FCPA Compliance and Ethics Blog

April 7, 2014

The Battle of Shiloh, Corruption in Ukraine and Things to Come

Things to ComeOn this day 126 years ago the two-day battle of Shiloh ended. On the second day, the Union troops under General Grant largely recovered the ground that the Confederate troops had taken on the first day. Grant was severely criticized for allegedly being taken by surprise by the Confederate attack but he managed to survive the firestorm. The Confederates lost their most senior commander, General Albert Sydney Johnson, on the first day of the fighting.

With the successful Union counter-attack on the second day the battle is generally viewed as a tactical victory for the North. However, for me the thing that is most significant about this battle is that it was the first horrific slaughter of the Civil War. There were over 23,000 casualties on both sides. Unfortunately it presaged more to come. I will never forget Shelby Foote’s comments in Ken Burn’s documentary The Civil War. Shiloh was not an aberration but there were 25 more Shiloh’s to come. It truly was a sign of things to come.

The recent events in Ukraine have had a variety of interpretations, results and predictions. But one thing is clear, the government of Ukraine allowed systemic corruption to occur. One can look to the Archer-Daniels-Midland Corp. (ADM) Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FPCA) enforcement action to see the effects in play. In that matter, ADM paid bribes to obtain tax rebates to which it was legally entitled. Unfortunately for ADM it developed opaque schemes to fund bribery payments and then hid them on its books and records. Not good for FPCA compliance.

Or consider the case of Ikea. In an article in Bloomberg, entitled “Dashed Ikea Dreams Show Decades Lost to Bribery in Ukraine”, Agnes Lovasz wrote that Ikea has tried for over a decade to open a store in the country but has been unable to do so because it refuses to pay bribes to do so. She wrote that according to Transparency International’s (TI’s) Corruptions Perceptions Index (CPI), “Stuck between the European Union and its former imperial master Russia, Ukraine has emerged as the most corrupt country on the continent.” She quoted Erik Nielsen, chief global economist at UniCredit SpA in London, for the following, “Even before this latest crisis, Ukraine was a mess beyond description”. How about this recommendation from Lennart Dahlgren, a retired Ikea executive who led the company’s entry into Russia, who said in an interview with Russkiy Reporter magazine in 2010, that compared with Ukraine, Russia, the most corrupt major economy, “is whiter than snow”. Faint praise indeed.

While a US, UK, EU or other western government response is certainly appropriate, I thought about a business led response to such a situation when I read a recent article in the April issue of the Harvard Business Review (HBR), entitled “The Collaboration Imperative”, by authors Ram Nidumolu, Jib Ellison, John Whalen and Erin Billman. In this article they discussed business collaborations in the context of sustainability. I found their concepts should be considered by companies or industry groups when trying to develop strategies to fight corruption. As Jason Poblete continually reminds us, the marketplace is one important place to look for solutions to problems and this article certainly provides some starting points for such an analysis.

The authors posit that collaboration models should be divided into two categories: (1) coordinated processes and (2) coordinated outcomes. Adapting these to anti-corruption/anti-bribery programs, this means that under the ‘coordinated processes’ prong businesses should identify and share industry-wide operational processes that prevent and detect bribery and corruption. Under the ‘coordinated outcomes’ prong, the authors work translates into developing industry benchmarks and standardized systems for measuring anti-corruption/anti-bribery performance across the value chain.

The authors had some specific steps in their article which I thought also provided insightful for implementing their ideas in the anti-corruption/anti-bribery context. First you should being this journey “with a small, committed group.” The reason to do so is “to prevent the logjams that can occur when many stakeholders with conflicting goals try to work together, start by convening a small “founding circle” of participants. The members must have a common motivation and have mutual trust at the outset. This group develops the project vision and selectively invites subsequent tiers of participants into the project as it develops.” Next you should try to “link self-interest to shared interest.” This is because to help facilitate success, “collaboration initiatives must ensure that each participant recognize at the outset the compelling business value that it stands to gain when shared interests are met.” The participants need to then try to monetize the system value by “linking self-interest and shared interest is to quantify how the collaboration reduces costs or generates revenue for each participant.” It helps to build a direct path to some early successes because it is important “to generate momentum and commitment, the action plan must also emphasize quick wins. Business thrives on visible and immediate results, and sustainability collaborations are no exception. Even if these wins are small initially, the cost savings or incremental revenues provide proof to other executives inside participants’ organizations that the investment is worthwhile.”

As many in such a collaborative group will have conflicting priorities, the authors believe it is important to have “independent project-management specialists with demonstrated competence in trust building among diverse stakeholders. Additionally, the project management function must be seen by all participants as neutral and committed to the success of the project, rather than to any individual stakeholder.” Interestingly, the authors note that there should be built in competition which should be “structured to support shared goals.” Finally, and perhaps most obviously, any such group must have a culture of trust. Fortunately, in the anti-corruption/anti-bribery world there are very few trade secrets but beyond this, the “building and maintaining trust is an ongoing practice foundational to every other practice during the collaboration project.”

Perhaps the people or the leadership of Ukraine may at some point realize that the perceived endemic nature of corruption in their economic system, helped lead in part to its current problems. Maybe the citizens in Crimea thought the Russian government less corrupt. While I do not pretend to know the answers to these questions, the collaboration model that the authors have detailed for sustainability initiatives is certainly one that US companies might wish to consider on some type of industry wide basis.

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

January 29, 2014

The Sussex Vampyre and the ADM FCPA Settlement

Sussex VampyreToday I want to use the story of The Sussex Vampyre as the starting point for an inquiry into the recent Archer-Daniels-Midland Corp (ADM) Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) enforcement action. In the story, Holmes receives a letter from Robert Ferguson, who has become convinced that his second wife has been sucking their baby son’s blood and is a vampire. He has a crippled son from his first marriage who is terribly jealous of the new baby in their home. It turns out that this lame son, Jack, has been shooting poisoned darts at his baby brother and his stepmother’s behavior is actually sucking the poison out of the baby’s neck. The baby’s wounds were caused by Jack sending the darts, not by the mother biting her baby. In other words, what might be seen as something very scary is easily explained.

Once again demonstrating that the FCPA Professor and myself look at the same thing and come to different conclusions are reflected by those he states in his article “Why You Should Be Alarmed By the ADM FCPA Enforcement Action”. I see the ADM enforcement action as a continuation of the available case law favoring interpretations of the business nexus requirement to be applied broadly, where it is clear that bribery and corruption have occurred.

When I look at the facts laid out in the ADM settlement documents, I see the following: four separate bribery schemes hidden in the companies books and records clearly designed to influence the decision of a foreign government official. From 2002 to 2010, the company’s Ukrainian subsidiary rolled up VAT receivables of up to $46MM. What I see is a company, which over several years of slow and no response to its application for VAT tax refunds for goods purchased in Ukraine, responded to this problem by engaging in bribery and corruption to help them get the money that they were believed they were owed.

So what were these bribery schemes? There was the Charitable Donation Scheme, which according to the SEC Complaint, “an ADM executive in the tax department sent an e-mail to the head of an international tax organization and stated, “One of our affiliates operates in the Ukraine. In order to recover 100% of their input VAT they have to pay 30% of the amount to local charities.”” Next was the Stevedoring Company Scheme where two ADM subsidiaries made “payments to a stevedoring company in the port of Odessa so that it could pass on nearly all of those payments to Ukrainian officials in order to obtain VAT refunds on behalf of ACTI Ukraine.” Next was the Mischaracterization of Write-offs Scheme where ADM’s German subsidiary reported to the US parent that they had to write off 18% of the tax refund due back to the company. However upon payment of the VAT refund it would be at 100% of the total due. As the German subsidiary had taken a write off of 18% of the total, the corresponding amount of money would be funneled to “third-party vendors so that nearly all of those monies could be provided to Ukrainian government officials.” Finally, and most ingenuously, was the Fake Insurance Premiums Scheme. In this scheme, ADM’s Ukrainian subsidiary, arranged for an insurance company to falsely bill it for crop insurance, which said “Insurance Company never intended to honor, adjusting the premiums to be roughly 20% of the VAT refund.” This inflated amount was then paid to Ukrainian officials.

The FCPA itself says:

(a) Prohibition

It shall be unlawful for any issuer which has a class of securities registered pursuant to section 781 of this title or which is required to file reports under section 780d of this title, or for any officer, director, employee, or agent of such issuer or any stockholder thereof acting on behalf of such issuer, to make use of the mails or any means or instrumentality of interstate commerce corruptly in furtherance of an offer, payment, promise to pay, or authorization of the payment of any money, or offer, gift, promise to give, or authorization of the giving of anything of value to—

(1) any foreign official for purposes of—

(A)

(i) influencing any act or decision of such foreign official in his official capacity,

(ii) inducing such foreign official to do or omit to do any act in violation of the lawful duty of such official, or

(iii) securing any improper advantage; or

(B) inducing such foreign official to use his influence with a foreign government or instrumentality thereof to affect or influence any act or decision of such government or instrumentality,

 in order to assist such issuer in obtaining or retaining business for or with, or directing business to, any person;

In the case of US v. Kay, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals exhaustively reviewed the legislative history of the FCPA, from its passage in 1977 through the two amendments in 1988 and 1998. The Kay decision stands for the proposition that the defendant intend the paying of bribes to be a quid pro quo, which would assist (or is meant to assist) the payor in obtaining or retaining business. Further, it specifically stated that the “business nexus is not to be interpreted narrowly.” The facts in Kay were different than those presented in the ADM matter. However, with the admonition that the business nexus requirement is not to be interpreted narrowly, I believe the holding in Kay is such that it is not a stretch to see the conduct engaged in by ADM did assist, or was meant to assist, it in doing business in Ukraine. Indeed, the Kay decision stated, “In addition, the concern of Congress with the immorality, inefficiency, and unethical character of bribery presumably does not vanish simply because the tainted payments are intended to secure a favorable decision less significant than winning a contract bid.” Thus I look at Kay and see the conduct of ADM as falling within the broad outlines of the Kay decision.

How about the facilitation payment exception and that somehow the ADM subsidiaries were making payments exempted out of the FCPA because they were for routine services?

The FCPA itself states:

(b) Exception for routine governmental action

Subsections (a) and (g) of this section shall not apply to any facilitating or expediting payment to a foreign official, political party, or party official the purpose of which is to expedite or to secure the performance of a routine governmental action by a foreign official, political party, or party official.

Further, the term “routine governmental action” is defined as one of the following:

  1.  Obtaining Permits;
  2. Processing visas and work orders;
  3. Providing police protection, mail pick-up and delivery;
  4. Providing phone services and utilities;
  5. Actions of a similar nature.

There is nothing in the statute about processing multi-million dollar tax refunds as a routine governmental action. Once again the Kay decision spoke to the issue of facilitation payments, similar to those made in the context of the ADM settlement, when it said “This observation is not diminished by Congress’s understanding and accepting that relatively small facilitating payments were, at the time, among the accepted costs of doing business in many foreign countries.” One key there is that facilitating payments be “relatively small”. Whatever 18% of $46MM might be, it certainly is not “relatively small”.

All of this leads me to see the ADM settlement as a continuation of the very limited case law interpretation that exists around the FCPA. So just as Holmes looked at the facts in The Sussex Vampyre and did not see something which could not be explained or need be feared; I look at the ADM enforcement action and see a company which engaged in bribery and corruption, knew it was doing so and actively tried to hide the corrupt payments in its books and records.

And once again, I would cite that the easiest response to all of this might be the advice given by Department of Justice (DOJ) representative Greg Anders, in his testimony to the House Judiciary Committee regarding amending the FCPA, that being that companies should not engage in bribery.

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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