FCPA Compliance and Ethics Blog

January 31, 2014

The Engineer’s Thumb and How to Bribe

The Engineer's ThumbWe conclude our week of Sherlock Holmes inspired themes with one of the few cases in which Holmes fails to bring the criminals to justice, The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb. In this adventure a young engineer, Victor Hatherley, arrives at Dr. Watson’s surgery with a gruesome injury, a severed thumb. He relates his tale to Watson, who then takes him to see Holmes. Hatherley was hired to inspect a hydraulic press by one Lysander Stark, who claims that it is used to compress fuller’s earth into bricks. However when Hatherley goes to Stark’s country residence to inspect the machine he discovers that it is actually a printing press used to create counterfeit money. He tries to flee and in the process, Hatherley is forced to jump from a second story window, in the process getting his thumb severed by Stark’s cleaver. Hatherley, Watson and Holmes arrive at the Stark residence as the house is on fire, and the perpetrators have fled.

Once again using the Holmes tale as a contrast I refer to the recently released white paper, published by Transparency International UK (TI-UK), entitled “How to Bribe: A typology of Bribe-Paying and How to Stop It”. It was created by TI-UK, lawyers from the London firm of Pinsent Masons and thebriberyact.com, with principal author Julia Muravska and editors Robert Barrington and Barry Vitou. Just as Stark hid the true purpose of his hydraulic press, the title of this work does not convey its true use in how to stop bribes and bribery schemes by identifying them.

 Barry Vitou, partner in Pinsent Masons and co-founder of thebriberyact.com, states in the forward that “This handbook is perfect for General Counsel, Chief Compliance Officers and anyone in any company responsible for anti-bribery compliance from the Board of Directors, down. The purpose is to show how people pay bribes in practice. The examples are based on realistic experiences or real cases. Many bribery cases receive little attention. Often the focus is on the international examples in far away places where, it is sometimes said, you have to ‘pay the man’ to get business done. The impression given is that it would never happen at home. Yet it does. While the first two sections focus on the how, why and when bribes are sometimes paid in a short final section the handbook covers some examples of more prosaic bribery, at home. Who said it could never happen here? Transparency International deserve credit, once again, for putting together a document designed to be practical and helpful for those keen to avoid falling into the trap of bribery.” The white paper has three main sections.

Section I: What is a Bribe?

In this section, the authors review what constitutes a bribe. Recognizing that cash will always be king, they also take a look at excessive gifts, entertainment and travel, charitable donations and political contributions, favors to family members or friends and even the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) exempted facilitation payments. I particularly found the discussion of facilitation payments interesting in light of the recent claims that Archer Daniels Midland Company (ADM) in the Ukraine and Wal-Mart in Mexico were essentially making facilitation payments.

The authors end this section with the following guidance about the specific types of bribe and how to spot them.

Section 2: How Bribes are Paid?

In this section, the white paper lays out a variety of different bribery schemes. Of course they include agents, distributors, intermediaries, introducers, sub-contractors, representatives and the like. But they also detail schemes that the compliance practitioner should acquaint his or herself on. These bribery schemes include false or inflated invoicing or products, offshore payment arrangements and off-balance sheet payments, joint ventures, training, per diems and expense reimbursement arrangements, rebates and discounts and employment agreements. Once again, the authors end this section with the guidance on how to spot and stop each of the bribery schemes they detail.

Section 3: Bribery On Your Doorstep

In this section, the authors cite to cases and examples that were derived from real cases and illustrate how bribes can be paid within the UK. They note that even though “bribery is illegal across the board in the UK, experience shows that bribery also happens in the UK” and cite several reports. The first was by TI-UK and it showed that 5% of citizens polled in the UK said they had paid a bribe at least once in the past twelve months. Further, a recent survey of the construction sector found that more than a third of the industry professionals polled stated that they had been offered a bribe or incentive on at least one occasion. Lastly, the white paper notes that the first three prosecutions under the UK Bribery Act were for bribes paid in the UK. So the authors conclude “It is fair to say that in common with many other countries, UK public officials are susceptible to bribery. Public officials are almost all, universally, paid less than their peers may be paid in the private sector but in many cases in their hands rests the power to make decisions which have huge financial consequences for others. All the ingredients for paying a bribe exist. Likewise, bribes may be paid in the private sector, and there is increasingly a grey area between public and private sector as government services are contracted out.” In this section, some of the examples are inflated invoices, bribes to local planning departments, excessive expenses for training, and even an example of bribes paid to police.

Suggested Reading

Although neither this blog nor the books I have published on anti-corruption compliance made their list, there is an excellent resource list at the end of the white paper for additional reading and research on the subject. It ranges from government guidance’s to David Lawler’s excellent text “Frequently Asked Questions in Anti-Bribery and Corruption”.  Their list is an excellent resource in and of itself.

So we finish our Sherlock Holmes themed blogs. I hope that you have enjoyed the stories and tie-ins as much as I have enjoyed revisiting them this past week.

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

January 29, 2014

The Sussex Vampyre and the ADM FCPA Settlement

Sussex VampyreToday I want to use the story of The Sussex Vampyre as the starting point for an inquiry into the recent Archer-Daniels-Midland Corp (ADM) Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) enforcement action. In the story, Holmes receives a letter from Robert Ferguson, who has become convinced that his second wife has been sucking their baby son’s blood and is a vampire. He has a crippled son from his first marriage who is terribly jealous of the new baby in their home. It turns out that this lame son, Jack, has been shooting poisoned darts at his baby brother and his stepmother’s behavior is actually sucking the poison out of the baby’s neck. The baby’s wounds were caused by Jack sending the darts, not by the mother biting her baby. In other words, what might be seen as something very scary is easily explained.

Once again demonstrating that the FCPA Professor and myself look at the same thing and come to different conclusions are reflected by those he states in his article “Why You Should Be Alarmed By the ADM FCPA Enforcement Action”. I see the ADM enforcement action as a continuation of the available case law favoring interpretations of the business nexus requirement to be applied broadly, where it is clear that bribery and corruption have occurred.

When I look at the facts laid out in the ADM settlement documents, I see the following: four separate bribery schemes hidden in the companies books and records clearly designed to influence the decision of a foreign government official. From 2002 to 2010, the company’s Ukrainian subsidiary rolled up VAT receivables of up to $46MM. What I see is a company, which over several years of slow and no response to its application for VAT tax refunds for goods purchased in Ukraine, responded to this problem by engaging in bribery and corruption to help them get the money that they were believed they were owed.

So what were these bribery schemes? There was the Charitable Donation Scheme, which according to the SEC Complaint, “an ADM executive in the tax department sent an e-mail to the head of an international tax organization and stated, “One of our affiliates operates in the Ukraine. In order to recover 100% of their input VAT they have to pay 30% of the amount to local charities.”” Next was the Stevedoring Company Scheme where two ADM subsidiaries made “payments to a stevedoring company in the port of Odessa so that it could pass on nearly all of those payments to Ukrainian officials in order to obtain VAT refunds on behalf of ACTI Ukraine.” Next was the Mischaracterization of Write-offs Scheme where ADM’s German subsidiary reported to the US parent that they had to write off 18% of the tax refund due back to the company. However upon payment of the VAT refund it would be at 100% of the total due. As the German subsidiary had taken a write off of 18% of the total, the corresponding amount of money would be funneled to “third-party vendors so that nearly all of those monies could be provided to Ukrainian government officials.” Finally, and most ingenuously, was the Fake Insurance Premiums Scheme. In this scheme, ADM’s Ukrainian subsidiary, arranged for an insurance company to falsely bill it for crop insurance, which said “Insurance Company never intended to honor, adjusting the premiums to be roughly 20% of the VAT refund.” This inflated amount was then paid to Ukrainian officials.

The FCPA itself says:

(a) Prohibition

It shall be unlawful for any issuer which has a class of securities registered pursuant to section 781 of this title or which is required to file reports under section 780d of this title, or for any officer, director, employee, or agent of such issuer or any stockholder thereof acting on behalf of such issuer, to make use of the mails or any means or instrumentality of interstate commerce corruptly in furtherance of an offer, payment, promise to pay, or authorization of the payment of any money, or offer, gift, promise to give, or authorization of the giving of anything of value to—

(1) any foreign official for purposes of—

(A)

(i) influencing any act or decision of such foreign official in his official capacity,

(ii) inducing such foreign official to do or omit to do any act in violation of the lawful duty of such official, or

(iii) securing any improper advantage; or

(B) inducing such foreign official to use his influence with a foreign government or instrumentality thereof to affect or influence any act or decision of such government or instrumentality,

 in order to assist such issuer in obtaining or retaining business for or with, or directing business to, any person;

In the case of US v. Kay, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals exhaustively reviewed the legislative history of the FCPA, from its passage in 1977 through the two amendments in 1988 and 1998. The Kay decision stands for the proposition that the defendant intend the paying of bribes to be a quid pro quo, which would assist (or is meant to assist) the payor in obtaining or retaining business. Further, it specifically stated that the “business nexus is not to be interpreted narrowly.” The facts in Kay were different than those presented in the ADM matter. However, with the admonition that the business nexus requirement is not to be interpreted narrowly, I believe the holding in Kay is such that it is not a stretch to see the conduct engaged in by ADM did assist, or was meant to assist, it in doing business in Ukraine. Indeed, the Kay decision stated, “In addition, the concern of Congress with the immorality, inefficiency, and unethical character of bribery presumably does not vanish simply because the tainted payments are intended to secure a favorable decision less significant than winning a contract bid.” Thus I look at Kay and see the conduct of ADM as falling within the broad outlines of the Kay decision.

How about the facilitation payment exception and that somehow the ADM subsidiaries were making payments exempted out of the FCPA because they were for routine services?

The FCPA itself states:

(b) Exception for routine governmental action

Subsections (a) and (g) of this section shall not apply to any facilitating or expediting payment to a foreign official, political party, or party official the purpose of which is to expedite or to secure the performance of a routine governmental action by a foreign official, political party, or party official.

Further, the term “routine governmental action” is defined as one of the following:

  1.  Obtaining Permits;
  2. Processing visas and work orders;
  3. Providing police protection, mail pick-up and delivery;
  4. Providing phone services and utilities;
  5. Actions of a similar nature.

There is nothing in the statute about processing multi-million dollar tax refunds as a routine governmental action. Once again the Kay decision spoke to the issue of facilitation payments, similar to those made in the context of the ADM settlement, when it said “This observation is not diminished by Congress’s understanding and accepting that relatively small facilitating payments were, at the time, among the accepted costs of doing business in many foreign countries.” One key there is that facilitating payments be “relatively small”. Whatever 18% of $46MM might be, it certainly is not “relatively small”.

All of this leads me to see the ADM settlement as a continuation of the very limited case law interpretation that exists around the FCPA. So just as Holmes looked at the facts in The Sussex Vampyre and did not see something which could not be explained or need be feared; I look at the ADM enforcement action and see a company which engaged in bribery and corruption, knew it was doing so and actively tried to hide the corrupt payments in its books and records.

And once again, I would cite that the easiest response to all of this might be the advice given by Department of Justice (DOJ) representative Greg Anders, in his testimony to the House Judiciary Committee regarding amending the FCPA, that being that companies should not engage in bribery.

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

December 30, 2013

More on the ADM FCPA Settlement

7K0A0223Last week, in a post entitled “Supermarket to the World – The ADM FCPA Enforcement Action”, I reviewed the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Compliant brought in connection with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) investigation of Archer-Daniels-Midland Company (ADM). There was also a criminal Plea Agreement entered into by the ADM subsidiary, Alfred C. Toepfer International (Ukraine) Ltd. (the Ukraine subsidiary) with the Department of Justice (DOJ), who was the defendant in this criminal action. In addition to the SEC Complaint, ADM entered into a Non-Prosecution Agreement (NPA) with the DOJ. This post will review some of the requirements found in the NPA and other information found in the Plea Agreement which the company entered into to resolve the FCPA investigation.

I.                   The Fine

As set out in the Plea Agreement, the base fine which the defendant was looking at receiving was $45MM based upon the US Sentencing Guidelines. The culpability score had a -5 based upon some or all of the following factors: “The organization, prior to imminent threat of disclosure or government investigation and within a reasonably prompt time after becoming aware of the offense, reported the offense to appropriate governmental authorities, fully cooperated in the investigation, and clearly demonstrated recognition and affirmative acceptance of responsibility for its criminal conduct.” Based upon the culpability score the fine range was listed from a low of $27.3MM to a high of $54.6MM. However the company paid only a fine of $17.7MM, which was noted to be approximately a 33% reduction from the low end of the fine range, with an additional reduction of “of $1,338,387 commensurate with the fine imposed by German authorities on Alfred C. Toepfer International G.m.b.H”; ADM’s German subsidiary which pled guilty and was involved in the bribery scheme. Additional factors in the reduction of the fine were “(a) the Defendant’s timely, voluntary, and thorough disclosure of the conduct; (b) the Defendant’s extensive cooperation with the Department; and (c) the Defendant’s early, extensive, and unsolicited remedial efforts already undertaken and those still to be undertaken.”

II.                The NPA

ADM entered into a three year NPA regarding the resolution of this matter. In a letter to ADM confirming the NPA, the DOJ stated that it was entering into the agreement with the ADM because of its conduct in self-disclosing the FCPA violations and the company’s conduct thereafter. The letter set out the following: “(a) the Company’s timely, voluntary, and thorough disclosure of the conduct; (b) the Company’s extensive cooperation with the Department, including conducting a world-wide risk assessment and corresponding global internal investigation, expanding the scope of the investigation where necessary to ensure the review was effective and thorough, making numerous presentations to the Department on the status and findings of the internal investigation, voluntarily making current and former employees available for interviews, voluntarily producing documents to the Department, and compiling relevant documents by category for the Department; (c) the Company’s early and extensive remedial efforts already undertaken at its own volition, and the agreement to undertake further enhancements to its compliance program as described in Attachment B (Corporate Compliance Program); and (d) the Company’s agreement to provide annual, written reports to the Department on its progress and experience in monitoring and enhancing its compliance policies.”

III.             Best in Class Compliance Program

Under Attachment B of the NPA, the company agreed to maintain a best practices compliance program which it had created during the pendency of the investigation. ADM agreed to maintain this compliance program at least during the length of the NPA. It included the following components.

  1. High level commitment from company officials and senior management to do business in compliance with the FCPA.
  2. A substantive written anti-corruption compliance code of conduct.
  3. Written policies and procedures to implement this code of conduct.
  4. A robust system of internal controls, including accounting and financial controls.
  5. Risk assessments and risk reviews of its ongoing business.
  6. No less than annual assessments of its overall compliance program.
  7. Appropriate oversight and responsibility of a Chief Compliance Officer.
  8. Effective training for all employees and relevant third parties.
  9. An effective compliance function which can provide guidance to company employees.
  10. A robust internal reporting system.
  11. Effective investigations of any reported compliance issue.
  12. Appropriate incentives for employees to do business ethically and in compliance.
  13. Enforced discipline for any employee who violates the company’s compliance program.
  14. Suitable due diligence and management of third parties and business partners.
  15. A correct level of pre-acquisition due diligence for any merger or acquisition candidate, including a risk assessment and reporting to the DOJ if the company uncovers and FCPA-violative conduct during this pre-acquisition phase.
  16. As soon as practicable, ADM will integrate any newly acquired entity into its compliance regime, including training of all relevant new employees, a FCPA forensic audit and reporting of any ongoing violations.
  17. Ongoing monitoring, testing and auditing of the company’s compliance function, taking into account any “relevant developments in the field and the evolving international and industry standards.”

IV.              Ongoing Reporting

Under the NPA, ADM was not required to sustain an external corporate monitor. However the company did agree that it would report to the DOJ on no less than an annual basis during the pendency of the NPA, specified as “an initial review and submit an initial report, and (2) conduct and prepare at least two (2) follow-up reviews and reports.” Further, the company is required to “submit to the Department a written report setting forth a complete description of its remediation efforts to date, its proposals reasonably designed to improve the Company’s internal controls, policies, and procedures for ensuring compliance with the FCPA and other applicable anti -corruption laws, and the proposed scope of the subsequent reviews.”

V.                 Facilitation Payments

I engaged with a colleague on whether the payments made by the ADM subsidiaries were simply facilitation payments because they were made to simply speed up the tax refund process. Whatever the payments were, they were not in any way, shape or form, facilitation payments. Initially, it should be noted that the FCPA says that the anti-bribery provisions “shall not apply to any facilitating or expediting payment to a foreign official, political party, or party official the purpose of which is to expedite or to secure the performance of a routine governmental action . . .” The statute itself provided a list of examples of facilitation payments in the definition of routine governmental actions. It included the following:

  • Obtaining permits, licenses, or other official documents;
  • Processing governmental papers such as visas and work orders;
  • Providing police protection, mail services, scheduling inspections;
  • Providing utilities, cargo handling; or
  • Actions of a similar nature.

In addition to this language, the payments must be properly recorded on a company’s books and records; not disguised as payments for insurance premiums or other false entries that the ADM subsidiaries used in connection with the Ukraine tax authorities. When does a facilitation payment become a bribe? There is no clear monetary line of demarcation. The test seems to turn on the amount of money involved, to whom it is paid and the frequency of the payments. In the ADM matter, there were payments of approximately $22MM to receive tax refunds of $33MM. Whatever you might call the payments made by the ADM subsidiaries, they were certainly not facilitation payments.

The ADM FCPA settlement is extremely useful for the compliance practitioner for several reasons. The first is that it sets out some sophisticated mechanisms which are used to fund bribes. In addition to bribery schemes I discussed in the post entitled “Supermarket to the World – The ADM FCPA Enforcement Action” the NPA discussed another bribery scheme used ADM in Venezuela. All of the bribery schemes that the company’s subsidiaries engaged in were discussed or uncovered by the corporate office at some time before it began an official internal investigation. This once again shows the claim of the ‘rogue employee(s)’ is not something that stands up in criminal FCPA enforcement actions.

Equally important is that ADM received clear and very substantive credit for the actions that it took after it began its internal investigation. It self-disclosed, it cooperated extensively, it remediated thoroughly to put together a best practices compliance program. Lest anyone think these actions are for naught, or that the DOJ does not take such actions into account, note the 33% reduction in fine that ADM received, the NPA it received for the corporate parent and the lack of an external corporate monitor. These are clear signs from the DOJ as to the types of conduct and actions that it not only approves of but will be taken into account in the calculation of any fines and penalties. In other words, self-disclose, extensively cooperate, and remediate if your company finds itself in this situation.

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, 2013

August 23, 2013

An open letter from SFO Director David Green on facilitation payments that you don’t know about

Ed. Note-today I post an article that was on thebriberyact.com site yesterday. The entire post was too rich to summarize so with the kind permission of thebriberyact.com guys, I post today in its entirety.

From our deck chairs we thought we’d share this with you.  An open letter from David Green, Director of the SFO, in connection with facilitation payments.  Surprisingly, we are not aware of it having received much (if any) publicity and from our deckchairs in the sun, we thought we’d change that fact…

“Enforcement of the United Kingdom’s Bribery Act – Facilitation Payments

To Whom It May Concern

The United Kingdom’s Bribery Act 2010 provides in clear terms that it is a crime for any individual or company with a UK presence to bribe a public official. This includes “facilitation payments” – money or goods given to a public official to perform, or speed up the performance of, an existing duty.

Facilitation payments are illegal under the Bribery Act 2010 regardless of their size or frequency.

This absolute prohibition is consistent with the United Nations Convention against Corruption, which similarly does not allow any exception for the use of facilitation payments. It is also consistent with the policy of Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which in 2009 agreed to prohibit or discourage the making of such payments.

The Serious Fraud Office is the lead agency for the enforcement of the Bribery Act 2010. Individuals and companies that use facilitation payments in the course of their business are at risk of criminal prosecution in the UK.

The Serious Fraud Office is working with colleagues in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and other UK Government departments to disseminate this message. If a UK individual or company is asked to make a facilitation payment in the course of doing business overseas, they are actively encouraged to inform the FCO via the local embassy, high commission or consulate. A report will then be sent to the Serious Fraud Office.

The Serious Fraud Office will decide on the best course of action. This may involve communicating the information to a law enforcement agency in the country where the request was made, so that appropriate measures can be taken against the relevant public official.

The UK Government and the Serious Fraud Office are committed to stamping out bribery and upholding the rule of law. The Serious Fraud Office stands ready to take effective action against the use of facilitation payments, regardless of where they are requested.

[David Green] Signature

David Green CB QC

Director of the Serious Fraud Office

6th December 2012″

Opinion

David Green revised the SFO position on facilitation payments relatively  early on in his tenure with the retraction of the earlier guidance put out by his pre-decessor Director, Richard Alderman.  The new guidance was, broadly speaking, a restatement of the Joint Prosecution Guidance when it comes to the Bribery Act jointly penned by the CPS and the SFO.

More recently David Green has spoken about the focus on facilitation payments.  In particular at a US dinner which we reported here Mr. Green emphasised his point again – leading at least one person who attended to privately express their disappointment that the Bribery Act and SFO focus might target what they perceived as the lesser evil of facilitation payments in contrast to big ticket bribery to win contracts. No doubt a sentiment shared by others.

In some ways Mr. Green’s open letter adds nothing new. For example, we have written before about what happens if business report demands for bribes to their local embassy, for example here.

Opinion

Whatever.

The various pronouncements of Mr. Green make it clear that the SFO position on facilitation payments has hardened significantly. Given the focus of the SFO on serious fraud then a few one off payments are unlikely to interest it.

But there is a big BUT. Businesses should beware. The SFO will aggregate facilitation payments made and so if, for example, a business is frequently put under pressure to pay them and does so it is at real risk of investigation and prosecution by the SFO.

We would not be at all surprised if the SFO bring prosecutions in connection with paying facilitation payments.

This may be depressing news for some. But, on the bright side – we have helped clients succesfully resist payment of facilitation payments in challenging (and others might have considered hopeless) situations!

Bon chance.

January 23, 2013

The FCPA Guidance on the Ten Hallmarks of an Effective Compliance Program

Many commentators are still mining the Department of Justice (DOJ)/Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) publication, A Resource Guide to the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, (the “Guidance”), which was released last November. I continue to find nuggets to provide to the compliance practitioner, as do others. But as we are a Base 10 culture, today I want discuss the 10 points listed as the ‘Hallmarks of Effective Compliance Programs”. They are a change in style, but not content, from the prior 13 point minimum best practices that the DOJ has in the Deferred Prosecution Agreements (DPAs) since at least November, 2010 and, indeed, from prior information made available by the DOJ.

I.                   Where Have We Been

Beginning with at least the Metcalfe & Eddy Consent and Undertaking, filed in December, 1999, the DOJ has laid out its thoughts on what should go into a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) anti-corruption compliance program. In the Metcalfe & Eddy Consent and Undertaking, the DOJ laid out ten points of an effective FCPA anti-corruption compliance program. This was modified somewhat in Opinion Release 04-02, which laid out a best practices compliance program in 12 points, where the DOJ reviewed the proposal by an investment group who were acquiring certain companies and assets from ABB Ltd. ABB Vetco Gray Inc. and ABB Vetco Gray (UK) Ltd., two of the entities being acquired, had previously pled guilty to FCPA violations. The investment group desired to protect itself from further liability, to the extent possible, by proposing to the DOJ a comprehensive best practices compliance program. While the DOJ noted that this compliance program was not a shield against future violations, the DOJ would not “intend to take an enforcement action [against the investors] for violations of the FCPA prior to their acquisition from ABB.”

In the Panalpina DPA, issued in November, 2010, the DOJ laid out a 13 point minimum best practices compliance program. This number was changed this past summer when the Data Systems & Solutions LLC (DS&S) DPA was announced. In this enforcement action the DOJ listed 15 points on its minimum best practices FCPA anti-corruption compliance program. Then later in the summer, the DOJ moved to a 9 point compliance program in the Pfizer DPA. Even with all these changes in the number, the substance of each compliance program has remained the same.

II.                Where Are We Now? Hallmarks of Effective Compliance Programs

The Guidance cautions that there is no “one-size-fits-all” compliance program. It recognizes that depending on a variety of factors such as size, type of business, industry and risk profile that a company should determine what is appropriate for its own needs regarding a FCPA compliance program. But the Guidance makes clear that these ten points are “meant to provide insight into the aspects of compliance programs that DOJ and SEC assess”. In other words you should pay attention to these and use this information to assess your own compliance regime.

  1. Commitment from Senior Management and a Clearly Articulated Policy Against Corruption. It all starts with tone at the top. But more than simply ‘talk-the-talk’ company leadership must ‘walk-the-walk’ and lead by example. Both the DOJ and SEC look to see if a company has a “culture of compliance”. More than a paper program is required, it must have real teeth and it must be put into action, all of which is led by senior management. The Guidance states that “A strong ethical culture directly supports a strong compliance program. By adhering to ethical standards, senior managers will inspire middle managers to reinforce those standards.” This prong ends by stating that the DOJ and SEC will “evaluate whether senior management has clearly articulated company standards, communicated them in unambiguous terms, adhered to them scrupulously, and disseminated them throughout the organization.”
  2. Code of Conduct and Compliance Policies and Procedures. The Code of Conduct has long been seen as the foundation of a company’s overall compliance program and the Guidance acknowledges this fact. But a Code of Conduct and a company’s compliance policies need to be clear and concise. The Guidance makes clear that if a company has a large employee base that is not fluent in English such documents need to be translated into the native language of those employees. A company also needs to have appropriate internal controls based upon the risks that a company has assessed for its business model. Some of the risks a company should assess include “the nature and extent of transactions with foreign governments, including payments to foreign officials; use of third parties; gifts, travel, and entertainment expenses; charitable and political donations; and facilitating and expediting payments.”
  3. Oversight, Autonomy, and Resources. This section starts with a discussion on whether a company has assigned a senior level executive to oversee and implement a company’s compliance program. Not only must a company assign such a person with appropriate authority but that person, and the overall compliance function, must have “sufficient resources to ensure that the company’s compliance program is implemented effectively.” Additionally, the compliance function should report to the company’s Board of Directors or an appropriate committee of the Board such as the Audit Committee. Overall the DOJ and SEC will “consider whether the company devoted adequate staffing and resources to the compliance program given the size, structure, and risk profile of the business.”
  4. Risk Assessment. The Guidance states that “assessment of risk is fundamental to developing a strong compliance program”. Indeed, if there is one over-riding theme in the Guidance it is that a company should assess its risks in all areas of its business. The Guidance lists factors that a company should consider in any risk assessment. They are “the country and industry sector, the business opportunity, potential business partners, level of involvement with governments, amount of government regulation and oversight, and exposure to customs and immigration in conducting business affairs.” The Guidance is also quite clear that when the DOJ and SEC look at a company’s overall compliance program, they “take into account whether and to what degree a company analyzes and addresses the particular risks it faces.”
  5. Training and Continuing Advice. Communication of a compliance program is a cornerstone of any anti-corruption compliance program. The Guidance specifies that both the “DOJ and SEC will evaluate whether a company has taken steps to ensure that relevant policies and procedures have been communicated throughout the organization, including through periodic training and certification for all directors, officers, relevant employees, and, where appropriate, agents and business partners.” The training should be risk based so that those high risk employees and third party business partners receive an appropriate level of training. A company should also devote appropriate resources to providing its employees with guidance and advice on how to comply with their own compliance program on an ongoing basis.
  6. Incentives and Disciplinary Measures. This involves both the carrot and the stick. Initially the Guidance notes that a company’s compliance program should apply from “the board room to the supply room – no one should be beyond its reach.” There should be appropriate discipline in place and administered for any violation of the FCPA or a company’s compliance program. Additionally, the “DOJ and SEC recognize that positive incentives can also drive compliant behavior. These incentives can take many forms such as personnel evaluations and promotions, rewards for improving and developing a company’s compliance program, and rewards for ethics and compliance leadership.” These incentives can take the form of a part of senior management’s bonuses or simply recognition on the shop floor.
  7. Third-Party Due Diligence and Payments. Here the Guidance focuses on the ongoing problem area of third parties. The Guidance says that companies must engage in risk based due diligence to understand the “qualifications and associations of its third-party partners, including its business reputation, and relationship, if any, with foreign officials.” Next a company should articulate a business rationale for the use of the third party. This would include an evaluation of the payment arrangement to ascertain that the compensation is reasonable and will not be used as a basis for corrupt payments. Lastly, there should be ongoing monitoring of third parties.
  8. Confidential Reporting and Internal Investigation. This means more than simply a hotline. The Guidance suggests that anonymous reporting, and perhaps even a company ombudsman, might be appropriate to have in place for employees to report allegations of corruption or violations of the FCPA. Furthermore, it is just as important what a company does after an allegation is made. The Guidance states, “once an allegation is made, companies should have in place an efficient, reliable, and properly funded process for investigating the allegation and documenting the company’s response, including any disciplinary or remediation measures taken.” The final message is what did you learn from the allegation and investigation and did you apply it in your company?
  9. Continuous Improvement: Periodic Testing and Review. As noted in the Guidance, “compliance programs that do not just exist on paper but are followed in practice will inevitably uncover compliance weaknesses and require enhancements. Consequently, DOJ and SEC evaluate whether companies regularly review and improve their compliance programs and not allow them to become stale.” The DOJ/SEC expects that a company will review and test its compliance controls and “think critically” about its own weaknesses and risk areas. Internal controls should also be periodically tested through targeted audits.
  10. Mergers and Acquisitions. Pre-Acquisition Due Diligence and Post-Acquisition Integration. Here the DOJ and SEC spell out what it expects in not only the post-acquisition integration phase but also in the pre-acquisition phase. This pre-acquisition information is not something that most companies had previously focused on. Basically, a company should attempt to perform as much substantive compliance due diligence that it can do before it purchases a company. After the deal is closed, an acquiring entity needs to perform a FCPA audit, train all senior management and risk employees in the purchased company and integrate the acquired entity into its compliance regime.

As I commented earlier in this article, the DOJ and SEC have communicated what they believe are the important parts of a risk based, anti-corruption compliance program for many years. I do not think that a compliance defense could be set out any more succinctly. However, I do like things set out in Base 10 and the “Hallmarks of Effective Compliance Programs” is an excellent compilation of where we are and what you need in place to go forward. I recommend this as a good a starting point for any compliance practitioner to implement a new compliance program or to evaluate the state of an ongoing compliance regime so assess your company’s risks and use these hallmarks as a basis to move 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, 2013

December 19, 2012

Race to the Bottom: Wal-Mart’s FCPA Investigation and the Houston Astros

So who do you think had the better day – the Houston Astros Monday or Wal-Mart Tuesday? Yesterday, the Astros announced the signing of Carlos Pena to be their Designated Hitter (DH) for the 2013 season. Pena’s 2012 average – a whopping ‘buck ‘97’; Yes sports fans the Astros have signed a DH who hit below the dreaded Mendoza Line for the past season. How is that for a strong opening move as the Astros move to the most talented Division in baseball? Anyone out there have the smallest inking that the Astros are ‘racing to the bottom’?

Nevertheless the Astros DH move probably pales with the PR debacle that Wal-Mart is facing today as the New York Times (NYT) once again, with superior reporting, had a story, entitled “The Bribery Aisle How Wal-Mart Used Payoffs To Get Its Way in Mexico”, above the fold on its front page on alleged bribery and corruption engaged in by Wal-Mart’s Mexico subsidiary. Reporters David Barstow and Alejandra Xanic von Bertrab did extensive research to find out not only the alleged amounts of bribes paid but also to whom, and the benefits that Wal-Mart allegedly received back in return.

Wal-Mart Bribery Box Score – (alleged) all scores courtesy of NYT

Store Type and Site

Number of Alleged Bribe Payments Made

Amount of Alleged Bribes USD

Sam’s Club in Mexico City

19

$341,000

Refrigeration Distribution Center north of Mexico City

9

$765,000

Wal-Mart in Teotihuάcan

4

$221,000

Teotihuάcan Store Bribery Box Score – (alleged) all scores courtesy of NYT

Purposed of Bribe

Person(s) Bribed

Amount USD

Obtain altered Zoning Map Director of Urban Planning

$52,000

Obtain waiver of approved traffic plan. In State Agency that regulates roads

$25,900

Town approval for store construction, where permits not in place. Mayor and Town Council

$114,000

Obtain waiver to build at cultural heritage site, where no investigation performed. In National Institute of Anthropology and History (NIAH)

(up to) $81,000

So reviewing the types of activity that fall under the Facilitation Payment exception to the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) we find the following:

… “shall not apply to any facilitating or expediting payment to a foreign official, political party, or party official the purpose of which is to expedite or to secure the performance of a routine governmental action . . .”

The recent Department of Justice (DOJ) Guidance on the FCPA included a list of actions which are ordinarily and commonly performed by a foreign official and would fall within the definition of a facilitation payment. Also remember that the facilitation payment only applies for a “non-discretionary governmental action”.

  • obtaining permits, licenses, or other official documents to qualify a person to do business in a foreign country;
  • processing governmental papers, such as visas and work orders;
  • providing police protection, mail pickup and delivery, or scheduling inspections associated with contract performance or inspections related to transit of goods across country;
  • providing phone service, power and water supply, loading and unloading cargo, or protecting perishable products or commodities from deterioration; or
  • actions of a similar nature.

Of course all proper facilitation payments must be recorded as facilitation payments. Further, as stated in the Guidance, “Whether a payment falls within the exception is not dependent on the size of the payment, though size can be telling, as a large payment is more suggestive of corrupt intent to influence a non-routine governmental action. But, like the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions more generally, the facilitating payments exception focuses on the purpose of the payment rather than its value.” Based upon the facts set forth in the NYT article, it does not appear that the payments made were ‘non-discretionary’ or were not made without corrupt intent.

Are there any examples, either in Opinion Releases, enforcement actions, DOJ pronouncements or anything else that the payments by Wal-Mart were legal under the FCPA? I would have to give a resounding NO to my own question. The FCPA Professor did cite to three Opinion Releases in his post yesterday, entitled “Wal-Mart Again On The Front Page Of The New York Times”. They dealt with charitable donations under the FCPA and one of the alleged payments made in the Teotihuάcan Store Bribery, the payment to the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) was alleged, in part, to be a charitable donation. However, in each one of the three Opinion Releases cited there were donations made with post-donation auditing of the use of the cash to ensure the money was used as specified and other protections to ensure compliance with the FCPA. The donations were also made with transparency and not, as reported by the NYT, “Sergio Raúl Arroyo, the director general of INAH, recalled in an interview that Ms. Miró had told him about Wal-Mart’s offer. He could not recall any other instance of a company offering a donation while it was seeking a permit. “That would have been totally irregular,” he said.”

So, as the FCPA Professor also noted in his piece, “from an FCPA perspective, the issues largely remain the same.” From the factual perspective, he may well correct. However, what may have changed is the conversation. The NYT piece shows just how invidious a culture of bribery and corruption can be and how such a culture can subvert local governments and even national cultural heritage protections.

Another interesting issue raised by the NYT article is the investigation of the underlying facts. As reported by the FCPA Blog, in a piece entitled “Wal-Mart’s latest FCPA disclosure (December 2012)”, in its Form 10-Q filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) by Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. on December 4, Wal-Mart state the following,
“The Company has incurred expenses of approximately $48 million and $99 million during the three and nine months ended October 31, 2012, respectively, related to these matters.” In other words Wal-Mart has spent a pretty penny since the original NYT article in April. Recognizing that not all of these monies were dedicated solely the Mexico investigation, I would still pose the following question, “How is it that two intrepid reporters from the NYT were able to piece together this story and Wal-Mart was not able to do so when confronted with allegations of bribery and corruption in its Mexican subsidiary?” Lastly is the effect that this story may have on the DOJ. Given the criticism that the DOJ sustained in the wake of the HSBC Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA) for its money-laundering conduct, will the Department feel compelled to attempt to prosecute individuals in this case? How about the fine? What does the DOJ try and communicate when the world’s largest retailer is alleged to have engaged in such conduct? What about those licenses, if they were indeed obtained by bribery and corruption, should they still be valid?

So who will win this race to the bottom? I can say that it appears Wal-Mart is trying to get its house in order. It has hired a new Chief Compliance Officer (CCO), created new compliance positions around the globe and put on extensive FCPA compliance training. It may take other steps to help to remedy the predicament it now finds itself in. As for the Astros, I had always thought that DH stood for Designated Hitter

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, 2012

December 17, 2012

Days of Future Passed: The Moody Blues and the End of Facilitation Payments?

Nights in White Satin, never reaching the end,

Letters I’ve Written, never meaning to send

This past weekend I caught the Moody Blues’ tour celebrating the 45th anniversary of their seminal classic album, “Days of Future Passed”. This was the second album released by the band and while I had always thought of it as the first rock concept album, it is seen by many rock critics as a precursor to progressive rock music. Bill Holdship, Yahoo! Music, said that the band “created an entire genre here.” Robert Christgau noted that it was “closer to high-art pomp than psychedelia.” And finally, Allmusic editor Bruce Eder calls the album “one of the defining documents of the blossoming psychedelic era, and one of the most enduringly popular albums of its era.” The band had its core members of Justin Hayward, John Lodge and Graeme Edge playing at the concert and I can assure you that even in their 70s, they can still rock.

I thought about this album and its title while reading the Memorandum and Order from District Judge Keith Ellison in the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) civil action filed against current and former officers of Noble Corporation, Mark A. Jackson and James R. Ruehlen. The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) commentariat has gone both ways on interpreting the Court’s Order; witness the headline by the FCPA Professor, “Judge Grants Jackson And Ruehlen’s Motion To Dismiss SEC’s Monetary Claims – Finds That SEC Was Not Diligent In Bringing Case And That SEC Failed To Negate Facilitation Payments Exception – However Judge Allows SEC To File An Amended Complaint”, in contrast with Dick Cassin on the FCPA Blog, whose headline read “Great guidance from the bench: ‘The FCPA casts a wide net”. However, I found one other part of the Court’s ruling by far the most interesting. It was the section which discussed whether the defendant’s claims that their actions met the facilitation payment exception under the FCPA. The Court granted the SEC leave to amend to proffer facts which would overcome the facilitation payment exception.

The allegations of facilitation payment exception as a defense in this lawsuit turn on permits called Temporary Import Permits (TIPs) in Nigeria. As set out in the Court’s ruling, “TIPs allow drilling rigs to operate in Nigerian waters without payment of permanent import duties. Under Nigerian law, the Nigeria Customs Service (“NCS”) grants TIPs for rigs that will be in the country for only one year. NCS may, in its discretion, grant up to three six-month extensions to a TIP. Upon the expiration of a TIP and any TIP extensions, NCS requires the rig to be exported from Nigeria. If the owner of the rig wishes to continue using the rig after the expiration of a TIP and any applicable extensions, he can either convert the rig to permanent import status and pay the appropriate permanent import duties, or he can export the rig and seek a new rig TIP to re-import the rig. In order to obtain a TIP or an extension, the rig owner must submit an application thought a licensed customs agent as the NCS does not deal directly with rig owners such as Noble. The SEC alleged that the defendants authorized customer agents to submit false paperwork and pay bribes to NCS officials to obtain these TIPs. In other words, the SEC alleged that the Nobel officials knew that the company was not entitled to obtain the TIPs as they did not meet the basic requirements for the granting of such licenses.”

Judge Ellison, in his ruling, noted that the “SEC alleges that Defendants authorized payments to foreign officials in order to obtain TIPs based on false paperwork, in contravention of what Defendants knew was the proper process for obtaining TIPs. As discussed supra in Part III.A.1, the SEC pled sufficient facts to support the allegation that Defendants knew these payments would be going to Nigerian government officials to obtain TIPs in a manner that violated Nigerian law. The grant of permits by government officials that have no authority to grant permits on the basis sought is in no way a ministerial act nor can it be characterized as “speeding the proper performance of a foreign official’s duties.” Similarly, if payments were made to induce officials to validate the paperwork while knowing it to be false, that too would not qualify as simply expediting a ministerial act.” [all citations by Court omitted]

The FCPA states that it “shall not apply to any facilitating or expediting payment to a foreign official, political party, or party official the purpose of which is to expedite or to secure the performance of a routine governmental action . . .” Further, the FCPA has a list of examples of facilitation payments in the definition of routine governmental actions, which include the following:

  • Obtaining permits, licenses, or other official documents;
  • Processing governmental papers such as visas and work orders;
  • Providing police protection, mail services, scheduling inspections;
  • Providing utilities, cargo handling; or
  • Actions of a similar nature.

The key has always been whether the function in question was a “routine governmental action” because a facilitation payment is clearly a bribe. From the Court’s discussion, it is clear that it is thinking that if the end goal of a facilitation payment is to obtain something that the person or entity making the facilitation knows that they are not entitled to, then it cannot be a facilitation payment because it is not a “routine governmental action”.  However, the Court also focused on “corruptly” and cited to the legislative history of the statute for the following:

The word “corruptly” is used in order to make clear that the offer, payment, promise, or gift, must be intended to induce the recipient to misuse his official position; for example, . . . to induce a foreign official to fail to perform an official function. The word “corruptly” connotes an evil motive or purpose such as that required under 18 U.S.C. 201(b) which prohibits domestic bribery. As in 18 U.S.C. 201(b), the word “corruptly” indicates an intent or desire to wrongfully influence the recipient.

As part of its instructions to the SEC to re-plead the Court said that it should plead Nigerian law to show this corrupt intent. If the SEC does this and the illegal nature of the defendants’ actions under Nigerian law forms a basis of a successful action, how long do you think it will be before the entire concept of the facilitation payment comes in an enforcement action as there is no country in the world which allows bribery of its own government officials?

If the Court continues down this path, we may see the United States move towards a de facto end of the facilitation payment exception. The OECD, among others, has urged the United States to ban these types of bribes. The UK Bribery Act has no such exception under it. Numerous commentators, including Jon Jordan, have argued eloquently for the facilitation payment exception to end.

So what about the Moody Blues and Days of Future Passed? Just as many people remember only the song “Nights In White Satin” from the album and do not recall its greater importance as the either the first concept album or as a precursor to progressive rock, analysts and commentators may miss the significance of Judge Ellison’s ruling as it may signal the first step on the judicial journey to end facilitation payments.

For a copy of the Court’s ruling, click 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, 2012

July 13, 2012

Ladies and Gentlemen – The Rolling Stones

July 12, 2012 was the 50th anniversary of the first gig of the Rolling Stones. The two mainstays of the group, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, are notorious for the conflicts within the group. However, not only has the partnership lasted but it gave us some of the greatest Rock and Roll music of all-time. While we have not been in partnership quite as long, Howard Sklar and I enjoy debating each other on our (more or less) weekly podcast This Week in FCPA.

Recently, Mike Volkov took issue with some of the pronouncements of my colleague Howard Sklar had made in a blog post entitled “Who is it OK to bribe?” Mike even managed to pay me compliment by saying “let’s face it, I am no FCPA Professor, or Tom Fox, who both enjoy taking Howard on” and to demonstrate that we debate in print as well as on air, I am going to respond to Howard’s blog posting in his Open Air Blog, “Why I Hate the Case Against WalMart”.

In this blog posting, Howard begins with the following proposition, “In my humble opinion, Walmart should get a nominal fine via an NPA. Maybe $2 million. Something like that. I’d prefer less—maybe a declination with undertakings?” He then channels the FCPA Professor by stating “Walmart’s real problems, in my opinion, were in the corporate governance area rather than the bribery arena. The way the information was handled by Bentonville when it was presented to them is less than satisfactory.” Howard has three main arguments for these points. First, that Wal-Mart’s bribes were arguably facilitation payments. Second, that Wal-Mart “didn’t bring corruption to Mexico. Third he asks “where’s the harm?”

I.                    Facilitation Payments

In the first point that the payments were arguably facilitation payments, Howard notes that “obtaining permits” is one of the items which is listed in the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) as a basis for a facilitation payment and one that would fall under “routine governmental action”. The reason that I disagree with Howard on his assessment is that from the facts that were made public by the Sunday New York Times (NTY), back on April 22, 2012, in an article entitled “Vast Mexico Bribery Case Hushed Up by Wal-Mart After Top-Level Struggle”, there were two components to this bribery scheme. First there was an alleged multi-year bribery and corruption perpetrated by the Wal-Mart Mexican subsidiary. Wal-Mart de Mexico “targeted mayors and city council members, obscure urban planners, low-level bureaucrats who issued permits – anyone with the power to thwart Wal-Mart’s growth. The bribes, he said, bought zoning approvals, reductions in environmental impact fees and the allegiance of neighborhood leaders.” One other thing required under the FCPA is that they be properly listed as facilitation payments on the company’s books and records. In Wal-Mart’s case, these payments were coded in a manner which hid their true basis. Later, reports sent to the home office, in Bentonville, AR, were scrubbed so that the illegal payments were moniked as “legal fees”.

Although he makes the argument later in his piece, I will also add that under the FCPA, facilitation payments are an exception, not an affirmative defense. This means that the Department of Justice (DOJ) has the burden to prove the payments were corrupt. However, I think it is much easier than Howard may believe. Why? Because Wal-Mart deliberately hid the nature of the payments. If they were not for illegal purposes why not just list them as ‘facilitation payments’ in the company’s books and records?

II.                 Wal-Mart Didn’t Bring Corruption to Mexico

Howard’s next argument is that there is a reason Mexico is No. 100 on the Transparency International Corruptions Perceptions Index. And that reason is that government officials are prone to corruption. I appreciate and agree that Howard is not excusing bribery because he is rightly is a self-proclaimed “anti-bribery advocate”. But I think that saying a country is corrupt misses the reason for even having the FCPA. The FCPA is US based legislation, enacted to deal with US based problems. The purposes for the FCPA were written into the Preamble to the original 1977 FCPA legislation. In this Preamble, Congress set out three clear policy goals for the enactment of the FCPA. First, was the public revelation that over 400 US companies had paid over $300 million to bribe foreign governments, public officials and political parties. Such payments were not only “unethical” but also “counter to the moral expectations and values of the American public”. Second was that the revelation of bribery, tended “to embarrass friendly governments, lower the esteem for the United States among the citizens of foreign nations, and lend credence to the suspicions sown by foreign opponents of the United States that American enterprises exert a corrupting influence on the political processes of their nations”. Third was by enacting such resolute legislation, US companies would be in a better position to resist demands to pay bribes made by corrupt foreign governments, their agents and representatives.

In short I argue that the FCPA is a US based response to a US problem. It is not a US based response to a Mexico problem.

III.               Where’s the Harm?

Here Howard focuses on the harm that may have occurred in Mexico by Wal-Mart engaging in bribery and corruption. While I believe that it is always harmful to engage in bribery and corruption if it violates the law, I think there is another point in this argument. As this is a US law, maybe we should consider a couple of other potential stakeholders here. The first is US shareholders, who should be entitled to know if the companies they invest in are making money from illegal sources, thereby devaluing their very investments, while purporting to make more quarterly profits. The next group could be called ‘competition’ but I will just call it Wal-Mart’s competitors. The NYT article made clear that one of the driving forces behind Wal-Mart’s actions in Mexico was to get stores up and running before the US competition.

So not only was Wal-Mart the sole major US retailer which had such stores in Mexico, it was the only one reaping those huge profits.

I hope that you have enjoyed this written dialogue between Howard and myself. I wrote this so Howard could have my thoughts in print and respond on This Week in FCPA. So check out our Episode 46 and I hope that you will hearing us debate these issues as well.

Now sit back and put on one or several of your favorite Stones CD’s and listen to how great rock and roll can be.

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, 2012

May 14, 2012

The Shelby Mustang and Continued Development of a FCPA Compliance Program

Carroll Shelby died last week. For anyone who following racing or loved the Muscle Car Era, no light shone brighter that Shelby’s. In 1959 (a little before I started to follow racing) Shelby was the first Texan to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Forced to retire from racing due to a medical condition, Shelby became one of the top race car designers in the 1960’s with his Shelby-American teams winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans, driving Fords designed by Shelby, to victories in 1966 and 1967. But I remember Carroll Shelby for those souped-up, mean as heck Shelby Mustangs, which debuted in 1965 and lasted until the end of the Muscle Car Era in 1971.

So what’s the compliance angle here? Well, believe it or not, it involves Wal-Mart. In its obituary for Shelby, the New York Times (NYT) reported that “Early prototypes broke apart because of stress on the fragile frames. “When you try to put 300 horsepower in a car designed for 100, you learn what development means,” Shelby recalled in a 2002 interview with Sports Illustrated.” From this I took away that any program, whether it is designing a race car or an atin-corruption compliance program requires development until you get it right.

I thought about this idea in the context of franchising and the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). Many franchisors do business overseas themselves and therefore should have a robust FCPA program based upon directly doing business internationally. However, if they franchise their operations internationally, they may have as much FCPA-based risk exposure through their franchisees operations. What are some of the FCPA risks for a franchised business internationally? In his book entitled “Foreign Corrupt Practices Act – A Practical Resource for Managers and Executives” Aaron Murphy, a partner at the firm of Latham and Watkins, explored the question of what are “the most common problems areas where managers get themselves into FCPA trouble.” In a chapter entitled “You Do More With the Government Than You Think” Murphy gives several examples of how any US company doing business overseas will come into contact with a foreign governmental official and, thereby, create a risk for possible FCPA liability. The following interactions would certainly apply to a retailer:

Interactions with Customs Officials. Every time your company sends raw materials into, or brings them out of, a country there is an interaction with a foreign governmental official in the form of a Customs Official. Every customs transaction involves a payment to a foreign government and every transaction involves some form of a foreign governmental regulatory process. While the individual payment per transaction can be small, the amount of total transactions can be quite high if a large volume of goods are being imported into a foreign country.

Interaction with Tax Officials. While noting that interacting with international tax authorities can present problems similar to those with customs officials, Murphy observes that the stakes can often be much higher since tax transactions may be less in frequency but higher in financial risk. These types of risks include the valuation of raw materials for Value Added Tax (VAT) purposes before such materials are incorporated into a final product, or the lack of segregation between goods to be sold on the foreign country’s domestic market as opposed to those which may be shipped through a free trade zone for sale outside that country’s domestic market.

Licensing and Permits. If your company is a retail seller of clothes, cosmetics etc., every physical location that you sell your goods in will require some type of license to operate your business. It could require multiple licenses such as a national license, state license and local municipal license, additionally you will need a building permit if you intend to build out or modify your retail stores.

Work Permits and Visas. If your company does any business overseas it will have to send someone from the home office to operate in-country at some point. In the post-9/11 world this probably means that, at a minimum, your company will have to obtain a visa for each employee who enters the foreign country and perhaps a work permit as well. The visa process can start in the United States with a trip to foreign government consulate or even the embassy and at that point you are dealing with a foreign governmental official. The work permit process can also begin in the United States but often may continue in the foreign country.

Inspections and Certifications. Consider the Tex-Mex restaurant chain which desires to take its cuisine across the world. In any city in the world there will be some type of certification process to enable to the business to set up and start operating and then there will be the need for ongoing inspections for sanitary conditions. Such inspections may be rare but if there is “slime in the ice machine” it may be grounds to close the restaurant.

As Murphy points out, it is clear there are many different types of FCPA risk out there which your compliance program needs to assess and address. Most companies are aware of risks of third parties in commercials operations, such as sales agents, resellers or distributors. However, the recent Wal-Mart matter has raised the awareness of risks from non-commercial third parties, particularly those which interact with a foreign government on the behalf of a company. There are many lessons which can be drawn from the Wal-Mart case but I think that  two, (1) that you do more with the government than you think and (2) the risks in using non-commercial third party agents, are very large areas that you may need to factor into the development of your compliance program going forward.

Lastly, do not forget the example of Carroll Shelby, Not only did he move from race winning driver to race winning car developer but over 30 years after the last Shelby Mustang from the Muscle Car Era rolled off the Ford assembly, he teamed with Ford to design a new Shelby Mustang for the company’s centenary in 2003. Keep on truckin’ Carroll Shelby!

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, 2012

April 25, 2012

Does Wal-Mart Have a Facilitation Payment Exception to the FCPA?

In an article entitled “Many Of The Bribery Allegations Against Wal-Mart May Not Be Illegal” Forbes reporter Nathan Vardi wrote that “many of the allegations reported in the New York Times could reasonably be interpreted as falling under the so-called “facilitating payments” exception.” I wondered what defense might be available to Wal-Mart where bribes of up to $244,000 could be construed as an exception to prosecution for bribery of foreign government official under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). In this post we will visit the text of the FCPA and other Department of Justice (DOJ) commentary, look at some enforcement actions; one open investigation involving alleged facilitation payments and offer some guidance to the compliance practitioner on what may or may not constitute a facilitation payment under the FCPA.

I.                   The Statute and Other Guidance

 1. The Statute

Interestingly, when the FCPA was initially passed in 1977, the facilitating payment exception was found under the definition of foreign official. However, with the 1988 Amendments, a more explicit exception was written into the statute making it clear that the anti-bribery provisions “shall not apply to any facilitating or expediting payment to a foreign official, political party, or party official the purpose of which is to expedite or to secure the performance of a routine governmental action . . .” The statute itself provided a list of examples of facilitation payments in the definition of routine governmental actions. It included the following:

  • Obtaining permits, licenses, or other official documents;
  • Processing governmental papers such as visas and work orders;
  • Providing police protection, mail services, scheduling inspections;
  • Providing utilities, cargo handling; or
  • Actions of a similar nature.

It is important to note that the language of the FCPA makes it clear that a facilitation payment is not an affirmative defense but an exception to the general FCPA proscription against bribery and corruption. Unfortunately for the FCPA Practitioner there is no dollar limit articulated in the FCPA regarding facilitation payments. Even this limited exception has come under increasing criticism. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) studied the issue and, in November 2009, recommended that member countries encourage their corporations to not allow the making of facilitating payments.

2. Lay Person’s Guide to the FCPA

In the Lay Person’s Guide to the FCPA is a brochure by the DOJ which is their “general explanation of the FCPA.” Within in this guidance the DOJ states:

FACILITATING PAYMENTS FOR ROUTINE GOVERNMENTAL ACTIONS

There is an exception to the anti-bribery prohibition for payments to facilitate or expedite performance of a “routine governmental action.” The statute lists the following examples: obtaining permits, licenses, or other official documents; processing governmental papers, such as visas and work orders; providing police protection, mail pick-up and delivery; providing phone service, power and water supply, loading and unloading cargo, or protecting perishable products; and scheduling inspections associated with contract performance or transit of goods across country.

Actions “similar” to these are also covered by this exception. If you have a question about whether a payment falls within the exception, you should consult with counsel. You should also consider whether to utilize the Justice Department’s Foreign Corrupt Practices Opinion Procedure, described in the guide on p. 10 and below:

“Routine governmental action” does not include any decision by a foreign official to award new business or to continue business with a particular party.

II.                Enforcement Actions

a.     Con-way

The FCPA landscape is littered with companies who sustained FCPA violations due to payments which did not fall into the facilitation payment exception. In 2008, Con-way, a global freight forwarder, paid a $300,000 penalty for making hundreds of relatively small payments to Customs Officials in the Philippines. The value of the payments Con-way was fined for making totaled $244,000 and were made to induce the officials to violate customs regulations, settle customs disputes, and reduce or not enforce otherwise legitimate fines for administrative violations.

b.     Helmerich and Payne

In 2009, Helmerich and Payne paid a penalty and disgorgement fee of $1.3 million for payments which were made to secure customs clearances in Argentina and Venezuela. The payments ranged from $2,000 to $5,000 but were not properly recorded and were made to import/export goods that were not within the respective country’s regulations; to import goods that could not lawfully be imported; and to evade higher duties and taxes on the goods.

c.     Panalpina

Finally, there is the Panalpina enforcement action. As reported in the FCPA Blog, this matter was partly resolved last year with the payment by Panalpina and six of its customers of over $257 million in fines and penalties. Panalpina, acting as freight forwarder for its customers, made payments to circumvent import laws, reduce customs duties and tax assessments and to obtain preferential treatment for importing certain equipment into various countries but primarily in West Africa.

d.     DynCorp

Then there is the DynCorp investigation matter. As reported in the FCPA Blog and others, it is related to some $300,000 in payments made by subcontractors who wished to speed up their visa processing and expedite receipt of certain licenses on behalf of DynCorp. This investigation has been going on for several years and there is no anticipated conclusion date at this time.

III.             Some Guidance

So what does the DOJ look at when it reviews a company’s FCPA compliance program with regards to facilitation payments? Initially, if there is a pattern of such small payments, it would raise a Red Flag and cause additional investigation, but this would not be the end of the inquiry. There are several other factors which the DOJ could look towards in making a final determination on this issue. The line of inquiry the DOJ would take is as follows:

  1. Size of payment - Is there an outer limit? No, there is no outer limit but there is some line where the perception shifts. If a facilitating payment is over $100 you are arguing from a point of weakness. The presumption of good faith is against you. You might be able to persuade the government at an amount under $100. But anything over this amount and the government may well make further inquiries. So, for instance, the DOJ might say that all facilitation payments should be accumulated together and this would be a pattern and practice of bribery.
  2. What is a routine governmental action? Are we entitled to this action, have we met all of our actions or are we asking the government official to look the other way on some requirement? Are we asking the government official to give us a break? The key question here is whether you are entitled to the action otherwise.
  3. Does the seniority of the governmental official matter? This is significant because it changes the presumption of whether something is truly discretionary. The higher the level of the governmental official involved, the greater chance his decision is discretionary.
  4. Does the action have to be non-discretionary? Yes, because if it is discretionary, then a payment made will appear to obtaining some advantage that is not available to others.
  5. What approvals should be required? A facilitation payment is something that must be done with an appropriate process. The process should have thought and the decision made by people who are the experts within the company on such matters.
  6. Risk of facilitation payments and third parties? Whatever policy you have, it must be carried over to third parties acting on your behalf or at your direction. If a third party cannot control this issue, the better compliance practice would be to end the business relationship.
  7. How should facilitation payments be recorded? Facilitation payments must be recorded accurately. You should have a category entitled “Facilitation Payments” in your company’s internal accounting system. The labeling should be quite clear and they are critical to any audit trail so recording them is quite significant.
  8. Monitoring programs? There must always be ongoing monitoring programs to review your company’s internal controls, policies and procedures regarding facilitation payments.

 So we return to the question of when does a grease payment become a bribe? There is no clear line of demarcation. The test seems to turn on the amount of money involved, to whom it is paid and the frequency of the payments. Do Wal-Mart’s alleged payments to speed up the process qualify as facilitation payments or does an aggregate of over $24 million paid constitute something else?

Additionally, accurate books and records are a must. At this point it is not apparent if Wal-Mart accurately recorded these payments. If Wal-Mart really believed they were facilitation payments, why didn’t they just record them as such?

Also remember that the defense of facilitation payments is an exception to the FCPA prohibition against bribery. Any defendant which wishes to avail itself of this exception at trial would have to proffer credible evidence to support its position, but at the end of the day, it would be the trier of fact which would decide. So much like any compliance defense, the exception is only available if you use it at trial and it would be difficult to imagine that Wal-Mart will want this matter to ever see the light of a courtroom.

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, 2012

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