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Why Does The SEC Have An FCPA Unit?

Women Thinking

Notwithstanding the fact that the SEC played an important role (indeed a more prominent role than the DOJ) in addressing the foreign corporate payment payments problem in the 1970s’s that led to enactment of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, it is a historical fact that the SEC never wanted any role in enforcing the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions.

It is also a historical fact that the SEC did not object to various bills introduced during the FCPA reform debates of the 1980’s that sought to “divest” the SEC of enforcement authority over the anti-bribery provisions.

In both cases, the SEC explicitly stated that enforcement of the anti-bribery provisions was not central to the SEC’s investor protection mission.

Against this backdrop, it is strange that the SEC announced in August 2009 that it was forming a specialized FCPA Unit. In making the announcement, then SEC Enforcement Director Robert Khuzami stated:

“The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act unit will focus on new and proactive approaches to identifying violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practice Act, which prohibits U.S. companies from bribing foreign officials for government contracts and other business. While we have been active in this area, more needs to be done, including being more proactive in investigations, working more closely with our foreign counterparts, and taking a more global approach to these violations.”

In January 2010, the five specialized SEC units, including the FCPA Unit, were formally launched. In making the announcement, Khuzami stated:

“These specialized units address both challenges through improved understanding of complex products and markets, earlier and better capability to detect emerging fraud and misconduct, greater capacity to file cases with strike-force speed, and an increase in expertise throughout the Division.”

Since 2010, the SEC’s FCPA Unit has steadily grown. For instance, in previous public comments Kara Brockmeyer (SEC FCPA Unit Chief) stated:

“the SEC FCPA Unit has about three dozen staff dedicated full-time to the FCPA.  This number is in addition to other enforcement attorneys in SEC offices outside of DC who may also work on FCPA cases.”

SEC FCPA Unit staff are public employees and as public employees it is worth asking the question: what are these approximate 40 people doing on a daily basis?

For instance, in 2014 and 2015 the SEC brought 16 corporate FCPA enforcement actions. 7 (approximately 45%) were the result of corporate voluntary disclosures. In such actions, the word “enforce” the FCPA is a bit too much, when the reality is the SEC largely “processes” the corporate voluntary disclosure.

Regardless of the origins of the SEC’s corporate FCPA enforcement actions, is the SEC actually litigating these cases and having to prove anything (a task that can require substantial time and resources if the defendant is mounting a defense)?

Nope.

Of the 16 corporate FCPA enforcement actions brought by the SEC over the past two years, 14 (88%) were resolved through administrative actions or a deferred prosecution agreement. The other two actions were resolved through settled civil complaints.

As one of only five “specialized units” at the SEC, one might think that a reasonably proportionate total of the SEC’s overall enforcement actions would come from the FCPA Unit.

Not true.

Since 2011, the SEC has broken its enforcement statistics into specific categories. As highlighted by the SEC’s own data below, FCPA enforcement actions are a miniscule percentage of overall SEC enforcement actions.

  • FY 2014 – FCPA actions .9% of total actions
  • FY 2013 – FCPA actions .7% of total actions
  • FY 2012 – FCPA actions 2% of total actions
  • FY 2011 – FCPA actions 2.7% of total actions

[Note: the SEC’s fiscal year is not a calendar year]

There is certainly more to having an FCPA unit than srictly enforcement action output.

Nevertheless, given the above output it is a fair question to again ask – what do the approximately 40 people in the SEC’s FCPA Unit actually do on a daily basis?

More fundamentally, why does the SEC have an FCPA Unit?

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