FCPA Compliance and Ethics Blog

October 22, 2014

Right to Retire Or Termination: Remediation of Leadership To Foster Compliance

Fall of RomeMany historians have long given 476 AD as the date of the fall of the Roman Empire. Further, it was from this date forward that Europe began its long slide into the abyss, which came to be known as the Dark Age. However, this view was challenged in 1971 by Peter Brown, with the publication of his seminal work “The World of Late Antiquity”. One of the precepts of Brown’s work was to reinterpret the 3rd to 8th centuries not as simply a decline of the greatness that had been achieved in the heydays of the Roman Empire, but more on their own terms. It was in the year of 476 AD that the last Roman Emperor, Romulus Augustulus, left the capital of Rome in disgrace. However as Brown noted, he was not murdered or even thrown out but allowed to retire to his country estates, sent there by the conquers of the western half of the Roman Empire, the Goths. Not much conquering going on if a ruler is allowed to ‘retire’, it was certainly a replacement but not quite the picture of marauding barbarians at the gate.

I thought about this anomaly of retirement by a leader in the context where a company or other entity might be going through investigations for corruption and non-compliance with such laws as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) or UK Bribery Act. Yesterday I wrote about three recent articles and what they showed about a company’s oversight of its foreign subsidiaries. Today I want to use these same articles to explore what a company’s response and even responsibility should be to remediate leadership under which the corruption occurs. The first was an article in the New York Times (NYT), entitled, “Another Scandal Hits Citigroup’s Moneymaking Mexican Division” by Michael Corkery and Jessica Silver-Greenberg. Their article spoke about the continuing travails of Citigroup’s Mexican subsidiary Banamex. Back in February, the company reported “a $400 million fraud involving the politically connected, but financially troubled, oil services firm Oceanografía.”

This has led Citigroup to ever so delicately try to oust the leader of its Mexico operations, Mr. Medina-Mora, by encouraging him to retire. While Citigroup did terminate 12 individuals around the Oceanografía scandal earlier in the year, it has not changed the employment status of the head of the Mexico business unit. This may be changing as the article said, “In a delicate dance, Citigroup is encouraging its Mexico chairman, Manuel Medina-Mora, 64, to retire, according to four people briefed on the matter. The bank has been quietly laying the groundwork for his departure, which could come by early next year, the people said. Still, Mr. Medina-Mora’s business acumen and connections to the country’s ruling elite have made him critical to the bank’s success in Mexico. Citigroup and its chairman, Michael E. O’Neill, cannot afford to alienate Mr. Medina-Mora and risk jeopardizing those relationships, these people said.”

Should Mr. Medina-Mora be allowed to retire? Should he even be required to retire? What about the ‘mints money’ aspect of the Mexican operations for Citigroup? Was any of that money minted through violations of the FCPA or other laws? What will the Department of Justice (DOJ) think of Citigroup’s response or perhaps even its attitude towards this very profitable business unit and Citigroup’s oversight, lax or other?

Does a company have to terminate employees who engage in corruption? Or can it allow senior executives to gracefully retire into the night with full pension and other golden parachute benefits intact? What if a company official “purposely manipulated appointment data, covered up problems, retaliated against whistle-blowers or who was involved in malfeasance that harmed veterans must be fired, rather than allowed to slip out the back door with a pension.” Or engaged in the following conduct, “had steered business toward her lover and to a favored contractor, then tried to “assassinate” the character of a colleague who attempted to stop the practice.” Finally, what if yet another company official directed company employees to “delete hundreds of appointments from records” during the pendency of an investigation?

All of the above quotes came from a second NYT article about a very different subject. In the piece, entitled “After Hospital Scandal, V.A. Official Jump Ship”, Dave Phillips reported that two of the four VA Administration executives who engaged in the above conduct and were selected for termination, had resigned before they could be formally terminated. The article reported that the VA “had no legal authority to stop” the employees from resigning. Current VA Secretary Robert McDonald was quoted in the article as saying, “It’s also very common in the private sector. When I was head of Procter & Gamble, it happened all the time, and it’s not a bad thing — it saves us time and rules out the possibility that these people could win an appeal and stick around.” Plus, he said, their records reflect that they were targeted for termination. “They can’t just go get a job at another agency,” Mr. McDonald said. “There will be nowhere to hide.”

The third article was in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) and entitled, “GM Says Top Lawyer to Step Down”. In this piece, reporters John D. Stroll and Joseph B. White, with contributions from Chris Matthews and Joann Lublin, reported that General Motors (GM) General Counsel (GC) Michael Millikin will retire early next year. Milliken is famously the GC who claimed not to know what was going on in his own legal department around the group’s settlements of product liability claims of faulty ignition switches. Milliken claimed he was kept “in the dark” by his own lieutenants about the safety issues involved with this group of litigation. Does Milliken have any responsibility for the failures of GM around this safety issue? What does his apparent graceful retirement say about the corporate culture of GM and its desire to actually change anything in the light of its ongoing travails? Of course one might cynically point to GM’s failure to even have a Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer as evidence of the company’s attitude towards compliance and ethics. (I wonder how that might look to the DOJ/Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) if GM goes under any FCPA scrutiny?)

With Citigroup, the Department of Veterans Affairs and GM, we have three separate excuses for companies (and a Cabinet level department) not disciplining top employees for ethical and/or compliance failures. At Citigroup, the excuse is apparently that it does not want to rock the boat from a top producing foreign subsidiary by terminating the head of the subsidiary under investigation. At the Department of Veterans Affairs, the excuse seems to be they can go ahead and resign because we prefer to get rid of them that way. At GM, it is not clear why the GC who claimed not to know what was going on in even his own law department can ride off into the sunset with nary a contrary word in sight. Millikin’s conduct would seem to be the product of a larger cultural issue at GM.

I thought about how the DOJ might look at these situations for companies if a FCPA claim were involved. Even with McDonald’s observations about what happened when he was with Procter & Gamble; does a company show something less than commitment to having a culture of compliance if it allows an employee to retire? What does it say about Citigroup and its culture given the current dance it is having with its head of the Mexico unit? What about GM and its Sgt. Schultz of a GC and his ‘I was in the dark posture’? As stated by Mike Volkov, in his post entitled “Goodbye Mr. Millikin: GM’s Continuing Culture Challenges”, GM does under appear to understand the situation it finds itself in currently over its failures. He wrote, “GM still does not understand the significance of its governance failure…GM should have taken dramatic and affirmative steps to create a new culture – resources and new initiatives should be launched to rid GM of its current culture and replace it with a new speak up culture. It is a daunting task in such a large company but it has to be done. Until GM wakes up, missteps and failures will continue.” One might say the same for Citigroup and the Department of Veterans Affairs as well.

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2014

October 21, 2014

Carlton Fisk, The Homer and Oversight of a Profitable Subsidiary

Fisk HomerToday we celebrate one of the great moments in World Series history. At approximately at 12:34 AM on this date in 1975, Carlton Fisk came to bat at the bottom of the 12th, in Game 6 of the World Series between the Boston Red Sox and Cincinnati Reds. He hit a pitch down the left field line. He stood at the plate, bouncing up and down and flailing at the ball as though he was helping an airplane land on a dark runway. “I was just wishing and hoping,” he said at a ceremony some years later. “Maybe, by doing it, you know, you ask something of somebody with a higher power. I like to think that if I didn’t wave, it would have gone foul.” Whether or not the waving was responsible, the ball bounced off of the bright-yellow foul pole above the Green Monster for a home run. Fenway’s organist played the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah while Fisk rounded the bases. One for the ages indeed as it appeared the Baseball Gods might finally be smiling on the Red Sox nation. Alas, they lost the next game and it was not to be for another 30 years.

I thought about Fisk’s homer and the ultimate heartbreak of Red Sox nation once again in 1975 when I read about several recent issues involving corruption and corporate responsibility for oversight, or perhaps more appropriately, the lack thereof. The first was an article in the New York Times (NYT), entitled “Another Scandal Hits Citigroup’s Moneymaking Mexican Division”, by Michael Corkery and Jessica Silver-Greenberg. Their article spoke about the continuing travails of Citigroup’s Mexican subsidiary Banamex. Back in February, the company revealed “a $400 million fraud involving the politically connected, but financially troubled, oil services firm Oceanografía.”

However, company investigators have unearthed another problem at the Mexico unit. The article reported “An internal investigation, begun by Citigroup in July, found evidence that the security unit was overcharging vendors and may have been taking kickbacks, a person briefed on the investigation said. The internal inquiry also found shell companies that had been set up to look like vendors and receive payments from the Banamex unit.” In a statement reported in the piece, Citigroup’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Michael L. Corbat “called the conduct of the individuals in the security unit ‘appalling’”.

What I found most interesting in the article was the response of Citigroup and what its implications might mean for the compliance practitioner, particularly one whose company is under scrutiny for a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) violation by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The NYT piece made clear that the Mexico unit is so profitable that it figuratively “mints money” for the company. Moreover, “despite the latest headline-grabbing turmoil at Banamex, Citigroup does not want to cede any ground in Mexico where it dominates a large portion of the retail market.”

What is the responsibility for a US corporate parent when a foreign subsidiary ‘mints money’ for the company? Should the corporate parent pay closer attention to make sure the subsidiary is doing business in compliance with the FCPA and other relevant laws? In the past few posts, I have discussed some of the specific internal controls a compliance practitioner might consider for a company’s international operations. One of the problems Citigroup is facing with the conduct of its Mexico subsidiary is the company’s concern of “lax controls and oversight”. Moreover, there is concern that some part of the ongoing troubles in the Mexico unit relates to its head, Manuel Medina-Mora. Citigroup Chairman Michael O’Neill, was said to have “privately expressed concerns to board members that Mr. Medina-Mora, who is also co-president of the parent company, has not always relayed problems in the region to executives at the bank’s headquarters on Park Avenue, according to the people briefed on the matter. Instead of looping in executives in New York, Mr. Medina-Mora has at times chosen to handle the issues himself.”

How much oversight should a parent corporation have over a subsidiary? At a basic level it would seem that oversight should be enough to prevent and detect illegal conduct. Clearly, a Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) should be considering the entity-wide internal controls for a company. Under the FCPA accounting provisions, issuers can be held liable for the conduct of their foreign subsidiaries, even though the improper conduct occurred outside of the US. The scope of liability is based on the issuer’s incorporation of the subsidiary’s financial statements in its own records and SEC filings.

While a CCO should expect (and the DOJ & SEC for that matter) that internal controls at locations outside the US are of the same effectiveness as internal controls in US business units and at the US corporate office; unfortunately, that might not always be the case. It is often the case that corporate level internal controls are stronger than those in foreign business units. The Citigroup situation with its Mexican subsidiary would seem to be a clear example of the oft-cited reason that many companies were built through acquisitions, resulting in many business units (both in and outside the US) having completely different accounting and internal control systems than US corporate office. There is often a tendency to leave acquired companies in the state in which they were acquired, rather than trying to integrate their controls and conform them to those of current business units. After all, the reason for the acquisition was the profitability of the acquired company and nobody wants to be accused of negatively impacting profitability, especially one that ‘mints money’.

The second example is one a bit closer to home and it is that of the General Motors (GM) legal department. In an article in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) entitled “GM Says Top Lawyer to Step Down”, John D. Stroll and Joseph B. White, with contributions from Christopher Matthews and Joann S. Lublin, reported that GM General Counsel (GC) Michael Millikin will retire early next year. Millikin was criticized after the GM internal investigation found that he ran the GM legal department in such a hands off manner that he did not know about his legal department’s own settlements for product liability claims involving faulty ignition switches until February of this year. His defense was that his own lawyers “left him in the dark” even though there was evidence that he had been repeatedly warned, “GM could face punitive damage awards related to its failure to address the safety defect.” Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill summed up sentiment about Milliken with her statement “This is either gross negligence or gross incompetence.” In other words if you are a GC or CCO you had better know what is going on in your own department. What would it say about a CCO who did not know that compliance department members were dealing with violations of the FCPA without informing him or her? It would say that the CCO failed to exercise leadership and oversight.

And while you are watching things closely, you may want to check out a clip of Carlton Fisk’s famous homer by clicking here.

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2014

October 20, 2014

Internal Controls Outside the US – Part IV

NavigatingThis post will conclude a short series I have presented on the issue of internal controls outside the US. I want to conclude by raising some ways in which a compliance professional can work to implement internal controls in a multi-national organization. As with my entire series on internal controls, I rely on internal controls expert Henry Mixon for guidance on this topic. 

Mixon advises that the first step is to convert your company’s Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) risks into internal control objectives. The internal control objectives are then given to each business unit with instructions to develop controls, which meet the objectives. This process should allow more of a fine tuning approach within existing systems than the development of specific controls by corporate which all business units must adopt and will give the business unit a sense of buy-in and participation in the process.

Mixon provided an example of how the process might work in the situation where the FCPA risk is that a third party representative may be paid for an invoiced amount before that third party representative has gone through your company’s full third party approval process. Mixon began by noting that your control objective is that internal controls should be in place to ensure that no vendors are added to the vendor master file until the vendor has been approved. If your company has a sophisticated ERP system such as SAP where checks are generated using the vendor master file and signed by the computer, this control objective may be met by adding a field to the vendor master file in which inserts the date the vendor is approved and by programming such a requirement the vendor information cannot be inserted into the check to pay the vendor unless the designated fields are populated. There would also be manual controls over the input of the date to ensure the data is not entered inappropriately. These internal controls would translate into form for changes to the vendor master file which is initiated by the person in charge of vendor due diligence and requires a ‘second set of eyes’ requiring sign off by a second person, such as the controller. Through this mechanism you have created a primary control through your third party approval process and validated that process if a change is made.

What if your location or business unit involved does not have a sophisticated ERP system such as SAP, for instance at another location QuickBooks is used? Mixon suggests that the control objective could be satisfied by using a similar form for changes to the vendor master file combined with the requirement that a report of all changes are printed and submitted to both check signers, along with the applicable approved vendor change request.

One of the banes of any compliance practitioner is the push back they inevitably receive when they attempt to institute something new or different. The same can be true of internal controls. What happens when the compliance function receives push back and will be told the controls are too burdensome and also make operations less efficient? I inquired from Mixon how he might suggest this situation be dealt with going forward. Fortunately for us, this is something that Mixon has observed many times and is very familiar with the issue as many employees see internal controls only as an added burden. Moreover, many business development types will raise the hue and cry that internal controls prevent them from effectively running the business. Finally, there are many groups in any company that may well say that a re-work of internal controls will cost too much money.

One of the areas available to a compliance professional is benchmarking from other company’s compliance experiences. However this can be expanded into solid presentations about why it is important to assess and mitigate FCPA risks using your corporate peers that have been the subject of an FCPA enforcement action. This is some of the best sources of information a compliance practitioner can avail his or herself of to provide good insight into why it was never expected that the company would be subject to FCPA enforcement and insight into the extreme disruption, cost, and anxiety which accompanied the enforcement actions.

Mixon also advises that the premise is that the cost of controls should not exceed the benefits to be obtained, so it really comes down to internally selling a cost benefit analysis. If the selling is done after at least a basic risk analysis, Mixon believes that it should be relatively easy to obtain concurrence that certain risks must be mitigated and that the benefits exceed the expected costs. Furthermore, there are occasions where there are no costs associated with improving controls. A good example is when re-alignment of duties using existing staff achieves an improved set of internal controls. Another example is when manual controls can be converted to electronic controls such that the only cost is the programming and re-training costs.

Another key factor, as with all FCPA compliance initiatives, is ‘Tone at the Top’. This means that you should meet with and present the case for FCPA-focused internal controls to your company’s Executive Leadership Team (ELT), Audit Committee of the Board or other appropriate group of senior executives. The presentation should include, with examples, the importance of identifying and mitigating the FCPA and fraud risks. Some of these might include the following:

  • Illustrating the examples of how the controls can prevent bribery as well as many other types of occupational fraud;
  • Illustrating that the controls needed are all sound business controls, nothing exotic or out of the ordinary;
  • With proper control design, it may be possible to eliminate some existing detect controls in favor of more useful preventive controls or even prescriptive controls;
  • As a result of your business changes and resulting changes in assessed risks, it may be that some procedures now being performed are no longer needed and the resources can be shifted to more necessary controls; and
  • It may be possible to build in more electronic controls, which can replace existing manual controls.

What if your company does an assessment of the internal controls over financial reporting as part of Sarbanes Oxley (SOX) compliance and that the Chief Financial Officer (CFO), or other appropriate corporate officer, annually certifies the internal controls are effective? How should such a situation be dealt with or conversely how might a compliance professional respond? 

Mixon believes that there are two primary reasons why the assessment under SOX is not sufficient for a Compliance Officer’s purposes. One is the scope of the SOX assessment and the second is the design of the SOX assessment. This means that the SOX process addresses only the internal controls over financial reporting, that is, the controls in place to prepare the financial statements for presentation to third parties. That process does not address the risks or the control needs with respect to FCPA. Mixon cited to the example of internal controls over disbursements, which may be evaluated as being effective if there is a three-way match of the approved purchase order, the vendor invoice, and the receiving report. Those controls do not address the risk that an agent may submit an invoice before the agent has been vetted and the invoice will be paid. It also does not address whether the agent’s invoice was reviewed for proper description of business purpose and for being consistent with the approved contract with the agent.

The second primary reason SOX certification of financial internal controls itself is not enough is the design criteria. SOX allows a materiality threshold. This means that operations outside the US may be excluded from scope due to materiality. It may also mean that some functions are operating below the financial internal controls level. Compliance professionals need to continually remind others that there is no materiality requirement in FCPA enforcement.

I hope that you have benefited from these posts on internal controls outside the US. I clearly believe that the price for noncompliance can easily be substantially greater than the cost to assess and implement good internal controls. But good FCPA internal controls are not some standalone protective measure. They can help to make a company run more efficiently as the internal controls that prevent FCPA violations are the same ones that prevent fraud in the workplace. So the presence of good internal controls saves money by preventing fraud. It is a business best practice to prevent fraud, which includes preventing corruption. I have long wondered about Ethisphere and its annual survey of the world’s most ethical companies because they seem to exceed the Standard & Poor’s (S&P) index of average profits and growth. What I have come to believe is that one of the keys ways such companies do seem to have better than average profitability is that they have better internal controls.

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2014

October 15, 2014

Tommy Lewis, Dicky Maegle and the DOJ Call for Individual Prosecutions

Lewis and off the bench tackleTommy Lewis died this week. For those of you uninitiated in college football, Lewis was an Alabama football player who jumped up off the Alabama bench to tackle Rice University halfback Dicky Maegle, who was scampering untouched down the sideline for a touchdown in the 1954 Cotton Bowl. Lewis’ off the bench tackle led to a flag and the referees’ awarding Maegle a 95-yard touchdown on the play. Why did Lewis do it? As reported in his obituary in the Houston Chronicle, Lewis always maintained he was “too full of Alabama”. Maegle, perhaps more charitably, said, “He was a good guy who got caught up in the moment and the excitement.”

I thought about Maegle and Lewis when I was re-reading and considering the recent remarks of Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division Leslie R. Caldwell at the recent Ethics and Compliance Officers Association (ECOA) Conference. As Mike Volkov said in his post on Tuesday, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) communicate quite clearly what their enforcement priorities are; one does not have to read tea leaves, it is out there in black and white for all to see and hear. Caldwell’s remarks would seem to follow this observation of Volkov.

Caldwell made clear that the DOJ will prosecute individuals for violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). In her remarks she said, “When criminal misconduct is discovered, a critical factor in the department’s prosecutorial decision making is the extent and nature of the company’s cooperation. The department’s Principles of Federal Prosecution of Business Organizations provides that prosecutors should consider “the corporation’s timely and voluntary disclosure of wrongdoing and its willingness to cooperate in the investigation of its agents.””

Recognizing that “Corporations do not act, but for the actions of individuals” Caldwell then laid down some quite strong prescriptions which compliance practitioners need to be cognizant about. Caldwell stated, “Now let me flesh out the often discussed, but sometimes poorly understood, concept of cooperation. Most companies now understand the benefits of voluntarily disclosing the misconduct before we come asking, and the benefits of conducting an internal investigation and providing facts about the misconduct to the government. But companies all too often tout what they view as strong cooperation, while ignoring that prosecutors specifically consider “the company’s willingness to cooperate in the investigation of its agents.””

She went on to add, “In all but a few cases, an individual or group of individuals is responsible for the corporation’s criminal conduct. The prosecution of culpable individuals – including corporate executives – for their criminal wrongdoing continues to be a high priority for the department. For a company to receive full cooperation credit following a self-report, it must root out the misconduct and identify the individuals responsible, even if they are senior executives.”

Fortunately the DOJ is not asking for undercover corporate sting operations because, as Caldwell explained, “We are not asking that you become surrogate FBI agents or prosecutors, or that you use law enforcement tactics like body wires.  And we do not need to hear you say that executive A violated a particular criminal law. All we are saying is that we expect you to provide us with facts. We will take it from there. But a company that interviews its employees in an effort to whitewash the facts or spread the company’s narrative spin risks receiving any cooperation credit.”

This is about as clear a warning as you can expect to receive. But the difficulty it puts company’s in is in regard to their internal investigations. Last week Joel Schectman, writing in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article entitled, “Are Internal Bribery Probes Private?”, explored the issue of whether such investigations are privileged, in the context of a current individual FCPA prosecution. In the matter of Joseph Sigelman, the former Chief Executive Officer (CEO) PetroTiger Ltd. Co., Schectman reported that “Prosecutors say the payments of approximately $333,500 to the wife for “consulting services” was actually a bribe to her husband to win a contract for PetroTiger worth around $39.6 million.”

Some or all of the underlying facts were turned over to the DOJ by PetroTiger’s internal investigation. The Defendant Sigelman wants to obtain copies of whatever PetroTiger turned over to the DOJ, arguing that the company waived any claim of attorney/client privilege “when it divulged the investigation’s findings to third parties, including officials of the United States.” The company has refused to hand over its internal investigation to the defendant based on this claim of attorney/client privilege.

What happens if a company, or its law firm gets the investigation wrong and falsely accuses an individual? Should the company be protected? That is the issue currently before the Texas Supreme Court in a libel case styled, Shell v. Writt. It involves our old friend Panalpina Inc. and its customer Royal Dutch Shell. David Smyth, in a post entitled Texas Court of Appeals Has Put Some FCPA Internal Investigations in an Awkward Spot”, said the DOJ contacted Shell about its dealings with Panalpina. Sometime later, “Shell agreed to conduct an internal investigation into its dealings with Panalpina.” Smyth noted that, “Shell submitted an investigative report that pointed the finger at Writt.  Specifically, Shell said Writt had been involved in illegal conduct in a Shell Nigerian project by recommending that Shell reimburse contractor payments he knew to be bribes and failing to report illegal contractor conduct he was aware of.”

Writt sued Shell for libel and Shell defeated Writt at the trial court on the basis that it had an “absolute privilege to say what it did in its investigative report to the DOJ.”

However, a Texas Court of Appeals reversed the trial court ruling holding that absolute privilege does not apply where a party voluntarily turns over information to a prosecutor before a judicial proceeding is initiated or contemplated. As Smyth explained, “In the court’s view, DOJ was acting purely in a prosecutorial and non-judicial capacity.” Shell has appealed this matter to the Texas Supreme Court, which has accepted the case for review.

There are several difficult issues from the facts of this case. Smyth points to one when he ended his piece, “FCPA investigations these days are a different animal, and probably deserving of different treatment by the courts. As of now, a company conducting an internal FCPA investigation in Texas has to ask, what do we do if one of an investigation reveals one of our employees as a bad actor? Do we say as much in the report we turn over to the government, as the government surely expects? If we do, are we signing on for libel litigation by the employee?” But now Caldwell has made clear that the DOJ expects companies to “identify the individuals responsible, even if they are senior executives”. If you are one of the individuals so identified, are you entitled to know what the accusations against you might be? What if the company’s lawyers got it wrong? Should they have a duty?

Moreover, there are a plethora of procedural protections available to criminal defendants not available to civil defendants or even those who are the subject of internal corporate investigations. Should a Miranda warning now be given during internal corporate investigations? Is the right to remain silent and not self-incriminate oneself available in such an investigation? In paper entitled “Navigating Potential Pitfalls in Conducting Internal Investigations: Upjohn Warnings, “Corporate Miranda,” and Beyond” Craig Margolis and Lindsey Vaala, of the law firm Vinson & Elkins LLP, explored the pitfalls faced by counsel, both in-house and outside investigative, and corporations when an employee admits to wrong doing during an internal investigation, where such conduct is reported to the US Government and the employee is thereafter prosecuted criminally under a law such as the FCPA.

Employees who are subject to being interviewed or otherwise required to cooperate in an internal investigation may find themselves on the sharp horns of a dilemma requiring either (1) cooperating with the internal investigation or (2) losing their jobs for failure to cooperate by providing documents, testimony or other evidence. Many US businesses mandate full employee cooperation with internal investigations or those handled by outside counsel on behalf of a corporation. These requirements can exert a coercive force, “often inducing employees to act contrary to their personal legal interests in favor of candidly disclosing wrongdoing to corporate counsel.”  Moreover, such a corporate policy may permit a company to claim to the US government a spirit of cooperation in the hopes of avoiding prosecution in “addition to increasing the chances of learning meaningful information.”

Where the US Government compels such testimony, through the mechanism of inducing a corporation to coerce its employees into cooperating with an internal investigation, by threatening job loss or other economic penalty, the in-house counsel’s actions may raise Fifth Amendment due process and voluntariness concerns because the underlying compulsion was brought on by a state actor, namely the US Government. Margolis and Vaala note that by utilizing corporate counsel and pressuring corporations to cooperate, the US Government is sometimes able to achieve indirectly what it would not be able to achieve on its own – inducing employees to waive their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and minimizing the effectiveness of defense counsel’s assistance.

All of the above would seem to make clear the need for company’s to get their internal investigations done right. If you are going to receive credit from the DOJ going forward, your investigations must be done thoroughly, in a timely manner and provide to the DOJ the information that Caldwell has laid out that they want. At least currently in Texas, a company has to get it right or risk being sued if they mis-identify a potential criminal actor.

Tommy Lewis and Dicky Maegle? Lewis made a mistake, probably carried away in the heat of the moment. What did Maegle have to say about him on the occasion of his death? “He was very remorseful, and I thought he was sincere. I liked him. We became friends.” Let’s hope your employees still like your company at the end of an internal investigation.

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2014

 

 

October 13, 2014

Ringo, Sir Paul and an Effective Compliance Program

Paul McCartneySometimes the universe converges in ways that are beyond my simple comprehension. This past weekend was one of them. It began a few months ago when I saw an advertisement from StubHub that showed Ringo Starr playing in Houston on October 10 and Sir Paul McCartney playing in New Orleans on October 11. I figured if the two surviving members of the greatest rock and roll band in the history of the world were going to play on two consecutive nights it was a sure sign from the Oracle of Rock ‘N Roll that I was intended to attend both, lest I tempt a fate worse than going against an entity nearly as powerful as the Oracle of Delphi. Moreover, the Friday concert coincided with the birthday of my little sister who happened to be in town and one of the planets biggest Beatles fans, it made the convergence complete. Ringo Starr

I also learned two completely new and unrelated facts this weekend. The first is that a native of Liverpool, England, is called a ‘Scouser’. That comes from my Liverpudlian friend Pam, who also introduced me to the Liverpool Football Club. The second is that my wife is a closet Mr. Mister uber fan, who rocked out as a teenager to this group in the early days of MTV. On reflection that is perhaps the more odder convergence.

While there is clearly a reason Ringo Starr tours with true musical all-stars and Sir Paul McCartney has been raised to the peerage for his musical prowess, in many ways the Ringo Starr concert was the bigger revelation. I had wondered how Ringo would fill out an entire concert. He did it by surrounding himself with musicians fabulous in their own right. They included: Steve Lukather, former lead singer from Toto on vocals, lead and rhythm guitar; Gregg Rolie, former keyboardist from Santana and Journey on vocals, organ, keyboards; Richard Page, former lead singer from Mr. Mister, on vocals and bass guitar; and finally, best and certainly not least, Todd Rundgren on vocals, lead and rhythm guitar, bass guitar, percussion, harmonica and, occasionally, even keyboards.

So in addition to Ringo singing his standards of Photograph, It Don’t Come Easy, Yellow Submarine and (of course) With a Little Help From My Friends. We also got to hear songs first released by Santana, Toto, Mr. Mister and some great Todd Rundgren hits. The group clearly loved playing and jamming with each other. Further, these other groups’ songs were great fun to hear and as they may never reform, I would not otherwise have the chance to hear them performed lived.

Sir Paul McCartney. You really do not have to say much more. His concert did not exceed my expectations because they were about as high as expectations could have been. He seriously rocked out for over three hours, playing everything from the earliest Beatles songs up to a ballad for his latest wife. I cannot remember ever attending a concert where everyone one in attendance knew the words to every song but we all did and we all sung them all the way through the entire show.

What is the compliance angle to all of this? Just as there is more than one way to put on a great concert, there is more than one way to have an effective compliance program. This continual message from the Department of Justice (DOJ) came again earlier this month through remarks by Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division, Leslie R. Caldwell, at the 22nd Annual Ethics and Compliance Conference, where she made clear that while the FCPA Ten Hallmarks of an Effective Compliance Program is one set of guidelines for an effective compliance program, there is no “one-size fits all” compliance program. She laid out another way to think through, review and analyze your compliance program. 

  1. High-level commitment. A company must ensure that its directors and senior management provide strong, explicit, and visible commitment to its corporate compliance policy. Stated differently, and again, “tone from the top.”
  1. Written Policies. A company should have a clearly articulated and visible corporate compliance policy memorialized in a written compliance code. Again, employees need to know what to do–or not do–when faced with a tough judgment call involving business ethics. Companies need to make that as easy as possible for their employees.
  1. Periodic Risk-Based Review. A company should periodically evaluate these compliance codes on the basis of a risk assessment addressing the individual circumstances of the company. Companies change over time through natural growth, mergers, and acquisitions.
  1. Proper Oversight and Independence. A company should assign responsibility to senior executives for the implementation and oversight of the compliance program. Those executives should have the authority to report directly to independent monitoring bodies, including internal audit and the Board of Directors, and should have autonomy from management. Compliance programs needed to be funded; they need to have resources. And they need to have teeth and respect within the company.
  1. Training and Guidance. A company should implement mechanisms designed to ensure that its compliance code is effectively communicated to all directors, officers, employees. This means repeated communication, frequent and effective training, and an ability to provide guidance when issues arise.
  1. Internal Reporting. A company should have an effective system for confidential, internal reporting of compliance violations. I know that many companies have multiple mechanisms, which is good.
  1. Investigation. A company should establish an effective process with sufficient resources for responding to, investigating, and documenting allegations of violations. What this means on the ground will depend on the company. A sophisticated multi-national corporation obviously will be expected to have more resources devoted to compliance than a small regional company.
  1. Enforcement and Discipline. A company should implement mechanisms designed to enforce its compliance code, including appropriately incentivizing compliance and disciplining violations. Further, the response to a violation must be even-handed. People watch what people do much more carefully than what they say. When it comes to compliance, you must both say and do.
  1. Third-Party Relationships. A company should institute compliance requirements pertaining to the oversight of all agents and business partners. This cannot be emphasized strongly enough.
  2. Monitoring and Testing. A company should conduct periodic reviews and testing of its compliance code to improve its effectiveness in preventing and detecting violations. Kick the tires regularly. As I said, compliance programs must evolve with changes in the law, business practices, technology and culture.

Caldwell also emphasized that as important as the compliance program itself; the implementation is also reviewed and evaluated by the DOJ. When the DOJ investigates a case, they look at the messages about compliance that are given to employees; they look at what employees are told in their day-to-day work. This means the DOJ will look at emails, chats, and recorded phone calls. They will interview witnesses about the messages they received from their supervisors and management to determine if they received messages about compliance, or about making money at all costs.

Another consideration for the DOJ is incentives. The DOJ will examine the incentives that a company provides to encourage compliant behavior – or not. This means that if a company is actually encouraging compliance, if its values are to be ethical and within the law, this message must be conveyed to employees in a meaningful way. If not, it is likely that the DOJ will not view the compliance program as credible. Interestingly, Caldwell said that sometimes the effective implementation of a compliance program means standing apart from the other companies in your industry.

Just as Ringo and Sir Paul ably demonstrated, there is more than one way to put on a great concert. They both assessed their strengths and weaknesses and used that information to put great bands around them illustrated their strengths. The same is true in the world of Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) compliance. The key is to review and assess your compliance risks and then manage them. And, as always, Document, Document, and Document whatever you do so that if a regulator comes knocking, you can demonstrate evidence of the above.

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2014

 

 

 

October 10, 2014

The Horror of Dracula and Internal Controls in International Locations, Part I

Christopher Lee as DraculaThis Friday we celebrate the second in the Hammer Films horror series, which was actually its first offering, based on Count Dracula, entitled “Horror of Dracula”. It starred the famous Hammer Films horror movie two-some of Peter Cushing as Professor Van Helsing and Christopher Lee as Count Dracula. If you have grown up on the classic Universal monster films, the first thing that strikes you about the Hammer Films is the glorious technical color production. The second thing is the focus on gore. Horror of Dracula, with its emphasis on blood is particularly focused. Nevertheless, the productions are first rate and with Cushing and Lee bringing some gravitas to the cast, the movie certainly holds up. One of the biggest changes from Bram Stoker’s novel and the Universal movie version starring Bela Lugosi, is the location change from England to Transylvania for the confrontation between Professor Van Helsing and Dracula. In other words, they were on Dracula’s home turf; not in England on Professor Van Helsing’s home ground.

As the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) deals largely with conduct outside the US, today, I will begin a multi-part series on internal controls at locations outside the US. Part I will focus on how to think through the issues of internal controls outside the US and why your company’s internal controls might require changes for different countries across the globe. In Part II, I will review how to determine the risk in a geographic region outside the US, through a Location Risk Assessment and for Part III, I will close with how a compliance practitioner should use a Location Risk Assessment.

Clearly, a Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) should be considering the entity-wide internal controls for a company. Under the FCPA accounting provisions, issuers can be held liable for the conduct of their foreign subsidiaries, even though the improper conduct occurred outside of the US. The scope of liability is based on the issuer’s incorporation of the subsidiary’s financial statements in its own records and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filings. So, as with the use of third party distributors to sell product, FCPA enforcement looks past the structure of the transaction and makes enforcement decisions based upon the substance. Once again I visited with internal controls expert Henry Mixon to discuss these issues.

While a CCO should expect (or at least hope) that internal controls at locations outside the US are of the same effectiveness as internal controls within US business units and at the US corporate office; unfortunately, that might not always be the case. It is often the case that corporate level internal controls are stronger than those in foreign business units. Mixon indicated that there may well be several reasons for this. First, the company’s Chief Financial Officer (CFO) may be paying closer attention to the corporate level internal controls, with the idea that the corporate level internal controls are the final “filter” to detect issues. This follows partly from the focus in most companies on the controls over financial reporting, which does not include all controls needed for FCPA compliance. A second reason is that many companies were built through acquisitions, resulting in many business units (both in and outside the US) having completely different accounting and internal control systems than the corporate office. There is often a tendency to leave acquired companies in the state in which they were acquired, rather than trying to integrate their controls and conform them to those of current business units. After all, the reason for the acquisition was the profitability of the acquired company and nobody wants to be accused of negatively impacting profitability.

A third situation may exist at locations outside the US that began simply as a sales office. Then the location gradually expanded its scope of operations to become a full scope business unit with its own accounting and data processing functions. Unfortunately, it is not often the situation in which there was a master plan for internal controls as the location’s scope grew. Often processes were added internally and were usually designed by the local personnel that in practice meant the Country Manager had total control over financial affairs and was not really accountable to the Corporate Office. This can be particularly true as long as a country business unit’s profits continue. In such situations, there will rarely be any focus on effective preventive internal controls for FCPA risk.

The next area for inquiry is where should a CCO begin in any of the above scenarios? Mixon believes that the initial first step is to determine the extent of centralization or decentralization of relevant processes or put another way, to what extent are relevant processes performed at the corporate offices? In some companies it is common, for example, to have all vendor invoices paid from the corporate office. In other companies, the corporate accounting function only aggregates information received from business unit accounting departments. This translates into a varying analysis of risk regarding locations outside the US, depending on the degree of accounting decentralization. A good starting point is to determine the extent to which the financial statements of business units outside the US are reviewed and analyzed by the corporate accounting function. This will give good insight into whether the corporate accounting function provides an element of internal control or merely serves as a data aggregator.

The first step for the CCO is to determine the possible universe of risks and to assess the risks to result in a priority of how attention will be focused. One useful approach advocated by Mixon is the Location Risk Assessment (LRA), whose purpose is to capture in one place each location outside the US where your company conducts business and to assess the compliance risks posed by the nature of operations at each location. Once the risks at each location have been properly categorized, you can then prioritize your approach to dealing with the risks.

For your weekend viewing, I would suggest you kick your feet up and look forward to some good, old-fashioned 1950s flavored gore found in the Horror of Dracula. If your temporal compliance matters need your attention, you can look forward to Part II next week, in which I will discuss how a compliance practitioner should perform a Local Risk Assessment.

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2014

October 8, 2014

GSK as a Watershed in the International Fight Against Bribery and Corruption

Lifting WeightsGlaxoSmithKline PLC (GSK) may well be a watershed in the global fight against bribery and corruption. Behavior and conduct, which was illegal under Chinese law but previously tolerated and even accepted by Chinese government officials, quickly became a quagmire that the company was caught in when charges of corruption were leveled against them last year. Many westerners were skeptical about the claims made against GSK and its head of China operations, Mark Reilly. That is one of the problems in paying bribes to government officials; it is always illegal under domestic law. David Pilling, writing an article in the Financial Times (FT) entitled “Why corruption is a messy business”, said “Multinationals are discovering that there is only one thing worse than operating in a country where corruption is rampant: operating in one where corruption was once rampant – but is no longer tolerated.”

When it began, it was not it clear why China’s Communist Party Chief Xi Jinping began his anti-corruption push. Some speculated that it was an attack on western companies for more political reasons that economic reasons. Others took the opposite tack that the storm, which broke with the bribery and corruption investigation of GSK, was China’s attack on western companies to either hide or help fix problems endemic to the Chinese economic system. My take is that his campaign has a different purpose but incorporates both political and economic reasons. That purpose is that Xi has recognized something that the US government officials and most particularly the Department of Justice (DOJ) have been preaching for some time. That is, the insidiousness of corruption and its negative effects on an economic system.

Xi and China have realized that corruption is a drain on the Chinese economic system. Publications as diverse as the Brookings Institute to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) have noted that one of the reasons for the anti-corruption campaign is to restore the Chinese public’s faith in the ruling Communist Party. Bob Ward, writing in the WSJ article entitled “The Risks in China’s Push to Root Out Wrong”, said, “China’s anticorruption drive began in late 2012 as a way to cleanse the ruling Communist Party and convince ordinary Chinese that the system isn’t rigged against them. Investigators are targeting some of China’s most powerful officials and disciplining tens of thousands of lower-echelon officials who party investigators contend got used to padding their salaries.” Cheng Li and Ryan McElveen, writing online for Brookings, in an article entitled “Debunking Misconceptions About Xi Jinping’s Anti-Corruption Campaign”, wrote, “If there were ever any doubts that Xi could restore faith in a party that had lost trust among the Chinese public, many of those doubts have been dispelled by the steady drumbeat of dismissals of high-ranking officials since he took office.”

But the economic reasons behind the anti-corruption campaign are equally important. One of the more interesting articulations came from one disgraced former Chinese government official, who was one of the earliest senior officials to be charged with corruption. In a WSJ article by James T. Areddy, entitled “Chinese Ex-Official Admits to Corruption”, he wrote about the trial of Liu Tienan, the “former head of the National Energy Administration and senior director in the National Development Reform Commission” who had been arrested in May 2013. His trial finally came around in September 2014. At his trial he made some rather extraordinary statements. Areddy wrote that “Liu testified that reducing official power is key to curbing corruption: “The major point, which is based on my own experience, is to give the market a great deal of power to make decisions.”” But Liu did not end there, “as he explained his view that China’s state bureaucracies are too powerful and entrepreneurs are too weak. “Approvals should be developed in a system, rather by an individual’s actions. This would help prevent abuse of power for personal self-interest.””

Whether or not Liu thought those statements up on himself, a smart defense lawyer suggested he make them to reduce his sentence, or the Chinese government told him to say it as his role in the well-known show trials of the Chinese justice system; it really does not matter. That is one of the most incredible statements I have ever heard of coming out of anything close to an official Chinese statement or proceeding. Think about it; first Liu is saying that the Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’ of the market should be governing market decisions. Next, he speaks against the arbitrary nature in China for entrepreneurs in giving approval about how businesses can expand and grow in China. This arbitrary process should be replaced with objective criteria. It is almost if Lui is channeling his inner FCPA Professor when he speaks against artificial barriers to market entry. Finally, Liu attacks the small-mindedness of bureaucratic mentality in their use of power for self-interest.

There have already been demonstrated economic benefits to China’s anti-corruption campaign. In September, Bloomberg reported that China’s fight against bribery and corruption could boost economic growth, generating an additional $70 billion for the budget, in summarizing economists’ forecasts. An article in the online publication Position and Promotions, reported that the bribery “could trigger a 0.1-0.5 percent increase in the world’s second-biggest economy, equivalent to $70 billion dollars.” This crackdown should also be welcomed by western companies, as “it could also benefit foreign companies operating on the Chinese market, who have experienced the negative effects of the omnipresent palm-greasing, according to Joerg Wuttke, president of European Chamber of Commerce in China.” He was further quoted as saying, “It takes the stress away. You’re not afraid that somebody gets an order because he found a better champagne or something like that. It’s not Singapore yet, but it’s a very positive development”.

As we close this phase of GSK’s saga, I think some time for reflection is appropriate. For the compliance practitioner there have been many specific lessons to be learned from GSK’s missteps. However I think the clearest lesson is that the only real hope that a company has into today’s world is an effective, best practices anti-corruption compliance program. Whether it is designed to help a company comply with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), UK Bribery Act or other anti-corruption legislation, it really does not matter. It is the only, and I mean only, chance your company will have when an issue in some far-flung part of the world splashes your company’s name across the world’s press.

But there may also be cause for celebration to those who have long preached against the evils of corruption, whether it is for economic reasons or for those who view the fight against anti-corruption as a part of the fight against terrorism. For if China is attacking domestic corruption, I believe that will lead other countries to do so as well. We are already seeing stirrings in India under new President Modi. So while GSK may well suffer going forward, the fight against global bribery and corruption may just have moved a few feet forward.

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2014

October 7, 2014

The Positive Effects of DPAs and NPAs in FCPA Enforcement

JusticeOne of the oft-made criticisms regarding the Department of Justice (DOJ) around its enforcement of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) is its the use of Deferred Prosecution Agreements (DPAs) and Non-Prosecution Agreements (NPAs) somehow pervert the course of justice. Some of the criticisms include: DPAs and NPAs are either too harsh or too lenient; DPAs and NPAs let corporations off too easily or they are too unfair to corporations; DPAs and NPAs are inherently unfair as they give the DOJ too much leverage in any negotiation or that the DOJ uses them as a way to simply seek bigger fines and to not go after the real culprits, i.e. rogue employees; the fines levied under DPAs and NPAs are too great or too small, but whichever it is, there is not appropriate judicial oversight; and my personal favorite, the DOJ needs to ‘trial-lawyer up’ and go to trial against big bad corporations which violate the FCPA to really show ‘em they mean business.

Speaking from the perspective of a former in-house type, I have argued that corporations desire DPAs and NPAs because they bring certainty. Not only in ending an enforcement action but also in knowing your obligations going forward; and they bring certainty in setting the fines and penalties to be paid for a FCPA violation. And, of course, if you enter into a DPA or NPA you bring your corporate client the certainty that you will not ‘Arthur Anderson’ your organization out of existence.

However there are other reasons why the use of DPAs and NPAs has been positive and that is the effect on companies. In a recent paper, entitled, “The Effect of Deferred and Non-Prosecution Agreements on Corporate Governance: Evidence from 1993-2013 ”, authors Wulf A. Kaal and Timothy Lacine looked precisely at that issue. In an exhaustive study they reviewed all publicly available DPAs and NPAs from 1993 to 2013. The authors found that in a wide variety of categories 97.41% of the publicly available DPAs and NPAs “mandated substantive governance improvements” in the corporations that entered into them. Any time you have 97% improvement in anything, I would say someone must have been doing something right, somewhere, somehow. From the thesis of their article, it would appear that what the DOJ is doing right is using DPAs and NPAs to positively impact corporate governance.

What were some of the changes brought about through the use of DPAs and NPAs? In the area of Board governance there were provisions including mandating changes requiring additional reporting obligations for the Board; required changes to existing Board committee structure of the entity, often creating new board committees. Other changes included increased Board monitoring obligations, the addition of independent director(s) and changes pertaining to management of the entity. In addition to more Board involvement, under a number of DPAs and NPAs, a settling company’s senior management was required to provide additional oversight and involvement with the compliance function. Similarly monitoring obligations have generally increased with many DPAs and NPAs containing specific provisions that related to ongoing monitoring requirements.

Both the Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) position and the compliance function were significantly impacted by many of the DPAs and NPAs. Many contained provisions relating to a new, improved or expanded compliance program. Additionally, many DPAs and NPAs contained provisions pertaining to improved compliance communications and training requirements in the compliance function. Internal controls and required improvements pertaining to books and records were also noted. Of course, if a company did not have a Code of Conduct or CCO, they were required.

The authors have also identified additional and continuing oversight factors. They note that DOJ “involvement suggest that prosecutors can promote an ethical corporate culture through enhanced compliance measures in N/DPAs. Under this theory, the DOJ’s expansionary tendencies in N/DPAs are a mere extension of legally mandated compliance requirements. In fact, corporate governance of the respective entity plays a major role in federal prosecutors’ charging decisions. The increased role of independent private sector oversight may help address the increased complexity of corporate crime and dwindling public funds. Given their education and experience as well as their ability to fill a void left by the system, prosecutors may be uniquely qualified to institute corporate governance changes.”

I think this ongoing DOJ oversight is not to be underestimated as a positive effect for compliance. Clearly if an external monitor is required there will be at least annual reporting to the DOJ on the company’s implementation of the terms and conditions of its settlement. But even if the DOJ does not require an external monitor there is always a requirement that the settling company report to the DOJ on the extent of its compliance efforts. The best practice would suggest that an independent third party make this assessment but even if it is not accomplished in such a manner, there is still DOJ oversight.

While the DOJ has pronounced that they are not involved in industry sweeps, the reality is that some industries have been hit with more FCPA enforcement actions than others. If there are a large number of FCPA settlements using DPAs and NPAs in one industry, it can have the effect of increasing both the knowledge of compliance and sophistication of compliance programs within that industry. I have personally witnessed this in the energy industry in Houston where compliance is now driven as a business solution to the legal problem of FCPA compliance. Scott Killingsworth calls this Private-to-Private compliance solutions. I call it business solutions to legal problems. Whatever you might wish to name it, these FCPA enforcement actions have increased the prevalence of compliance programs in the energy industry.

The authors also believe that through the use of DPAs and NPAs, the DOJ is better able to communicate its expectations of what it expects in the way of a best practices compliance program. They state that Boards, “management and corporate counsel may see these preexisting measures as a roadmap for preparing for future investigations and handling the eventual investigation.”

Finally, the authors provide a very interesting insight as to the power of DPAs and NPAs, which is not often discussed in the FCPA context. They contend that use of DPAs and NPAs, as corporate governance tools, “may be preferable to changes to federal law.” They explain, “Compared with more meaningful congressional governance reform, N/DPA-related governance reform is relatively “cheap” for corporations because comparatively few board and management positions are adversely affected. Furthermore, N/DPA-related governance reform is a measure supported by most corporate insiders as it is seen as beneficial for investors. Until regulators belatedly realize the threat posed by particular industry practices, as identified in N/DPAs, and consider acting upon it, N/DPA-related governance reform is entity specific and increases the availability of relevant, decentralized, and institution specific information for regulatory action. Preemptive remedial measures preceding the execution of N/DPAs and associated N/DPA feedback effects can create the framework for anticipatory dynamic regulation as a regulatory supplement.”

This last concept speaks to the transactional cost of changing not only laws surrounding corporate governance but the reform of a corporation for itself. The key stakeholder unit of investors certainly profits by having more and better corporate governance, as does the corporation itself. I found the authors’ work to be a welcome addition to the ongoing debate on DPAs and NPAs.

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2014

October 1, 2014

Creation of Yosemite and Putting Compliance at the Center of Strategy

YosemiteOn this day in 1890, an act of Congress created Yosemite National Park, home of such natural wonders as Half Dome and the giant sequoia trees. Environmental trailblazer John Muir (1838-1914) and his colleagues campaigned for the congressional action, which was signed into law by President Benjamin Harrison.

In 1889, John Muir discovered that the vast meadows surrounding Yosemite Valley, which lacked government protection, were being overrun and destroyed by domestic sheep grazing. Muir and Robert Underwood Johnson, a fellow environmentalist and influential magazine editor, lobbied for national park status for the large wilderness area around Yosemite Valley. With this persuasion, Congress set aside over 1,500 square miles of land for what would become Yosemite National Park, America’s third national park. In 1906, the state-controlled Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove came under federal jurisdiction with the rest of the park to create the Yosemite that we know today. It clearly was a triumph for Muir and Johnson but more so for the American people.

I recently read an article in the Harvard Business Review (HBR) that seemed to draw inspiration from the actions of Muir and Johnson. The article by Frank Cespedes, entitled “Putting Sales at the Center of Strategy”, discussed how to connect up management’s new sales plans with the “field realities your salespeople face.” Referencing the well-known Sam Waltonism that “There ain’t many customers at headquarters”; Cespedes believes that “If you and your team can’t make the crucial connections between strategy and sales, then no matter how much you invest in social media or worry about disruptive innovations, you may end up pressing for better execution when you actually need a better strategy or changing strategic direction when you should be focusing on the basics in the field.”

The problem is usually clear. Senior management and the C-Suite make clear their commitment to doing business ethically and in compliance with anti-corruption laws such as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). The company even has a best practices compliance. But the problem is that the installation or enhancement of a compliance regime is usually perceived as a ‘top-down’ exercise. The reality of the employee base that must execute the compliance strategy is not considered. Even when there are comments, it is derisively characterized as ‘push-back’ and not taken into account in moving the compliance effort forward. I thought Cespedes piece had some great insights for the compliance practitioner so borrowing from his four-point process, I will rework it for a compliance professional.

Communicate the Strategy

It can be difficult for an employee base to implement a strategy that they do not understand. Even with a company wide training rollout, followed by “a string of e-mails from headquarters and periodic reports back on results. There are too few communications, and most are one-way; the root causes of underperformance are often hidden from both groups.” Here Cespedes’ insight is that clarification is a leadership responsibility and in the compliance function that means the Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) or other senior compliance practitioner. Moreover, if the problem is that employees do not understand how to function within the parameters of the compliance program, then there is a training problem and that is the fault of the compliance department. I once was subjected to a PowerPoint of 268 slides, which lasted 7.5 hours, about my company’s compliance regime. To say this was worse than useless was accurate. The business guys were all generally asleep one hour into the presentation as we went through the intricacies of the books and records citations to the FCPA. The training was a failure but it was not the fault of the attendees. If your own employees do not understand your compliance program that is your fault.

Continually improve your compliance productivity

I thought this point was insightful. Cespedes talked about incentivizing your sales force. Why not do the same concepts around compliance? You can work with your Human Resources (HR) department to come up with appropriate financial incentives. Many companies have ad hoc financial awards, which they present to employees to celebrate and honor outstanding efforts. Why not give out something like that around doing business in compliance? Does your company have, as a component of its bonus compensation plan, a part dedicated to FCPA compliance and ethics? If so, how is this component measured and then administered? There is very little in the corporate world that an employee notices more than what goes into the calculation of their bonuses. HR can, and should, facilitate this process by setting expectations early in the year and then following through when annual bonuses are released. With the assistance of HR, such a bonus can send a powerful message to employees regarding the seriousness with which compliance is taken at the company. There is nothing like putting your money where your mouth is for people to stand up and take notice.

Improve the human element in your compliance program

This is another area where HR can help the compliance program. More than ongoing assessment of employees for promotion into leadership positions, here HR can assist on the ground floor. HR can take the lead in asking questions around compliance and ethics in the interview process. Studies have suggested that certainly Gen Y & Xers appreciate such inquiries and want to work for companies that make such business ethics a part of the discussion. By having the discussion during the interview process, you can not only set expectations but you can also begin the training process on compliance.

However, this approach should not end when an employee is hired. HR can also assist your compliance efforts by tracking employees through their company career to identify those who perform high in any compliance metric. This can also facilitate the delivery on more focused compliance training to those who may need it because of changes on FCPA risk during their careers.

Make your compliance strategy relevant

Cespedes notes, “Most C-suite executives know these value-creation levers, but too few understand and operationalize the sales factors that affect them.” In the sales world this can translate into a reduction in assets to underperforming activities. This is all well and good but such actions must be coupled with an understanding of why sales might be underperforming in certain areas. In the compliance realm, I think this translates into two concepts, ongoing monitoring and risk assessment. Ongoing monitoring can allow you to move from a simple prevent mode to a more prescriptive mode; where you can uncover violations of your company’s compliance program before they become full blown FCPA violations. By using a risk assessment, you can take the temperature of where and how your company is doing business and determine if new products or service offerings increase your compliance risks.

Above all, you need to get out and tell the compliance story. Louis D’Amrosio was quoted for the following, “You have to repeat something at least 10 times for an organization to fully internalize it.” If there is a disconnect between your compliance strategy and how your employee base is implementing or even interpreting that strategy, get out of the office and go out to the field. But you need to do more that simply talk you also need to listen. By doing so, can help to align your company’s compliance strategy with both the delivery and in the field.

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2014

September 26, 2014

West Side Story and GSK In China – Board Oversight and Tone in the Middle

West Side Story IIYesterday, I celebrated the anniversary of one of America’s cultural lows. But today, I am extremely pleased to open with exactly the opposite, that being one of America’s greatest gifts to the performing arts. For on this day in 1957, the musical West Side Story premiered on Broadway. There are so many facets to one of the great, even greatest, works of musical theater. Leonard Bernstein penned the score, Stephen Sondheim wrote the lyrics, Jerome Robbins choreographed the dance and the story was by Arthur Laurents, inspired by Romeo and Juliet.

There are many great songs, dances and moments in the play. Most of us (at least of my age) outside New York were introduced to the play via television where it ran for one showing in 1971. The show never toured until the 2000s. When I finally got to see the stage production I was absolutely blown away. I had never seen anything like and it and I will never forget the 5-counter point singing by Tony, Maria, Anita, Bernardo and the Sharks, and Riff and the Jets, as they all anticipate the events to come that night in the song Tonight’s Quintet. The show truly is one of America’s gems.

I thought about the continuing appeal of West Side Story as a musical and why the story continues to resonate with the American people when I continued to consider some of the lessons learned from the GlaxoSmithKline PLC (GSK) matter in China. Today’s areas for reflection should be the role of a company’s Board of Directors and the second is the ‘tone in the middle’. While we have not heard from the GSK Board on this case, it has become clear that the GSK Board was aware of both the anonymous whistleblower allegations and the release of the tape of the GSK China Country Manager and his girlfriend. One of the lessons learned from the GSK scandal is that a Board must absolutely take a more active oversight role not only when specific allegations of bribery and corruption are brought forward but also when companies are operating in high risk environments. Further how can a company move its message of doing business ethically and in compliance down the employee chain.

In a NACD Directorship article, entitled “Corruption in China and Elsewhere Demands Board Oversight”, authors Eric Zwisler and Dean Yoost noted that as “Boards are ultimately responsible for risk oversight” any Board of a company with operations in China “needs to have a clear understanding of its duties and responsibilities under the FCPA and other international laws, such as the U.K. Bribery Act”. Why should China be on the radar of Boards? The authors reported, “20 percent of FCPA enforcement actions in the past five years have involved business conduct in China. The reputational and economic ramifications of misinterpreting these duties and responsibilities can have a long-lasting impact on the economic and reputation of the company.”

The authors understand that corruption can be endemic in China. They wrote, “Local organizations in China are exceedingly adept at appearing compliant while hiding unacceptable business practices. The board should be aware that a well-crafted compliance program must be complemented with a thorough understanding of frontline business practices and constant auditing of actual practices, not just documentation.” Further, “the management cadence of monitoring and auditing should be visible to the board.” All of the foregoing would certainly apply to GSK and its China operations.

Moreover, the FCPA Guidance makes clear that resources and their allocation are an important part of any best practices compliance program. So if that risk is perceived to be high in a country such as China, the Board should follow the prescription in the Guidance, which states “the amount of resources devoted to compliance will depend on the company’s size, complexity, industry, geographical reach, and risks associated with the business. In assessing whether a company has reasonable internal controls, DOJ and SEC typically consider whether the company devoted adequate staffing and resources to the compliance program given the size, structure, and risk profile of the business.”

To help achieve these goals, the authors suggested a list of questions that they believe every director should ask about a company’s business in China.

  • How is “tone at the top” established and communicated?
  • How are business practice risks assessed?
  • Are effective standards, policies and procedures in place to address these risks?
  • What procedures are in place to identify and mitigate fraud, theft, and corruption?
  • What local training is conducted on business practices and is it effective?
  • Are incentives provided to promote the correct behaviors?
  • How is the detection of improper behavior monitored and audited?
  • How is the effectiveness of the compliance program reviewed and initiated?
  • If a problem is identified, how is an independent and thorough investigation assured?

Third parties generally present the most risk under a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) compliance program and are believed (at least anecdotally) to comprise over 90 percent of reported FCPA cases, which subsequently involve the use of third-party intermediaries such as agents or consultants. But this is broader than simply third party agents because any business opportunity in China will require some type of business relationship.

One of the major failings of the GSK Board was that it apparently did not understand the actual business practices that the company was engaging in through its China business unit. While $500MM may not have been a material monetary figure for the Board to consider; the payment of such an amount to any third party or group of third parties, such as Chinese travel agencies, should have been raised to the Board. All of this leads me to believe that the GSK Board was not sufficiently engaged. While one might think a company which had received a $3bn fine and was under a Corporate Integrity Agreement (CIA) for its marketing sins might have sufficient Board attention; perhaps legal marketing had greater Board scrutiny than doing business in compliance with the FCPA or UK Bribery Act. The Board certainly did not seem to understand the potential financial and reputational impact of a bribery and corruption matter arising in China. Perhaps they do now but, for the rest of us, I think the clear lesson to be learned is that a Board must increase oversight of its China operations from the anti-corruption perspective.

GSK Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Sir Andrew Witty has certainly tried to say all of the right things during the GSK imbroglio on China. But did that message really get down into to the troops at GSK China? Moreover, did that message even get to middle management, such as the GSK leadership in China? Apparently not so, one of the lessons learned is moving the Olympian Pronouncements of Sir Andrew down to lower levels on his company. Just how important is “Tone at the Top”? Conversely, what does it say to middle management when upper management practices the age-old parental line of “Don’t do as I do; Do as I say”? In his article entitled, “Ethics and the Middle Manager: Creating “Tone in The Middle” Kirk O. Hanson, listed eight specific actions that top executives could engage in which demonstrate a company’s and their personnel’s commitment to ethics and compliance. The actions he listed were:

  1. Top executives must themselves exhibit all the “tone at the top” behaviors, including acting ethically, talking frequently about the organization’s values and ethics, and supporting the organization’s and individual employee’s adherence to the values.
  2. Top executives must explicitly ask middle managers what dilemmas arise in implementing the ethical commitments of the organization in the work of that group.
  3. Top executives must give general guidance about how values apply to those specific dilemmas.
  4. Top executives must explicitly delegate resolution of those dilemmas to the middle managers.
  5. Top executives must make it clear to middle managers that their ethical performance is being watched as closely as their financial performance.
  6. Top executives must make ethical competence and commitment of middle managers a part of their performance evaluation.
  7. The organization must provide opportunities for middle managers to work with peers on resolving the hard cases.
  8. Top executives must be available to the middle managers to discuss/coach/resolve the hardest cases.

What about at the bottom, as in remember those China unit employees who claimed they were owed bonuses because their bosses had instructed them to pay bribes? Well if your management instructs you to pay bribes that is a very different problem. But if your company’s issue is how to move the message of compliance down to the bottom, Dawn Lomer, Managing Editor at i-Sight Software, provided some concrete suggestions in an article in the SCCE magazine, entitled “An ethical corporate culture goes beyond the code”, where she wrote that that the unofficial message which a company sends to its employees “is just as powerful – if not more powerful – than any messages carried in the code of conduct.” Lomer suggested that a company use “unofficial channels” by which your company can convey and communicate its message regarding doing business in an ethical manner and “influence employee behavior across the board.” Her suggestions were:

  1. Reward for Integrity - Lomer writes that the key is to reward employees for doing business in an ethical manner and that such an action “sends a powerful message without saying a word.”
  2. The three-second ethics rule – It is important that senior management not only consistently drives home the message of doing business ethically but they should communicate that message in a short, clear values statement.
  3. Environmental cues – Simply the idea that a company is providing oversight on doing business ethically can be enough to modify employee behavior.
  4. Control the images – It is not all about winning but conducting business, as it should be done.
  5. Align Messages – you should think about the totality of the messages that your company is sending out to its employees regarding doing business and make sure that all these messages are aligned in a way that makes clear your ethical corporate culture clear. 

The GSK case will be in the public eye for many months to come. Both the UK Serious Fraud Office (SFO) and US authorities have open investigations into the company. Just as the five counter-point singing or the rooftop symphonic dance scene to the song America demonstrates the best of that art form; you can draw lessons from GSK’s miss-steps in China now for implementing or enhancing your anti-corruption compliance program going forward now.

And while you are ending your week of considering GSK and its lessons learned for your compliance program, crank up your speakers to 11 and listen to some five counter-point singing the movie version of the Tonight Quintet, by clicking here.

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2014

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