FCPA Compliance and Ethics Blog

April 21, 2015

The Petrobras Scandal and Corruption of Political Parties Under the FCPA

7K0A0075When does bribery and corruption move from a business issue to a political issue to a national issue? Why should US companies be held to the gold standard of anti-corruption laws? Should the US government even care if US companies engage in bribery of politicians and political parties outside the US? I pose these questions as we see some of these issues now being played out in real time in Brazil.

Earlier this month, a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article by Rogerio Jelmayer and Jeffrey T. Lewis, entitled “Brazil Graft Probe Reaches Higher Up” said that “A widening investigation into alleged corruption at Brazil’s state-controlled oil company edged closer to President Dilma Rousseff on Wednesday when police arrested her ruling political party’s treasurer. The official, João Vaccari Neto, was charged with receiving “irregular donations” for the Workers’ Party from some suppliers to the oil company” [Petrobras]. Moreover, one cooperating witness, Pedro Barusco, “told a congressional hearing in March that he amassed nearly $100 million in bribes as a part of the alleged bribery schemes and the Workers’ Party may have received twice as much.”

But the corruption scandal appears to be much broader than simply one politician. Another WSJ article, by reporters Paulo Trevisani and Paul Kiernan, entitled “Brazil Attorney General Seeks Corruption Probe Approval”, said that the Brazilian Attorney General “has asked the Supreme Court for permission to proceed with investigations against an undisclosed number of politicians”. He asked for “28 probes involving 54 persons”. Interestingly, this part of the Brazilian corruption probe is separate and apart from the “team of prosecutors who have been working on the case from the southern Brazilian city of Curitba”. The reason is that under Brazilian law “special treatment is afforded to high-ranking authorities, whose cases my be heard by the Supreme Court.” This anomaly required “any evidence pointing to government officials or lawmakers had to be sent to” the Brazilian Attorney General.

As the corruption scandal continues to morph, allegations have reached the level of last year’s Brazilian Presidential election. Mary Anastasia O’Grady, also writing in the WSJ, in an article entitled “An Escalating Corruption Scandal Rocks Brazil”, said that interviewed defeated Presidential candidate Aécio Neves, head of the Social Democracy Party of Brazil, told her that he lost the election because of “organized crime”. This was not some dark mafia plot but came about from “alleged skimming operations at the government-owned oil company.” She went on to note, “Prosecutors allege that Petrobras contractors were permitted to pad their contracts and remit the excess as kickbacks to the oil company, which passed hundreds of millions of dollars to politician and, more importantly the PT.” The PT is the ruling party currently led by Brazilian President Rousseff.

It has not yet been reported that any US companies are under investigation by the Brazilian Attorney General for the bribing of politicians or a political party such as the President’s Workers’ Party. However, for any US companies that have been engaged in trying to influence elections in Brazil through campaign contributions, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) specifically incorporates politicians, political parties and candidates for political offices as foreign government officials for purposes of the Act. In the 2012 FCPA Guidance it states, “The FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions apply to corrupt payments made to (1) “any foreign official”; (2) “any foreign political party or official thereof ”; (3) “any candidate for foreign political office”; or (4) any person, while knowing that all or a portion of the payment will be offered, given, or promised to an individual falling within one of these three categories. Although the statute distinguishes between a “foreign official,” “foreign political party or official thereof,” and “candidate for foreign political office,” the term “foreign official” in this guide generally refers to an individual falling within any of these three categories.”

Additionally, politicians and political parties are incorporated into the FCPA through the accounting provisions of the FCPA. As further stated in the FCPA Guidance, “Additionally, individuals and entities can be held directly civilly liable for falsifying an issuer’s books and records or for circumventing internal controls. Exchange Act Rule 13b2-1 provides: “No person shall, directly or indirectly, falsify or cause to be falsified, any book, record or account subject to [the books and records provision] of the Securities Exchange Act.” And Section 13(b)(5) of the Exchange Act (15 U.S.C. § 78m(b)(5)) provides that “[n]o person shall knowingly circumvent or knowingly fail to implement a system of internal accounting controls or knowingly falsify any book, record, or account ….”. The Exchange Act defines “person” to include a “natural person, company, government, or political subdivision, agency, or instrumentality of a government.”

The most well known FCPA enforcement action involving bribes paid to politicians was the Halliburton/KBR enforcement action. For those of you who may have forgotten this case, which has the third highest FCPA fine of all-time, Halliburton subsidiary KBR admitted that a consortium which it led paid Nigerian officials at least $132 million in bribes for engineering, procurement and construction contracts awarded between 1995 and 2004 to build liquefied natural gas facilities on Bonny Island, Nigeria. The consortium was named TSKJ and consisted of subsidiaries of the following entities: KBR; Technip, a French company; ENI, an Italian company; and JGC, a Japanese company. There was also a corrupt agent involved in paying the bribes, Jeffrey Tesler and another Japanese company Marubeni Corporation.

BONNEY ISLAND SETTLEMENT BOX SCORE

Entity Fine, Penalty and Disgorgement of Profits (in $ millions)
Halliburton (KBR) $579
ENI $365
Technip $338
JGC $218
Marubeni Corp $50
Jeffery Tesler (the Bag Man) $149
Total $1,699

 

So for those of you keeping score at home, there has been, and could be fines, penalties and profit disgorgement of over $1.699 billion. This figure does not include the amount paid out by these corporations for attorneys’ fees, forensic costs and other professional fees, which can be only speculated about.

 The Petrobras scandal continues to morph and to grow way beyond the bounds of simple commercial bribery. One of the goals in the passage of the Act was to prevent US companies from illegally influencing foreign officials and foreign elections through the payments of bribes. The Petrobras scandal may well demonstrate to the world community how important it is to remember that now is certainly not the time to try and weaken either the FCPA or its enforcement going forward. If there is ever to be a truly level playing field in commerce across the globe, it will be by enforcement of anti-corruption laws such as the FCPA that makes it safe for US businesses to compete on the global stage and compete on the basis of quality, not bribe paid.

But the morphing of the Petrobras bribery scandal into the Brazilian political scene may also demonstrate how commercial bribery can work to corrupt a democratic political system. If the money paid from bribes for commercial contracts worked its way into the Brazilian election, this would be perversion of the democratic process. It is this commercial issue that demonstrates why businesses, particularly US businesses, have a role in the international fight against bribery and corruption. It also seems to me to be a straight line from commercial bribery to political corruption to the explosion of terrorism against such corruption. While the FCPA may not have been passed with this connection to terrorism in mind, it is certainly an important US government tool in that fight as well.

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 20, 2015

The Intersection of the FCPA, TI-CPI and Tax Appeals in Brazil

Three Way IntersectionThe Transparency International-Corruptions Perceptions Index (TI-CPI) is released each year in November. The TI-CPI rates Brazil as 69th out of 175 countries on its index, coming in with a score of 43 out of 100. I wonder if TI might consider an interim report this year on Brazil? As things keep going, more and more corruption is alleged to be a part of the everyday fabric of the country. While the Petrobras and related scandals have been well chronicled, the overall stench of corruption just keeps spreading and spreading.

Recently it was announced yet another set of investigations around corruption has begun. This time it involves the Brazilian Finance Ministry’s Administrative Council for Tax Appeal. In an article in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), entitled “Brazil Probes New Bribery Allegations”, Paulo Trevisani reported that this is an “arbitration board that hears appeals from taxpayers who dispute how much they owe the [Brazilian] government.” The investigation would appear to be widespread as “Prosecutors said 74 companies and 24 individuals are under investigation.”

Interestingly not only is the Finance Ministry investigating the allegations but also the Brazilian internal revenue service, the Brazilian federal police and the Brazilian federal prosecutors office. In what would seem to indicate the inherent conflict of interest in the Finance Ministry investigating itself, Trevisani reported the “Finance Ministry said the alleged scheme wasn’t systematic but rather, involved “isolated acts” carried out by a small group of government tax officials. When prosecutors announced the investigation on March 26 they said that losses to the nation’s treasury totaled $6.1 billion over 15 years.” Oops.

While the entities and individuals under investigation have not been named, “a leading investigator on the case said companies under investigation include Ford Motor Brazil, a unit of Ford Motor Co.; JBS, the world’s largest meatpacker, the Brazilian unit of the Spanish bank Banco Santander SA; and Brazil’s second largest private-sector bank, Bradesco SA.” You may recall from an earlier blog post I noted that Brazil’s third largest state-owned bank Caixa Econômica Federal (Caixa) is also under investigation for corruption.

However, this new corruption scandal is the first time that non-Brazilian companies have come under investigation outside of the Petrobras scandal. The WSJ article noted, “Brazil’s tax system is among the most onerous and complex in the world. Penalties can be steep. That has fostered an environment where corruption can flourish, [un-named] experts say. “Taxes in Brazil are so high and complicated that it is easy for companies to get in trouble with the taxman,” the leading investigator told The Wall Street Journal. The investigator said frequent tax disputes created opportunities for ill-intentioned public servants to profit by helping firms circumvent red tape. Prosecutors say the probe began in 2013 after they received an anonymous letter describing details of the alleged scheme.”

An article in forbes.com, entitled “Ford On List Of Companies Suspected Of Brazilian Tax Fraud” by Kenneth Rapoza, went further than the WSJ article when it laid out the list of “companies are under investigation for taking part in various tax bribery schemes” and then listed the amounts they allegedly avoided paying. The Top Ten list is:

  • Santander: R$3.3 billion
  • Bradesco: R$2.7 billion
  • Ford: R$1.7 billion
  • Gerdau: R$1.2 billion
  • Light: R$929 million
  • Banco Safra: R$767 million
  • RBS: R$672 million
  • Camargo Correa: R$668 million
  • Mitsubishi: R$505 million
  • Banco Industrial: R$436 million

An article in businessinsider.com, entitled “Brazil uncovers multibillion-dollar tax fraud”, reported that this investigation, dubbed Operation Zeal, had uncovered that “the [tax] body managed to obtain tax appeals board rulings in the companies’ favor by either cutting penalties or waiving them altogether. In return, officials allegedly received bribes from some 70 companies believed to have benefited from the scheme. A written statement issued by Brazilian federal police stated “The investigations, begun in 2013, showed the organization acted within the body sponsoring private interests, seeking to influence and corrupt advisors with a view either to securing the cancellation or reduction of penalties from tax authorities”. Moreover, “Police said the scam could have netted the companies as much as 19 billion reais ($5.9 billion) but evidence uncovered so far amounts to around a third of that amount.” Finally, and perhaps most ominously, the article said, “Federal police organized crime chief Oslain Campos Santan said the total sums could end up being “as much” as that involved in the Petrobras scam”.

This new Brazilian corruption scandal recalls the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) enforcement action against the Houston-based Parker Drilling Company. According to the Department of Justice (DOJ) Press Release issued at the time of the announcement of the conclusion of the matter, the company was issued a tax assessment on its drilling rigs. The Press Release went on to state, “According to court documents, rather than pay the assessed fine, Parker Drilling contracted indirectly with an intermediary agent to resolve its customs issues. From January to May 2004, Parker Drilling transferred $1.25 million to the agent, who reported spending a portion of the money on various things including entertaining government officials. Emails in which the agent requested additional money from Parker Drilling referenced the agent’s interactions with Nigeria’s Ministry of Finance, State Security Service, and a delegation from the president’s office. Two senior executives within Parker Drilling at the time reviewed and approved the agent’s invoices, knowing that the invoices arbitrarily attributed portions of the money that Parker Drilling transferred to the agent to various fees and expenses. The agent succeeded in reducing Parker Drilling’s TI Panel fines from $3.8 million to just $750,000.”

So with all of the above that has been written about in the past few weeks, where do you think Brazil should be on the TI-CPI? While its rating of 43 out of 100 may not seem too low or perhaps more accurately too much perceived corruption, it may be time for a mid-year reassessment. Certainly if you are a Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) or compliance practitioner you may wish to perform your own reassessment. If you have any dealings with the Brazilian Finance Ministry’s Administrative Council for Tax Appeal, you need to perform an internal investigation starting today on all information you can find about the process and results. For if the results were extremely favorable the reason for the achievement may have violated both Brazilian law and the FCPA.

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 13, 2015

Brazilian Corruption Scandal Expands Past Petrobras – Is a FCPA Country Sweep Next?

BroomThe Brazilian corruption scandal took a new turn last week, when the Brazilian government announced that it was investigating the country’s health ministry and the state-owned bank Caixa Econômica Federal (Caixa). As reported by Rogerio Jelmayer and Luciana Magalhaes in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), in an article entitled “Corruption Scandal in Brazil Gets Bigger”, the schemes were similar to those used in the Petrobras scandal, where inflated contracts were awarded to contractors who kick backed the overcharges to those in position to award the business.

This expansion of Brazilian government investigation is also the first reported instance of companies outside the energy sector or those doing business with the Brazilian state-owed enterprise Petrobras being investigated by the Brazilian government. Over the years there have been several Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) enforcement actions regarding US companies doing business in Brazil. With this expansion of the Petrobras corruption scandal to other government departments and state-owned entities, a new chapter may be opening. This new chapter may bring not only Brazilian domestic bribery and corruption scrutiny but also draw the attention of US or UK regulators, such as the Department of Justice (DOJ), Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) or the UK Serious Fraud Office (SFO).

In the health ministry the area of contracts under investigation were those for advertising. The WSJ article said, “the cost of advertising contracts was inflated by as much as 10%, prosecutors said, with the surplus also passed along to politicians. The health ministry said all its advertising contracts meet the legal requirements, and it will investigate the allegations and cooperate with police and prosecutors.” It certainly is comforting when the government says it will cooperate with investigators.

But perhaps more interesting was the timing of the allegations against the country’s third largest state-owned bank Caixa. While the allegations around the scope and extent of the bribery were similar to those made against the Brazilian health ministry, the declarations of these new investigations coincided with the announcement last week by the government Finance Minister Joaquim Levy and Caixa Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Miriam Belchior for “an initial public offering [IPO] in the insurance joint venture it has with French insurer CNP Assurances.”

What do you think the comfort level will be for institutional investors about now in this IPO? I wonder if under IPO rules and regulations in Brazil, whether the CEO must certify either the financial statement as accurate or that there is no evidence of corruption in the organization? Even those in Brazil recognize the gravity of these allegations against Caixa. Luis Santacreu, a banking analyst at the Brazilian rating agency Austin Ratings, said that he thought this announcement would make the IPO more difficult and “the allegations against Caixa show it needs to improve its governance.”

These two developments demonstrate the difficulties that international companies may have in doing business in Brazil going forward. It is not difficult to believe that a country sweep on those doing business in Brazil, with the Brazilian government or with Brazilian state-owned enterprises, may well be coming. Given the recent 2014 World Cup and the upcoming 2016 Olympics, it would not seem too great a stretch for the DOJ or SEC to begin to look at US companies with significant amounts of commerce with and in Brazil.

While we have not seen evidence of country sweeps to-date, there has been evidence of industry sweeps in FCPA enforcement. The FCPA Professor, in a blog post entitled “Industry Sweeps”, posted an article from FCPA Dean Homer Moyer, entitled “The Big Broom of FCPA Industry Sweeps”. In his article, Moyer said that an industry sweep is the situation where the DOJ and/or SEC will focus “on particular industries – pharmaceuticals and medical devices come to mind — industry sweeps are investigations that grow out of perceived FCPA violations by one company that enforcement agencies believe may reflect an industry-wide pattern of wrongdoing.” Moyer further wrote, “Industry sweeps are often led by the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”), which has broad subpoena power as a regulatory agency, arguably broader oversight authority than prosecutors. They are different from internal investigations or traditional government investigations, and present different challenges to companies. Because the catalyst may be wrongdoing in a single company, agencies may have no evidence or suspicion of specific violations in the companies subject to an industry sweep. A sweep may thus begin with possible cause, not probable cause. In sweeps, agencies broadly solicit information from companies about their past FCPA issues or present practices. And they may explicitly encourage companies to volunteer incriminating information about competitors.”

As a compliance professional, one of the key takeaways from the Brazilian corruption scandal is that you should take a very hard and detailed look at your company. With the spread of Brazilian investigations around corruption, we can see that these scandals are not be limited to only the energy or energy-related service industry. One of the first things you can begin to do is to review the list of third parties who might work with the Brazilian government or with Brazilian state-owned enterprises. You should begin by asking such questions as:

  • What is the ownership of the third party? Is there a business justification for the relationship?
  • Is there anyone in the company who is responsible for maintaining the relationship? Is there ongoing accountability?
  • How is the relationship being managed?
  • Are you engaging in any transaction monitoring?
  • Are you engaging in any relationship monitoring?
  • What is the estimated or budgeted size of the spend with the third party?

While the GlaxoSmithKline PLC (GSK) investigation has reverberated throughout the China, I think that the Brazilian corruption scandals will be with us for some time. As bad as it seems about now, and it certainly appears bad, there are many lessons that the compliance practitioner can not only draw from but use for teaching moments within your company. For if you are doing business with the Brazilian government or with Brazilian state-owned enterprises it may not be “if you are subject to a FCPA sweep” but only “when”.

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 6, 2015

Tribute To Eddie LeBaron and CCO as Compliance Project Sponsor

Eddie LeBaronToday we celebrate Eddie LeBaron, who died last week. LeBaron was a diminutive pro quarterback for 11 seasons in the National Football League (NFL) in the 1950s and 1960s. He was also a lawyer and decorated veteran, having been awarded the Bronze Star during the Korean Conflict. In his New York Times (NYT) obituary, Frank Litsky wrote “In a position where players are now routinely 6 feet 3 inches or taller, LeBaron was 5-foot-7, and his weight never reached 170 pounds. But he had no fear of scrambling.” LeBaron quarterbacked the Dallas Cowboys from 1960 to 1963, before handling the reins of Coach Tom Landry’s offense over to Don Meredith with his retirement. After his retirement he worked as a color analyst for CBS Sports, who covered the NFL in those days. One of the things that I remember from his commentary work was the need for planning in any game plan. It was one of the first things I recall learning about pro football.

One of the skills you may be called upon as a Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) or compliance practitioner is the initiation, integration or enhancement of a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) compliance solution into an organization. Most assuredly, one of the things that is not taught in law school or in any compliance course is project management. As CCO, you may either lead such a project on a day-to-day basis or you may take the role of project sponsor, while delegating the day-to-day running of the project to a compliance practitioner in your group.

I thought about this issue when reading a recent article in the MIT Sloan Management Review, entitled “How Executive Sponsors Influence Project Success”, by Timothy J. Kloppenborg and Debbie Tesch. In their article they note, “The role of a project sponsor is often overlooked. But for every stage of a project, there are key executive sponsor behaviors that can make the difference between success and failure.” I found their article has some excellent tips for the CCO or compliance practitioner who may be facing such a task. The authors break the project life cycle stage into four stages: (1) Initiating Stage; (2) Planning Stage; (3) Executing Stage; and (4) Closing Stage.

I.   Initiating Stage

In this stage there are three key activities that a sponsor should pursue. First, the sponsor needs to set the performance standards. This “can be accomplished in the project charter by stating goals about the project’s strategic value and how it will be measured.” But beyond the written details there must be a “clear understanding of expectations about performance” of which dialogue is critical. Second, the project sponsor must mentor the project manager, whose key responsibility is to explain, “how the project fits into the big picture, defining the performance standards and helping the project manager set priorities.” Finally, the project manager must establish the project priorities, with the “most compelling” questions being “what needs to happen first and how should conflicts by settled?”

II.  Planning Stage

In the Planning Stage the authors believe that there are two critical project sponsor behaviors. The first is to “ensure planning” activities are completed by providing “leadership so that the project manager and team can set goals that align with the vision and broader organizational goals. The second is to “develop productive relationships with stakeholders”. This means frequent meetings and communications. Interestingly, the project sponsor should not only see that “needs are identified and understood” but also make “sure that stakeholders’ emotional concerns are given adequate consideration.” Admittedly this is not something lawyers do particularly well but it is mandatory for the CCO or compliance professional.

III.  Executing Stage

In the Execution Stage the authors identify three elements. First the project sponsor must “ensure adequate and effective communication.” This means that regular communications must occur as the project progresses “to make sure that expectations are met.” However this may require the project sponsor to “stand ready to manage the organizational politics with internal and external stakeholders.” Second, a project sponsor must work to help “maintain relationships with stakeholders.” This element helps facilitate the project manager and project team communications noted in the first element. Here the project sponsor should be “open to direct feedback from team members” to ensure that expectations are met. Finally, the project sponsor should work to “ensure quality” by practicing “appropriate decision-making methods and work to resolve issues fairly.”

IV.  Closing Stage

Finally, in the Closing Stage the authors write that there are two elements that project sponsors should emphasize. The first is to “identify and capture lessons learned.” They should be properly “categorized, stored and distributed in such a manner that future project teams will be able to understand and capitalize on”. The second element is to “ensure that capabilities and benefits are realized.” Capabilities, the authors suggest, “could include employees becoming more committed and more capable”. Further, that processes are “more effective and efficient.” Benefits relates to “verifying that the deliverables that were specified at the beginning were actually provided, work correctly and satisfy customer needs.”

To the extent they know much about project management, most CCOs or compliance practitioners are aware of the “iron triangle” of factors to determine a project success. The authors define these as “cost, schedule and performance.” But the authors’ research has led them to conclude that for a project to be a success it must meet an organization’s expectations. The next evaluative point is did the project come in on time, within budget and to the project’s specifications? Finally, did the project succeed in bringing its touted positive benefits to the organization?

By using the steps the authors have outlined, a CCO can think through the organization and ongoing performance of a project to set it up for success. Equally importantly for the CCO, if the project management has been delegated to compliance team members or with other disciplines inside your organization, such as legal, internal audit, IT or human resources; the continued involvement of a CCO as the project sponsor can be key component. The authors posit, “for every project stage, there are success factors that project sponsors should consider” and that a CCO must engage in an ongoing and continual dialogue with the project manager. Finally, key lessons learned should be captured and used down the road to help facilitate other projects or issues as applicable.

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 3, 2015

Why Tone at the Top Matters and Join the FCPA Professor in Houston

IMG_1173Over this week I have looked at some issues related to compensation and methods from other disciplines that a compliance practitioner might use to test and then improve a company’s third party management regime. Today, I want to go back to the starting point for any compliance program; that is the Tone at the Top. I was reminded of the absolute necessity of having a management not only committed to following the law but the actual doing of compliance when I read about the guilty verdicts in the Atlanta schools cheating scandal.

In an article in the New York Times (NYT), entitled “Atlanta Educators Are Convicted of Racketeering”, reporter Alan Blinder detailed the guilty verdicts handed down in an Atlanta state Superior Court this week where 11 of 12 defendants were convicted in a lengthy trial. Blinder wrote, “On their eighth day of deliberations, the jurors convicted 11 of the 12 defendants of racketeering, a felony that carries up to 20 years in prison. Many of the defendants — a mixture of Atlanta public school teachers, testing coordinators and administrators — were also convicted of other charges, such as making false statements, that could add years to their sentences.” Most stunningly, the trial judge “ordered most of the educators jailed immediately, and they were led from the courtroom in handcuffs.”

The school district’s top administrator Dr. Beverly Hall, channeling her inner Ken Lay, had the temerity to pass away during the trial so there was no finding as to her conduct. Unrepentant to end she said “she had done nothing wrong and that her approach to education, which emphasized data, was not to blame.” When interviewed back in 2011, Dr. Hall had said, “I can’t accept that there’s a culture of cheating. What these 178 are accused of is horrific, but we have over 3,000 teachers.”

Think about those two statements for a moment. They mimic the same tired excuses used by apologizers in the anti-corruption world. First it was only a small subset of those involved who actually broke the law. In other words, the oldie but goodie rogue employee(s) defense. It did have the notable exception that there were 178 roguies out there lying and cheating. But more than the rogue employee defense, she emphasized that she obtained results, the scores on the State of Georgia’s standardized tests for public schools improved dramatically under her watch. In the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) anti-corruption world that is the same as “we had to do it to compete” argument. It is equally as inane as the rogue employee defense.

Moreover, a State of Georgia investigation “completed in 2011, led to findings that were startling and unsparing: Investigators concluded that cheating had occurred in at least 44 schools and that the district had been troubled by “organized and systemic misconduct.” Nearly 180 employees, including 38 principals, were accused of wrongdoing as part of an effort to inflate test scores and misrepresent the achievement of Atlanta’s students and schools. Investigators wrote in the report that Dr. Hall and her aides had “created a culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation” that had permitted “cheating — at all levels — to go unchecked for years.” How is that for tone from the very top?

I bring you another example from a company I once worked at whose management locked themselves behind bolted doors on a floor in the building not accessible by any employees. And just in case someone did make onto this executive floor, there was an armed police presence as a last ditch security measure. The locked down top floor was after the following security measures were already in place: (1) you had to badge in to get into the parking garage, (2) building access was by card entry, (3) elevator access was by card entry, and (4) floor access was by card entry.

Why would senior executives barricade themselves behind such massive physical protection? Did they do this because crazed competitors were sending in assassins, because the company was so profitable and hence unassailable as a competitor? How about something more nefarious such as international hit squads roaming through international businesses in Houston, picking off key executives? Alas the explanation was not anything so exotic. With all of these security measures in place the reason was to keep mere mortal employees away from senior management. What type of message that does send to employee? Much like the one I had growing up, speak only when spoken to.

The point of all this is that tone does matter. Senior management must be committed and communicate its commitment to not only obeying laws but also complying with laws. In the FCPA world, that means you must have a compliance program in place that meets the Ten Hallmarks of an Effective Compliance Program as set out in the FCPA Guidance.

On a completely different note as a compliance practitioner, if you want to have a shot at some serious professional growth and you are in the Houston area, somewhere else in Texas or anywhere else in the South, I suggest you consider attending the FCPA Professor’s FCPA Institute, which will be held in Houston on Monday, May 4 and Tuesday, May 5. The Professor’s goal in leading this first Texas FCPA Institute is “to develop and enhance fundamental skills relevant to the FCPA and FCPA compliance in a stimulating and professional environment with a focus on learning. Information at the FCPA Institute is presented in an integrated and cohesive way by an expert instructor with FCPA practice and teaching experience.” Some of the topics, which will be covered, include the following:

  • An informed understanding of why the FCPA became a law and what it seeks to accomplish;
  • A comprehensive understanding of the FCPA’s anti-bribery and books and records and internal controls provisions and related enforcement theories;
  • Various realties of the global marketplace which often give rise to FCPA scrutiny;
  • The typical origins of FCPA enforcement actions including the prominence of corporate voluntary disclosures;
  • The “three buckets” of FCPA financial exposure and how settlement amounts in an actual FCPA enforcement action are typically not the most expensive aspect of FCPA scrutiny and enforcement;
  • Facts and figures relevant to corporate and individual FCPA enforcement actions including how corporate settlement amounts are calculated;
  • How FCPA scrutiny and enforcement can result in related foreign law enforcement investigations as well as other negative business effects from market capitalization issues, to merger and acquisition activity, to FCPA related civil suits; and
  • Practical and provocative reasons for the general increase in FCPA enforcement.

In other words, it is what you have come to expect from the FCPA Professor; well-thought out reasoned analysis, practical knowledge and learning, and provocative thinking and assessment. But this is also your chance to attend a two-day Institute with one of the most original thinkers in the FCPA space. The FCPA Institute will provide insights into the topics more near and dear to my heart as a ‘nuts and bolts guy’. In addition to the above substantive knowledge, FCPA Institute participants will gain in-demand, practical skills to best manage and minimize FCPA risk by:

  • Practicing FCPA issue-spotting through video exercises;
  • Conducting a FCPA risk assessment;
  • Learning FCPA compliance best practices, including as to third parties;
  • Learning how to effectively communicate FCPA compliance expectations; and
  • Grading a FCPA code of conduct.

In addition, attorneys who complete the FCPA Institute may be eligible to receive those all-important Continuing Legal Education (CLE) credits. The sponsors, King & Spalding, will be seeking CLE credit in CA, GA, NY, TX and if needed in NC and VA. Actual CLE credit will be determined at the end of the program based on actual program time. Attorneys may be eligible to receive CLE credit through reciprocity or attorney self-submission in other states as well.

I hope that you can join the FCPA Professor for this FCPA Institute. I have previously said, “if the FCPA Professor writes about it you need to read it. While you may disagree with him, your FCPA perspective and experience will be enriched by the exercise.” I would now add to this statement that if the FCPA Professor puts on his FCPA Institute you should attend. Not only will you garner a better understanding of the theoretical underpinnings of the law and the plain words of its text; you will also be able to articulate many of the issues which befall companies caught up in a FCPA investigation to your senior management in a way that will help them understand the need for a robust compliance program.

To register for the FCPA Institute, or 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, 2015

April 2, 2015

Managing Your Third Parties in a FCPA Compliance Program

7K0A0501The building blocks of any Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) anti-corruption compliance program lay the foundations for a best practices compliance program. For instance in the lifecycle management of third parties, most compliance practitioners understand the need for a business justification, questionnaire, due diligence, evaluation and compliance terms and conditions in contracts. However, as many companies mature in their compliance programs, the issue of third party management becomes more important. It is also the one where the rubber meets the road of actually doing compliance.

In the March/April issue of Supply Chain Management Review is an article by Mark Trowbridge, entitled “Put it in Writing: Sharpening Contracts Management to Reduce Risk and Boost Supply Chain Performance”, that provides some useful insights into the management of the third party relationship. While the focus of the article was about having a “strategic approach to contracts management” I found the author’s “five ways to start professionalizing your approach to outsourcing contracts” as steps a compliance practitioner can use in the management of third party relationships, both on the sales side and those which come into your company through the Supply Chain.

By taking his analysis into the compliance realm, I believe there are concrete steps you can take going forward. The key is to have a strategic approach to how you structure and manage your third party relationships. This may mean more closely partnering with your third parties to help manage the anti-corruption compliance risk. It would certainly lead towards enabling your company to “control risk while optimizing the performance” of your third parties. To achieve these goals, I have revised Trowbridge’s prescriptions from suppliers to third parties.

I. Consolidate Third Parties but Retain Redundancy

It is incumbent that consolidation in your third party relationships on the Supply Chain side to a smaller number of suppliers will “yield better cost leverage.” From the compliance perspective it also should make the entire third party lifecycle easier to manage, particularly steps 1-4. However a company must not “over-consolidate” by going down to a single source supplier. Trowbridge advocates a diversified supplier base, with a technique he calls “dual-sourcing”. From the compliance perspective, you may want to have a primary and secondary third party that you work with in a service line or geographic area to retain this redundancy.

II. Keep Tabs on Subcontracted Work

This is one area that requires an appropriate level of management. If your direct contracting party has the right or will need to subcontract some work out, you need to have visibility into this from the compliance perspective. You will need to require and monitor that your direct third party relationship has your approved compliance terms and conditions in their contracts with their subcontractors. You will also need to test that proposition. In other words, you must require, trust and then verify.

III. When Disaster Strikes, Make Sure Your Company is Legally Protected Too

This is where your compliance terms and conditions will come into play. One of the things that I advocate is a full indemnity if your third party violates the FCPA and your company is dragged into an investigation because of the third party’s actions. Such an indemnity may not be worth too much but if you do not have one, there will be no chance to recoup any of your legal or investigative costs. Another important clause is that any FCPA violation is a material breach of contract. This means that you can legally, under the terms of the contract, terminate it immediately, with no requirement for notice and cure. Once again you may be somewhat constrained by local laws but if you do not have the clause, you will have to give written notice and an opportunity to cure. This notice and cure process may be too long to satisfy the Department of Justice (DOJ) or Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) during the pendency of a FCPA investigation. Finally, you need a clause that requires your third party to cooperate in any FCPA investigation. This means cooperation with you and your designated investigation team but it may also mean cooperation with US governmental authorities as well.

You also need the ability to move between third parties if the need arises. This is the redundancy issue raised above. You do not want to be stuck with no approved freight forwarders or other transporters in a certain geographic area. If a compliance related matter occurs, you may well need certain contractual rights to move your work and to require your prime third party to cooperate with the transition to your secondary third party.

IV. Keep Track of Your Third Parties’ Financial Stability

This is one area that is not usually discussed in the compliance arena around third parties but it seems almost self-evident. You can certainly imagine the disruption that could occur if your prime third party supplier in a country or region went bankrupt; but in the compliance realm there is another untoward Red Flag that is raised in such circumstances. Those third parties under financial pressure may be more easily persuaded to engage in bribery and corruption than third parties that stand on a more solid financial footing. You can do this by a simple requirement that your third party provide annual audited financial statements. For a worldwide logistics company, this should be something easily accomplished.

Trowbridge says, “Automated financial tracking tools can also be used to keep track of material changes in a supplier’s financial stability.” You should also use your in-house relationship manager to regularly visit key third party relationships so an on-the-ground assessment can be a part of an ongoing conversation between your company and your third parties.

V. Formalize Incentives for Third Party Performance

One of the key elements for any third party contract under the FCPA or UK Bribery Act is the compensation issue. If the commission rate is too high, it could create a very large pool of money that could be used to pay bribes. It is mandatory that your company link any commission or payment to the performance of the third party. If you have a long-term stable relationship with a third party, you can tie compensation into long-term performance, specifically including long-term compliance performance. This requires the third party to put skin into the compliance game so that they have a vested, financial interest in getting things done in compliance with the FCPA or other anti-corruption compliance regime.

Additionally, as Trowbridge notes, “The fact is, linking contractual compensation to performance does make a significant difference in supplier performance. This is especially valuable when agreed upon key performance indicator (KPI) metrics can be accurately tracked.” This would seem to be low hanging for the compliance practitioner. If you cannot come up with some type of metric from the compliance perspective, you can work with your business relationship team to develop such compliance KPIs.

While Trowbridge’s article focused on the suppliers, I found his ideas easily transferable to the compliance field. Near the end of the article Trowbridge suggested ranking suppliers based upon a variety of factors including performance, length of relationship, benchmarking metrics and KPIs. This is a way for the compliance practitioner to have an ongoing risk ranking for third parties that can work as a preventative and even proscription prong of a compliance program and allow the delivery of compliance resources to those third parties that might need or even warrant them.

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 1, 2015

Supply Chain as a Source of Compliance Innovation

Supply ChainOn this day we celebrate the greatest upset in the history of the NCAA Basketball Tournament, when Villanova beat Georgetown for the 1985 national championship. Georgetown was the defending national champion and had beaten Villanova at each of their regular season meetings. In the final the Wildcats shot an amazing 79% from the field, hitting 22 of 28 shots plus 22 of 27 free throws. Wildcats forward Dwayne McCain, the leading scorer, had 17 points and 3 assists. The Wildcats’ 6’ 9” center Ed Pinckney outscored 7’ Hoyas’ center, Patrick Ewing, 16 points to 14 and 6 rebounds to 5 and was named MVP of the Final Four. It was one of the greatest basketball games I have ever seen and certainly one for the ages.

I thought about this game when I read an article in the most recent issue of Supply Chain Management Review by Jennifer Blackhurst, Pam Manhart and Emily Kohnke, entitled “The Five Key Components for SUPPLY CHAIN”. In their article the authors asked “what does it take to create meaningful innovation across supply chain partners?” Their findings were “Our researchers identify five components that are common to the most successful supply chain innovation partnerships.” The reason innovation in the Supply Chain is so important is that it is an area where companies cannot only affect costs but can move to gain a competitive advantage. To do so companies need to see their Supply Chain third parties as partners and not simply as entities to be squeezed for costs savings. By doing so, companies can use the Supply Chain in “not only new product development but also [in] process improvements”.

I found their article resonated for the compliance professional as well. It is almost universally recognized that third parties are your highest Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) risk. What if you could turn your Supply Chain from being considered a liability under the FCPA to an area that brings innovation to your compliance program? This is an area that not many compliance professionals have mined so I think the article is a useful starting point. The authors set out five keys to successful innovation spanning Supply Chain partners. They are: “(1) Don’t Settle for the Status Quo; (2) Hit the Road in Order to Hit Your Metrics; (3) Send Prospectors Not Auditors; (4) Show Me Yours and I’ll Show You Mine; and (5) Who’s Running the Show?”

Don’t Settle for the Status Quo

This means that you should not settle for simply the status quo. Innovation does not always come from a customer or even an in-house compliance practitioner. Here the key characteristics were noted to be “cooperative, proactive and incremental”. The authors emphasize that “you need to be leading the innovation change rather than catching up from behind.” If a company in your Supply Chain can suggest a better method to do compliance, particularly through a technological solution, it may be something you should well consider.

Hit the Road in Order to Hit Your Metrics

To truly understand your compliance risk from all third parties, including those in the Supply Chain, you have to get out of the ivory tower and on the road. This is even truer when exploring innovation. You do not have hit the road with the “primary goal to be the inception point for innovation” but through such interactions, innovation can come about “organically”. There is little downside for a compliance practitioner to go and visit a Supply Chain partner and have a “face-to-face meeting simply to get to know the partner better and more precisely identify that partner’s needs.”

Send Prospectors Not Auditors

While an audit clause is critical in any Supply Chain contract, both from a commercial and FCPA perspective, the authors believe that “Too often firms use supply chain managers as auditors when they are dealing with supply chain partners.” The authors call these types of managers “innovation partners.” Every third party should have a relationship manager, whether that third party is on the sales side or the Supply Chain side of the business. Moreover, the innovation partners are “able to see synergies where [business] partners can work together for the benefit of everyone involved.”

Show Me Yours and I’ll Show You Mine

Here the authors note, “Trust plays an extremely important role in supply chain innovation. Firms in successful innovations discussed a willingness to share resources and rewards and to develop their partners’ capabilities.” The authors believe that “Through the process of developing trust, firms understand their partner’s strategic goals.” I cannot think of a more applicable statement about FCPA compliance. Another way to consider this issue is that if your Supply Chain partner has trust in you and your compliance program, they could be more willing to work with you on the prevent and detect prongs of compliance regimes. Top down command structures may well be counter-productive.

Who’s Running the Show?

I found this point particularly interesting as for the authors, this prong means “who is doing what, but also what each firm is bringing to the relationship in terms of resources and capabilities.” In the compliance regime it could well lead to your Supply Chain partner taking a greater role in managing compliance in a specific arena or down a certain set of vendors. Your local Supply Chain partner might be stronger in the local culture, which could allow it to lead to collaborations by other vendors in localized anti-corruption networks or roundtables to help move the ball forward for doing business in compliance with the FCPA or other anti-corruption laws such as the UK Bribery Act.

The authors ended by remarking, “we noticed that leveraging lean and process improvement was mentioned by virtually every firm.” This is true in the area of process improvement, which is the essential nature of FCPA compliance. Another interesting insight from the authors was that utilization can increase through such innovation in the Supply Chain. Now imagine if you could increase your compliance process performance by considering innovations from your Supply Chain third parties? The authors conclude by stating that such innovation could lead to three “interesting outcomes 1) The trust and culture alignment is strengthened through the partnership innovation process leading to future innovations and improvement; 2) firms see what is needed in terms of characteristics in a partner firm so that they can propagate the success of prior innovations to additional partners; 3) by engaging supply chain partners as innovation partners, both sides reap rewards in a low cost, low risk, highly achievable manner.” With some innovation Villanova coach Rollie Massimino led his team over the prohibitive favorite Georgetown, and you may be able to tap into a resource immediately available at your fingertips, your Supply Chain.

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

March 31, 2015

Do Your Executives Have (Compensation) Skin in the Game?

Whymper and MatterhornThis year marks the 150th anniversary of the ascent of the most famous mountain in Europe, the Matterhorn. On Bastille Day, in 1865, four British climbers and three guides were the first climbers to reach the summit. In an article in the Financial Times (FT), entitled “In Whymper’s steps”, Edward Douglas wrote, “It was a defining moment in the history of mountaineering, arguably as pivotal as the first ascent of Everest. Before this calamity climbing was a quirky minority pastime and Zermatt an indigent and obscure village. All that changed on July 14, 1865. As locals cheerfully acknowledge, the Matterhorn disaster enthralled the public around the world and sparked an unprecedented tourist boom.”

The disaster had befallen the climbing team on its descent after having scaled the summit. The team was led by Edward Whymper. As they were coming back down, they were all tied together with rope. When one of the team slipped, he knocked over his guide and “their weight on the rope pulled off the next man…and a fourth climber as well.” Only expedition leader Whymper and two Swiss guides, a father and son duo from Zermott, survived the disaster when “they dug in and the rope tightened – then snapped – leaving them to watch in horror as the bodies of their companions cartwheeled thousands of feet down the mountain.” The depiction of the disaster by the French artist Gustave Doré captures for me the full horror of the tragedy.

Yesterday I wrote about the role of compensation in your best practices compliance program. Today I want to focus on the same issue but looking at senior management and compensation. I thought about this inter-connectedness of compensation in a compliance program, focusing up the corporate ladder when I read a recent article in the New York Times (NYT) by Gretchen Morgenson, in her Fair Game column, entitled “Ways to Put the Boss’s Skin In the Game”. Her piece dealt with a long-standing question about how to make senior executives more responsible for corporate malfeasance? Her article had some direct application to anti-corruption compliance programs such as those based on the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) or UK Bribery Act. Morgenson said the issue was “Whenever a big corporation settles an enforcement matter with prosecutors, penalties levied in the case – and they can be enormous – are usually paid by the company’s shareholders. Yet the people who actually did the deeds or oversaw the operations rarely so much as open their wallets.”

She went on to explain that it is an economic phenomenon called “perverse incentive” which is one where “corporate executives are encouraged to take outsized risks because they can earn princely amounts from their actions. At the same time, they know that they rarely have to pay any fines or face other costly consequences from their actions.” To help remedy this situation, the idea has come to the fore about senior managers putting some ‘skin in the game’. Her article discussed three different sources for this initiative.

The first is a current proxy proposal in front of Citigroup shareholders which “would require that top executives at the company contribute a substantial portion of their compensation each year to a pool of money that would be available to pay penalties if legal violations were uncovered at the bank.” Further, “To ensure that the money would be available for a long enough period – investigations into wrongdoing take years to develop – the proposal would require that the executives keep their pay in the pool for 10 years.”

The second came from William Dudley, the President of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, who made a similar suggestion in a speech last fall. His proscription involved a performance bond for the actions of bank executives. Morgenson quoted Dudley from his speech, “In the case of a large fine, the senior management and material risk takes would forfeit their performance bond. Not only would this deferred debt compensation discipline individual behavior and decision-making, but it would provide strong incentives for individuals to flag issues when problems develop.”

Morgenson reported on a third approach which was delineated in an article in the Michigan State Journal of Business and Securities Law by Greg Zipes, “a trial lawyer for the Office of the United States Trustee, the nation’s watchdog over the bankruptcy system, who also teaches at the New York University School for Professional Studies.” The article is entitled, “Ties that Bind: Codes of Conduct That Require Automatic Reductions to the Pay of Directors, Officers and Their Advisors for Failures of Corporate Governance”. Zipes proposal is to create a “contract to be signed by a company’s top executives that could be enforced after a significant corporate governance failure. Executives would agree to pay back 25 percent of their gross compensation for the three years before the beginning of improprieties. The agreement would be in effect whether or not the executives knew about the misdeeds inside their company.”

As you might guess, corporate leaders are somewhat less than thrilled at the prospect of being held accountable. Zipes was cited for the following, “Corporate executives are unlikely to sign such codes of conduct of their own volition.” Indeed Citibank went so far as to petition the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) “for permission to exclude the policy from its 2015 shareholder proxy.” But the SEC declined to do and at least Citibank shareholders will have the chance to vote on the proposal.

In the FCPA compliance context, these types of proposals seem to me to be exactly the type of response that a company or its Board of Directors should want to put in place. Moreover, they all have the benefit of a business solution to a legal problem. In an interview for her piece, Morgenson quoted Zipes as noting, “This idea doesn’t require regulation and its doesn’t require new laws. Executives can sign the binding code of conduct or not, but the idea is that the marketplace would reward those who do.” For those who might argue that senior executives can not or should not be responsible for the nefarious actions of other; they readily take credit for “positive corporate activities in which they had little role or knew nothing about.” Moreover, under Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX), corporate executives must make certain certifications about financial statement and reporting so there is currently some obligations along these lines.

Finally, perhaps shareholders will simply become tired of senior executives claiming they could not know what was happening in their businesses; have their fill of hearing about some rogue employee(s) who went off the rails by engaging in bribery and corruption to obtain or retain business; and not accept that leaders should not be held responsible.

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

March 20, 2015

Miss Marple Short Stories and SEC Enforcement of the FCPA, Part V – Final Thoughts

Agatha ChristieI conclude my week of exploration of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple short stories and the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) enforcement of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) by reviewing some of the new things I’ve learnt during this week of research. I learned that Christie made several social observations and revealed much about herself through these stories. She is very much constrained by the roles given to women in the early to mid-1920s, including the lack of a proper education. She also writes about some of the disdainful attitudes of people to an older woman. I found a number of inside jokes that Christie placed into the stories, even referring to the prevalence of detective fiction in print and on the stage at the time the stories were written. Finally is the fact that people make the mistake of not noticing her but that she is watching them and listening and that they will remain unaware of her presence for not too much longer.

In his recent blog post, entitled “Are You An FCPA Contender Or Pretender?”, the FCPA Professor suggested that if you want to practice in the area of FCPA compliance, you really should take the time to read some of the very few underlying sources and documents relating to the subject. After my week exploration of the SEC enforcement of the FCPA, I would note that you can learn quite a bit by heeding his advice.

Internal Controls

There was a trend, beginning in the fall of 2014 of SEC FCPA enforcement actions, where the Department of Justice (DOJ) either declined to prosecute the company or settled with the company via a Non-Prosecution Agreement (NPA). This led me to conclude that the SEC was ramping up its review and enforcement of the accounting provisions under the FCPA separate and apart from criminal side enforcement of the FCPA by the DOJ. Earlier this month, when Andrew Ceresney, the SEC Director, Division of Enforcement, spoke at CBI’s Pharmaceutical Compliance Congress in Washington DC he discussed the importance of internal controls in SEC enforcement. While his remarks were primarily directed “in the context of financial reporting” I believe they could be equally applicable in the FCPA compliance context.

Ceresney said, “What kinds of practice pointers for how to avoid these issues? Well, in cases we have brought, we see controls that were not carefully designed to match the business, or that were not updated as the business changed and grew. And we see that senior leadership was not asking the tough questions – and sometimes not even asking the easy questions. Senior management in some cases was just not engaged in any real discussion about the controls. As a result, employees did not properly focus on them and the firm and its shareholders are put at risk.” I think these statements, particularly taken in the context of his overall remarks, portend a greater focus on internal controls review and enforcement in the FCPA context.

Finally, in the area of internal controls, is the interplay of Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) with FCPA enforcement and several sections of the Act that have FCPA implications. These include SOX §302 that requires the principle officers of a company to “take responsibility for and certify the integrity of these company’s financial reports on a quarterly basis.” Under SOX §404 companies must present annually their conclusion “regarding the effectiveness of the company’s internal controls over accounting.” Finally, SOX §802 prohibits “altering, destroying, mutilating, concealing or falsifying records, documents or tangible objects” with the intent to obstruct or influence a federal investigation, such as the FCPA.

Every public company is required to report on its internal controls. The SEC may well start mining those required, annual public disclosures for information on compliance internal controls. If the SEC finds a company’s report lacking and then after requesting further information, still finds a company’s response lacking, a company may be looking at strict liability and a financial penalty based on profit disgorgement as I lay out next.

Strict Liability

I have written about the coming of strict liability to the SEC enforcement of the FCPA’s accounting provisions, including books and records and internal controls. However, after having read, re-read and reviewed the FCPA and commentary, I now believe that a strict liability interpretation for enforcement of the FPCA is fully supported by the plain language of the Act itself. I come to this conclusion because there is no language in the text of the Act that ties the accounting provision requirements to any other operative violation of the statute. In other words, there is no language that says that an accounting provisions violation must be tied to an offer or payment of a bribe to obtain or retain business. While the FCPA does not specifically say that a company will be strictly liable for a violation of the accounting provisions, it is certainly not prohibited. Since violations of the accounting provisions as enforced by the SEC are civil violations only, I now believe that such a position is not prohibited by the Act.

Profit Disgorgement 

Similar to my views on strict liability for accounting violations, I have also come to believe that profit disgorgement is a remedy fully supported and available to the SEC in FCPA enforcement actions. This change was made by an un-related law, entitled The Penny Stock Reform Act of 1990, which amended the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 to: allow the SEC to (1) impose tiered civil money penalties pursuant to administrative findings of violations of the Act; (2) enter an order requiring an accounting and disgorgement; (3) issue cease and desist orders; and (4) issue temporary restraining orders. Profit disgorgement has generally been considered an equitable remedy. Sasah Kalb and Marc Alain Bohn, in their article “Disgorgement: The Devil You Don’t Know, wrote “As an equitable remedy, disgorgement is not intended as tool to punish, but as a vehicle for preventing unjust enrichment. The SEC is therefore only permitted to recover the approximate amount earned from the alleged illicit activities. Disgorging anything more would be considered punitive.”

In conjunction with this equitable nature for profit disgorgement, is the concept of proportionality. In the article by David C. Weiss, entitled “The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, SEC Disgorgement of Profits and the Evolving International Bribery Regime: Weighing Proportionality, Retribution and Deterrence”, he wrote that regarding proportionality “punishment schemes fail a utilitarian test when the punishment exceeds, or threatens to exceed, the offense. Put another way, deterrence requires that a punishment be proportionate to the harm—allowing for some multiplier based on the likelihood of being caught. Punishments that are not proportionate are not justified under this utilitarian theory.”

Profit Disgorgement as a Remedy for Strict Liability

In this final section, I give my opinion as to where I think the next step of SEC enforcement may be headed. I think it will be a combination of the enforcement of the accounting provisions of the FCPA through a strict liability reading of them by the SEC to the remedy of profit disgorgement. Admittedly this opinion seems contrary to the equitable nature of the remedy of profit disgorgement. However the greater focus of SEC scrutiny and enforcement of the accounting provisions point me in that direction. While it is also true that profit disgorgement has traditionally required some specific ill-gotten gains; with the statutory authority provided by the Penny Stock Act to the SEC allows for disgorgement with no language around its equitable beginning, this may be enough for the SEC to make such an intellectual leap. Further, as noted by Kalb and Bohn, “Because calculations like these often prove difficult, courts tend to give the SEC considerable discretion in determining what constitutes an ill-gotten gain by requiring only a reasonable approximation of the profits which are causally connected to the violation.”

The final component is the lack of judicial review in FCPA enforcement actions. Every practitioner is aware of the absolute dearth of cases in this area. With the SEC moving towards more administrative actions, through the 2010 Dodd-Frank amendment that enables the SEC to collect civil penalties through administrative proceedings, there may not be many federal district court reviews going forward. Of course to have a federal district court review of a remedy, it generally takes the defendant to make some objection and companies seemingly do not wish to take on the SEC in any FCPA enforcement matter (or the DOJ for that matter). But even if there was a federal district review of a Cease and Desist Order filed before it, you almost never hear the court reject an agreed Order on the grounds that the remedy was too harsh or unwarranted.

I hope you have enjoyed and learned something this week unique to the SEC enforcement of the FCPA. I know I have both enjoyed reading many of the excellent commentators I have reviewed during my research. David Weiss, Marc Alain Bohn, Sasha Kalb, Russ Ryan and the FCPA Professor have all contributed significant legal work and thought leadership in this area that I have built some of my theories on so I thank them for their contributions. Another joy was reading Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple short stories. If you have a few evenings or some down time for spring break or summer vacation, I suggest you pick up the volume. It is just like visiting with an old friend on a dark and stormy night…

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

 

 

March 19, 2015

Ingots of Gold & SEC FCPA Enforcement – Communication – Part IV

Ingots of GoldToday I want to use the Christie’s story Ingots of Gold as an introduction to some of the regular communications that the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) representatives frequently provide in public forums, regarding their views on Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) enforcement and, more importantly for the compliance practitioner, FCPA compliance. In this story, told by Miss Marple’s friend, he was spending a holiday in Cornwall with an acquaintance called John Newman. It involved a shipwreck and, as the title foretold, valuable cargo. After a stormy night Newman was missing but was later found bound and gagged in a ditch. It is revealed that Newman used this as ruse to cover his tracks from a theft of gold, which, of course, Miss Marple resolves when no one else can do so.

It was the language of this story that struck me. For as famous as Agatha Christie is for her puzzles, she had a great facility for language. At one point Miss Marple said, “You wouldn’t like my opinion, dear. Young people never do, I notice.” Later she describes the antagonist with the following, “his mind might run in strange, unrecognized channels”. Fortunately for the compliance community, one of the significant ways that the SEC communicates with compliance practitioners is through public speeches. We were recently treated to another such example when Andrew Ceresney, the SEC Director, Division of Enforcement, spoke at CBI’s Pharmaceutical Compliance Congress in Washington DC. Ceresney provided some clear guidelines for the compliance practitioner about what the SEC expects from companies in the area of FCPA compliance. More specifically he talked about some specific bribery schemes the SEC has seen in FCPA enforcement actions involving the pharmaceutical industry. These examples provided scenarios that any compliance practitioner in the pharmaceutical space can investigate for their organization.

Pharmaceutical Industry Bribery Schemes

Ceresney discussed ‘Pay-to-Prescribe’ bribery schemes where physicians and hospitals are paid bribes in “exchange for prescribing certain medication, or other products such as medical devices.” These schemes can involve payments of cash or other forms of non-cash benefits such as gifts, travel and entertainment. He described an example where a company “invited “high-prescribing doctors” in the Chinese government to club-like meetings that included extensive recreational and entertainment activities to reward doctors’ past product sales or prescriptions.” Another such scheme involved a running total of points for doctors who prescribed a company’s products, which could later be cashed in for items of value. Another involved a rebate of part of a hospitals overall purchase to certain doctors or hospital administrators.

Another form of bribery was seen where a company would direct charitable donations to the decision-makers “pet” charity. In a couple of FCPA enforcement actions, the charity had nothing to do with the pharmaceutical industry but in one case there was “a purported donation of nearly $200,000 to a public university to fund a laboratory that was the pet project of a public hospital doctor. In return, the doctor agreed to provide business to” the company in question. The point of all of these examples is that “that bribes come in many shapes and sizes, and those made under the guise of charitable giving are of particular risk in the pharmaceutical industry. So it is critical that we carefully scrutinize a wide range of unfair benefits to foreign officials when assessing compliance with the FCPA – whether it is cash, gifts, travel, entertainment, or charitable contributions.”

Compliance Programs

I certainly agree with Ceresney, only adding that I do not think you can say it too loud or too often, when he stated, “The best way for a company to avoid some of the violations that I have just described is a robust FCPA compliance program.” It all begins with a risk assessment so that you will understand what your company’s risks are and you can manage them accordingly through your compliance program. From there Ceresney said, “The best companies have adopted strong FCPA compliance programs that include compliance personnel, extensive policies and procedures, training, vendor reviews, due diligence on third-party agents, expense controls, escalation of red flags, and internal audits to review compliance.” He also specifically mentioned third parties, as they are still perceived to be the highest risk in any FCPA risk matrix. He stated, “To properly combat against these abuses, a compliance program must thoroughly vet its third-party agents to include an understanding of the business rationale for contracting with the agent. Appropriate expense controls must also be in place to ensure that payments to third-parties are legitimate business expenses and not being used to funnel bribes to foreign officials.”

Self-Reporting and Cooperation

Next Ceresney turned to self-reporting and cooperation. After initially noting that the current enforcement environment is greatly aided by self-reporting, he went on to explain why it is in a company’s interest to do so. Beyond the simple credit a company receives for self-reporting, by doing so “parties are positioned to also help themselves by aggressively policing their own conduct”. The SEC will also “continue to find ways to enhance our cooperation program to encourage issuers, regulated entities, and individuals to promptly report suspected misconduct. The Division has a wide spectrum of tools to facilitate and reward meaningful cooperation, from reduced charges and penalties, to non-prosecution or deferred prosecution agreements in instances of outstanding cooperation.” He ended this section of his remarks with a couple of thoughts that I believe succinctly provided the SEC’s position on self-reporting and cooperation. First he said “When I was a defense lawyer, I would explain to clients that by the time you become aware of the misconduct, there are only two things that you can do to improve your plight – remediate the misconduct and cooperate in the investigation.” He then ended with the following, “Companies that choose not to self-report are thus taking a huge gamble because if we learn of the misconduct through other means, including through a whistleblower, the result will be far worse. “

Internal Controls 

Ceresney had some interesting remarks around internal controls. He said they were in the “context of financial reporting”; however I found that they might well have significant implications for the compliance practitioner. I thought his money line was “Internal control problems have been prominently featured in recent enforcement cases we have brought in the financial reporting area, even in cases without accompanying charges of fraud.  This reflects our view that adequate internal controls are the building blocks for accurate financial reporting and can prevent fraudulent activity.” While the specified area of these remarks was around SOX §§302 and 404, I think this portends directly to internal controls under the FCPA.

He went on to state, “my key takeaway is that senior leadership of companies should place strong emphasis on the importance of designing and implementing strong internal controls. Senior officers need to ask questions about what they are being told about their internal controls – but perhaps more importantly, ask questions about the things that are not being reported to them. Dropping those occasional inquiries into conversations where they won’t be expected sends a powerful message that you want these issues to be on your employees’ minds. And what is needed is not just involvement from senior leadership but also from the audit committee. Instead of a check-the-box mentality, it is important to use careful thought at the outset to how controls should be designed in light of a firm’s business operations. This entails an up-front assessment of financial reporting risks, designing controls that address those risks, and ensuring that the resulting controls are well documented and communicated. And, as the company’s business evolves and changes, management must consider whether the existing internal controls are appropriate, or need to be enhanced or changed. Appropriate resources and attention also need to be devoted to monitoring those controls for effectiveness and making changes as needed.” Every time you see the words ‘financial’ simply substitute compliance and I think you will see where the SEC is headed in its internal controls enforcement of the FCPA.

Just as Agatha Christie communicated with her audience in ways broader than simply puzzles, through her great facility for delicious language, the SEC communicates in substantive ways with the compliance community through its speeches. You really do not have to read the tea leaves when you have such a clear message as was delivered by Ceresney at the CBI conference. Moreover, with all the sites that reported on it, talked about it and even linked to the printed text, you did not have to pay to attend. It is all there for you to read and to read for free.

For a copy of the text of Ceresney’s remarks, 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

 

 

Next Page »

The Rubric Theme. Blog at WordPress.com.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 5,197 other followers