In the classroom, survey says, a candid statement, on-point, an informative read, patience and a prediction. It’s all here in the Friday roundup.
In The Classroom
I was pleased to learn that my recent article “Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Enforcement As Seen Through Wal-Mart’s Potential Exposure” (here) was required reading for the MBA students in Jeffrey Klink’s FCPA-related class at the University of Pittsburgh Joseph S. Katz Graduate School of Business. (See here for a recent profile of the class.) Klink (a former AUSA and current CEO of Klink & Co., a global risk management firm – here) shared the following.
“During our class we discussed your recent article regarding the Wal Mart case at length. Many students opined that it was likely that many of the payments were in fact facilitation payments and especially where permits would definitely be issued. The majority of students, however, believed that probably many payments were not clerical or ministerial, noting that according to the NY Times article, payments caused zoning maps to be changed, and environmental permits were obtained likely without proper process. Students believed that these kinds of payments were not grease or skid payments, but were in fact bribes designed to allow Wal Mart to open new stores without competition, thus gaining new business. All but one of the 41 students (a bright law student held out) present believed that Wal Mart had successfully obtained new business by paying bribes through the $24 million in payments to gestores. We also discussed the significance of an organization’s compliance culture. Wal Mart was viewed very negatively by the students, having been subject to successful discrimination suits regarding gender bias, its poor treatment of vendors, locking its own injured employees inside stores, and the facts of the Mexico bribery case, where, if the NY Times article is correct, it was clear that top officials buried facts, did not pursue an investigation, and promoted corrupt executives to high ranking positions. As geography under the FCPA can also be destiny, I also noted that Mexico is rated #100 by TI, and it doesn’t appear that Wal Mart had a risk plan in place to address its growth in places where corruption and bribery are extremely common and not unexpected. Many students believed that Wal Mart, like other large organizations, likely engaged in, and continues to engage in, cost – benefit thinking where executives conclude that the cost of bribery is not significant compared to the benefits that accrue to the organization through growth and profits.”
Staying on campus and referring to “THE” New York Times article (see here for the prior post) readers may enjoy this webcast of the recent Wal-Mart focused Milbank Tweed Forum at the NYU School of Law. Moderated by Professor Kevin Davis (the author of recent FCPA scholarship – here and here), the panel included David Barstow, the investigative reporter at the New York Times who broke the Wal-Mart story.
Speaking of the significance of the FCPA, a recent boardroom survey conducted by BDO USA (an accounting and consulting firm) reveals as follows. “One-third (33%) of directors cite corruption/bribery as the greatest fraud risk facing their company, compared to approximately one-fifth that identify either revenue recognition (20%) or earnings management (18%). Two-thirds (68%) of directors indicate their companies conduct business in foreign locations or with foreign customers or suppliers. Of those conducting international business, a majority (57%) say they deal with foreign officials and almost one-third (32%) of those believe compliance risks related to bribery of government officials has increased over the past two years, compared to just four percent reporting a decrease.”
The survey, conducted in late August and early September 2012, examined the opinions of 72 corporate directors of public company boards, with revenues ranging from $250 million to $750 million, regarding financial reporting and corporate governance issues. For more, see this BDO release.
“Most government attorneys realize that a company can take every reasonable step to prevent wrongdoing but ultimately is powerless if somebody really wants to break the law.”
Makes you wonder why the DOJ is steadfast in its opposition to an FCPA compliance defense. But then again the current enforcement environment provides the DOJ maximum leverage. However, for the reasons I articulate in “Revisiting a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Compliance Defense” (here), the DOJ should be in favor of a compliance defense.
This previous post, “Testing Innocence,” noted that the longest individual FCPA sentences (Joel Esquenazi and Carlos Rodriguez) were issued in enforcement actions where the defendants exercised their constitutional rights to a jury trial. The conduct Esquenazi and Rodriguez allegedly engaged in (and the jury found, although their appeals are pending) paled in comparison to some other FCPA individual prosecutions – such as the individual prosecutions in the Bonny Island Nigeria cases. What did Esquenazi and Rodriguez do that warranted such a long sentence? They tested their innocence.
The FCPA community once again saw the high cost of testing innocence this past spring and summer when the individual defendants in the so-called Carson enforcement action pleaded guilty on the eve of trial. (See here, here, here). The guilty pleas came after the trial court judge issued a pro-defendant jury instruction relating to knowledge of foreign official. (See here). On the brink of the DOJ being put to its ultimate burden of proof on “foreign official” and other elements as well, the DOJ offered plea agreements to substantially reduced charges and the defendants, likely mindful of the high costs of testing their innocence, did what most rationale, risk averse actors in their position would do – agreed to plead guilty.
The Wall Street Journal ran a feature story this week “Federal Guilty Pleas Soar As Bargains Trump Trial” (here) which documented the trend of a “growing number of federal defendants who [plead guilty] often to avoid the lengthy prison sentences that can come with losing at trial.” Among other things, the article noted that “federal [sentencing] guidelines not only toughened punishments but also formalized a system to reward defendants who plead guilty by reducing sentences if they accept responsibility or cooperate with prosecutors, among other things. As part of plea deals, federal prosecutors often drop additional charges that could add years, or decades, to a sentence. Going to trial brings none of those benefits for the accused.”
The WSJ article included research (here) co-authored by my Southern Illinois University School of Law colleague Lucian Dervan (here) which found that 55% of students who were innocent in a control group study pleaded “guilty.” The study showed “a strong compulsion to have the matter resolved even if it meant confessing to something that they really didn’t do.”
Breon Peace and Ryan Becker (Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton – here and here) recent authored this informative article in Bloomberg Law that touches upon just about everything you would want to know about the FCPA and statute of limitations. The article, written in the context of Wal-Mart’s potential FCPA scrutiny discusses black letter law and judicial decisions, but rightly notes in connection with Wal-Mart as follows.
“Given the facts as reported by the New York Times, Wal-Mart, and individuals involved in the bribery scheme, would have a plausible statute of limitations defense to any FCPA actions—even a potential conspiracy charge. As a practical matter, companies, especially publicly held companies like Wal-Mart, typically make a strategic decision to fully cooperate with a DOJ investigation. Despite the potential success of a statute of limitations defense, a company will often make the judgment that the negative press of a protracted investigation and the uncertainty of the outcome at trial make cooperation the more prudent business judgment. The company’s hope is that it will be given credit for the cooperation and it will achieve a better outcome than if it went to trial (i.e., avoid charges, a deferred prosecution agreement, or a reduced fine).”
Before Wal-Mart’s potential FCPA scrutiny dominated the headlines, there was News Corp. In July 2011, world-wide media attention focused on the company, not just the phone hacking aspects of the scandal, but the potential FCPA implications as well. See here for the prior post. In the prior Q&A style post, I addressed the issue of how long the FCPA gray cloud will likely hang over News Corp. and said that it would likely be between 2-4 years if the case followed the typical pattern. In February of this year, I noted (here) that the FCPA aspect of News Corp.’s scrutiny was following a typical path.
Eliot Spitzer (former New York Governor, former New York Attorney General and current TV personality) apparently is not aware of the typical path. In this recent Slate article titled “Why Hasn’t Eric Holder Charged News Corp. With Foreign Corrupt Practices?” Spitzer writes as follows.
“[W]here is the inept U.S. Department of Justice in all this? The DOJ has brought many irrelevant and tiny cases against companies for violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which makes it illegal to bribe either individuals or government officials, even in a company’s overseas operations. The DOJ loves to use the statute to show just how tough it is. Yet now they have the most important case sitting right there in front of them. It’s easy. Even a rookie could field this one. But what are they doing? It’s not clear. If they fail to make this case against News Corp., Eric Holder is a failure as attorney general.”
Patience. And while Sptizer is waiting, he may want to brush up on the FCPA – not sure what he means when he says that the FCPA “makes it illegal to bribe either individuals or government officials.”
No, I am not going to predict that the DOJ’s FCPA guidance will be released next week. OK, maybe I will, see here from Compliance Week.
Rather my prediction concerns FCPA risk in India.
The Indian Commerce Ministry recently eased (see here) foreign investment restrictions giving multi-brand retailers greater access to the growing Indian market. Per the new policy, it will be the “prerogative of the states to allow a multi brand store” and “local and state-level regulations which govern shops and establishment are the prerogative of the respective state governments.”
I predict that India’s new FDI policy will be an FCPA compliance headache for relevant companies seeking to expand in India as the new policy facilitates points of contact between a company and state and local officials in regards to license, permit, and land issues. In “Revisiting a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Compliance Defense” (see here), I highlight how companies subject to the FCPA are often funneled into an arbitrary world of low-paying civil servants who frequently supplement their meager salaries through payments condoned in the host country. I argue that such barriers create the conditions in which harassment bribes flourish and I predict India’s new FDI policy will do just that.
A good weekend to all.