In the aftermath of a recent Foreign Corrupt Practices Act disclosure by Crawford & Company, this post reboots a proposal first suggested in August 2010 (see here) and further proposed in August 2016 (see here).
The proposal is this: when a company voluntarily discloses an FCPA internal investigation to the DOJ and/or SEC and when one or both of the enforcement agencies do not bring an enforcement action, have the “declining” enforcement agency publicly state, in a thorough and transparent manner, the facts the company disclosed and why the “declining” agency did not bring an enforcement action based on those facts.
As highlighted in this November 2015 post, Crawford & Company a “provider of claims management solutions to the risk management and insurance industry, as well as to self-insured entities, with an expansive global network serving clients in more than 70 countries” disclosed:
“The Company has voluntarily self-reported to the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”) and the Department of Justice (the “DOJ”) certain potential violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act discovered by the Company during the course of its regular internal audit process. Upon discovery, the Company, with the oversight of the Audit Committee and the Board of Directors, proactively initiated an investigation into this matter with the assistance of external legal counsel and external forensic accountants. The Company has been cooperating fully, and expects to continue to cooperate fully, with the SEC and the DOJ in this matter. The Company cannot currently predict when or what, if any, action may be taken by the SEC or the DOJ, or other governmental authorities, or the effect any such actions may have on the Company’s results of operations, cash flows or financial position.”
Fast forward to earlier this week when the company disclosed:
“In 2015, the Company voluntarily self-reported to the SEC and the Department of Justice certain potential violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act discovered by the Company during the course of its regular internal audit process. Upon discovery, the Company, with the oversight of the Audit Committee and the Board of Directors, proactively initiated an investigation into this matter with the assistance of external legal counsel and external forensic accountants. In the first quarter of 2017, the Company received notice from the SEC that the SEC has concluded its investigation and did not intend to recommend an enforcement action against the Company with respect to this matter.”
If the FCPA enforcement agencies are sincere about transparency in their FCPA enforcement programs (as officials frequently mention) the public (not to mention Crawford & Company shareholders who shelled out over $5 million for the FCPA investigation based on the company’s disclosures) have a right to know the facts the company disclosed and why the “declining” agency did not bring an enforcement action based on those facts.
Here is why the proposal makes sense and is in the public interest.
For starters (as I wrote in 2010 and even more relevant today), the DOJ and the SEC are already wildly enthusiastic when it comes to talking about FCPA issues. Enforcement attorneys from both agencies are frequent participants on the FCPA conference circuit and there seems to be no other single law that is the focus of more DOJ or SEC speeches than the FCPA. Thus, there is clearly enthusiasm and ambition at both agencies when it comes to the FCPA.
Further (as I wrote in 2010 and even more relevant today), both the DOJ and the SEC have the resources to accomplish this task. Both agencies have touted the increased FCPA resources in their respective offices and the new personnel hired to focus on the FCPA. Combine enthusiasm and ambition with sufficient resources and personnel and the proposal certainly seems doable considering that there are likely less than 10 relevant examples per year.
Recognizing that Crawford & Company’s recent disclosure concerned the SEC (and not the DOJ), the fact remains that the DOJ is already used to this type of exercise. It is called the FCPA Opinion Procedure Release (see here) a process the DOJ frequently urges those subject to the FCPA to utilize.
Under the Opinion Procedure regulations, an issuer or domestic concern subject to the FCPA can voluntarily disclose prospective business conduct to the DOJ which then has 30 days to respond to the request by issuing an opinion that states whether the prospective conduct would, for purposes of the DOJ’s present enforcement policy, violate the FCPA.
The DOJ’s opinions are publicly released and the FCPA bar and the rest of FCPA Inc. study these opinions in advising clients largely because of the general lack of substantive FCPA case law.
If the DOJ is able to issue an enforcement opinion as to voluntarily disclosed prospective conduct there seems to be no principled reason why the enforcement agencies could not issue a non-enforcement opinion as to voluntarily disclosed actual conduct. If the enforcement agencies are sincere about providing guidance on the FCPA, as they presumably are, such agency opinions would seem to provide an ideal platform to accomplish such a purpose.
Requiring the enforcement agencies to disclose non-enforcement decisions after a voluntary disclosure could also inject some much needed discipline into the voluntary disclosure decision itself – a decision which seems to be reflexive in many instances any time facts suggest the FCPA may be implicated. Notice that Crawford & Company’s initial disclosure referred to “potential violations of the FCPA.” Why a company would disclose “potential” legal violations is beyond me, but then again see this prior post for the important voluntary disclosure decision and the role of FCPA counsel.
Notwithstanding the presence of significant conflicting incentives to do otherwise, it is hoped that FCPA counsel would advise clients to disclose only if a reasonably certain legal conclusion has been reached that the conduct at issue actually violates the FCPA. Accepting this assumption, transparency in FCPA enforcement would be enhanced if the public learned why the enforcement agencies, in the face of a voluntary disclosure, presumably disagreed with the company’s conclusion as informed by FCPA counsel. If the enforcement agencies agreed with the conclusion that the FCPA was violated, but decided not to bring an enforcement action, transparency in FCPA enforcement would similarly be enhanced if the public learned why.
A final reason in support of the proposal is that it would give the disclosing companies (and others similarly situated) a benefit by contributing to the mix of public information about the FCPA.
In most cases, companies spend millions of dollars investigating conduct that may implicate the FCPA and on the voluntary disclosure process. When the enforcement agencies decline an enforcement action, presumably because the FCPA was not violated, these costs are forever sunk and company shareholders can legitimately ask why it just spent millions investigating and disclosing conduct that the DOJ and the SEC did not conclude violated the FCPA.
However, if the enforcement agencies were required to publicly justify their declination decision, the company would achieve, however small, a return on its investment and contribute to the mix of public information about the FCPA – a law which the company will remain subject to long after its voluntary disclosure and long after the enforcement agencies declination decision. Thus, the company, the company’s industry peers, and indeed all those subject to the FCPA would benefit by learning more about the DOJ and the SEC’s enforcement conclusions.
Transparency, accountability, useful guidance, a return on investment.
All would be accomplished by requiring the enforcement agencies to publicly justify a declination decision in instances where no enforcement action follows a voluntary disclosure.
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