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Lindsey “Foreign Official” Motion Denied

Mike McCollum (Foley & Lardner – here), who was present for today’s hearing, and Jaime Guerrero (Foley & Lardner – here) provide this guest post.


This afternoon, United States District Judge Howard Matz issued an oral ruling in the Lindsey case that is scheduled to begin trial on April 5 in the Central District of California. The Court denied defendants’ motion to dismiss the indictment on the “foreign official” issue. The issue presented was whether the officials of Mexico’s state-owned utility company, CFE, were “foreign officials” under the FCPA. Giving his ruling orally from the bench, and emphasizing that his precise reasoning will be spelled out in a written ruling to follow, District Judge Matz held that they were foreign officials, giving some insight into his thinking.

District Judge Matz noted several undisputed facts, including that CFE supplies electricity to all of Mexico except for Mexico City, that the Mexican Constitution provides that the supply of electricity in Mexico is solely a government function, that Mexican statutory law defines CFE as a “decentralized public entity with legal personality and its own patrimony,” that CFE’s Governing Board is composed of Mexican government officials and its Director General is appointed by the President of Mexico, and that CFE’s English language website describes it as an agency of the Federal Government. District Judge Matz further confirmed that it was the defendants’ position, as stated in their briefs, that the issue presented was one of “pristine” undisputed facts and issues of law, and thus no further facts that might be introduced at trial could bear on the issue.

District Judge Matz then presented to counsel for the moving defendants a two-page written hypothetical. Because he only distributed the hypothetical to the attorneys, we can only go from the summary described in open court, which was essentially this: Exxon and Occidental bid for a large oil contract from Pemex, Mexico’s state-owned oil company. It is a public bid, and Occidental offers to pay more than Exxon. At the publicly televised contract award ceremony, however, Exxon hands a $10 million check to Pemex, which thanks Exxon publicly, and then Pemex awards the contract to Exxon instead. Question put to the defense: Is it the case that Congress, in enacting the FCPA, would have said that the FCPA would not have applied to these circumstances? Counsel for the moving defendants argued that what was important was not what Congress would have wanted to say, but what they did say, and Congress did not say that the statute should apply to state-owned-enterprises. In an era (1970s) when states owned large sectors of industry around the world, Congress chose not to include state-owned-enterprises within the reach of the FCPA.

District Judge Matz responded, in essence, that what was most convincing to him, in combination with the undisputed facts regarding CFE noted above, was the definition of the word “instrumentality.” He noted the defendants’ Webster Dictionary definitions (“serving as a means or agency: implemental” and “of, relating to, or done with an instrument or tool”) and American Heritage Dictionary definition (“[a] subsidiary branch, as of a government, by means of which functions or policies are carried out”). Based on this definition of “instrumentality” and on the undisputed facts regarding CFE, District Judge Matz noted that it was unnecessary to delve into the legislative history because it could be determined as a matter of statutory construction that the officials of CFE were “foreign officials.”

Opening statements are set for Tuesday morning, and the trial is expected to go until the end of April.


For additional coverage see here from the FCPA Blog.

For briefing on the “foreign official” issue, see prior posts here, here, and here.

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