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Friday Roundup

Coming attractions, monitor talk, LatinNode related individual sentences, just who are those “gestores,” scholarship of note, and Supreme Court quotables.  It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Coming Attractions

This [1] prior post contained FCPA practitioner Homer Moyer’s discussion of industry sweeps.  Industries that have been subjected to industry sweeps or are reportedly in the middle of industry sweeps include:  oil and gas, pharmaceutical / medical devices, and financial services.

Add Hollywood film studies to the list.

Reuters reports (here [2]) that the SEC “has sent letters of inquiry to at least five movie studios in the past two months, including News Corp’s 20th Century Fox, Disney, and DreamWorks Animation” that “ask for information about potential inappropriate payments and how the companies dealt with certain government officials in China.”

The New York Times (here [3]) also reported on the letters of inquiry and stated that the SEC “has begun an investigation into whether some of Hollywood’s biggest movie studios have made illegal payments to officials in China to gain the right to film and show movies there.”

In other disclosure news, Turkcell Iletisim Hizmetleri A.S. (Turkcell), Turkey’s only New York Stock Exchange listed company, recently disclosed in an SEC filing (here [4]) as follows.  “Some of [the countries the company operates in] also suffer from relatively high rates of fraud and corruption. For example, allegations have been made regarding improper payments relating to the operations of KCell, a mobile operator in Kazakhstan and 51% subsidiary of Fintur Holdings B.V., in which we hold a 41.45% stake, while TeliaSonera holds the remainder. The allegations were discussed by Turkcell’s Board of Directors, which requested an independent investigation of the allegations made. TeliaSonera initiated an independent investigation as agreed by the Fintur Board. The Turkcell Board has been informed that to date there has not been substantiated any such allegations and the Fintur Board informs us that it has completed its own investigation. Since no assurance can be given that there will not be further requests for investigation, we remain vigilant on this matter.”

In other disclosure news, in October 2006, the SEC informed the Bristol Myers Squibb Company that it had begun a formal inquiry into the activities of certain of the company’s German pharmaceutical subsidiaries and its employees and/or agents.  The company previously disclosed that “the SEC’s inquiry encompasses matters formerly under investigation by the German prosecutor in Munich, Germany, which have since been resolved,” that the inquiry concerns potential violations of the FCPA and that “the company is cooperating with the SEC.”  Yesterday, in a 10-Q filing, the company stated as follows.  “In March, 2012, the Company received a subpoena from the SEC. The subpoena, issued in connection with an investigation under the FCPA, primarily relates to sales and marketing practices in various countries. The Company is cooperating with the government in its investigation of these matters.”

According to my tally, over the past two months, approximately 15 companies have newly disclosed, or been linked to, FCPA scrutiny.  See here [5] for the prior post “The Sun Rose, a Dog Barked, and a Company Disclosed FCPA Scrutiny.”  (And no, Wal-Mart is not included in this list, the company disclosed its FCPA scrutiny in December 2011).

Hercules Offshore disclosed better news in its 10-Q filing yesterday.  The company stated as follows.  “On April 4, 2011, the Company received a subpoena issued by the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) requesting the delivery of certain documents to the SEC in connection with its investigation into possible violations of the securities laws, including possible violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) in certain international jurisdictions where the Company conducts operations. The Company was also notified by the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) on April 5, 2011, that certain of the Company’s activities were under review by the DOJ. On April 24, 2012, the Company received a letter from the DOJ notifying the Company that the DOJ has closed its inquiry into the Company regarding possible violations of the FCPA and does not intend to pursue enforcement action against the Company. The DOJ indicated that its decision to close the matter was based on, among other factors, the thorough investigation conducted by the Company’s special counsel and the Company’s compliance program. The Company, through the Audit Committee of the Board of Directors, intends to continue to cooperate with the SEC in its investigation. At this time, it is not possible to predict the outcome of the SEC’s investigation, the expenses the Company will incur associated with this matter, or the impact on the price of the Company’s common stock or other securities as a result of this investigation.”

For the second straight day, I say kudos to the DOJ.  Yet, I also ask on consecutive days – would anything really change with an FCPA compliance defense?  As I note in “Revisiting a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Compliance Defense” (here [6]) the DOJ already recognizes a de facto FCPA compliance defense albeit in opaque, inconsistent and unpredictable ways. Thus, an FCPA compliance defense accomplishes, among other things, the policy goal of removing factors relevant to corporate criminal liability from the opaque, inconsistent, and unpredictable world of DOJ decision making towards a more transparent, consistent, and predictable model best accomplished through a compliance defense amendment to the FCPA.

Monitor Talk

As discussed in this [7] prior post, in March Biomet resolved an FCPA enforcement action involving $22.8 million in combined fines and penalties ($17.3 million via a DOJ deferred prosecution agreement, and $5.5 million via a settled SEC civil complaint).  Pursuant to the DPA, Biomet agreed to engage an independent compliance monitor “for a period of not less than 18 months” and to provide periodic reports to the DOJ regarding remediation and implementation of the enhanced compliance measures as described in an attachment to the DPA.

As evidence that investor concern regarding FCPA issues does not end on enforcement action day, during a recent earnings conference call, an analyst asked Biomet CEO Jeff Binder the following question.

“I guess just with regard to the DOJ settlement that was announced for the FCPA potential violations, I’m just wondering — I guess you’re going to have an 18-month monitoring period. So I assume that would only apply to your international business? And then maybe even within the international business, would that only apply to certain regions where there have been problems found? And then what sort of a pricing — sorry, not pricing, but cost impact do you expect from that monitoring? Is it something material or not?”

Binder responded as follows.  “Yes. You’re correct that the monitorship will apply to our businesses outside the United States, but the monitors purview is broad outside the United States. The monitor has the ability to take a look at our businesses across the world. The monitor will do a risk assessment upfront. They’ll understand where our issues have been and they’ll take a look at our processes. They’ll develop that risk assessment. They’ll come up with a work plan that’s based on that risk assessment. And we’ll take it from there. We don’t expect that additional expenses for the monitor will be material to the business. DOJ and SEC require the candidates for the monitorship to submit budgets of the projected services for their work. And I’d just say that the amounts that were set forth in those budgets are not material, and we don’t anticipate significant internal expenses associated with the monitorship.”

LatiNode Individual Sentences

As noted in this [8] DOJ release, in April 2009 LatiNode, a privately held Florida corporation, pleaded guilty to violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in connection with improper payments in Honduras and Yemen and agreed to pay a $2 million criminal penalty.  Thereafter, several of its former executives – Jorge Granados, Manuel Caceres, Manuel Salvoch, and Juan Vasquez were criminally charged and pleaded guility.

Earlier this week Caceres (former vice president of business development at LatiNode) and Vasquez (a former senior commercial executive at LatiNode) were sentenced.  U.S. District Court Judge Joan Lenard (S.D. of Fl.) sentenced Caceres to 23 months followed by 1 year supervised release – the DOJ sought a 36 month sentence.  U.S. District Court Judge Patrricia Seitz (S.D. of Fl.) sentenced Vasquez to 3 years probation, community service, home detention and monitoring and ordered him to pay a $7,500 criminal fine – the DOJ originally sought a 36 month sentence and recently stated that it “would not oppose a sentence for Vasquez that was less than the sentence for Caceres and Salvoch [who is yet to be sentenced].”

As noted in this [9] prior post, in September 2011, Granados was sentenced to 46 months in prison.

“Gestores”

The New York Times article suggested that many of the Wal-Mart Mexican payments at issue were routed through Mexican gestores.   Just who are those “gestores.”?  I found this [10] article from CBS of interest.  The article states as follows.   “A visit to any government office is likely to bring the sighting of a well-dressed man carrying reams of documents who will glide past the long lines, shake hands with the official behind the counter and get ushered into a backroom, where his affairs presumably get a fast-track service. The suspicion is these go-betweens funnel a portion of the fees they charge clients to corrupt officials to smooth the issuance of permits, approvals and other government stamps.  In a country where laws on zoning rules, construction codes and building permits are vague or laxly enforced, the difference between opening a store quickly and having it held up for months may depend on using a gestor.”

Scholarship of Note

Pre-Wal-Mart, the FCPA conversation of the spring focused on charitable contributions in the context of the Wynn-Okada dispute.  See here [11], here [12] and here [13] for the prior posts.  Other posts have noted (see here [14]) that, strange as it may sound, the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions are only implicated when something of value is provided, directly or indirectly, to a foreign official to influence the official in obtaining or retaining business.  The FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions are not implicated when the thing of value is provided to a foreign government itself.  Other prior posts (here [15] and here [16]) have discussed Dodd-Frank Act Section 1504’s Resource Extraction Disclosure Provisions.

Given my prior writings on these issues, I was pleased when Emory University School of Law student Francesca Pisano sent me the student comment “Anti-Corruption Law & Corporate Philanthropy: Rethinking the Regulations” (here [17]) selected for publication in a forthcoming issue of the Emory Law Journal.

The abstract states as follows.

“When the 2010 earthquake hit Port-au-Prince, Haiti, U.S. companies donated over $146.8 million to the relief effort. Despite this impressive display of global engagement, commentators suggested that the US anti-corruption laws had discouraged corporations from greater involvement. Even with the laws in force, however, reports of corruption in the relief effort soon surfaced, derailing Haiti’s recovery. Foreign aid that feeds corruption will never achieve sustainable growth, but development efforts will similarly fail if U.S. anti-corruption laws discourage corporate philanthropy.  This comment analyzes the application of two U.S. anti-corruption laws, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) and the Dodd-Frank Section 1504, to international corporate charity. It shows how the FCPA’s ambiguous nature has the unfortunate effect of being both over- and under-inclusive, discouraging bona fide charity while at the same time failing to capture corrupt donations. The recently-enacted Dodd-Frank Section 1504 has great potential, but the SEC’s proposed rules have created a loophole to allow corruption to continue if hidden in corporate charity.  This comment proposes a modification to FCPA enforcement: creating a Safe Harbor Option. This will offer businesses the opportunity to “buy” a rebuttable presumption of legitimacy for their charitable donations by publically disclosing the payments, projects, and recipients of their philanthropy. Granting a presumption of legitimacy to disclosed donations will ameliorate many of the over-inclusive aspects of the FCPA. The increased disclosure will allow the public to monitor corporate charity and question suspicious gifts, ameliorating the under-inclusive aspects of FCPA enforcement. This comment also argues that Section 1504 should be defined expansively to prevent charity from being used to circumvent the congressional goals of increasing transparency and combating corruption. If properly defined, Section 1504 is an excellent example of regulation through disclosure and transparency, rather than prohibitions.”

Supreme Court Quotable

This [18] recent post discussed non-FCPA caselaw that touched upon issues relevant to the recent “foreign official” challenges.  Last week, the Supreme Court issued its opinion (here [19]) in Mohamad v. Palestinian Authority concerning the scope of the Torture Victim Protection Act.  The Court, in an opinion authored by Justice Sotomayor held that the term “individual” in the TVPA encompasses only natural persons, and thus the law does not impose liability against corporatons.  In her opinion, Justice Sotomayor’s stated, among other things, as follows.

“Congress remains free, as always, to give the word [individual] a broader or different meaning. But before we will assume it has done so, there must be some indication Congress intended such a result.”

“We add only that Congress appeared well aware of the limited nature of the cause of action it estab­lished in the Act.”

“The text of the TVPA convinces us that Congress did not extend liability to organizations, sovereign or not. There are no doubt valid arguments for such an extension. But Congress has seen fit to proceed in more modest steps in the Act, and it is not the province of this Branch to do otherwise.”

*****

I went to Walmart last night.  After completing my purchase and before exiting the store, I stopped, looked around, and thought, wow, what a week!

A good weekend to all.