FCPA Compliance and Ethics Blog

July 1, 2015

Mifune Gets a Star on the Walk of Fame-the Petrobras Scandal Only Gets Worse

MifuneIt was announced last week that actor Toshirō Mifune (1920-1997) will be honored with a star bearing his name on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce will add the star in 2016, together with new stars in the motion picture category for Quentin Tarantino, Michael Keaton, Steve Carell, Bradley Cooper, Ashley Judd and Kurt Russell. For those of you who may not have heard of Mifune, he was a veteran of sixteen films directed by Akira Kurosawa as well as many other Japanese and international classics. His films with Kurosawa are considered cinema classics. They include Drunken Angel, Stray Dog, Rashomon, Seven Samurai, The Hidden Fortress, High and Low, Throne of Blood, Sanjuro, and Yojimbo. While there are many great, great performances in these films, my personal favorite is Yojimbo where Mifune plays an un-named Ronin, who cleans out a village infested by two warring clans. The film was the basis for the great first Sergio Leone/Clint Eastwood Spaghetti western, A Fistful of Dollars. 

I had always thought that the Hollywood Walk of Fame honors actors but it turns out that it honors a great many more performers. For instance, next year will also see names like LL Cool J, Cyndi Lauper, Shirley Caesar, Joseph B. “Joe” Smith, Itzhak Perlman, Adam Levine, and Bruno Mars added in the music category. I considered this category of entertainers wider than simply actors when I recently read more about the burgeoning scandal in Brazil around the state owned energy company Petrobras and its ever-growing fallout.

The fallout has extended far beyond Petrobras, Brazil and even the direct parties who may have been involved. In an article in the Financial Times (FT), entitled “Petrobras woes loom large in Shell deal for BG”, Joe Leahy, Jamie Smyth and Christopher Adams reported on how the ongoing matter is affecting the world of super sized mergers and acquisitions. The rather amazing thing about this issue is not that British Gas (BG) has been caught up in the scandal or even has been alleged to paying bribes to Petrobras.

Rather it is because of assets that BG has in its portfolio. The article said, “Brazil has the potential to become the location of the most troubled assets in BG’s portfolio because the UK company is partner to Petrobras in some of the vast pre-salt oilfields off the country’s east coast in the Santos Basin.” This has led to speculation that “There is a risk that Petrobras will struggle to fulfill its mandate as sole operator for all new pre-salt oilfields because of the corruption scandal, and that this leads to delays in developing the deepwater discoveries, including those involving BG.”

This development arising out of the Petrobras scandal is so significant that BG mentioned it in their annual report, saying “In Brazil, we are closely monitoring how the current corruption allegations affecting Petrobras may impact the cost and schedule of the Santos Basin [pre-salt] development because of supply chain disruption and/or capital and liquidity constraints placed on Petrobras.” Think about that statement for a moment. It is only in the annual report because it could have a ‘material’ effect on BG and BG is a company being acquired by Shell to the tune of £55 million. However, as noted in the FT article, “many analysts say that Petrobras, partly because of the magnitude of the scandal, does not have the capital or management bandwidth to be the sole operator of all new pre-salt fields.”

What if Petrobras becomes unable to develop enough resources to feed South America’s largest democracy’s need for energy? In 2014 alone, the company posted a new loss of $7.4 billion, of which $2.5 billion was attributable to the ongoing bribery and corruption scandal. How much will it cost the country of Brazil to bring in outsiders to develop its own natural resources? This is a real possibility and it was further driven home by another FT article by Joe Leahy, entitled “Petrobras plans 37% cut in investment”. Petrobras currently is required by Brazilian “government policy forcing it to import petrol at international prices and sell it in the domestic market at a subsidized rate.”

Things can only get worse as Leahy reported that the company announced it “was cutting its projection for investment in 2015-2019 to $130.3bn or by 37 percent in relation to its previous plan.” This would lead to a reduction in “domestic production to 2.8m barrels per day of oil equivalent by 2020 from the previous target of 4.2m.” The article ended by noting that Petrobras would “divest $15.1bn in assets and undertake additional restructuring and sales of assets totaling $42.6bn in 2017-18.”

All of this certainly bodes poorly for the citizens of Brazil. For those who claim that bribery is a victim-less crime; I would point to this as Contra-Example A. But this information is also of significance to any Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) or compliance practitioner for a US, UK or other western country. Not only must you review any contracts you had with Petrobras and any of its suppliers; now you must digger several levels deeper. If you are in an acquisition mode, you not only need to look at the contracts of your target to see if they may have been obtained through bribery and corruption, the simple fact of having a contract with Petrobras may put your potential portfolio asset base at risk. For if Petrobras has to cut back 37% on investments at this point, chances are it will only get much worse. This 37% reduction is based on only the first round of estimates of the cost to the company of the bribery scandal.

But more than simply contracts directly with Petrobras, if you are evaluating a target who has contracts with Petrobras suppliers, you may be at equal risk. Not only could those suppliers obtain their contracts with Petrobras through bribery and corruption, those same contracts, even if valid, may not be worth their estimated value if Petrobras cannot fulfill them or even worse, pay for the goods and services delivered thereunder. How about payment terms? Do think for one minute, Petrobras would not unilaterally extend payment dates out 30, 60, 90 even 180 days when it finds itself in more bribery and corruption hot water?

Finally, I think there is a very good chance the US Department of Justice (DOJ) or Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) could come knocking, unannounced, for any US company doing business with Petrobras or even with significant operations in Brazil. The SEC could do something as simple as send a letter requesting clarification of your internal controls or books and records regarding subcontractors or other third parties in Brazil. If you received such a letter, would you be in position to respond from the requirements for a public company under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act?

Toshirō Mifune had a long and distinguished acting career. While it is not clear how long, how far and how deep the Petrobras corruption scandal will reach, it is clear that its repercussions will extend far past the energy industry or even Brazil. You need to review and be prepared to respond now.

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

June 16, 2015

Like a Rolling Stone and Charitable Donations Under the FCPA

Like a Rolling StoneToday we celebrate one of the seminal achievements in rock and roll for it was on this day, 50 years ago, in 1965 that Bob Dylan recorded his single Like a Rolling Stone. Columbia Records executives initially rejected the song as too long to be released as a single because it came in at over 6 minutes in length. However, through a campaign of subterfuge, Dylan’s manager was able to have it played by New York City DJs. The popularity of the song became so great that the same Columbia Records executives were forced to release it and it went to Number 2 on the Top 40.

According to the site ThisDayInHistory.com, “The most important impact of “Like A Rolling Stone” was not commercial but creative. Rolling Stone magazine said Dylan “transformed popular song with the content and ambition of ‘Like a Rolling Stone.’” Or as Bruce Springsteen said of the first time he heard it, “[it] sounded like somebody’d kicked open the door to your mind.”” And my favorite part is the opening organ riffs played by a 21-year-old Al Kooper who was just sitting in on the session.

I thought about this odd convergence that came together to create what Rolling Stone magazine named as the greatest song of all time in 2004 in the context of the continuing fallout from the ongoing scandal involving the governing body of international soccer, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA). In a BBC Online article, entitled “Fifa corruption: South Africa cash ‘worrisome”, Andrew Harding wrote “A key figure in South Africa’s football World Cup bid has broken ranks with the government to suggest there might be some truth to a claim that a $10m bribe was paid to secure the 2010 tournament.” That figure is Tokyo Sexwale who was “a member of both the World Cup bid team and local organising committee”. Sexwale has now questioned whether the $10MM payment made to Jack Warner of Trinidad was truly a donation.

Sexwale went on to ask, “”Where are the documents, where are the invoices, where are the budgets, where are the projects on the ground?””

I thought about those questions in the context of a Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) or compliance practitioner working under a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) or UK Bribery Act compliance program around charitable donations. There has been a paucity of FCPA enforcement actions around charitable donations. Both the Schering-Plough Corporation and Eli Lilly and Company enforcement actions centered in Poland were Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) civil enforcement actions based upon violations of the books and records and internal controls provisions to the FCPA. There was no evidence of bribes being paid which rose to criminal conduct.

Generally, it is assumed that if you do the required review of the charitable organization that is due to receive a corporate donation and in this due diligence, there is no tie to a government official or family member, the donation can be made under the FCPA. However consider Sexwale’s comments around the evidence of whether a bribe was paid to Warner or if it was simply because “part of the feeling at the time – it’s a good thing, this [$10MM of] altruism (towards the African diaspora in the Caribbean)”. Yet even Sexwale noted the problem when he added, “The question is going to be: “What was done to make sure that your good intentions – you as the giver – have been realised?””

His comments gave me pause to think that companies who make charitable donations in foreign countries may now have to monitor these donations at a greater level and with greater scrutiny. The starting point may now well be as stated by Sexwale, “What was done to make sure that your good intentions – you as the giver – have been realized?” If this is now a standard of enquiry and oversight the Department of Justice (DOJ) will require validation on how your company can have assurances that your good intentions are realized? Once again you can look to the basic questions that Sexwale posed in the BBC online article, Where are the documents, where are the invoices, where are the budgets, where are the projects on the ground?

There have been four Opinion Releases around charitable donations under the FPCA. Opinion Release 95-01 was a request from a US-based energy company that planned to donate $10MM for equipment and other costs to a medical complex that was under construction near a large construction project. Opinion Release 97-02 dealt with a request from a US-based utility company who planned to donate $100K for construction and other costs to a government entity that proposed to build an elementary school near a facility. Before releasing funds, the utility company required certain guarantees from the government regarding the project, including that the funds would be used exclusively for the school. Also, the donation was directly to the foreign government and not a charity. Opinion Release 06-01 dealt with money to fund a pilot project in which the US Company would contribute $25,000 to the in country Ministry of Finance to improve local enforcement of anti-counterfeiting laws. The contribution was intended to provide incentive awards to local customs officials, needed because the African country involved was a major transit point for illicit trade and the local customs officials have no incentive to prevent the contraband. Finally, Opinion Release 10-02focused on the underlying due diligence engaged in by a US-based Micro Financial Institution (MFI) operating in an unnamed Eurasian country. The Release specified the three levels of due diligence that the US MFI had engaged in on the proposed locals MFIs which were listed as eligible to receive the funding. In addition to the specific discussion of the due diligence performed by the US MFI and noting the controls it had put in place after the funding was scheduled to be made the DOJ also listed several of the due diligence and/or controls that it had previously set forth in prior Opinion Releases relating to charitable donations.

While these Opinion Releases certainly imply a level of scrutiny at the post donation level, their primary focus is on who the donations are being made to and are they a government official. However, the DOJ may well expect both pre and post donation scrutiny, along the lines of Sexwale’s questions, which could demonstrate the legitimacy of the donation. However Sexwale’s questions also raise up something that the DOJ and SEC often say, that being that a good anti-corruption compliance program is really just good business. Shareholders and investors have the right to know how and where their money is begin spent. It would seem to behoove any company to want to the know the same thing that Sexwale wants to know about the $10MM payment to Jack Warner, What was done to make sure that your good intentions – you as the giver – have been realized? 

To hear the original version of Like a Rolling Stone on YouTube, 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, 2015

May 27, 2015

Economic Downturn Week, Part III – The Desktop Risk Assessment

Economic DownturnI continue my exploration of actions you can take to improve your compliance program during an economic downturn with a review of what my colleague Jan Farley, the Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) at Dresser-Rand, called the ‘Desktop Risk Assessment’. Both the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) make clear the need for a risk assessment to inform your compliance program. I believe that most, if not all CCOs and compliance practitioners understand this well articulated need. The FCPA Guidance could not have been clearer when it stated, “Assessment of risk is fundamental to developing a strong compliance program, and is another factor DOJ and SEC evaluate when assessing a company’s compliance program.” While many compliance practitioners have difficulty getting their collective arms about what is required for a risk assessment and then how precisely to use it; the FCPA Guidance makes clear there is no ‘one size fits all’ for about anything in an effective compliance program.

One type of risk assessment can consist of a full-blown, worldwide exercise, where teams of lawyers and fiscal consultants travel around the globe, interviewing and auditing. Of course this can be a notoriously expense exercise and if you are in Houston, the energy industry or any sector in the economic doldrums about now, this may be something you can even seek funding for at this time. Moreover, you may also be constrained by reduced compliance personnel so that you can not even perform a full-blown risk assessment with internal resources.

However if there is one thing that I learned as a lawyer, which also applies to the compliance field, it is that you are only limited by your imagination. So using the FCPA Guidance’s no ‘one size fits all’ proscription, I would submit that is also true for risk assessments. You might try assessing other areas annually, through a more limited focused risk assessment, literally while staying at your desk and not traveling away from your corporate headquarters.

Some of the areas that such a Desktop Risk Assessment could inquire into might be the following:

  • Are resources adequate to sustain a culture of compliance?
  • How are the risks in the C-Suite and the Boardroom being addressed?
  • What are the FCPA risks related to the supply chain?
  • How is risk being examined and due diligence performed at the vendor/agent level? How is such risk being managed?
  • Is the documentation adequate to support the program for regulatory purposes?
  • Is culture, attitude (tone from the top), and knowledge measured? If yes, can we use the information enhance the program?
  • Disciplinary guidelines – Do they exist and has anyone been terminated or disciplined for a violating policy?
  • Communication of information and findings – Are escalation protocols appropriate?
  • What are the opportunities to improve compliance?

There are a variety of materials that you can review from or at a company that can facilitate such a Desktop Risk Assessment. You can review your company’s policies and written guidelines by reviewing anti-corruption compliance policies, guidelines, and procedures to ensure that compliance programs are tailored to address specific risks such as gifts, hospitality and entertainment, travel, political and charitable donations, and promotional activities.

You could assess your company’s senior management support for your compliance efforts through interviews of high-level personnel such as the Chief Financial Officer (CFO), General Counsel (GC), Head of Sales, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and all Board, Audit or Compliance Subcommittee members to assess “tone from the top” and their actual knowledge about the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and your compliance program. You can examine resources dedicated to compliance and also seek to understand the compliance expectations that top management is communicating to its employee base. Finally, you can gauge operational responsibilities for compliance.

Such a review would lead to the next level of assessment, which would be generally labeled as communications within an organization regarding compliance. You can do this by assessing compliance policy communications to company personnel but even more so by reviewing such materials as compliance training and certifications that employees might have in their files. If you did not yet do so, you should also take a look at statements by senior management regarding compliance, such as actions relating to terminating employees who do business in compliance but do not make their quarterly, semi-annual or annual numbers set in budget projections.

A key element of any best practices compliance program is internal and anonymous reporting. This means that you need to review mechanisms on the reporting of suspected compliance violations and the actions taken on any internal reports, including follow-ups to the reporting employees. You should also assess whether those employees who are seeking guidance on compliance for their day-to-day business dealings are receiving not only adequate but timely responses.

I do not think there is any dispute that third parties represent the highest risk to most companies under the FCPA, so a review of your due diligence program is certainly something that should be a part of any risk assessment. But more than simply a review of procedures for due diligence on third party intermediaries, you should also consider the compliance procedures in place for your company’s mergers and acquisitions (M&A) team; focusing on the pre-acquisition phase.

One area that I do not think gets enough play, whether in the FCPA Inc. commentary or in day-to-day practice is looking at what might be called employee commitment to your company’s compliance regime. So here you may want to review your compliance policies regarding employee incentives for compliance. But just as you look at the carrots to achieve compliance with your program, you should also look at the stick, in the form of disciplinary procedures for violations. This means you should see if there have been any disciplinary actions for employee compliance violations and then determine if such discipline has been applied uniformly. If you discipline top sales people in Brazil, you have to discipline your top sales folks in the US for the same or similar violations.

This list is not intended to be a complete list of items, you can pick and choose to form some type of Desktop Risk Assessment but hopefully you can see some of the areas you can assess. My suggestion is that you try identifying and focusing on core compliance components in your organization. Obviously there are probably a million things you could fix. However, you cannot fix everything, so you must make a decision about your primacies, and then act on them. A Desktop Risk Assessment may well help you to do so.

As with the other suggestions I have put forward during the Economic Downturn Week series, if you perform an annual Desktop Risk Assessment with a full worldwide risk assessment every two years or so, you should be in a good position to keep abreast of compliance issues that may change and need more or greater risk management. Moreover, when funds and resources do become available to you and the compliance function, you will have a stronger program and one which move towards best-in-class. Finally, do not forget that the FCPA Guidance ends its section on risk with the following, “When assessing a company’s compliance program, DOJ and SEC take into account whether and to what degree a company analyzes and addresses the particular risks it faces.” By using the Desktop Risk Assessment during an economic downturn, you can answer any regulator who asks what have you done to manage the risks in your company, by using the resources and tools that were available to you.

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

Economic Downturn Week, Part II – The Golden Gate Bridge and Employment Separation – Hotlines and Whistleblowers During Layoffs

Golden Gate BridgeToday, we celebrate one of the greatest engineering achievements of the century. On this date in 1937, the Golden Gate Bridge opened. At 4200 feet long, it was at the time the world’s longest suspension bridge. But not only was it an engineering and architectural milestone, its aesthetic form was instantly recognized as classical and to this day is one of the most iconic structures in the US if not the world. With just a few years until its 80th birthday, it demonstrates that a lasting structure is more than simply form following function but contains many elements that inform its use and beauty.

I use the Golden Gate Bridge as an entrée to my continued discussion on the series on steps that you can use in your compliance program if you find yourself, your company or your industry in an economic downturn. Whether you are a Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) or compliance practitioner, these steps are designed to be achieved when you face reduced economic resources or lessened personnel resources going forward due to a downturn your economic sector. Yesterday, I discussed mapping your current and existing internal controls to the Ten Hallmarks of an Effective Compliance Program so that you can demonstrate your compliance with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act’s (FCPA) internal control prong to the accounting procedures. Today I want to discuss the issues surrounding the inevitable layoffs your company will have to endure in a downturn.

In Houston, we have experienced energy companies laying off upwards of 30% of their workforce, both in the US and abroad. Employment separations can be one of the trickiest maneuvers to manage in the spectrum of the employment relationship. Even when an employee is aware layoffs are coming it can still be quite a shock when Human Resources (HR) shows up at their door and says, “Come with me.” However, layoffs, massive or otherwise, can present some unique challenges for the FCPA compliance practitioner. Employees can use layoffs to claim that they were retaliated against for a wide variety of complaints, including those for concerns that impact the compliance practitioner. Yet there are several actions you can take to protect your company as much as possible.

Before you begin your actual layoffs, the compliance practitioner should work with your legal department and HR function to make certain your employment separation documents are in compliance with the recent SEC v. KBR Cease and Desist Order regarding Confidentiality Agreement (CA) language which purports to prevent employees from bringing potential violations to appropriate law or regulatory enforcement officials. If your company requires employees to be presented with some type of CA to receive company approved employment severance package, it must not have language preventing an employee taking such action. But this means more than having appropriate or even approved language in your CA, as you must counsel those who will be talking to the employee being laid off, not to even hint at retaliation if they go to authorities with a good faith belief of illegal conduct. You might even suggest, adding the SEC/KBR language to your script so the person leading the conversation at the layoff can get it right and you have a documented record of what was communicated to the employee being separated.

When it comes to interacting with employees first thing any company needs to do, is to treat employees with as much respect and dignity as is possible in the situation. While every company says they care (usually the same companies which say they are very ethical), the reality is that many simply want terminated employees out the door and off the premises as quickly as possibly. At times this will include an ‘escort’ off the premises and the clear message is that not only do we not trust you but do not let the door hit you on the way out. This attitude can go a long way to starting an employee down the road of filing a claim for retaliation or, in the case of FCPA enforcement, becoming a whistleblower to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), identifying bribery and corruption.

Treating employees with respect means listening to them and not showing them the door as quickly as possible with an escort. From the FCPA compliance perspective this could also mean some type of conversation to ask the soon-to-be parting employee if they are aware of any FCPA violations, violations of your Code of Conduct or any other conduct which might raise ethical or conflict of interest concerns. You might even get them to sign some type of document that attests they are not aware of any such conduct. I recognize that this may not protect your company in all instances but at least it is some evidence that you can use later if the SEC (or Department of Justice (DOJ)) comes calling after that ex-employee has blown the whistle on your organization.

I would suggest that you work with your HR department to have an understanding of any high-risk employees who might be subject to layoffs. While you could consider having HR conduct this portion of the exit interview, it might be better if a compliance practitioner was involved. Obviously a compliance practitioner would be better able to ask detailed questions if some issue arose but it would also emphasize just how important the issue of FCPA compliance, Code of Conduct compliance or simply ethical conduct compliance was and remains to your business.

Finally are issues around hotlines, whistleblower and retaliation claims. The starting point for layoffs should be whatever your company plan is going forward. The retaliation cases turn on whether actions taken by the company were in retaliation for the hotline or whistleblower report. This means you will need to mine your hotline more closely for those employees who are scheduled or in line to be laid off. If there are such persons who have reported a FCPA, Code of Conduct or other ethical violation, you should move to triage and investigate, if appropriate, the allegation sooner rather than later. This may mean you move up research of an allegation to come to a faster resolution ahead of other claims. It may also mean you put some additional short-term resources on your hotline triage and investigations if you know layoffs are coming.

The reason for these actions are to allow you to demonstrate that any laid off employee was not separated because of a hotline or whistleblower allegation but due to your overall layoff scheme. However it could be that you may need this person to provide your compliance department additional information, to be a resource to you going forward, or even a witness that you can reasonably anticipate the government may want to interview. If any of these situations exist, if you do not plan for their eventuality before you layoff the employee, said (now) ex-employee may not be inclined to cooperate with you going forward. Also if you do demonstrate that you are sincerely interested in a meritorious hotline complaint, it may keep this person from becoming a SEC whistleblower.

Just as the Golden Gate Bridge provides more to the human condition than simply a structure to get from San Francisco to Marin County, layoffs in an economic downturn provide many opportunities to companies. If they treat the situation appropriately, it can be one where you manage your FCPA compliance risk going forward.

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 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

May 21, 2015

Compliance Week 2015 Wrap Up

Wrap UpCompliance Week 2015 has ended. This year was the tenth anniversary of the annual conference and in many ways I found it to be the best one yet. Matt Kelly and his team put together a conference and experience, which was absolutely first-rate. If you were not able to make this year’s event, I hope you will join us for Compliance Week 2016, which Matt announced the dates for at the conclusion of this year’s event. The dates for 2016 are May 23-26, back of course in Washington DC to be held yet again at the Mayflower Hotel. I wanted to give you some of my thoughts on the highlights of this year’s event and what made it so unique.

At my age, I am somewhat loathe to channel my teenage daughter but the first thing that I noticed was a very different vibe this year over past year’s conferences. From the Cocktail Party reception held on Sunday night, all the way through the conclusion of the event, there seemed to be an air that I have not quite been able to put my finger on. It was more than an acknowledgement and perhaps even an excitement about how far the compliance profession has come in the past ten years. While I have written about the Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) and compliance profession as CCO 2.0, I had the feeling that we may be moving on to CCO 3.0, as that was even the title of a session.

But this vibe was more tangible than simply a feeling. One key ingredient for me was the use of social media into the conference experience. While many events have a conference app, which can provide you information on such things as the agenda, speakers and their presentations, room locations and the like; the Compliance Week 2015 app was fully interactive, allowing you to live tweet, send IM to fellow conference attendees and receive text messages when a room changed or other conference alteration occurred. It also provided a virtual help desk for all attendees.

Many of sessions were led by CCOs from major corporations and they were able to provide a strategic vision of where they were going at their organizations. This was kicked off from the start of the conference, from the first panel on the first day where the CCOs from Boeing, GE and the Director of Compliance for Wal-Mart began the event. Obviously these are three of the largest companies in the US and do business on a worldwide basis. Yet, while sharing their strategic visions, each one was able to provide a solid example from their respective organization that a CCO or compliance practitioner from any sized company could implement. From Wal-Mart with a workforce of 2.2 million employees, it was keep the message simple. From Boeing, it was incorporate any compliance failures as teaching moments or lessons learned into your internal compliance training going forward. From GE, it was how to inculcate and incorporate compliance into your everyday business planning.

The conversations were excellent as usual. I led the FCPA conversation and there were several alumni present, who told me they look forward to attending each year. One of the reasons is that there is no avenue in their hometowns to get together in an environment to discuss issues of mutual concern. It is concept that Mike Snyder and I used in founding the Houston Compliance Roundtable. A place where you can ask any question and have it answered by another compliance professional in an environment where Chatham House rules apply. While I certainly started the discussion, it quickly became fully interactive with all participants sharing their views on a variety of topics. While we have some great compliance talent in Houston at our Roundtable, it cannot top the level of maturity and sophistication present at the Compliance Week annual conference. We all benefited from the experience.

This experience was doubled when I led a breakfast event on Tuesday. While an inducement to attend was a complimentary copy of my book Doing Compliance, there were 25 attendees who joined me for a very engaging and free-flowing conversation about the state of compliance, we practitioners and where enforcement may be heading. Compliance Week treated us all to breakfast and, once again, I probably learned as much as any one. But since Chatham House rules were in effect, I cannot report on any of the substantive things that were discussed. I will share with you that I am excited to lead such a breakfast again next year and I hope you will be one of the 25 to sign up.

As always there were a number of government representatives who spoke at Compliance Week again this year. For me, the parade was led by Department of Justice (DOJ) Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell. While I will be writing further, and in more detail, about Caldwell’s remarks, she said a few things that I think bear emphasis. One was that compliance professionals need to work towards more data analytics in the form of transaction monitoring to assist in moving to a prevent and even predictive and prescriptive mode for your best practice compliance program. Next she emphasized that your compliance program must not be static but must evolve as your business risks evolve. Finally, and much closer to my heart, were her remarks that you need to “sensitize your business partners to compliance.” It was if she was channeling her inner Scott Killingsworth with his groundbreaking work on ‘Private-to-Private’ or P2P compliance solutions. Or, as I might say, she was advocating a business solution to the legal problem of bribery and corruption across the globe.

But Caldwell was not the only DOJ representative as we had Laurie Perkins, Assistant Chief, Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) Unit and Kara Brockmeyer, Chief, FCPA Unit; Division of Enforcement from Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), on a panel moderated by yours truly. First I would urge that if you are ever asked to moderate a panel with FCPA enforcers and regulators, jump at the chance. The reason is that you get to ask the questions you want answers to; even if you get past your prepared questions, when there is a lull in questions from the audience, you can follow up with something you want to know or in my case always wanted to know. So I asked some basic questions like: What is Criminal Information? (to Perkins) and Could you explain the process for the SEC’s Administrative Procedure? (to Brockmeyer). I was certainly enlightened by their answers to both questions.

The event sponsors were of course there to provide information on their solutions to assist any compliance practitioner. If you have never been to an event at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, the conference rooms are along a wide hall that allows good people flow and adequate room for the sponsors and others to set up, meet attendees and discuss their products and services. I view the sponsors and vendors as a part of the compliance solution going forward and while they are clearly there to sell; they also engage in a fair amount of education. But the education runs both ways with many compliance practitioners communicating needs they have which can be incorporated into new product developments.

Unfortunately Compliance Week 2015 had to come to an end. But the feeling, information and new friends I met will last with me until Compliance Week 2016 next year. I hope you will plan to join me.

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 11, 2015

Senn Interview, Part I – Investigations Under the FCPA

FCPA InvestigationsOne of the things that I am questioned on is when to bring in outside counsel for a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) investigation or simply to take a look at an issue that may have raised a Red Flag but is not yet a FCPA violation. Clearly a reason is retain the attorney client privilege and I think most Chief Compliance Officers (CCOs) and compliance practitioners understand that reason, but one of the things I learned as a trial lawyer is that you need to understand who your ultimate audience will be in work you do as a lawyer. If you draft a contract, you need to think through how it will play out in front of a judge or jury. If you start an FCPA investigation, your ultimate audience may well be the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). I recently had the opportunity to visit with white-collar practitioner Mara Senn, a partner at Arnold & Porter LLP, on this issue. She had several insights that I thought were insightful to assist a CCO or compliance practitioner to think through these issues. Today, I begin a three-part blog post on some of Senn’s thoughts on investigations for potential FCPA violations; tomorrow we will look at the decision (or not) to self-disclose and, finally, remediation if you discover a FCPA violation.

Unfortunately, many investigations being in a crisis situation, where a company may have discovered something that they know is bad but they do not know how bad that particular problem might be or they are not aware just how widespread the problem is. Senn indicated that the first thing she would note is that not every single incident requires outside counsel. There are all kinds of issues that can be handled very efficiently and effectively by in-house counsel. Moreover, there will be other issues and corporate disciplines involved such as the Human Resources (HR) Department. She explained that for a typical compliance blip that may happen, you do not need to call in an outside counsel right away, but if you do have these indicia of larger problems, particularly if you are a public company, it is a good idea to call outside counsel because you may be involved in reporting obligations. She cautioned that even at this early stage, outside counsel does not have to be boots on the ground and may not be required to be intimately involved if it is not a very complicated case.

Even with the above information, I asked Senn if there were any advantages she might see from bringing in outside counsel from the get-go rather than waiting. She articulated a number of things. First, there is more credibility if it is an independent review. If you are working for the company in whatever capacity, the government is not going to believe, as much, that it’s an independent investigation. From the government’s perspective, DOJ and/or SEC, they do not typically know the company involved in the investigation. Further, government regulators and enforcement officials are typically suspicious that a company is going to try to do what is right for the company. Of course there have been documented enforcement actions where companies have either destroyed documents or tried to hide things, such as witnesses or other evidence. In certain situations, an employee may look the other way, either purposefully or not really realizing what they’re seeing, and may take the investigation in the wrong direction. You want to just inoculate against that kind of problem.

Second, Senn said that there are very complicated issues that come up in cross-border situations. She provided four quick examples: privacy laws; labor laws; cultural issues and language issues. It can be very helpful, more cost effective and important from a legal compliance perspective to have somebody who is experienced in those kinds of issues.

Finally, and what I found most interesting, was Senn’s perspective on document preservation. She believes that “probably from the government’s perspective, the most important aspect of setting up an investigation in a way that makes them feel comfortable, is ensuring that all data is locked down.” Some questions that she believes counsel needs to ask are: “Do you have hand held devices? Where are all of your servers? What is your back-up tape situation? Are you trained in forensically retaining information?” Basically you need to get into the technical nitty gritty and if you do not, you could end up having a situation where either information is lost or there’s a possibility or suspicion that information is lost. Unfortunately, that is the situation that leads to a prosecutor’s imagination going wild. Senn ended her thoughts on this key point with the following, “the thing you want to do is just lock down that information, so if it ever comes to a point where the government says, “Well, we want to kick the tires,” you can say, “Okay, don’t worry. We’ve got everything you would have gotten otherwise.”

All of these steps can lead your company, through its investigation counsel, to having credibility with the DOJ and SEC. She made clear that the government will not only put you through your paces but also test the vibrancy of your investigation protocol and steps you might take as an independent assessor. She said that “if they realize, or they think, that all you’re doing is parroting what they consider to be the company line, and you haven’t gone in and independently really taken a look for yourself, you’re just going to come off as less credible, as somebody that they can’t really trust. That is definitely something that a company wants to avoid at all costs.”

I really liked the way Senn phrased the next step, “You don’t want to go too crazy” around scoping out the investigation. After getting the documents and technology locked down you should try and figure out the bad actor(s). Depending on the situation of whether the investigation target is aware of their status, you may be forced into “somewhat of a stealth investigation, where instead of going full bore and sending out document holds and things like that, you first want to essentially get that person’s information and make sure that they’re not going to do anything to their information. If there are a number of people you know are at issue, you want to lock that down, as well.”

The next step is to collect the documents forensically and use the information gleaned from this step in the process to do what Senn called “lay of the land interviews” where you try and obtain enough information to have a basic understanding of the situation, who the key players and who may be involved in the incident. Senn also believes you can garner quite a bit of information from working with your client before the actual interviews begin. You can look at organizational charts; see the number of employees who could have touched the transaction(s) at issue and also the countries involved. Also a review of the company’s financial accounting systems is critical so that you can assess how much will have to be done manually and in-country. (Think Avon)

One of the questions that I have struggled with is at what point in the investigation process is it appropriate to discipline employees, up to and including termination? I was gratified when Senn said this not only was a difficult question but also required a case-by-case analysis. You should begin by taking any persons out of the responsible situation. Paid leave pending an investigation is one option. If you terminate them, they will be gone and you will have zero control over them for initial interviews, follow-up interviews or assistance. She explained, “the government might want to interview that person. If you fired them, and that person has moved away or is now inaccessible to the government, it’s actually worse. My tendency is to keep them around, but just prevent them from continuing to do any of the harm that they may have previously done.”

In my next post, I will review Senn’s thoughts on the subject of self-disclosure.

To listen to the full interview with Mara Senn, go to the FCPA Compliance and Ethics Report, by clicking here, or download it from iTunes.

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

April 30, 2015

King Arthur Week – The Green Knight and the Protection of Whistleblowers – Part IV

Filed under: Jordan Thomas,SEC,Whistleblower,WSJ — tfoxlaw @ 5:41 am
Tags: , ,

Green KnightWe continue our King Arthur themed week with an exploration of one of the most interesting characters in the Arthur canon, The Green Knight, so called because his skin and clothes are green. The meaning of his greenness has puzzled scholars since the discovery of the poem, that identifies him as the Green Man, a vegetation being in medieval art; a recollection of a figure from Celtic mythology; a Christian symbol or the Devil himself. According to Wikipedia, C. S. Lewis suggested the character was “as vivid and concrete as any image in literature” and J. R. R. Tolkien called him the “most difficult character” to interpret in the introduction to his edition of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. His major role in Arthurian literature includes being a judge and tester of knights, and as such the other characters see him as friendly but terrifying and somewhat mysterious.

In his primary story with Sir Gawain, the Green Knight arrives at Camelot during a Christmas feast, holding a bough of holly in one hand and a battle-axe in the other. Despite disclaim of war, the knight issues a challenge: he will allow one man to strike him once with his axe, under the condition that he return the blow the following year. At first, Arthur takes up the challenge, but Gawain takes his place and decapitates the Green Knight, who retrieves his head and tells Gawain to meet him at the Green Chapel at the stipulated time. One year later, while Gawain is traveling to meet the Green Knight, he stays at the castle of Bercilak de Hautedesert. At Bercilak’s castle, Gawain’s loyalty and chastity is tested, Bercilak sends his wife to seduce Gawain and arranges that they shall exchange their gains for the other’s. On New Year’s Day, Gawain meets the Green Knight and prepares to meet his fate, where upon the Green Knight feints two blows and barely nicks him on the third. He then reveals that he is Bercilak, and that Morgan le Fay had given him the double identity to test Gawain and Arthur.

I thought about this story of testing when I read an article in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), entitled “SEC Gives More Than $600,000 to Whistleblower in Retaliation Case” by Rachel Louise Ensign. She reported on the Paradigm securities matter where an award was made to the whistleblower, which was settled by the firm late last year. The settlement was for $2.2MM and $600, 000 of that amount was paid to the whistleblower for the firm’s retaliation against him. This was the first award to a whistleblower for retaliation from the act of whistleblowing. The award is 30% of $2.2MM, which is the maximum amount a tipster can get under the program. The agency said the “unique hardships” he faced were a factor in the size of his award. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Enforcement Director, Andrew Ceresney, was quoted in the article as saying ““We appreciate and recognize the sacrifice this whistleblower made and the important role the whistleblower played in the success of the SEC’s first anti-retaliation enforcement action.””

This award to a whistleblower caps a stunning couple of weeks for whistleblowers who have brought information forward under the Dodd-Frank whistleblowing provisions. First there was the KBR pre-taliation fine and Cease and Desist Order.  In this matter, KBR was fined for having language in its internal employee Confidentiality Agreement (CA) that required employees to go to the company’s legal department before releasing certain confidential information to outside parties such as the SEC. The SEC held that such restrictions violated the “whistleblower protection Rule 21F-17 enacted under the Dodd-Frank Act. KBR required witnesses in certain internal investigations interviews to sign confidentiality statements with language warning that they could face discipline and even be fired if they discussed the matters with outside parties without the prior approval of KBR’s legal department. Since these investigations included allegations of possible securities law violations, the SEC found that these terms violated Rule 21F-17, which prohibits companies from taking any action to impede whistleblowers from reporting possible securities violations to the SEC.” This was in the face of zero findings that KBR had actually used such language or restrictions to prevent any employees from whistleblowing to the SEC.

In another part if its Press Release regarding the KBR case Director Ceresney said, “By requiring its employees and former employees to sign confidentiality agreements imposing pre-notification requirements before contacting the SEC, KBR potentially discouraged employees from reporting securities violations to us. SEC rules prohibit employers from taking measures through confidentiality, employment, severance, or other type of agreements that may silence potential whistleblowers before they can reach out to the SEC.  We will vigorously enforce this provision.”

Then we have the case of Tony Menendez, who was profiled by Jessie Eisinger in an article entitled “The Whistleblower’s Tale: How An Accountant Took on Halliburton”. The article told the story of a whistleblower, who took his concerns to government regulators and was then outed by the company as the SEC whistleblower and retaliated against. Interestingly, the SEC took no action on the whistleblower claims and the company argued on appeal that “since the SEC hadn’t brought any enforcement action, his complaint about the accounting was unfounded.” The company also claimed that simply because the whistleblower was identified by name, this alone was not the basis for a “material adverse action” against him. While Halliburton won at the administrative hearing level, it lost at the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

So now there is a Court of Appeals opinion holding that if whistleblowing was a “contributing factor” only to the retaliation. Further, the employee is not required to prove motive. Well-known whistleblower expert Jordan Thomas also explained in the Eisinger article, “Whistleblowers can be victims of retaliation even if they are ultimately proved wrong as long as they have a “reasonable” belief that the company was doing something wrong.”

It appears that the SEC will be more like the Green Knight going forward. It will be a tester to determine if retaliation against whistleblowers occurs. From preventing companies from trying to stop whistleblowing via CA’s, to monetary awards for retaliation even where there is no SEC or government action taken, to the award to whistleblowers as a part of an SEC settlement for retaliation by their former employers; the SEC is making very clear that they will test how your company treats whistleblowers. If the SEC finds your company’s conduct lacking, you may well be facing something like the Green Knight going forward.

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

April 29, 2015

King Arthur Week – The Round Table and Compliance Professionals and Lawyers as Whistleblowers – Part III

Filed under: FCPABlog,SEC,Whistleblower — tfoxlaw @ 12:01 am

Round TableToday we use King Arthur’s Round Table as the entry into our topic. The Round Table is the famous table around which he and his Knights congregated. Its shape implies that everyone who sits there has equal status. Wace, who relied on previous depictions of Arthur’s fabulous retinue, first described the Round Table in 1155. The symbolism of the Round Table developed over time; by the close of the 12th century it had come to represent the chivalric order associated with Arthur’s court, the Knights of the Round Table.

As with all things Arthurian, the origins of the Round Table are a bit murky. One commentator claims Arthur created the Round Table to prevent quarrels among his barons, none of whom would accept a lower place than the others. Others believe it came to prominences as a symbol of the famed order of chivalry that flourished under Arthur. In Robert de Boron’s Merlin, written around the 1190s, the wizard Merlin creates the Round Table in imitation of the table of the Last Supper and of Joseph of Arimathea’s Holy Grail table. This table has twelve seats and one empty place to mark the betrayal of Judas. This seat must remain empty until the coming of the knight of purity and chastity who will achieve the Grail. When the Knight Percival comes to the court at Camelot, he sits in the seat and initiates the Grail quest. Whatever the origins of the Round Table, it may be the single most tangible item associated with King Arthur.

I thought about these concepts surrounding the legend of the Round Table in consideration of the announcement earlier this month of a whistleblower award paid out by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) of between $1.4 to $1.6 MM to a compliance officer. Sam Rubenfeld reported in an article in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), entitled “SEC Awards More than $1.4 Million to Whistleblower Compliance Officer”, that the award was paid “to a compliance officer who provided information that helped the SEC in an enforcement action against the tipster’s company, marking the second time a compliance professional received an award under the SEC’s whistleblower program.” As stated this was the second award paid out to a compliance officer, the first occurred in August 2014 and was in the amount of $300,000.

This un-named whistleblower took his (or her) concerns internally to management but was not successful in persuading management to cease the illegal practices. Moreover, “The compliance officer had a reasonable basis to believe disclosure to the SEC “was necessary to prevent imminent misconduct” from causing “substantial financial harm” to the company or investors, the SEC said.” The FCPA Blog, in a post entitled “Compliance officer awarded $1.5 million under SEC whistleblower program”, reported, “After that award, Sean McKessy, chief of the SEC’s whistleblower office, said employees who perform internal audit, compliance, and legal functions can be eligible for an SEC whistleblower award “if their companies fail to take appropriate, timely action on information they first reported internally.”” Adding to McKessy was Andrew Ceresney, chief of the SEC’s enforcement division, who said in a statement “This compliance officer reported misconduct after responsible management at the entity became aware of potentially impending harm to investors and failed to take steps to prevent it.”

This second award makes clear that the SEC will treat compliance professionals as all other whistleblowers when it comes to making an award based upon the fine or penalty. In a December 2014 article, entitled “When Should Internal Auditors And Compliance Officers Become SEC Whistleblowers”, Daniel Hurson wrote “while the amount of the [first] award [$300,000] was not particularly hefty, and was dwarfed by several multi-million dollar whistleblower awards given previously, it carried particular significance to astute observers in the corporate legal, internal audit, and compliance communities. Insiders know that compliance officers and internal auditors, beleaguered and sometimes frustrated as they may be, hold the “keys to the kingdom” when it comes to knowledge of corporate ethical and legal lapses within their companies. Prior to this award, it had generally been thought the SEC would continue to discourage such awards on the rationale that it would not want to encourage employees whose job it was to prevent corporate legal and ethical violations to profit from simply doing their jobs.”

Hurson wrote that this initial whistleblower payment to a compliance practitioner marked a change in SEC policy because “It has generally been understood that compliance officers and internal auditors are not permitted to receive whistleblower awards because information they reported to a superior constituting allegations of misconduct was not to be considered “original information” under the Dodd-Frank Act and SEC rules.” He ended his piece with the following, “In the final analysis, however, the real job of a compliance officer is not just training employees to know the FCPA or any of the myriad of laws and regulations that now govern corporate conduct, but doing his or her absolute best to help them comply with the law, and to identify the cases when they fail. An internal auditor is charged with making his or her investigations and reports, but not administering punishment. But the presumption in each case is that the company will take your work seriously and take action to correct and if necessary report the problem to regulatory authorities.

If this does not happen, or the company displays either a lack of good faith or competence in undertaking its end of the bargain, you may have to undertake corrective action, however unpleasant or personally risky. In truth, you owe this to the company, its vast majority of honest employees, and its investors. If certain people in the corporate structure are blind to the “bet the company” risk in ignoring or covering up wrongdoing, your job is to insure that philosophy does not prevail. I suggest with respect that that duty should remain foremost in the personal decision as to whether and when a compliance officer or internal auditor should, if the situation demands and the law allows, become a whistleblower.”

There was nothing in the SEC Press Release or any of the commentary on the 2015 whistleblower award to indicate that the compliance professional involved was a lawyer. However, an equally delicate issue is whether a lawyer can be a whistleblower. In an article entitled “Is the SEC encouraging unethical whistleblowing by counsel?” Nick Morgan explored this issue. Lawyers are also governed by their state bar associations on their ethical obligations, which include confidentiality and loyalty to a client. Morgan noted, “The Dodd-Frank bounty provisions further exacerbated the conflict between federal securities whistleblower law and state attorney ethics requirements by giving attorneys financial incentives to breach attorney-client confidentiality.”

Three state bar organizations, Washington, California and New York, have questioned if SEC regulations trump state bar ethical obligations regarding attorney whistleblowers. Indeed in New York, “the New York County Lawyers’ Association’s committee on professional ethics responded to the development by releasing a formal opinion. It concluded that New York lawyers, presumptively, may not ethically serve as whistleblowers for a bounty against their clients under Dodd-Frank, because doing so generally gives rise to a conflict between lawyers’ interests and those of their clients.”

What happens when federal law is in conflict with state regulations regarding lawyers’ ethical obligations? Morgan reported, “no court has yet found that SEC regulations preempt state ethics rules governing lawyers’ communications with their clients.  In cases in which conflicts of state and SEC law have appeared, federal courts have been receptive to arguments based on lawyers’ ethical obligations under state law and have balanced the state and federal interests. While the Dodd-Frank bounty provisions increase the incentives for attorneys to act as whistleblowers at their clients’ expense, it is unclear whether those incentives outweigh the risks and burdens associated with taking such actions. Aside from the ethical issues, whistleblowers more often than not go uncompensated and incur significant burdens for their trouble, decreasing whatever temptation some attorneys may feel.”

King Arthur’s Round Table may have been designed so that all Knights were treated as equals. As noted in some of the legends the Round Table is part of the Holy Grail quest storyline, requiring purity of heart and chastity to achieve the Grail. Both strands of the Round Table legend inform the debate on whistleblowers. Even if compliance practitioners may report on their own companies to the SEC, it is not clear about the answer when it comes to lawyers. Further, as lawyers have separate legal obligations they fail to meet the second purpose of the Round Table, to find someone to chase the Grail of whistleblowing.

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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