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Rebooting A Long-Standing FCPA Proposal In The Aftermath Of Newmont Mining’s Recent Disclosure

proposal

In the aftermath of a recent Foreign Corrupt Practices Act disclosure by Newmont Mining, this post reboots a proposal first suggested in August 2010 (see here), further proposed in August 2016 (see here), and proposed again in March 2017 (see here).

The proposal is this: when a company voluntarily discloses an FCPA internal investigation to the DOJ and/or SEC and when one or both of the enforcement agencies do not bring an enforcement action, have the “declining” enforcement agency publicly state, in a thorough and transparent manner, the facts the company disclosed and why the “declining” agency did not bring an enforcement action based on those facts.

As highlighted in this April 2016 post, Newmont Mining disclosed:

“We occasionally identify or are apprised of information or allegations that certain employees, affiliates, agents or associated persons may have engaged in unlawful conduct for which we might be held responsible. We are conducting an investigation, with the assistance of outside counsel, relating to certain business activities of the Company and its affiliates and contractors in countries outside the United States. The investigation includes a review of compliance with the requirements of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and other applicable laws and regulations. The Company is working with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice with respect to the investigation. In March 2016, the Company entered into a one-year agreement with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission tolling the statute of limitations relating to the investigation, and recently entered into a similar agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice. As of the filing of these financial statements, we cannot predict the outcome of these matters.”

As highlighted in this April 2017 post, Newmont Mining disclosed:

“We occasionally identify or are apprised of information or allegations that certain employees, affiliates, agents or associated persons may have engaged in unlawful conduct for which we might be held responsible. We are conducting an investigation, with the assistance of outside counsel, relating to certain business activities of the Company and its affiliates and contractors in countries outside the U.S. The investigation includes a review of compliance with the requirements of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and other applicable laws and regulations. The Company has been working with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) and the U.S. Department of Justice with respect to the investigation. In March 2016, the Company entered into a one-year agreement with the U.S. SEC tolling the statute of limitations relating to the investigation, and in April 2016, entered into a similar agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice. Both of the initial tolling agreements were effective through October 29, 2016. In September 2016, the Company agreed to extend its tolling agreement with the Department of Justice through April 2017, and agreed to a similar extension with the SEC in October 2016.

In late February 2017, the Company received a declination letter from the SEC relating to this investigation indicating that they do not intend to recommend an enforcement action. As of the filing of these financial statements, we cannot predict the ultimate outcome of these matters.”

Earlier this week, Newmont Mining disclosed:

“We occasionally identify or are apprised of information or allegations that certain employees, affiliates, agents or associated persons may have engaged in unlawful conduct for which we might be held responsible. We recently conducted an investigation, with the assistance of outside counsel, relating to certain business activities of the Company and its affiliates and contractors in countries outside the U.S. The investigation included a review of compliance with the requirements of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and other applicable laws and regulations. The Company worked with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) and the U.S. Department of Justice with respect to the investigation. In March 2016, the Company entered into a one-year agreement with the U.S. SEC tolling the statute of limitations relating to the investigation, and in April 2016, entered into a similar agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice. Both of the initial tolling agreements were effective through October 29, 2016. In September 2016, the Company agreed to extend its tolling agreement with the Department of Justice through April 2017, and agreed to a similar extension with the SEC in October 2016.

In late February 2017, the Company received a declination letter from the SEC relating to this investigation indicating that they do not intend to recommend an enforcement action. In June 2017, the Company received a similar letter from the U.S. Department of Justice acknowledging the Company’s cooperation in the investigation and indicating that the Department of Justice had closed its inquiry into the matter.”

If the FCPA enforcement agencies are sincere about transparency in their FCPA enforcement programs as officials frequently mention the public (not to mention Newmont Mining shareholders who shelled out millions if this instance of FCPA scrutiny followed the typical path) have a right to know the facts the company disclosed and why the “declining” agency did not bring an enforcement action based on those facts.

Here is why the proposal makes sense and is in the public interest.

For starters (as I first wrote in 2010 and even more relevant today), the DOJ and the SEC are already wildly enthusiastic when it comes to talking about FCPA issues. Enforcement attorneys from both agencies are frequent participants on the FCPA conference circuit and there seems to be no other single law that is the focus of more DOJ or SEC speeches than the FCPA. Thus, there is clearly enthusiasm and ambition at both agencies when it comes to the FCPA.

Further (as I first wrote in 2010 and even more relevant today), both the DOJ and the SEC have the resources to accomplish this task. Both agencies have touted the increased FCPA resources in their respective offices and the new personnel hired to focus on the FCPA. Combine enthusiasm and ambition with sufficient resources and personnel and the proposal certainly seems doable considering that there are likely less than 10 relevant examples per year.

In addition, the DOJ is already used to this type of exercise. It is called the FCPA Opinion Procedure Release (see here), a process the DOJ frequently urges those subject to the FCPA to utilize. Under the Opinion Procedure regulations, an issuer or domestic concern subject to the FCPA can voluntarily disclose prospective business conduct to the DOJ which then has 30 days to respond to the request by issuing an opinion that states whether the prospective conduct would, for purposes of the DOJ’s present enforcement policy, violate the FCPA. The DOJ’s opinions are publicly released and the FCPA bar and the rest of FCPA Inc. study these opinions in advising clients largely because of the general lack of substantive FCPA case law.

If the DOJ is able to issue an enforcement opinion as to voluntarily disclosed prospective conduct there seems to be no principled reason why the enforcement agencies could not issue a non-enforcement opinion as to voluntarily disclosed actual conduct. If the enforcement agencies are sincere about providing guidance on the FCPA, as they presumably are, such agency opinions would seem to provide an ideal platform to accomplish such a purpose.

Requiring the enforcement agencies to disclose non-enforcement decisions after a voluntary disclosure could also inject some much needed discipline into the voluntary disclosure decision itself – a decision which seems to be reflexive in many instances any time facts suggest the FCPA may be implicated. For instance, Newmont Mining’s initial disclosure referred to information or allegations that individuals “may have engaged in unlawful conduct for which we might be held responsible.” Why a company would disclose such information or allegations is beyond me, but then again see this prior post for the important voluntary disclosure decision and the role of FCPA counsel.

Notwithstanding the presence of significant conflicting incentives to do otherwise, it is hoped that FCPA counsel would advise clients to disclose only if a reasonably certain legal conclusion has been reached that the conduct at issue actually violates the FCPA. Accepting this assumption, transparency in FCPA enforcement would be enhanced if the public learned why the enforcement agencies, in the face of a voluntary disclosure, presumably disagreed with the company’s conclusion as informed by FCPA counsel. If the enforcement agencies agreed with the conclusion that the FCPA was violated, but decided not to bring an enforcement action, transparency in FCPA enforcement would similarly be enhanced if the public learned why.

A final reason in support of the proposal is that it would give the disclosing companies (and others similarly situated) a benefit by contributing to the mix of public information about the FCPA.

In most cases, companies spend millions of dollars investigating conduct that may implicate the FCPA and on the voluntary disclosure process. When the enforcement agencies decline an enforcement action, presumably because the FCPA was not violated, these costs are forever sunk and company shareholders can legitimately ask why it just spent millions investigating and disclosing conduct that the DOJ and the SEC did not conclude violated the FCPA.

However, if the enforcement agencies were required to publicly justify their declination decision, the company would achieve, however small, a return on its investment and contribute to the mix of public information about the FCPA – a law which the company will remain subject to long after its voluntary disclosure and long after the enforcement agencies declination decision. Thus, the company, the company’s industry peers, and indeed all those subject to the FCPA would benefit by learning more about the DOJ and the SEC’s enforcement conclusions.

Transparency, accountability, useful guidance, a return on investment.

All would be accomplished by requiring the enforcement agencies to publicly justify a declination decision in instances where no enforcement action follows a voluntary disclosure.

All points to ponder … until the next time I write this same general post.

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