FCPA Compliance and Ethics Blog

December 17, 2012

Days of Future Passed: The Moody Blues and the End of Facilitation Payments?

Nights in White Satin, never reaching the end,

Letters I’ve Written, never meaning to send

This past weekend I caught the Moody Blues’ tour celebrating the 45th anniversary of their seminal classic album, “Days of Future Passed”. This was the second album released by the band and while I had always thought of it as the first rock concept album, it is seen by many rock critics as a precursor to progressive rock music. Bill Holdship, Yahoo! Music, said that the band “created an entire genre here.” Robert Christgau noted that it was “closer to high-art pomp than psychedelia.” And finally, Allmusic editor Bruce Eder calls the album “one of the defining documents of the blossoming psychedelic era, and one of the most enduringly popular albums of its era.” The band had its core members of Justin Hayward, John Lodge and Graeme Edge playing at the concert and I can assure you that even in their 70s, they can still rock.

I thought about this album and its title while reading the Memorandum and Order from District Judge Keith Ellison in the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) civil action filed against current and former officers of Noble Corporation, Mark A. Jackson and James R. Ruehlen. The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) commentariat has gone both ways on interpreting the Court’s Order; witness the headline by the FCPA Professor, “Judge Grants Jackson And Ruehlen’s Motion To Dismiss SEC’s Monetary Claims – Finds That SEC Was Not Diligent In Bringing Case And That SEC Failed To Negate Facilitation Payments Exception – However Judge Allows SEC To File An Amended Complaint”, in contrast with Dick Cassin on the FCPA Blog, whose headline read “Great guidance from the bench: ‘The FCPA casts a wide net”. However, I found one other part of the Court’s ruling by far the most interesting. It was the section which discussed whether the defendant’s claims that their actions met the facilitation payment exception under the FCPA. The Court granted the SEC leave to amend to proffer facts which would overcome the facilitation payment exception.

The allegations of facilitation payment exception as a defense in this lawsuit turn on permits called Temporary Import Permits (TIPs) in Nigeria. As set out in the Court’s ruling, “TIPs allow drilling rigs to operate in Nigerian waters without payment of permanent import duties. Under Nigerian law, the Nigeria Customs Service (“NCS”) grants TIPs for rigs that will be in the country for only one year. NCS may, in its discretion, grant up to three six-month extensions to a TIP. Upon the expiration of a TIP and any TIP extensions, NCS requires the rig to be exported from Nigeria. If the owner of the rig wishes to continue using the rig after the expiration of a TIP and any applicable extensions, he can either convert the rig to permanent import status and pay the appropriate permanent import duties, or he can export the rig and seek a new rig TIP to re-import the rig. In order to obtain a TIP or an extension, the rig owner must submit an application thought a licensed customs agent as the NCS does not deal directly with rig owners such as Noble. The SEC alleged that the defendants authorized customer agents to submit false paperwork and pay bribes to NCS officials to obtain these TIPs. In other words, the SEC alleged that the Nobel officials knew that the company was not entitled to obtain the TIPs as they did not meet the basic requirements for the granting of such licenses.”

Judge Ellison, in his ruling, noted that the “SEC alleges that Defendants authorized payments to foreign officials in order to obtain TIPs based on false paperwork, in contravention of what Defendants knew was the proper process for obtaining TIPs. As discussed supra in Part III.A.1, the SEC pled sufficient facts to support the allegation that Defendants knew these payments would be going to Nigerian government officials to obtain TIPs in a manner that violated Nigerian law. The grant of permits by government officials that have no authority to grant permits on the basis sought is in no way a ministerial act nor can it be characterized as “speeding the proper performance of a foreign official’s duties.” Similarly, if payments were made to induce officials to validate the paperwork while knowing it to be false, that too would not qualify as simply expediting a ministerial act.” [all citations by Court omitted]

The FCPA states that it “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 . . .” Further, the FCPA has a list of examples of facilitation payments in the definition of routine governmental actions, which include the following:

  • Obtaining permits, licenses, or other official documents;
  • Processing governmental papers such as visas and work orders;
  • Providing police protection, mail services, scheduling inspections;
  • Providing utilities, cargo handling; or
  • Actions of a similar nature.

The key has always been whether the function in question was a “routine governmental action” because a facilitation payment is clearly a bribe. From the Court’s discussion, it is clear that it is thinking that if the end goal of a facilitation payment is to obtain something that the person or entity making the facilitation knows that they are not entitled to, then it cannot be a facilitation payment because it is not a “routine governmental action”.  However, the Court also focused on “corruptly” and cited to the legislative history of the statute for the following:

The word “corruptly” is used in order to make clear that the offer, payment, promise, or gift, must be intended to induce the recipient to misuse his official position; for example, . . . to induce a foreign official to fail to perform an official function. The word “corruptly” connotes an evil motive or purpose such as that required under 18 U.S.C. 201(b) which prohibits domestic bribery. As in 18 U.S.C. 201(b), the word “corruptly” indicates an intent or desire to wrongfully influence the recipient.

As part of its instructions to the SEC to re-plead the Court said that it should plead Nigerian law to show this corrupt intent. If the SEC does this and the illegal nature of the defendants’ actions under Nigerian law forms a basis of a successful action, how long do you think it will be before the entire concept of the facilitation payment comes in an enforcement action as there is no country in the world which allows bribery of its own government officials?

If the Court continues down this path, we may see the United States move towards a de facto end of the facilitation payment exception. The OECD, among others, has urged the United States to ban these types of bribes. The UK Bribery Act has no such exception under it. Numerous commentators, including Jon Jordan, have argued eloquently for the facilitation payment exception to end.

So what about the Moody Blues and Days of Future Passed? Just as many people remember only the song “Nights In White Satin” from the album and do not recall its greater importance as the either the first concept album or as a precursor to progressive rock, analysts and commentators may miss the significance of Judge Ellison’s ruling as it may signal the first step on the judicial journey to end facilitation payments.

For a copy of the Court’s ruling, click here.

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

January 6, 2012

The End is Nigh for Facilitation Payments – Get Ahead of the Breeze

Last summer, an article was published in the University of Pennsylvania, Journal of Business Law, entitled “The OECD’s Call for an End to the ‘Corrosive’ Facilitation Payments and the International Focus on the Facilitation Payments Exception under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act”. It was authored by Jon Jordan, Senior Investigations Counsel, in the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) Unit of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). In this article, Jordan reviews, at length, the creation of the facilitation payment exception to the FCPA and the international criticism of the US position by the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Transparency International, the World Economic Forum and TRACE International. The article also contains a discussion of the hidden costs to US companies which still allow facilitation payments under their company compliance regimes. I found this article to be an excellent review of the issue of facilitation payments and a useful guide to the compliance practitioner on how to navigate this knotty problem.

Costs of Facilitation Payments

1. The Bull’s Eye

Jordan notes that the cost of making facilitation payments is often higher than simply the (purportedly) small dollar amount. He believes that once a company starts down the road of making such payments, it may well lead “to higher costs imposed on those companies that choose to engage in that type of activity.” He quotes Alexandra Wrage, President of TRACE International, that having a corporate policy of allowing facilitation payments is like “putting a bull’s eye on your company’s forehead” as the payment of facilitation payments sets “a permissive tone, which leads to more and greater demands.”

2. Books and Records Issues

A second reason detailed by Jordan is the hidden intra-corporate transaction costs in making facilitation payments. There are a “complex matrix of domestic and foreign anti-bribery laws that companies must navigate when making facilitation payments, and steering through that matrix can be a compliance nightmare and a costly legal undertaking.” The clearest example of this situation is the UK Bribery Act, which has no exception for facilitation payments. If your company has a UK subsidiary, or any employees who are UK citizens, you must carve out an exclusion for them from your facilitation payment exception under your FCPA compliance policy. Got that? So not only must you have an entire carve out in your compliance protocols, your internal accounting system, which is required under the FCPA to record internal controls, you must also make sure that no UK citizen or person otherwise under the jurisdiction of the UK Bribery Act, makes such a claim for reimbursement under your company policy.

 3. Customers

The same is true for large UK based multi-national companies with which your company might transact business. The most obvious example in the energy arena is BP, which not only bans facilitation payments, but requires that any company which provides services for them ban facilitation payments made while doing work for or performing services on BP’s behalf. So think through how you would train your employees on how to properly make and record facilitation payments under your FCPA compliance policy with the HUGE EXCEPTION of when they might be performing some work under the 5 year Master Services Agreement with BP. It’s an administrative nightmare.

Is it Legal to Bribe?

Jordan also brings up the issue that there is not any country in which facilitation payments to public officials of that country are permitted under the written law of the recipient’s country. Accordingly, even if a particular facilitation payment qualifies for an exception of the FCPA, it, nevertheless, is likely to constitute a violation of local law – as well as under anti-bribery laws of other countries that also might apply simultaneously – and thus exposes the payer, his employer and/or related parties to prosecution in one or more jurisdictions. While enforcement to date in this area has been limited increased global attention to corruption makes future action more likely. Countries that are eager to be seen as combating corruption are prosecuting the payment of small bribes with greater frequency. Remember the hellish example of UK citizen Bill Smith, who was sentenced to two years imprisonment in an Afghanistan prison for making a ‘facilitation payment’ to get his company’s vehicles out of a Kabul impoundment lot. Apparently, even Afghanistan will fight the corruption of its own government officials, particularly if the fight involves a foreigner.

You Don’t Need a Weatherman

Jordan concludes by stating, “The facilitation payments exception has become a dinosaur remnant of a bygone era…” He advises US companies to get ahead of this issue and ban such payments in their company compliance programs now. This is sound advice. I would, however, add one additional reason for such advice, which is foretold in the intro paragraph to this article.

Who does the author work for and where does he work? Let’s recap: The SEC in the FCPA Unit. The article clearly states, “The Securities and Exchange Commission, as a matter of policy, disclaims responsibility for any private publication or statement of its employees…and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Commission…” Did I mention who the author works for and where he works? You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows and the direction of that breeze you feel at your back about now is clearly running against allowing the facilitation payments to continue.

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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