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Friday Roundup

The latest edition of the double standard, survey says, when the dust settles, and for the reading stack.  It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Double Standard

An individual currently holds political office in one unit of government, yet is also a candidate for a higher unit of government.

Among the contributors to organizations supporting the individual’s campaign for higher office are companies that have secured millions in contracts from the lower unit of government run by the individual.  After all, the individual may not prevail in the higher office race and thus return to the lower unit.

A prudent FCPA practitioner would spot the “red flags” as the contributions could be viewed as a way to curry favor with the individual upon return to the lower unit of government.

However, the individual (more accurately individuals) are not “foreign officials” they are current governors Chris Christie, John Kasich, Bobby Jindal, and Scott Walker who are also running for President.

For the latest edition of the double standard, see this [1] Wall Street Journal article.

Bribery?

Silly you for even mentioning the “b” word.  This is all about “First Amendment rights” according to a source in the article.

Why do business interactions with “foreign officials” seem to be subject to different standards than business interactions with U.S. officials? Why do we reflexively label a “foreign official” who receives “things of value” from private business interests as corrupt, yet generally turn a blind eye when it happens here at home or call it something different such as participation in the political process? Is the FCPA enforced too aggressively or is enforcement of the U.S. domestic bribery statute too lax? Ought not there be some consistently between enforcement of the FCPA and the domestic bribery statute?

For approximately 50 other post highlighting these double standards, see this subject matter tag [2].

Survey Says

According to this [3] recent ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Business Outlook Survey:

“The risk of pressure to bribe officials for essential licenses and permits varies greatly depending on the country from which executives responded. Less than half of the respondents in Brunei, Malaysia, Myanmar, and Singapore foresee that this risk will hinder their long-term operations, while large percentages of respondents in Cambodia (89%), Laos (85%), and Vietnam (74%) foresee that it will.”

“In contrast, facilitation payments for routine government services are a more common part of international business. (Routine government services may include processing governmental papers, such as visas and work orders, or such services as police protection, power supply, phone service, etc.) In nearly all countries, the risk of pressure to bribe officials to speed up routine government services is slightly higher than the comparable risk for essential licenses and permits.”

In passing the FCPA, Congress recognized the inherent difficulties companies encounter in foreign markets and thus elected not to capture payments in connection with licenses, permits and the like in the anti-bribery provisions.  (To learn more, see “The Story of the FCPA [4]“).  Congress also chose to exempt facilitation payments from the anti-bribery provisions.

When The Dust Settles

FCPA enforcement actions only focus on alleged bribe payers.  However, when an FCPA enforcement action concludes, there is still an alleged “foreign official” who allegedly received the bribe payments.  When the dust settles, what happens to the “foreign official”?

For years, guest contributor Mike Dearington followed the DOJ’s 2011 enforcement action against Juthamas Siriwan, the former government officer of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, and Jittisopa Siriwan, the daughter of the alleged “foreign official” who was also alleged to be an “employee of Thailand Privilege Card Co. Ltd.” an entity controlled by TAT and an alleged “instrumentality of the Thai government.”  The Siriwan’s allegedly received improper payments from Gerald and Patricia Green who were convicted of FCPA and related offenses in 2009 and served time in federal prison. (See prior posts at this subject matter tag [5]).

In short, the federal court judge overseeing the DOJ’s money laundering case against Siriwan stayed the case pending expected legal proceedings in Thailand against Siriwan.

Earlier this week, the Bangkok Post reported:

“The Criminal Court has indicted former Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) governor Juthamas Siriwan and her daughter in a film festival bribery case, the Office of the Attorney-General spokesman said Wednesday.  Prosecutors indicted Mrs Juthamas, 68, and her daugther Jittisopha, 41, in the Criminal Court on Tuesday on charges of taking bribes, corruption and bid-rigging, plus breaching Section 6 of the law dealing with state employees’ offences and Section 12 of the law governing submitting tenders to state agencies, which carries a maximum jail term of 20 years.”

This development is expected to functionally end the U.S. prosecution.

In other news relevant to the above enforcement action, the Hollywood Reporter reports [6] that Gerald Green recently died.  He was 83.

Reading Stack

The most recent edition of the always informative FCPA Update [7] by Debevoise & Plimpton has a nice write-up of the recent BNY Mellon enforcement action (see here [8] and here [9] for prior posts).  In pertinent part, the Update states:

In the SEC’s View, a Thing of Value Can Be Purely Psychological

[T]he government’s investigations in this area face a key threshold legal issue under the FCPA: can providing a job or internship to an official’s relative constitute a thing of value to the official him/herself? Can offering the purely psychological benefit of helping a child or relative land a job give rise to an actionable attempt at bribery? The official does not stand to see any personal financial gain from the internship, except in the arguable circumstance of reducing the official’s financial obligations to a dependent. But the SEC seems to have purposely disclaimed – or at least strained – that theory here, given that one of the internships at issue was unpaid. The SEC addressed this thorny issue in a single sentence in the Order, asserting that “[t]he internships were valuable work experience, and the requesting officials derived significant personal value in being able to confer this benefit on their family members.”

The SEC has previously suggested that an intangible benefit can be a “thing of value” under the FCPA, having faulted Schering-Plough for providing a requested donation to a legitimate charity with which a foreign official and his spouse were closely involved, in an alleged attempt to influence the official. The BNYM Order, however, seems to represent a significant expansion of that thinking. Notably, in Schering-Plough the SEC charged only a “books and records” violation, not a violation of the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions. Moreover, even assuming intangible prestige or listing an internship on a resumé can be a thing of value, Schering-Plough at least involved a transfer of funds at the official’s request, which arguably allowed the official himself to reap the prestige of the donation. Here, the prestigious and valuable work experiences – one of which was entirely unpaid – went not to the official but to the official’s family member, and thus only indirectly benefited the official.

Evidentiary Issues: Quid Pro Quo or Internal Speculation?

The BNYM case and others like it also raise difficult evidentiary issues for FCPA enforcement authorities. How can one draw the line between a genuine quid pro quo – an actual exchange of a personal benefit to an official for a business assignment – from mere internal speculation and anxiety about potentially damaging an important relationship? Here, the BNYM Order is notable for what it does not say: the Order does not place the internship hiring requests in the context of any specific business opportunity, or any review or re-evaluation of whether the Sovereign Wealth Fund should maintain its existing business relationship with BNYM. Rather, the cited internal communications reflect a generalized desire to gather additional business in the future or to a perception that existing business could be diminished relative to competitors.

Here, the lack of any tie to a concrete business opportunity could simply be a function of the asset management business, in which funds for investment are (in general terms) fungible. Time will tell whether, in other contexts, courts or enforcement authorities will focus more on an attempt to win a specific business opportunity rather than simply an effort to create or maintain good relations that may (or may not) bear fruit over time. For now, the SEC appears to have followed the controversial “quid pro quo lite” theory that has garnered some success in DOJ criminal domestic bribery prosecutions; in that sense, the reach of the Order may not be that surprising – although its theoretical underpinnings in the FCPA arena remain largely untested.

The SEC’s justification for the imposition of a disgorgement remedy is also difficult to locate within its factual recitation. The disgorgement amount of $8.3 million cannot be explained by the relatively minor new investment with BNYM (of less than $1 million). It stands to reason, then, that the disgorgement amount is based, at least in part, on BNYM’s retention of its existing business with the Sovereign Wealth Fund. The causation analysis on that point is not transparent, as the facts stated do not suggest any meaningful way to assess the degree to which the intern hires arguably contributed to maintaining the existing relationship. The result may be the product of any number of unstated factors that went into the settlement, highlighting once again, why settlements should not make law.

[…]

Overall, the BNYM Order highlights two areas of frequent criticism of FCPA enforcement. First, the activity under scrutiny bears a strong similarity to what are perceived as common practices in the private sector in which firms seek to accommodate client representative requests in order to maintain good relations with key decision makers. In this way, enforcement authorities risk criticism that they are using the FCPA to excise business practices affecting relationships with foreign officials abroad that are routinely tolerated in the private sector in the United States – and that are not unprecedented or even rare in the context of companies’ relationships with officials employed by the United States federal, state, and local governments.

Second, the SEC’s choice of a consented-to cease-and-desist order to announce a new and expansive interpretation of the FCPA leaves its interpretations of the law entirely untested by judicial scrutiny and adversarial process. Given that BNYM did not admit the allegations in the Order, BNYM had very little incentive to challenge the SEC’s view of the facts and law, yet as with Schering-Plough’s resolution (referenced above), the SEC’s debatable interpretive position may go years (or decades) without judicial scrutiny.

As noted at the outset, the BNYM Order is just the first resolution of a case of this kind. Others may follow, including in DOJ matters, which will likely shed additional light on the landscape in this area.”

*****

A good weekend to all.