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FCPA Enforcement … It’s More Than Just Suitcases Full of Cash to Government Officials

When conducting FCPA training, one of the first things I like to do is immediately dispel the notion that the FCPA only applies to suitcase full of cash to a government official types of situations. While the FCPA does indeed apply to such egregious situations, the FCPA (and certainly DOJ/SEC’s interpretation of the statute) applies to a wide range of other – seemingly less culpable – conduct as well.

My future FCPA training slides will certainly include the recent Control Components Inc. (“CCI”) FCPA enforcement action as it clearly demonstrates the broadness of FCPA enforcement.

First, the big picture.

As described in a recent DOJ release (see here [1]), CCI pleaded guilty to a three-count criminal information charging two counts of violating the FCPA and one count of violating the Travel Act in connection with a “decade-long scheme to secure contracts in approximately 36 countries by paying bribes to officials and employees of various foreign state-owned companies as well as foreign and domestic private companies.”

Pursuant to the plea agreement, CCI agreed to pay a criminal fine of $18.2 million, serve a three-year term of organizational probation and adopt a host of other measures common in FCPA settlements such as create, implement and maintain an anti-bribery compliance program and retain an independent compliance monitor.

The CCI enforcement action demonstrates the broadness of FCPA enforcement in at least two respects: (i) the “foreign official” element; and (ii) the “anything of value” element.

“Foreign Official”

As to the “foreign official” element, para 5 of the Indictment is the key paragraph. It states as follows:

“Defendant CCI’s state-owned customers included, but were not limited to, Jiangsu Nuclear Power Corporation (China), Guohua Electric Power (China), China Petroleum Materials and Equipment Corporation, PetroChina, Dongfang Electric Corporation (China), China National Offshore Oil Company, Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power, Petronas (Malaysia), and National Petroleum Construction Company (United Arab Emirates). Each of these state-owned entities was a department, agency, or instrumentality of a foreign government, within the meaning of the FCPA, Title 15, United States Code, Section 78dd-2(h)(2)(A). The officers and employees of these entities, including but not limited to the Vice-Presidents, Engineering Managers, General Managers, Procurement Managers, and Purchasing Officers, were “foreign officials” within the meaning of the FCPA, Title 15, United States Code, Section 78dd-2(h)(2)(A).

As I’ve stated before in this forum (see here [2]) and likely will in the future until this legal issue is decided by a court, DOJ’s position that employees of state-owned companies, regardless of position, are “foreign officials” under the FCPA is an unchallenged and untested legal theory – and one I believe is ripe for challenge.

Even if DOJ’s position were to be upheld by a court, those subject to the FCPA could certainly benefit from some clarity as to what DOJ considers to be a state-owned entity. Instead, in the CCI Information (and countless others) all that is there is a mere conclusory statement that each of the relevant companies are “state-owned entities” (see para 5).

What attributes of, for instance, Guohua Electric Power, make it a state-owned entity? I’ve long been curious as to what extent of investigation or discovery DOJ undertakes before it concludes that a company is a state-owned entity? If anyone has insight into this issue, please do share.

Also interesting to note is that even though para 6 of the Information states that CCI, through its former officers and employees, made corrupt payments to officers and employees of “numerous state-owned” customers around the world for the purpose of assisting in obtaining or retaining business for CCI, the Information charges only two FCPA violations.

Count two concerns payments to secure a contract with China National Offshore Oil Company and Count three concerns payments to secure a contract with Korean Hydro and Nuclear Power.

Presumably DOJ did not have sufficient evidence to support other FCPA counts as to CCI’s alleged payments to the other “numerous state-owned” customers, including the others specifically listed in para. 5 of the Information.

So why would a company such as CCI plead guilty to violating the FCPA when the “foreign officials” it allegedly bribed are “foreign officials” only under DOJ’s untested and unchallenged legal theory?

That is a good question, but I suspect it has to do with the fact that companies are in the business of making money and not in the business of setting legal precedent. With a settlement comes certainty, whereas with litigation comes uncertainty.

“Anything of Value”

As to the “anything of value” element, the Information lists the following “things of value” given by CCI, directly or indirectly to “foreign officials” – “overseas holidays to places such as Disneyland and Las Vegas” (para 19); “extravagant vacations” with the following expenses “first-class airfare to destinations such as Hawaii, five-star hotel accommodations, charter boat trips, and similar luxuries” (para 20); “college tuition” [for] the children of at least two executives” at CCI’s state-owned customers (para 20); “lavish sales events” including CCI payment of “hotel costs, meals, green fees for golf, and travel expenses” (para 21); and “expensive gifts” (para 21).

What do all these things have in common? They are not “suitcases full of cash” yet still “things of value” under the FCPA.

This is not the first time FCPA followers have heard of CCI and it is likely not the last time either. As described in the DOJ release, two former CCI executives (Mario Covino and Richard Morlok) have already pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the FCPA (see here [3] and here [4]). In addition, six former CCI executives (Stuart Carson, Hong (Rose) Carson, Paul Cosgrove, David Edmonds, Flavio Ricotti, and Han Yong Kim) were criminally indicted in April 2009 on charges of, among other things, violating the FCPA (see here [5]).