Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Point - Counterpoint With Billy Jacobson

A few weeks ago, I took issue with Mark Mendelsohn's (DOJ Deputy Chief, Fraud Section and the DOJ's FCPA "top cop") recent defense of the 2008 Siemens enforcement action. (see here).

In response, I heard from William Jacobson.

I am always grateful for reader feedback, especially when its comes from someone the caliber of Jacobson - the former Assistant Chief for FCPA Enforcement at the Fraud Section, Criminal Division, U.S. Department of Justice. While at DOJ, Jacobson worked closely with Mendelsohn, including on the Siemens matter. For more on Jacobson's role at DOJ see this recent profile in Main Justice. Jacobson is currently the Vice President, Co-General Counsel, and Chief Compliance Officer at Weatherford International, Ltd. (see here).

With Jacobson's permission, I set forth our e-mail exchange below.


WJ - I have to take issue with your recent post regarding the Siemens settlement. As a recent √©migr√© to the world of in-house counsel, I can assure you that the staggering monetary settlement made a tremendous impact in boardrooms across the U.S. and the world. One can certainly argue that the government should have kept investigating Siemens until it uncovered every scrap of evidence against the company. One can also argue that the fine and disgorgement amounts could have been greater. However, the government’s goal was not to destroy the company and thereby cause untold damage to its shareholders. In fact, I think it is fair to say that the government’s goal was to sufficiently punish the company without destroying the company. An investigation lasting several more years and a fine of several billion dollars could well have done that – not to mention debarment, the lack of which you have also criticized.

Since at least 2001, the Fraud Section has been trying to bring “real-time” prosecutions as often as possible. This often means focusing on the one or two most egregious transactions at issue in a case, bringing a case based upon those transactions and moving on. An important component of this strategy in FCPA cases has been ensuring that companies improve their compliance departments to mitigate the chances of bad conduct recurring. This is precisely what the Fraud Section (as well as the SEC and the Munich Prosecutor) did with Siemens and, in my opinion, it was the correct approach.

MK – Nice to hear from you and thanks for reading the blog. I am not suggesting that in a case that apparently involved hundreds, if not thousands, of separate bribe payments, that the DOJ/SEC need to fully investigate each and every instance, perhaps focusing on six, ten (I don’t know what the magical number is or should be) is desirable. Even so, is it too much to ask that, as to those six or ten instances, that the criminal charges actually fit the facts? In other words, is it too much to ask of the DOJ to actually charge a company that clearly committed FCPA antibribery violations with FCPA antibribery charges?

Point taken that the “government’s goal was not to destroy the company and thereby cause untold damage to its shareholders.” Indeed, that is a legitimate policy issue present in any corporate criminal matter, FCPA or not. However, is agreeing to an overall penalty LESS than the amount of the alleged payments and LESS than the amount of the business allegedly obtain or retained – is that “sufficiently punishing” the company. Siemens net income between 2004-2008 (a time period that does not even cover the full range of the relevant time period) was approximately $28.3 billion. Thus, the worldwide fines and penalties accounted for approximately 5% of its net income, how does this “sufficiently punish” the company? Is not one justified, when viewing the amounts at issue, to conclude that this whole episode was a net positive for Siemens?

You raise the debarment issue, which I have discussed on my blog as well. My opinion is that the message DOJ says it wants to send in these cases, will not be sent until a company is debarred for a specific time period. If the DOJ is looking for deterrence it has the tools at its disposal.

If “real-time” prosecutions are indeed the goal of the DOJ (a dubious assertion given that many, many disclosed FCPA cases have languished for years and years) that is a good goal. However, the rush to get things settled and put a nice shiny bow around a case so that the enforcement agencies can conserve resources and focus elsewhere, and so that the company can move on, should not result in a situation, which I think is reflected in the Siemens and BAE enforcement actions, that certain companies in certain industries which sell to certain customers are essentially immune from FCPA antibribery violations.

WJ: While I agree that debarment would send an even stronger deterrent message than non-debarment, it is hard to see how a $1.6B penalty equates with immunity as you suggest. There is always more punishment that is possible, but the maximum does not have to be applied for DOJ to be effective.

Another factor that should be considered is jurisdiction. If I remember correctly, the Siemens charging papers state that its Venezuelan and Bangladeshi subsidiaries used U.S bank accounts to further their bribe schemes. The papers do not make similar US-nexus allegations for either the parent company or the Argentine subsidiary. Thus, it may be that DOJ felt it didn’t have jurisdiction over the parent company for a bribery charge. As for BAE, I can only say what press reports make clear – the case was enormously challenging for many different reasons. I think the folks at DOJ would agree that their settlement was not perfect, but I think they did an admirable job of not having perfect be the enemy of good.

MK – I am clearly not suggesting that Siemens escaped liability for its “egregious,” “staggering,” and “brazen” corrupt conduct (those are the enforcement agencies’ words – not mine). However, it sure seems that certain companies have come to be immune from FCPA antibribery charges. Any time a particular company is immune from particular aspects of a law, respect for that law and indeed the rule of law suffers.

As to Siemens and whether there was a U.S. nexus sufficient to charge an antibribery violation, the DOJ’s information clearly states that Siemens Power Generation (with offices in Florida), Siemens Power Transmission and Distribution (with offices in North Carolina) and Siemens Transportation Systems (with offices in California) were key players in the overall bribery scheme – presumably DOJ included the “with offices” in the U.S. part for a reason.

In any event, where does this leave the future of FCPA enforcement. I teach the FCPA to my students, should I now conclude my FCPA section with “FCPA enforcement – an area of law where perfect should not be the enemy of good.” If you are an individual sitting in prison today because you violated the FCPA’s antibribery provisions, how do you explain to such an individual that certain companies are immune from the same conduct for which they are sitting in prison?

WJ: Those of your students that aspire to prosecution, especially white collar prosecution, would be well served to learn that concept, yes. Prosecutorial discretion is a wonderful feature of our judicial system which often leads to imperfect solutions, but, on balance, usually – though certainly not all the time -- works out just about right.


  1. The argument against imposing the death penalty on companies (e.g., debarment due to FCPA violations) seems to incorporate more than a bit of the "too big to fail" argument advanced with respect to certain financial institutions over the past two years. One might argue, however, that although there will be disruption and inconvenience, eliminating a company from participating in its chosen market (e.g., defense) due to numerous and material breaches of the FCPA or analogous legislation does not mean that the company assets will wither and die. Instead, as in the bankruptcy context, the assets can be redeployed by others who have not engaged in criminal behavior. For example, Verizon's acquisition of WorldCom assets (and the transfer of employees) after the discovery of far-reaching fraud and other criminal behavior shows that while companies may die, businesses can continue. In the defense context, one might consider imposing a criminal sentence on the company that prevents that company from engaging in any further business, while at the same time putting some or all of the business assets in a trust for the benefit of the shareholders - who can choose to re-incorporate or sell the business to a third party. Otherwise, one might wonder whether there are two brands of justice - one for those who are large and/or operate in critical areas and another for small or mid-size companies who - though perhaps less culpable - are not as "important."

  2. I love that last sentence by Mr. Jacobson, "Prosecutorial discretion is a wonderful feature of our judicial system which often leads to imperfect solutions, but, on balance, usually – though certainly not all the time -- works out just about right." It fits so nicely with both his and Mendelsohn's recent transformation to defense counsel where they will charge their clients enormous sums to influence that prosecutorial discretion. A wonderful feature indeed!