- FCPA Professor - http://fcpaprofessor.com -

Schumer Calls For BP Investigation

Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) has requested a Department of Justice investigation of BP.

It has nothing to do with the Gulf of Mexico, but rather the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

BP is British company, but its ADR shares trade on the New York Stock Exchange and BP is thus subject to the FCPA.

In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder (see here [1]) Schumer requests that the DOJ investigate whether BP violated any of the provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) in connection with the August 2009 release of Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, the Libyan terrorist convicted of the 1988 bombing of Pan-Am flight 103 that killed 270 people, including 189 Americans. [This post is limited to a discussion of the FCPA, and not the above referenced release.]

Why does Schumer think BP may have violated the FCPA?

Because, according to Schumer’s letter – “BP has admitted that it lobbied United Kingdom government officials to wrap up a proposed prisoner transfer agreement (PTA) with the Libyan government amid concerns that a delay in reaching this agreement would harm a deal BP had signed with Libya’s National Oil Company to explore for oil and gas in the Gulf of Sidra and in parts of Libya’s western desert—an agreement which BP estimated could lead to eventual earnings of up to $20 billion.”

Hold the phone and stop the presses … a large corporation has admitted that it lobbied its own government in connection with a business purpose.

This would seem to be yet another example of the FCPA’s double standard in that what is routinely done at home suddenly becomes a potential criminal matter when done in connection with international business. For other examples of the double standard see here [2] and here [3].

Unless there is a finding that something of value went to a foreign official, the FCPA is not implicated because the law does not apply to giving things of value to a foreign government itself. Strange you say, but that is how the FCPA is written – a fact even the DOJ recognizes. See here [4] for DOJ Opinion Procedure Release 09-01 in which the DOJ states that the proposed course of conduct “fall[s] outside the scope of the FCPA in that the [thing of value] will be provided to the foreign government, as opposed to individual government officials …”

Schumer’s letter also states:

“If BP, or its officials, promised the Libyan Government that it would secure al-Megrahi’s release from detention in exchange for oil exploration rights—or even that it would provide lobbying services for such a release on the Libyan Government’s behalf—BP may have been unlawfully authorizing performance of valuable services to the Libyan Government in exchange for profitable oil exploration rights in express violation of the FCPA. Similarly, if BP promised anything of value to United Kingdom government officials to secure al-Megrahi’s release, this would also violate the FCPA.”

According to Schumer’s press release, he and “Senators Gillibrand, Menendez, and Lautenberg last week requested the British government investigate the circumstances surrounding al-Megrahi’s release and requested that BP and the British government turn over all documents related to the oil companies’ efforts lobbying for a prison-release agreement with Libya. They also called for the US State Department to press the British to investigate BP’s involvement in the incident.”

It is unusual for a U.S. politician to call upon DOJ to investigate a foreign-based company (or any company for that matter) for FCPA violations – particularly when the conduct at issue largely centers on conduct between the company and its own government officials.

Although the U.K. Bribery Act is not yet law (see yesterday’s post here [5]), when enacted, it is expected to have a broad jurisdictional scope and apply to certain U.S. companies, just as the FCPA applies to certain U.K. companies.

Following Schumer’s lead will a British politician request that the U.K. Serious Fraud Office investigate a U.S. company because it lobbied its own government officials in connection with a business purpose? As John Gapper, the associate editor and chief business commentator of the U.K. based Financial Times, stated in an editorial on the subject, “the US has been no stranger to dubious deals with foreign governments that benefit both its strategic interests and US companies.”

For more, see here [6] for Christopher Matthew’s Main Justice story on the topic.