FCPA Compliance and Ethics Blog

July 10, 2014

Mid-Year FCPA Report, Part II

Mid Year ReportToday, I continue my look at what I think were some of the most significant highlights from the first half of 2014 relating to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). Yesterday, the focus was on corporate and individual enforcement. Today we review a very rare court of appeals decision on whether a state-owned enterprise is covered by the FCPA; yet another surprising result in an opinion release and finally take a look at some real world examples of why the FCPA is such a powerful and positive law for US companies doing business overseas.

Esquenazi Decision on State Owned Enterprises Covered by the FCPA

In what can only be called a judicial decision based on common sense the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, in an opinion released on May 16, upheld the convictions of Joel Esquenazi and Carlos Rodriguez for violations of the FCPA and certain US anti-money laundering (AML) laws. The two had engaged in a long running bribery scheme with the Haitian telephone company, Telecommunications d’Haiti, S.A.M (Teleco). The pair were convicted and sentenced to lengthy jail terms, Esquenazi receiving 15 years and Rodriguez receiving 7 years. One of their myriad defenses was that a state owned enterprise, such as Telco, was not an instrumentality and thereby not covered under the FCPA.

This opinion was the first time that a Court of Appeals had reviewed the FCPA question of what is an ‘instrumentality’ under the Act. Both defendants had argued that instrumentality could only mean (1) “that only an actual part of the government would qualify as an instrumentality” or (2) the FCPA should be construed to encompass only foreign entities performing ‘core’ governmental functions similar to departments or agencies. The Court rejected both arguments.

The Court constructed a two-prong test to determine if a state owned enterprise is an instrumentality under the FCPA. The first prong is the ‘Control Test’ and the second prong is the ‘Function Test’. Under the Control Test, a compliance practitioner should analyze how much control a foreign government has over a state owned enterprise. The Court suggested questions like: (1) The foreign government’s formal designation of the entity; (2) Whether the government has an interest in the entity; (3) The government’s ability to hire and fire the entity’s principals; (4) The extent to which the entity’s profits, if any, go directly into the governmental fisc; (5) The extent to which the government funds the entity if it fails to break even; and (6) The length of time these indicia have existed. The Court suggested the following for the Function Test: (1) Does the entity have a monopoly over the function it exists to carry out; (2) Does the foreign government subsidize the costs associated with the entity providing the services; (3) Does the entity provide services to the public at large in the foreign Country; and (4) Does the foreign government generally perceive the entity to be performing a governmental function?

I can only say that common sense won out in this decision. The word ‘instrumentality’ must mean something under the FCPA and I believe the Court correctly found that state owned enterprises falls under the rubric of instrumentality under the FCPA.

Opinion Release 14-01

Continuing its run of publishing Opinion Releases where it comes down on the side I had not expected, the DOJ released Opinion Release 14-01. In 14-01, a company wanted to buy-out a now government official from a company he had been a part of before he went into government service. The problem was that his buy-out provision was entered into during the past economic downturn and the value of his buy-out was under water. He wanted to get something for his prior investment. The Relator proposed another formula for his exit compensation and the DOJ agreed it would not be a FCPA violation to do so.

For the compliance practitioner, there are several key points to consider. The first point is found in a footnote detailing the length of time it took to secure the DOJ opinion. This is the first time that I recall seeing a time line laid out in an Opinion Release. This gives a compliance practitioner some idea of the time frames involved in the process. The second is the use of representations and warranties by the parties. In 14-01, the DOJ accepted representations that the foreign official in question would not pass on business in which he either had an interest or help the Relator to ‘obtain or retain’ business with the agency at which the foreign official now worked. This type of evidence is something that a company should now consider when designing protocols to satisfy issues similar to those presented in 14-01. Finally was the quality and quantity of payment(s) to be made to the now foreign official to cash him out and purchase his interest. Here the parties agreed to an independent valuation by an internationally recognized accounting firm. This provides some type of arms-length analysis. It also provides a market based approach to the payment issue so that there is evidence of true (or perhaps truer) market value, not some arbitrary number agreed to by the parties.

The message from 14-01 and last year’s Opinion Release, seems to me, that the DOJ is open to creative arguments about ways to comply with the FCPA. 14-01 also shows that the process can move quickly when the situation warrants it.

The International Effect of the FCPA

In certainly one of the most interesting revelations of the first half of 2014, former US Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates wrote the following in his recently released memoirs, entitled “Duty: A Memoir of a Secretary at War”, in which he said the following, ““In a private meeting, the king [King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia] committed to a $60 billion weapons deal including the purchase of eighty-four F-15’s, the upgrade of seventy-15s already in the Saudi air force, twenty-four Apache helicopters, and seventy-two Blackhawk helicopters. His ministers and generals had pressed him hard to buy either Russian or French fighters, but I think he suspected that was because some of the money would end up in their pockets. He wanted all the Saudi money to go toward military equipment, not into Swiss bank accounts, and thus he wanted to buy from us. The king explicitly told me saw the huge purchase as an investment in a long-term strategic relationship with the United States, linking our militaries for decades to come.”

I would ask you to consider, just how many US interests can be identified in the above quote. I can identify at least five: (1) US security interests; (2) US foreign policy interests; (3) US military interests; (4) US economic interests; and (5) US legal interests as reflected in compliance with the FCPA. For any person or business interest that does not think that the FCPA has a positive aspect, I would commend you to the above Gates quote. His quote, buried at page 395 of a 618-page book, did not even merit an entry in the Index. Yet, I find it to one of the finest, clearest and most concise affirmations of the positive power of the FCPA. Anytime you face criticism of your FCPA compliance program, a senior executive wants to know why you need resources to comply with the FCPA or you hear a business colleague whining about how ‘those people’ do business corruptly, I would suggest that you read to them this quote to show the power of the FCPA in international business.

Tangentially related to this revelation was the work by Scott Killingsworth to lay the legal and theoretical foundations for my real world observation about a business solution to FCPA compliance in his latest article entitled “The Privatization of Compliance”, which he calls this “private-to-private or P2P compliance.” In his introduction he stated, “Embodied in contract clauses and codes of conduct for business partners, these obligations often go beyond mere compliance with law and address the methods by which compliance is assured. They create new compliance obligations and enforcement mechanisms and touch upon the structure, design, priorities, functions and administration of corporate ethics and compliance programs. And these obligations are contagious: increasingly accountable not only for their own compliance but also that of their supply chains, companies must seek corresponding contractual assurances upstream. Compliance is becoming privatized, and privatization is going viral.”

With the long-expected Avon settlement on the horizon and the collapse of the SEC case against the Noble executives, it will be most interesting to see what the second half of the year will bring.

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On another note, I saw Queen play last night and while I will write about them and their show next week, I can only say that if they are coming to a town near you, run don’t walk to see them. The show was fabulous.

And on a final note, if you are in the mid-west or so inclined to travel their and are interested in the FCPA, I urge you to attend the FCPA Professor‘s initial FCPA Institute, which he is holding in Milwaukee next week. For more information, 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, 2014

May 14, 2014

FCPA Compliance and the Convergence of US Security, Economic and Foreign Policy Interests

Robert Gates“In a private meeting, the king [King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia] committed to a $60 billion weapons deal including the purchase of eighty-four F-15’s, the upgrade of seventy-15s already in the Saudi air force, twenty-four Apache helicopters, and seventy-two Blackhawk helicopters. His ministers and generals had pressed him hard to buy either Russian or French fighters, but I think he suspected that was because some of the money would end up in their pockets. He wanted all the Saudi money to go toward military equipment, not into Swiss bank accounts, and thus he wanted to buy from us. The king explicitly told me saw the huge purchase as an investment in a long-term strategic relationship with the United States, linking our militaries for decades to come.”

The above quote comes from Robert Gates recent book, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War. I would like you to identify how many interests of the US are contained in the above quotation. I can identify at least five interests of the US: (1) US security interests; (2) US foreign policy interests; (3) US military interests; (4) US economic interests; and (5) US legal interests as reflected in compliance with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).

The above quote synthesizes succinctly concepts that I have tried to articulate for some time as to the worldwide effects of the FCPA. The fight against terrorism has many different tools and I certainly recognize the FCPA as one of them. But this citation from former Secretary of Defense Gates clearly shows the convergence of several interests of the US through the effectiveness of the FCPA. If it had not been for the effective compliance programs of the US aerospace and armament industry, the Saudi Arabian ministers, who advised the King to buy something other than American, might have held sway. But because bribing such ministers would violate US law and put the US companies under potential legal liability, the King had confidence that the US companies were not bribing his ministers to get the Saudi business.

Put another way, what is the cost of paying a bribe to a foreign governmental official? It means that said official’s judgment is clouded by his own self-interest in giving the business to a company, which has bribed him for his business. As Jeff Kaplan would say, there is a clear conflict of interest by the bribe receiver because they are being paid to make a decision to award the business to a company which lines their pockets. Or, in the case of the Saudi ministers that the Saudi King referred to, their collective Swiss bank accounts.

I recognize that the FCPA is a supply side focused law. It criminalizes the conduct of the bribe-giver and not the bribe-receiver. But because of this fact it means that US companies that comply with the law can help foster the US interests that I listed above and perhaps others that I have not identified. So just as I believe that the FCPA helps in the fight against terrorism, I also believe that the FCPA helps to foster US foreign policy, US economic interests and US legal interests.

I see this most clearly in Houston, Texas, generally recognized as the epi-center of FCPA enforcement. There have been more FCPA enforcement actions against companies based in Houston than in any other single city in the world. This is largely because Houston is the self-proclaimed energy capital of the world but this profusion of FCPA enforcement has also led to companies in Houston having some of the most mature compliance programs and it has also led to quite a bit of FCPA knowledge throughout businesses in the city. Nonetheless the key is the business response to the issue and not strictly a legal response.

In the energy industry, the exploration and production companies (E&P) are usually thought of as existing at the top of the food chain (i.e. Mega-Big). Below them are the service companies, which actually do the work of exploration (i.e. Very-Big). The next level down are companies which all work with the service companies, from the multi-billion chemical production firm down to the $15MM company which has a piece of software which does something useful. All of these companies down the chain are required to have a compliance program.

In practice it works something like this. A service company needs a product or service. As part of the regular contracting process, the service company will inquire into the contractor’s compliance function and policy. If the contractor provides a service which deals with a foreign government in any way or has foreign government touch points, the service company may well come and audit the contractor’s compliance program prior to executing the contract. Thereafter the contractor is subject to being audited for not only the execution of the contract but also the continued maintenance of its compliance program. All of this is done for business reasons. It is a business response to a legal issue, that being compliance with the FCPA.

FCPA compliance can be expressed through the formulation articulated by Paul McNulty and Stephen Martin, of Baker and McKenzie, which they call the “Five Elements of an Effective Compliance Program”, which are leadership, performing a risk assessment, instituting standards and controls, then providing training and communication on those standards and controls and, finally, oversight of your compliance program. While McNulty and Martin have written and spoken extensively on these five elements to flesh them out, these basic concepts are usually quickly and easily understood. Further, and perhaps not said as often as it should be said, companies which have a robust compliance program, are usually better run companies because of the controls that are put in place.

In other areas, anti-corruption compliance programs are becoming requirements to access cash to fund your business. If your company is going through traditional corporate refinancing in the next 18 months, any bank or other financial institution that you go to will want to not only review your compliance program but may well want to review where that compliance program may be in terms of an overall assessment of the compliance risks that your company faces. If you want to sell your business, enter into a joint venture (JV) or even receive some other type of funding, your compliance program will be assessed.

While the world is not free of US companies that run afoul of the FCPA, to paraphrase Dick Cassin, there is certainly more anti-corruption compliance going on in the world. But FCPA compliance serves many interests of the US. Robert Gates’ passage above makes clear that the FCPA is doing what it was intended to do and perhaps much more. But of even greater significance is that the King of Saudi Arabia recognized the effectiveness in a business context. Policy makers need to consider how powerful the FCPA is in a variety of US interests before they argue for a change in the law.

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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