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An Interesting Corollary

Last week’s guest post (here) about the 1988 amendments to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and the DOJ’s decision not to issue compliance guidance provides an interesting corollary to private rights of action under the FCPA.

How so?

Around the same general time frame as the 1988 FCPA amendments, several courts addressed the issue of whether the FCPA contained an implied private right of action.

The answer was no.

Guess what was a key factor in the courts’ reasoning?

The guidance that Congress envisioned the Attorney General would issue.

The leading FCPA private right of action case is Lamb v. Phillip Morris Inc., 915 F.2d 1024 (6th Cir. 1990).

Here is what the court had to say:

“Recognition of the plaintiffs’ proposed private right of action, in our view, would directly contravene the carefully tailored FCPA scheme presently in place. Congress recently expanded the Attorney General’s responsibilities to include facilitating compliance with the FCPA. See 15 U.S.C. §§ 78dd-1(e), 78dd-2(f). Specifically, the Attorney General must ‘establish a procedure to provide responses to specific inquiries’ by issuers of securities and other domestic concerns regarding ‘conformance of their conduct with the Department of Justice’s [FCPA] enforcement policy….’ 15 U.S.C. §§ 78dd-1(e)(1), 78dd-2(f)(1). Moreover, the Attorney General must furnish ‘timely guidance concerning the Department of Justice’s [FCPA] enforcement policy … to potential exporters and small businesses that are unable to obtain specialized counsel on issues pertaining to [FCPA] provisions.’ 15 U.S.C. §§ 78dd-1(e)(4), 78dd-2(f)(4). Because this legislative action clearly evinces a preference for compliance in lieu of prosecution, the introduction of private plaintiffs interested solely in post-violation enforcement, rather than pre-violation compliance, most assuredly would hinder congressional efforts to protect companies and their employees concerned about FCPA liability.”

Given that the expected Attorney General guidance was a key factor in the court’s reasoning that the FCPA does not contain a implied private right of action, how would a court address this issue today given that the Attorney General never issued the guidance?

Also, what about the snippet from the Sixth Circuit’s opinion – that the 1988 amendments “clearly evinces a preference for compliance in lieu of prosecution.”

In this era of so-called aggressive FCPA enforcement, does the DOJ have its priorities backwards

If HR 2152 Were to Be Enacted … Part II

In September, I posted (see here) about H.R. 2152 – the Foreign Business Bribery Prohibition Act of 2009.

Big picture, under the proposed law, any “foreign concern” (defined to mean any person other than an issuer, domestic concern or U.S. person) that violates the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions would be liable to any issuer, domestic concern or U.S. person for damages caused by the FCPA violation.

Under the proposed law, a plaintiff would need to prove that: (i) the “foreign concern” violated the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions; and (ii) the violation prevented the plaintiff from obtaining or retaining business and assisted the foreign concern in obtaining or retaining business.

In other words, if a U.S. company can prove that it lost business because a “foreign concern” gained that same business by violating the FCPA, the U.S. company could bring a lawsuit seeking damages.

Under the proposed law, the damages would be the higher of the total amount of the contract or agreement that the “foreign concern” gained in obtaining or retaining the business or the total amount of the contract or agreement that the plaintiff failed to gain. To sweeten the pot, the proposed law requires treble damages along with attorneys fees and costs.

What got me thinking about H.R. 2152 back in September was a NY Times Article titled “China Spreads Aid in Africa, With a Catch for Recipients” (see here).

What has me thinking about H.R. 2152 again is a recent article in the Washington Post titled “Afghan Minister Accused of Taking Bribe” (see here).

The article alleges that the current Afghan Minister of Mines accepted an approximate $30 million bribe around December 2007 from China Metallurgical Group Corp. in exchange for awarding a $2.9 billion contract to extract copper from one of the largest unexploited deposits in the world.

The article mentions that U.S. officials worked on the bidding process for this project and that, because of the alleged bribe payment, the Minister did not give a “fair hearing to the proposals of Western firms.”

It would thus seem that a U.S. company was competing for this project and, in fact, other media reports have suggested that Phelps Dodge bid on the project.

If so, and if H.R. 2152 were to enacted, Phelps Dodge (or any other U.S. company that bid) would have a cause of action against China Metallurgical Group Corp.

Given the damages provision of H.R. 2152, a recovery could be north of $8.7 billion … plus attorney fees and costs. Ye gods that’s a lot of money!

If H.R. 2152 ever “gets out of committee,” supporters of the bill can now point to two recent examples demonstrating a need for the bill.

What I find most interesting about H.R. 2152 is that if enacted, I think it will be a “game-changer” in terms of FCPA enforcement.

Private plaintiffs will have to prove every element of an FCPA anti-bribery violation.

A private plaintiff will not carry the “big stick” that the enforcement agencies’ carry (which means in the corporate context, that nearly all FCPA enforcement actions are settled by way of a non-prosecution or deferred prosecution agreement or a consent decree) and FCPA case law will surely follow.

Which means that a court will actually be called upon to construe FCPA elements and legal theories of liability.

If H.R. 2152 Were to Be Enacted …

There is little in terms of substantive FCPA case law. Yet this much is clear – there is no private right of action under the FCPA – enforcement of the law is in the hands of the DOJ and the SEC (as to issuers).

However, Representative Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) would like to change that (at least a bit). In April, 2009, Perlumutter introduced H.R. 2152 – the Foreign Business Bribery Prohibition Act of 2009 (see here).

Big picture, under the proposed law, any “foreign concern” (defined to mean any person other than an issuer, domestic concern or U.S. person) that violates the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions would be liable to any issuer, domestic concern or U.S. person for damages caused by the FCPA violation. Under the proposed law, a plaintiff would need to prove that: (i) the “foreign concern” violated the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions; and (ii) the violation prevented the plaintiff from obtaining or retaining business and assisted the foreign concern in obtaining or retaining business.

In other words, if a U.S. company can prove that it lost business because a “foreign concern” gained that same business by violating the FCPA, the U.S. company could bring a lawsuit seeking damages. Under the proposed law, the damages would be the higher of the total amount of the contract or agreement that the “foreign concern” gained in obtaining or retaining the business or the total amount of the contract or agreement that the plaintiff failed to gain. To sweeten the pot, the proposed law requires treble damages along with attorneys fees and costs.

Certainly, lots to think about here.

But alas, with two foreign wars, government bailouts and debates about financial regulation, and now, the health care debate, H.R. 2152 remains buried in Congress. The last reported activity is from June 12, 2009 when the bill was reported to the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security.

It’s been a few months since I thought about H.R. 2152.

But I was reminded of the law and its potential application last night while reading an interesting front-page article in the New York Times titled “China Spreads Aid in Africa, With a Catch for Recipients” (see here).

The article talks about business activity by Chinese companies around the globe, and how, according to quoted sources, Chinese companies may be securing contracts through improper payments, kickbacks and the like.

A good portion of the article is about Nuctech Company Ltd. (a Beijing-based scanner company) and its questionable activity in Namibia. The article quotes the Vice President of Nuctech’s “American rival, Rapiscan Systems.”

I trust you are now thinking about the potential application of H.R. 2152 as well?

Let’s go through the elements – “foreign concern” check, potential violation of the FCPA check, a domestic concern damaged by the “foreign concern’s” violation check.

Before FCPA lawyers start dusting off their copy of the rules of civil procedure and daydreaming about H.R. 2152’s promise of treble damages and attorney fees, H.R. 2152 needs to at least get “out of committee.”

In any event, for those in favor of H.R. 2152, the article would seem to present a poster-child of sorts.

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