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“Foreign Official” – What Others Are Saying

What mattered most from the Lindsey matter was not so much the jury verdict (see here for the prior post), but Judge Matz’s pre-trial decision on the “foreign official” issue. This is from a jurisprudence standpoint because obviously the jury verdict very much mattered to the defendants, their friends and family, and other employees of Lindsey Manufacturing and I am not trying to diminish or make light of the very human element of the jury verdict.

While we await final rulings in the Carson and O’Shea “foreign official” challenges, let’s revisit Judge Matz’s April 20th ruling (see here for the previous post) and see what others are saying.


In this client alert, King & Spalding stated as follows. “In his decision, Judge Matz provided a helpful but non-exclusive list of illustrative criteria for determining whether a state-owned entity is sufficiently similar to a government agency or department to consider it a government ‘instrumentality.’ […] Importantly, although in this case the court found that CFE may be an instrumentality of the Mexican government, the court’s opinion leaves ample room for argument in future cases that other state-owned corporations – such as those that do not share many characteristics with government departments and agencies, and those that are only
partially owned by a foreign government – may not fall within the FCPA’s reach.”

Luce Forward, in this eUpdate, stated as follows. “The Court, however, nimbly sidestepped Lindsey’s legislative history argument. It simply cited the Mexican government’s descriptions of the role of CFE in the government hierarchy and noted that in CFE’s own (English language) website it identified itself as a government agency (and by implication, therefore, a government instrumentality). The Court said its ruling was based on “simple statutory construction” and that its finding on the status of CFE was an issue of law, not of fact, and wouldn’t be subject to further evidence on that question during trial.”

This FCPA Update by Debevoise & Plimpton provides a lengthy summary of the recent “foreign official” challenges as well as an overview of Judge Matz’s ruling.

In this write-up, Fulbright & Jaworski stated as follows. “The Lindsey Manufacturing ruling is significant as it represents a victory for the DOJ that will, at least for the present time, likely strengthen and embolden the government’s efforts to bring enforcement actions against companies and individuals based on its expansive interpretation of the term “foreign official.” Additionally, while it is not certain to what degree the Lindsey Manufacturing ruling will affect the Carson and O’Shea courts’ decisions, it is probable that the decision will be weighed as both courts consider whether to narrow the current government view of who is a “foreign official” for purposes of FCPA enforcement under the respective facts of each of those cases. The next two decisions will be highly anticipated. Certainty regarding who will be considered a “foreign official” under the FCPA and, thus, who should be considered a potential recipient of an improper payment under the Act, is critical as companies determine how best to formulate an effective compliance program in the current FCPA enforcement environment.”

In this memorandum, Simpson & Thacher stated as follows. “The ruling is not a whole-hearted endorsement of DOJ’s broad interpretation of the FCPA’s definition of “foreign official.” The judge did not rule that employees of state-owned entities necessarily fall within the definition of “foreign official.” Rather, he merely left open the possibility that employees of state-owned entities – depending on the specific facts in play – will be “foreign officials.” Indeed, while the judge ultimately ruled that the CFE officers in question may be “foreign officials,” he did so only after a close analysis of factual circumstances that many practitioners might agree presented an easy case for this conclusion. For instance, unlike other types of state owned businesses, CFE provides a service that is constitutionally mandated as an exclusive state function; and CFE even describes itself as a government “agency” on its own website. It remains an open question as to whether employees of other state-owned enterprises that do not share these features – such as a state-owned steel company – would be found to fall within the definition of foreign official. Nonetheless, the judge provided some new guidance for FCPA practitioners seeking to determine whether an entity might be an instrumentality of a foreign government. In the end, the decision leaves ample room for litigants in other situations to dispute whether state-owned enterprises are covered by the FCPA.”

In this summary, WilmerHale stated as follows. “Notably, the Court’s ruling is a very narrow one. First, the Court clearly rejected the Defendants’ argument that no corporation could qualify as an “instrumentality.” Second, the Court left open the question of whether all corporations that perform some public function qualify as “instrumentalit[ies].” Finally, the Court’s ruling about CFE was based on unusual facts which were unique to the entity. These key aspects of the Court’s ruling appear to leave the door open to future challenges.”

In this summary, Haynes & Boone stated as follows. “The DOJ and the SEC have been aggressively pushing an expansive interpretation of “foreign official” for years. In the past, the Government’s targets have chosen to settle rather than press the issue and face a jury. That has kept the Government’s analysis from judicial scrutiny. Noriega is the first of several ongoing cases that bucks this trend, puts the Government to its proof, and tests its interpretation of the statute. The result should be a clearer understanding of who is a foreign official for FCPA purposes. The decision released last week is a strong affirmation of the Government’s more forward-leaning stance on the question. The decision’s five-factor test to determine whether a state-owned corporation is an instrumentality of the state offers clarity on a narrow but important question facing global companies doing business overseas. If the foreign company is created by statute, overseen by government officials or appointees, financed through taxes, exercises exclusive control over its designated functions, and is widely understood to be performing government functions, then that company is likely an instrumentality of a government and the FCPA applies. The potential game-changer in the opinion is the Court’s willingness to accept the Government’s contention that “foreign official” should be construed in light of the OECD Convention. The Convention definition of “public enterprise” includes “any enterprise” over which a government “may, directly or indirectly, exercise a dominant influence.” In certain jurisdictions where governments play a more active role in the economy, the Government may have many different ways to directly or indirectly exercise dominant influence. This could potentially expand the scope of covered foreign officials under the FCPA in many jurisdictions.”

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