Thursday, July 23, 2009

Across the Pond

Some noteworthy anti-corruption developments to report from the United Kingdom.

Landmark Mabey & Johnson Ltd. Prosecution

Like the U.S., the U.K. has domestic anti-corruption statutes (actually a mix of several different statutes on the books for nearly one-hundred years - in March 2009, a new bill - the "Bribery Bill" was presented to the U.K. Parliament - an issue I will be following).

However, unlike the U.S., the U.K. has never brought a corporate prosecution under the statutes. For this, U.K. government has been criticized. If you want to fill your afternoon with reading just "google" BAE, Saudi Arabia, and corruption. If you prefer listening over reading, you may want to check out portions of Frontline's "Black Money" (See here).

Against this backdrop, it is noteworthy that in July 2009, the U.K.'s Serious Fraud Office ("SFO") (an enforcement agency similar to the U.S. DOJ) announced "the first prosecution brought in the U.K. against a company for overseas corruption." (See here for the SFO Press Release).

According to the SFO press release, the prosecution arises from Mabey & Johnson Ltd.'s (a U.K. company that designs and manufacturers steel bridges used in more than 115 countries worldwide) voluntary disclosure to the SFO "of evidence to indicate that the company had sought to influence decision-makers in public contracts in Jamaica and Ghana between 1993 and 2001." According to the release, the prosecution also involves breach of United Nations sanctions as applied to contracts in connection with the Iraq Oil for Food program.

My efforts to locate the actual Mabey & Johnson charging documents (statement of facts, etc.) have thus far proven fruitless. To the extent such documents are publicly available and you have a copy, please do share them with me.

SFO Memo on Corruption Enforcement and the Benefits of Self-Reporting

Also in July 2009, the SFO released a memo titled "Approach of the Serious Fraud Office to Dealing with Overseas Corruption." The memo notes that the SFO is significantly expanding its anti-corruption resources and staff and that the office will be using "all of the tools at our disposal in identifying and prosecution cases of corruption" as the office "conduct[s] more criminal investigations and prosecutions in the future (particularly if the Bribery Bill becomes law)."

The memo notes that there has been much interest among business and professional advisers for a system of self-reporting cases of overseas corruption to the SFO and the purpose of the memo is thus to set forth SFO policies on self-reporting and the SFO's position on the benefits which can be obtained from self-reporting.

The memo specifically notes that the benefit to a corporation of self-reporting will be "the prospect (in appropriate cases) of a civil rather than a criminal outcome," and that a "negotiated settlement rather than a criminal prosecution means that the mandatory debarment provisions under [the relevant EU Directive] will not apply."

The remainder of the memo touches on general topics familiar to FCPA practitioners currently found in Title 9, Chapter 9-28.000 of the U.S. Attorney's Manual (Principles of Federal Prosecution of Business Organizations) (the so-called Filip Memo - see here). It is encouraging to see that the SFO, unlike the DOJ/SEC thus far, is willing to articulate, in a specific memo, its views and enforcement policies on corruption issues.

The benefits of self-reporting and voluntarily disclosing conduct which does, or could, violate the FCPA is indeed a "hot topic." DOJ/SEC enforcement officials routinely say that the benefits of self-reporting are real, whereas FCPA practitioners and the clients they represent aren't so sure. It now looks like this topic will be debated on both sides of the Atlantic and it will indeed be an interesting issue to monitor.

Of particular interest to FCPA practitioners, the SFO memo notes as follows: "We would also take the view that the timing of an approach to the U.S. Department of Justice is also relevant. If the case is also within our jurisdiction we would expect to be notified at the same time as the DOJ." Of further interest to FCPA practitioners, the memo announces an initial opinion procedure along the lines currently offered by the U.S. DOJ. The memo notes, "[t]he circumstances in which this procedure will be appropriate will need to be discussed, but we are ready to offer assistance in one type of case" and that type of case is where an acquiring company, during due diligence of a target, discovers corruption issues.

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