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“Without Law or Limits: The Continued Growth Of The Shadow Regulatory State”


James Copeland and others at the Manhattan Institute have written some good pieces about the DOJ’s use of non-prosecution and deferred prosecution agreements.

See here for the 2012 post discussing “The Shadow Regulatory State:  The Rise of Deferred Prosecution Agreements.”

See here for the 2014 post discussing “The Shadow Lengthens:  The Continuing Threat of Regulation by Prosecution.”

If you are interested in NPAs and DPAs (and you should be if you follow the FCPA given that since 2010 approximately 85% of corporate DOJ enforcement actions have involved either an NPA or DPA), you should check out Copeland’s latest titled “Without Law or Limits: The Continued Growth of the Shadow Regulatory State.

The introduction states:

This report focuses on DPAs and NPAs reached between the U.S. government and businesses or individuals in 2014. […]

Through specific case studies, this report explores three key issues that arise under the shadow regulatory state:

  1. Enforcement efforts can undermine compliance. As shown through a plea agreement, a DPA, an NPA, and a cease-and-desist settlement entered into between the U.S. government and Hewlett-Packard [see prior posts here and here] and its foreign subsidiaries, federal prosecutors often punish companies notwithstanding extensive compliance programs, even when the companies self-report offenses and even when “rogue” employees go to extraordinary lengths to hide misconduct from their employers. Such a “strict liability” enforcement strategy may deter companies from developing effective compliance regimes.
  2. The DPA-NPA process lacks definite terms and judicial oversight. As shown through the federal government’s decision to extend a two-year DPA with Standard Chartered Bank for an additional three-year term, without any proffered evidence of additional wrongdoing, federal prosecutors’ authority in the DPA-NPA process is supreme. These agreements typically grant prosecutors the sole authority to determine whether an agreement has been breached. Indeed, the Department of Justice argues that federal judges have no authority over DPAs, beyond ensuring that such agreements comply with the terms of the Speedy Trial Act. [For prior posts examining this issue, see here and here].
  3. The DPA-NPA process is ill-suited for application to individuals. One concern about the increased use of DPAs and NPAs by the federal government is that they give prosecutors broad powers over businesses, notwithstanding that, more often than not, no individual is ever prosecuted for any underlying offense alleged in the agreement. [For prior post containing FCPA-specifics on this issue, see here and here]. The recent decision of the Securities and Exchange Commission to apply DPAs and NPAs to individuals—acquiring significant authority over people’s lives and retaining the ability to prosecute, essentially at prosecutors’ discretion—is a troubling new application of this power. The NPA reached with an unnamed individual in a 2014 insider-trading investigation exemplifies these concerns, as the alleged misconduct itself most likely does not constitute insider trading under current law.

Notwithstanding the lack of judicial oversight in the shadow regulatory state, two judges asserted new authority over this process in 2014—continuing a trend observed in 2013. Ultimately, however, reforming the shadow regulatory state requires legislative action. Part IV of this report discusses one proposed solution, the Accountability in Deferred Prosecution Act, sponsored by U.S. Representative Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-N.J.). Although this proposed legislation does not go far enough to address some of the serious problems with DPAs and NPAs, the legislation would add substantial clarity, transparency, and oversight, as compared with current practice, and is a great starting point for much-needed reform.”

Numerous posts have highlighted the problems of NPAs and DPAs in the FCPA context. (See here for example.  For a more comprehensive analysis see “The Facade of FCPA Enforcement“).

My long-standing, two-fold FCPA reform proposal is to amend the FCPA to include compliance defense and couple this with abolishing NPA and DPAs.  (Among other prior posts, see here).

Should this occur, the resulting enforcement landscape would look as follows.

If a payment is made in violation of the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions within a business organization, two issues will be relevant.

First, if the payment was made, authorized or condoned by a director or executive officer, the business organization will not be able to avail itself of an FCPA compliance defense.  Second, if the payment was made by any employee or agent in the absence of pre-existing FCPA compliance policies consistent with the best practices, the business organization will not be able to avail itself of an FCPA compliance defense.  In these scenarios involving corrupt directors or executive officers or business organizations without a commitment to FCPA compliance, the enforcement agencies will have two choices:  do not prosecute or prosecute the business organization for violating the FCPA.  This is a just and reasonable result and the third option of an NPA or DPA is not needed in such a scenario. As even the DOJ has acknowledged and empirical research has demonstrated, it is extremely unlikely that actual criminal prosecution of such a business organization will result in its demise.

Conversely, if the payment at issue is made by a non-executive employee or agent contrary to the business organization’s pre-existing FCPA compliance policies, the organization will be able to avail itself of an FCPA compliance defense.  Thus, as a matter of law, no FCPA prosecution of the organization will be able to proceed.  This too is a just and reasonable result and aligns FCPA enforcement with enforcement regimes in several other peer countries.

The above FCPA reforms will take courage, both by Congress in amending the FCPA and by the enforcement agencies in abolishing the resolution vehicles they created.  The reform proposals may indeed result in less hard FCPA enforcement actions as certain business organizations will be able to avail itself of the compliance defense and as enforcement agencies are once again mindful of their burdens of proof in prosecuting alleged FCPA violations.

However, more FCPA enforcement is not necessarily an inherent good and ought not be the singular goal of the FCPA.  The goal ought to be constructing an enforcement regime that best promotes compliance, reduces improper conduct, best advances the FCPA’s objective of reducing bribery, increases transparency and better aligns FCPA enforcement with rule of law principles.

The above two-fold FCPA reform proposal will accomplish these goals as well as increase public confidence in FCPA enforcement.  The proposals will also allow the enforcement agencies to better allocate limited prosecutorial resources to cases involving corrupt business organizations and the individuals who actually engage in the improper conduct. (See here for the prior post).

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