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Assistant Attorney General Caldwell – “We Do Not Expect Companies To Aimlessly Boil The Ocean”

Boiling the Ocean


The article “Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Ripples” discusses how settlement amounts in an actual FCPA enforcement action are often only a relatively minor component of the overall financial consequences that can result from FCPA scrutiny or enforcement.

The largest component of FCPA enforcement or scrutiny tends to be pre-enforcement action professional fees and expenses.  Where an analysis is possible (it is not possible in all cases because not all companies disclose pre-enforcement action professional fees and expenses) the ratio of pre-enforcement action professional fees and expenses to settlement amount is often 3, 5, 7 times (or even higher) actual settlement amounts.

In the minds of many, pre-enforcement action professional fees and expenses have spiraled out of control and have become a boondoggle for FCPA Inc.

As highlighted in “A Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Narrative,” in 2013 Charles Duross (at the time the DOJ’s FCPA Unit Chief) called out the industry at an American Bar Association event. Duross suggested that often company lawyers are seeking to over-do-it through a global search of operations for FCPA issues. He discussed a case in which a company and its professional advisors came to a meeting with a global search plan and he said “no, no, no, that is not what I want.” He indicated that the lawyers and other professional advisors in the room ‘looked unhappy,’ but that the general counsel of the company was happy.”

The above “Narrative” article also highlighted calls for greater restraint from various FCPA lawyers.

As highlighted in this prior post, one of most interesting portions of the December 2014 Avon deferred prosecution agreement was the following statement by the DOJ.

“The Department also considered that the Company, taking into account its own business interests, expended considerable resources on a company wide review of and enhancements to its compliance program and internal controls.  While the Company’s efforts in this regard were taken without Department request or guidance, and at times caused unintended delays in the progress of the Department’s narrower investigations, the Department recognizes that the Company’s efforts resulted in important compliance and internal controls improvements.”

Against this backdrop, last week Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell gave this speech at an event hosted by New York University Law School’s Program on Corporate Compliance and Enforcement.  As relevant to the topic of this post, Caldwell stated:

“All too often, criticism is leveled against the Justice Department for purportedly causing companies to spend years, and many millions of dollars, investigating potential violations.  This is particularly true in the FCPA context where the need for international evidence can add to the expense and burden of an investigation.  Critics wrongly question the wisdom of disclosing misconduct and cooperating with the government in light of what they perceive to be the department’s requirement that companies then must conduct unnecessarily costly, time consuming and widespread investigations.

There is no question that some cooperating companies spend large sums of money investigating potential misconduct and correcting internal controls issues that allowed the misconduct to occur.  The decision to incur those costs, however, is one made by those companies, not a requirement of the department.  When a company chooses to cooperate with the government, the manner in which the company approaches its cooperation, and its own investigation of the conduct, can significantly affect the length of the investigation and the costs incurred by the company.

Although we expect internal investigations to be thorough, we do not expect companies to aimlessly boil the ocean.  Indeed, there have been some instances in which companies have, in our view, conducted overly broad and needlessly costly investigations, in some cases delaying our ability to resolve matters in a timely fashion.

For example, if a company discovers an FCPA violation in one country, and has no basis to suspect that violations are occurring elsewhere, we would not necessarily expect it to extend its investigation beyond the conduct in that country.  On the other hand, if the same people involved in the violation also operated in other countries, we likely would expect the investigation to be broader.

This example is not intended to suggest the proper scope of an investigation of any given matter.  My point instead is that, to receive cooperation credit, we expect companies to conduct appropriately tailored investigations designed to root out misconduct, identify wrongdoers and provide all available facts.  To the extent a company decides to conduct a broader survey of its operations, that decision, and any attendant delay and cost, are the result of the company’s choices, not the department’s requirement.

To assist cooperating companies in appropriately targeting their investigations, to the extent possible, we will make clear to those companies our areas of interest.  I tell my prosecutors that where possible, if it would not compromise our own investigation, we should share information about our investigation with a cooperating company to help focus the company’s internal inquiry.  I encourage an open dialogue between company counsel and our prosecutors about the progress of the internal investigation.  Companies that truly demonstrate a commitment to cooperation will find that this dialogue comes easily.”

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