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Friday Roundup

It has been a few weeks since my last Friday Roundup.

As a result this is a souped-up edition.

Is paying an FCPA fine merely a cost of business, are FCPA internal investigations getting just a bit out-of-hand, have you heard that a new cottage industry of FCPA experts has emerged, quit picking on Canada, will Julian Messent (or others) be prosecuted for FCPA violations, Assistant Attorney General Breuer on the Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative, Proclamation 7750 news, and a son who wants to keep the New York condo … it’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Is Paying an FCPA Fine Merely a Cost of Business?

One may wonder, and legitimately so, whether getting caught for violating the FCPA is simply a cost of doing business whereby the company pays a fine and then continues to do business, including with, in many cases, the U.S. government. See here for my post on Siemens – The Year After, here for my post on BAE’s recent $40 million contract with the FBI (note because of the facade of FCPA enforcement, BAE was not charged with violating the FCPA – see here).

Denis McInerney, Chief of the DOJ’s Fraud Section, rejected such an assertion during an October 21st speech before the American Bar Association.

According to Inside U.S. Trade, McInerney “sought to rebut charges that FCPA enforcement relies too heavily on settlement agreements and that it is therefore like a licensing regime under which ‘companies are allowed to bribe, but if caught they have to pay a fee.'” According to Inside U.S. Trade, McInerney said that in the past two years, DOJ has imposed fines of $59 million, $19 million, $365 million, $338 million, $400 million, $376 million, $579 million and $800 million and he “emphasized that the companies paying these penalties are subject to monitoring which can lead to criminal prosecution if new offenses occur.” According to Inside U.S. Trade, McInerney said “I guarantee you that these firms do not view these are mere licensing fees.”

Is This Getting a Bit Out of Hand?

Avon previously disclosed the existence of an internal investigation focused on potential FCPA issues (see here for the prior post).

Here is what the company said in its 10-Q filing (here) yesterday:

“As previously reported, we have engaged outside counsel to conduct an internal investigation and compliance reviews focused on compliance with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) and related U.S. and foreign laws in China and additional countries. The internal investigation, which is being conducted under the oversight of our Audit Committee, began in June 2008. As we reported in October 2008, we voluntarily contacted the United States Securities and Exchange Commission and the United States Department of Justice to advise both agencies of our internal investigation. We are continuing to cooperate with both agencies and inquiries by them, including but not limited to, signing tolling agreements, translating and producing documents and assisting with interviews.

As previously reported in July 2009, in connection with the internal investigation, we commenced compliance reviews regarding the FCPA and related U.S. and foreign laws in additional countries in order to evaluate our compliance efforts. We are conducting these compliance reviews in a number of other countries selected to represent each of the Company’s four other international geographic segments. The internal investigation and compliance reviews are focused on reviewing certain expenses and books and records processes, including, but not limited to, travel, entertainment, gifts, and payments to third−party agents and others, in connection with our business dealings, directly or indirectly, with foreign governments and their employees. The internal investigation and compliance reviews of these matters are ongoing, and we continue to cooperate with both agencies with respect to these matters. At this point we are unable to predict the duration, scope, developments in, results of, or consequences of the internal investigation and compliance reviews.”

Here is what Avon had to say in the fling about its net global expenses:

“The increase in Net Global expenses for both the three and nine months ended September 30, 2010, was primarily attributable to significant professional and related fees associated with the FCPA investigation and compliance reviews described in Note 5 to the consolidated financial statements included herein of approximately $24 (up approximately $17 from the three months ended September 30, 2009) and approximately $72 (up approximately $49 from the nine months ended September 30, 2009), respectively. The increase in Net Global expenses for the nine months ended September 30, 2010 was also due to higher costs associated with global initiatives and costs associated with business acquisitions. Professional and related fees associated with the FCPA investigation and compliance reviews, while difficult to predict, are expected to continue during the course of this investigation.”

Those figures are not mere dollars, but millions of dollars. And, as noted in the disclosure, the expenses are expected to increase.

On a much smaller (yet still meaningful) scale, on August 31st, Orthofix disclosed (here) the existence of an internal investigation relating to FCPA issues focused on its Mexican subsidiaries, an entity that accounts “for approximately one percent of the Company’s consolidated net sales and consolidated total assets.”

Recently, Orthofix provided this update in an 8-K filing (here):

“Operating income in the third quarter of 2010 included the impact of $3.7 million in legal expenses associated with the DOJ investigation of the bone growth stimulation industry and the Company’s internal investigation into its compliance with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in its subsidiary in Mexico.”

Newsweek Notices FCPA Inc.

Newsweek recently carried a short blurb (here) titled “Going After Graft.” Among other things, the piece states:

“With prosecutions likely to continue—the FBI has doubled the number of agents tasked to FCPA cases—business is responding in kind. Law firms are competing for top FCPA talent, banks financing international deals are insisting on anti-bribery stipulations in contracts, and a new cottage industry of experts has emerged, offering country-by-country advice on gifts and local laws. In the words of an FBI spokesperson, FCPA are ‘four letters you need to be aware of if you’re doing business in the international marketplace.'”

Quit Picking On Canada

What if, in the U.S., there was no fallback FCPA books and records and internal control charges, there was no voluntary disclosure culture, there were no “overzealous prosecutions,” and there were no prosecutions undertaken as “publicity stunts.”

According to Cyndee Todgham Cherniak (here), FCPA enforcement would likely resemble the sparse enforcement of Canada’s Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act.

At least that is my take-away from her recent post (here) on the Trade Lawyers Blog.

For more on Canada’s Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act (see here and here).

Will Julian Messent (Or Others) Be Prosecuted For FCPA Violations?

Earlier this week, the U.K. Serious Fraud Office (SFO) announced (here) that Julian Messent was sentenced to 21 months in prison “after admitting making or authorizing corrupt payments of almost US $2 million to Costan Rican officials in the state insurance company, Instituto Nacional de Seguros (INS) and the national electricity provider Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad.”

Messent, a former director of London-based insurance business PWS International Ltd. (PWS), was the head of the Property (Americas) Divison at PWS in which role “he was responsible for securing and maintaining contracts for reinsurance in the Central and South America regions.”

According to the SFO release, “Messent authorized 41 corrupt payments” “to be paid to Costa Rican officials, their wives and associated companies, as inducements or rewards for assisting in the appointment or retention of PWS as broker of the lucrative reinsurance policy for INS.”

The SFO release also indicates that Messent was ordered to pay £100,000 in compensation to the Republic of Costa Rica. (In the U.S., FCPA fines flow solely into the U.S. Treasury).

Messent was charged under the U.K.’s Prevention of Corruption Act 1906 (see here).

According to this report in the Guardian, “the SFO decided not to prosecute PWS because the firm, which has been sold, had a substantial deficit in its pension fund.”

According to the Guardian, “the covert payments were routed through bank accounts in the names of the wives of the Costa Rican officials and through accounts in Panama and the US, and a travel agency in Florida.”

Under the 78dd-3 prong of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, persons other than an issuer or domestic concern (i.e. in this case foreign nationals) can be subject to the FCPA if the improper payments have a U.S. nexus.

Will FCPA prosecutions of Messent (and perhaps others) follow?

Breuer on the Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative

As highlighted in this prior post, in November 2009, Attorney General Eric Holder called asset recovery from corrupt officials a “global imperative” and he announced a “redoubled commitment on behalf of the United States Department of Justice to recover” funds obtained by foreign officials through bribery.

In July 2010, Holder announced (here) the Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative “aimed at combating large-scale foreign official corruption and recovering public funds for their intended – and proper – use: for the people of our nations.” Holder announced that the DOJ is “assembling a team of prosecutors who will focus exclusively on this work and build upon efforts already underway to deter corruption, hold offenders accountable, and protect public resources.”

In a recent keynote address at the Money Laundering Enforcement Conference (here), Assistant Attoney General Lanny Breuer had this to say about the initaitive:

“This Initiative represents a concrete step toward fulfilling that commitment. The Kleptocracy Initiative will involve three key sections in the Criminal Division: the Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section, which will lead it, and the Office of International Affairs and the Fraud Section, which will provide critical support. Once fully implemented, this Initiative will allow the Department to recover assets on behalf of countries victimized by high-level corruption, building on the Justice Department’s already robust enforcement of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Through the Kleptocracy Initiative, the Department will ensure that corrupt leaders cannot seek safe haven in the United States for their stolen wealth. And, if we uncover such wealth, the Justice Department will forfeit and return this stolen money to its rightful owners – the people and governments from whom it was taken.”

In his speech, Breuer also discussed (in a non-FCPA context) how the DOJ wants “companies that uncover illegal conduct to come forward voluntarily.”

Proclamation 7750 News

In 2004, President Bush signed Proclamation 7750 “To Suspend Entry As Immigrants or Nonimmigrants of Persons Engaged In or Benefiting From Corruption” (see here).

Proclamation 7750 basically says the U.S. can suspend entry into the country “of certain persons who have committed, participated in, or are beneficiaries of corruption in the performance of public functions where that corruption has serious adverse effects on international activity” subject to an exception where denying such entry would be “contrary to the interests” of the U.S.

Last year, the New York Times (here) ran an article quoting a former State Department official as saying the State Department(which is responsible for enforcing the proclamation) “seem[s] to lack the backbone to use this prohibition.”

Earlier this month, David Johnson (Assistant Secretary, Bureau International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, U.S. Department of State) stated at the Third Committee of the 65th Session of the UN General Assembly (see here) as follows:

“The United States continues to broaden its efforts to deny entry into our own country of public officials who receive bribes as well as those who supply them. Corrupt officials are not welcome in the United States.”

Joe Palazzolo (Wall Street Journal – Corruption Currents) followed up with Johnson and noted in a recent article that the “State Department is stepping up its game” in seeking to enforce Proclamation 7750. As Palazzolo reports, it is not hard to “step up the game” when “for a long time, one part-official […] handled 7750 matters.”

Palazzolo reports that the State Department recently hired two new employees and is “processing paperwork for two additional hires, who will focus the majority of their time on 7750 issues.” The article quotes a State Department official as saying, “it is our hope and intention that the new hires will result in greater capacity.”

Son Fights to Keep New York Condo

This prior post discussed the DOJ’s civil forfeiture complaint filed in July against certain U.S. properties “that represent a portion of illegal bribes paid to the former president of Taiwan and his wife.”

Joe Palazzolo (Wall Street Journal – Corruption Currents) recently reported that “the son of former Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian has quietly hired legal counsel to prevent a Manhattan condominium, which prosecutors say was purchased with bribes, from falling into the hands of the government.”

According to Palazzolo, the son, Chen Chih-chung, has retained Jonathan Harris (see here) to defend against the forfeiture action and Harris is quoted as saying he will be filing a motion to dismiss “shortly.”

*****

A good weekend to all.

Friday Roundup

It has been a few weeks since my last Friday Roundup.

As a result this is a souped-up edition.

Is paying an FCPA fine merely a cost of business, are FCPA internal investigations getting just a bit out-of-hand, have you heard that a new cottage industry of FCPA experts has emerged, quit picking on Canada, will Julian Messent (or others) be prosecuted for FCPA violations, Assistant Attorney General Breuer on the Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative, Proclamation 7750 news, and a son who wants to keep the New York condo … it’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Is Paying an FCPA Fine Merely a Cost of Business?

One may wonder, and legitimately so, whether getting caught for violating the FCPA is simply a cost of doing business whereby the company pays a fine and then continues to do business, including with, in many cases, the U.S. government. See here for my post on Siemens – The Year After, here for my post on BAE’s recent $40 million contract with the FBI (note because of the facade of FCPA enforcement, BAE was not charged with violating the FCPA – see here).

Denis McInerney, Chief of the DOJ’s Fraud Section, rejected such an assertion during an October 21st speech before the American Bar Association.

According to Inside U.S. Trade, McInerney “sought to rebut charges that FCPA enforcement relies too heavily on settlement agreements and that it is therefore like a licensing regime under which ‘companies are allowed to bribe, but if caught they have to pay a fee.'” According to Inside U.S. Trade, McInerney said that in the past two years, DOJ has imposed fines of $59 million, $19 million, $365 million, $338 million, $400 million, $376 million, $579 million and $800 million and he “emphasized that the companies paying these penalties are subject to monitoring which can lead to criminal prosecution if new offenses occur.” According to Inside U.S. Trade, McInerney said “I guarantee you that these firms do not view these are mere licensing fees.”

Is This Getting a Bit Out of Hand?

Avon previously disclosed the existence of an internal investigation focused on potential FCPA issues (see here for the prior post).

Here is what the company said in its 10-Q filing (here) yesterday:

“As previously reported, we have engaged outside counsel to conduct an internal investigation and compliance reviews focused on compliance with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) and related U.S. and foreign laws in China and additional countries. The internal investigation, which is being conducted under the oversight of our Audit Committee, began in June 2008. As we reported in October 2008, we voluntarily contacted the United States Securities and Exchange Commission and the United States Department of Justice to advise both agencies of our internal investigation. We are continuing to cooperate with both agencies and inquiries by them, including but not limited to, signing tolling agreements, translating and producing documents and assisting with interviews.

As previously reported in July 2009, in connection with the internal investigation, we commenced compliance reviews regarding the FCPA and related U.S. and foreign laws in additional countries in order to evaluate our compliance efforts. We are conducting these compliance reviews in a number of other countries selected to represent each of the Company’s four other international geographic segments. The internal investigation and compliance reviews are focused on reviewing certain expenses and books and records processes, including, but not limited to, travel, entertainment, gifts, and payments to third−party agents and others, in connection with our business dealings, directly or indirectly, with foreign governments and their employees. The internal investigation and compliance reviews of these matters are ongoing, and we continue to cooperate with both agencies with respect to these matters. At this point we are unable to predict the duration, scope, developments in, results of, or consequences of the internal investigation and compliance reviews.”

Here is what Avon had to say in the fling about its net global expenses:

“The increase in Net Global expenses for both the three and nine months ended September 30, 2010, was primarily attributable to significant professional and related fees associated with the FCPA investigation and compliance reviews described in Note 5 to the consolidated financial statements included herein of approximately $24 (up approximately $17 from the three months ended September 30, 2009) and approximately $72 (up approximately $49 from the nine months ended September 30, 2009), respectively. The increase in Net Global expenses for the nine months ended September 30, 2010 was also due to higher costs associated with global initiatives and costs associated with business acquisitions. Professional and related fees associated with the FCPA investigation and compliance reviews, while difficult to predict, are expected to continue during the course of this investigation.”

Those figures are not mere dollars, but millions of dollars. And, as noted in the disclosure, the expenses are expected to increase.

On a much smaller (yet still meaningful) scale, on August 31st, Orthofix disclosed (here) the existence of an internal investigation relating to FCPA issues focused on its Mexican subsidiaries, an entity that accounts “for approximately one percent of the Company’s consolidated net sales and consolidated total assets.”

Recently, Orthofix provided this update in an 8-K filing (here):

“Operating income in the third quarter of 2010 included the impact of $3.7 million in legal expenses associated with the DOJ investigation of the bone growth stimulation industry and the Company’s internal investigation into its compliance with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in its subsidiary in Mexico.”

Newsweek Notices FCPA Inc.

Newsweek recently carried a short blurb (here) titled “Going After Graft.” Among other things, the piece states:

“With prosecutions likely to continue—the FBI has doubled the number of agents tasked to FCPA cases—business is responding in kind. Law firms are competing for top FCPA talent, banks financing international deals are insisting on anti-bribery stipulations in contracts, and a new cottage industry of experts has emerged, offering country-by-country advice on gifts and local laws. In the words of an FBI spokesperson, FCPA are ‘four letters you need to be aware of if you’re doing business in the international marketplace.'”

Quit Picking On Canada

What if, in the U.S., there was no fallback FCPA books and records and internal control charges, there was no voluntary disclosure culture, there were no “overzealous prosecutions,” and there were no prosecutions undertaken as “publicity stunts.”

According to Cyndee Todgham Cherniak (here), FCPA enforcement would likely resemble the sparse enforcement of Canada’s Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act.

At least that is my take-away from her recent post (here) on the Trade Lawyers Blog.

For more on Canada’s Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act (see here and here).

Will Julian Messent (Or Others) Be Prosecuted For FCPA Violations?

Earlier this week, the U.K. Serious Fraud Office (SFO) announced (here) that Julian Messent was sentenced to 21 months in prison “after admitting making or authorizing corrupt payments of almost US $2 million to Costan Rican officials in the state insurance company, Instituto Nacional de Seguros (INS) and the national electricity provider Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad.”

Messent, a former director of London-based insurance business PWS International Ltd. (PWS), was the head of the Property (Americas) Divison at PWS in which role “he was responsible for securing and maintaining contracts for reinsurance in the Central and South America regions.”

According to the SFO release, “Messent authorized 41 corrupt payments” “to be paid to Costa Rican officials, their wives and associated companies, as inducements or rewards for assisting in the appointment or retention of PWS as broker of the lucrative reinsurance policy for INS.”

The SFO release also indicates that Messent was ordered to pay £100,000 in compensation to the Republic of Costa Rica. (In the U.S., FCPA fines flow solely into the U.S. Treasury).

Messent was charged under the U.K.’s Prevention of Corruption Act 1906 (see here).

According to this report in the Guardian, “the SFO decided not to prosecute PWS because the firm, which has been sold, had a substantial deficit in its pension fund.”

According to the Guardian, “the covert payments were routed through bank accounts in the names of the wives of the Costa Rican officials and through accounts in Panama and the US, and a travel agency in Florida.”

Under the 78dd-3 prong of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, persons other than an issuer or domestic concern (i.e. in this case foreign nationals) can be subject to the FCPA if the improper payments have a U.S. nexus.

Will FCPA prosecutions of Messent (and perhaps others) follow?

Breuer on the Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative

As highlighted in this prior post, in November 2009, Attorney General Eric Holder called asset recovery from corrupt officials a “global imperative” and he announced a “redoubled commitment on behalf of the United States Department of Justice to recover” funds obtained by foreign officials through bribery.

In July 2010, Holder announced (here) the Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative “aimed at combating large-scale foreign official corruption and recovering public funds for their intended – and proper – use: for the people of our nations.” Holder announced that the DOJ is “assembling a team of prosecutors who will focus exclusively on this work and build upon efforts already underway to deter corruption, hold offenders accountable, and protect public resources.”

In a recent keynote address at the Money Laundering Enforcement Conference (here), Assistant Attoney General Lanny Breuer had this to say about the initaitive:

“This Initiative represents a concrete step toward fulfilling that commitment. The Kleptocracy Initiative will involve three key sections in the Criminal Division: the Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section, which will lead it, and the Office of International Affairs and the Fraud Section, which will provide critical support. Once fully implemented, this Initiative will allow the Department to recover assets on behalf of countries victimized by high-level corruption, building on the Justice Department’s already robust enforcement of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Through the Kleptocracy Initiative, the Department will ensure that corrupt leaders cannot seek safe haven in the United States for their stolen wealth. And, if we uncover such wealth, the Justice Department will forfeit and return this stolen money to its rightful owners – the people and governments from whom it was taken.”

In his speech, Breuer also discussed (in a non-FCPA context) how the DOJ wants “companies that uncover illegal conduct to come forward voluntarily.”

Proclamation 7750 News

In 2004, President Bush signed Proclamation 7750 “To Suspend Entry As Immigrants or Nonimmigrants of Persons Engaged In or Benefiting From Corruption” (see here).

Proclamation 7750 basically says the U.S. can suspend entry into the country “of certain persons who have committed, participated in, or are beneficiaries of corruption in the performance of public functions where that corruption has serious adverse effects on international activity” subject to an exception where denying such entry would be “contrary to the interests” of the U.S.

Last year, the New York Times (here) ran an article quoting a former State Department official as saying the State Department(which is responsible for enforcing the proclamation) “seem[s] to lack the backbone to use this prohibition.”

Earlier this month, David Johnson (Assistant Secretary, Bureau International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, U.S. Department of State) stated at the Third Committee of the 65th Session of the UN General Assembly (see here) as follows:

“The United States continues to broaden its efforts to deny entry into our own country of public officials who receive bribes as well as those who supply them. Corrupt officials are not welcome in the United States.”

Joe Palazzolo (Wall Street Journal – Corruption Currents) followed up with Johnson and noted in a recent article that the “State Department is stepping up its game” in seeking to enforce Proclamation 7750. As Palazzolo reports, it is not hard to “step up the game” when “for a long time, one part-official […] handled 7750 matters.”

Palazzolo reports that the State Department recently hired two new employees and is “processing paperwork for two additional hires, who will focus the majority of their time on 7750 issues.” The article quotes a State Department official as saying, “it is our hope and intention that the new hires will result in greater capacity.”

Son Fights to Keep New York Condo

This prior post discussed the DOJ’s civil forfeiture complaint filed in July against certain U.S. properties “that represent a portion of illegal bribes paid to the former president of Taiwan and his wife.”

Joe Palazzolo (Wall Street Journal – Corruption Currents) recently reported that “the son of former Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian has quietly hired legal counsel to prevent a Manhattan condominium, which prosecutors say was purchased with bribes, from falling into the hands of the government.”

According to Palazzolo, the son, Chen Chih-chung, has retained Jonathan Harris (see here) to defend against the forfeiture action and Harris is quoted as saying he will be filing a motion to dismiss “shortly.”

*****

A good weekend to all.

FCPA Enforcement and Credit Ratings

Fitch Ratings (see here) is a global rating agency that provides credit opinions, research and data to the world’s credit markets.

It recently issued a report titled “U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act – No Minor Matter.”

The report contains some interesting and informative non-legal perspectives on FCPA enforcement which are excerpted below.

*****

“Aside from management distraction and reputational risk, additional compliance costs and fines [arising from FCPA violations] could have rating implications for those companies with modest FCF [free cash flow] and/or liquidity. It should also be noted that it can take years from the discovery of a violation to the time a plea agreement is reached. In the interim, corporate credit profiles, liquidity, and ratings may weaken. The fine that could be easily paid with cash on hand today might not be readily payable years down the road if a company’s credit profile has weakened and liquidity becomes constrained.”

The report notes that many FCPA fines are “imposed on large investment grade corporations whose substantial cash balances easily afforded them the ability to absorb the payments with no or minimal increases in leverage.”

However, the report notes, “there have also been violations by non-investment grade companies.”

The report then discusses Willbros Group, Inc. “which borrowed from banks on a secured basis.” The report notes that when the company became aware of its FCPA issues (see here for prior posts on Willbros) the issues resulted “in the restatement of its annual financial statements at December 2002 and 2003, as well as the first, second, and third fiscal quarters iof 2004 and 2003.”

The report continues:

“In its 2005 10-K [Willbros] noted that it required an amendment on an indenture due to late filing and several amendments on its bank credit facility. In the July 1, 2005 Second Amendment and Waiver Agreement the credit facility was reduced from $150 million to $100 million.”

*****

The report also discusses the fiscal consequences of “deferring the legal consequences” of an FCPA violation – as so often happens given the frequency in which non-prosecution and deferred prosecution agreements are used to resolve FCPA enforcement actions. Pursuant to these agreements, the non-prosecuted or deferred charges could go “live” if the company fails to adhere to its obligations under the agreement. “This means,” according to the report, “that investors and analysts cannot take a deep breath or relax until” the time period in the NPA or DPA has expired.

*****

The report also discusses how FCPA issues can become a “sticking point in acquisitions/dispositions of businesses.”

The report notes:

“Sellers may have contingent liabilities related to violations even after assets or businesses are sold. Prices could be less than expected and may hamper sellers who need to receive a certain level of cash or offload debt to deleverage or meet covenants. Additionally, buyers who have not done enough due diligence up front may find themselves with an unexpected obligation and higher litigation expenses in the future.”

For a recent example of a company halting a planned acquisition because of an FCPA issue (see here).

*****

As to “management distraction” resulting from an FCPA inquiry, the report notes:

“Fines, penalties, widespread adverse publicity with potential damage to corporate reputations, having an independent compliance monitor, and building up the compliance organization can all pose an enormous distraction to management. More importantly, while many companies tend to have significant financial resources at the
start of an inquiry, it generally takes years before there is a conclusion. In that interim, it is possible that a corporation’s financial profile could weaken.”

*****

The report contains an informative chart detailing “Fitch-Rate Issuers” that tracks the date the FCPA issue first went public.

Noteworthy examples include:

Accenture Ltd. (identified a potential FCPA issue in July 2003 – in its March 2010 SEC filing the company stated that there has been no new developments);

Bristol-Myers Squibb Company (the SEC notified the company in October 2004 of an inquiry of certain pharma subsidiaries in Germany – in its 2009 10-K the company stated that it is cooperating with the SEC);

Eli Lilly & Co (the SEC notified the company in 2003 that it was investigating whether certain Polish units has violated the FCPA – in its 2009 10-K the company stated that the DOJ and SEC had issued subpoenas relating to other countries).

*****

As to “credit implications,” the report notes, among other things:

That, because the time from discovery of FCPA violations to resolution can take years, a company’s credit profile could weaken – perhaps reflecting a weak economic cycle. When allegations of bribery separately arise, “for most corporations if the credit profile weakens, potential fines and/or legal contingencies would be among the items of concern in the Rating or Outlook.”

The report then talks specifically about Avon and its FCPA issues (see here for a prior post).

The report notes:

“The cost of investigations and ongoing compliance can be sizeable, and each company’s liquidity and metrics over the medium term would need to be considered. Avon, with $10 billion in 2009 revenues, had $120 million in FCF. In April 2010 the company disclosed that the cost of the investigation would be in the $85 million – $95 million range, up from $35 million in 2009. The additional cost of widening the investigation represents a significant percentage of the company’s 2009 FCF. While the company has more than $1 billion in cash on hand, Fitch’s expectation of moderate FCF in the medium term was part of the rationale for the downgrade to ‘A-’ from ‘A’ on Feb. 2, 2010. Additional layers of investigatory or compliance-related expenses could hamper FCF for Avon and other companies that violate the FCPA. Continued relative weakness in FCF and/or increased leverage typically can provide the impetus for a downgrade or change in outlook for many corporations.”

All in all, the Fitch Report is an interesting and informative read.

A couple of observations.

Some FCPA enforcement actions, per the enforcement agencies’ allegations, involve conduct that goes “all the way to the top” – the Siemens enforcement action comes to mind. In this type of FCPA enforcement action, the company’s credit ratings, and much else about the company’s business, ought to be negatively impacted by the FCPA enforcement action.

However, enforcement actions like Siemens are clearly outliers.

The far more common FCPA enforcement action involves allegations of improper conduct by a single employee or a small group of employees – often in a foreign subsidiary. Even so, because of respondeat superior, the parent company issuer faces FCPA exposure. In such a situation – a common FCPA scenario – is it proper for company’s credit rating to be negatively impacted by the enforcement action?

Add to this the fact that most FCPA enforcement actions are resolved through non-prosecution or deferred prosecution agreements. These agreements are privately negotiated, subject to no (or little) judicial scrutiny, and do not necessarily represent the triumph of one party’s legal position over the other. In such a situation – again a very common FCPA scenario – is it proper for the company’s credit rating to be negatively impacted by the enforcement action?

In my forthcoming piece “The Facade of FCPA Enforcement,” I discuss why the facade of FCPA enforcement matters.

The Fitch Report has informed me of another reason why the facade of FCPA enforcement matters – and that is because FCPA enforcement actions can negatively impact a company’s credit rating.

The FCPA and Reputational Damage

Nearly every FCPA presentation one sees or hears seems to talk about collateral sanctions which flow from an FCPA enforcement action, including the reputational harm companies “suffer” when disclosing FCPA issues or settling FCPA enforcement actions.

But is it true?

Do companies that disclose FCPA issues or settle FCPA enforcement actions actually suffer any reputational damage?

For companies, reputation is traditionally measured by stock price performance and business revenue.

Do companies that disclose FCPA issues or settle FCPA enforcement actions have a decrease in stock price or lose business?

How does one even measure such an issue?

Stock price movement upon the market first learning of a potential FCPA issue? Stock price movement upon settlement of an FCPA enforcement action? Something in between? Business revenue during the period of uncertainty (i.e. from disclosure to settlement)? Business revenue in the year after settlement of an FCPA enforcement action?

Whatever the metric, the answer to whether companies suffer reputational damage upon disclosing an FCPA issue or settling an FCPA enforcement action seems to be inconclusive.

That was the conclusion of a January 2009 study by Nera Economic Consulting (see here). Among other things, the study concluded that “the extent of the fallout from the relatively recent trend of increased FCPA enforcement actions remains uncertain.” For some companies “there was no statistically significant price reaction” yet for other companies there was a “negative price reaction.”

The below examples also seem to support the inconclusive answer.

Last month, (see here) Hewlett-Packard Co.’s (HP) Moscow offices were raided in connection with an investigation focusing on whether company executives made millions in payments to the prosecutor general of the Russian Federation to secure contracts. It was front page news in several publications, including the Wall Street Journal. This week HP (see here) disclosed second quarter results (the same quarter the issue surfaced). The results … stellar. “Second quarter net revenue of $30.8 billion, up 13%, or $3.5 billion, from a year earlier.” HP’s Chairman and CEO said “HP had an exceptional quarter with strong performance across every region,” – “we’ve built the best portfolio in the industry, and our customers are responding. We’re winning in the marketplace, investing for the future and confident in the enormous opportunity that lies ahead.” What about the company’s performance in Russia? Even better. The HP release notes “revenue from outside of the United States in the second quarter accounted for 66% of total HP revenue, with revenue in the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) increasing 25% while accounting for 10% of total HP revenue.”

Front page press coverage of HP’s potential FCPA issues seems to have had no affect on the company’s reputation when viewed through the prism of financial performance.

What about Siemens?

In the 365 days after the Siemens enforcement action, Siemens outperformed its competitors and received mounds of new business from the U.S. government, including taxpayer funds from the $787 billion stimulus bill passed by Congress and signed by President Obama in February 2009 (see here). This despite the fact (according to DOJ statements) that Siemens engaged in a pattern of bribery “unprecedented in scale and geographic scope” and for much of Siemens operations around the world “bribery was nothing less than standard operating procedure.” Siemens surely paid a hefty fine/penalty amount, but did its reputation suffer? It would appear not.

What about BAE?

When the BAE “FCPA-like” enforcement action was announced, the company’s stock rose. Since the February 2010 enforcement action, the company has been inking contracts with the U.S. and U.K. governments (the prosecuting governments) left and right. This week it was a $10.7 million contract with the U.S. Army (see here). Last week it was a $5.5 million contract and a $10 million contract with U.S. government agencies (see here and here). Throw in a recent £111 million contract from the UK’s Ministry of Defence (see here) and one would be justified in concluding that it matters very little if a company is caught engaging in bribery and corruption.

However, just when one is set to reach such a conclusion, along comes a company like Avon. Last month, the company shares dropped 8% upon news that its previously disclosed FCPA issues appear to have escalated. (see here, here and here). It sure looks like Avon’s reputation (viewed through the prism of its stock price) has suffered because of the FCPA escalation.

*****

Somewhat “on topic” is the recent news that Daimler AG, after a 17 year listing on the New York Stock Exchange, has decided to delist. Purely coincidence that this delisting is occuring approximately one month after Daimler resolved its FCPA case?

Daimler agreed to enter into a deferred prosecution agreement for conspiring to violate the FCPA’s books and records provisions and knowingly falsifying books, records and accounts, provisions which only apply to “issuers”.

(The DOJ’s allegations as to Daimler also allege use of U.S. bank accounts and U.S. entities – an independent basis by which a foreign company like Daimler can become subject to the FCPA). For more on the Daimler enforcement action (see here and here).

FCPA Goes Main Street

Growing up in a village of 1,054 in central Wisconsin, I was not exposed to oil and gas companies, defense contractors, or other companies that tend to have a high FCPA risk profile.

Yet one person I did have contact with on a near daily basis, because she lived around the corner, was the “Avon Lady.”

Thus, a bit of my youthful innocence was taken away upon learning last week that Avon Products Inc. (here) of all companies “suspended four executives amid an internal investigation into alleged bribery that began with the company’s China operation” and “now involves a dozen or more countries” according to the Wall Street Journal. According to the WSJ, the executives suspended include the president, chief financial officer and top government affairs executive of Avon’s China unit as well as a senior executive in New York who was Avon’s head of internal audit until the middle of last year.

According to the WSJ, Avon’s chief exectuive, Andrea Jung is a “corporate celebrity” in China and she has met frequently with “senior government officials.”

The conduct at issue involves alleged “purchase of trips to France, New York, Canada, and Hawaii for Chinese government officials with ties to Avon’s business.” However, according to the WSJ, “the scope of the investigation has since widened to regions including Latin America, where the company garners the bulk of its sales and profits.”

According to the WSJ, what sparked the investigation was “an employee who wrote a letter to Ms. Jung alleging improper spending related to travel with Chinese government officials.”

Here is what the company had to say in its 2009 Annual Report (filed in March 2010):

“As previously reported, we have engaged outside counsel to conduct an internal investigation and compliance reviews focused on compliance with the FCPA and related U.S. and foreign laws in China and additional countries. The internal investigation and compliance reviews, which are being conducted under the oversight of our Audit Committee, began in June 2008. We voluntarily contacted the United States Securities and Exchange Commission and the United States Department of Justice to advise both agencies of our internal investigation and compliance reviews and we are, as we have done from the beginning of the internal investigation, continuing to cooperate with both agencies and have signed tolling agreements with them.

The internal investigation and compliance reviews, which started in China, are focused on reviewing certain expenses and books and records processes, including, but not limited to, travel, entertainment, gifts, and payments to third-party agents and others, in connection with our business dealings, directly or indirectly,
with foreign governments and their employees. The internal investigation and compliance reviews of these matters are ongoing. At this point we are unable to predict the duration, scope or results of the internal investigation and compliance reviews.”

Based on information that is publicly available, this potential FCPA enforcement action fits the mold of Lucent Technologies and UTStarcom (here), in that it appears focused on excessive travel and entertainment benefits to Chinese “foreign officials.”

However, looking to the prior “on-point” Lucent and UTStarcom enforcement actions may not provide much useful guidance. But you probably already knew that, this is FCPA enforcement after all, where predictabilty and transparency are not distinguishing features.

If ever two FCPA enforcement actions were carbon-copies of each other, it would be the December 2007 enforcement action against Lucent and the December 2009 enforcement action against UTStarcom (“UTS”) Both enforcement actions involved telecommunications companies, both enforcement actions principally concerned business conduct in China, both enforcement actions involved payment of excessive travel and entertainment expenses, and both enforcement actions were resolved through a DOJ NPA and an SEC settled civil complaint and consent decree. Despite these similarities the end results were significantly different.

UTS settled its matter by agreeing to pay $3 million in total fines and penalties for FCPA antibribery, books and records and internal control violations. However, Lucent settled its matter by agreeing to pay $2.5 million in total fines and penalties for merely FCPA books and records and internal controls violations – in other words no antibribery violations. This despite the fact that, per the government’s statement of facts and allegations, Lucent sponsored more trips than UTS (315 compared to 225) and spent more money on the problematic trips than UTS ($10 million compared to $7 million) to influence more foreign officials in the hopes of winning billion dollar and multi-million contracts. Also relevant is that UTS was charged with antibribery violations and paid a higher combined fine/penalty amount compared to Lucent (based on less severe allegations) despite the fact that UTS, per the DOJ’s release, voluntarily disclosed the conduct at issue – a factor noticeably absent in the DOJ’s Lucent release.

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