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On Being An FCPA Associate … A Q&A With Oleh Vretsona

FCPA Professor enjoys a diverse group of readers, including law students and others interested in careers that focus on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

To these readers and others, meet Oleh Vretsona , a 2006 graduate of the University of Minnesota Law School, a 1997 graduate of the Ivan Franko National University, Law Department, Lviv, Ukraine, and a current associate at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher in Washington, D.C.

In the below Q&A, Vretsona describes his FCPA experiences to date and provides advice to students interested in FCPA careers.

What was your first FCPA-related assignment?

The FCPA monitorship for Statoil ASA was my first assignment in this area of law.  Statoil’s 2006 settlement with the SEC and DOJ was the first ever to impose a monitor on a foreign issuer. Gibson Dunn partner Joe Warin was appointed to serve in this role.  I had the amazing and rewarding opportunity to serve as a core member of Joe’s team and support the monitorship for three years, seeing it through to successful completion in November 2009.   The opportunity allowed me to develop a holistic and thorough understanding of Statoil’s worldwide business and approach to compliance, and assist the company in enhancing its anti-bribery compliance program to address the constantly changing risks of global energy exploration and extraction.  My work on the monitorship included analyzing new corporate compliance policies and procedures, meeting with company personnel tasked with anti-bribery compliance and responsible for operations in higher-risk regions, and visiting numerous Statoil facilities around the world.  Statoil successfully completed the monitorship in November 2009, when the U.S. government dismissed the criminal charges against the company.

What countries have you visited doing FCPA work?

Azerbaijan, Denmark, Germany (more than 5 times), Indonesia, Norway, Poland, Russia (more than 10 times), and Turkey.

Of those countries, what has been your most memorable experience?

I have had many memorable experiences from my FCPA-related travel.  My most memorable experience was meeting Siemens’s Monitor, former German Minister of Finance Theo Waigel—a remarkable politician, lawyer, and person, known as the father of the Euro, the European Union currency—during the Monitor’s team visit to Russia.  Another experience that stands out in my memory is being questioned extensively about the purpose of my visit by Azerbaijani border control guards before the departure of my flight from Baku to London.  After a long back and forth with them, I barely made my flight.

As you learned more about the FCPA, what surprised you the most?

I guess it was not so much a surprise, as a realization of the importance of each individual employee’s compliance awareness, integrity, and willingness to report concerns, wherever she or he is located, to a company’s overall compliance effort.  Much of the work I have done for clients has revolved around how to drive a culture of compliance throughout a global organization while taking into account the local cultural differences.  I have seen how important it is for management to model compliant behavior and communicate the company’s compliance values to employees, especially in higher-risk locations.  The compliance buy-in that is instrumental to this effort especially needs to come from mid-level managers, whose integration into compliance processes makes compliance a natural part of a company’s daily business decisions.

If you could change one thing about the FCPA or FCPA enforcement, what would it be?

If I could change one thing about the FCPA or FCPA enforcement, it would be to afford organizations the affirmative defense of an effective compliance program to avoid liability for anti-bribery violations of the statute by employees or agents, similar to the affirmative defense to section 7 of the U.K. Bribery Act.  I believe that this would bring more certainty into companies’ business operations and compliance planning, and would increase corporate innovation in enhancing compliance processes.

What advice do you have to students or young associates interested in having an FCPA practice?

My main advice would be to develop a passion for and curiosity about international developments and foreign language capabilities.  In addition to extensive knowledge of the law and compliance practices, these two competencies distinguish associates from others in the field and equip them with tools that help address complicated compliance-related issues that are frequently rooted in various countries’ cultural realities.  I am blessed with working with a global team of Gibson Dunn lawyers who share my abiding interest in understanding client problems, providing targeted advice, and forging solutions for them throughout the world.

In my own career, I have seen the great value of marrying expertise in the law and compliance with linguistic abilities—in my case, fluency in Russian and Ukrainian,  as well as advanced knowledge of Polish—and local cultural experiences.  There is no substitute to being able to conduct work—especially internal investigations—in the native language of individuals involved in the matter and to understand the cultural underpinnings of employees’ daily decisions.

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