Friday, October 2, 2009

The FCPA As A Foreign Policy Stick

Michael Jacobson's piece (see here) about using the FCPA as perhaps a way to increase pressure on Iran has been discussed elsewhere (see here).

Below are some additional issues to consider.

The suggestion that the FCPA "gives the government extraterritorial reach over non-U.S. companies" and that "any foreign company listed on the U.S. stock exchange falls under FCPA jurisdiction" is not entirely accurate.

True, the FCPA's books and records and internal control provisions apply to non-U.S. companies which issue stock on a U.S. exchange, and true the books and records and internal control provisions contain no specific jurisdictional requirement. If a company is an issuer (including a foreign issuer) it must comply with the books and records and internal control provisions.

However, the jurisdictional reach of the anti-bribery provisions as to foreign companies is a different story.

The anti-bribery provisions were amended in 1998 to include an alternative "nationality" jurisdictional test for U.S. issuers and domestic concerns (see 78dd-1(g) and 78dd-2(i)).

As a result of these amendments, the original "use of the mails or any means or instrumentality of interstate commerce" nexus is no longer required and the reach of the anti-bribery provisions as to U.S. companies and U.S. citizens is indeed extraterritorial.

However, for a foreign issuer, the old "use of the mails or any means or instrumentality of interstate commerce" jurisdictional nexus is still applicable because the alternative jurisdictional test in 78dd-1(g) only applies to an "issuer organized under the laws of the U.S."

The other way in which a foreign company (other than an issuer) or foreign national can become subject to the FCPA anti-bribery provisions is through application of 78dd-3 (also added by the 1998 amendments). However, 78dd-3 has a "while in the territory of the U.S. [...] make use of the mails or any means or instrumentality of interstate commerce" jurisdictional requirement as well.

Big picture, for foreign companies (whether issuers or not) there is a U.S. jurisdictional requirement for the anti-bribery provisions to apply.

One sees this when looking at the Statoil enforcement action, which as Jacobson points out, is indeed the first time the U.S. held a foreign company accountable under the FCPA's criminal anti-bribery provisions - in the Statoil case for improper payments to Iranian officials to secure oil and gas rights in Iran.

However, the U.S. did not assert anti-bribery jurisdiction over Statoil merely on the basis of "its listing on the U.S. stock exchange."

Rather, Statoil was subject to the anti-bribery provisions because the improper payments were routed through a U.S. bank in New York, thus providing the U.S. the nexus needed to hold a foreign company accountable (see here for the criminal information describing the payments through the U.S. bank account and invoking the "means and instrumentality of interstate commerce" jurisdictional clause and here for the SEC cease and desist order finding violations of the anti-bribery provisions and finding that the improper payments were routed through a U.S. bank account in New York).

The point is, because of the U.S. nexus jurisdictional requirement of the anti-bribery provisions as to foreign companies, using the FCPA to hold foreign companies accountable in Iran is not as simple as Jacobson makes it seem.

Two "bigger picture" points as well.

First, I remain skeptical as to the suggestion that increased FCPA focus by U.S. enforcement authorities as to conduct in a particular country "could sufficiently deter many companies from doing business" in that particular country.

Those that adhere to this theory have, for instance, a "China issue" to address (i.e. it is common knowledge that U.S. enforcement authorities have announced several FCPA enforcement actions relating to conduct in China, yet such increased focus by the U.S. as to China business conduct has done little to deter companies from doing business in China).

Second, and more relevant to Jacobson's assertion that "even the suggestion of increased focus by the United States [...] could sufficiently deter many companies from doing business with Iran," is the following fact regarding Statoil in Iran.

In 2006 (as discussed above) Statoil paid $21 million in combined DOJ and SEC fines and penalties for improper payments that assisted the company in securing contracts for the South Pars field in Iran.

To my knowledge, the Statoil enforcement action is the only FCPA enforcement action concerning business conduct in Iran.

The Statoil case is thus the only "test case."

And it is a unique test case at that because both the DOJ and SEC material specifically refer to the South Pars field (often times DOJ/SEC material is silent as to specific projects), as does the company's annual reports filed with the SEC.

No doubt Jacobson is right when he says that the 2006 FCPA enforcement action had a "major impact" on Statoil. As Jacobson points out, "[s]ince then, Statoil has spent millions of dollars in building a more robust internal anti corruption compliance system and putting good governance procedures into place."

You know what else Statoil has done since the 2006 enforcement action?

It has continued to do business in Iran, including in the same South Pars fields that were the subject of the 2006 FCPA enforcement action.

Here is what the company's website says about its activity in Iran (see here).

"StatoilHydro is offshore development operator for phases 6, 7 & 8 of the South Pars gas and condensate field in the Iranian sector of the Persian Gulf. We have also engaged in onshore exploration and drilling activities."

More specifically, here is what Statoil's website says about South Pars (see here).

"Phases 6, 7 & 8 of South Pars – the world’s largest gas field – are being developed by StatoilHydro as operator under an agreement signed with its local partner Petropars and the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) in October 2002."

For those who enjoy reading SEC's filings, Statoil's Annual Report on Form 20-F (2008) (see here) indicates the company has invested $225 million in developing South Pars.

So, what does the only Iran "test case" show?

At least from public documents, it appears to show that enforcing the FCPA against a foreign company doing business in Iran does not even deter the subject of the enforcement action from continuing to do business in Iran.

1 comment:

  1. There is another wrinkle in the politics to consider, the payment in Statoil was made to the Rafsanjani family. The elder Rafsanjani is widely seen as the primary rival of Ahmadinejad, obviously proof even in an American court of corruption would be damaging to any reform candidate.

    Given the relatively small pool of potential rivals to the current regime and their likely ties to state industry it is worth considering what impact prosecutions would have on the internal dynamics of Iranian politics.