The Chamber and others weigh in on the DOJ’s promised FCPA guidance, a re-run worth watching, the DOJ dismisses its FCPA case against defunct Cinergy Telecommunications, this week’s FCPA disclosure, a World Bank debarment, and reflecting on this “new era” of FCPA enforcement. It’s all here in a souped-up version of the Friday roundup.
The conventional wisdom is that when the DOJ announced in November 2011 (see here for the prior post) that it would be issuing FCPA guidance in 2012, that this stalled introduction of an FCPA reform bill. The current conversation thus seems to be focused on DOJ’s promised guidance.
Earlier this week, the Chamber of Commerce (and approximately 30 other trade associations or councils ranging from the American Gaming Association, the Financial Services Roundtable, the Poultry Federation, and the West Virginia Bankers Association) sent a letter (here) to Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer and SEC Director of Enforcement Robert Khuzami titled “Guidance Concerning the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.”
The letter begins as follows. “On behalf of the more than three million businesses and organizations whose interests we represent, we the undersigned organizations, write to request that this guidance address several issues and questions of significant concern to businesses seeking in good faith to comply with the FCPA. Detailed, authoritative guidance on these matters will enhance companies’ compliance with the FCPA by clarifying the “rules of the road” and by mitigating the significant interpretive challenges that companies face when applying the text of the statute to complex real-world circumstances.”
Topics addressed in the letter include: “definitions of ‘foreign official’ and ‘instrumentality'”; “consideration of compliance programs in enforcement decisions”; “parent-subsidiary liability”; “successor liability”; “de minimis gifts and hospitality”; “mens rea standard for corporate criminal liability”; and “declination issues.”
In this previous post regarding the DOJ’s promised guidance I commented that while a welcome development, DOJ’s promise of FCPA guidance in 2012 will not cure many of the issues that are being debated in good faith during this new era of FCPA enforcement. Furthermore, I expect DOJ’s guidance to be little more than a compilation in one document of information that is already in the public domain for those who know where to look. The Chamber letter similarly states as follows concerning compliance programs. “If the forthcoming guidance on this issue consists merely of a recitation in summary form of specific corporate compliance programs that have been adopted pursuant to deferred prosecution agreements, non-prosecution agreements or SEC settlements, the marginal utility of such guidance to the cause of FCPA compliance in the business community will be limited.”
Whenever released and whatever it says, the DOJ’s guidance will be merely that – guidance. What the FCPA needs is not guidance, but limited structural reforms (such as a compliance defense) as well as a change in DOJ policy (such as elimination of non-prosecution and deferred prosecution agreements).
A Re-Run Worth Watching
If you missed “The FCPA Compliance: Yes Or No” debate between Howard Sklar and I earlier this week on Securities Docket, here is the audio replay (approximately 70 minutes) along with the presentation slides. At the end of the presentation participants were asked to vote “yes” or “no” and the vote tally was 68% “yes” 32% “no.” Many thanks to Bruce Carton at Securities Docket for hosting.
In July 2011, Cinergy Telecommunications was added to the Haiti Teleco enforcement action (see here for the prior post). In a superceding indictment, the privately-held telecommunications company incorporated in Florida was charged
with one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA and to commit wire fraud, six counts of FCPA violations, one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering and 19 counts of money laundering. In addition, Washington Vasconez Cruz (the president of Cinergy) was also charged as was Amadeus Richers (a former director of Cinergy). As noted in this January post by Samuel Rubenfeld (Wall Street Journal Corruption Currents) in a second superceding indictment Cecilia Zurita (a former vice president of Cinergy as well as Cruz’s wife) was also added to the case.
Earlier this week, the DOJ moved to dismiss (see here) its case against Cinergy. The motion states as follows. “The government has recently learned that defendant Cinergy Telecommunications, Inc. is a non-operational entity that effectively exists only on paper for the benefit of two fugitive defendants, Washington Vasconez Cruz and Cecilia Zurita. For several years, these defendants took actions making it appear as though Cinergy was an on-going operational company.” The motion states that “defense counsel recently confirmed that Cinergy is in fact now non-operational, has no employees, and has no assets of any real value.” The motion concludes as follows. “In light of persuasive information the government has developed that Cinergy no longer exists in any real sense and that it was portrayed as existing at least in part to further fugitive defendants’ litigation strategy, the government in its discretion and under the circumstances presented has elected not to proceed with a trial against Cinergy.”
Joel Hirschhorn (here – Hirschhorn & Bieber P.A.) represents Cinergy as well as certain individual defendants in the case.
This Week’s FCPA Disclosure
In this prior post, I commented (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) that every week another company seems to be disclosing FCPA scrutiny. So far so good. This week’s disclosure is from Cobalt International Energy which disclosed as follows in its recent annual report.
“In connection with entering into our RSAs for Blocks 9 and 21 offshore Angola, two Angolan-based E&P companies were assigned as part of the contractor group by the Angolan government. We had not worked with either of these companies in the past, and, therefore, our familiarity with these companies was limited. In the fall of 2010, we were made aware of allegations of a connection between senior Angolan government officials and one of these companies, Nazaki Oil and Gáz, S.A. (“Nazaki”), which is a full paying member of the contractor group. Nazaki has repeatedly denied the allegations in writing. In March 2011, the SEC commenced an informal inquiry into these allegations. To avoid non-overlapping information requests, we voluntarily contacted the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) with respect to the SEC’s informal request and offered to respond to any requests the DOJ may have. Since such time, we have been complying with all requests from the SEC and DOJ with respect to their inquiry. In November 2011, a formal order of investigation was issued by the SEC related to our operations in Angola. We are fully cooperating with the SEC and DOJ investigations, have conducted an extensive investigation into these allegations and believe that our activities in Angola have complied with all laws, including the FCPA. We cannot provide any assurance regarding the duration, scope, developments in, results of or consequences of these investigations.”
World Bank Debarment
Earlier this week, the World Bank announced (here) “debarment of Alstom Hydro France and Alstom Network Schweiz AG (Switzerland) – in addition to their affiliates – for a period of three years following Alstom’s acknowledgment of misconduct in relation to a Bank-financed hydropower project.” According to the release, “in 2002, Alstom made an improper payment of €110,000, to an entity controlled by a former senior government official for consultancy services in relation to the World Bank-financed Zambia Power Rehabilitation Project.” The release further states as follows. “The debarment is part of a Negotiated Resolution Agreement between Alstom and the World Bank which also includes a restitution payment by the two companies totaling approximately $9.5 million. The debarment can be reduced to 21 months – with enhanced oversight – if the companies comply with all conditions of the agreement.”
What to make of the debarment based on conduct 10 years ago is a bit difficult. This Wall Street Journal Story by Dionne Searcey and David Crawford states as follows. “There was some confusion about the company’s official response. Early Wednesday, Alstom spokesman Patrick Bessy said Alstom didn’t admit guilt in its settlement with the World Bank. “The World Bank made assumptions which were not proved,” he said, adding that because the matter was so old, “Alstom was unable to find evidence it could present in its own defense so we decided to settle.” Mr. Bessy said the blacklisting won’t affect Alstom Group, which has had only one project that involved World Bank funding since 2007. He said the company has several other subsidiaries engaged in hydroelectric projects that aren’t affected by the ban and will be eligible for World Bank funding of their projects. In all only about 5% of Alstom sales are in the hydroelectric field, Mr. Bessy said. In a later statement, the company rejected Mr. Bessy’s comments: “Alstom’s general counsel … stated that any comments that were previously made by Alstom are not valid.”
Reflecting On The New Era of FCPA Enforcement
As discussed in this previous post, in November 2010 Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer declared as follows. “We are in a new era of FCPA enforcement’ and we are here to stay.” Thomas Gorman (Dorsey Whitney) runs the always informative SEC Actions blog – see here. In this post, titled “The New Era of FCPA Enforcement: A Time For Reflection” Gorman hit the ball out of the park when he states as follows.
“Perhaps now is a good time to stop and reflect on what the courts and jurors have said about the “new era” of FCPA enforcement. Surely that era should be more than a dazzling array of ever increasing monetary payments by corporations or actions against individuals built on questionable blue collar tactics. Surely it should be more than business organizations spending ever increasing sums to conduct far reaching and perhaps at times unnecessary investigations at huge expense in a effort to win cooperation credit. Surely it should be more than brining increasing numbers of charges against individuals and demanding longer and longer prison terms. Perhaps now is the time to craft meaningful reform to the Act and enforcement policy to ensure clearer guidance and a more balanced application of the statutes to ensure that the laudable goals of the statute in a fair and balanced manner in the future. That would truly be a “new era” of FCPA enforcement.”
For additional reflections on this “new era” of FCPA enforcement, see this piece I published with the ABA Global Anti-Corruption Task Force.
A good weekend to all.