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Once Again, Rebooting A Long-Standing FCPA Proposal, This Time In The Aftermath Of A Recent Disclosure By Teradata

proposal

Including the first time I proposed this concept in 2010, this is the sixth time I have written this general post (see here, here, here, here and here for the previous versions) and until things change I will keep writing it which means I will probably keep writing this same general post long into the future.

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 enforcement agency publicly state, in a thorough and transparent manner, the facts the company disclosed and why the enforcement agency did not bring an enforcement action based on those facts.

As highlighted in this previous post in August 2017 Ohio-based Teradata disclosed:

“The Company, through internal processes, discovered certain questionable expenditures for travel, gifts and other expenses at one of its international subsidiaries doing business in a single foreign country, Turkey. Teradata promptly initiated an internal investigation into the matter, with the assistance of outside counsel and forensic accountants, to determine whether the expenditures may have violated the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) or other potentially applicable anti-corruption laws. In late February 2017, the Company voluntarily contacted the SEC and the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) to alert them to the relevant events and the Company’s internal investigation. Teradata has periodically updated the government regarding the status of the Company’s internal investigation and findings, including remedial actions and terminations, and plans to continue to cooperate fully.

Based on information known at this time, it is currently believed that the questionable expenditures were limited to a single subsidiary’s business operations in Turkey and involved specific individuals who are no longer with the Company. Teradata’s operations in Turkey have constituted less than one half of one percent of consolidated revenues each year as reported by the Company since 2012. Under the circumstances, Teradata currently does not anticipate a material adverse effect on its business or financial condition as a result of this matter; however, the ultimate resolution of this matter with the DOJ and SEC cannot be predicted. Any determination that the Company’s operations or activities are not in compliance with existing laws or regulations could result in the imposition of fines, civil and criminal penalties, and equitable remedies, including disgorgement or injunctive relief.”

Last week, Teradata disclosed

“As first disclosed in the Company’s Form 10-Q for the second quarter of 2017, through internal processes, the Company discovered certain questionable expenditures for travel, gifts and other expenses at one of its international subsidiaries doing business in a single foreign country, Turkey. Teradata promptly initiated an internal investigation into the matter, with the assistance of outside counsel and forensic accountants, to determine whether the expenditures may have violated the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) or other potentially applicable anti-corruption laws. In February 2017, the Company voluntarily contacted the SEC and the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) to alert them to the relevant events and the Company’s internal investigation. Teradata has fully cooperated with the government regarding the status of the Company’s internal investigation and findings, including remedial actions and terminations.

On January 16, 2018, the SEC advised that its staff will not recommend any enforcement action by the SEC against Teradata and that its investigation into this matter is closed. On February 20, 2018, the DOJ also advised the Company that it will not take any enforcement action and that its investigation into this matter is closed.”

True to form, the FCPA Blog termed this a “double declination” and once again muddied the conversational waters ignoring of course that in its November 2017 FCPA Corporate Enforcement Policy the DOJ actually defined “declination” and said that “declinations awarded under the FCPA Corporate Enforcement Policy will be made public.” (Note: the DOJ has not made public a Teradata declination – see here for the DOJ’s declination page). Nevertheless, this side issue is not the focus of this post.

The focus of this post is rebooting an FCPA proposal first made on these pages in 2010.

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 enforcement agencies publicly state, in a thorough and transparent manner, the facts the company disclosed and why the enforcement agency did not bring an enforcement action based on those facts.

If the FCPA enforcement agencies are sincere about transparency in their FCPA enforcement programs as enforcement officials frequently mention, the public (not to mention Teradata shareholders who likely 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 enforcement 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, Teradata’s initial disclosure refers to “questionable expenditures” that “may have violated the FCPA and other potentially applicable anti-corruption laws.”

Why a company would disclose “questionable expenditures” that “may have” violated the FCPA is beyond me, but then again see this prior post for the important voluntary disclosure decision and the role of FCPA counsel. Or as stated by the DOJ’s former fraud section chief: “if you get two of these [FCPA investigations] a year as a partner, you’re pretty much set.” (See here).

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 do not bring an enforcement action, presumably because the FCPA was not violated, these costs are forever sunk and company shareholders can legitimately ask why the company 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 decision not to bring an enforcement action after a voluntary disclosure, 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 no enforcement 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 non-enforcement decision after a voluntary disclosure.

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

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