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“Can Someone Please Turn On the Lights”

Former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey (here – currently at Debevoise & Plimpton and active in the FCPA reform movement on behalf of the Chamber of Commerce) and James Dunlop (here – Jones Day) recently published “Can Someone Please Turn On the Lights?  Bringing Transparency to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act” (here).  Published in Engage, a publication of the Federalist Society, the article asserts as follows.

” … [The] unobjectionable vision [of the FCPA] has virtually disappeared in a miasma of aggressive prosecutions by the Justice Department … The FCPA is almost never litigated in court. Public companies are the typical FCPA target, and such defendants are rarely positioned to litigate criminal charges, or even risk indictment, given (among other things) the substantial risk of federal contract debarment in many industries. The same is often true for individuals, most of whom face substantial prison time if convicted and who are thus unwilling to hang their hopes on uncertain interpretive arguments. As a result, the FCPA has had almost no judicial oversight, with the result that corporations trying to comply with its mandates find they are fighting corruption in the dark, their quest for standards confined to making mitigation arguments in prosecutors’ offices. This has enabled the FCPA’s enforcers, the Justice Department, and the Securities and Exchange Commission, to ‘win’ most FCPA cases through plea bargains or settlements, in which regulators set the terms, and into which regulators import their capacious constructions of the FCPA. This regulatory latitude has, in turn, transformed the FCPA into a catch-all for illicit conduct abroad, no matter how removed the target of the enforcement action is from the underlying offense. As Professor Mike Koehler has put it, ‘the FCPA means what the enforcement agencies say it means.'”

The article next states that “because the FCPA will never be heavily litigated—thus depriving the courts of the opportunity to clarify its murky text—Congress must speak clearly about what conduct does and does not violate the FCPA.”  The article then largely tracks the reform proposals originally set forth in the Chamber sponsored white paper “Restoring Balance” (here).

Regardless of your views on FCPA reform, the Mukasey, Dunlop article is well written, extensively footnoted, and should find a place on your reading stack.

Checking in on the Carson Case

This previous post highlighted the Carson defendants recent motion to suppress (here) and motion to dismiss (here).

In substance, the motion to suppress argued that “from the outset of [Control Component Inc’s] CCI’s internal investigation in August 2007, CCI, through its counsel Steptoe & Johnson LLP (“Steptoe”), worked hand-in-hand with DOJ to investigate the matters at issue in this case.”  The motion further argued as follows.  “The DOJ and CCI essentially agreed to a private information-sharing arrangement between them. With this agreement in place, CCI selectively disclosed only information CCI believed inculpated Defendants and DOJ did not seek additional information.”  According to the motion, “the collaborative nature of DOJ’s and CCI’s relationship provided both parties benefits, to the detriment of Defendants …”.

Last week the DOJ filed (here) its opposition brief.  In summary, the DOJ asserts as follows.  “Only state actors can violate a defendant’s Fifth Amendment rights, and the evidence shows that the Company’s actions were not the result of any pressure or influence from the government sufficient to convert the Company’s lawyers to state actors.”

The government submitted in camera the notes of Mark Mendelsohn, then Deputy Chief of the DOJ’s Fraud Section, reflecting his summary of the Company’s voluntary disclosure and many of the factual issues in dispute concern e-mails between Steptoe & Johnson and Mendelsohn.  As to these e-mails, the DOJ states as follows.  “These e-mails show no nexus between the Company and the government.  Instead, they show a company in cooperative mode informing the government of what is transpiring in its internal investigation.  [….] At no time did the government direct the actions of Steptoe/CCI.  The government did not instruct the company who to interview or what questions to ask.  In fact, the government provided no direction or instruction as to the conduct of the interviews.”

Citing caselaw that purports to show that a company’s efforts to cooperate with the government do not transform it into an arm of the state, the DOJ states that a company’s voluntary disclosure coupled with DOJ policy regarding a company’s cooperative efforts does not equate to state action and that finding state action “on these facts alone would be unprecedented and unwarranted, the effect of which would be to turn the cooperating company into a government agent in every case.  There is no precedent for such an outcome.”

The DOJ also filed last week (here) its opposition to the motion to dismiss which mostly focused on due process / discovery issues.

Common Ground

Recently, Ann Hollingshead, writing on Global Financial Integrity’s (GFI) blog (here), made a spot-on observation regarding the type of “petty corruption” (or what I will call “harassment bribery”) common throughout the world.  Hollingshead stated as follows.

“But this type of corruption is pervasive and deeply entrenched in the culture of many nations. It makes life difficult for citizens trying to live their lives and carry out what should be ordinary tasks. And in many countries—like India for example—where paying a bribe is illegal, the corrupt official forces everyday citizens to choose between completing your transaction and complying with the law. It is in this way that systematic corruption creates both a power imbalance and a forced cooperative between those demanding the bribe and those paying it.” (emphasis added).

I agree and the same is precisely the point I argue in “Revisiting a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Compliance Defense” (here) as to a specific reason, among others, warranting an FCPA compliance defense.  Like Hollingshead, I too focus on India and note as follows.  “Recent FCPA enforcement actions concerning business conduct in India demonstrate that harassment bribery is common and that companies operating in India face – just as locals face – difficult conditions simply to get things done.”  I further note that “companies seeking to do business in many foreign countries are often funneled into an arbitrary world of low-paying civil servants who frequently supplement their meager salaries through bribe payments condoned in the host country.”

It is encouraging to see that proponents of an FCPA compliance defense and opponents on an FCPA compliance defense seem to at least agree on the business conditions present in many foreign markets giving rise to discussion of an FCPA compliance defense.

Hollinghead’s comments on GFI’s blog would seem drastically different from GFI’s previous statements concerning the general issue.  Previously, in connection with the June 2011 House FCPA hearing, GFI (and others) release a statement (here) that stated as follows.  “If a company is found to be in violation of the FCPA, then the existence of a company’s compliance program must not have prevented the acts of bribery. So why should the existence of their compliance program be a defense to the charge of bribery?”

Basurto Sentenced to Time Served

As detailed in this prior post, Fernando Maya Basurto was charged along with John Joseph O’Shea.  Unlike O’Shea, who decided to put the DOJ to its burden of proof – and when he did he prevailed (see here), Basurto (the principal of the Mexican company that performed work for ABB’s business unit on its contracts with CFE) pleaded guilty.

The DOJ release (here) stated as follows.  “Basurto pleaded guilty …  to a one-count information charging him for his role in the conspiracy.  In his plea, Basurto admitted that while he acted as a sales representative for the Texas business unit, he conspired with others to make corrupt payments to CFE officials, helped launder the bribe monies, and engaged in a cover up to obstruct the investigations of the Department of Justice and the SEC.  Basurto also admitted that he submitted false invoices and helped fabricate correspondence in contemplation of federal investigations into the bribery.”

As part of his plea agreement, Basurto agreed to cooperate with the DOJ in its prosecution of O’Shea and Basurto was a key DOJ  witness at O’Shea’s trial.  However, the presiding judge, Judge Lynn Hughes (S.D. Tex.), stated, in dismissing the FCPA charges against O’Shea, that Basurto knew ” almost nothing” and that his answers “were abstract and vague, generally relating to gossip.”

Last week, Hughes granted the DOJ’s request and sentenced Basurto to time served.  As noted by Christopher Matthews (here – Wall Street Journal Corruption Currents), Basurto was arrested in April 2009 and was released on bail in July 2011, according to court records.

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