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Non-FCPA Legal Developments Should Cause Pause As To Certain FCPA Enforcement Theories

The substance of this post is the same as this [1] August 2013 post regarding the civil RICO action involving Pemex and Siemens.  The only difference is that instead of a S.D. of New York decision that should cause pause as to certain FCPA enforcement theories, it is now a Second Circuit decision that should cause pause.

By way of background, the FCPA is explicit as to the jurisdictional scope of the anti-bribery provisions and states as follows as to foreign companies.

In  short, as to foreign actors, the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions contain explicit territorial requirements.

Several FCPA enforcement actions have been brought against foreign companies based on sparse U.S. jurisdiction allegations. For instance:

  • The Total enforcement action [2] (the third largest in FCPA history in terms of fine and penalty amount) was based on a 1995 wire transfer of $500,000 (representing less than 1% of the alleged bribe payments at issue) from a New York based account.
  • The JGC Corp. enforcement action  [3]was based on the jurisdictional theory that certain alleged bribe payments flowed through U.S. bank accounts and that co-conspirators faxed or e-mailed information into the U.S. in furtherance of the bribery scheme.
  • The Magyar Telekom enforcement action [4] was based on allegations that a company executive sent two e-mails to a foreign official from his U.S. based e-mail address that passed through, was stored on, and transmitted from servers located in the U.S. and that certain electronic communications made in furtherance of the alleged bribery scheme and the concealment of payments, including drafts of certain agreements and copies of certain contracts with intermediaries, were transmitted by company employees and others through U.S. interstate commerce or stored on computer servers located in the U.S.
  • The Bridgestone enforcement action [5] was based on allegations that employees sent and received e-mail and fax communications to/from the U.S. in connection with the bribery scheme.
  • The Tenaris enforcement action [6] was based on allegations that a payment to an agent in connection with the alleged bribery scheme was wired through an intermediary bank located in New York.

The above background is important in understanding why a recent Second Circuit decision should cause pause as to the above FCPA enforcement theories.

The decision involved a civil RICO action in which PEMEX alleged that Siemens, among others, violated RICO and engaged in common law fraud by bribing PEMEX officials to approve overrun and expense payments to to CONPROCA, a Mexican corporation completing an oil refinery rehabilitation project in Mexico.  According to the complaint, CONPROCA would receive payment from PEMEX’s Project Funding Master Trust (the “Master Trust”), organized under Delaware law, and managed by its then-trustee Bank of New York.  According to the complaint, The Master Trust paid each invoiced amount from its New York account to CONPROCA’s account at Citibank in New York.  The complaint further alleged that CONPROCA financed the project at issue ”through the issuance of bonds registered with the SEC, and through institutional credit, a substantial amount of which were issued by U.S. financial institutions and guaranteed by the Export Import Bank of the United States.”

The DOJ would surely take the position that the above U.S. jurisdictional allegations would be sufficient to bring a criminal FCPA enforcement action against a foreign company for bribing foreign officials.

Not so in a civil RICO action subjected to actual judicial scrutiny.

As noted in the prior August 2013 post, in ruling on the defendants’ motion to dismiss based on the argument that the RICO claims were extraterritorial, the S.D. of N.Y. first noted that because RICO is silent as to any extraterritorial application, the RICO statutes do not apply extraterritorially.  The court then observed that “when foreign actors were the primary operators, victims, and structure of a RICO claim” courts have properly concluded that the claims were extraterritoritial.  The S.D. of N.Y. then held that PEMEX’S RICO claims were extraterritorial because “they allege a foreign conspiracy against a foreign victim conducted by foreign defendants participating in foreign enterprises.”

As to those U.S. jurisdictional allegations, the S.D. of N.Y. stated:

“They fail to shift the weight of the fraudulent scheme away from Mexico. Seen simply, as a result of the claimed conspiracy PEMEX, the Mexican Plaintiff for whom the work was done in Mexico, paid fraudulent overcharges to CONPROCA, the Mexican corporation which did the work.  PEMEX officials in Mexico granted the challenged approvals to pay CONPROCA. The American trustee merely transferred the payments through two banks in New York.  The defendants’ bribery of PEMEX officials, and CONPROCA’s underbidding and submitting false claims under Mexican public works contracts, all occurred in Mexico. Thus, ‘it is implausible to accept that the thrust of the pattern of racketeering activity was directed at’ the United States.  The RICO claims are accordingly dismissed.”

PEMEX appealed the S.D. of N.Y. dismissal and last week the Second Circuit (see here [7]) affirmed the dismissal.  In pertinent part, the Second Circuit’s order states:

“To the extent Pemex relies on several allegations of domestic activity to support its RICO claim, these, too, are insufficient.  “[S]imply alleging that some domestic conduct occurred cannot support a claim of domestic application.” […]

The scheme alleged by Pemex possesses three minimal contacts with the United States: the financing was obtained here, the invoices were sent to the bank for payment, and the bank issued payment. Absent from the pleadings are any allegations that the scheme was directed from (or to) the United States. The activities involved in the alleged scheme–falsifying the invoices, the bribes, the approval of the false invoices–took place outside of the United States. The allegations of domestic conduct are simply insufficient to sustain RICO jurisdiction.”

Because of the general absence of substantive FCPA case law, one must often reference non-FCPA case law involving similar legal issues to best appreciate the many controversial aspects of FCPA enforcement.

As the above Second Circuit highlights, such case law should cause pause as to certain FCPA enforcement theories.