FCPA Compliance and Ethics Blog

October 22, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Thomas R. Fox, 2014

October 21, 2014

Carlton Fisk, The Homer and Oversight of a Profitable Subsidiary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Thomas R. Fox, 2014

October 15, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Thomas R. Fox, 2014

 

 

October 13, 2014

Ringo, Sir Paul and an Effective Compliance Program

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Thomas R. Fox, 2014

 

 

 

October 10, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Thomas R. Fox, 2014

September 25, 2014

Come On Get Happy – The Partridge Family and GSK’s Internal Investigation

Partridge Family BusToday we celebrate an anniversary of one of the all-time lows in the American cultural milieu; for on this date in 1970, the television show The Partridge Family appeared on the ABC Television network. Symbiotically created from the ashes of the television show The Monkees and the real-life family pop group The Cowsills; The Partridge Family starred, as its TV-mom, Oscar winning actress Shirley Jones and as her eldest TV son, and teenaged girl heartthrob, her real-life stepson David Cassidy. Proving once again that 1960s and 1970s television really was largely a cultural wasteland, the family romped and sang their way across a never-ending sunny southern California in multi-colored converted school bus. While the episodes themselves were as close to putrid as one can get, they did have better success with their lip-synced music from each episode. One song, I Think I Love You, reached No. 1 on the Billboard Pop Charts that year.

I thought about this strange convergence of history and culture (or perhaps the lack of culture) when considering more lessons learned from the GlaxoSmithKline PLC (GSK) corruption scandal. I was particularly focused on GSK’s response to at least two separate reports from an anonymous whistleblower (brilliantly self-monikered as GSK Whistleblower) of allegations of bribery and corruption going on in the company’s China business unit. One of the clear lessons from the GSK matter is that serious allegations of bribery and corruption require a serious corporate response. Not, as GSK appears to have done, in their best Inspector Clouseau imitation, not being able to find the nose on their face.

Further, and more nefariously, was GSK’s documented treatment of and history with internal whistleblowers. One can certainly remember GSK whistleblower Cheryl Eckard. A 2010 article in The Guardian by Graeme Wearden, entitled “GlaxoSmithKline whistleblower awarded $96m payout”, where he reported that Eckard was fired by the company “after repeatedly complaining to GSK’s management that some drugs made at Cidra were being produced in a non-sterile environment, that the factory’s water system was contaminated with micro-organisms, and that other medicines were being made in the wrong doses.” She later was awarded $96MM as her share of the settlement of a Federal Claims Act whistleblower lawsuit. Eckard was quoted as saying, “It’s difficult to survive this financially, emotionally, you lose all your friends, because all your friends are people you have at work. You really do have to understand that it’s a very difficult process but very well worth it.” So to think that GSK may simply have been SHOCKED, SHOCKED, that allegations of corruption were brought by an internal whistleblower may well be within the realm of accurate.

There would have seemed to have been plenty of evidence to let the company know that something askance was going on in its Chinese operations. The international press was certainly able to make that connection early on in the scandal. An article in the Financial Times (FT), entitled “China accuses GSK of bribery” by Kathrin Hille and John Aglionby, reported “GSK said it had conducted an internal four-month investigation after a tip-off that staff had bribed doctors to issue prescriptions for its drugs. The internal inquiry found no evidence of wrongdoing, it said.” Indeed after the release of information from the Chinese government, GSK said it was the first it had heard of the investigation. In a prepared statement, quoted in the FT, GSK said ““We continuously monitor our businesses to ensure they meet our strict compliance procedures – we have done this in China and found no evidence of bribery or corruption of doctors or government officials.” However, if evidence of such activity is provided we will act swiftly on it.”

Laurie Burkitt, reporting in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) in an article entitled “China Accuses Glaxo of Bribes”, wrote that “Emails and documents reviewed by the Journal discuss a marketing strategy for Botox that targeted 48 doctors and planned to reward them with either a percentage of the cash value of the prescription or educational credits, based on the number of prescriptions the doctors made. The strategy was called “Vasily,” borrowing its name from Vasily Zaytsev, a noted Russian sniper during World War II, according to a 2013 PowerPoint presentation reviewed by the Journal.” Burkitt reported in her article that “A Glaxo spokesman has said the company probed the Vasily program and “[the] investigation has found that while the proposal didn’t contain anything untoward, the program was never implemented.”” From my experience, if you have a bribery scheme that has its own code name, even if you never implemented that scheme, it probably means that the propensity for such is pervasive throughout the system.

I have often written about the need for a company to have an investigative protocol in place so that it is not making up its process in the face of a crisis. However the GSK matter does not appear to be that situation. It would not have mattered what investigation protocol that GSK followed, it would seem they were determined not to find any evidence of bribery and corruption in their China business unit. So the situation is more likely that GSK should have brought in a competent investigation expert law firm to head up their investigation in the face of this anonymous whistleblower’s allegations.

In an ACC Docket article, entitled “Risks and Rewards of an Independent Investigation”, authors James McGrath and David Hildebrandt discuss the use of specialized outside counsel to lead an independent internal investigation as compliance and ethics best practices. This is based upon the US Sentencing Guidelines, under which a scoring system is utilized to determine what a final sentence should be for a criminal act. Factors taken into account include the type of offense involved and the severity of the said offense, as well as the harm produced. Additional points are either added or subtracted for mitigating factors. One of the mitigating factors can be whether an organization had an effective compliance and ethics program. McGrath and Hildebrandt argue that a company must have a robust internal investigation.

McGrath and Hildebrandt take this analysis a step further in urging that a company, when faced with an issue such as an alleged Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) violation, should engage specialized counsel to perform the investigation. There were three reasons for this suggestion. The first is that the Department of Justice (DOJ) would look towards the independence and impartiality of such investigations as one of its factors in favor of declining or deferring enforcement. If in-house counsel were heading up the investigation, the DOJ might well deem the investigative results “less than trustworthy”.

Matthew Goldstein and Barry Meier discussed the need for independence from the company being investigated in an article the New York Times (NYT) about the General Motors (GM) internal investigation entitled “G.M Calls the Lawyers”. They quoted 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.”” Also quoted was Internal Investigations Blog editor, Jim McGrath who 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.”

The GSK experience in China will inform compliance practitioners for years to come with the company’s plethora of miss-steps. Perhaps one day the company will become as successful as The Partridge Family and they can open their annual meeting with The Partridge Family Theme - Come On Get Happy!

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

© Thomas R. Fox, 2014

September 24, 2014

Lessons from GSK in China – Internal Controls, Auditing and Monitoring

InvestigationsOne of the great things about writing your own blog is that sometimes you can get going on a subject and just explore it. While I think I might sometimes get carried away when I delve into a topic, I certainly learn much while doing so. This week appears to be such a situation where in studying and researching the GlaxoSmithKline PLC (GSK); I find that the case has much more to inform the compliance practitioner. So I am going to try and tie together some of the major lessons learned from the GSK Chinese enforcement action for the remainder of the week and present to you how such lessons might assist you in designing, implementing or upgrading a best practices compliance program. Today I want to look at internal controls, auditing and monitoring.

One of the questions that GSK will have to face during the next few years of bribery and corruption investigations is how an allegedly massive bribery and corruption scheme occurred in its Chinese operations? The numbers went upwards of $500MM, which coincidentally was the amount of the fine levied by the Chinese court on GSK. It is not as if the Chinese medical market is not well known for its propensity towards corruption, as prosecutions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) are littered with the names of US companies which came to corruption grief in China. GSK itself seemed to be aware of the corruption risks in China. In a Reuters article, entitled “How GlaxoSmithKline missed red flags in China”, Ben Hirschler reported that the company had “more compliance officers in China than in any country bar the United States”. Further, the company conducted “up to 20 internal audits in China a year, including an extensive 4-month probe earlier in 2013.” GSK even had PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) as its outside auditor in China. Nevertheless, he noted, “GSK bosses were blindsided by police allegations of massive corruption involving travel agencies used to funnel bribes to doctors and officials.”

Internal Controls

Where were the appropriate internal controls? You might think that a company as large as GSK and one that had gone through the ringer of a prior Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation resulting in charges for off-label marketing and an attendant Corporate Integrity Agreement (CIA) might have such controls in place. It was not as if the types of bribery schemes in China were not well known. In an article in the Financial Times (FT), entitled “Bribery built into the fabric of Chinese healthcare system”, reporters Jamil Anderlini and Tom Mitchell wrote about the ‘nuts and bolts’ of how bribery occurs in the health care industry in China. The authors quoted Shaun Rein, a Shanghai-based consultant and author of “The End of Cheap China”, for the following “This is a systemic problem and foreign pharmaceutical companies are in a conundrum. If they want to grow in China they have to give bribes. It’s not a choice because officials in health ministry, hospital administrators and doctors demand it.”

Their article discussed the two primary methods of paying bribes in China: the direct incentives and indirect incentives method. Anderlini and Mitchell reported, “The 2012 annual reports of half a dozen listed Chinese pharmaceutical companies reveal the companies paid out enormous sums in “sales expenses”, including travel costs and fees for sales meetings, marketing “business development” and “other expenses”. Most of the largest expenses were “travel costs or meeting fees and the expenses of the companies’ sales teams were, in every case, several multiples of the net profits each company earned last year.””

It would be reasonable to expect that internal controls over gifts would be designed to ensure that all gifts satisfy the required criteria, as defined and interpreted in Company policies. It should fall to a Compliance Officer to finalize and approve a definition of permissible and non-permissible gifts, travel and entertainment and internal controls will follow from such definition or criteria set by the company. These criteria would include the amount of the spend, localized down into increased risk such the higher risk recognized in China. Within this context, noted internal controls expert Henry Mixon has suggested the following specific controls. (1) Is the correct level of person approving the payment / reimbursement? (2) Are there specific controls (and signoffs) that the gift had proper business purpose? (3) Are the controls regarding gifts sufficiently preventative, rather than relying on detect controls? (4) If controls are not followed, is that failure detected?

Auditing Lessons Learned

Following Mixon’s point 4 above, what can or should be a company’s response if one country’s gifts, travel and entertainment expenses were kept ‘off the books’? This is where internal audit or outside auditors are critical. Hirschler quoted an un-named source for the following, ““You’d look at invoices and expenses, and it would all look legitimate,” said a senior executive at one top accountancy firm. The problem with fraud – if it is good fraud – is it is well hidden, and when there is collusion high up then it is very difficult to detect.”” Jeremy Gordon, director of China Business Services was quoted as saying “There is a disconnect between the global decision makers and the guys running things on the ground. It’s about initially identifying red flags and then searching for specifics.”

There are legitimate reasons to hold medical conferences, such as to make physicians aware of products and the latest advances in medicine, however, this legitimate purpose can easily be corrupted. Hirschler quoted Paul Gillis, author of the China Accounting Blog, for the following “Travel agencies are used like ATMs in China to distribute out illegal payments. Any company that does not have their internal audit department all over travel agency spending is negligent.” Based on this, GSK’s auditors should have looked more closely on marketing expenses and more particularly, the monies spent on travel agencies. Hirschler wrote, “They [un-named auditing experts] say that one red flag was the number of checks being written to travel agencies for sending doctors to medical conferences, although this may have been blurred by the fact that CME accounts for a huge part of drug industry marketing.”

Another issue for auditing is materiality. If GSK’s internal auditors had not been trained that there is no materiality standard under the FCPA, they may have simply skipped past a large number of payments made that were under a company’s governance procedure for elevated review of expenses. Further, if more than one auditor was involved with more than one travel agency, they may not have been able to connect the dots regarding the totality of payments made to one travel agency.

Ongoing Monitoring

A final lesson learned for today is monitoring. As Stephen Martin often says, many compliance practitioners confuse auditing with monitoring. Monitoring is a commitment to reviewing and detecting compliance programs in real time and then reacting quickly to remediate them. A primary goal of monitoring is to identify and address gaps in your program on a regular and consistent basis. Auditing is a more limited review that targets a specific business component, region, or market sector during a particular timeframe in order to uncover and/or evaluate certain risks.

Here I want to focus on two types of ongoing monitoring. The first is relationship monitoring, performed by companies such Boston-based Catelas, through software products. It was reported in a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article, entitled “Glaxo Probes Tactics Used to Market Botox in China”, that internal GSK emails showed the company’s China sales staff were instructed by local managers to use their personal email addresses to discuss marketing strategies related to Botox. The Catelas software imports and analyzes communications data, like email, IM, telephony and SMTP log files from systems such as Microsoft Exchange Servers and Lotus Notes. The software then leverages social network analysis and behavioral science algorithms to analyze this communications data. These interactions are used to uncover and display the networks that exist within companies and between the employees of companies. Additionally, relationships between employees and external parties such as private webmail users, competitors and other parties can be uncovered.

The second type of monitoring is transaction monitoring. Generally speaking, transaction monitoring involves review of large amounts of data. The analysis can be compared against an established norm which is derived either against a businesses’ own standard or an accepted industry standard. If a payment, distribution or other financial payment made is outside an established norm, thus creating a red flag that can be tagged for further investigation.

GSK’s failure in these three areas now seems self-evident. However, the company’s foibles can be useful for the compliance practitioner in assessing where their company might be in these same areas. Moreover, as within any anti-corruption enforcement action, you can bet your bottom dollar that the regulators will be assessing best practices going forward based upon some or all of GSK’s miss-steps going forward.

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

© Thomas R. Fox, 2014

September 12, 2014

The FCPA Compliance and Ethics Report

If you have not done so, I hope that you might go over to my podcast site, the FCPA Compliance and Ethics Report,  to check out some of my recent podcasts. The episodes are between 20-30 minutes long and they are available for download on iTunes so you can listen to them on your commute to work or when working out at the gym.

Internal Controls

I have begun a series on internal controls in a best practices FCPA compliance program with noted internal controls expert Henry Mixon. In Parts I & II, Mixon and I discuss the basics of what are internal controls. These podcasts supplement some of my recent blogs on internal controls.

Episode 85-What Are Internal Controls, Part I

Episode 87-What Are Internal Controls, Part II

HR and Compliance

One of the best allies for the compliance function in any company is the Human Resources department. I explore how HR can assist compliance in a myriad of components of any best practices compliance program.

Episode 86-Use of HR in a Compliance Program

Continuous Improvement of a Compliance Program

In the FCPA Guidance and in almost every speech I have heard by a Department of Justice official, they talk about how your compliance program should evolve to meet new compliance risks, changes in best practices, geographic markets where your company does business and new product/service offerings. You can do this by continuous improvement of your compliance program.

Episode 84-Continuous Improvement of Your Compliance Program

The Compliance EcoSystem

Jon Rydberg is the Founder and CEO of Orchid Advisors. He is also the former CCO of Smith & Wesson and was at the company when it navigated it way through a FCPA investigation and enforcement proceeding. From these experiences, Rydberg has developed a holistic approach to compliance which he has trademarked as the “Compliance EcoSystem”. I explore his ideas on an fully integrated approach to compliance

Episode 83-Interview with Jon Rydberg

Use of Interviews in Your Compliance Program

Brian Ching is the most famous player in the history of the Houston Dynamos soccer club. Ching recently retired and moved into the front office as the General Manager of the Houston Dash, the Houston professional women’s soccer club. I interviewed Ching on his transition to management and how the Dash use the face-to-face interview process to not only assess the non-soccer skills that the team requires of its players but also to communicate the team’s expectations. There are some very significant insights about how a company can communicate its expectations regarding ethical business practices.

Episode 79-Interview with Brian Ching

The FCPA Professor

Finally and last but certainly not least, I bring back the FCPA Professor for a two-part podcast on his new book The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act In a New Era.

Episode 80, Interview with the FCPA Professor, Part I

Episode 81-Interview with the FCPA Professor, Part II

A good weekend to all.

September 8, 2014

Board of Directors and FCPA Oversight – An Internal Control Under SOX, Part II

Circle DiagramIn Part I of this two-part post regarding a Board of Director’s Role in Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) oversight from the internal controls perspective, I reviewed how a Board might have independent liability for its failure to act as an appropriate internal control as required by Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX). Today I will review what internal controls are and what a Board’s role is within the context of internal controls.

Beginning on Tuesday, in conjunction with this two-part blog, my colleague Henry Mixon, Principal of Mixon Consulting, and myself are recording a podcast series on internal controls, which can be found on FCPA Compliance and Ethics Report. We are discussing the following areas: what are internal controls; how a company might use them and how they can be implemented? In the first of the podcast series I asked Mixon what are internal controls? He began with the textbook definition, which he said was “Internal controls are systematic measures (such as reviews, checks and balances, methods and procedures) instituted by an organization to:

  • conduct its business in an orderly and efficient manner,
  • safeguard its assets and resources,
  • deter and detect errors, fraud, and theft,
  • ensure accuracy and completeness of its accounting data,
  • produce reliable and timely financial and management information, and
  • Ensure adherence to its policies and plans.

Mixon noted that internal controls should be instituted entity wide, not simply limited to those functions used or reviewed by accountants and auditors. For an anti-corruption compliance regime such as the FCPA or UK Bribery Act, internal controls are measures to provide reasonable assurances that any assets or resources of a company (not limited to cash) cannot be used to pay a bribe. This definition includes diversion of company assets (such as by unauthorized sales discounts or receivables write-offs) as well as the distribution of assets.

Mixon noted that the basic framework for internal controls is derived from the COSO Model developed by the Committee of Sponsoring Organizations of the Treadway Commission in 1992 (COSO). This model has become the standard for an internal control framework and provides a structure to ensure companies address the key elements that should result in an effective system of internal controls. Using the COSO Model, as modified in 2013, provides a very supportable approach when adversarial third parties challenge whether a company has effective internal controls. The COSO Model defines internal controls in a pyramid, from bottom to top, as follows: (a) Control environment, (b) Risk assessment, (c) Control activities, (d) Information and communication, and (e) Monitoring.

In the 2013 update the basic framework was retained with substantial support from user companies, and 3 specific objectives were added: (I) Operations Objectives – effectiveness and efficiency of operations, including safeguarding assets against loss; (II) Reporting objectives – internal and external financial reporting; and (III) Compliance objectives – adherence to laws and regulations to which the entity is subject. According to the guidance in the 2013 update, the system of internal controls can be considered effective only if it provides reasonable assurance the organization, among other things, complies with applicable laws, rules, regulations and external standards. With the addition of those specific objectives, the COSO framework now specifically includes the need for controls to address compliance with laws and regulations.

We then turned to the question of which internal controls does a company need to institute? Mixon said that each company defines its internal controls to fit its business by determining what the Company wishes to protect and what type of control environment does it want to have in place. This means that they can be less formal in smaller companies but still effective if the focus is on the right risks. Based upon FCPA guidance, the most common control needs have been identified as follows: (i) Dealings with third parties; (ii) Gifts and entertainment, and (iii) Charitable donations. Yet even within those categories, a wide range of risks exists, depending on a company’s business practices. Mixon emphasized that a Top Down ‘Check-the-box’ generic set of policies will not likely result in effective controls.

The process to determine which internal controls are needed will be of some familiarity to the compliance professional. It all starts with a risk assessment to establish the corporate policies which are applicable, tailored to the company, and sufficiently specific. The risk assessment will also help to identify the types of transactions across the company which should be addressed (gifts and entertainment, maintenance of bank accounts and movement of cash, dealings with third parties, etc.). The next step is to prepare a set of documents which define the control objectives to be in place for each type of transaction – example: “Controls will be in place to ensure no vendor has been added to the vendor master file until complete due diligence has been completed and the vendor has been approved in accordance with Corporate policies. Thereafter, you will need to document how the controls will be performed and how they will be evidenced and then incorporate the control procedures into applicable work instructions and job descriptions.” Mixon cautioned that for each business location, determine the specific controls needed to accomplish each control objective. In many companies, a disparity of operating practices and accounting systems will result in different controls being needed. He ended by emphasizing that while this assignment may seem overwhelming it can be done in reasonable stages, pursuant to a specific implementation plan – it does not have to be done all at once for the entire company.

As you will recall from Part I, I believe, as gleaned from Jim Doty’s remarks, that a Board must not only have a corporate compliance program in place it must also actively oversee that function. This led me to conclude that failure to perform these functions may lead to independent liability of a Board for its failure to perform its allotted tasks in an effective compliance program. Doty’s remarks drove home one of the roles that a Board performs, which fulfills those tasks. Internal controls work together with compliance policies and procedures as stated by Aaron Murphy, a partner at Akin Gump, in his book “Foreign Corrupt Practices Act”, as “an interrelated set of compliance mechanisms.” Murphy went on to say that, “Internal controls are policies, procedures, monitoring and training that are designed to ensure that company assets are used properly, with proper approval and that transactions are properly recorded in the books and records. While it is theoretically possible to have good controls but bad books and records (and vice versa), the two generally go hand in hand – where there are record-keeping violations, an internal controls failure is almost presumed because the records would have been accurate had the controls been adequate.”

Murphy breaks down internal controls into five concepts, which I have adapted for a Board or Board subcommittee role for compliance:

  1. Corporate Compliance Policy and Code of Conduct – A Board should have an overall governance document which will inform the company, its employees, stakeholders and third parties of the conduct the company expects from an employee. If the company is global/multi-national, this document should be translated into the relevant languages as appropriate.
  2. Risk Assessment – A Board should assess the compliance risks associated with its business.
  3. Implementing Procedures – A Board should determine if the company has a written set of procedures in place that instructs employees on the details of how to comply with the company’s compliance policy.
  4. Training – There are two levels of Board training. The first should be that the Board has a general understanding of what the FCPA is and it should also understand its role in an effective compliance program.
  5. Monitor Compliance – A Board should independently test, assess and audit to determine if its compliance policies and procedures are a ‘living and breathing program’ and not just a paper tiger.

There have been several FCPA enforcement actions where the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) discuss the failure of internal controls as a basis for FCPA liability. The Smith & Wesson enforcement action is but the latest. With the questions about the Walmart Board of Directors and their failure to act in the face of allegations of bribery and corruption in the company’s Mexico subsidiary, or contrasting failing to even be aware of the allegations; there may soon be an independent basis for an FCPA violation for a Board’s failure to perform its internal controls function in a best practices compliance program.

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

© Thomas R. Fox, 2014

September 5, 2014

Board of Directors and FCPA Oversight – An Internal Control Under SOX, Part I

Sam HoustonToday we begin by honoring the political process and a politician extraordinaire for on this day in 1836, Sam Houston was elected as the first President of the Republic of Texas. One of the most interesting characters from the early-to-mid-19th century, Houston was born in Virginia in 1793, moved with his family to rural Tennessee as a teenager and later ran away and lived for several years with the Cherokee tribe. Houston served in the War of 1812. He practiced law in Nashville and from 1823 to 1827 served as a US congressman before being elected governor of Tennessee in 1827. He was extensively interviewed for Alex De Tocqueville’s seminal work Democracy in America.

A failed marriage led Houston to resign from office and live again with the Cherokee who officially adopted him. In 1832, President Andrew Jackson sent him to Texas to negotiate treaties with local Native Americans for protection of border traders. Houston arrived in Texas during a time of rising tensions between US settlers and Mexican authorities and soon emerged as a leader among the settlers. In 1835, Texans formed a provisional government, which issued a declaration of independence from Mexico the following year. Houston was appointed military commander of the Texas army.

Houston served as the Republic of Texas President until 1838, then again from 1841 to 1844. Houston helped Texas win admission to the United States in 1845 and was elected as one of the state’s first two senators. He served three terms in the Senate and ran successfully for Texas’ governorship in 1859. As the Civil War loomed, Houston argued unsuccessfully against secession, and was deposed from office in March 1861 after refusing to swear allegiance to the Confederacy. He died of pneumonia in 1863.

This political process angle informs your anti-corruption compliance program through the passage of Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX). Yesterday, I was at a presentation, where James Doty, Commissioner of the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) spoke. One of the questions was put to him was regarding the function of a Board of Directors under SOX, which I thought had some significant implications for Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) compliance. He was asked if the Board or its sub-committee which handles audits was a part of a company’s internal financial controls. He answered that yes, he believed that was one of the roles of an Audit Committee or full Board. I had never thought of the Board as an internal control but the more I thought about it, the more I realized it was an important insight for any Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) or compliance practitioner.

In the FCPA Guidance, in the Ten Hallmarks of an Effective Compliance Program, there are two specific references to the obligations of a Board. The first in Hallmark No. 1 , which states, “Within a business organization, compliance begins with the board of directors and senior executives setting the proper tone for the rest of the company.” The second is found under Hallmark No. 3, entitled “Oversight, Autonomy and Resources”, where it discusses that the CCO should have “direct access to an organization’s governing authority, such as the board of directors and committees of the board of directors (e.g., the audit committee).” Further, under the US Sentencing Guidelines, the Board must exercise reasonable oversight on the effectiveness of a company’s compliance program. The Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Prosecution Standards posed the following queries: (1) Do the Directors exercise independent review of a company’s compliance program? and (2) Are Directors provided information sufficient to enable the exercise of independent judgment? Doty’s remarks drove home to me the absolute requirement for Board participation in any best practices or even effective anti-corruption compliance program.

Board liability for its failure to perform its assigned function in any compliance program is well known. David Stuart, an attorney with Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP, noted that FCPA compliance issues can lead to personal liability for directors, as both the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and DOJ have been “very vocal about their interest in identifying the highest-level individuals within the organization who are responsible for the tone, culture, or weak internal controls that may contribute to, or at least fail to prevent, bribery and corruption”. He added that based upon the SEC’s enforcement action against two senior executives at Nature’s Sunshine Products, “Under certain circumstances, I could see the SEC invoking the same provisions against audit committee members—for instance, for failing to oversee implementation of a compliance program to mitigate risk of bribery”. It would not be too far a next step for the SEC to invoke the same provisions against audit committee members who do not actively exercise oversight of an ongoing compliance program.

Further, the SEC has made clear that it believes a Board should take a more active role in overseeing the management of risk within a company. The SEC has promulgated Regulation SK 407 under which each company must make a disclosure regarding the Board’s role in risk oversight which “may enable investors to better evaluate whether the board is exercising appropriate oversight of risk.” If this disclosure is not made, it could be a securities law violation and subject the company, which fails to make it, to fines, penalties or profit disgorgement.

I believe that a Board must not only have a corporate compliance program in place but actively oversee that function. Further, if a company’s business plan includes a high-risk proposition, there should be additional oversight. In other words, there is an affirmative duty to ask the tough questions. But it is more than simply having a compliance program in place. The Board must exercise appropriate oversight of the compliance program and indeed the compliance function. The Board needs to ask the hard questions and be fully informed of the company’s overall compliance strategy going forward.

Lawyers often speak to and advise Boards on their legal obligations and duties. However the insight I received from the Q&A with James Doty drove home a different, yet very valuable point to me. If a Board’s oversight is part of effective financial controls, then the failure to do so may result in something far worse than bad governance. It may directly lead to a FCPA violation and could even form the basis of an independent FCPA violation.

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

© Thomas R. Fox, 2014

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