Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Iraq ... And What Constitutes An FCPA Violation?

A couple of Iraq articles of interest to pass along.

As noted (here), yesterday in Washington D.C. the "Iraqi government, backed by the Obama administration, kick[ed] off its biggest post-Saddam investment roadshow [...] to convince American businesses to join the country's reconstruction efforts."

According to the article, "[d]ozens of Iraqi government officials, provincial governors, state investment commission authorities and others will give presentations" and "present overviews of sectors such as oil, agriculture and construction" and "investment opportunities in about 750 projects."

Bringing the topic home, there are lots of Iraqi "foreign officials" in Washington this week.

The article points out the obvious security and legal risks awaiting U.S. investors and businesses seeking to do business in Iraq.

The articles also concludes by saying that "[t]he biggest potential roadblock for most U.S. companies in Iraq is corruption" and that "American companies are generally under much closer scrutiny by U.S. regulators when it comes to overseas operations."

Although the article does not mention the FCPA specifically, readers of this blog obviously know that the comment invokes and relates to the FCPA.

So here is the question.

Corruption is high in Iraq. But what constitutes "corruption" or more to the point, what constitutes an FCPA violation when doing business or seeking business in Iraq?

Last month, when commenting on the Green's FCPA trial verdict, our friends over at the FCPA Blog (see here) said that the trial judge's jury instructions "show just how simple the FCPA's antibribery provisions really are" and noted that the only ones who seem to think that the FCPA is "complicated, technically challenging and obscure, poorly drafted and badly organized" are the lawyers who are trained to "quibble."

I agree (and to use my favorite cliche) when offering a suitcase full of cash to a government official to secure a government contract, the FCPA is straightforward and provides little room for lawyers to "quibble."

However, most FCPA issues are not as straightforward.

Given a number of reasons (the general lack of substantive FCPA case law, untested and unchallenged legal theories, etc.), there remains much about the FCPA that justifiably causes lawyers to ... well ... quibble.

So here is an exam question.

Let's say you are interested in doing business in Iraq - specifically its oil and gas sector. You learn that, per the applicable production sharing agreement or joint venture agreement being proposed, x% of employees will need to be Iraqi. Problem is, these prospective employees are not technically competent to perform the job. You are then told that it will be up to you to establish special colleges to train them.

Scratching your head?

Well, this is no academic hypothetical, this is very real world.

Iraqi's oil minister was recently quoted as saying (see here) that "Iraqis would have to make up 85 percent of the work force for the international oil companies doing business here." The minister acknowledged the fact that Iraq currently lacked the "hundreds of thousands of Iraqi engineers and technicians" needed and that "it would be up to the foreign oil companies to establish special colleges to train them."

So let's run this fact pattern through the FCPA elements assuming that the foreign oil company is an issuer or domestic concern under the FCPA.

"foreign officials" check - at least under the DOJ/SEC's untested and unchallenged assertion that employees of state-owned companies (regardless of title or rank) are foreign officials.

"thing of value" check - surely an education and obtaining technical skills is valuable.

"to obtain or retain business" check - it is a contractual term which you must agree to in order to get the business.

Sure the FCPA does have a "corrupt intent" element, but that element is often read out of the statute. For instance, many enforcement action merely set forth in conclusory fashion the corrupt intent element without providing any factual support.

The above Iraq example is not unique as most production sharing agreements or joint venture agreements in the foreign extraction industry contain similar terms or conditions requiring the U.S. company to buy "local content," fund certain community causes, and the like.

What's there to quibble about in such crystal clear examples as these?


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