FCPA Compliance and Ethics Blog

November 9, 2012

The Red Scare: Knowledge and the Importance of Due Diligence

 Ed. Note-we continue our series of guest posts from our colleague Mary Shaddock Jones, who today looks at the importance of due diligence.

At midnight on November 9, 1989, East Germany’s rulers gave permission for the Berlin Wall, separating East and West Berlin, to be opened up.  Ecstatic crowds immediately began to clamber on top of the Wall and hack large chunks out of the 28-mile barrier.  I remember viewing the scene on T.V.  It was a momentous moment in world history.  For those of you who may not know, while East Germany never officially adopted a “red flag” for its country, on most official buildings, the national flag (black-red-gold with hammer and circle) was flown with a solid red flag flown next to it!  Twenty-two years later the “fall of the Red Flag of East Berlin”, seems like distant memory.  However, for businesses doing business internationally the “red flag” has once again come to represent a warning or a threat in terms of liability under the FCPA

The Lay Person’s guide to the FCPA published by the Department of Justice warns U.S. firms about their choice of overseas partners and agents. A bad choice is someone who is likely to make corrupt payments. That likelihood, the DOJ says, is usually indicated by warning signs called “red flags.” If there are red flags to start with, and if the intermediary does bribe a foreign official to help the business, the company will have trouble arguing it shouldn’t be responsible for an FCPA violation based on an indirect corrupt payment.

Red flags, as the name suggests are easy to spot, and include such things as: (1) unusual payment patterns or financial arrangements;  (2) a history of corruption in the country;  (3) a refusal by the foreign joint venture partner or representative to certify that it will not take any action that would cause the U.S. firm to be in violation of the FCPA; (4) unusually high commissions; (5) Lack of transparency in expenses and accounting records; (6) An apparent lack of qualifications or resources on the part of the joint venture partner or  representative to perform the services offered; and, (7) a recommendation from the local government of the intermediary to hire this particular third party.

Although red flags are often relatively easy to discover, the failure to look may result in a company being subject to severe penalties.  As a result,  prior to dealing with any third party, companies should conduct Due Diligence in an  attempt to discover whether the third party is involved in any prohibited corrupt practices or has some connection to a foreign government official that you may not be aware of.  Due diligence is thus an essential tool, as it allows one to acquire knowledge of any existing or potential “red flags”, thus enabling entities to make informed decisions on whether or not to interact with or transact business with certain persons and entities.

The practical pointer for today’s blog is this- The undeniable truth is that Companies must know who they are doing business with and, as importantly, why they are choosing to do business with this particular entity.  This requires the accumulation of information! In order to collect adequate information concerning prospective third-party Agents or Business Partners, many companies are now using a consistent set of tools, for example: (1) questionnaires requiring the person within the company who is recommending the retention of a third party to provide basic information such as the reasons for engagement, the specific services required, how prospective third-party individuals or companies were selected for possible service, relevant experience and capabilities of the prospective third party, whether the prospective third-party would need to interact with government officials, how much and in what manner the third party should be compensated, etc.; (2) a questionnaire submitted to the prospective third party requesting significant information regarding the ownership, physical location, management, experience, relationship to foreign government officials, references of the third party and an assurance by the third party that it understands and is willing to comply with anti-corruption laws and regulations; (3) some method of vetting the reputation and background of the prospective third-party representative or business partner. Ultimately,  the level of due diligence required will generally be commensurate with the level of perceived risk.

When conducting due diligence of high-risk third parties, one should typically employ the services of  third party professionals.  These professionals can help insure that the high risk third party does not pose potential FCPA liability through the use of various means such as: checks of corporate filings and business records, legal proceedings, Internet searches, and adverse media checks.  Furthermore,  many emerging markets and developing countries pose such a great risk of FCPA liability, that additional due diligence procedures including “in-country” (a/k/a “boots on the ground”) searches may be required such as: conducting searches of localized public records, phone interviews, site visits, and reference checks.

Consider the following policy language:

Under the U.S. FCPA,  the Company and its Personnel could be liable for indirect offers, promises of payments, or payments to any Government Official (or to private entity if the UK Bribery Act is involved) if such offers, promises, or payments are made through an Agent or Partner with the knowledge that a Government Official will be the ultimate recipient. As a result, it is important that the Company, through the Company Compliance Officer, consider the necessity of conducting anti-corruption due diligence on a prospective Agent or Partner. If after performing a risk assessment the Company concludes that a due diligence investigation should be conducted, then the extent of the investigation must be determined.  The degree of due diligence the Company will perform depends upon a lot of factors, including the dollar value of the arrangement, the expected contact with government officials, and the country at risk.  In making the determination, the Company will consider whether the transaction raises “red flags”.

Examples of common “red flags” with third parties are as follows:

  • The prospective acquisition target, Agent, or Partner insists that its identity remain confidential or refuses to divulge the identity of its owners, directors, or officers.
  • Family, business or other ‘special’ ties with government or political officials.
  • Reputation for violation of local law or company policy, such as prohibitions on commissions, or currency or tax law violations. Also negative press, rumors, allegations, investigations or sanctions.
  • The transaction or the prospective acquisition target, Agent, or Partner is or operates in a country where there is widespread corruption or a history of bribes and kickbacks
  • Requests from government officials or agencies to engage or hire specific third parties.
  • Inadequate credentials for the nature of the engagement or lack of an office or an established place of business.
  • Missing or inadequate documentation to support services and invoices. Unsupported charges or expenses, requests for payment of non-contracted amounts.
  • Convoluted or complex payment requests, such as payment to a third party or to accounts in other countries, requests for payments in cash or requests for upfront payment for expenses or other fees.
  • Requests for political, charitable contributions or other favors as a way of influencing official action.
  • Third party has a reputation for getting ‘things done’ regardless of circumstances or suggests that for a certain amount of money, he can fix the problem or “make it go away”.

All due diligence investigations conducted by the Company will include an analysis of potential “red flag” issues.  Investigations of potential “red flag” issues should be carefully documented and relevant documents, such as due diligence, questionnaires, reports, and compliance certificates, should be maintained by the Company Compliance Officer or his or her designee.

On Monday, we will examine contractual language to consider when contracting with approved Agents and Partners.  Stay tuned.

 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.

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.

 

June 5, 2012

How to Influence FPCA Compliance as a Minority JV Partner

How does a company work towards achieving compliance with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) in a Joint Venture (JV) or other business relationship where it holds less that 50% of the control? That question is often faced by US companies when they enter into a JV in many countries which require a majority of local ownership or even a 50-50 split in ownership. Some tactics that the compliance practitioner might employ were discussed in an article in the June issue of the Harvard Business Review, entitled, “The Perils of Partnering in Developing Markets”, in which Johns Hopkins (Hopkins) Medicine International Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Steven J. Thompson wrote about his company’s experience in partnering with a charity in Turkey to build and operate a “state-of-the-art medical facility.”

While not directly discussed in the article it is certainly worth noting that in partnering to create hospitals overseas, Hopkins is always dealing with the FCPA as health care services generally and hospitals particularly are run by the foreign government in which the hospital is located. However, the problems Hopkins encountered and some of the solutions provide excellent insight into compliance challenges that a company might well face when it moves into a developing market. Thompson began by noting that as a non-profit Hopkins always takes a minority interest or none at all. This requires Hopkins to operate not as typical JV or other type of partner but “more like consultants with a broad range of responsibility and high level of authority.” The other thing that I found quite interesting was that as a non-profit, the most important thing to Hopkins is its good name; in other words it is far more concerned about reputational damage than financial loss. Some of the key lessons learned were as follows.

Filling the Local Talent Gap

Even if the country’s laws do not require that local persons be the entity’s managers, most local partners insist upon it. Thompson has learned that fighting this “rarely pays out.” Instead Hopkins seeks to team its advisors with the local executives, so that the advisors will have the ability to influence both “process and culture.” Overtime, Hopkins has found that the top local managers cannot push as hard or as strongly for innovation and culture change so that the Hopkins team can begin to take over the top management functions.

A key component for long term success is training. This includes local training in all aspects of hospital management and financial operations. Additionally, Hopkins establishes a strong recruiting pipeline for bringing back to Baltimore, the home of Hopkins, so that they can be trained at and see how the facilities are run in the US.

When Best Practices Collide with Culture

In most medical treatment outside the US, the culture is such that a Doctors judgment is never questioned. This is quite different from the Hopkins experience in the US, where other providers of health care are empowered to challenge the decisions of senior physicians where a patient’s health may be at risk. The Hopkins approach when “confronted with a culture clash is to determine whether we really need to challenge the culture.” With this approach, Hopkins found that it could accomplish its goals, “within the cultural constraints” in which it operated. When it could not do so, it “seeded the staff with professionals who could lead by example” so that in the case of the culture of deference to Doctors whose authority was not challenged, senior nurses were brought in from countries where such a tradition did not exist. Once others saw that patient outcomes were steadily improved, “they began to come around and the culture of deference receded.”

Mitigating Risk

In many ways, I found the Hopkins experience in mitigating risk to be the most interesting. Here Thompson said that the pre-agreement due diligence process, which he termed “choosing the right partner and learning to read the signs from up-front negotiations are critical”, were two of the most critical factors. He identified factors such as foreign institutions which only desired short-term profit or were trying to capitalize on the Hopkins name as “anathema to success.” He wrote that these factors can be ascertained through long conversations with potential partners about goals such as sustainable quality and commitment rather than on financial returns alone. Mimicking the requirements under the US Department of Justice’s (DOJ’s) minimum best practices compliance program, Hopkins requires strong contract language regarding the commitments made by any foreign partner. Lastly, if a relationship begins to sour or otherwise have problems, Hopkins is not afraid to rethink its position or even end the relationship after appropriate consideration. To help facilitate this from the legal perspective, Hopkins requires a “termination for convenience clause” in its contracts.

Project Checklist

Another interesting aspect of the Hopkins approach was in the implicit use of risk assessment. Thompson included the below chart to illustrate “How Johns Hopkins Sizes Up International Risk”. I found that these concepts speak to an on-going approach to risk assessment so that the process is continuous and therefore allows for continuous improvement.

Evaluating the Opportunity

Getting up to Speed

Operating Over Time

Assess the potential partner’s willingness to commit resources. Engage experts to hire key personnel and to design processes. Stabilize processes and create feedback loops.
Assess regional constraints. Establish training and mentoring programs for local managers and professionals. Transfer more responsibilities to local managers.
Work with your local partner on a project plan and a business plan. Set up clinical, operations and financial performance metrics. Establish local education and recruitment pipelines.
Ensure that your local partner has a clear understanding of, and realistic expectations for the project. Establish quality, safety and efficiency processes. Establish regional marketing programs.
Set up a time for accreditation. Consider new initiatives and expansion.

If Trouble Arises

Thompson concluded is article with a list of action items that you can perform if there are signs of trouble. So, following McNulty’s Maxim No. 3 of “What did you do to remedy it?”, I list the following actions steps your company can take at three different stages of a JV relationship.

1. In the Evaluation Phase

  • If your concerns are modest, propose a smaller, several months-long pilot consulting project.
  • If your concerns are serious, you would walk away from the deal.

2. In the Start-Up Phase

  • Engage experts to hire the Key JV personnel and to design the appropriate processes.
  • Increase the number of ex-pat professionals involved in the JV.
  • Expand your support to local managers.
  • If warranted, revise strategic plans and consider replacing the onsite management.
  • If severe problems arise, consider scaling back or terminating the JV

3. As the Relationship Matures

  • Strengthen your training and mentorship.
  • Bring in subject matter experts (SMEs) to help solve defined problems.
  • Retool processes that may be falling short.
  • If required, reinstate key managers from your corporate headquarters or home office.
  • Freeze or reduce the scope of the JV’s activities until problems are solved.
  • Set up problems solving forums with partners in other countries.

Many US companies have struggled with how influence partners to comply with the FCPA in JV relationships. The Hopkins experience has some excellent steps that your company can take in the pre-formation stage, during contract negotiation, in post-execution contract management and then as the relationship matures. The process that Hopkins follows is one that clearly allows you to use influence, rather than the brute force of the majority right of control. It is a very good road map for you to consider and one that management should take a close look at when managing any overseas relationship.

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

© Thomas R. Fox, 2012

April 17, 2012

The Ashes and Australian Anti-Bribery Enforcement Efforts, with an assist from ethiXbase

Today we celebrate my favorite English sport, cricket. As baseball is my first love, it is not too surprising to find that I enjoy cricket. I like the cerebral nature of the game, coupled with its meandering pace, which can lead to Test Matches of five days. We note that England currently holds the Ashes, which is a Test series that has been played between England and Australia since 1882. It is one of the most celebrated rivalries in international cricket and is currently played biennially, alternately in England and Australia. England is the current holder after winning the Ashes in 2009 and again in the 2010/11 series in Australia. The next series will be held in 2013 in England.

Transitioning from the Ashes, we expand our UK theme week to include the Commonwealth of Nations country of Australia, which has an anti-bribery law on the books, entitled “The Criminal Code Amendment (Bribery of Foreign Public Officials) Act 1999”, which was viewed by the Australian Federal Government as a major step in formalizing Australia’s commitment to stamping out international corruption. A Transparency International (TI) White Paper, entitled “Australian Laws Prohibiting Foreign Bribery”, said that the Australian legislation was a part of an international effort to ensure that contracts are won and awarded fairly, which was led by signatories to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions.

As reported by TI, in an article entitled “Steps taken to implement and enforce the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions”, this law was amended in 2010, when “the Australian Parliament passed the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Serious and Organised Crime) Act 2010.” This new law increased the financial penalties for bribery offences by creating a formula for fines and penalties based on existing penalties for restrictive trade practices and cartel behavior but it allowed a higher monetary fine if the serious criminal nature of bribery and the serious detrimental effects of bribery merited it.

From the looks of recent developments Down Under, it appears that the anti-bribery enforcement is alive and well. There have been several recent articles involving different industries in Australia, which have allegedly self-reported violations of the Australian Laws Prohibiting Foreign Bribery or are otherwise under investigation. In an article in The Age, entitled “Firms tell of possible bribes”, Richard Baker and Nick McKenzie reported that “companies involved in mining, exploration and other sectors in Africa and Asia have discovered possible evidence of overseas bribery during recent internal audits.” One company Leighton Holdings has publicly admitted “it had alerted the AFP to a possible breach of anti-bribery laws. The alleged breach involves its Singapore-based subsidiary Leighton Offshore Pvt and payments made to facilitate a wharf construction project in Iraq.” Further, The Age reported “Documents from a NSW Supreme Court case last year reveal Leighton conducted an internal inquiry into ”apparently corrupt conduct” involving allegations that a senior employee channelled half a million dollars worth of steel to a third-party project at the Bantam Shipyard in Indonesia.”

In another article by the same two reporters, this time in the Sydney Morning Herald, entitled “Defence firm faces bribery probe”, Baker and McKenzie reported “AUSTRALIA’s biggest military contractor, Tenix Defence, is under federal police investigation for allegedly bribing officials and politicians across Asia to win massive contracts.” The article reported that the Australian Federal Police (AFP) has stated the agency ”received a referral in 2009 for alleged improper payments made by multinational staff members to secure contracts in the Asia region”. The investigation involves five separate Tenix transactions in which the company “is suspected of channelling several million dollars in alleged kickbacks through agents to win defence contracts across Asian countries including Indonesia and the Philippines between 2001 and 2008.”

With this increase in Australian enforcement, you may wonder, if you are sitting in the UK or US, just how can you keep up with the plethora of new laws, codes and enforcement actions. One of the best answers appeared this week in the FCPA Blog with the announcement of the “rollout of ethiXbase, the world’s largest anti-corruption database. ethiXbase builds on the global success of the FCPA Database. It features 8,000 BRIIC and U.S. anti-corruption enforcement actions, live SEC and DOJ feeds, and the most extensive collection of local anti-corruption and gift-giving laws ever assembled.” In addition to providing the legal basis for anti-corruption and anti-bribery enforcement, the database has trending analytics tools that reveal emerging compliance trouble spots around the world. Additionally, users of the database can create alerts for countries, industries, and companies. Finally, close to my heart as a practicing lawyer, the database has a global law firm directory available to the public, which includes 9,000 listings. It also includes more than 1,200 searchable law firm memos by leading practitioners who cover the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), UK Bribery Act, and other global enforcements.

So while thinking of England and the UK Bribery Act, it is well to remember that most of the world is moving towards a more robust enforcement regime to combat corruption and bribery. While the US has led the way, other countries are quickly catching up and the era of international enforcement cooperation is upon all compliance practitioners and companies. It is far better to learn what laws you may face, assess your risks and then manage or mitigate those risks now rather than later.

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The articles referenced in this post were provided by James Greenall, a Director with STEELE in Washington DC,  who has been closely following anti-corruption efforts in his native Australia, where his firm conducts a significant amount of investigative due diligence. James can be reached atjgreenall@steelecis.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 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.

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