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Judge Denies Esquenazi’s “Foreign Official” Challenge

In a cursory November 19th opinion (see here) devoid of substantive analysis, Judge Jose Martinez (S.D. Fla.) denied Joel Esquenazi’s “foreign official” challenge. (See here and here for prior posts).

Esquenazi’s challenge was launched by a lawyer with no apparent FCPA expertise and his brief did not even scratch the surface as to the FCPA’s extensive legislative history regarding the “foreign official” element. Esquenazi’s “foreign official” brief was just one of several dismissal motions (such as selective and vindictive prosecution and spoilation of defense favorable evidence) filed over a brief time period – a factor which perhaps influenced Judge Martinez’s view of Esquenazi’s otherwise valid “foreign official” challenge – an issue at the core of a significant number of recent FCPA enforcement actions.

In its November 17th response, the DOJ termed Esquenazi’s challenge premature. The DOJ did offer to provide supplemental briefing on the meaning of “foreign official” “to elaborate on how the FCPA’s plain text, its current interpretation by courts, its legislative history, and U.S. treaty obligations provide no support for the defendants’ novel and confusing definition.”

Against this backdrop, within 48 hours of the DOJ’s response, Judge Martinez denied Esquenazi’s challenge.

The substance of Judge Martinez’s decision is as follows.

“The Court […] finds that the Government has sufficiently alleged that Antoine and Duperval were foreign officials by alleging that these individuals were directors in the state-owned Haiti Teleco. Any factual arguments Defendant has on this point may be addressed at trial.”

“The Court also disagrees that Haiti Teleco cannot be an instrumentality under the FCPA’s definition of foreign official. The plain language of this statute and the plain meaning of this term show that as the facts are alleged in the indictment Haiti Teleco could be an instrumentality of the Haitian government.”

As to Esquenazi’s vagueness challenge, the Court stated as follows.

“… the Court also disagrees that the phrase ‘department, agency, or instrumentality’ in the definition of ‘foreign official’ is unconstitutionally vague. ‘Vagueness arises when a statute is so unclear as to what conduct is applicable that persons of common intelligence must necessarily guess at its meaning and differ as to its application.’ Defendant has not met this standard, and the Court find that persons of common intelligence would have fair notice of this statute’s prohibitions.”

DOJ Argues That Esquenazi’s “Foreign Official” Challenge is Premature

The DOJ filed its response brief (here) in the Joel Esquenazi enforcement action – an action which, as described in this prior post, the defendant is challenging the DOJ’s “foreign official” interpretation.

As it did in the Nguyen / Nexus Technologies case (see here – middle of the post) the DOJ asserts as follows. “Although styled as a “motion to dismiss,” the defendants’ submission is instead a premature request for a ruling on the sufficiency of the government’s evidence concerning the status of officers of Telecommunications D’Haiti (“Haiti Teleco”) as a foreign officials of a government instrumentality before the evidence regarding that issue has been presented to the jury. The defendants’ arguments, which are premised on misstatements of both the law and the facts and are premature at best, will be moot after presentation of the government’s case. Therefore the defendants’ motion should be denied.”

The response brief contains a separate section on “the Nature of Haiti Teleco” and states as follows. “At the times relevant to the Indictment, between 2001 and 2004, Haiti Teleco held a state granted monopoly over land line telephone service in Haiti. During that time, Haiti Teleco was 97% state-owned by the Central Bank of Haiti, the Banque de la Republic of Haiti (“BRH”), which held 97% of Haiti Teleco’s shares. No one knows who owned the remaining 3% of Haiti Teleco’s shares, as no records still exist concerning their ownership, yet no person or company has claimed them in institutional memory. Therefore, effectively and functionally, during this period, Haiti Teleco operated with 100% state-ownership. Also during this period, Haiti Teleco was 100% state-controlled.”

The response brief asserts as follows. “… the defendants seek to circumvent the trial process and have the Court determine, before the presentation of any evidence, that the government has not met its burden of proving that Haiti Teleco was a instrumentality of a foreign government as defined by the FCPA. As will be demonstrated in the government’s case-in-chief, whether Haiti Teleco was an instrumentality of the Republic of Haiti is not a close case, a fact the defendants likely understand and therefore attempt to raise this issue before the evidence has been presented. Taken as true, the Indictment is more than sufficient to meet the Hagner standard and the precedent of this Circuit. Therefore, the motion should be denied.”

Under the heading, “Interpretation of the Term Government Instrumentality” the DOJ’s brief states in full as follows.

“The bulk of the defendants’ Motion focuses on suggesting that the Court adopt an insupportably narrow interpretation of government instrumentality that is contradicted by the statute on its face, case law, legislative history, and international treaties. The defendants’ proffered arguments are, in any event, arguments for jury instructions or for the Court after the government’s
case-in-chief pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29. However, if the Court would like supplemental briefing on the meaning of “foreign official,” the government is more than willing to elaborate on how the FCPA’s plain text, its current interpretation by courts, its legislative history, and U.S. treaty obligations provide no support for the defendants’ novel and confusing definition. These sources confirm that the definition of “foreign official” includes officials of state-owned and state-controlled companies. Further, it is not limited to the narrow and ambiguous restriction that it applies only to “officials performing a public function.” DE 283 at 2. This tortured formulation finds no support, even in the sources the defendants themselves cite. The government stands prepared to brief and argue this issue again, should the defendants raise it, upon a Rule 29 motion or in the context of formulating jury instructions.”

The DOJ response brief also contains a section which argues that the term “foreign official” is not unconstitutionally vague.

Esquenazi Challenges DOJ’s “Foreign Official” Interpretation

Like many FCPA defendants (corporate and individual), Joel Esquenazi allegedly violated the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions by providing something of value, not to a foreign government official, but to an employee of an alleged state-owned or state-controlled enteprise (“SOE”).

In a December 2009 indictment (here), the DOJ alleged that: (i) “Telecommunications D’Haiti (“Haiti Teleco”) was the Republic of Haiti’s state-owned national telecommunications company;” (ii) Robert Antoine and Jean Rene Duperval were, at various times, “the Director of International Relations of Haiti Teleco” and a “foreign official as that term is defined in the FCPA;” and (iii) Esquenazi, and others provides, things of value to these “foreign officials” in order to obtain or retain business in violation of the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions.

Unlike most FCPA defendants (corporate and individual), including others charged with Esquenazi in the same indictment, Esquenazi is putting the DOJ to its burden of proof, specifically as to the FCPA’s “foreign official” element.

In a November 2nd motion to dismiss the indictment (here), Esquenazi “respectfully moves the Court to dismiss the indictment for failure to state a criminal offense and, in the alternative, for vagueness with respect to who would constitute a ‘foreign official’ within the meaning of the” FCPA.

The motion states as follows.

“The instant indictment fails to state a criminal offense because it alleges that the recipients of the improper payments were ‘foreign officials’ because they were employees of an entity ‘owned’ by the Republic of Haiti. Such a definition of ‘foreign official’ is unsupported by the text or the purpose of the FCPA. The FCPA is a public bribery statute which criminalizes improper payments to officials performing a public function. Mere control or partial control or ownership (or partial ownership) of an entity by a foreign government no more makes that entity’s employees ‘foreign officials’ than control of General Motors by the U.S. Department of the Treasury makes all GM employees U.S. officials.” (emphasis in original).

Alternatively, the motion states as follows.

“… the Court should dismiss the indictment on the grounds that the FCPA’s definition of ‘foreign official,’ which includes employees of any foreign government ‘department, agency or instumentality,’ is unconstitutionally vague. Especially in the context of third country under a coup such as Haiti was under at the relevant time, a vague definition of ‘foreign official’ to include employees of entities solely based on partial or even full government ‘ownership’ of those entities would unfairly sweep nearly all economic activity within the scope of the statute.”

Richard J. Diaz, an attorney from Coral Gables, Florida, filed the motion on behalf of Esquenazi.

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For prior entries regarding the Haiti Teleco case see here.

As noted in a prior post, an interesting twist is that Haiti Teleco is currently 60% owned by Viettel, a telecommunications company run by Vietnam’s military (see here).

This & That

A bit of catch up with today’s post which discusses the recent sentence of Juan Diaz in the continuing Haiti Teleco saga (including an interesting post-enforcement action twist) and a DOJ release that flew under the radar.

Juan Diaz

Juan Diaz was recently sentenced to 57 months in prison after previously pleading guilty to a one-count information charging him with conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and money laundering. (See here for the DOJ release). As noted in the release, Diaz was also ordered to: (i) serve three years of supervised release following his prison term; (ii) pay $73,824 in restitution; and (iii) forfeit $1,028,851.

In May 2009, (see here) Diaz pleaded guilty for his role in an improper payment scheme involving employees of Haiti Teleco, an alleged state-owned national telecommunications company. In the DOJ’s view, that would make the Director of International Relations and the General Director of Haiti Teleco, persons Diaz and others allegedly bribed, Haitian “foreign officials” under the FCPA.

The interesting twist is this.

If Diaz bribed these same employees today, he would be bribing (presumably in the DOJ’s view) not Haitian “foreign officials” but Vietnamese “foreign officials.”

Why?

Because in May, Viettel, a telecommunications company run by Vietnam’s military, purchased a 60% stake in Haiti Teleco. (See here).

The 57 month sentence Diaz received is similar to the 60 month FCPA sentence Charles Jumet received in April (see here). Jumet was sentenced to 87 months after pleading guilty to a two-count criminal information charging conspiracy to violate the FCPA and making false statements to federal agents. The false statements portion of the sentence was 20 months.

Civil Forfeiture Action Against Properties Owned by Former President of Taiwan

In July, the DOJ issued a release (see here) about a civil forfeiture complaint it filed against certain U.S. properties “that represent a portion of illegal bribes paid to the former president of Taiwan and his wife.”

With Attorney General Eric Holder’s recent announcement of the Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative (see here), the release should be of interest to those who follow this initiative and the general issue of asset recovery.

Bribe recipients can not be prosecuted under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, but U.S. based assets (or other assets that flow through U.S. financial institutions) of bribe recipients can be subject to U.S. legal proceedings under other laws.

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

The prior post discussed the January 2009 civil forfeiture action the DOJ filed in the aftermath of the Siemens enforcement action against bank accounts located in Singapore in the names of Zulfikar Ali, Fazel Selim, and ZASZ Trading and Consulting Pte Ltd. (“ZASZ”) (see here). According to the DOJ’s complaint (see here), these accounts were used by Siemens and another company to bribe foreign officials in violation of the FCPA, specifically Arafat Rahman (“Koko”), the son of former Bangladeshi Prime Minister Khaleda Zia. The DOJ alleges that the illicit funds in these accounts flowed through U.S. financial institutions thereby subjecting them to U.S. jurisdiction.

Similarly, in January 2010, the DOJ unsealed a criminal indictment against Juthamas Siriwan and Jittisopa Siriwan, the foreign official bribe recipient of the Green’s improper payments and her daughter. See here. Among other things, the indictment seeks forfeiture of approximately $1.7 million.

Thus, the DOJ’s July announcement that it is pursuing U.S. based assets of the former president of Taiwan and his wife very much continues a trend.

According to the DOJ release:

“The former president and his wife were convicted in Taiwan on Sept. 11, 2009, for bribery, embezzlement and money laundering. They are currently sentenced to 20 years in prison. Their convictions were upheld on appeal and are now pending before the Supreme Court in Taiwan. […] The former president and his wife are also currently under indictment in Taiwan for additional alleged acts of graft and money laundering.”

Director John Morton of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) stated that the enforcement action “serves as a warning to those corrupt foreign officials who abuse their power for personal financial gain and then attempt to place those funds in the U.S. financial system” and that “ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations agents will continue to work with our law enforcement partners both here and abroad to investigate and prosecute those involved in such illicit activities and hold corrupt foreign officials accountable by denying them the enjoyment of their ill ?gotten gains.”

What appears to make this recent civil forfeiture action different than the previously filed Siemens-related forfeiture action and the previously filed Siriwan enforcement action is that the bribe payor may be beyond the reach of the FCPA.

According to the DOJ release, the entity paying the bribes to the president of Taiwan and his wife was Yuanta Securities Co. Ltd. (YSC). The release notes that YSC “was attempting to increase its ownership share of Fuhwa Financial Holding Company Limited” and that “YSC paid a bribe of 200 million New Taiwan dollars, or approximately $6 million U.S. dollars, […] to ensure that the authorities on Taiwan would not interfere with its acquisition of additional shares and to attempt to establish a relationship with the head of the authorities on Taiwan.”

Neither YSC (here), nor its parent company, Yuanta Financial Holdings, appear to be U.S. issuers. Under 78dd-3 of the FCPA, foreign companies can be subject to the FCPA’s jurisdiction. However, this prong of the FCPA requires a U.S. nexus. A quick scan of the forfeiture complaint does not suggest a U.S. nexus in terms of making the bribe payments – although the complaint clearly does allege a U.S. nexus once the payments were received and used by the former president of Taiwan and his wife.

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Curious as to what happened in the above referenced Siemens-related enforcement action? In April 2010, U.S. District Court Judge John Bates granted the DOJ’s motion for default judgment and judgment of forfeiture against the subject properties.

What’s happening in the Siriwan enforcement action? According to the docket, nothing since the indictment was unsealed in January 2010.

Friday Roundup

A “foreign official” headed to prison, more on monitors, the language of bribery, more pre-enforcement action news, and perspectives from the field.

It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Haitian “Foreign Official” Headed to U.S. Prison

Numerous prior posts (see here, here, and here) have covered the FCPA and FCPA-related enforcement action involving Telecommunications D’Haiti (“Haiti Teleco”).

The action was noteworthy because it involved “foreign officials.” Because the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act only applies to bribe givers and not bribe recipients, the charges were not FCPA charges, but rather a money laundering conspiracy charge.

Earlier this week, Robert Antoine (a former Director of International Relations of Haiti Teleco responsible for negotiating contracts with international telecommunications companies on behalf of Haiti Teleco), was sentenced to four years in prison. In addition, Antoine was ordered to serve three years of supervised release following his prison term, ordered to pay $1,852,209 in restitution, and ordered to forfeit $1,580,771. (See here for the DOJ release).

Certain of the indicted defendants, including “foreign official” Jean Rene Duperval, have not pleaded and the DOJ release notes that “trial for these remaining defendants is scheduled to begin July 19, 2010, in U.S. District Court in Miami.”

Additional Guidance on the Use of Monitors in Deferred Prosecution Agreements and Non-Prosecution Agreements

Most corporate FCPA enforcement actions involve deferred prosecution or non-prosecution agreements. Many of these agreements require the appointment of a compliance monitor.

Thus, most FCPA aficionados are familiar with the “Morford Memo” – the March 2008 DOJ guidance “relating to the use of independent corporate monitors in connection with deferred prosecution agreements and non-prosecution agreements with corporations.” The Morford Memo (see here) sets forth nine basic principles for
drafting monitor-related provisions in such agreements.

Recently Acting Deputy Attorney General Gary Grindler issued a memo (see here) “to supplement the guidance in the Morford Memorandum by adding a tenth basic principle to guide prosecutors in drafting agreements: namely, that an agreement should explain what role the Department could play in resolving any disputes between the monitor and the corporation, given the facts and circumstances of the case.”

The Language of Bribery

The FCPA is a serious topic.

But that doesn’t mean an FCPA article can’t be informative and entertaining at the same time.

Case in point, “A Bribe By Any Other Name” by James Tillen and Sonia Delman (Miller & Chevalier) (see here).

Don’t understand the significance of “moon cakes,” “rice cake expenses” or “black mist?”

You probably should.

As the authors note, “[w]hen an expatriate manager does not recognize that a subordinate is seeking reimbursement for a bribe disguised by a code word or when auditors miss a suspect transaction concealed behind a local idiom, the employees themselves and the company as a whole are at serious risk of running afoul of anti-bribery laws.”

The article concludes with a “few simple steps” companies can take to incorporate the language of bribery into compliance training and policies.

The Flood of Pre-Enforcement Action News Continues

One of these days, the FCPA dam is going to burst because the surge of pre-enforcement action news continues.

Among others in the “stay-tuned” category are: Alcatel-Lucent, Technip, Panalpina, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson.

Add to the list Universal Corporation, “the world’s leading leaf tobacco merchant and processor.” (see here).

The company’s recent 10-K (see here) notes as follows:

“As a result of a posting to our Ethics Complaint hotline alleging improper activities that involved or related to certain of our tobacco subsidiaries, the Audit Committee of our Board of Directors engaged an outside law firm to conduct an investigation of the alleged activities. That investigation revealed that there have been payments that may have violated the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The payments approximated $2 million over a seven-year period. In addition, the investigation revealed activities in foreign jurisdictions that may have violated the competition laws of such jurisdictions, but we believe those activities did not violate U.S. antitrust laws. We voluntarily reported these activities to the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) and the SEC in March 2006. On June 6, 2006, the SEC notified us that a formal order of investigation had been issued.

Since voluntarily reporting, we have cooperated with and assisted the DOJ and SEC in their investigations, and for the past year we have engaged in settlement discussions with both authorities to resolve the matter. Those negotiations have resulted in agreements in principle being reached with representatives of the DOJ and the staff of the SEC. The final resolution of this matter remains subject to the completion of definitive agreements and the approval and execution of those agreements by the DOJ and the SEC. In addition, each settlement is subject to the approval of a federal district court with jurisdiction over the matter. We have been given no assurance that the settlements will be approved by the DOJ, SEC, or federal district courts. Based on the agreements in principle that have been reached to date, the resolution of this matter with the DOJ and the SEC is expected to include injunctive relief, disgorgement and prejudgment interest, fines, penalties, and the retention of an independent compliance monitor. Based in part on the progress of the matter and consultation with outside counsel, we have recorded accruals from time to time since the matter arose that are adequate to satisfy the estimated financial settlement we expect with the resolution of the matter. The financial settlement is not expected to have a material effect on our financial condition or results of operations.”

Incidentally, on the same day, Universal issued a press release announcing record annual earnings (see here).

U.K. Bribery Bill – Perspectives from the Conference Circuit

Michael Osajda (see here) is an attorney and business ethics consultant. He frequently writes and speaks on FCPA issues, including for World-Check (see here).

In the below guest post, Osajda offers perspectives from recent presentations in Singapore and Hong Kong attended by over 120 business professionals and attorneys.

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“My presentation compared and contrasted the FCPA and the U.K. Bribery Act. I spoke of the different bases for the two statutes, the FCPA being a product of a unique post Watergate cloture and a significant Cold War foreign policy element and the Bribery Act, a product of legislative efficiency and the need for the UK to comply with the OECD convention. The new offenses of foreign private bribery and failure to prevent bribery were stressed.

Like many commentators, the attendees were nervous about the SFO’s stated use of prosecutorial discretion to address issues such as facilitation payments and the appropriateness of business expenses. Attendees were concerned that SFO statements that it does not intend to shut down business and that it will look reasonably at facilitation payments, especially in circumstances that appear to be coercion that can be given to the field. These issues may be a mine filed until some pattern of prosecution or abstention is established. Another concern of attendees was the new strict liability offense of failure to prevent bribery. The attendees were interested as to the elements of “adequate procedures.” While the Sentencing Guidelines, the Woolf Report and OECD guidance are good starts, we will all wait for the guidance to come from the UK Secretary of State on the components of “adequate procedures”.

All in all this Asia trip underscores the world-wide interest of multinationals, whatever their home jurisdictions, to the issue of corruption. All understand that the landscape is changing and are interested in doing the right thing.”

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Also, Trace recently conducted a symposium in London “attended by over 60 company representatives and featuring speakers from government, the private bar and in-house legal and compliance departments.” For insight into what was on the minds of program participants see here.

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