FCPA Compliance and Ethics Blog

June 23, 2015

Fraud and the Detection of the Sources for Bribery


Detection of FraudIn a recent White Paper authored by Peter Smith for OFS Portal, entitled “Procurement and Fraud in the Supply Chain”, where he examined “fraud linked to procurement and supply chain activities.” Smith focuses on where fraud can occur in the procurement process. From this starting point, he suggests “mitigating actions that organisations can take to protect themselves against fraud.” I found this article to be an excellent review of Supply Chain (SC) activities which the Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) or compliance practitioner could put to good use in reviewing their company’s Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) anti-corruption and anti-bribery regime.

A. The Problem – How Does Fraud Happen?

Smith starts by classifying fraud in way which will assist the reader in understanding how it occurs. He believes there are “three critical factors to consider: the perpetrator(s), the plan and the point of failure.” The perpetrator is the one “behind the fraud and either executes it directly or through others.” In the anti-corruption world of the FCPA, this can be through an agent or a supplier who is working to help execute the fraud.

Interestingly, in the area of these third parties (and hence the greatest area of risk for FCPA compliance practitioners to consider) Smith notes that “The plan and point of failure factors are linked in that often the plan relies on the point of failure. In other words, most frauds take advantage in some weakness in the process, technology, policy or systems of combination of those.” Smith writes that there are three key phases “in the procurement life-cycle that can be considered; (1) the supplier selection phase; (2) the contract negotiation and award phase; and (3) the contract delivery management phase.”

Phase I – Supplier Selection and Qualification

This phase should be well known to the compliance practitioner as a part of the third party life-cycle management step denominated as due diligence. But Smith asks that you consider factors other than simply whether someone is on the Denied Parties List (DNP) or is a Politically Exposed Person (PEP). He suggests that you consider misrepresentation by the third party in the nature of “concealing the true nature of its business, history or ownership when it bids for the work.” He also points out that through collusion and cartels, persons or entities can work to control a market. If you did any work with Petrobras over the years, you will certainly recognize that many if its approved suppliers operated in this manner. Given what we now know about how corrupt Petrobras was, this is not too surprising.

But Smith also suggests that employees may be involved in skewing the selection process towards a corrupt agent or other partner. He recommends reviewing the bid process to see if there was bias in the competition, which would push an otherwise arms-length award to a corrupt partner. This could occur through biased competition through specification, where an employee would “construct a specification that makes it likely or inevitable that a particular supplier will win the competitive process.” The next is biased competition through tailoring the evaluation process which gives weight to the specific strengths of a corrupt third party. Finally, Smith points out that there can be biased competition through information leakage when a company employee will leak confidential information to a third party to give them an advantage in the bidding process.

Phase II – Contracting

Smith says the “next critical point at which fraud can take place is during the contract negotiations and in agreeing the detailed terms and conditions.” Moreover, Smith believes this stage is critical if often overlooked because “the seeds are often sown at the contracting stage.” Scenarios can include where there is a certain level of ‘local content’ required “but without any clear contractual mechanism to explain how it will be measured or policed.” As any CCO or other FCPA compliance practitioner would recognize, local content is one of the easiest ways to get into FCPA high risk so managing that risk is critical. I found Smith’s concern with setting out the clear legal terms and conditions around any such requirement as a good way to manage the high risk.

Phase III – Contract Delivery and Management

Here Smith laid several different fraud schemes which could facilitate a bribery plan. The first is fake invoices which can rely on “poor processes within an organisation” to spot. However this scheme can also rely on a company insider to approve such fabrications. Next is “volume over-invoicing”. In this scheme, while a supplier does supply some goods or services, the invoice is raised for more than has been delivered. If there is a scheme to create a pot of money to be used to fund bribes, there will need to be an internal company accomplice to “smooth the way by authorizing receipts or invoices.” Next there is “price-related over-invoicing” the third party will over-price the goods or services, above what is allowed under the contract. Another scheme set out by Smith is “invoice diversion” where “a legitimate payment that should go to a certain supplier is diverted to a third party fraudulently.” Another scheme can simply be to ease the contract terms and conditions which allow the third party to receive a benefit with nothing in return being delivered back to the company. Finally, there is what Smith details as one of the “toughest frauds to detect”, that being the delivery of lower quality products than is contractually specified.

B.The Solution – How to Reduce Fraud

Smith believes that fraud prevention can be built around a troika of concepts. (1) You need to have “effective procurement and spend management policies in place. (2) You must “use appropriate and robust processes”. (3) Finally “applying the right technology to support and manage those processes.” In his paper he followed the same outline on how to reduce the instances of fraud.

Phase I – Supplier Selection and Qualification

While a clear procurement policy is the starting point, it is only the starting point. Having a transparent process is important as well as adequate supplier qualification details. He notes that multiple sign-offs should be in place to ensure that one person does not control the entire process. This should also be incorporated into the communications trail with the competitors to ensure that no one third party receives confidential information. Obviously an appropriate level of due diligence should be applied to confirm that not only are the third party’s who they represent themselves to be but that they are also qualified to do the work or deliver the services. Finally, there should be controls around onboarding “so that firms who are actually going to be suppliers go through more rigorous checks before they are accepted onto” the Vendor Master List.

Phase II – Contracting

Obviously the starting point for any business relationship should be a well-drafted contract. However, for larger organizations Smith believes that “a contracts database or contract lifecycle management system is essential.” To the greatest extent possible there should be standard compliance and legal terms and conditions, coupled with an “appropriate level of sign-off and approvals management for contracts.” Finally, segregation of duties (SOD’s) “to make sure that there are checks and balances and that no one person holds too much power in the process.”

Phase III – Contract Delivery and Management

As I often say in the lifecycle management of third parties, the real work begins when the contract is signed. Smith believes that many of the routes of fraud, “can be closed off by taking a few precautions” which include some of the following steps. First and foremost is “no purchase order, no pay” but this also means there should be an invoice from the vendor which is matched to the contract for accuracy. Once again checks and balances, SOD’s for sign-offs and approvals must be built into your payment system. There should be controls around changes to the contract and, more importantly, changes to any payment details. Lastly, ongoing oversight and monitoring through controls analytics and auditing should be employed on the back end to verify delivery of goods or services.

I found Smith’s White Paper to be an excellent review for the CCO or compliance practitioner around not only the mechanism of how fraud occurs but a review of the techniques for fraud prevention. While his concepts may seem like a review for the compliance practitioner, it also allows you to think through how corruption might take place in your organization. The briber has to get the money from some source and Smith’s White Paper can give you insights on where you might look.

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, 2015


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