18 U.S.C. § 1519.

The government’s unprecedented and breathtaking attempt to federalize protection for investigations spread far and wide throughout the world has no basis in the text of the obstruction statute itself and no support in the case law. It also runs up against the well-established presumption that, absent strong evidence to the contrary, Congress did not intend to give federal statutes extraterritorial reach. Not only does § 1519 contain no textual evidence that Congress meant to give the law a worldwide sweep, the statute’s legislative history also confirms the obvious: that Congress wrote a federal obstruction statute in order to criminalize intentional interference with American investigations. The government’s new conspiracy count is fatally defective and must be dismissed.”

Cilins has been widely reported to be linked to Guernsey-based BSG Resources Ltd.  As reported here from 100 Reporters:

“The U.S. Justice Department has formally notified the Franco-Israeli billionaire Beny Steinmetz [the founder of BSG Resources] that he is the target of a federal probe of allegations of bribery in the Republic of Guinea, according to a source with knowledge of the matter. The disclosure places Steinmetz … personally at the center of a broad-based multinational corruption investigation involving some of the largest remaining untapped iron ore deposits in the world.  […] According to the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, attorneys for Steinmetz have received a so-called “target letter” from federal prosecutors investigating allegations that Steinmetz’s mining company offered millions of dollars in bribes to win and keep the multi-billion dollar concession first awarded by the Guinean government in 2008.  The letter went to Steinmetz’s lawyers in January, the source said.”

For additional coverage of Cilins’s plea, see here from Reuters (noting that the plea agreement does not require any cooperation with the government’s investigation) and here from Bloomberg.

SEC Trims a Pending Case

This recent post highlighted how the SEC has never prevailed in an FCPA enforcement action when put to its ultimate burden of proof.

Against this backdrop, it is notable, as reported by the Wall Street Journal here and citing an SEC official, that the SEC is dropping its claims that former Magyar Telekom executives Elek Straub, Andras Balogh and Tomas Morval bribed Montenegro officials.  (The SEC’s claims that the former executives bribed Macedonian officials remains active).

See this prior post summarizing the SEC’s original 2011 complaint.

Across the Pond

More from the U.K. trial of former News Corp. executive Rebekah Brooks.  From the Guardian:

“Rebekah Brooks has admitted rubber stamping payments to military sources while she was editor at the Sun at the Old Bailey phone hacking trial. Brooks also admitted on Monday that she did not question whether the source of a series of stories that came from a reporter’s “ace military source” was a public official who could not be paid without the law being broken. Crown prosecutor Andrew Edis, QC, quizzed her about a series of emails from the reporter requesting tens of thousands of pounds for his military source. She responded to one request for payment in under a minute and to another within two minutes, the phone hacking trial heard. “You really were just acting as a rubber stamp weren’t you,” Edis asked. Brooks replied: “Yes.”

As noted in previous posts here and here:

“What happens in these trials concerning the bribery offenses will not determine the outcome of any potential News Corp. FCPA enforcement action. But you can bet that the DOJ and SEC will be interested in the ultimate outcome. In short, if there is a judicial finding that Brooks and/or Coulson or other high-level executives in London authorized or otherwise knew of the alleged improper payments, this will likely be a factor in how the DOJ and SEC ultimately resolve any potential enforcement action and how News Corp.’s overall culpability score may be calculated under the advisory Sentencing Guidelines.”

Turnabout Is Fair Play

Last week’s Friday Roundup (here) highlighted how Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) called out Koch Industries on the Senate floor and accused the company of violating the FCPA.  The previous post noted that it was not just executives or companies that support Republican causes that have come under FCPA scrutiny (several Democratic examples could be cited as well).

Indeed, that is just what the Washington Examiner did in this article which states as follows.

“Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has received campaign contributions from people and political action committees linked to multiple companies suspected of violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.  […]  [R]ecords reveal that Reid has accepted campaign money from individuals and political action committees associated with 10 companies linked to FCPA investigations.  The contributions total $515,100 between 2009 and 2013.”

The inference from both Senator Reid’s initial volley and the Washington Examiner report would seem to be that companies that resolve FCPA enforcement actions or companies under FCPA scrutiny are bad or unethical companies and that politicians who accept support from such companies are thus tainted as well.

Such an inference is naive in the extreme.

Yes, certain FCPA enforcement actions are based on allegations that executive management or the board was involved in or condoned the improper conduct at issue. However, this type of FCPA enforcement action is not typical.

A typical FCPA enforcement action involves allegations that a small group of people (or perhaps even a single individual) within a subsidiary or business unit of a business organization engaged in conduct in violation of the FCPA. Yet because of respondeat superior principles, the company is exposed to FCPA liability even if the employee’s conduct is contrary to the company’s pre-existing FCPA policies and procedures.

Also relevant to the question of whether companies that resolve FCPA enforcement actions are “bad” or “unethical” is the fact that most FCPA enforcement actions are based on the conduct of third-parties under the FCPA’s third-party payment provisions. Further, certain FCPA enforcement actions are based on successor liability theories whereby an acquiring company is held liable for the acquired company’s FCPA liability.

Finally, given the resolution vehicles typically used to resolve an FCPA enforcement – such as non-prosecution and deferred prosecution agreements – companies subject to FCPA scrutiny often decide it is quicker, more cost efficient, and more certain to agree to such a resolution vehicle than engage in long-protracted litigation with the DOJ or SEC. These resolution vehicles do not require the company to plead guilty to anything (or typically admit the allegations in the SEC context), are not subject to meaningful judicial scrutiny, and do not necessarily represent the triumph of one party’s legal position over the other. Rather resolution via such a vehicle often reflects a risk-based decision often grounded in issues other than facts or the law. Indeed, a former high-ranking DOJ FCPA enforcement official has stated that given the availability of such alternative resolution vehicles, “it is tempting for the [DOJ], or the SEC since it too now has these options available, to seek to resolve cases through DPAs or NPAs that don’t actually constitute violations of the law.”

Last, but certainly not least, many corporate FCPA enforcement actions concern conduct that allegedly took place 5, 7, 10 or even 15 years ago.

Reading Stack

An informative read from Catherine Palmer and Daiske Yoshida (Latham & Watkins) titled “Deemed Public Officials:  A Potential Risk For U.S. Companies in Japan.”  The article states:

“Deemed public officials are officers and employees of entities that are not government owned but serve public functions. This concept is somewhat analogous to state-owned enterprises, but rather than being government owned/controlled entities that participate in commercial activities, these are commercial entities that play quasi-government roles.  […] The statutes that authorized the establishment of these companies stipulate that their officers and  employees are “deemed to be an employee engaged in public service” for the purposes of the Penal Code of Japan.”

Another informative read from Wendy Wysong (Clifford Chance) titled “Why, Whether, and When the FCPA Matters in Capital Market Transactions: The Asian Perspective.”  The article, in part, covers the FCPA’s tricky “issuer” concept and explores FCPA liability in Rule 144A and Regulation S offerings.

*****

A good weekend to all.

Friday Roundup

Most admired, from the U.K., one way to avoid judicial scrutiny is to avoid the courts, another DOJ official departs, scrutiny updates, and survey says.  It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Most Admired

Are companies that resolve a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement or are otherwise under FCPA scrutiny bad or unethical companies?  To be sure, certain companies that have resolved FCPA enforcement actions are deserving of this label, yet most are not.  Indeed, as detailed in this prior post several companies have earned designation as “World Most Ethical Companies” during the same general time period relevant to an enforcement action or instance of FCPA scrutiny.

In a similar vein, several FCPA violators or companies under FCPA scrutiny can be found on Fortune’s recent “Most Admired Company” list.  In the top 50, I count 12 such companies including IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Microsoft, Wal-Mart, JPMorgan, and Cisco.

Let’s face it, not all companies that resolve FCPA enforcement actions or are under FCPA scrutiny are bad or unethical companies.  If more people would realize this and accept this fact, perhaps a substantive discussion could take place regarding FCPA reform absent the misinformed rhetoric.

From the U.K.

In this October 2013 post at the beginning of the U.K. trial of former News Corp. executives Rebekah Brooks, the former editor of News of the World, and Andy Coulson, another former News of the World editor, I observed as follows.

“What happens in these trials concerning the bribery offenses will not determine the outcome of any potential News Corp. FCPA enforcement action.  But you can bet that the DOJ and SEC will be interested in the ultimate outcome.  In short, if there is a judicial finding that Brooks and/or Coulson or other high-level executives in London authorized or otherwise knew of the alleged improper payments, this will likely be a factor in how the DOJ and SEC ultimately resolve any potential enforcement action and how News Corp.’s overall culpability score may be calculated under the advisory Sentencing Guidelines.”

Well …, this Wall Street Journal article reports as follows.

“[Rebekah Brooks testified that] she authorized payments to public officials in exchange for information on “half a dozen occasions” during her time as a newspaper editor—but did so only in what she said was the public interest. […]  On the stand, Ms. Brooks, who edited News Corp’s Sun newspaper and its now-closed News of the World sister title, said the payments were made for good reasons, and done so on rare occasions and after careful consideration. “My view at the time was that there had to be an overwhelming public interest to justify payments in the very narrow circumstances of a public official being paid for information directly in line with their jobs,” said Ms. Brooks.”

As noted in this previous post at the beginning of News Corp.’s FCPA scrutiny, any suggestion that the media industry is somehow excluded from the FCPA’s prohibitions is entirely off-base.

One Way to Avoid Judicial Scrutiny is to Avoid the Courts

In recent years, the SEC has had some notable struggles in the FCPA context and otherwise when put to its burden of proof in litigated actions or otherwise having to defend its settlement policies to federal court judges.  For instance, Judge Shira Scheindlin (S.D.N.Y.) dismissed the SEC’s FCPA enforcement against former Siemens executive Herbert Steffen.  In another FCPA enforcement action,  Judge Keith Ellison (S.D.Tex.) granted without prejudice Mark Jackson and James Ruehlen’s motion to dismiss the SEC’s claims that sought monetary damages.  In Gabelli, the Supreme Court unanimously rejected the SEC’s statute of limitations position.  Judge Richard Leon (D.D.C.) expressed concerns regarding the SEC’s settlement of FCPA enforcement actions against Tyco and IBM and approved the settlements only after imposing additional reporting requirements on the companies.  In addition, the SEC’s neither admit nor deny settlement policy has been questioned by several judges (most notably Judge Jed Rakoff) and the merits of this policy is currently before the Second Circuit.

The SEC’s response to this judicial scrutiny has been, as strange as it may sound, to bypass the judicial system altogether  when resolving many of its enforcement actions including in the FCPA context.  As detailed in this previous post concerning SEC FCPA enforcement in 2013, of the 8 corporate enforcement actions from 2013, 3 enforcement actions were administrative actions (Philips Electronics, Total, and Stryker) and 1 action (Ralph Lauren) was a non-prosecution agreement.  In other words, there was no judicial scrutiny of 50% of SEC FCPA enforcement actions from 2013.

Based on recent statements from SEC officials at the “SEC Speaks” conference this trend is going to continue.

According to this Vedder Price bulletin:

“Charlotte Buford, Assistant Chief Counsel, spoke about the SEC’s intention to use the administrative proceeding forum more frequently and in a wider variety of upcoming enforcement actions. Ms. Buford stated that in choosing the forum, the SEC considers factors such as speed and efficiency, the nature of the case, litigation considerations such as the amount of discovery needed, and settlement considerations. Ms. Buford noted that, although certain types of actions such as insider trading cases were historically brought in district court, two insider trading cases were recently brought as administrative actions. She also referenced the SEC’s recent action against Alcoa, Inc. involving FCPA violations, which was filed as a settled administrative proceeding. Ms. Buford indicated that the SEC will continue to increase its use of administrative proceedings in the coming years.”

This Perkins Coie alert adds the following:

“[Kara Brockmeyer – Chief of the SEC’s FCPA Unit] also noted that companies can expect to see more cases resolved in administrative proceedings, and that the FCPA Unit is considering bringing litigated FCPA cases through administrative proceedings as well.”

SEC administrative settlements in the FCPA context were rare prior to 2010 largely because the SEC could not impose monetary penalties in such proceedings absent certain exceptions.  However, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act granted the SEC broad authority to impose civil monetary penalties in administrative proceedings in which the SEC staff seeks a cease-and-desist order.  However, Congress’s grant of such authority to the SEC – no doubt politically popular in the aftermath of the so-called financial crisis – has directly resulted in less judicial scrutiny of SEC enforcement theories including in the FCPA context.

Like so much of what is happening in the FCPA space (and government regulation of corporate conduct generally), this is a troubling development.

In other “SEC Speaks” tidbits, the Vedder Price bulletin also states:

“Kara Brockmeyer, Chief of the FCPA Unit, noted that her unit brought a variety of cases in 2013, which included “old school” bribery cases funneling money, improper travel and entertainment, and improper charitable donations. Ms. Brockmeyer stated that the SEC continues to see issues with third-party intermediaries, as many companies enter into arrangements with third parties without adequately explaining the roles of the third parties. Ms. Brockmeyer lauded companies for “putting more thought” into compliance programs and internal controls, as well as for their decisions to self-report. She also discussed the Cross-border working group, which has brought 21 fraud actions involving 90 individuals or entities and has revoked the registrations of 63 companies since this initiative started three years ago.”

The Perkins Coie alert also states:

“Turning to the area of cooperation credit and non-prosecution agreements (NPAs), Chief Brockmeyer stated that the 2013 Ralph Lauren case is a good example of where such an outcome was warranted.  Several factors that weighed in favor of that favorable NPA settlement resulted from the company: self-reporting the suspected bribery within two weeks of finding violations; discovering the violations on its own through internal monitoring activities; assisting the SEC’s investigation by providing English language translations of foreign documents, and bringing witnesses to the United States for questioning; and undertaking extensive remediation efforts, including a worldwide investigation to determine if there were any systemic issues.  Finally, Chief Brockmeyer added that it was significant that Ralph Lauren’s investigation determined that the bribery issues were confined to one country; if the violations were found to be more widespread, the company would likely still have received cooperation credit, but would not have been a candidate for a NPA.

Chief Brockmeyer stated that the SEC will continue to address Compliance Monitorship requirements on a case-by-case basis.  Recently, the SEC has imposed both “full” monitorships, as well as some “hybrid” monitorships that include 18 months of monitoring, combined with 18 months of self-monitoring by the company.  She noted that some companies might even qualify for just internal monitoring, but all these considerations depend heavily on the state of the company’s compliance program.

Finally, Chief Brockmeyer indicated that whistleblower tips continue to serve as a primary lead for the SEC in identifying potential FCPA actions.  The SEC is using these tips to identify specific sectors or industries that are not paying sufficient attention to corporate compliance or internal controls.  The SEC is also focused on enforcing the anti-retaliation whistleblower provisions in Dodd Frank.  In some instances, the SEC has observed that companies have required employees to sign confidentiality agreements that appear to bar an employee from becoming a whistleblower.  She opined that such agreements would violate Dodd-Frank’s prohibition against regulated entities taking actions to impede employees from making whistleblower complaints.”

Another DOJ Official Departs

When Lanny Breuer departed as DOJ Assistant Attorney Criminal Division in March 2013, Mythili Raman became Acting Assistant Attorney and carried forward much of the same rhetoric Breuer frequently articulated concerning the DOJ’s FCPA enforcement program.  (See here for my article “Lanny Breuer and Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Enforcement).

In speeches (here and here) Raman stated that the DOJ’s “stellar FCPA Unit continues to go gangbusters, bringing case after case,” “our recent string of successful prosecutions of corporate executives is worth highlighting” and “we are not going away … our efforts to fight foreign bribery are more robust than ever.”

Like other DOJ FCPA officials before her, Raman frequently highlighted certain enforcement statistics, yet conveniently ignored the most telling enforcement statistic of all – the DOJ’s dismal record when actually put to its burden of proof in FCPA enforcement actions.  In short, for a long time the DOJ’s FCPA Unit has had a distorted view of success.

Certainly, the DOJ and SEC have had “success” in this new era of FCPA enforcement exercising leverage and securing large corporate FCPA settlements against risk-averse corporations through resolution vehicles often not subjected to any meaningful judicial scrutiny.  However, by focusing on the quantity of FCPA enforcement, the quality of that enforcement is often left unexplored.  The simplistic notion advanced by the enforcement agencies seems to be that more FCPA enforcement is an inherent good regardless of enforcement theories, regardless of resolution vehicles, and regardless of actual outcomes when put to its burden of proof.  This logic is troubling and ought to be rejected.  In a legal system founded on the rule of law, a more meaningful form of government enforcement agency success is prevailing in the context of an adversarial system when put to the burden of proof.  As to this form of success, during this new era of FCPA enforcement, the DOJ and SEC have had far less “success” in enforcing the FCPA.

Recently the DOJ announced that Raman is departing from her position. (See here).  In this related Q&A with the Wall Street Journal Law Blog (LB) Raman confirmed that the DOJ measures success in terms of quantity without regard to quality.

LB: [On enforcement of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which has increased in recent years] do you think you’re winning? Are there fewer bribes being paid now?

MR: We often measure our success by numbers of enforcement actions but actually at the end of the day…. the deterrent effect is what actually matters. I don’t know if fewer bribes are being paid or not. But I do know that there are many more companies who know what their obligations are now.

For additional coverage of Raman’s departure, see here and here.

Scrutiny Alerts

Last summer German healthcare firm Fresenius Medical Care AG disclosed an FCPA internal investigation (see here for the prior post).  In its recently filed annual report, the company stated as follows:

“The Company has received communications alleging certain conduct in certain countries outside the U.S. and Germany that may violate the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) or other anti-bribery laws. The Audit and Corporate Governance Committee of the Company’s Supervisory Board is conducting an internal review with the assistance of independent counsel retained for such purpose. The Company  voluntarily advised the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) and the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) that allegations have been made and of the Company’s internal review. The Company’s review and dialogue with the SEC and DOJ are ongoing.  The review has identified conduct that raises concerns under the FCPA or other anti-bribery laws that may result in monetary penalties or other sanctions. In addition, the Company’s ability to conduct business in certain jurisdictions could be negatively impacted. Given the current status of the internal review, the Company cannot reasonably estimate the possible loss or range of possible loss that may result from the identified matters or from the final outcome of the continuing internal review. Accordingly, no provision with respect to these matters has been made in the accompanying consolidated financial statements.  The Company’s independent counsel, in conjunction with the Company’s Compliance Department, have reviewed the Company’s anti-corruption compliance program, including internal controls related to compliance with international anti-bribery laws, and appropriate enhancements are being implemented. The Company is fully committed to FCPA compliance.”

Bio-Rad Laboratories disclosed as follows yesterday in an earnings release.

“[Fourth quarter] results included an accrued expense of $15 million in connection with the Company’s efforts to resolve the previously disclosed investigation of the Company in connection with the United States Foreign Corrupt Practices Act; this is in addition to an accrued expense of $20 million in the third quarter of 2013.”

Survey Says

The American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai recently released its China Business Report (2013-2014).

Notable findings include the following:

“Generally consistent with previous years, 80 percent of respondents cited bureaucracy as the No. 1 challenge, with 72 percent declaring difficulties from an unclear regulatory environment and 70 percent were concerned over problems with tax administration rounding out the top three leading legal and regulatory challenges that companies said hindered their business.”

As I’ve frequently stated, the root causes of much bribery and corruption are various trade barriers and distortions. These barriers and distortions – whether complex customs procedures, import documentation and inspection requirements, local sponsor or other third-party requirements, arcane licensing and certification requirements, quality standards that require product testing and inspection visits, or other foreign government procurement practices – all serve as breeding grounds for harassment bribes to be requested. Simply put, trade barriers and distortions create bureaucracy. Bureaucracy creates points of contact with foreign officials. Points of contact with foreign officials create discretion. Discretion creates the opportunity for a foreign official to misuse their position by making demand bribes.

The report also stated:

“Efforts by the Chinese government to target companies for corruption investigations have sharply increased companies’ concern over compliance with China’s laws and regulations. In 2013, 46 percent of companies said compliance with domestic laws was more important to their business, up from 31 percent in 2012, compared to international anti-bribery laws such as the FCPA (32 percent).

Twice as many respondents said that China’s more aggressive regulatory enforcement for anti-corruption and anti-competition has greatly increased or increased their own business risk (18 percent) than those who say their business risk has greatly decreased or decreased (8 percent). The issue of corruption and fraud was most strongly felt in the healthcare industry (24 percent), which contended with high profile government investigations of foreign and domestic pharmaceutical companies in 2013.”

The impetus for much of this concern is the result of GSK’s (and other pharma and healthcare related companies) scrutiny by Chinese authorities for alleged improper business practices.  (See here for the prior post).

*****

A good weekend to all.

Friday Roundup

Well represented, scrutiny alerts / updates, and a timetable.  It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Well Represented

Companies that have resolved FCPA enforcement actions or have been otherwise the subject of FCPA scrutiny are well represented in Ethisphere’s recent World’s Most Ethical Companies list.

I point this out not to argue that Ethisphere’s methodology if flawed, but to demonstrate, consistent with this prior post, that just because a company resolves an FCPA enforcement action does not therefore mean that the company is a bad or unethical company.  To the contrary, many FCPA enforcement actions involve companies, such as those on World’s Most Ethical Companies list, that have pre-existing FCPA compliance policies and procedures, yet because of respondeat superior, face legal exposure based on the conduct of a small group of individuals.

Companies appearing on the list that have recently resolved FCPA enforcement actions, or have otherwise been the subject of FCPA scrutiny, are: ABB, Deere & Company, Dun & Bradstreet, General Electric, Rockwell Automation, and Sempra Energy.

Scrutiny Alerts / Updates

Optimer Pharmaceuticals

Christopher Matthews (Wall Street Journal – Corruption Currents) reported earlier this week (here) that Optimer Pharmaceuticals is “investigating whether an attempted grant of  stock options to the company’s co-founder violated the FCPA.  According to the company’s recent earnings call transcript, the conduct under investigation relates to an “attempted grant in September of 2011 to Dr. Michael Chang of 1.5 million technical shares of Optimer Biotechnology, Inc. (“OBI”) as well as “a potentially improper $300,000 payment in July 2011 to a research laboratory involving an individual who was also associated with the OBI share grant.”  The company has disclosed the results of its preliminary investigation to the DOJ and SEC.

As noted in this previous post, business interests or equity interests have previously been a basis for FCPA scrutiny and FCPA enforcement actions.

Tesco Corporation

Tesco (a Houston based oil services company) disclosed in a recent SEC filing as follows.

“On December 26, 2012, we received a request by the staff of the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) that the Company take steps to preserve and retain five categories of documents relating to commercial agents who perform services for the corporate group in a foreign jurisdiction, the Company’s general use of commercial agents in that jurisdiction, and compliance with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. This request stated that it “should not be construed as an indication by the Commission, or its staff, that any violations of law have occurred; nor should it be considered an adverse reflection upon any person, entity, or security.” We have, under the advice and through independent external legal counsel, cooperated with and have provided the SEC staff with specific information which it has requested. External legal counsel for the Company has been advised by the SEC staff that no formal order of investigation has been issued. The outcome of the SEC’s review and any future financial impact resulting from this matter are indeterminable at this time.”

Bio-Rad

Bio-Rad Laboratories Inc., a company that previously disclosed FCPA scrutiny, disclosed earlier this week (see here) that it would be unable to file its annual report for the year ended December 31, 2012 prior to the filing deadline.  The SEC filing states, in pertinent part, as follows.

“Bio-Rad is unable to file its Annual Report on Form 10-K for the year ended December 31, 2012 (the “Form 10-K”) prior to the filing deadline because the Company has not finalized its assessment of the effectiveness of its internal control over financial reporting due in part to recently raised issues and has not finalized an accrual for royalties payable by the Company as of December 31, 2012 under certain patent licenses from a third party.   As previously reported, the Company has implemented enhancements to its internal control over financial reporting and is continuing to evaluate and improve its internal controls, including processes and procedures relating to the Company’s compliance with the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”). The Company is currently in the process of finalizing its assessment of the effectiveness of its internal control over financial reporting as of December 31, 2012 and will be unable to file the Form 10-K until the Company completes this assessment. “

Brookfield Asset Management

Prior posts here and here discussed the scrutiny of Brookfield Asset Management for conduct in Brazil.  Today, the Wall Street Journal reported (here) that the “SEC is looking into allegations that a Brazilian unit” of the company “paid bribes to win construction permits.”  According to the article, “a member of the SEC’s enforcement division is scheduled to interview a former executive in the Sao Paulo unit of Brookfield who made the allegations.”  According to the article “the allegations include that Brookfield employee hired an armored truck to deliver cash to two city officials to speed the permits.”

Timetable

Via thebriberyact.com, a timetable for DPAs becoming real in the U.K.  This is unfortunate, as discussed in this prior post.

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A good weekend to all.

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