Tuesday, September 29, 2009

An Update From Across the Pond

The U.S. is not the only country with an "FCPA-like" domestic statute. The United Kingdom has a similar law (actually a mix of several different statutes on the books for nearly one-hundred years - however, in March 2009, a new bill - the "Bribery Bill" was introduced in Parliament and is currently being debated).

As discussed in a July post (see here), 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."

The company - Mabey & Johnson Ltd. ("M&J") - a U.K. company that designs and manufacturers steel bridges used in more than 115 countries worldwide.

Last week, the SFO issued a press release announcing the details of M&J's £6.6 million sentence (see here).

The SFO also released two "prosecution opening statements" relating to (a) the company's conduct in Jamaica and Ghana; and (b) the company's breach of United Nations Oil for Food Regulations (see here and here).

To state the obvious, one enforcement action does not constitute a practice.

Subject to that qualification, I offer some comments about the SFO's released documents compared to what the DOJ and SEC typically release in an FCPA enforcement action (where indeed a common practice has developed).

Naming Names

Unlike a typical DOJ deferred prosecution, non-prosecution agreement or plea or SEC complaint, the SFO documents name names. Specifically identified in the documents are numerous "public officials" in Jamaica, Ghana, Angola, Madagascar, Mozambique, and Bangladesh (see pages 11, 25, 28, 32, 33, 35, and 38) alleged to have received improper payments from M&J (or its agents) to help secure company business.

The SFO documents also specifically identify the agents and their companies which were used by M&J to make certain of the improper payments (see pages 12, 22, 28, 32, 35, 37).

Is there value to "naming names," does it "punish" the foreign or public official recipient of the improper payment (given that the FCPA only punishes the bribe payor not the bribe recipient)? Does naming the agent effectively blacklist the individual/company and thus serve a useful public function for other companies doing business in that particular market?

All interesting questions to ponder. There is also an interesting historical FCPA angle as well. Many, including the Ford administration, were opposed to the FCPA as it now exists, opting instead for a disclosure approach on the theory, to use the famous Justice Brandeis quote that "sunshine is the best disinfectant."

Back to the SFO documents.

As referenced above, the applicable term used in the SFO documents is "public official" not "foreign official" as used in the FCPA. Do these terms means the same thing? All of the "public officials" identified in the SFO documents are government Ministers or Ambassadors (what I'll call core government officials).

There is no exception though, an exception relevant to the current debate over the FCPA's "foreign official" term and whether it should include employees of state-owned or state-controlled companies.

The Angolan "public officials" appear to be Directors of Empresa Nacional des Pontes, an "Angolan State owned entity."

Joint Venture Partners

Under the FCPA, conventional wisdom seems to hold that joint venture partners will be liable for improper payments made by other joint venture partners, particularly when the joint venture partners share revenues and profits of contracts secured through improper payments and particularly when the joint venture's board includes individuals from both companies. (see here for a discussion of this issue in connection with the recent Halliburton/KBR enforcement action).

Not so in the M&J matter.

The SFO documents reference a joint venture relationship between M&J and Kier International Ltd. ("Kier") in order to facilitate both the construction and engineering aspects of "Jamaica 1" (the contract allegedly secured through the bribe payments).

According to the SFO documents, M&J and Kier agreed that "overall revenue and profits from the JV with respect of Jamaica I would be divided 57% and 43% respectively." The documents further state that under the terms of the JV "a sponsor would have primary responsibility for representing the JV" and that "Kier was nominated to act as the sponsor." Further the documents indicate that "the supervisory board" of the JV comprised both M&J and Kier executives.

However, the documents evidence that the "SFO has investigated the relationship between Kier and M&J in respect of this contract" and "all the evidence currently available to the SFO" indicates that "there is no evidence that Kier [was] privy to these corrupt practices."

Will JV partners in the cross-hairs of a future FCPA enforcement action be citing to the SFO's decision as to Kier in the M&J enforcement action to argue that there is no basis for FCPA liability (whether anti-bribery or books and records of internal controls)? Perhaps so.


Despite these apparent differences between the M&J enforcement action and a "typical" FCPA enforcement action, there are some similarities and it is clear that the SFO is following DOJ's lead when it comes to "rewarding" voluntary disclosure (see pages 40-41 "the SFO have sought where appropriate to have regard to the model for corporate regulation adopted by the Department of Justice in the United States of America under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act 1977.").

The SFO's stance in the M&J matter, in which it noted that M&J's internal investigation and subsequent voluntary disclosure were "meriting specific commendation" (see pg. 7) is consistent with the approach the SFO set forth in July when it released a memo titled "Approach of the Serious Fraud Office to Dealing with Overseas Corruption" (see here).


Finally, much like the DOJ, the SFO appears interested in charging individuals (not just corporations) for participating in improper payments. The SFO specifically noted that "a number of individuals are the subjects of investigation with regard to the corrupt business practices of M&J" (see pg. 5) and it explained that it did not "name certain directors, executives and employees of M&J at this stage because they may face trial in English Courts."

Again, to restate the obvious, one enforcement action does not constitute a practice. Yet when doing a comparative analysis of the FCPA with other FCPA-like statutes one has got to start "somewhere" and that "somewhere" now exists with release of the specific facts of the U.K.'s first prosecution against a company for overseas corruption."

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