Wal-Mart’s FCPA expenses, scrutiny alerts and updates, quotable, February 21st, further to the conversation, and for the reading stack. It’s all here in the Friday roundup.
Wal-Mart’s FCPA Expenses
For over a year now, I have been tracking Wal-Mart’s pre-enforcement action professional fees and expenses and calculating what Wal-Mart is spending per working day on its FCPA scrutiny and exposure. (See here for the prior post with embedded links to others). Here is what Wal-Mart executives said yesterday in its earnings conference call for the fourth quarter of FY 2014.
“Core corporate expenses [for the fourth quarter of FY 2014] increased 5.8 percent. FCPA and compliance-related expenses were approximately $58 million, which was below our guidance of $75 to $80 million for the quarter. Approximately $38 million of these expenses represented costs incurred for the ongoing inquiries and investigations, while the remaining $20 million was related to our global compliance program and organizational enhancements.”
“Corporate & support expenses [for the fiscal year 2014] increased 24.1 percent for the full year, primarily from our investments in leverage services and Global eCommerce. Core corporate expenses, which included $282 million in charges related to FCPA matters, increased 15.6 percent. Approximately $173 million of these expenses represented costs incurred for the ongoing inquiries and investigations, while the remaining $109 million was related to our global compliance program and organizational enhancements.”
“During the first quarter of this year, we will begin to anniversary the increased costs we’ve incurred for FCPA matters, including compliance program enhancements and the ongoing investigations. These costs will remain in the Corporate and Support area, and we anticipate expenses to be between $200 million and $240 million for the year. [for the fiscal year 2015]
You add it up, and here is what you get.
FY 2013 = $157 million (approximately $$604,000 per working day)
FY 2014 = $282 million (approximately $1.1 million per working day)
FY 2015 = $200 – $240 million (anticipated)
As Wal-Mart’s FCPA scrutiny will once again demonstrate, settlement amounts in an actual FCPA enforcement action are often only a relatively minor component of the overall financial consequences that can result from corporate FCPA scrutiny.
Pre-enforcement action professional fees and expenses are typically the largest (in many cases to a degree of 3, 5, 10 or higher than settlement amounts). For instance, the total of the above pre-enforcement action professional fees and expenses and estimates is approximately $659 million. A $659 million FCPA settlement amount would be second of all-time.
That pre-enforcement action professional fees and expenses are typically the most expensive aspect of FCPA scrutiny is a fact. However it must nevertheless be asked whether FCPA scrutiny has turned into a boondoggle for many involved. Using just Wal-Mart and Avon’s pre-enforcement professional fees and expenses results in FCPA Inc. being over a billion dollar industry!
Is Wal-Mart’s conduct for which it is under scrutiny in violation of the FCPA? Does it even matter? See my article “Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Enforcement As Seen Through Wal-Mart’s Potential Exposure.”
Scrutiny Alerts and Updates
Earlier this week, the DOJ announced that Knut Hammarskjold “pleaded guilty today for his role in a scheme to pay bribes to foreign government officials and to defraud PetroTiger.” According to the release, Hammarskjold pleading guilty “to an information charging one count of conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and to commit wire fraud and is scheduled for sentencing on May 16, 2014.” Despite the DOJ’s announcement, the docket for Hammarskjold’s case does not contain the plea agreement or related documents. For a comprehensive summary of the DOJ’s charges against Kammarskjold and co-defendants Joseph Sigelman and Gregory Weisman, see this prior post. As noted in the previous post, Weisman has also pleaded guilty and the charges against Sigelman remain pending.
As highlighted in this previous Friday Roundup, last year Mead Johnson Nutritional Company disclosed an internal investigation related to business practices in China. Thus, contrary to certain reports Mead Johnson’s FCPA scrutiny is not “new,” but earlier this week, the company updated its disclosure as follows.
“Following an SEC request for documents relating to certain business activities of the Company’s local subsidiary in China, the Company is continuing an internal investigation of such business activities. The Company’s investigation is focused on certain expenditures that were made in connection with the promotion of the Company’s products or may have otherwise been made. Certain of such expenditures were made in violation of Company policies and may have been made in violation of applicable U.S. and/or local laws, including the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (the “FCPA”). The investigation is being conducted by outside legal counsel and overseen by a committee of independent members of the Company’s board of directors. The status and results of the investigation are being discussed with the SEC and other governmental authorities. At this time, the Company is unable to predict the scope, timing or outcome of this ongoing matter or any regulatory or legal actions that may be commenced related to this matter.”
As highlighted in this 2010 post, in connection with a bankruptcy proceeding, Lyondellbasell’s disclosed as follows.
“We have identified an agreement related to a project in Kazakhstan under which a payment was made in late 2008 that raises compliance concerns under the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (the “FCPA”).
Yesterday the company disclosed:
“We previously reported that we had identified, and voluntarily disclosed to the U.S. Department of Justice, an agreement related to a former project in Kazakhstan under which a payment was made that raised compliance concerns under the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (the “FCPA”). In January 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice advised the Company that it had closed its investigation into this matter. No fine or penalty was assessed.”
In the minds of some, this is a declination. I beg to differ – see here.
The company recently disclosed as follows.
“The company was the recipient of an inquiry from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the SEC that was part of a broader review of industry practices for compliance with the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. In January 2014, the company was notified by both the DOJ and the SEC that their respective investigations were closed as to Baxter without any further action taken by either agency.”
For a previous post regarding Baxter, see here.
“Alstom SA, the French maker of trains and power equipment, will be charged in the U.K. over bribery allegations after a five-year investigation, according to two people with knowledge of the case. The Serious Fraud Office may ask the attorney general to approve charges in the coming weeks, a standard requirement for the agency to prosecute some offenses, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the case is private. […] The SFO said in 2011 it suspected that Alstom gave money to companies that acted as “bogus consultants” to bribe overseas officials for contracts from 2004 to 2010, according to court papers at the time.”
If Alstom does face criminal charges in the U.K., the charges are unlikely to fall under the U.K. Bribery Act as the law went effective in July 2011 and is forward-looking only. As highlighted in previous posts (see here for instance) in 2013 the DOJ brought charges against four individuals associated with Alstom concerning alleged conduct in Indonesia.
In this recent Chicago Tribune article, Tom Pritzker (Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of The Pritzker Organization, LLC – the principal financial and investment advisor to various Pritzker family business interests) reportedly stated as follows at a recent Chicago Council on Global Affairs event:
“The way that [FCPA] enforcement is working out of Washington strikes all of us in American business as arbitrary. It’s a revenue-generating mechanism for Washington, and that makes it additionally difficult in terms of how you figure out how to navigate emerging markets.”
Today is a notable day in FCPA history (see this prior post).
I am grateful that I – and this website – have played a role in these events.
Further to the Conversation I
As frequently highlighted on these pages (see here for instance), trade barriers and distortions are often the root causes of bribery and a reduction in bribery will not be achieved without a reduction in trade barriers and distortions.
Simply put, trade barriers and distortions create bureaucracy.
Bureaucracy creates points of contact with foreign officials.
Points of contact with foreign officials create discretion.
Discretion creates the opportunity for a foreign official to misuse their position by making demand bribes.
This recent Wall Street Journal article highlights China’s “quota system” for foreign-films. As the article states:
“[34 is] maximum number of foreign titles the Chinese government allows into its nation’s theaters every year, a quota in place to try to protect China’s own nascent movie business. Hollywood studios have wondered when that number might be boosted—the last time was in February 2012, when Vice President Joe Biden announced a deal increasing the quota to the current 34 titles, from 20.”
Perhaps you’ve heard that various film companies are under FCPA scrutiny concerning business practices in China. (See here).
Further to the Conversation II
Whether it’s a federal court judge stating that a pending federal criminal case is “not window dressing” nor is the court “a potted plant” in concluding that a federal court does indeed have supervisory authority over the DPA process (see here for the prior post) or whether it’s a federal court judge criticizing various common aspects of corporate criminal law enforcement, including DPAs, as “both technically and morally suspect” (see here for the prior post) – there is an important conversation taking place concerning how the DOJ resolves alleged instance of corporate criminal liability.
Further to this conversation, the Better Markets, Inc. (a group that advocates for greater transparency, accountability, and oversight in the financial system) recently filed this complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief against the DOJ and Attorney General Eric Holder. While the complaint reads more like a policy paper than a complaint, it nevertheless calls the $13 billion settlement between the DOJ and JPMorgan a “mere contract” and alleges in pertinent part:
“Yet, this contract was the product of negotiations conducted entirely in secret behind closed doors, in significant part by the Attorney General personally, who directly negotiated with the CEO of JP Morgan Chase, the bank’s “chief negotiator.” No one other than those involved in those secret negotiations has any idea what JP Morgan Chase really did or got for its $13 billion because there was no judicial review or proceeding at all regarding this historic and unprecedented settlement. However, it is known that JP Morgan Chase’s $13 billion did result in almost complete nondisclosure by the DOJ regarding JP Morgan Chase’s massive alleged illegal conduct.
Thus, the Executive Branch, through DOJ, acted as investigator, prosecutor, judge, jury, sentencer, and collector, without any review or approval of its unilateral and largely secret actions. The DOJ assumed this all-encompassing role even though the settlement amount is the largest with a single entity in the 237 year history of the United States and even though it provides civil immunity for years of illegal conduct by a private entity related to an historic financial crash that has cause economic wreckage affecting virtually every single American. The Executive Branch simply does not have the unilateral power or authority to do so by entering a mere contract with the private entity without any constitutional checks and balances.”
The complaint seeks a declaration that, among other things,
“the DOJ violated the separation of powers doctrine by unilaterally finalizing the $13 billion Agreement without seeking judicial review and approval”
“the DOJ acted in excess of its statutory authority by unilaterally finalizing the $13 billion Agreement without seeking judicial review and approval”
“the DOJ acted arbitrarily and capriciously by unilaterally finalizing the $13 billion Agreement without seeking judicial review and approval.”
I agree with Professor Peter Henning who recently stated in his New York Times Dealbook column:
“The lawsuit faces substantial hurdles that make it unlikely to succeed. As a general matter, private parties do not have standing to challenge a decision by the government to settle a case. The Justice Department has broad discretion in how it chooses to exercise its authority, and courts rarely intervene to scrutinize a decision unless there is evidence involving improper discrimination.
Nevertheless, the frustration expressed by Better Markets about the process for determining what JPMorgan should have paid to resolve multiple investigations is fair.”
For more on princelings and the hiring practices of certain financial institutions in China, see here from Bloomberg.
A dandy article here from Jon Eisenberg (K&L Gates) titled “Brother Can You Spare $8.9 Billion? Making Sense of SEC Civil Money Penalties.” In pertinent part, the article is about:
“Other than negotiations about the wording of settlement documents, agreeing to the amount of the money penalty is often the last barrier to resolution. And it’s one of the most frustrating because the amounts proposed may appear untethered to any principle or precedent.
In an effort to provide more clarity on SEC money penalties, we look at four sources that should inform the negotiations about those penalties: first, the explosive growth in the SEC’s authority to impose civil money penalties; second, the relevant statutory language since the SEC’s authority to impose civil money penalties comes from and is limited by Congress; third, two recent D.C. Circuit decisions making clear that there are meaningful limits on the Commission’s discretion in assessing money penalties; and fourth, the outcome in recent cases before SEC administrative law judges in which the amount of the penalties was contested.”
The article is not FCPA specific, but very much FCPA relevant, particularly given the SEC’s increased interest in resolving corporate FCPA enforcement actions via administrative actions. In short, Eisenberg’s article is excellent. Read it.
A good weekend to all.