FCPA Compliance and Ethics Blog

March 4, 2015

Minnie Minoso Broke Barriers; Goodyear Pushes Compliance Forward

Minnie MinosoYesterday we celebrated the hard-nosed playing style of Anthony Mason, who recently passed away. Today we honor a true pioneer in professional baseball, Minnie Minoso, or Mr. White Sox. Minoso was the first black Cuban to play in Major League Baseball (MLB) when he debuted for the Cleveland Indians in 1949. In 1951, he was traded to the Chicago White Sox and he became a southside fixture for the rest of the decade. While his numbers were less than 2000 hits and 200 home runs, he was a fearless and speedy base runner and a nine-time All Star. Similarly to Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks, the Chicago White Sox erected a statue in tribute to Mr. White Sox outside their ballpark. Even President Obama was moved to release a statement about Minoso saying in part, “Minnie may have been passed over by the Baseball Hall of Fame during his lifetime, but for me and for generations of black and Latino young people, Minnie’s quintessentially American story embodies far more than a plaque ever could.”

The contribution of Minoso in the exorable march of MLB towards integration informed part of my reading of the recent Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company (Goodyear) Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) enforcement strategy of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). This enforcement action was a solo effort by the SEC; there was no corresponding Department of Justice (DOJ) criminal enforcement action. So following this past fall’s triumvirate of SEC enforcement actions involving Smith & Wesson, Layne Christenen and Bio-Rad, the SEC continues to bring enforcement actions based upon the books and records and internal controls civil requirements of the FCPA. Therefore the Goodyear enforcement action is one which provides many lessons to be learned by the Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) or compliance practitioner going forward and should be studied quite carefully by anyone in the compliance field.

The Bribery Schemes

As set out in the SEC Cease and Desist Order (the Order), Goodyear used several different bribery schemes in different countries, all violating the FCPA. In Kenya, Goodyear became a minority owner in a locally owned business which apparently paid bribes the old-fashioned way, in cash to the tune of over $1.5MM, yet falsely recorded the cash bribe payments as “promotional expenses.” In Angola, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the company paid approximately $1.6MM in bribes by falsely marking up invoices with “phony freight and customs clearing costs.” The subsidiary made the payments in cash and through wire transfers to various government officials. Finally, the subsidiary apparently cross-referenced the bribes it paid as follows, “As bribes were paid, the amounts were debited from the balance sheet account, and falsely recorded as payments to vendors for freight and clearing costs.” In other words a complete, total and utter failure of internal controls to forestall any of the foregoing.

Internal Controls Violations

The Order set out the section of the FCPA that the company violated. Regarding the internal controls, the Order stated, “Under Section 13(b)(2)(B) of the Exchange Act issuers are required to devise and maintain a system of internal accounting controls sufficient to provide reasonable assurances that (i) transactions are executed in accordance with management’s general or specific authorization; (ii) transactions are recorded as necessary (I) to permit preparation of financial statements in conformity with generally accepted accounting principles or any other criteria applicable to such statements, and (II) to maintain accountability for assets; (iii) access to assets is permitted only in accordance with management’s general or specific authorization; and (iv) the recorded accountability for assets is compared with the existing assets at reasonable intervals and appropriate action is taken with respect to any differences.”

The Comeback

Equally important for the CCO or compliance practitioner are the specific steps that Goodyear took to remediate the situation it found itself in through these illegal payments. When the company received the initial reports about “the bribes, Goodyear promptly halted the improper payments and reported the matter to Commission staff.” Moreover, the company also cooperated extensively with the SEC. As noted in the Order, “Goodyear also provided significant cooperation with the Commission’s investigation. This included voluntarily producing documents and reports and other information from the company’s internal investigation, and promptly responding to Commission staff’s requests for information and documents. These efforts assisted the Commission in efficiently collecting evidence including information that may not have been otherwise available to the staff.”

In the area of internal remediation, regarding the entity in Kenya, where Goodyear was a minority owner in a local business, the company got rid of its from its corrupt partners by divesting its interest and ceasing all business dealings with the company. Goodyear is also divesting itself of its Angolan subsidiary. The Order also noted that Goodyear had lost its largest customer in Angola when it halted its illegal payment scheme. The company also took decisive disciplinary action against company employees “including executives of its Europe, Middle East and Africa region who had oversight responsibility, for failing to ensure adequate FCPA compliance training and controls were in place at the company’s subsidiaries in sub-Saharan Africa.”

Finally, in a long paragraph, the SEC detailed some of the more specific steps Goodyear took in the area of remediation. These steps included:

  • Improvements to the company’s compliance function not only in sub-Saharan Africa but also world-wide;
  • In Africa, both online and in person training was beefed up for “subsidiary management, sales and finance personnel”;
  • Regular audits were instituted by the company’s internal audit function, which “specifically focused on corruption risks”;
  • Quarterly self-assessment questionnaires were required of each subsidiary regarding business with government-affiliated customers;
  • For each subsidiary, there were management certifications required on a quarterly basis that required, “among other things controls over financial reporting; and annual testing of internal controls”;
  • Goodyear put in a “new regional management structure, and added new compliance, accounting, and audit positions”;
  • The company made technological improvements to allow the company to “electronically link subsidiaries in sub-Saharan Africa to its global network”;

However these changes were not limited to improvement of Goodyear’s compliance function in Africa only. At the corporate headquarters, Goodyear created the new position of “Vice President of Compliance and Ethics, which further elevated the compliance function within the company”. There was expanded online and in-person training at the corporate headquarters and other company subsidiaries. Finally, the company instituted a new “Integrity Hotline Web Portal, which enhanced users’ ability to file anonymous online reports to its hotline system. With that system, Goodyear is also implementing a new case management system for legal, compliance and internal audit to document and track complaints, investigations and remediation.”

The specific listing of the compliance initiatives or enhancements that Goodyear pushed after its illegal conduct came to light is certainly a welcomed addition to SEC advice about what it might consider some of the best practices a company may engage in around its compliance function. Moreover, this specific information can provide audit and information to the compliance practitioner of strategies that he or she might use to measure a company’s compliance program going forward. The continued message of cooperation and remediation as a way to lessen your overall fine and penalty continues to resonate from the SEC. Finally, just as Minoso helped move forward the integration of baseball and civil rights in general, the Goodyear FCPA enforcement action demonstrates that the SEC will continue to prosecute cases around the failure of or lack of internal controls. The clear import is that a company must have an appropriate compliance internal control regime in place. We are moving towards a strict liability standard under the FCPA around internal controls, which I will have much more to say about later but for now – you have been warned.

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 2, 2015

Farewell to Mr. Spock and Risk Assessment Under COSO

Mr. SpockLeonard Nimoy died last Friday. He will be forever associated with the role of Mr. Spock in the original Star Trek television show which premiered in 1966. The original series ran for only three years but had a full life in syndication up through this day. He also reprised the role in six movies featuring the crew of the original series and in the recent reboot.

Mr. Spock was about a personal character for me as I ever saw on television. For a boy going through the insanity of adolescence and the early teen years, I found Mr. Spock and his focus on logic as a way to think about things. He pursued this path while dealing with his half human side, which compelled emotions. This focus also led me to explore Mediations by Marcus Aurelius. But more than simply logic and being a tortured soul, Mr. Spock and his way looking at things and Star Trek with its reach for the stars ethos inspired me when it came out and still does to this day.

Mr. Spock and his pursuit of logic inform today’s blog post. Every compliance practitioner is aware of the need for a risk assessment in any best practices compliance program; whether that program is based on the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), UK Bribery Act or some other compliance law or regime. While the category of risk assessment is listed as Number 3 in the Ten Hallmarks of an Effective Compliance Program in the FCPA Guidance, both the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) intone that your compliance journey begins with a risk assessment for two basic reasons. The first is that you must know the corruption risks your company faces and second, a risk assessment is your road map going forward to manage those risks.

Interestingly Risk Assessment is the second objective in the Committee of Sponsoring Organizations of the Treadway Commission (COSO) Cube. In its volume entitled “Internal Control – Integrated Framework”, herein ‘the Framework Volume’, it recognizes that “every entity faces a variety of risks from external and internal sources.” This objective is designed to provide a company with a “dynamic and iterative process for identifying and assessing risks.” For the compliance practitioner none of this will sound new or even insightful, however the COSO Framework requires a component of management input and oversight that was perhaps not as well understood. The Framework Volume says that “Management specifies objectives within the category relating to operations, reporting and compliance with such clarity to be able to identify and analyze risks to those objectives.” But management’s role continues throughout the process as it must consider both internal and external changes which can effect or change risk “that may render internal controls ineffective.” This final requirement is also important for any anti-corruption compliance internal control. Changes are coming quite quickly in the realm of anti-corruption laws and their enforcement. Management needs to be cognizant of these changes and changes that its business model may make in the delivery of goods or services which could increase risk of running afoul of these laws.

The objective of Risk Assessment consists of four principles. They are:

Principle 6 – “The organization specifies objectives with sufficient clarity to enable the identification and assessment of risks relating to the objectives.”

Principle 7 – “The organization identifies risks to the achievement of its objectives across the entity and analyzes risks as a basis for determining how the risks should be managed.”

Principle 8 – “The organization considers the potential for fraud in assessment risks to the achievement of objectives.”

Principle 9 – “The organization identifies and assesses changes that could significantly impact the system of internal control.”

Principle 6 – Suitable Objectives 

Your risk analysis should always relate to stated objectives. As noted in the Framework Volume, it is management who is responsible for setting the objectives. Rittenberg explained, “Too often, an organization starts with a list of risks instead of considering what objectives are threatened by the risk, and then what control activities or other actions it needs to take.” In other words your objectives should form the basis on which your risk assessments are approached.

Principle 7 – Identifies and Analyzes Risk 

Risk identification should be an ongoing process. While it should begin at senior management, Rittenberg believes that even though a risk assessment may originate at the top of an organization or even in an operating function, “the key is that an overall process exists to determine how risks are identified and managed across the entity.” You need to avoid siloed risks at all costs. The Framework Volume cautions that “Risk identification must be comprehensive.”

Principle 8 – Fraud Risk 

Every compliance practitioner should understand that fraud exists in every organization. Moreover, the monies that must be generated to pay bribes can come from what may be characterized as traditional fraud schemes, such as employee expense account fraud, fraudulent third party contracting and payments and even fraudulent over-charging and pocketing of the differences in sales price. This means that is should be considered as an important risk analysis. It is important that any company follow the flow of money and if the Fraud Triangle is present, management be placed around such risk.

Principle 9 – Identifies and Analyzes Significant Change

It really is true that if there is one constant in business, it is that there will always be change. The Framework Volume states, “every entity will require a process to identify and assess those internal and external factors that significantly affect its ability to achieve its objectives. Rittenberg intones that companies “should have a formal process to identify significant changes, both internal and external, and assess the risks and approaches to mitigate the risk” in a timely manner.

Today’s blog post is a tribute to Mr. Spock as he, Star Trek and its characters continue to teach us lessons which we can apply in business going forward. It is the process of compliance which informs your program going forward. A risk assessment is recognized by sources as diverse as the DOJ, SEC and COSO as a necessary step. Just as Mr. Spock, the Science Officer onboard the Enterprise, was required to assess the risk to the ship and crew from a scientific perspective, a risk assessment can give you the tools to not only assess the corruption compliance risk to your company but a road map to managing that risk. So farewell to my long time friend Mr. Spock, you gave to me more than I ever gave back to you. I can think of no more fitting tribute to Spock than to say Live Long and Prosper.

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

February 19, 2015

Assessing Compliance Internal Controls – Part I

Assessing Internal Controls II have recently detailed the COSO 2013 Framework in the context of a best practices compliance regime. However there is one additional step you will need to take after you design and implement your internal controls. That step is that you will need to assess against your internal controls to determine if they are working.

In its Illustrative Guide, the Committee of Sponsoring Organization of the Treadway Organization (COSO), entitled “Internal Controls – Integrated Framework, Illustrative Tools for Assessing Effectiveness of a System of Internal Controls” (herein ‘the Illustrative Guide’), laid out its views on “how to assess the effectiveness of its internal controls”. It went on to note, “An effective system of internal controls provides reasonable assurance of achievement of the entity’s objectives, relating to operations, reporting and compliance.” Moreover, there are two over-arching requirements which can only be met through such a structured post. First, each of the five components are present and function. Second, are the five components “operating together in an integrated approach”? Over the next couple of posts I will lay out what COSO itself says about assessing the effectiveness of your internal controls and tie it to your compliance related internal controls.

As the COSO Framework is designed to apply to a wider variety of corporate entities, your audit should be designed to test your internal controls. This means that if you have a multi-country or business unit organization, you need to determine how your compliance internal controls are inter-related up and down the organization. The Illustrative Guide also realizes that smaller companies may have less formal structures in place throughout the organization. Your auditing can and should reflect this business reality. Finally, if your company relies heavily on technology for your compliance function, you can leverage that technology to “support the ongoing assessment and evaluation” program going forward.

The Illustrative Guide suggests using a four-pronged approach in your assessment. (1) Make an overall assessment of your company’s system of internal controls. This should include an analysis of “whether each of the components and relevant principles is present and functioning and the components are operating together in an integrated manner.” (2) There should be a component evaluation. Here you need to more deeply evaluate any deficiencies which you may turn up and whether or not there are any compensating internal controls. (3) Assess whether each principle is present and functioning. As the COSO Framework does not prescribe “specific controls that must be selected, developed and deployed” your task here is to look at the main characteristics of each principle, as further defined in the points of focus, and then determine if a deficiency exists and it so what is the severity of the deficiency. (4) Finally, you should summarize all your internal control deficiencies in a log so they are addressed on a structured basis.

Another way to think through the approach could be along the following lines. A Principle Evaluation should consider “the controls to effect the principle” and would allow internal control deficiencies to be “identified along with an initial severity determination.” A Component Evaluation would “roll up the results of the component’s principle evaluations” and would allow a re-evaluation of the severity of any deficiency in the context of compensating controls. Lastly, an overall Effectiveness Assessment which would look at whether the controls were “operating together in an integrated manner by evaluating any internal control deficiencies aggregate to a major deficiency.” This type of process would then lend itself to an ongoing evaluation so that if business models, laws, regulations or other situations changed, you could assess if your internal controls were up to the new situations or needed adjustment.

The Illustrative Guide spent a fair amount of time discussing deficiencies. Initially it defined ‘internal control deficiency’ as a “shortcoming in a component or components and relevant principle(s) that reduces the likelihood of an entity achieving its objectives.” It went onto define ‘major deficiency’ as an “internal control deficiency or combination of deficiencies that severely reduces the likelihood that an entity can achieve its objectives.” Having a major deficiency is a significant issue because “When a major deficiency exists, the organization cannot conclude that it has met the requirements for an effective system of internal control.” Moreover, unlike deficiencies, “a major deficiency in one component cannot be mitigated to an acceptable level by the presence and functioning of another component.”

Under a compliance regime, you may be faced with known or relevant criteria to classify any deficiency. For example, if written policies do not have at a minimum the categories of policies laid out in the FCPA Guidance Ten Hallmarks of an Effective Compliance Program, which states “the nature and extent of transactions with foreign governments, including payments to foreign officials; use of third parties; gifts, travel, and entertainment expenses; charitable and political donations; and facilitating and expediting payments”, also formulated in the Illustrative Guide, such a finding would preclude management from “concluding that the entity has met the requirements for effective internal controls in accordance with the Framework.”

However, if there are no objective criteria, as laid out in the FCPA Guidance, to evaluate your company’s compliance internal controls, what steps should you take? The Illustrative Guide says that a business’ senior management, with appropriate board oversight, “may establish objective criteria for evaluating internal control deficiencies and for how deficiencies should be reported to those responsible for achieving those objectives.” Together with appropriate auditing boundaries set by either established law, regulation or standard, or through management exercising its judgment, you can then make a full determination of “whether each of the components and relevant principles is present and functioning and components are operating together, and ultimately in concluding on the effectiveness of the entity’s system of internal control.”

The Illustrative Guide has a useful set of templates that can serve as the basis for your reporting results. They are specifically designed to “support an assessment of the effectiveness of a system of internal control and help document such an assessment.” The Document, Document, and Document feature is critical in any best practices anti-corruption or anti-bribery compliance program whether based upon the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), UK Bribery Act or some other regulation. With the Illustrative Guide of these Illustrative Tools, COSO has given the compliance practitioner a very useful road map to begin an analysis into your company’s internal compliance controls. When the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) comes knocking this is precisely the type of evidence they will be looking for to evaluate if your company has met its obligations under the FCPA’s internal controls provisions. In subsequent blog posts I will take a look at how you might audit your compliance internal controls.

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

February 17, 2015

Gary Owens, Laugh-In and Accountability in Your Compliance Program

Gary OwensIf you were alive at all during the 1960s, you will recall that one of the cultural phenomenon’s was NBC’s television show Laugh-In. It was brought to you from the NBC studios in beautiful downtown Burbank and featured one very droll player, who always played himself, Gary Owens, as the show’s announcer – Gary Owens. Owens died last week and I was surprised but pleased to learn in reading his obituary in the New York Times (NYT) that he was also the voice for several cartoon characters in the Jay Ward stable (home of Rocky and Bullwinkle) and he was the voice of Space Ghost which had a renaissance during the early years of the Cartoon Network.

I thought about Owens’ role on Laugh-In not only as the straight man but also the character, who in many ways brought accountability to the manic show when I read this week’s article by Adam Bryant in his NYT Corner Office column, entitled “Making a Habit of Accountability”, which featured his interview of Natarajan Chandrasekaran, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Tata Consulting Services. Chandrasekaran was raised on a farm and one of the things that he learned early on from his farmer father was “the value of money and the value of time. So he made us account for things. It wasn’t that there was a right or wrong way, but he wanted us to be accountable for what we did.”

I considered this concept of accountability in your best practices anti-corruption compliance program, whether based upon the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), UK Bribery Act or other program. With the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) recent pronouncements that it will more aggressively prosecute individuals for FCPA violations, perhaps companies should emphasize accountability more in their compliance programs. By doing so, perhaps employees might understand that there really is their personal liberty on the line when they engage in something which might even approach a FCPA violation. Further, by emphasizing personal accountability, companies could demonstrate more pro-active approaches to compliance that the DOJ wants to see going forward.

Chandrasekaran’s remarks went beyond simply emphasizing personal accountability. He also spoke about accountability in the context of a company’s overall culture. In particular I found his thoughts about accountability, learning and culture quite insightful. He said, “Learning cannot be achieved by mandate. It has to be achieved by culture.” He added, “In our executive team meetings, we share experiences and case studies about failures and successes.”

But beyond simply this insight there should also be accountability for helping others achieve the company’s overall goals. While he did not limit it to compliance, I still found it applicable to a best practice compliance regime when he said, “Everybody has to take some accountability for other people, and look for ways to make small contributions to help others. Looking after people has to become everybody’s responsibility. Innovation and caring for people are cultures; they are not departments.” He did admit that such a change would not happen overnight and indeed he has been emphasizing this message for five years at Tata because “It takes time to build that culture.”

Chandrasekaran also had an insight into compliance through his views on company structure. Tata is a flat organization, with multiple business units. He did this so the largest number of employees would feel empowered to make decisions and work collaboratively. While I recognize that such views might be antithetical to US based companies with a more ‘command and control’ approach, Chandrasekaran explained that the leaders of those units are expected “to work together. We said the power of our company will be driven by how well they work together. In some of our bigger monthly meetings, we will start with people presenting examples of their collaborations.”

I considered all of the above in the greater context of a best practices anti-corruption compliance program. One of the things that the FCPA Guidance emphasized was the inter-relatedness of each component of your compliance program. While you might have greater risk in the area of third parties or doing business in certain areas of the world where there are higher perceptions of corruption, you should not pick and choose what prongs of a compliance program you implement. Each step builds upon one another and should all point to accountability for your actions in decision-making calculus for business decisions and their implementations.

However the concept of accountability is not one that is spelled out in the FCPA Guidance or in any formulation of a best practices compliance regime. Yet it is clear that accountability is something that underlies what a compliance program is trying to achieve. Just as Chandrasekaran learned early on there is a value to things; there is a value to time and there is a value to money. So they should be accounted for in the way you do business.

This might best be described as oversight of your compliance program. The issue your company should focus on here is whether employees are accountable within the ambit of your compliance program. Even after all the important ethical messages from management have been communicated to the appropriate audiences and key standards and controls are in place, there should still be a question of whether the company’s employees are accountable to the compliance program.

Two mechanisms to do so are through the techniques of monitoring, which is a commitment to reviewing and detecting compliance programs in real time and then reacting quickly to remediate them. A primary goal of monitoring is to identify and address gaps in your program on a regular and consistent basis. A second tool is auditing, which is generally viewed as a more limited review that targets a specific business component, region or market sector during a particular timeframe in order to uncover and/or evaluate certain risks, particularly as seen in financial records. However, you should not assume that because your company conducts audits that it is effectively monitoring. A robust program should include separate functions for auditing and monitoring. While unique in protocol, however, the two functions are related and can operate in tandem. Monitoring activities can sometimes lead to audits. For instance if you notice a trend of suspicious payments in recent monitoring reports from Indonesia, it may be time to conduct an audit of those operations to further investigate the issue.

Your company should establish a regular monitoring system to hold employees accountable to doing business under your compliance regime and Code of Conduct. Effective monitoring means applying a consistent set of protocols, checks and controls tailored to your company’s risks to detect and remediate compliance problems on an ongoing basis. While it may seem that accountability means looking over every employees shoulder, it should not simply be seen as the workplace equivalent of parental oversight. Chandrasekaran explained that how you conduct yourself at work can have a huge impact on other employees. He said, “it’s sometimes very hard to imagine, early in your career, how much impact you can have. If you’re in a job and in an organization, the impact you can make is huge, because it’s all about being part of a group that’s driving impact. So look for those opportunities.” If you look for ways to demonstrate accountability you can influence a wide variety of others 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

February 5, 2015

Selfie-Sticks and Risk Assessments

Selfie-StickGreetings from Venice and a big thanks to Joe Oringel at Visual Risk IQ for allowing my to post his five tips on working with data analytics while I was on holiday in this most beautiful, haunting and romantic of cities. While my wife and I have come here several times, we somehow managed to arrive on the first weekend of Carnivale, without knowing when it began. On this first weekend, the crowds were not too bad and it was more of a local’s scene than the full all out tourist scene.

As usual, Venice provides several insights for the anti-corruption compliance practitioner, whether you harbor under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), UK Bribery Act, both, or some other such law. One of the first things I noticed in Venice was the large number of selfie-sticks and their use by (obviously) tourists. But the thing that struck me was the street vendors who previously sold all manner of knock-off and counterfeit purses, wallets and otherwise fake leather goods had now moved exclusively to market these selfie-sticks. Clearly these street vendors were responding to a market need and have moved quickly to fill this niche.

While the economics, inventory, bureaucracy, market-responsiveness of such businesses may be a bit more nimble than the more traditional US entity doing business overseas it does bring up a very good lesson for the compliance practitioner. A risk assessment is a tool for a variety of purposes. Certainly moving into a new geographic area is an important reason to perform a risk assessment. However, it can also be used for a new product offering, such as a selfie-stick. As stated in the FCPA Guidance, “As a company’s risk for FCPA violations increases, that business should consider increasing its compliance procedures, including due diligence and periodic internal audits. The degree of appropriate due diligence is fact-specific and should vary based on industry, country, size, and nature of the transaction, and the method and amount of third-party compensation. Factors to consider, for instance, include risks presented by: the country and industry sector, the business opportunity, potential business partners, level of involvement with governments, amount of government regulation and oversight, and exposure to customs and immigration in conducting business affairs. 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.”

So what if your company comes to market with a new product or, in the case of the Venetian street merchants, move to sell a product for the first time even if the product is not exactly ‘new’. Obviously you will need to consider all government touch points that could bring you into potential violation under the FCPA. You should determine not only what licenses you will need but also how you will obtain them. Avon has come to over $500MM in FCPA grief by paying bribes to obtain licenses (and then doubling down by going full Watergate in its cover-up). Wal-Mart is alleged to have gotten into hot water in Mexico for paying bribes to obtain permits to do business in that country. So will your company obtain these licenses directly or use a third party to obtain them?

What about continued quality control of your new product? If you are in the food product industry this will mean continued inspections of your products to assure they meet government standards. Make sure that you have a hiring process in place to weed out the wives, sons or daughters of any food service inspectors. Of course, do not hire such inspectors for jobs directly either, especially if they do not have to show up or perform any duties to get paid by your company.

If you are not going to manufacture your selfie-stick equivalent in the country where these new products will be sold, how will you import them? Who will be interfacing with the foreign government on tax issues for importing of products? Will they be there permanently or on a temporary basis? All questions that have gotten US companies into FCPA trouble when they paid bribes to answer, assuage or grease some or all of the answers.

It turns out the compliance practitioner can learn quite a bit from the selfie-stick; not all of it is simple self-indulgence. Your compliance program must respond to your business initiatives. To do so, you also need to have a seat that the big boy table where such initiatives are discussed. But that is another lesson from Venice for a different day. Until then, ciao.TexasBarToday_TopTen_Badge_Large

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

January 6, 2015

Byzantium and the Alstom FCPA Settlement – Part III

ByzantiumPorphyry is a type of stone that was much favored in the Roman world. In a review of several books in the New York Review of Books, entitled “The Purple Stone of Emperors”, Peter Brown looked into the history of the lithic in the context of Byzantium as the true heir of the Roman Empire. He theorized that if “porphyry was the blood of ancient empire, then it must be to Constantinople that we should look (and not to Western Europe) if we wish to understand the heritage of Rome in the Middle Ages.” I found that an appropriate way to think about an apparent anomaly in the recent Alstom Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) enforcement action. In Part III of my series on the Alstom natter I consider the accounting records violations that the French parent, Alstom SA, agreed to in this enforcement action.

The FCPA Professor noted in his second blog post on this matter, entitled “Issues to Consider from the Alstom Action”, “The charges against Alstom S.A. are a real head-scratcher. The conventional wisdom for why the Alstom action involved only a DOJ (and not SEC) component is that Alstom ceased being an issuer in 2004 (in other words 10 years prior to the enforcement action). Yet, the actual criminal charges Alstom pleaded guilty to – violations of the FCPA’s books and records and internal controls provisions – were based on Alstom’s status as an issuer (as only issuers are subject to these substantive provisions). In other words, Alstom pleaded guilty to substantive legal provisions in 2014 that last applied to the company in 2004.”

The Professor had also raised this issue in his first blog post on the resolution, entitled “All About the Alstom Enforcement Action”. After considering his thoughts on this issue, I decided to look into it a bit more deeply. Alstom SA was charged with several different FCPA violations including the following, 15 U.S.C. 78m(b)(2)(A), 15 USC §78m(b)(2)(B) and 78m(b)(5) which read in whole,

15 U.S.C. § 78m [Section 13 of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934] 

(b) Form of report; books, records, and internal accounting; directives

(2) Every issuer which has a class of securities registered pursuant to section 78l of this title and every issuer which is required to file reports pursuant to section 78o(d) of this title shall—

(A) make and keep books, records, and accounts, which, in reasonable detail, accurately and fairly reflect the transactions and dispositions of the assets of the issuer;

(B) devise and maintain a system of internal accounting controls sufficient

to provide reasonable assurances that—

(5) No person shall knowingly circumvent or knowingly fail to imple­ment a system of internal accounting controls or knowingly falsify any book, record, or account described in paragraph (2).

These provisions are generally referred to as the ‘accounting provisions’ of the FCPA. As stated in the FCPA Guidance, “In addition to the anti-bribery provisions, the FCPA contains accounting provisions applicable to public companies. The FCPA’s accounting provisions operate in tandem with the anti-bribery provisions and prohibit off-the-books accounting. Company management and investors rely on a company’s financial statements and internal accounting controls to ensure transparency in the financial health of the business, the risks undertaken, and the transactions between the company and its customers and business partners. The accounting provisions are designed to “strengthen the accuracy of the corporate books and records and the reliability of the audit process which constitute the foundations of our system of corporate disclosure.””

Moreover, these accounting provisions, including both the books and records and internal control provisions, are defined to apply to “issuers”. As set out in the FCPA Guidance, “The FCPA’s accounting provisions apply to every issuer that has a class of securities registered pursuant to Section 12 of the Exchange Act or that is required to file annual or other periodic reports pursuant to Section 15(d) of the Exchange Act.244 These provisions apply to any issuer whose securities trade on a national securities exchange in the United States, including foreign issuers with exchange traded American Depository Receipts. They also apply to companies whose stock trades in the over-the-counter market in the United States and which file periodic reports with the Commission, such as annual and quarterly reports. Unlike the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions, the accounting provisions do not apply to private companies.”

Charging Box Score

Alstom Entity Charges Time of Criminal Conduct Issuer Status
Alstom SA 15 USC §78m(b)(2)(A)15 USC §78m(b)(2)(B)15 USC §78m(b)(5)

15 USC §78ff(a)

18 USC §2

1998-2004 Issuer until 2004
Alstom Power Inc. 18 USC §371-conspiracy to violate the FCPA 2002-2009 Subsidiary of Issuer until 2004
Alstom Grid Inc. 18 USC §371-conspiracy to violate the FCPA 2000-2010 Subsidiary of Issuer until 2004
Alstom Network Schweiz AG 18 USC §371-conspiracy to violate the FCPA 2000-2011 Subsidiary of Issuer until 2004

While I agree with the above, I do disagree with the Professor’s final statement that “This free-for-all, anything goes, as long as the enforcement agencies collect the money nature of FCPA enforcement undermines the legitimacy and credibility of FCPA enforcement.” The reason I disagree is that this was a negotiated settlement, not a dictat or court proceeding. With no doubt excellent FCPA defense counsel involved, Alstom must have had its own reasons for agreeing to such a settlement. Without any further comment by the company, we will have to speculate as to some of the reasons for this component of the resolution.

First and foremost is that clearly Alstom did engage in conduct which substantially violated the FCPA. It would further appear that the conduct reached right up into the corporate home offices in France. By agreeing to the books and records and internal control violations, Alstom may have avoided any direct admission of guilt under French law, which we now know from the Total FCPA enforcement action is significant for a French company, because what is illegal bribery and corruption under US law is not necessarily illegal under French law.

Other than the anomalous French law issue, there may be another important consideration going on here. Alstom is under acquisition by General Electric (GE). Not only does GE pride itself and very publicly inform about its anti-corruption compliance program, GE has a large number of contracts with the US and other governments which might looks askance at doing business with a business unit that admitted to substantive FCPA violations of bribery and corruption. While I do not think that GE would be in danger of being debarred, it might well be that certain governments might not want to do business with a new subsidiary which made such a court admission. I find this to be more than simply a distinction without a difference. Consider the trouble that Hewlett-Packard (HP) is in north of the border in Canada regarding potential debarment by the Canadian government for its FCPA violations as set forth in its FCPA resolution of last April. So perhaps from Alstom’s perspective, the company believed it received benefits from settling based upon accounting violations.

But whatever the reason, it is clear that Alstom did engage in substantive FCPA violations. It’s settlement is that, a settlement of outstanding issues, which the company was a willing participant. It may not have been what the company wanted but I do not find that by charging Alstom for books and records and internal controls violations for the time frame it was clearly liable in any way demeans, degrades or lessens FCPA enforcement going forward. But just as we need to look to Byzantium to determine the heritage of Rome through the Middle Ages, by looking at the facts and circumstances around Alstom’s FCPA from the Alstom perspective and what it hoped to obtain in the settlement, we might be able to glean some insights.

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

December 31, 2014

The Avon FCPA Settlement – Part III

Geronimo's CadillacToday I conclude my 2014 blog posts with a final look at the Avon Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) enforcement action. Before getting to the key lessons that a compliance practitioner may draw from this enforcement action, allow me to thank you for letting me be a part of your FCPA and greater compliance and ethics experience. This has been a memorable year in social media for me, both in blogging, publishing and podcasting. (If you have not listened to one of my podcasts please head over to the FCPA Compliance and Ethics Report on the web or on iTunes and check it out.) I have learned quite a bit this year, in writing, podcasting and listening. I hope that you will continue to follow me in 2015 through my blogs, podcasts and via some of the other sites and magazines that I write for. I plan to publish more books, in both print and electronic format, and pen more long form articles that will provide a deeper dive into various topics that I think will be of interest to the FCPA compliance and ethics practitioners out there. But I am getting a bit ahead of myself so back to today’s topic and where we are on the Avon FCPA enforcement action, and the big question of what does it all mean for the compliance practitioner and companies worldwide?

And The Money Kept Rolling Out

Unlike Eva Peron and the Foundacion Eva Peron, Avon had the opposite problem; the money never seemed to stop rolling out for Avon. As the FCPA Professor said in his blog post, entitled “Issues to Consider from the Avon Enforcement Action”, “Avon’s FCPA scrutiny was also very expensive. For years, the whisper in the FCPA community was how expensive – and dragged out – FCPA’s internal investigation and pre-enforcement professional fees and expenses were. Not all companies disclose pre-enforcement action professional fees and expenses, but Avon did and those figures were approximately $500 million”. Even the Department of Justice (DOJ) questioned why the company’s investigative costs were so high.

In an article in Bloomberg News, entitled “Avon Bribe-Probe Clean-Up Neared $500 Million as Sales Cratered, Tom Schoenberg and David Voreacos reported, “In a 2010 meeting, government officials took the unusual step of questioning why Avon’s legal costs were so high at that point, according to two people familiar with the meeting who weren’t authorized to discuss it publicly. Avon said its legal bills had ballooned in part because the company operated in more than 100 countries without consolidated transaction records, according to one of the people.” The article quoted Matthew Axelrod, former senior Justice Department official, who said, “Though unusual, DOJ may call in company counsel to discuss when an outside law firm is going too far afield from what is necessary.” He added the “DOJ doesn’t want a company to have to spend unnecessary millions of dollars on an internal investigation any more than the company itself does”.

If there is one over-riding lesson for all companies to take away from this enforcement action it is that the cost can quickly spiral far out of control and beyond anything you might budget for. While the events at issue took place in 2003-08, the clear import is that it is much cheaper to spend the money to have a compliance program in place now rather than roll the dice and wait. This may mean you need to look at your internal financial accounting systems to determine if they can be monitored adequately and efficiently, yet in a cost-effective manner. While I have not reviewed the internal controls component of this FCPA enforcement action, it is also clear that internal controls need to be in place to detect, in a timely manner, when something goes askance. Of course, if it is in your corporate culture to lie, cheat and steal, it really does not matter what the standard of your internal controls is because the powers that be will find a way around them.

Will No One Rid Me of This Meddlesome Priest?

Henry II and his famous dictum surely seemed to exist at Avon corporate headquarters. If management wants sales accomplished in any way possible then that is the message that is communicated down the line to the troops in the field. Avon had a Code of Conduct that prohibited bribery and corruption, yet the company’s own internal investigation revealed that most company employees were not even aware such a document existed. There was no such thing as FCPA training at the time of the events in question. But more than simply the message of ‘Make Your Numbers; Make Your Numbers; (and then) Make Your Numbers’, Avon had a culture that actively hid criminal acts. For when credible information came to light that Avon China was violating the FCPA, the company went into full cover-up mode, even ordering the destruction of soft and hard copies of the Draft Audit Report. The cover-up was accomplished at the highest levels of the company, with the settlement documents noting the involvement of Avon Executive 1, Avon Executive 2 (believed to be the head of Avon’s Internal Audit function when he left the company), Avon Executive 3, another senior executive in Avon’s Internal Audit function, and two lawyers, Avon Attorney 1, who was identified as “a senior executive in the Office of the General Counsel at AVON” and Avon Attorney 2 who was identified as “an executive in the Office of the General Counsel at AVON”.

High Reward = High Risk

In their Bloomberg News article, Schoenberg and Voreacos reported that Avon was “among the first companies to obtain a license to sell products directly to consumers – the cornerstone of its business model – after Chinese authorities ended a ban on direct sales in 2006.” Further, “By July 2006, Avon had hired more than 114,000 door-to-door salespeople in China. [Then Avon CEO Andrea] Jung said at the time the company viewed the country as a potential $1 billion market. Sales in China surged 28 percent to $67.2 million in the company’s fourth quarter that year.” This means that in less than one year after receiving its license to do business in China, Avon China had one quarter of sales in excess of $60MM. That is quite a lot of Ding Dong, Avon Calling plus following up that doorbell ringing with some serious sales.

Here the lesson is that if there is a new business opportunity that results in an explosion of sales it is probably because of some high risk involved. That may be financial risk, it may be political instability risk, it may be weather-related risk, it may be currency fluctuations risk or it may be some other type of risk. When a business is regulated down from the national to the provincial to the municipality level, it probably means multiples of government interactions for permits and licenses to do business. The compliance function must be integrated into the business operations of a company well enough to be put on notice when such an opportunity presents itself, perform some type of risk assessment and then plan out and implement a strategy to manage those risks going forward. If the first time the compliance function hears about something askance from a FCPA perspective is when it is brought up by internal audit, it is already too late.

The Compliance Committee and Geronimo’s Cadillac

Just as Michael Murphy’s song Geronimo’s Cadillac was intended to show every irony he could ever think of about American culture in two words, the Avon Compliance Committee was about as ironic; although and admitted it is three words. For a corporate Compliance Committee is not simply a vehicle to bring and show off when someone might be around to take pictures. A corporate Compliance Committee has to function and be involved, actively, in an appropriate level of oversight. If a Compliance Committee is informed of credible allegations of a FCPA violation, it simply cannot accept information that it is ‘unsubstantiated’ at a later date. A Compliance Committee must be actively involved in the investigation, it must review the investigation protocol, review information and findings as they become known, direct outside counsel in the investigation and, finally, take charge to remediate the issues involved. It has to have real authority, real power and be taken seriously, not simply have a meaningless title of “Compliance Committee”.

As 2014 draws to a close, I for one am glad that the long Avon FCPA saga has at least come to this stage. For bribe payments totaling over $8MM, Avon has or will pay upwards of $750MM to get through the FCPA Professor’s “three buckets” of FCPA enforcement action costs. This staggering cost should be a clear lesson that now is the time to implement or enhance a compliance program. The number of persons effected by the fallout from this case start with the former head of the company, Andrea Jung, several high ranking executives, the company’s balance sheet and perhaps even some of the lawyers involved in the investigation of this matter. One of the first things that Jung’s replacement did was bring in new counsel to advise the company. After all, someone had to come up with the low-ball opening bid to the DOJ and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) of $11MM and then advise Avon to negotiate in public with them using that figure.

On that note, I wish everyone a safe New Year’s Eve and prosperous New Year.

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2014

December 22, 2014

Alstom Joins Santa’s Naughty List – In a Very Big Way

Naughty ListThe North Pole for Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) enforcement action announcements seems to have temporarily moved south for the month of December. Last week there was the final announcement of the long-standing Avon FCPA enforcement action. On December 22, 2014, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced settlement of the Alstom enforcement action. Certainly the DOJ is giving out presents to companies that have been very, very naughty. I am currently exploring the Avon enforcement action over several days of blog posts but I had to interrupt those posts to write something about the Alstom resolution for it was extremely significant gift for the Chief Compliance Officer (CCO), compliance practitioner and companies going forward.

The Fine

First and foremost was the fine amount. At $772MM it is the highest criminal fine for FCPA violations in the history of the world. Siemens’ prior of a reported $800MM was a combination of DOJ and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) fines and penalties. Alstom was not subject to the jurisdiction of the SEC so there was no component of this amount for either civil books and records or internal controls violations. But for those few remaining dunderheads out there who think their private company status insulates them from FCPA liability; wake up and smell the mistletoe, as the DOJ will be looking for you to smack a big one on. The fine brings the 2014 fine totals up to around $1.5bn, which comes a close second to the record-setting year of 2010, where the total amount of fines was $1.8bn.

Disclosure, Cooperation and Conduct

While I am in the middle of lambasting Avon for its conduct that led to its FCPA violations, one really has to step aside and give some credit to Alstom for some of the worst actions a company can engage in when dealing with bribery and corruption. If there was anyone on the naughty list, it certainly was Alstom. First is the company’s failure to self-disclose its obvious criminal conduct. The second was the clear foot-dragging in dealing the DOJ, during the pendency of the investigation. Finally, to complete this triumvirate of idiocy was the company’s refusal to timely engage in remediation. Dick Cassin, writing in the FCPA Blog, pointed out that Alstom’s conduct included the following:

  • Alstom’s refusal to fully cooperate with the department’s investigation for several years
  • The breadth of the companies’ misconduct, which spanned many years, occurred in countries around the globe and in several business lines, and involved sophisticated schemes to bribe high-level government officials
  • Alstom’s lack of an effective compliance and ethics program at the time of the conduct, and
  • Alstom’s prior criminal misconduct, including conduct that led to resolutions with various other governments and the World Bank.

Individual Prosecutions

Alstom’s conduct was so bad during the investigation that the DOJ obtained indictments against four company executives during the pendency of the investigation. Three of these executives have pled guilty and are awaiting sentencing. Cassin wrote, “Alstom began cooperating only after the DOJ publicly charged several Alstom executives, the government said.” The UK Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has also brought charges against individuals.

Post Acquisition FCPA Liability

I promised a Christmas present for companies out there and neither Santa nor I want to disappoint those not on the naughty list, for the Alstom enforcement action makes clear that the company which is acquiring them, GE, is not responsible for the fine going forward. This enforcement action reinforces the message the DOJ presented in Opinion Release 14-02; that a company which engages in pre-acquisition due diligence, discloses and then remediates the issues after they acquire the entity, can rest easier about purchasing a FCPA violation. For if GE can purchase a company with the clear attitude about doing business in compliance with anti-corruption laws, such as Alstom, with confidence that it will not be subject to a FCPA enforcement action, it means that any other company can do so as well.

Cassin reported, “Alstom SA pleaded guilty to a two-count criminal information in federal court in Connecticut. The DOJ charged the company with violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act by falsifying its books and records and failing to implement adequate internal controls. Alstom admitted its criminal conduct…In addition, Alstom Network Schweiz AG, a Swiss subsidiary, pleaded guilty to a criminal information charging it with conspiracy to violate the antibribery provisions of the FCPA.” Finally, “Two U.S. subsidiaries — Alstom Power Inc. and Alstom Grid Inc. — both entered into deferred prosecution agreement with the DOJ. They admitted that they conspired to violate the antibribery provisions of the FCPA.” The settlement documents have not been released as yet but hopefully they will be by the time of the final sentencing hearing before US District Judge Janet B. Arterton in June 2015.

The significance of this enforcement action will reverberate for a long time to come.

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2014

The Avon FCPA Settlement, Part I

AvonIt is finally done. The long awaited Avon Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) enforcement action is on the books. I would say what a long, strange trip it has been but that does not really seem to capture everything that went on in this case. Before we only knew such things as a whistleblower contacting the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the company with allegations of bribery in the company’s China business unit, to the Head of Internal Audit being caught up directly in the scandal, put on administrative leave and then terminated; to a professional fee burn rate on the case which would rival the Gross National Product (GNP) of many countries; to Grand Jury subpoenas being issued (or threatened to be issued) to corporate executives to secure their testimony in criminal proceedings; to publicly negotiating with the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC); we all thought this FCPA matter had it all. But it turns out just how little we knew about the company’s conduct and just how bad it was which led to this settlement because to say it was bad would demean and belittle the word bad. So over the next few blog posts, I will be exploring Avon, its conduct and the FCPA enforcement action.

For the Record

The amount of the total fines and penalties was $135 million. As noted by the FCPA Professor, “the settlement is the third-largest ever against a U.S. company.” The enforcement action included several resolution vehicles, including a Criminal Information against Avon China resolved via a Plea Agreement; a Criminal Information against Avon Products resolved via a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA) with an aggregate fine amount of $67.6MM. There was a separate SEC resolution through a Civil Complaint against Avon Products, which it agreed to resolve without admitting or denying the allegations through payment. The amount of the SEC settlement was $67.4MM. While the company’s internal investigation began in China, it quickly expanded so that it went far beyond China, including Japan, Argentina, Brazil, India and Mexico.

How Did We Get Here?

It all began back in May 2008, when an employee from Avon’s China business unit sent a letter to the head of the company alleging the China entity had engaged in bribery and corruption. In October 2008, Avon reported, in a Statement of Voluntary Disclosure, that it was investigating an internally reported allegation by an undisclosed whistleblower that corrupt payments had been made in its China operations. These allegations claimed that certain travel, entertainment and other expenses might have been improperly incurred. Although the details of the Avon case have not been disclosed, direct selling was not allowed in China under a law passed in 1998. The National Review reported that Avon was able to secure permission in late 2005 to begin direct selling on a limited basis. Later the Chinese government issued direct-selling regulations and granted Avon a broader license in February 2006 to make such sales.

In its 2009 Annual Report, Avon noted that the internal investigation and compliance reviews, which started in China, had now expanded to its operations in at least 12 other countries and was focusing on reviewing “certain expenses and books and records processes, including, but not limited to, travel, entertainment, gifts, and payments to third-party agents and others, in connection with our business dealings, directly or indirectly, with foreign governments and their employees”. The FCPA Professor, citing the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), reported that Avon suspended four employees, including the President, Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and top government affairs executive of Avon’s China unit as well as a senior executive in New York who was Avon’s head of Internal Audit.

One of the significant pieces of information to come out of the Avon matter is the related costs. As reported in the 2009 Annual Report the following costs were incurred and were anticipated to be incurred in 2010:

Investigate Cost, Revenue or Earnings Loss
Investigative Cost (2009) $35 Million
Investigative Cost (anticipated-2010) $95 Million
Drop in Q1 Earnings $74.8 Million
Loss in Revenue from China Operations $10 Million
Total $214.8 Million

Marketwatch also reported that after these investigations were made public Avon’s stock prices fell by 8%. Lastly, in addition to the above direct and anticipated costs and drop in stock value, the ratings agency Fitch speculated about the possibility of a drop in Avon’s credit ratings. But as bad as these numbers appear they only got worse for Avon as by 2012 its spend on professional fees was estimated to be over $247MM. As of this date, the total professional fees are closer to $300MM.

Grand Jury Investigation and Terminations

The WSJ reported in February 2012 that the DOJ had gone to a grand jury with evidence of FCPA violations against US executives at Avon. Joe Palazzolo and Emily Glazer reported that several company employees were terminated for their role in the scandal. They wrote, “The company said it fired Vice Chairman Charles Cramb on Jan. 29 [2012] in connection with the overseas corruption probe and another investigation into allegedly improper disclosure of financial information to analysts. Mr. Cramb couldn’t be reached for comment. In May [2011], Avon said it fired Ian Rossetter, its former head of global internal audit and security and previously Avon’s head of finance in Asia. Mr. Rossetter didn’t respond to requests for comment and his attorney declined to comment. Bennett Gallina, a senior vice president responsible for the company’s operations outside the U.S. and Latin America, left Avon in February 2011, two days after being put on leave in connection with the internal corruption investigation, the company said at the time.”

Negotiating in Public

I do not know who was advising Avon but the decision to try and force the government’s hand by making public its negotiating position was one of the most bone-headed moves I have seen a similarly situated company make. Avon initially announced that it had opened negotiations with the US government over the terms of a resolution in August 2012. In mid 2013, the FCPA Blog reported that Avon low-balled the SEC with an opening offer of $12MM. Later, in 2013, the company reported in an SEC filing that the “Securities and Exchange Commission offered an FCPA settlement last month with monetary penalties that were ‘significantly greater’ than the $12 million the company had offered.” But not to take such government tactics sitting down, Avon publicly announced in the filing that “Monetary penalties at the level proposed by the SEC staff are not warranted.” That certainly was great information to put out to the public enforcing that you are taking a hardball approach with the SEC and telling them their fines and penalties are not deserved for a company that has gone through all Avon has during this FCPA journey.

As I said, this matter was a long strange journey but as strange as things were that we knew about before last week, they became much stranger. Tomorrow we take a look at the facts that came out through the settlement documents to see the nefariousness of Avon’s conduct.

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2014

 

December 18, 2014

Ty Cobb and the Compliance Performance Appraisal Review

Ty CobbToday we celebrate greatness, in the form of one of the greatest baseball players ever, with the anniversary of the birthday of Ty Cobb. Coming up to the majors as a center fielder for the Detroit Tigers in 1905, he emerged in 1907 to hit .350 and win the first of nine consecutive league batting titles. He also led the league that year with 212 hits, 49 steals and 116 RBIs. In 1909 he won the league’s Triple Crown for the most home runs (9), most runs batted in (107), and best batting average (.377). In 1911, he led the league in eight offensive categories, including batting (.420), slugging percentage (.621), hits (248), doubles (47), triples (24), runs (147), RBI (144) and steals (83), and won the first American League MVP award. He batted .410 the following season, becoming the first player in the history of baseball to bat better than .400 in two consecutive seasons.

Cobb set a record for stolen bases (96) and won his ninth straight batting title in the 1915 season. He faltered the next year, but came back to win another three straight titles from 1917 to 1919. He left the team in 1926 and signed with the Oakland Athletics, hitting .357 and becoming the first-ever player to reach 4,000 total career hits before retiring after the 1928 season. His record of nine consecutive batting titles as well as his overall number of 12 will never be succeeded.

While Cobb certainly had quite a bit of natural ability, he was also a very dedicated baseball player, forever working to improve his craft. He might not have taken well to criticism but he did work to improve all aspects of his game. One of the modern ways to improve employee performance is through an annual employee performance review. Recently I read an article in the Houston Business Journal entitled “6 Ways To Make Performance Reviews More Productive” by Janet Flewelling. I found her article provided some interesting perspectives on some of the ‘nuts and bolts’ work that you can put into your Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) or UK Bribery Act anti-corruption program that can be relatively low-cost but can add potentially high benefits.

One of the ways to drive compliance into the DNA of an organization is through incentives such as making it a component of a year-end discretionary bonus payment. Indeed the FCPA Guidance states, “DOJ and SEC recognize that positive incentives can also drive compliant behavior. These incentives can take many forms such as personnel evaluations and promotions, rewards for improving and developing a company’s compliance pro­gram, and rewards for ethics and compliance leadership. Some organizations, for example, have made adherence to compliance a significant metric for management’s bonuses so that compliance becomes an integral part of management’s everyday concern.”

Most Human Resources (HR) experts will opine that properly executed performance appraisals are crucial to organizational productivity as well as the development of employee skills and employee morale. Moreover, they can serve a couple of different functions for a best practices compliance program. First, and foremost, they communicate to each employee their job performance from a compliance perspective. However, one key is not to approach the performance appraisal review as an isolated event but rather a continual process. This means that instead of trying to play catch-up at the last minute, supervisors should provide feedback and assess job performance throughout the year so annual reviews are grounded in a year’s worth of experience. This includes the compliance component of each job. The second area performance appraisals impact is compensation. As noted above, the DOJ and SEC expect that your compliance program will have both discipline and incentives. But those incentives need to be based upon something. The score or other performance appraisal metrics will provide to you a standard which you can measure and use to evaluate for other purposes such as employee promotion or advancement to senior management going forward.

In her article Flewelling provides six points you should consider which I have adapted for the compliance component of an annual employee performance appraisal. 

  1. Prioritize reviews in your schedule – You should schedule the employee performance appraisal at least several days in advance, rather than when a time slot suddenly opens up. You would make sure that you allot sufficient time for unhurried give and take between the reviewer and the employee.
  2. Review the entire year’s performance – You should resist the attempt to focus the discussion on the latest compliance experience. This is called recency bias. If a compliance issue arose in the past month or so, you need to keep it in perspective for the entire review period. Moreover, by focusing a review on a recent problem you may obscure prior accomplishments and make an employee feel demoralized. Take care not to go too much in the opposite direction as recency bias can work both ways, and one should not let a favorable recent compliance event overshadow the full review period.
  3. Do not hesitate to critique – Be generous with praise where it is warranted, but do not hesitate to discuss improvements needed in the compliance arena. Many supervisors are reluctant to confront and indeed desire to avoid confrontation. However remaining silent about an employee’s compliance shortcomings is a disservice to both the company and the employee.
  4. Do not dominate the conversation – Remember that you must give the employee time for self-appraisal and to ask questions or to comment about the feedback received from the compliance perspective. If there are specific questions or concerns raised by the employee you need to be prepared to address them as appropriate.
  5. Understand the employee’s role – You need to understand and appreciate that if the recent economy has resulted in many employees assuming the responsibilities of more than one position. If relevant to the employee, acknowledge that fact and take it into account in the review. This is certainly true from the compliance perspective as many non-Compliance Department employees have cross-functional responsibilities. If they claim not to have the time to handle their compliance responsibilities you will need to address this with the employee and perhaps structurally as well.
  6. Anticipate reprisal – Although it is rare, you can face the situation where an employee who is very dissatisfied with a review may refuse to sign it. The employee may be offered the opportunity to add a statement to the review. Also point out that the employee signature is an acknowledgement of receiving the review and does not signify agreement. If the employee still refuses to sign, have a second supervisor come in to witness the refusal. This may be particularly important from the compliance perspective.

Flewelling ends her piece by noting, “A proper annual review requires considerable effort from employee supervisors. It should be a full-year process involving regular guidance and feedback and perhaps several mini-reviews along the way. But rather than viewing it as onerous, supervisors should keep in mind that it is a tool for making their departments work more efficiently and yields better results for everyone involved.” I would add this is doubled from the compliance perspective. Nonetheless the potential upside can be significant from your overall compliance program perspective.

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2014

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