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Issues To Consider From The Alstom Action

recent post dived deep into the Alstom FCPA enforcement action.

This post continues the analysis by highlighting various issues to consider associated with the enforcement action.

A Real Head-Scratcher

Alstom entities engaged in conduct in violation of the FCPA.  This is clear from the DOJ’s allegations and consistent with DOJ enforcement theories.  Yet, if the DOJ’s FCPA enforcement program is to be viewed as legitimate and credible, the charged conduct must fit (for lack of a better term) the crime.

The charges against Alstom S.A. are a real head-scratcher.

The conventional wisdom for why the Alstom action involved only a DOJ (and not SEC) component is that Alstom ceased being an issuer in 2004 (in other words 10 years prior to the enforcement action).

Yet, the actual criminal charges Alstom pleaded guilty to – violations of the FCPA’s books and records and internal controls provisions –  were based on Alstom’s status as an issuer (as only issuers are subject to these substantive provisions).

In other words, Alstom pleaded guilty to substantive legal provisions in 2014 that last applied to the company in 2004.

This free-for-all, anything goes, as long as the enforcement agencies collect the money nature of FCPA enforcement undermines the legitimacy and credibility of FCPA enforcement.

Enforcement Action Origins

What were the origins of the Alstom enforcement action?

It appears to be a 2011 Swiss enforcement action that began in October 2007.  (See here [1], here [2] and here [3]).

Indeed, in briefing in an individual enforcement action (Lawrence Hoskins) connected to the Alstom Indonesia conduct, the DOJ stated:

“When the Government began investigating this case, it sought evidence from various countries including Switzerland […].  The Government obtained orders pursuant to 18 USC 3292, tolling the statute of limitations in this case for the shorter of three years or the time it took to receive the evidence sought.  The first request, to Switzerland, was transmitted on September 22, 2010, and the tolling order reflects tolling beginning on that date.  Switzerland provided responses to the request on December 23, 2013.”

In the Swiss action, “Alstom Network Schweiz AG … was fined CHF2.5 million for negligence in implementing proper controls to prevent bribery by company officials in Latvia, Tunisia and Malaysia, and it was ordered to pay an additional CHF36 million for profits connected to the negligence.”

The foreign law enforcement origins of the Alstom action are typical of other enforcement actions in the Top Ten List of FCPA settlements [4] (Siemens and the Bonny Island, Nigeria enforcement actions – KBR/Halliburton, Snamprogetti/ENI, Technip, and JGC Corp).

No Monitor

On one level, it seems odd that the Alstom enforcement action did not involve a corporate monitor as a condition of settlement. After all, the $772 million enforcement action was the largest DOJ FCPA enforcement action of all-time and per the DOJ “Alstom’s corruption scheme was sustained over more than a decade and across several continents. It was astounding in its breadth, its brazenness and its worldwide consequences.”

However, the resolution documents note “that Alstom is already subject to monitoring requirements pursuant to a February 2012 World Bank Resolution.” (See here [5]).  As stated in the DOJ resolution documents: “in the event that the Integrity Compliance Office [of the World Bank] does not certify that the Company has satisfied the monitoring requirements contained in the World Bank Resolution, the Company shall be required to retain an Independent Compliance Monitor.”

Moreover, the vast majority of the alleged improper conduct in the DOJ enforcement action resided in business units that will soon be part of General Electric in 2015.  Thus, to impose a monitor on Alstom would, in effect, have been to impose a monitor on General Electric.

Third Party Red Flags

Most FCPA enforcement actions result from the conduct of third parties and ineffective corporate controls over third parties.

In this regard, the following paragraph from the Alstom enforcement is a dandy regarding third party red flags.

“A number of consultants that Alstom hired raised a number of “red flags” under Alstom’s own internal policies.  Certain consultants proposed for retention had no expertise or experience in the industry sector in which Alstom was attempting to secure or execute the project.  Other consultants were located in a country different than the project country.  At other times, the consultants asked to be paid in a currency or in a bank account located in a country different than where the consultant and the project were located.  In multiple instances, more than one consultant was retained on the same project, ostensibly to perform the very same services.  Despite, these “red flags,” the consultants were nevertheless retained without meaningful scrutiny.”

FCPA enforcement actions of course are no laughing matter, but the following specific allegations sort of make one chuckle.

“Alstom did not perform any due diligence on the consultant even though the consultant had no knowledge about, or experience in, the power industry.  Rather, the information alleges, the consultant “sold furniture and leather products, and exported chemical products and spare parts.”

“An Alstom entity formally retained a consultant on a [rapid transit] project even thought the consultant did not have the requisite expertise in the transport sector.  According to the information, the consultant’s expertise was as a “wholesaler of cigarettes, wines and pianos.”

More Information Needed As to Lack of Cooperation

Repeatedly in the resolution documents, the DOJ states that Alstom did not “cooperate.”

“The Defendant initially failed to cooperate with the Department’s investigation, responding only to the Department’s subpoenas to the Defendant’s subsidiaries.  Approximately one year into the investigation, the Defendant provided limited cooperation, but still did not fully cooperate with the Department’s investigation.”

“The Company and its parent initially failed to cooperate with the Department’s investigation, responding only to the Department’s subpoena.  Approximately one year into the investigation, the Company and its parent provided limited cooperation, but still did not fully cooperate with the Department’s investigation.”

Likewise, at the DOJ press conference, Assistant Attorney General Caldwell stated:

“The guilty pleas and resolutions announced today also highlight what can happen when corporations refuse to disclose wrongdoing and refuse to cooperate with the department’s efforts to identify and prosecute culpable individuals.”

[…]

“Alstom did not voluntarily disclose the misconduct to law enforcement authorities, and Alstom refused to cooperate in a meaningful way during the first several years of the investigation.”

If the DOJ wants its cooperation message to be fully absorbed by the corporate community, the DOJ should have been more specific about Alstom’s lack of “cooperation.”

Moreover, if “responding only to the DOJ’s subpoena” is considered lack of cooperation by the DOJ, this is troubling.  (See here [6] for the prior post “Does DOJ Expect FCPA Counsel to Role Over and Play Dead?”).

A “Foreign Official” Stretch?

It was a relatively minor allegation in the context of the overall Alstom enforcement action, but one which caught my eye because of its extraordinarily broad implication.

As highlighted in this [7] previous post, Asem Elgawhart was employed by Bechtel Corporation (a U.S. company) and was assigned by Bechtel to be the General Manager of Power Generation Engineering and Services Company (PGESCo), a joint venture between Bechtel and Egyptian Electricity Holding Company (the alleged “state-owned and state-controlled electricity company in Egypt”). According to the DOJ, Elgawhart “used his position and authority as the General Manager of a power generation company to solicit and obtain millions of dollars of kickbacks for his personal benefit from U.S. and foreign power companies that were attempting to secure lucrative contracts to perform power-related services.” “In total,” the DOJ alleged, “Elgawhart received more than $5 million in kickbacks to help secure more than $2 billion in contracts for the kickback-paying companies, all of which he concealed from his employer, from bidding companies that did not pay kickbacks and from the U.S. Internal Revenue Service.” Based on these allegations, and as indicated in this [8] DOJ release, Elgawhart was charged in a 8-count indictment with mail and wire fraud, money laundering and various tax offenses.

In the Alstom enforcement action, PGESCo and Elgawhart are described as follows:

As to Egypt, the information concerns bidding on various projects with the Egyptian Electricity Holding Company (“EEHC”), the state-owned and state-controlled electricity company in Egypt.  According to the information, “EEHC was not itself responsible for conducting the bidding [on projects], and instead relied on Power Generation Engineering & Services Co. (“PGESCo”), which was controlled by an acted on behalf of EEHC.”

PGESCo was controlled by and acted on behalf of EEHC. PGESCo worked “for or on behalf of’ EEHC, within the meaning of the FCPA, Title 15, United States Code, Section 78dd-l (f)( 1) [the FCPA’s “foreign official” definition].

According to the DOJ, Alstom used a consultant whose primary purpose “was not to provide legitimate consulting services to Alstom and its subsidiaries but was instead to make payments to Egyptian officials, including Asem Elgawhary who oversaw the bidding process.”

In short, in the Alstom action the DOJ alleged that Elgawhary, a Bechtel Corporation employee, was an Egyptian “foreign official.” This is an extraordinarily broad “foreign official” interpretation with implications for any person (privately employed) working on foreign projects with participation by a foreign government department, agency or instrumentality.

Rhetoric Undermined

As highlighted in this [9] post, Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell recently defended the DOJ’s frequent use of NPAs and DPAs by stating that the DOJ is able to achieve through such negotiated settlements reforms, compliance controls, and all sorts of behavioral change compared to what it could achieve without use of NPAs and DPAs.

As highlighted in the prior post, the notion that the DOJ is powerless to effect corporate change through old-fashion law enforcement (that is enforcing the FCPA without use of NPAs and DPAs) is plainly false.

Indeed, the Alstom and Alstom Network Schweiz AG plea agreements contain substantively the same corporate compliance program and reporting obligations as the Alstom Power and Alstom Grid DPAs.

False Certification

A likely overlooked allegation in the Alstom enforcement action concerns bidding on various grid projects with alleged state-owned and state-controlled entities in Egypt. According to the charging documents, certain of these projects were “funded, at least in part, by the United States Agency for International Development (“USAID”)” and “an Alstom entity “repeatedly submitted false certifications to USAID in connection with these projects, and did not disclose that consultants were being used, that commissions were being paid, or that unlawful payments were being made.”

These allegations are similar to DOJ allegations in the BAE enforcement action (an enforcement action that alleged conduct that could have served as the basis for FCPA violations, but resulted in no actual FCPA charges).  As noted in this [10] previous post, in the BAE action, the DOJ “filed a criminal charge against BAE Systems charging that the multinational defense contractor conspired to impede the lawful functions of the Departments of Defense and State, made false statements to the Departments of Defense and Justice about establishing an effective anti-corruption compliance program to ensure conformance with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and paid hundreds of millions of dollars in undisclosed commission payments in violation of U.S. export control laws.”

How to Count FCPA Enforcement Actions

It is a basic issue:  how to count FCPA enforcement actions.

I use the “core” approach to counting FCPA enforcement actions (see here [11]), an approach endorsed by the DOJ, but many in FCPA Inc. use various different creative counting methods that significantly distort FCPA enforcement statistics (see here [12]).

Pursuant to the “core” approach, the Alstom action was one core enforcement action even though it involved the following components all based, in whole or in part, on the same core conduct.

Counting the above as 8 FCPA enforcement actions instead of 1 core action highly distorts FCPA enforcement statistics and impacts the denominator of just about any FCPA enforcement statistic imaginable.

With several 2014 FCPA Year in Reviews to be published in January, one needs to be cognizant of these creative counting methods.