FCPA Compliance and Ethics Blog

March 18, 2014

When to Bring in Investigative Counsel and Why

InvestigationsWhen should you bring in a true outsider to handle an internal investigation? What about specialized investigative counsel? Jim McGrath, who often writes about the need for specialized investigative counsel, has also pointed out on several occasions that having an independent eye on things is also a plus. However, rarely do we see both questions played out so publicly as is currently going on in the General Motors (G.M.) recall investigation. Indeed, Matthew Goldstein and Barry Meier discussed these  questions in Sunday New York Times (NYT) Business Section article by, entitled “G.M Calls the Lawyers”.

For those of you not familiar with G.M.’s problems, McGrath also wrote about them in his Internal Investigations Blog, in a post entitled “What Did GM Know and When Did They Know It?” McGrath describes the current issues as “the revelation that General Motors is the target of probes by Congress and by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration over its handling of ignition switch defects in at least six of its popular automobiles. Failures in these switches may have resulted in as many as thirteen deaths and seemingly point to quality control failures at the automaker.” Others have estimated the death totals much higher for this defect. And, as McGrath notes, the key question is ‘what did GM know and when did they know it’?

Interestingly G.M. has hired two law firms to handle the investigation. One is King & Spalding, which handled much of the product liability litigation over the alleged defect and the second is Jenner & Block. In the NYT article, a prominent plaintiff’s lawyer, Lance Cooper, who fought GM and King & Spalding on this product liability litigation noted the obvious when he said, “They are part of the story.” By this he meant that “King & Spalding’s switch from a fierce defender of G.M. to a potential inquisitor into the company’s actions may also pose a conflict. For one, some of the firm’s lawyers may have to ask their own colleagues if they advised G.M. about whether to recall the vehicles at the time the Melton case was settled.”

More importantly for G.M., the retention of “outside counsel in these cases is part investigation, part public-relations gambit and part legal strategy. In most cases, the goal isn’t to publicly flog a company or its top executives, but rather to limit damage to an institution’s reputation or to contain the financial harm to shareholders of a publicly traded company. And it does so under the protection of the attorney-client privilege. From the point of view of the company, a well-done internal investigation can shape the accepted story of what happened — and produce findings that allow the company to negotiate for lower penalties from prosecutors or regulators down the road.” But, more importantly, to “achieve those ends, the law firms conducting the investigations must be viewed as forthright and uncompromised. In this respect, some critics have already questioned G.M.’s choices.”

The NYT quoted another lawyer, William McLucas, a partner at WilmerHale, who said, “If you are a firm that is generating substantial fees from a prospective corporate client, you may be able to come in and do a bang-up inquiry. But the perception is always going to be there; maybe you pulled your punches because there is a business relationship.” This is because if “companies want credibility with prosecutors and investors, it is generally not wise to use their regular law firms for internal inquiries.” Another expert, Charles Elson, a professor of finance at the University of Delaware who specializes in corporate governance, agreed, adding, “I would not have done it because of the optics. Public perception can be affected by using regular outside counsel.””

Adam G. Safwat, a former deputy chief of the fraud section in the Justice Department, said that the key is “Prosecutors expect an internal investigation to be an honest assessment of a company’s misdeeds or faults, “What you want to avoid is doing something that will make the prosecutor question the quality of integrity of the internal investigation.”” The aforementioned Jim McGrath was also interviewed for the article. He said, “A shrewd law firm that gets out in front of scandal can use that to its advantage in negotiating with authorities to lower penalties and sanctions. There is a great incentive to ferret out information so they can spin it.”

All of these concerns are equally valid in the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) or UK Bribery Act investigation context. But they are layered upon the Fair Process Doctrine. This is because procedural fairness is one of the things that will bring credibility to your Compliance Program. This Doctrine generally recognizes that there are fair procedures, not arbitrary ones, in a process involving rights. Considerable research has shown that people are more willing to accept negative, unfavorable, and non-preferred outcomes when they are arrived at through processes and procedures that are perceived as fair. Adhering to the Fair Process Doctrine in your Compliance Program is critical for you, as a compliance specialist or for your Compliance Department, to have credibility with the rest of the workforce.

In internal investigations, if your employees do not believe that the investigation is fair and impartial, then it is not fair and impartial. Further, those involved must have confidence that any internal investigation is treated seriously and objectively. I have recently written about several aspects of internal investigations, in order to emphasize how to handle internal whistleblower complaints in light of the Dodd-Frank implications. One of the key reasons that employees will go outside of a company’s internal hotline process is because they do not believe that the process will be fair.

This fairness has several components. One would be the use of outside counsel, rather than in-house counsel to handle the investigation. Moreover, if a company uses a regular firm, it may be that other outside counsel should be brought in, particularly if the regular outside counsel has created or implemented key components that are being investigated. Further, if the company’s regular outside counsel has a large amount of business with the company, then that law firm may have a very vested interest in maintaining the status quo. Lastly, the investigation may require a level of specialization that in-house or regular outside counsel does not possess.

Living in Houston, this all played out in disastrous results during the Enron scandal. Near the end of Enron’s run, its regular outside counsel, Vinson & Elkins, investigated questionable accounting practices at Enron. As the NYT article noted, “The firm’s investigation is viewed as an utter failure or a corporate whitewash. The review essentially gave Enron a clean bill of health just months before it collapsed in one of the biggest accounting frauds of all time. In 2006, the law firm paid $30 million to Enron’s bankruptcy estate to resolve claims that its actions had contributed to the energy company’s demise.”

All of this means, your company needs to get it right in the hiring of outside counsel to handle an investigation. As McGrath wrote at the end of his blog, “the Jenner and King people will have to make like Howard Baker and ask what the president – or other ranking person with reporting authority to NHTSA – knew and when they knew it. Because the cover-up is usually worse than the underlying wrong and this one could cost GM $35 million and its reputation.” The NYT article ended with the following, “The best internal investigations are the ones that don’t receive much media attention. A company deals with a problem quickly, and if there’s something to report to authorities, the company tends to be treated leniently for its forthrightness.” Amen.

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

February 19, 2014

Welcome to the Hotel California: FCPA Enforcement

Hotel CaliforniaThis past weekend I saw The Eagles on their ‘History of The Eagles Tour. It truly was that, a complete musical history of the group, from the beginning in 1971 up until now. They played for well over 3 hours and it was fantastic. The Eagles were at their peak in the 70’s when I was at my peak as a rock and roller, both in high school and college, so the concert was a very memorable experience. In one interesting twist they did not allow videos to be taken of the concert with cell phones or any other types of recordings. Of course the concert ended with song Hotel California and its iconic line “You can check out but you can never leave.”

I thought about that final line and how true it was in the late 70s and how true it is now in the world of international anti-corruption enforcement when I read a front page article in Sunday’s New York Times (NYT), entitled “Eavesdropping Ensnared American Law Firm”, and an blog post by the FCPA Professor, entitled “FCPA Lawyers Would Be Wise to Review Recent Third Circuit Decision”.

We know from the American Spectator article, “Rise of the Surveillance State”, by James Bovard about the National Security Agency (NSA) program ‘Echelon’, which he described as “a spy satellite system run by the National Security Agency along with the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. Echelon reportedly scans millions of phone calls, e-mail messages, and faxes each hour, searching for key words.” Further, Bovard stated, “A February report by the European Union alleged that Echelon has been used for economic espionage. Former CIA Director James Woolsey told a German newspaper in early March that Echelon collects “economic intelligence.”” One example Woolsey gave was espionage aimed at discovering when foreign companies are paying bribes to obtain contracts that might otherwise go to American companies. Woolsey elaborated on his views in a March 17, 2001 Wall Street Journal (WSJ) Op-Ed piece, justifying Echelon spying on foreign companies because some foreigners do not obey the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).

After the NYT article, we know that US law firms can also fall under surveillance. The firm of Mayer Brown was monitored by the NSA’s Australian counterpart, the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD), regarding work the law firm was doing for the government of Indonesia in trade disputes with the US. It is of no consequence that it was the Australians doing the spying as under the “Five Eyes Alliance”, Australia is one of five countries the US shares intel with and agrees not to spy on. While most Americans would understand the need to place those dealing with terrorists under surveillance, the need to monitor US law firms giving legal advice in a legal trade dispute seems one or two steps past the safety of the US homeland. While only mentioned in the article, I also wonder about the effect of this surveillance on the attorney-client privilege, the basic reason that clients come to lawyers, for confidential legal advice. If you know that you are susceptible to espionage, why would a client ever trust the confidentiality of your communications or even that they are confidential to start with. Moreover, if you know you are subject to surveillance, is the privilege destroyed if a country does so and passes the information along to the US?

Equally unsettling as the revelations in the NYT article is the FCPA Professor’s report on a Third Circuit, Court of Appeals decision, entitled “In Re: Grand Jury Subpoena”. In this matter, an attorney was consulted on an international transaction, which was described as follows: “In April 2008, Client approached Attorney to discuss issues he was having with the project. Client explained that he planned on paying Banker in order to ensure that the project progressed swiftly, as Banker was threatening to slow down the approval process. Attorney did some preliminary research, found the FCPA, and asked Client whether the Bank was a government entity and whether Banker was a government official. Although Attorney could not ascertain given his limited research whether the planned action was legal or illegal, he advised Client not to make the payment. Despite this advice, Client insisted that his proposed payment did not violate the FCPA, and informed Attorney that he would go ahead with the payment. Attorney gave Client a copy of the FCPA. After this communication, Attorney and Client ended their relationship.” The opinion stated that the Client made a payment to the banker’s sister.

In other words, the client came for legal advice regarding an international transaction, the attorney advised against the transaction in question but the client did so against the advice of his attorney and the attorney thereafter terminated the relationship. There was no evidence the lawyer advised the client how to violate the FCPA or in any way helped the client ‘get around’ the law.

The attorney-client privilege is not sacrosanct. There are some limited exceptions to it and one of those is the ‘crime-fraud exception’ which the Court of Appeals explained is, “To circumvent [the attorney-client] privilege under the crime-fraud exception, the party seeking to overcome the privilege . . . must make a prima facie showing that (1) the client was committing or intending to commit a fraud or crime, and (2) the attorney-client communications were in furtherance of that alleged crime or fraud.” (All citations omitted) But, in this case, there was no evidence presented that the attorney involved gave advice that was in the furtherance of a crime but only that “The communication between Attorney and Client was brief, and consisted mainly of informing Client on the applicable law and advising that he not make the payment. However, we believe that the questions posed by Attorney to Client and the information that Client could gain from those questions are sufficient for us to conclude that the District Court did not abuse its discretion in determining that the advice was used in furtherance of a crime or fraud.”

What were the questions posed by the client or put another way, what was the legal advice sought by the client? The Court stated, the “questions about whether or not the Bank was a governmental entity and whether Banker was a government official would have informed Client that the governmental connection was key to violating the FCPA. This would lead logically to the idea of routing the payment through Banker’s sister, who was not connected to the Bank, in order to avoid the reaches of the FCPA or detection of the violation. Of course, it is impossible to know what Client thought or how he processed the information gained from Attorney. But the District Court did not abuse its discretion in determining that Client “could easily have used [the advice] to shape the contours of conduct intended to escape the reaches of the law.””

What does the spying on a US law firm and this court decision invalidating the attorney-client privilege mean for FCPA enforcement? I think that it means if you find yourself in the position of having violated the FCPA; your company now has an even greater incentive to self-disclose. If you are a non-US based company subject to the FCPA, the NSA is watching you. Further, if you are a non-US company, which seeks legal advice, you are now on notice that US laws firm are being spied on. Lastly, if you have violated the FCPA and seek legal advice; it may well come to pass that the lawyer whose advice you sought, can be compelled to testify about those conversations. So in the words of The Eagles, if you engage in conduct that arguably violated the FCPA, you can check out but you can never leave.

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If you will be in Dallas this coming Thursday, February 20, I hope that you will join myself and fellow FCPA Blog Contributor Marc Bohn at the Corporate Compliance Summit on 2014 FCPA Concerns You Cannot Afford to Ignore. The event is complimentary and is sponsored by The Network. You can check it out and register 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

February 18, 2014

Board Investigations and the Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb – Part II

Board of DirectorsYesterday I began an exploration of a recent article in the Corporate Board magazine, entitled “Successful Board Investigations” by David Bayless and Tammy Albarrán, partners in the law firm of Covington & Burling LLP. In Part I, I reviewed the authors’ five key objectives, which they believe a board must pursue to ensure a successful investigation. Today, I will look at the authors’ seven considerations to facilitate a successful board investigation.

1.             Consider whether you need independent outside counsel

The authors consider that the appearance of partiality “undermines the objectivity and credibility of an investigation.” That means you should not use your regular counsel. The authors cite to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) analysis of how independent board members truly are to explain the need for independent counsel. They state, “the SEC considers the following criteria when determining whether (and how much) to credit self-policing, self-reporting, remediation and cooperation” which will consist of the following factors:

  • Did management, the board or committees consisting solely of outside directors oversee the review?
  • Did company employees or outside persons perform the review?
  • If outside persons, have they done other work for the company?
  • If the review was conducted by outside counsel, had management previously engaged such counsel?
  • How long ago was the firm’s last representation of the company?
  • How often has the law firm represented the company?
  • How much in legal fees has the company paid the firm?

As Andre Agassi might say, ‘perception is reality’.

2.             Consider hiring an experienced “investigator” to lead the internal investigation

Noted internal investigation expert Jim McGrath has written and spoken about the need to utilize specialized counsel in any serious investigation. If a board is leading an investigation, I would submit by definition it is serious. The authors say that your investigation needs to lead by a lawyer with significant experience in conducting internal investigations; a strong background in criminal or SEC enforcement; and has substantive experience in the particular area of law at issue. The traits are needed so that your designated counsel will think like an investigator, not like an in-house lawyer or civil litigator.

3.             Consider the need to retain outside experts

In any Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) or other anti-corruption investigation, there will be the need for a wider variety of subject matter experts (SME’s) than a compliance professional. The authors correctly recognize that “ if there are accounting issues, forensic accountants might be needed. In this day and age, an electronic discovery consultant is often required, and can be a cost effective option for gathering and processing electronic data for review.” These types of investigations will most probably be cross-border as well and this will require other varieties of expertise. The authors caution that, “The lowest bid may not necessar­ily be the best for a particular investigation. While cost is important, understand the limitations of each consultant and, with input from your investigator, determine which consultant best meets your goals.”

4.             Analyze potential conflicts of interest at the outside and during the investigation

The authors see two types of conflicts of interest that may come to light during an investigation. First is the one which comes up when the law firm or lawyers conducting the inves­tigation are those whose prior legal advice has some bearing on the matters being investigated because a company’s regular outside lawyers represent the company. During an internal investigation, however, the lawyers may be hired by, and represent, the board or its committee. The second occurs when a lawyer or law firm jointly represents the board and employees at the company as regulators have become increasingly concerned with joint representations. Moreover, “The trickier question is what to do when there simply is a risk that representing one client could limit the lawyers’ duties to the other.” So in these situations, joint representation may not be appropriate.

5.             Carefully evaluate Whistleblower allegations

With the advent of Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) and Dodd-Frank, whistleblowers have become more important and taking their allegations seriously is paramount. This does not mean trying to find out who the whistleblowers might be to punish or stifle them, even if they are located outside the United States and therefore do not have protections under these laws. They can still get hefty bounties. The authors recognize that companies can come to grief when “companies run into problems when whistleblower allegations are discounted, if not outright dismissed, especially if the whistleblower has a history of causing trouble or is perceived as incompetent. When this type of whistleblower makes a claim, it is easy to presume ulterior motives.” While such motives might exist, it does not matter one iota when it comes to the investigation, as “Regulators are very wary of boards that do not satisfactorily evaluate a whistleblower’s complaint based on a perception of the whistleblower himself, as opposed to the substance of the complaint.”

6.             Request regular updates from outside counsel, without limiting the investigation

These types of investigations are long and very costly. They can easily spin out of cost control. But, by trying to manage these costs, a board might be perceived as placing improper limits on the investigation. The “goal is to strike the right balance between the cost of the investigation and its thoroughness and credibility.” To do so, the authors advise that flexibility is an important ingredient. A board can begin the project with an agreed upon initial scope of work and then “revisit the scope of work as the investigation progresses. If conduct is discovered that legitimately calls for expanding the scope of the investigation, then the board can revisit the issue at that point. Put another way, the scope of what to investigate is not a static, one-time decision. It can, and usually does, evolve.” By seeking regular updates and questioning counsel on what they are doing and why, directors can manage costs, while at the same time ensuring that the investigation is sufficiently thorough and credible.

7.             Consider whether an oral report at the conclusion of the investigation is sufficient

While there may be instances in which, due to complexity and the nature of allegations involved, a written report is necessary, the authors believe that there may be times when an oral report delivered to a board is better than a written report for “a written report may be easier to follow and appear to be the logical conclusion to an investigation, it is an expensive and time-consuming endeavor, and it comes with great risk.” The authors indicate three reasons for this position.

First, it is much easier to inadvertently waive the attorney-client privilege if a written report is created and in the wrong hands, such a written report may well create “a road map to a plaintiff” in any shareholder action. Second, once those findings and conclusions are written they may become “set in stone. If later information comes to light that impacts the report’s conclusions, altering the conclusions may undermine the credibility of the entire investigation. So, retaining flexibility to change the findings if further information is later learned is a real advantage of an oral report.” Third, and finally, “it takes time to prepare a well-written and thorough report. When an internal investigation must be conducted quickly, spending time to prepare a written report may not be an efficient use of time.” For all of these reasons, and perhaps others, an oral report presented to the board and documented in the Board of Director meeting minutes may be sufficient.

The authors conclude their piece by stating, “By keeping in mind the issues addressed above, the board will be better prepared for the investigation and readily able to exercise good judgment throughout the review. A well-conducted investigation by the board may spare the company further disruption and costs associated with follow-on investigations by the regulators, or at the very least minimize the company’s exposure.” I would only add that by following some of the prescriptions set out by Bayless and Albarrán your Board might also avoid the fate that befell Lord Carnarvon and the Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb.

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

February 17, 2014

Board Investigations and the Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb – Part I

King TutOn this day in 1923, the tomb of King Tut was opened. It created a worldwide stir that has in many ways continued down into the 21st century. Clearly, the boy ruler influenced Steve Martin , (How’d you get so funky?, Funky Tut). Moreover, when the King Tut exhibit first toured the US in the 1970s, it sold out everywhere that it went. And, of course, there was the Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb, which led to some great Universal classic horror pictures. This curse may have killed the dig’s benefactor, Lord Carnarvon who died just months after entering the tomb in November 1923, but the archeologist who discovered King Tut, Howard Carter, seemingly outlived the curse, dying at the age of 64 on the eve of World War II.

I thought about the techniques employed by these two archeologists in the Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb when I read an article in the Corporate Board magazine, entitled “Successful Board Investigations” by David Bayless and Tammy Albarrán, partners in the law firm of Covington & Burling LLP. Why the Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb? It is because if a Board of Directors does not get an investigation which it handles right, the consequences can be quite severe. Over the next two posts I will explore the article by Bayless and Albarrán. Today in Part I, I will review the author’s five key objectives, which they believe a board must pursue to ensure a successful investigation. Tomorrow. in Part II, I will review the authors seven considerations to facilitate a successful board investigation.

The authors recognize that the vast majority of investigations will be handled or directed by in-house counsel. However, if and when such an investigation is needed, it is critical that it be handled with great care and skill. The authors note that “While this task is fraught with peril, there are a number of steps a board can take to ensure that the investigation accomplishes the board’s goals, which will enable it to make informed decisions, and withstands scrutiny by third parties” because it is this third party scrutiny, in the form of regulators, government officials, judges/arbitrators or plaintiffs’ counsel in shareholder actions, who will be reviewing any investigation commissioned by a Board of Directors. The authors believe that there are five key goals that any investigation led by a Board of Directors must meet. They are:

Thoroughness - The authors believe that one of the key, and most critical, questions that any regulator might pose is just how thorough is an investigation; to test whether they can rely on the facts discovered without having to repeat the investigation themselves. Regulators tend to be skeptical of investigations where limits are placed (expressly or otherwise) on the investigators, in terms of what is investigated, or how the investigation is conducted. This question can be an initial deal-killer particularly if the regulator involved views an investigation insufficiently thorough, its credibility is undermined. And, of course, it can lead to the dreaded ‘Where else’ question.

  • Objectivity - Here the authors write that any “investigation must follow the facts wherever they lead, regardless of the consequences. This includes how the findings may impact senior management or other company employees. An investigation seen as lacking objectivity will be viewed by outsiders as inadequate or deficient.” I would add that in addition to the objectivity requirement in the investigation, the same must be had with the investigators themselves. If a company uses its regular outside counsel, it may be viewed with some askance, particularly if the client is a high volume client of the law firm involved, either in dollar amounts or in number of matters handled by the firm.
  • Accuracy - As in any part of a best practices anti-corruption compliance program, the three most important things are Document, Document and Document. This means that the factual findings of an investigation must be well supported. For if the developed facts are not well supported, the authors believe that the investigation is “open to collateral attack by skeptical prosecutors and regulators. If that happens, the time and money spent on the internal investigation will have been wasted, because the government will end up conducting its own investigation of the same issues.” This is never good and your company may well lose what little credibility and good will that it may have engendered by self-reporting or self-investigating.
  • Timeliness - Certainly in the world of Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) enforcement, an internal investigation should be done quickly. This has become even more necessary with the tight deadlines set under the Dodd-Frank Act Whistleblower provisions. But there are other considerations for a public company such as an impending Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) quarterly or annual report that may need to be deferred absent as a timely resolution of the matter. Lastly, the Department of Justice (DOJ) or SEC may view delaying an investigation as simply a part of document spoliation. So timeliness is crucial.
  • Credibility - One of the realities of any FCPA investigation is that a Board of Directors led investigation is reviewed after the fact by not only skeptical third parties but also sometimes years after the initial events and investigation. So not only is there the opportunity for Monday-Morning Quarterbacking but quite a bit of post event analysis. So the authors believe that any Board of Directors led investigation “must be (and must be perceived as) credible as to what was done, how it was done, and who did it. Otherwise, the board’s work will have been for naught.”

To help manage these five issues the authors have seven tangible considerations they suggest that a Board of Directors follow to help make an investigation successful. Tomorrow I will review and scrutinize these seven considerations.

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

February 3, 2014

Internal Investigations: Doing One can be a Compliance Best Practice

US NavyThe US Navy contract scandal took an interesting twist recently when one of its contractors, Inchcape Shipping Services, which had been suspended from doing business with the Navy for “conduct indicating questionable business integrity”, was reinstated as reported in an article in the New York Times (NYT), entitled “Audit Planned in Fraud Case as Navy Reinstates Shipperby Christopher Drew and Danielle Ivory. They reported, “The move came after a federal judge questioned whether the service had presented enough evidence to justify the suspension.”

The suspension seems to have been based upon a 2008 internal investigation by the company itself which it turned over to the Navy in late 2012, when a federal judge ordered the company to give Navy investigators a copy of an internal company audit from 2008 into some of the questionable billings. However, “after Inchcape challenged its suspension in December, the main evidence that the Navy presented was that 2008 audit. James F. Merow, a judge on the Court of Federal Claims, said that it did not appear that the Navy’s suspension office had “conducted any meaningful investigation” of other documents “despite having had time to do so.””

The article said that “Faced with the possibility that the judge might dismiss the suspension, records show, the Navy agreed to lift it in exchange for promises from the company to follow federal rules, refund overcharges, and hire independent monitors and auditors.” Further, in addition and in exchange for lifting of the suspension, “the company has agreed to pay for an independent audit that could help the Justice Department determine how much it may have overcharged the government.”

The rather curious fact about this agreed upon audit is that the Navy has known the allegations of over-charging since 2010. Further, the Navy had subpoenaed the company’s records back in 2011. However, the Navy had not gotten around to auditing those subpoenaed records. Drew and Ivory reported that “Former federal contracting officials said that the need to hire an outside auditor also showed how little the Navy had done to get to the bottom of the accusations against Inchcape since they first surfaced in 2010. They quoted Charles Tiefer, a professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law and a former member of the federal Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan for the following, “To wait for the Navy to do a serious audit is like waiting for Godot. Considering that the Navy has sat on its hands for years, getting an accounting from a private firm is a sign of desperation.” Rather curiously when “Asked why they had not conducted their own audit, Navy officials said they had not had “full access” to the documents subpoenaed from Inchcape.”

I thought about how devastating it would be if a corporation, which had access to its own records, waited two years to begin an investigation of allegations of “conduct indicating questionable business integrity” or violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). The FCPA Guidance says “An effective compliance program should include a mechanism for an organization’s employees and others to report suspected or actual misconduct or violations of the company’s policies on a confidential basis and without fear of retaliation. Companies may employ, for example, anonymous hotlines or ombudsmen. Moreover, 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.” From this I believe that the FCPA Guidance requires that companies not only have “in place” an efficient [and] reliable process for investigating an allegation, but that the investigation be properly funded as well.

Moreover, as with the Navy, the inclusion of specialized counsel to handle the investigation may be appropriate as it is viewed as a best practice. There are several reasons to bring in an outside investigation firm. Initially, the investigation must be perceived as fair. If your employees do not believe that the investigation is fair and impartial, then it is not fair and impartial. Further, those involved must have confidence that any internal investigation is treated seriously and objectively. You need to also consider the relationship between the investigation firm and the company, which hired it. If a company utilizes its regular outside counsel to perform the investigation and the results turn out favorably for the company, the regulators may ask if the investigation was a “whitewash”. If a regulatory authority, such as the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) or Department of Justice (DOJ) cannot rely on a company’s own internal investigation, it may perform the investigation all over again with its own personnel.

Additionally, if there are serious allegations made concerning your company’s employees engaging in criminal conduct, a serious response is required. Your company needs to hire some seriously good lawyers to handle any internal investigation. These lawyers need to have independence from the company so do not call your regular corporate counsel. Hire some seriously good investigative lawyers. I believe that there is another reason to hire outside counsel. It is also important because, no matter what the outcome of your investigation, you will most probably have to deal with the government. If the investigation does reveal actionable conduct, your company will need legal counsel who is most probably an ex-DOJ prosecutor or ex-AUSA to get your company through that process. Even if there is a finding of no criminal activity, you will need very competent and very credible counsel to explain the investigation protocol and its results to the government.

So why did the Navy not perform any adequate investigation of Inchcape Shipping before suspending them after having the company’s records for over two years? Did the Navy not have the technical expertise to read, review and analyze the Inchcape Shipping billing records? Are US Navy auditors too busy with other allegations of fraud and corruption to hav e reviewed the documents subpoenaed from Inchcape Shipping? No one knows the answer but in the realm of private sector corporations it required that the company have the ability to investigate itself or bring in outside counsel who can perform the investigation. Under any definition of a best practices compliance program, such a resource is a requirement.

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 6, 2013

The Rogue Employee Myth: Prevention and Detection in a FCPA Compliance Program

I cannot think of any criminal enforcement actions against a corporation involving the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) where there was a lone wolf employee engaging in bribery and corruption on his or her own. There might well be some internal investigations and even self-disclosures to the Department of Justice (DOJ) of such conduct but the public usually does not know about them since the DOJ would issue a Declination under such circumstances. The only publicly announced Declination where the company was identified was the Morgan Stanley Declination. In that matter, a Managing Director, Garth Peterson was prosecuted for his individual action in violating the FCPA. But from the information made available, it appears that the company uncovered Peterson’s conduct, investigated and self-reported it to the DOJ.

One of things that Donna Boehme and Jim McGrath regularly rail against is the claim that violations of the FCPA, UK Bribery Act and other anti-corruption laws are the result of some ‘rogue employee’ out there, dreaming up ways to engage in bribery and corruption to obtain or retain business. Organizations such as the US Chamber of Commerce want to limit corporate liability for the criminal actions of their employees saying it is not fair for a company to pay for the sins of these alleged rogue employees.

While I recognize the US Supreme Court may soon make all of the above moot by deciding that corporations have the same rights, obligations and duties of real persons, those individuals making the claim of rogue-ness do not seem to contemplate how much work and effort must go into any ongoing bribery scandal which would result in a FCPA violation and how much is attributable to the company. First if the company, explicitly or implicitly, communicates that the bottom line, quarterly numbers or anything like that is the most important action an employee will be evaluated on, guess what, their numbers, and employees will always find a way to make their numbers. Further, if employees can either manipulate or over-ride a company’s internal controls to help fund or hide the payment of bribes, it is the fault of the company not having robust controls in the first place.

Remember Paul McNulty’s Three Maxims? (1) What did you do to prevent it? (2) What did you do to detect it? (3) What did you when you found out about it? If a company’s internal controls are so porous that employees can slide the payment of bribes through the system, I would say that you have failed to answer Maxim 1 in the affirmative. If your auditing or monitoring is so poor that you cannot find any evidence of bribery and corruption because you didn’t want to (See: Wal-Mart’s initial investigation into its Mexican subsidiary) or because the auditing and monitoring is so poor (See: GSK in China where they somehow missed $500MM in payments to ‘travel agents’); you have also failed to answer McNulty Maxim 2 in the affirmative.

Yesterday I wrote about psychopaths in the guise of Chief Executive Officers (CEOs). I do not think there could be a better example of this than Bernie Madoff. His grandiosity extended to attempting to claim to federal investigators that his multi-decade, multi-billion dollar fraud and Ponzi scheme was all his work alone, that no one else in his company was involved or even knew about it. That outsized claim is being put to the test over the next couple of months in a courtroom in New York where five former employees are currently on trial for participating in this massive fraud.

In fascinating testimony Frank DiPascali, a former top lieutenant to Madoff, reported in a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article, entitled “Madoff’s Cold Play Outwitted Auditor” by James Sterngold, the schemes used to defraud customers and fool auditors and regulators. Initially, he noted that NONE of the trades recorded in the company’s books and records ever took place and that “a number of staff members spent most of their time producing large volumes of fake documents to convince customers there were earning attractive returns.” To put an explanation point on his testimony, when asked if Madoff’s staff created trades out of thin air, he responded, “Literally, yes.” To confuse and misdirect an auditor from KPMG, when the accounting firm demanded to see “detailed daily trading logs to confirm that the firm was actually engaged in trading”, Madoff’s staff not only created the fake logs but put them in the refrigerator to “cool them down”. Another time, the staff tossed them around “like a medicine ball to make them look used and crinkled.” All of this was presented as evidence in the trial which indicates that more people had to be involved in the fraud.

The clear lesson for the compliance practitioner from the Madoff employees’ trial testimony to-date is that there cannot be one person or the ubiquitous ‘rogue employee’ who decides to engage in bribery and corruption. There has to be more than one person. To circumvent a company’s internal controls takes work. For in any criminal FCPA enforcement matter, it is because the company involved had such weak internal controls that such circumvention could occur in the first place. But more than this circumvention, it means that the company did not employ sufficient systems to detect such bribery and corruption. And if the documentation you are reviewing is cold to the touch that may now constitute a red flag.

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 4, 2013

The Weatherford FCPA Settlement, Part III

Yesterday, I reviewed the conduct which Weatherford International Limited (Weatherford) engaged in over a period from 2002-2011 in connection with its Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) investigation, noted the deficiencies in its compliance program and its internal controls and even how the company intentionally impeded the investigations of both the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Today, I want to look at how the company changed course in mid-stream during the investigation, brought in a top-notch and well respected lawyer as its Chief Compliance Officer (CCO), created a best-in-class compliance program; all of which saved the company millions of dollars in potential fines and penalties.

  1. I.                    DOJ Fine Calculation

To resolve the criminal aspects of this case, Weatherford agreed to pay an $87.2 million criminal penalty as part of a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA) with the DOJ. There was also another $65.6 million paid to the SEC. However the figure paid to the DOJ was at the very bottom range of a potential criminal penalty. The range listed in the DPA was from $87.2 to $174.3 million. In coming up with this range under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, it is significant for the actions that Weatherford did not receive credit for during the pendency of the investigation. The company did not receive a credit for self-reporting. The company only received a -2 for its cooperation because prior to 2008 the company engaged in activities to impede the regulators’ investigation.

So the fine range could have been more favorable to the company. But the key is that Weatherford received the low end of the range. How did they do this?

A.     New Sheriff in Town

One of the key things Weatherford did was bring in Billy Jacobson as its CCO and give him a seat at the table of the company’s Executive Board. He was a Federal Prosecutor in the Fraud Section, Criminal Division, US Department of Justice. He also served as an Assistant Chief for FCPA Enforcement Department so we can assume he understood the FCPA and how prosecutors think through issues. (Jacobson also worked as a State Prosecutor in New York City, with my former This Week in FCPA co-host Howard Sklar, so shout out to Howard.) Jacobson was not hired directly from the DOJ but after he had left the DOJ and had gone into private practice. There is nothing that shows credibility like bringing in a respected subject matter expert and giving that person the tools and resources to turn things around.

But more than simply bringing in a new sheriff, Weatherford turned this talk into action by substantially increasing its cooperation with the government, thoroughly investigating all issues, turning over the results to the DOJ and SEC and providing literally millions of pages of documents to the regulators. The company also cleaned house by terminating officers and employees who were responsible for the illegal conduct.

B.     Increase in Compliance Function

In addition to establishing Jacobson in the high level CCO position, the company significantly increased the size of its compliance department by hiring 38 compliance professionals and conducted 30 anti-corruption compliance reviews in the countries in which Weatherford operates. This included the hiring of outside consultants to assess and review the company’s compliance program and beefing up due diligence on all third parties, including those in the sales and supply chain, joint venture (JV) partners and merger or acquisition (M&A) candidates. The company also agreed to continue to enhance its internal controls and books and records to prevent and/or detect future suspect conduct.

If you have ever heard any of the current Weatherford compliance professionals speak at FCPA conferences, you can appreciate that they are first rate; that they know their stuff and the company supports their efforts on an ongoing basis.

C.     Best in Class Compliance Program

During the pendency of the investigation, Weatherford moved to create a best practices compliance program. They appear to have done so and agreed in the DPA to continue to maintain such a compliance program. Under Schedule C to the DPA, it set out the compliance program which the company had implemented and continued to keep in place, at least during the length of the DPA. 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, Weatherford 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.”

D.    Monitor

Weatherford also agreed to an external monitor. However, the term of the monitor is not the entire length of the three-year DPA; the term of the monitor is only 18 months. The monitor’s primary function is to assess the company’s compliance with the terms of the DPA and report the results to the DOJ at least twice during the terms of the monitorship. After this 18 month term the DOJ will allow the company to self-report to the regulators. It should be noted that the term of the external monitor can be extended by the DOJ.

II.                Conclusion

It certainly has been a long, strange journey for Weatherford. I should note that I have not discussed at all the Oil-For-Food aspect of this settlement, which was an additional $100MM penalty to the company. However, with regard to the FCPA aspects of the matter, there are some very solid and telling lessons to be drawn from this case. First and foremost is that cooperation is always the key. But more than simply cooperating in the investigation is that a company should take a pro-active approach to putting a best-in-class compliance program in place during, rather than after the investigation concludes. Also, a company cannot simply ‘talk-the-talk’ but must come through and do the work to gain the credit. The bribery schemes that the company had engaged in and the systemic failures of its compliance program and internal controls, should serve as a good set of examples for the compliance practitioner to use in assessing a compliance program.

The settlement also sends a clear message from both the DOJ and SEC on not only what type of conduct will be rewarded under the US Sentencing Guidelines, but what they expect as a compliance program. One does not have read tea leaves or attempt to divine what might be an appropriate commitment to compliance to see what the regulators expect these day.

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 2, 2013

The Weatherford FCPA Settlement, Part I

Last week Weatherford International Limited (Weatherford) concluded one of the longest running open Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) investigations when it agreed to the ninth largest FCPA fine of all-time and one of its subsidiaries, Weatherford Services Limited (WSL), agreed to plead guilty to violating the anti-bribery provisions of the FCPA. The total amount of fines and penalties for the FCPA violations was $152.6 million. The company was also hit with another $100 million in fines and penalties for trade sanctions bringing its total amount paid to $252.6 million.

The bribery schemes that Weatherford used were varied but stunning in their brazen nature. Further, early on in the investigation, the company thumbed its nose at the Department of Justice (DOJ) by refusing to cooperate in any meaningful way and actually destroying documents and computer hard drives rather than turn over relevant documents. There were also examples of internal company whistleblowers, who were either ignored or, worse, terminated when they internally reported illegal conduct which violated the FCPA. Lastly, the company did not self-disclose their conduct so things started out badly, badly, did I say badly, for the company. But in spite of how things began, Weatherford was able to make a turnaround and substantially improve its position by reversing this initial nose-thumbing at US regulators. Over the next three blog posts I will explore the bribery schemes involved, how the company’s new-found attitude led to lower fines that might otherwise have been expected and what the lessons are for the compliance practitioner going forward.

DOJ Criminal Information and Deferred Prosecution Agreement

To resolve the criminal aspects of this case, Weatherford agreed to pay an $87.2 million criminal penalty as part of a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA) with the DOJ.

In the Information filed as a part of the resolution reveals that company employees established and operated a joint venture (JV) in Africa with two local entities controlled by foreign officials and their relatives from 2004 through at least 2008. These foreign officials selected the entities with which WSL would partner and the company knew that the members of the local entities included foreign officials’ relatives and associates. The sole purpose of those local entities was to serve as conduits through which WSL pay bribes to the foreign officials controlling them as neither of the JV partners contributed capital, expertise or labor to the JV. In exchange for the illegal payments they received, through the JV, lucrative contracts, gave WSL inside information about competitors’ pricing, and took contracts away from WSL’s competitors and awarded them to the JV.

The Information also noted that Weatherford knowingly failed to establish an effective system of internal accounting controls designed to detect and prevent corruption, including FCPA violations. The company failed to implement these internal controls despite operating in an industry with a substantial corruption risk profile and despite growing its global footprint in large part by purchasing existing companies, often themselves in countries with high corruption risks.   As a result, a permissive and uncontrolled environment existed within which employees of certain Weatherford’s wholly owned subsidiaries in Africa and the Middle East were able to engage in corrupt conduct over the course of many years, including the bribery of foreign officials.

In yet another scheme detailed in the Information, a Weatherford employee in the Middle East, gave improper “volume discounts” to a distributor who supplied company products to a government-owned National  Oil Company (NOC), believing that those discounts were being used to create a slush fund with which to make bribe payments to decision-makers at the NOC. Between 2005 and 2011, Weatherford Oil Tools Middle East Limited (WOTME) paid approximately $15 million in “volume discounts” to the distributor.

In its Press Release the DOJ also spoke to the nefarious conduct of the company. Acting Assistant Attorney General Raman was quoted as saying “This case demonstrates how loose controls and an anemic compliance environment can foster foreign bribery and fraud by a company’s subsidiaries around the globe. Although Weatherford’s extensive remediation and its efforts to improve its compliance functions are positive signs, the corrupt conduct of Weatherford International’s subsidiaries allowed it to earn millions of dollars in illicit profits, for which it is now paying a significant price.” He also said that “Effective internal accounting controls are not only good policy, they are required by law for publicly traded companies – and for good reason.” The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) chimed in when Assistant Director in Charge Parlave said that “The FBI is committed to investigating corrupt backroom deals that influence contract procurement and threaten our global commerce.”

SEC Compliant

In its civil Complaint, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) alleged that Weatherford and its subsidiaries falsified its books and records to conceal not only these illicit payments, but also commercial transactions with Cuba, Iran, Syria, and Sudan that violated US sanctions and export control laws. Further, the company failed to establish an effective system of internal accounting controls to monitor risks of improper payments and prevent or detect misconduct. The company obtained more than $59.3 million in profits from business obtained through improper payments, and more than $30 million in profits from its improper sales to sanctioned countries. This conduct lasted from 2002 up until 2011 and included the lack of internal controls plus the affirmative falsification of its books and records to facilitate the bribe payments. The payment of disgorgement, prejudgment interest, and civil penalties to the SEC was in the amount of $65,612,360.34.

As you would expect, the SEC focused on the company’s books and records violations. Andrew Ceresney, co-director of the SEC’s Enforcement Division, was quoted in the SEC’s Press Release that “The nonexistence of internal controls at Weatherford fostered an environment where employees across the globe engaged in bribery and failed to maintain accurate books and records,” said  “They used code names like ‘Dubai across the water’ to conceal references to Iran in internal correspondence, placed key transaction documents in mislabeled binders, and created whatever bogus accounting and inventory records were necessary to hide illegal transactions.” Kara Brockmeyer, Chief of the SEC Enforcement Division’s FCPA Unit, said, “Whether the money went to tax auditors in Albania or officials at the state-owned oil company in Angola, bribes and improper payments were an accustomed way for Weatherford to conduct business. While the profits may have seemed bountiful at the time, the costs far outweigh the benefits in the end as coordinated law enforcement efforts have unraveled the widespread schemes and heavily sanctioned the misconduct.”

All of the settlement documents are chocked full of information about bribery schemes Weatherford engaged in for many years. For the compliance practitioner, they provide a list that can be used a check and balance to see if your company may be engaging in any of these practices. Additionally, both the DOJ and SEC listed out the internal controls and books and records failures of the company. Tomorrow, I will review the specific bribery scheme and failures of the Weatherford compliance program.

For a copy of the DOJ Information, click here.

For a copy of the DOJ Deferred Prosecution Agreement, click here.

For a copy of the SEC Civil Compliant, click here.

For a copy of the Plea Agreement, click here.

For a copy of the DOJ Press Release, click here.

For a copy of the SEC Press Release, 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, 2013

November 5, 2013

Where Else? JP Morgan Chase Investigation into Hiring Practices Expands

IMG_3289One of the most dreaded questions in any Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) investigation is: Where Else? By this I mean that if you have a systemic failure of internal controls in one geographic area it may well be that there are other failures in other areas. Of course once a company begins any investigation; they may, as co-founder of thebriberyact.com Barry Vitou has famously said, well discover other “imperfections”. British understatement at its finest wouldn’t you say. This past weekend we saw another example of this in the JP Morgan Chase inquiry into its hiring of family members of government officials.

Back in August, the New York Times (NYT) reported that JP Morgan came under FCPA scrutiny in China for its hiring practices. In an article, entitled “Hiring in China By JPMorgan Under Scrutiny”, reporters Jessica Silver-Greenberg, Ben Protess and David Barboza broke the story that the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) had initiated an investigation into JP Morgan Chase to determine “whether JPMorgan Chase hired the children of powerful Chinese officials to help the bank win lucrative business in the booming nation.”

Hiring of a family member of a foreign government official is not illegal under the FCPA. The FCPA Professor was quoted in the NYT article as saying “While the hire of a son or daughter itself is not illegal, red flags would be raised if the person hired was not qualified for the position, or, for example, if a firm never received business before and then lo and behold, the hire brought in business.” In later blog post, entitled “JPMorgan’s Hiring Practices In China Under Scrutiny”, the FCPA Professor reviewed some enforcement actions “where the conduct at issue involved the hiring of children or spouses of alleged “foreign officials.”” In each of the FCPA enforcement actions, there was a quid pro quo for the hiring of the family member. In other words, the company received some benefit for the hiring of the government official’s family member; so the Department of Justice (DOJ) interpreted the hiring as ‘something of value’ going to the government official and thereby violating the FCPA.

The NYT article detailed several situations where JPMorgan hired the children of Chinese government officials and sometime thereafter the bank was able to secure work from the business or industry of a parent of a hired employee. The examples included the hiring of a “son of a former Chinese banking regulator who is now the chairman of the China Everbright Group, a state-controlled financial conglomerate, according to the document reviewed by the NYT, as well as public records. After the chairman’s son came on board, JPMorgan Chase secured multiple coveted assignments from the Chinese conglomerate, including advising a subsidiary of the company on a stock offering, records show.” In another instance, the bank hired the daughter of a Chinese railway official. After hiring the daughter, JP Morgan Chase was hired to assist the company to go public.

Things got worse for JP Morgan Chase when Dawn Kopecki, in a Bloomberg article entitled “JPMorgan Bribe Probe Said to Expand in Asia as Spreadsheet Is Found”, reported that there was “an internal spreadsheet that linked appointments to specific deals pursued by the bank”.  She noted that the original investigation, which began in Hong Kong, has now been expanded to other countries in Asia and that JP Morgan Chase “has opened an internal investigation that has flagged more than 200 hires for review, said two people with knowledge of the examination, results of which JPMorgan Chase is sharing with regulators.” Kopecki quoted Dan Hurson, a former US prosecutor and SEC lawyer, who said that the “SEC will hunt for evidence showing “these weren’t real jobs, that they were only there because their father or mother were important public officials””; and “If the public official requested the job for the child, that would be a strong indication to the company that the official was seeking and receiving something of value.” Perhaps more damaging was that the spreadsheet had information which apparently linked “some hiring decisions to specific transactions pursued by the bank.” In a later NYT article, entitled “JPMorgan Hiring Put China’s Elite on an Easy Track”, Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Ben Protess further reported that the JP Morgan Chase hiring program even had its own name, which was ‘Sons & Daughters’.

Now JP Morgan Chase has disclosed in a securities filing that “its business relationships with certain related clients in the Asia Pacific region and its engagement of consultants in the Asia Pacific region.” As reported in another NYT article, entitled “U.S. Inquiry Broadens Into Bank’s Asia Hiring”, “government authorities are examining JPMorgan’s hiring practices throughout Asia, focusing on South Korea, Singapore and India. That scrutiny comes after JPMorgan itself flagged those countries for further review, the people said.” In addition to possible FCPA issues, the NYT article reported that Hong Kong and British authorities “are also investigating the bank’s hiring practices.” In a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article, entitled “Probe Expands Into J.P. Morgan Hiring”, Dan Fitzpatrick reported that the SEC has issued subpoenas to JP Morgan Chase for not only the ‘Sons & Daughters’ hiring program but also “the use of certain consultants in the Asian-Pacific region.”

All of this compounds the bad news for JP Morgan Chase and the difficult period it is going through with several legal and regulatory investigations. However, this investigation regarding hiring practices has the possibility of expanding into enforcement actions with several different anti-corruption enforcement agencies, such as the DOJ and SEC and the UK Serious Fraud Office (SFO) and perhaps Hong Kong and Chinese regulators as well. So the dreaded “Where Else?” may well lead to the unearthing of further ‘imperfections’. At this point, about all I can say is ‘Stay tuned for further developments’.

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

June 26, 2013

The Rutgers Basketball Scandal – Some Questions for the Compliance Practitioner to Ask

The seemingly continuous saga of the Rutgers Athletic Department and the attendant fallout from the Mike Rice scandal has reappeared in the news recently. For those who do not remember this tale, it involved the head basketball coach who was videotaped physically abusing his players by hitting them, kicking them and throwing basketballs at them during practice. Of course he also verbally abused them as well. When asked about his coaching style by the Rutgers Athletic Director (AD) Tim Pernetti, Coach Rice admitted that he was “aggressive” or perhaps as Warren Zevon would say, “he’s just an excitable boy.” While I usually write about the lessons which a compliance practitioner can draw from an event or series of events, I will use the Rutgers basketball scandal to raise questions about how your compliance program might handle a claim of violations of a federal law such as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) or internal company policy, such as a Code of Conduct.

I.                   The Investigation

According to Jim McGrath, writing in the Internal Investigations Blog, in an article entitled “Focus For Next Rutgers Investigation”, Lacey interviewed six players, one former player, a former player who transferred from Rutgers, all of Rice’s assistants and other support personnel in the basketball program, Coach Rice himself, Eric Murdock, AD Pernetti, and a sports psychologist whom AD Pernetti consulted earlier this year. In addition, he reviewed nearly 50 hours of videotaped practices – roughly half of all practice time – during the coach’s tenure. He also kept AD Pernetti abreast of the results of his investigation during the pendency of the investigation.

In the initial investigation, Lacey found that Coach Rice’s behavior violated Rutgers policy barring workplace violence: “In sum, [I] believe there is sufficient evidence to find that certain actions of Coach Rice did ‘cross the line’ of permissible conduct and that such actions constituted harassment or intimidation within Rutgers’ Policy, Section 60.1.13.” That policy is Rutgers’ Workplace Violence Policy, in which “behavior [that] would be interpreted by a reasonable person as being evidenced (sic) of intent to cause physical harm to individuals or property” is prohibited. Lacey also believed that Coach Rice engaged in misconduct, which could be reasonably determined “to embarrass and bring shame or disgrace to Rutgers in violation of Coach Rice’s employment with Rutgers.” Lastly, Lacey concluded that Rice violated other terms of his five-year contract that would pay him $700,000 for the 2013-14 season that were added after previous disciplinary issues came to AD Pernetti’s attention.

While Lacey found that Coach Rice “did engage in certain conduct that went beyond mere cursing, including occasions where [he] used coarse, inappropriate and insulting language during practices and workouts, verbally attacked players in a manner outside the bounds of proper coaching, shoved and grabbed players on multiple occasions and engaged in other boorish and immature behavior,” it did not violate additional university policies – including Rutgers’ anti-bullying policy – and that the coach’s conduct “did not create a ‘hostile work environment’ as that term is understood in connection with anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies.”

Perhaps even more amazing, and a hint to the real purpose of the investigation and report, Lacey ended his report by stating, “Although couched in different terms, EM’s actual complaint is not for wrongful termination, but for AD Pernetti’s decision not to offer EM a new contract. AD Pernetti’s decision not to offer a new contract to EM was based on EM’s abandonment of his employment and his direct and deliberate insubordination, and was not based on any impermissible or retaliatory reason. Therefore, there was no violation of Rutgers’ CEPA policy.” So after all the work and interviews, the question remains as to what was the purpose of the investigation; to investigate the behavior of Coach Rice or give Rutgers cover in the whistleblower lawsuit claim of Murdock?

II.                Questions To Be Asked

As pointed out by McGrath, some troubling questions were raised by the release of the Lacey Report. For instance, what were the reasons for AD Pernetti’s action or inaction and that of other school administrators in the wake of the Lacey report? Did any Rutgers administrators violate university policies or their own contractual obligations in how they dealt with Coach Rice after the completion of the Lacey investigation? McGrath notes, not without some irony, that “Regardless of whether breaches of required conduct are found or not, Barchi’s acknowledgement in a press conference that – while he was fully briefed on Coach Rice’s actions and suspension – he had never seen the 30-minute video of his coach’s antics until last week, is particularly confounding. Citing a busy administrative schedule and the organizational need to rely upon the advice and counsel of underlings as a justification for not giving the evidence at least the once-over seems a poor excuse for his ignorance of the situation.”

To those questions posed by McGrath I would add some of the following:

A.     What is the role of Senior Management?

Whistleblower Murdock claims he sent 5 emails to the University President asking him to view the video. If something is so serious that it needs to get to the attention of the head of an organization, what should a subordinate do to get this attention? As President Barchi stated that as soon as he saw the video Coach Rice had to go, it begs the question of when should a General Counsel (GC), Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) or other employee engage a company president? What about the Board of Directors? If a President is too busy for you, is there a direct line to the Board for consultation?

B.     What is the role of your investigation?

An obvious starting point is to ask, “What is your investigation protocol?” A time of crisis is not the time to be writing out your investigation protocol or perhaps, even worse, revising it. We may never know what role the Interim GC played in determining the protocol or even looking to see if there was an investigation protocol. Some of the things that you need to consider are the following: Who reviews the results of your investigation? What is the role of an investigation? What is the scope of the investigation; is it to uncover the facts so the situation can be remedied; or is it to determine if you can be liable for taking remedial action?

Lastly, and this point is presented more starkly in the Rutgers scandal than in most commercial business situations I have seen, should the information be shared with a merger partner? Remember Rutgers was nearing the end of a yearlong process to join the Big Ten Conference. If this scandal had come out during the negotiations, would the Big Ten have continued to pursue Rutgers? More cynically, did all the publicity over the Rutgers scandal create more publicity about Rutgers joining the Big Ten and thereby increase brand awareness along the East Coast?

C.    When is a whistleblower an extortionist?

Another interesting facet of the Rutgers scandal is the claim that Murdock is actually trying to extort money out of Rutgers. It should be noted that Murdock did not surreptitiously videotape Coach Rice abusing his players. Murdock obtained Rutgers’ practice through Freedom of Records request from state of New Jersey and then edited the tapes down to the final version shown on ESPN, for which Rutgers officials roundly criticized him.

To bring a suit against Rutgers, a person must send a formal demand letter, which Murdock’s attorney did on or about December 26, 2012. Two weeks after his demand letter was rejected, Murdock leaked his video footage to ESPN. In April, New York Times (NYT) reporter Steve Eder, in an article entitled “F.B.I. Investigating Former Rutgers Assistant”, reported that the “F.B.I. is investigating whether the assistant at Rutgers who first voiced concerns about the abusive behavior of his boss, Mike Rice, tried to extort the university.” Conner Simpson, in another article in the Atlantic Wire entitled “The Rutgers Scandal Now Has an F.B.I. Extortion Investigation” asked, “How does leaking a video and getting your old boss fired amount to extortion, you ask?” He then said “Well, ESPN’S Don Van Natta Jr. reported Friday that Murdock wrote a letter to the school demanding $950,000 to settle his wrongful termination claims a month after he first showed Pernetti the video. Rutgers politely declined. Murdock filed a lawsuit against the school on Friday. So, uh.”

How many whistleblowers do you think Rutgers encouraged to come forward with this information before it became public? More importantly, how many whistleblowers do think will be encouraged to come forward in the future if they know that their fate will include a FBI investigation if they make a whistleblower claim and perhaps file a lawsuit?

A colleague of mine pointed out that I was very much in the milieu of ‘Monday Morning Quarter-backing’ with some of my criticisms of Rutgers. He correctly noted that decisions made in or near real time may look quite different many months or years down the road. On this point he is absolutely correct. So I think a key point from the Rutgers scandal is to document your reasoning and logic, in writing, before you assess any discipline or make any decisions so that months later you know exactly why those decisions were made. In other words, have a protocol in place and follow the protocol. If you change the protocol, document the reason that you do so. But sometimes you gut just knows something is really bad. One of those times is when your Chief Executive Officer (CEO) (or University President) says that within the first five minutes of reading a report (or seeing a video) they knew the person should be fired.

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

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