- FCPA Professor - https://fcpaprofessor.com -

How The DOJ Can Better Achieve Its FCPA Policy Objectives

Last week the DOJ’s Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division, Marshall Miller, delivered this [1] speech focused on how the DOJ is “addressing criminal conduct when it takes place at corporations and other institutions.”  While not specific to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, Miller did reference the FCPA several times during the speech.

The post is not about the DOJ’s empty rhetoric when it comes to individual FCPA prosecutions – that post was published last week [2] the same day that Miller carried forward DOJ talking points on individual prosecutions.

Nor is this post about Miller carrying forward the DOJ’s talking points on Morgan Stanley’s so-called declination.  That post was published here [3] in 2012.

Nor is this post about Miller’s suggestion that PetroTiger did not face any charges “of any kind […] and no non-prosecution agreement was entered” because the company voluntarily disclosed and cooperated.  As highlighted in this [4] post regarding the charges against the former PetroTiger executives, the core DOJ allegations concerned self-dealing by the executives and not disclosing conflicts of interest to their employer and other investors involved in a business deal.  To be sure, there have been several companies – ADM, Diebold, Ralph Lauren, Maxwell Technologies, and Tyson Foods to name just a few –  that have voluntarily disclosed and cooperated yet received NPAs or DPAs in the FCPA context.

Nor is this post about the “wow” factor of Miller’s speech – as termed by the FCPA Blog – because contrary to the suggestion by the FCPA Blog, the FCPA information in Miller’s speech was not new – all was previously mentioned in original source documents and/or previously highlighted in prior FCPA Professor posts or by others (see here [5]here [6], and here [7]).

Rather, this post highlights for the DOJ (and others) how an FCPA reform proposal can help the DOJ better achieve its policy objectives, as sensibly articulated in Miller’s speech,. in the FCPA context.

For starters, I realize – based on reliable information – that I am a persona non grata within the DOJ’s FCPA Unit.  Nevertheless, I share an interest in advancing policies to make FCPA enforcement more effective so that the laudable objectives of the FCPA can best be achieved.

I’ve written about the below issue several times (see here [8] for “Revisiting a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Compliance Defense” and see here [9] for the prior post “Seeing the Light From the Dark Ages”).

In his speech, Miller stated the following sensible policy objectives.

“[W]e would like corporations to cooperate.  We will ensure that there are appropriate incentives for corporations to do so.

[…]

I want to focus today on an aspect of [The Principles of Federal Prosecution of Business Organization and/or the DOJ’s internal “Filip” factors]  that I believe, at times, receives insufficient attention – but that lies at the heart of our approach at the Criminal Division.   And that is what the factors have to say about the importance of individual prosecutions to the decision on how to approach a corporation.

[…]

[In analyzing cooperate cooperation], companies are always quick to tout voluntary disclosure of corporate misconduct and the breadth of an internal investigation.   What is sometimes given short shrift, however, is in many ways the heart of effective corporate cooperation: whether that cooperation exposed, and provided evidence against, the culpable individuals who engaged in criminal activity […].

The importance of cooperating regarding individuals is set forth, in black and white, in the text of the [Principles of Prosecution] itself.   Factor Four expressly states that prosecutors should evaluate a corporation’s “willingness to cooperate in the investigation of [its] agents.”   This key point is fleshed out later in the guidance section, where prosecutors are directed to consider the corporation’s “willingness to provide relevant information and evidence and identify relevant actors within and outside the corporation, including senior executives.”

Voluntary disclosure of corporate misconduct does not constitute true cooperation, if the company avoids identifying the individuals who are criminally responsible.  Even the identification of culpable individuals is not true cooperation, if the company fails to locate and provide facts and evidence at their disposal that implicate those individuals.

This principle of cooperation is not new or unique to companies.   We have applied it to criminal cases of all kinds for decades.   Take, for example, organized crime cases.   Mob cooperators do not receive cooperation credit merely for halting or disclosing their own criminal conduct.   Attempted cooperators should not get reduced sentences if they refuse to provide testimony or fail to turn over evidence against other culpable parties.   A true cooperator – whether a mobster or a company – must forthrightly provide all the available facts and evidence so that the most culpable individuals can be prosecuted.

The importance of this principle is enhanced by a second Filip factor – Factor Eight – which states that, in deciding whether to charge a corporation, prosecutors must consider “the adequacy of the prosecution of individuals responsible for the corporation’s malfeasance.”   So, effective and complete corporate cooperation in the investigation and prosecution of culpable individuals is not only called for by Factor Four, but reinforced by Factor Eight.

[…]

Corporations do not act criminally, but for the actions of individuals.   The Criminal Division intends to prosecute those individuals, whether they’re sitting on a sales desk or in a corporate suite.

The prosecution of individuals – including corporate executives – for white-collar crimes is at the very top of the Criminal Division’s priority list under Assistant Attorney General Caldwell.”

The above are all sensible policy statements from the DOJ and are consistent with Attorney General Eric Holder’s similar sensible policy statements articulated on the same day in a different speech.  As Holder stated [10]:

“[T]he department recognizes the inherent value of bringing enforcement actions against individuals, as opposed to simply the companies that employ them.  We believe that doing so is both important – and appropriate – for several reasons:

First, it enhances accountability.  Despite the growing jurisprudence that seeks to equate corporations with people, corporate misconduct must necessarily be committed by flesh-and-blood human beings.  So wherever misconduct occurs within a company, it is essential that we seek to identify the decision-makers at the company who ought to be held responsible.

Second, it promotes fairness – because, when misconduct is the work of a known bad actor, or a handful of known bad actors, it’s not right for punishment to be borne exclusively by the company, its employees, and its innocent shareholders.

And finally, it has a powerful deterrent effect.  All other things being equal, few things discourage criminal activity at a firm – or incentivize changes in corporate behavior – like the prospect of individual decision-makers being held accountable.  A corporation may enter a guilty plea and still see its stock price rise the next day.  But an individual who is found guilty of a serious fraud crime is most likely going to prison.”

Again, sensible policy statements.

The problem is – at least in the FCPA context – the DOJ is not achieving its policy objectives.  This is the unmistakable conclusion from the following statistics.

An FCPA compliance defense can help the DOJ better achieve its above-stated policy objectives.

As stated in my article “Revisiting a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Compliance Defense [8].”

“An FCPA compliance defense will better facilitate the DOJ’s prosecution of culpable individuals and advance the objectives of its FCPA enforcement program. At present, business organizations that learn through internal reporting mechanisms of rogue employee conduct implicating the FCPA are often hesitant to report such conduct to the enforcement authorities. In such situations, business organizations are rightfully diffident to submit to the DOJ’s opaque, inconsistent, and unpredictable decision-making process and are rightfully concerned that its pre-existing FCPA compliance policies and procedures and its good faith compliance efforts will not be properly recognized. The end result is that the DOJ often does not become aware of individuals who make improper payments in violation of the FCPA and the individuals are thus not held legally accountable for their actions. An FCPA compliance defense surely will not cause every business organization that learns of rogue employee conduct to disclose such conduct to the enforcement agencies. However, it is reasonable to conclude that an FCPA compliance defense will cause more organizations with robust FCPA compliance policies and procedures to disclose rogue employee conduct to the enforcement agencies. Thus, an FCPA compliance defense can better facilitate DOJ prosecution of culpable individuals and increase the deterrent effect of FCPA enforcement actions.”

Is the DOJ capable of viewing an FCPA compliance defense, not as a race to the bottom, but a race to the top?  Is the DOJ capable of viewing an FCPA compliance defense as helping it better achieve its FCPA policy objectives?

Let’s hope so.

*****

In his speech, Marshall also provided specifics as to what type of cooperation the DOJ looks for.  He stated:

“[I]f a corporation wants credit for cooperation, it must engage in comprehensive and timely cooperation; lip service simply will not do.

Corporations are often too quick to claim that they cannot retrieve overseas documents, emails or other evidence regarding individuals due to foreign data privacy laws.   Just as we carefully test – and at times reject – corporate claims about collateral consequences of a corporate prosecution, the department will scrutinize a claimed inability to provide foreign documents or evidence.   We have forged deepening relationships with foreign governments and developed growing sophistication and experience in analyzing foreign laws.   A company that tries to hide culpable individuals or otherwise available evidence behind inaccurately expansive interpretations of foreign data protection laws places its cooperation credit at great risk.   We strongly encourage careful analysis of those laws with an eye toward cooperating with our investigations, not stalling them.

Understand too, that we will use our own parallel investigation to pressure test a company’s internal investigation: to determine whether the company actually sought to root out the wrongdoing and identify those responsible, as far up the corporate ladder as the misconduct goes, or instead merely checked a box on a cooperation punch list.

Companies that have not conducted comprehensive investigations will not secure significant cooperation benefits.   Worse, companies that hamper the government’s investigation while conducting an internal investigation – for example, by conducting interviews that serve to spread corporate talking points rather than secure facts relating to individual culpability – will pay a price when they ask for cooperation credit.

A few final words: when you come in to discuss the results of an internal investigation to the Criminal Division and make a Filip factor presentation – expect that a primary focus will be on what evidence you uncovered as to culpable individuals, what steps you took to see if individual culpability crept up the corporate ladder, how tireless your efforts were to find the people responsible.

At the risk of being a little too Brooklyn, I’m going to be blunt.

If you want full cooperation credit, make your extensive efforts to secure evidence of individual culpability the first thing you talk about when you walk in the door to make your presentation.

Make those efforts the last thing you talk about before you walk out.

And most importantly, make securing evidence of individual culpability the focus of your investigative efforts so that you have a strong record on which to rely.”