FCPA Compliance and Ethics Blog

October 31, 2012

From Trick or Treat through Thanksgiving: Examining the Past to Prepare for the Future

Ed. Note- For those of you who do not know her, Mary Shaddock Jones is one of the compliance professions I regularly rely on for advice. I continually ask her to send over some guest posts as they are always topical, top notch and provide practical advice for the compliance practitioner. I will be out of pocket over the next two weeks and Mary has agreed to take over the lion’s share of posts for my blog. Today she begins her series with a topical post on chocolates and the pre-holiday season from Halloween to Thanksgiving. I know you will not only enjoy her series but get quite a bit out of them.

This summer, the Securities and Exchange commission charged Texas-based medical device company Orthofix International with violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) through improper payments of bribes (code named “chocolate”) to officials at Mexico’s government-owned health care and social services institution, Instituto Mexicana del Seguro Social (“ IMSS”), in order to obtain or retain business.  Sure, for those of you who regularly read Tom Fox’s blog, this is old news.  However, since he is off and today is Halloween, I thought I would start a series for the next two weeks re-examining some of the more recent, and perhaps not so recent cases with a fresh set of eyes.

The practical pointer for today’s blog is straightforward – it is imperative that companies which have FCPA exposure audit both their petty cash accounts, and all expenses coded to training and promotion. This is apparently where the improper expenditures were “hidden” by employees of Orthofix.  In my experience, companies need to be closely reviewing what little case law or factual allegations exist with regard to the FCPA so that they too know where to find any potential problems that may exist within their own company.  There are only so many ways to hide the dollar.  If you find yourself sitting in front of the DOJ and/or SEC in the future on allegations related to a violation of the FCPA…you will not gain any “chocolate points” if you haven’t implemented a robust compliance program.  But as FCPA practitioners have said over and over again – simply having a Code of Business Conduct, an Anti-Corruption Policy Manual and even person to person training is not enough.  You have to be proactive in trying to find what others don’t want to be found.  That is why the Orthofix employees didn’t book the improper payments as “bribes”.  They aren’t stupid.  They know this is one red flag that will stop the energizer bunny in its tracks.  So instead, they disguise the improper payments in a way that they think is clever.

According to the SEC, in order to obtain cash for the bribes, the Promeca executives wrote checks to themselves, which they justified as “cash advances”.  A smart person in the accounting department would ask – what was the cash advance for?  What was bought?  Are their valid receipts which state what was bought, when was it bought, who was taken to dinner or lunch, what was discussed, etc?  In order to continue the deception, the executives submitted false receipts for imaginary expenses including meals and new car tires.   Practical Pointer:  It may be a boring and tedious task, and one which hopefully never uncovers questionable payments – but companies must have someone in charge of reviewing expense reports – for everyone – from the top dog on down to the dog walker.  Do you have a process in place for reviewing expense accounts?  If not, put one in place.

Unfortunately for Orthofix, the improper payments became too large to hide in expense reports; therefore, a new hiding place had to be located.  The next best thing to expense reports is training and promotional expenses.   Remember that the FCPA includes three affirmative defenses under its anti-bribery provisions – the first of which is “reasonable and bona fide expenditures related to certain promotional activities”.  If the FCPA allows the payment for “promotional expenses”, what better place to hide improper payments than in plain sight?   Just because someone calls an expense a promotional expense, does not mean that the Company does not have to trust, but verify.

Specifically, the FCPA permits payments if the payment to a foreign official was a “reasonable and bona fide expenditure, such as travel or accommodation expense, that was directly related to the demonstration of a product or service, or performance of a contract with a governmental agency.”  Unfortunately, I was unable to determine from the public filings how the training or promotional payments were characterized so as to allow them to remain undetected by the accounting department at Orthofix until hundreds of thousands of dollars in improper payments had been made.  However, the practical pointer for you is this – do you have a process in place which places controls over when expenditures can be made for travel and lodging/training and/or promotional/marketing expenses?

Consider the following policy language:

The FCPA permits the payment of reasonable and bona fide expenditures on behalf of a Government Official and directly related to (1) the promotion, demonstration, or explanation of products or services; or (2) the execution or performance of a contract with a non-U.S. government or agency thereof.

Travel and Lodging: No travel or lodging may be offered or given to a Government Official without the prior written consent of the Company Compliance Officer or his or her designee and must meet the following guidelines: (1) it serves a legitimate Company business purpose; (2) invitations to a Government Official are transparent, in writing, and clearly state the business purpose of the trip; (3) no payment is made directly to a Government Official either through an advance or reimbursement for expenses (the Company should directly purchase travel or lodging from those who provide them, utilizing a travel agent or other third party if possible); (4) providing “per diem” fees or expenses is avoided, particularly where meals are already being provided; (5) no cash payments to a Government Official are made whatsoever; (6) travel and lodging expenses are only provided for the identified Government Official and not for spouses, family, or friends of the Government Official; (7) travel arrangements are directly between the place of residence or employment of the Government Official and the intended destination of the business travel, with no non-business side trips; (8) no reimbursements are paid without presentation of appropriate receipts; (9) providing the travel or lodging is permitted under local law and regulations and guidelines of the recipient’s governmental entity (note that some customers have strict policies against receiving gifts); and  (10) other than the travel or lodging identified above, the Government Official is not compensated for his or her participation in the planned trip.

Guidelines for Entertainment: Unless prior written approval from the Company Compliance Officer or his or her designee is obtained, entertainment provided to a Government Official must meet the following guidelines: (1) it serves a legitimate Company business purpose; (2) providing the entertainment is permitted under local law and regulations and guidelines of the recipient’s governmental entity (note that some customers have strict policies against receiving gifts); (3) it is of the type and value that is reasonable (not lavish, excessive, or frequent); (4) it is in line with the local customs of the country where provided; (5) it is of a type that is appropriate (e.g. no strip clubs); and (6) it is accurately recorded in the Company’s books and records.

Guidelines for Marketing Expenses: Unless prior written approval from the Company Compliance Officer or his or her designee is obtained, marketing materials (such as pens, caps, or mugs) provided to a Government Official must meet the following guidelines: (1) they serve a legitimate Company business purpose; (2) they are of nominal value; (3) they are of the type and value that are customary and appropriate for the occasion;(4) they are branded with the Company’s name and/or logo; (5) they are permitted under local law and regulations and guidelines of the recipient’s governmental entity (note that some customers have strict policies against receiving gifts); and (6) they are fully and accurately recorded in the Company’s books and records.

Remember, it is not enough to simply have a policy in place; you must also conduct trainings (have the training in both English and the predominant local language of your employees) and audits to ensure compliance.

No more chocolates for today… tomorrow is All Saints Day.  Stay tuned to see who didn’t perhaps make the list of saints.

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Mary Shaddock Jones has practiced law for 25 years in Texas and Louisiana primarily in the international marine and oil service industries.  She was of the first individuals in the United States to earn TRACE Anti-bribery Specialist Accreditation (TASA).  She can be reached at msjones@msjllc.com or 337-513-0335. Her associate, Miller M. Flynt, assisted in the preparation of this series.  He can be reached at mmflynt@msjllc.com.

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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 Wolfman and Opinion Release 12-02

Even a man who is pure in heart,

and says his prayers by night,

may become a wolf when the wolfsbane blooms,

and the autumn moon is bright.

 

Today is Halloween and in this post I conclude my celebration of the Universal Pictures classic monster movies from the 30s and 40s. Today I submit, for your compliance consideration, my favorite of the classic monsters movies The Wolfman. I simply cannot see this movie enough. From the horrific scene where Lon Chaney Jr. kills Bela, the gypsy who had the pentagram, the mark of the wolf, to the ending scene where Claude Rains inadvertently kills his son, Lon Chaney Jr., in his incarnation as the beast with a silver tipped cane, I find it to be the most psychologically complex of all the classic Universal monsters.

The acting was first rate. Lon Chaney Jr. as Larry brought a psychologically-nuance to the role that rivals only Karloff as Frankenstein’s Monster for depth and complexity. Claude Rains, although a good 6 inches shorter than Chaney, plays his father Sir John Talbot and showed why he was one of the great character actors from the 1930s to the 1960s. Maria Ouspenskaya as the gypsy fortuneteller Maleva who cares for Chaney after he has been attacked by her son and changed into a werewolf brings heart and soul to a role which could have easily fallen into camp. And then there is Evelyn Ankers as Gwen Conliffe, Talbot’s love interest. In many ways she ascended to the ‘damsel in distress’ role created by Fay Wray in King Kong. She is gorgeous in the role and just the right amount of innocence and sex appeal.

In the twilight and with low hanging shrouds of fog, Larry attempts to rescue Gwen’s friend Jenny from what he believes to be a sudden wolf attack, he kills the beast with his new walking stick, but is bitten on the chest in the process. The gypsy fortune teller, Maleva reveals to Larry that the animal which bit him was actually her son Bela (played by the omnipresent Béla Lugosi) in the form of a wolf. She tells Larry that Bela had been a werewolf for years and now he would be transformed into one. When the full moon rises, the sign of the Pentagram appears on Larry and he is transformed into a wolf-like creature and stalks the village, first killing the local gravedigger. He retains vague memories of being a werewolf and wanting to kill, and continually struggles to overcome his condition. He is finally bludgeoned to death by Sir John, with his own silver walking stick, after attacking Gwen.

My favorite scene? It actually occurs in the first sequel, Frankenstein Meets The Wolfman, where two forlorn grave robbers break into the Talbot Family Crypt, where Larry is buried after being killed by his father at the end of the original Wolfman movie. They pry open the burial tomb just as the full moon is arising, which of course awakens the beast in Larry. He transforms into the Wolfman and kills the grave robbers. It simply is a fantastic cacophony of light, shading, violence, folklore and terror.

So what does The Wolfman introduce from the compliance perspective? In this case, it is reverse psychology. It is the latest Department of Justice (DOJ) Opinion Release, 12-02, which was dated October 18, 2012 but was not released publicly until last week. In 12-02 certain Requestors, which were 19 non-profit adoption agencies located in the US, asked the DOJ about bringing certain foreign governmental officials involved in the foreign country’s adoption process to the US. All the foreign governmental officials are involved in the process of allowing children from their country go through the adoption process with the US non-profits involved. The trips to the US will be for two days of meetings.

The purpose of the visit will be to demonstrate the Requestors’ work to the government officials so that the officials can see how adopted children from the foreign country have adjusted to life in the US and to help the Requestors learn how they can ensure that they provide the foreign country’s government with appropriate information during the adoption process. The Requestors will allow the government officials to meet with the Requestors’ employees and to inspect the Requestors’ offices and case files from previous adoptions. The foreign country’s government officials will also meet with families who have adopted children from their country and learn more about the Requestors’ work.

In this Opinion Release, the DOJ opined on a question regarding the payment for travel of these foreign governmental officials and whether the proposed trip would violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).

The Opinion Release set out the representations made by the Requestors to the DOJ which formed the basis for its decision. The Requestors stated that they would pay for the following:

  • Business class airfare on international portions of flights for ministers, members of the legislature, and the director of the Orphanage Agency; coach airfare for international portions of flights for all other government officials; and coach airfare for domestic portions of flights for all government officials;
  • Two or three nights hotel stay at a business-class hotel;
  • Meals during the officials’ stays; and
  • Transportation between agencies and local transportation.

The DOJ also noted the Requestors spending on meals and hotels would not exceed the rate set by the US General Services Administration for US government employees traveling within the US. The Requestors also made the following presentations which are consistent with prior DOJ guidance on travel, meals and entertainment.

  • Entertainment – The entertainment will be of nominal cost and will involve families who have adopted children from the foreign country. In other words, a clear business purpose is involved.
  • Selection – The Requestors did not select the foreign governmental officials to attend the trip but left that decision to the foreign government.
  • No WAGS – The Requestors would only host the foreign governmental officials selected for the trip. There would be no spouses or family members brought along on this trip.
  • Souvenirs – If there are any souvenirs presented to the visiting foreign officials, they will be of nominal value.
  • Spending money – There will be no spending money provided to the foreign officials and they will not receive any stipends. There will be no additional monies paid to the visiting officials in any form.

So while poor Larry Talbot was doomed to run afoul of the laws of man when he became the Wolfman, you need not have the same result under your compliance program. I believe that Opinion Release 12-02 shows once again that if you have a compliance question or concern, the Opinion Release procedure is available to you to ask the DOJ if your proposed activity would violate the FCPA. But more than simply showing the procedure, I think that the DOJ once again shows how a reasoned approach, laid out in a rational manner, will be seriously considered, reviewed and can lead to a favorable result. Even the question of business class airfare can be handled in reasoned approach as shown by this Opinion Release. I disagree with the FCPA Professor in that there is a “high level of anxiety and skittishness in this current era of FCPA enforcement out there” because, as this Opinion Release shows you need not fear FCPA enforcement, even when the wolfsbane blooms, and the autumn moon is bright.

I hope that you have enjoyed this series of posts using the Universal Pictures classic monsters films as starting points for the discussion of compliance issues. I certainly have enjoyed writing about them and watching them yet again. A special thanks to my wife Michele for sitting through yet another October viewing of these movies. If you did enjoy these posts and want to see the best versions of these movies currently available, you should check out the Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection [Blu-ray].

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

© Thomas R. Fox, 2012

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