FCPA Compliance and Ethics Blog

August 14, 2015

The BHP Case and Enforcement of The FCPA’s Internal Controls Provision

Jean Michel FeratEd. Note-today we have a guest post from Jean-Michel Ferat ,CPA, CFF is a Managing Director in the Washington D.C office of the Claro Group around his views on the BHP Billiton enforcement action. 

Much has been made in the last few months of the SEC’s seemingly aggressive stance in the BHP Billiton case. Many FCPA practitioners have taken the view that the SEC likely over-reached and set a wobbly precedent in extracting a $25 million civil settlement from BHP for its alleged internal control failure relating to the identification of hospitality payments to government officials that could potentially have been subject to some quid pro quo arrangement.

This appears to be a standout case for the SEC, even when compared to the 2012 Oracle case. In Oracle, the SEC had at least the existence of an off-the-books slush fund which on its surface appeared to have been set up for nefarious purposes. In most if not all SEC enforcement actions in the last 5 years, it would appear that internal controls violations were coupled with a books and records violation: in other words shady accounting. With BHP, the SEC had a company that identified a specific corruption risk, established a control to mitigate that risk but failed to execute it adequately. No off-the-books slush fund, no fake invoices, no fictitious vendors, no circuitous payments to government officials….. In other words: no shady accounting.

Accounting Controls vs. Compliance Controls

The BHP case is important for another reason. It helps to illustrate a thorn in the side of most organizations when it comes to establishing and documenting a comprehensive control structure: the distinction between accounting controls and compliance controls. I won’t argue here whether a literal interpretation of the law should restrict our regulators and law enforcement to violations of accounting controls or whether it extends to other operational controls – e.g. compliance controls – as well. What I will argue is that the distinction between accounting controls and compliance controls is not purely semantic but one with practical implementation, enforcement and reporting differences within most organizations.

When one of thinks of accounting controls in the context of corruption risk, one thinks of controls over accounts payable, petty cash, vendor set-up, disbursements and the like. In essence, these are controls that address whether cash out the door is going to its intended recipient and whether it is properly accounted for in the company’s books and records. These types of controls over financial reporting have received persistent scrutiny under SOX 404 and are typically “owned” by a company’s finance function (e.g. accounting manager, controller, CFO). Conversely, compliance controls are ones that do not necessarily impact a company’s financial reporting process but are meant to ensure compliance with laws and regulations. In the case of the FCPA, such controls might include mandatory FCPA training for employees, audit rights in third party contracts, and due diligence surrounding third party representatives. These controls are not usually “owned” by the finance function but are typically fall to the legal department or CCO. This division of labor makes sense for most organizations but it has the often-times negative effect of creating control “silos” where neither finance nor legal has a complete picture of FCPA risk mitigation.  The primary mechanism for countering this silo effect is (1) implementing an enterprise wide risk management process (2) mapping those risks to the detailed internal controls (both accounting and compliance) designed to mitigate and (3) disseminating this information to upper management across the entire organization.

The Risk Management Process and Linking Controls to Identified Risks

A company’s Enterprise Risk Management Process should be used to identify perceived risks to the organization and put in place a risk mitigation plan. In most company’s though, the mitigation plan is often kept at a very high level and rarely includes a deep dive into the detailed accounting and compliance controls currently in place or that must be implemented to adequately mitigate risk. In the case of FCPA risk, we often see companies undertaking corruption risk assessments and addressing internal controls at a very high level, but similarly, we rarely see such risk assessments taking a deep dive into the specific controls in place to manage corruption risk.

In the case of BHP, employees actively identified a new corruption risk and sought to mitigate it. Where it looks to have failed was by not integrating the newly identified risk into its overall risk management process and ensuring that the newly established control was adequate to mitigate the risk. Had BHP included the identified risk into its overall risk management process, it likely would have benefited from:

  1. visibility of the perceived risk by various parts of the organization including Finance, Legal, Operations and members of the Risk Committee of the Board, if one existed;
  2. A clear determination of who within the organization was responsible for mitigating the risk;
  3. A chance for internal audit or another group within the organization to evaluate whether the established controls were sufficient and operating effectively.

Linking detailed internal controls to identified risks is a laborious task, in particular in decentralized organizations with varying types of internal controls in different geographic locations and/or business segments. The BHP case and newly established COSO guidelines would suggest however that organizations should seriously consider performing this task. FCPA scholars will wait to see whether the SEC’s position on BHP is part of an emerging pattern of internal controls enforcement or a one off anomaly. Regardless, public issuers should take heed and look to shoring up their risk management and internal control processes before the regulators come knocking.

Editors Note-a reader noted the line “Most notable in this case is the fact that the SEC did not charge BHP with either a books and records violation or an anti-bribery violation, but an internal controls violation alone,” is incorrect. BHP was charged with a Books and Records violation of the FCPA. This line has been removed.

Jean-Michel Ferat, CPA, CFF is a Managing Director in the Washington D.C office of the Claro Group and has over eighteen years of experience in the specialized fields of forensic accounting and fraud detection. He has applied his skills in a variety of cases involving financial statement fraud, high-level corruption, terrorist financing, collusive bidding rings, money laundering, embezzlement, asset misappropriation. HE has undertaken dozens of corruption investigations around the globe including a lead role in the United Nations Oil-for-Food Programme investigation. He can be reached at jmferat@theclarogroup.com.

May 26, 2015

Economic Downturn Week, Part I – Mapping of Your Internal Compliance Controls

Economic DownturnThis week I will present a series on steps that you can take in your compliance program if you find yourself, your company or your industry in an economic downturn. All of the recommendations I will make are ideas that have been put into action by companies currently facing these issues. They are ideas that you can use if you have scarce or lessened economic resources for your compliance function. Today I will take my cue from the recent Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) enforcement action against BHP Billiton (BHP) as a key indicator of where greater and more rigorous SEC enforcement is heading. That is in the area of the enforcement of internal controls and steps that you can take right now, even with reduced head count and budgetary resources, to improve your Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), UK Bribery Act or other anti-corruption compliance program.

However, before we get to that subject, I want to remember Marques Haynes, who died last week. Haynes was a basket baller extraordinaire who played with the Harlem Globetrotters off and on for 40 years. As was set out in his New York Times (NYT) obituary last week, Haynes “whose dazzling ball-handling skills, exhibited for more than 40 years as a member of the Harlem Globetrotters and other barnstorming black basketball teams, earned him a place in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame and an international reputation as the world’s greatest dribbler”. He was the first Globetrotter inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. I saw Haynes play in the later stages of his career with the Globetrotters; both on ABC’s Wide World of Sports and through their non-stop touring when they came to even my Podunk hometown. So here’s to you Marques and I am sure you have called ‘Next’ for that great pickup game in the sky several times now.

As they made clear with several FCPA enforcement actions from last fall, the SEC has placed a renewed interest in the accounting provisions of the FCPA, specifically the internal controls provisions. The BHP enforcement continued this trend, where there was no evidence that bribes were paid or offered in violation of the FCPA, tet the poor internal compliance controls at BHP led to a $25MM fine. Indeed Kara Brockmeyer, the Chief, FCPA Unit; Division of Enforcement of the SEC, who spoke at the recently concluded Compliance Week 2015, in a session entitled “A New Look at FCPA Enforcement”, reiterated that the SEC was committed to protecting investors in US public companies and those which list other securities in the US, through enforcement of the accounting provisions, including internal controls provisions of the FCPA. It would seem that the reason is straightforward; a company with rigorous internal compliance controls is better able to prevent, detect and remedy any FCPA violations that may occur.

So, in the midst of an economic downturn, what can you do around the FCPA’s requirements for internal controls and current SEC emphasis? I would suggest that you begin with an exercise where you map the internal controls your company has in place to the indicia of the Ten Hallmarks of an Effective Compliance Program, as set out in the FCPA Guidance. While most compliance practitioners are familiar with the Ten Hallmarks, you may not be as familiar with standards for internal controls. I would suggest that you begin with the COSO 2013 Framework as your starting point.

As a lawyer or compliance practitioner you may not be familiar with all the internal controls that you have in place. This exercise would give you a good opportunity to meet with the heads of Internal Audit, Finance and Accounting (F&A), Treasury or any other function in your company that deals with financial controls. Talk with them about the financial controls you may already have in place. An easy example is employee expense reports. Every company I have ever worked at or even heard about requires expenses for reimbursement to be presented, in documented form on some type of expense reimbursement form. This is mandatory for IRS reporting; so all entities perform this action. See how many controls are in place. Is the employee who submits the expense reimbursement required to sign it? Does his/her immediate supervisor review, approve and sign it? Does any party in the employee’s direct reporting chain review, approve and sign? Does anyone from accounts payable review and approve, both for accuracy and to make sure that all referenced expenses are properly receipted? Is there any other review in accounts payable? Is there any aggregate review of expense reports? Is there a monetary limit over which additional reviews and approvals occur?

Now if an employee has submitted expenses for activities that occurred outside the US are there are any foreign government officials involved? Were those employees identified on the expense reimbursement form? Was the business purpose of the meal, gift or other hospitality recorded? Can you aggregate the monies spent on any one foreign official or by a single employee in your expense reporting system? All of these are internal controls that can be mapped to the appropriate prong of the Ten Hallmarks or other indicia of your compliance program.

You can take this exercise through each of the five objectives under the COSO 2013 Framework and its attendant 17 Principles. From this mapping you can then perform a gap analysis to determine where you might need to implement internal compliance controls into your anti-corruption compliance program. This can lead to remedial steps that you can take. For example you can recommend procedures be written for all key compliance areas in which there are currently no procedures and your existing procedures can be updated to include compliance issues and clear definition how controls are to be evidenced. Through this you can move from having detect controls in place, to having prevent controls, whenever possible.

As a Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) or compliance practitioner, this is an exercise that you can engage in at no cost. You simply investigate and note what internal controls you have in place and how they may be a part of your anti-corruption efforts going forward. As I said last week, compliance is a straightforward exercise. This does not mean that it is easy; you do have to work at it so that you will simply not have a paper, “check the box”, program. But using the excuse that you have limited resources is simply an excuse and a rather poor one at that. While the clear lesson from the BHP enforcement action is that you are required to have effective internal controls in place, by engaging in this mapping exercise you can then figure out what you have and, more importantly, what internal compliance controls that you do not have and need to institute.

Finally, if you do have resources and need some help, you can reach me at the email below.

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

May 22, 2015

On the Oregon Trail: the BHP Enforcement Action and High-Risk Hospitality

Oregon TrailToday we celebrate American exceptionalism. As noted in ‘This Date in History’, on this date in 1834 the first wagon train, made up of 1,000 settlers and 1,000 head of cattle, set off down the Oregon Trail from Independence, Missouri, on the Great Emigration. After leaving Independence, the giant wagon train followed the Santa Fe Trail for some 40 miles and then turned to its northern route to Fort Laramie, Wyoming. From there, it traveled on to the Rocky Mountains, which it passed through by way of the broad, level South Pass that led to the basin of the Colorado River. The travelers then went southwest to Fort Bridger and on to Fort Boise, where they gained supplies for the difficult journey over the Blue Mountains and into Oregon. The Great Emigration finally arrived in October, completing the 2,000-mile journey from Independence in five months.

The settlers who took off on this Great Emigration on the Oregon Trail did not have anything in the way of a road map. Fortunately for the modern day anti-corruption compliance practitioner, you do have road maps that can guide your compliance with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) going forward. Over the past few years the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) have put out significant and detailed information on compliance failures, which have led to FCPA enforcement actions. For any Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) or compliance practitioner, these enforcement actions provide solid information of lessons learned which can be used as teaching points for companies. Further, these lessons can be used as road maps to review compliance programs to see what gaps, if any, may exist and how to implement solutions.

This trend continued with the release of the SEC FCPA enforcement action involving BHP Billiton Ltd. (BHP) this week. First and foremost to note is that it was a SEC enforcement action involving violations of the internal controls provision of the FCPA. There was no evidence of bribery leading to any DOJ enforcement action. Yet as I have been writing and saying for almost one year, SEC enforcement of the internal controls provision of the FCPA is increasing and companies need to pay more attention to this part of the FCPA. A bribe or offer to bribe does not have to exist for an internal controls violation to occur. CCOs and compliance practitioners need to be cognizant of compliance internal controls and put effective compliance internal controls in place that can be audited against to test their effectiveness.

The BHP enforcement action revolved around the company’s hospitality program for the Beijing 2008 Olympics. Every CCO and compliance practitioner should study this enforcement action in detail so that they can craft appropriate compliance internal controls for high dollar entertaining for big time sporting events. For any company that may be planning for high dollar hospitality spends for the 2016 Brazil Olympics, this enforcement action lays out what you should and should not do in your compliance program. But this holds true for any major sporting event such as the Super Bowl, World Cup or you name the event.

BHP had a paper program that appeared robust. As laid out in the Cease and Desist Order, “BHPB developed a hospitality application which business managers were required to complete for any individuals, including government officials, whom they wished to invite.” The application included these questions to be fully answered:

  • “What business obligation exists or is expected to develop between the proposed invitee and BHP Billiton?”,
  • “Is BHP Billiton negotiating or considering any contract, license agreement or seeking access rights with a third party where the proposed invitee is in a position to influence the outcome of that negotiation?”
  • “Do you believe that the offer of the proposed hospitality would be likely to create an impression that there is an improper connection between the provision of the hospitality and the business that is being negotiated, considered or conducted, or in any way might be perceived as breaching the Company’s Guide to Business Conduct? If yes, please provide details.”; and
  • “Are there other matters relating to the relationship between BHP Billiton and the proposed invitee that you believe should be considered in relation to the provision of hospitality having regard to BHP Billiton’s Guide to Business Conduct?”

So the right forms were in place and some of them were fully filled out. However, as the Cease and Desist Order made clear, an effective compliance program does not end at that point. Now would be an appropriate time to recall that high risk does not mean you cannot engage in certain conduct. High risk means that to have an effective compliance program, you have to manage that risk. A basic key to any effective compliance program is oversight or a second set of eyes baked in to your process. BHP formally had this oversight or second set of eyes in the form of an Olympic Sponsorship Steering Committee (OSSC) and Global Ethics Panel Sub-Committee.

Where BHP failed was that “other than reviewing approximately 10 hospitality applications for government officials in mid-2007 in order to assess the invitation process, the OSSC and the Ethics Panel subcommittee did not review the appropriateness of individual hospitality applications or airfare requests. The Ethics Panel’s charter stated that its role simply was to provide advice on ethical and compliance matters, and that “accountability rest[ed] with business leaders.” Members of the Ethics Panel understood that, consistent with their charter, their role with respect to implementation of the hospitality program was purely advisory. As a result, business managers had sole responsibility for reconciling the competing goals of inviting guests – including government officials – who would ““maximize [BHPB’s] commercial investment made in the Olympic Games” without violating anti-bribery laws.”

But there was more than simply a failure of oversight by BHP. The Cease and Desist Order noted that not all of the forms were filled out with the critical information around a whether a proposed recipient might have been a government official. Even more critically missing was information on whether the proposed recipient was in a position to exert influence over BHP business. Moreover, BHP did not provide training to the business unit employees who ended up making the call as to whether or not to provide the hospitality on payment of travel and hospitality for spouses. The Cease and Desist Order stated that BHP “did not provide any guidance to its senior managers on how they should apply this portion of the Guide when determining whether to approve invitations and airfares for government officials’ spouses.” Finally, there were no controls in place to update or provide ongoing monitoring of the critical information in the forms.

All of this led the SEC to state the following, “As a result of its failure to design and maintain sufficient internal controls over the Olympic global hospitality program, BHPB invited a number of government officials who were directly involved with, or in a position to influence, pending negotiations, efforts by BHPB to obtain access rights, or other pending matters.” This led to the following, “BHPB violated Section 13(b)(2)(B) because it did not devise and maintain internal accounting controls over the Olympic hospitality program that were sufficient to provide reasonable assurances that access to assets and transactions were in executed in accordance with management’s authorization.” Perhaps it was stated most succinctly by Antonia Chion, Associate Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement, in the SEC Press Release announcing the enforcement action when he said, “A ‘check the box’ compliance approach of forms over substance is not enough to comply with the FCPA.”

There is also clear guidance from the SEC about how BHP was able to obtain the reduced settlement it received. BHP “provided significant cooperation with the Commission’s investigation”. Moreover, the Cease and Desist Order laid out the remedial steps the company took. These steps included: (1) creation of compliance group independent of the business units; (2) review of its anti-corruption program and implementation of certain upgrades; (3) embedding of anti-corruption managers into the business units; (4) enhancements of “its policies and procedures concerning hospitality, gift giving, use of third party agents, business partners, and other high-risk compliance areas”; (5) enhancement of “financial and auditing controls, including policies to specifically address conducting business in high-risk markets”; and (6) enhanced anti-corruption compliance training.

FCPA compliance is a relatively simply exercise. That does not mean it is easy. For travels on the Great Emigration on the Oregon Trail, travel was neither simple nor easy. If you want to send government officials to high profile sporting events or provide other high dollar hospitality, the FCPA does not prevent you from doing so. But it is a high risk and to be in compliance you must to manage those high risks appropriately, all the way through the process. The BHP enforcement action provides you a detailed road map of what to do and what not to do.

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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