Monday, November 1, 2010

The FCPA and Potential Reforms

Last week's U.S. Chamber of Commerce Annual Legal Reform Summit included a panel titled: "Navigating a Global Marketplace — Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and Potential Reforms."

Amanda Ulrich (here), an associate in the New York office of Debevoise & Plimpton, LLP, provides a summary in this guest post.


The recent expansion of FCPA enforcement and new FCPA-related bounty provisions in the Dodd Frank Act had audience members thoroughly engaged as an impressive assembly of speakers from the public and private sectors gathered to discuss these issues at the United States Chamber of Commerce’s Annual Legal Reform Summit last week.

Michael B. Mukasey, former Attorney General of the United States and current partner at Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, introduced and moderated a panel that also included John S. Darden, former Assistant Chief of the Fraud Section of the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) and currently a partner at Patton Boggs, LLP, Cheryl J. Scarboro, Chief of the FCPA Unit within the Division of Enforcement at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”), George J. Terwilliger III, former DOJ Deputy Attorney General and currently global head of the White Collar Practice Group of White & Case LLP, and Andrew Weissmann, former Chief of the Criminal Division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York and Co-Chair of the White Collar Practice at Jenner & Block LLP. The audience was treated to a vigorous debate on FCPA enforcement between representatives of the private sector who called for more clarity and predictability in enforcement, and individuals arguing the federal government’s perspective, looking to level the playing field for business through increased enforcement and increased cooperation among foreign and domestic agencies.

The discussion opened with remarks by Judge Mukasey, who commented that the rapid expansion of FCPA enforcement in the United States since 2004 has brought increased anxiety to companies, which are concerned about competitive disadvantages in the global business environment. Judge Mukasey suggested, however, that this anxiety should be tempered by the fact that 34 countries have signed on to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development’s Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Transactions. He noted further that although the United States remains in the forefront of enforcement, with the UK’s Anti-Bribery Bill coming into effect next year, there is a global trend towards more vigorous enforcement of anti-bribery laws.

Expanding Views on Jurisdiction have led to Global Enforcement by the DOJ

Mr. Darden presented the DOJ’s perspective on the expansion of FCPA enforcement, and explained that, since 2005, the DOJ’s Fraud Section has concluded more than 40 criminal FCPA matters and collected over $2 billion in criminal fines. He noted that the six largest FCPA investigations have been resolved in the past 22 months, that more than 75 individuals have been criminally charged with FCPA violations since 2005, and that more than 45 of those individual prosecutions have taken place in the past two years. These statistics dwarf those of the first thirty years of FCPA enforcement.

According to Mr. Darden, the recent surge in enforcement is the result of an expanding view of jurisdiction by the government, as applied to both corporations and individuals. For corporations, the FCPA applies not only to U.S. corporations and foreign companies whose shares are traded on U.S. exchanges and regulated by the SEC, but also individuals and companies that take any action in the United States in furtherance of a bribery scheme. As a result of a more expansive jurisdictional reach, Mr. Darden argued that the idea that U.S. companies are disadvantaged by stringent FCPA provisions has been turned on its head; he noted that five of the six largest FCPA actions have involved foreign corporations.

Mr. Darden pointed out that the expanding fight against bribery has extended beyond the scope of the FCPA itself. Although the FCPA punishes only the payor (as opposed to the Federal Anti-Kick Back Law, which punishes both the payor and the payee), at least two FCPA-related cases in the last few months have involved charges against foreign officials under other statutes.

SEC stepping up enforcement, increasing cooperation with other agencies, but approaching remedies with more flexibility

Ms. Scarboro described the FCPA program at the SEC, where, she noted, FCPA enforcement has been a high priority for quite some time. In 2010 alone, with several cases still ongoing, the SEC has settled with 11 corporations and 7 individuals, recovering over $400 million in disgorgement and civil penalties.

Ms. Scarboro reminded the audience that the SEC has reorganized its efforts and now has a dedicated unit focused exclusively on combating foreign bribery. She said that the division has become smarter, more proactive, and more internally coordinated; the unit has also increased the SEC’s coordination with the DOJ. In addition, there have been more coordinated efforts with investigative authorities in other countries, including in connection with the Siemens investigation and this year’s Innospec case. Ms. Scarboro said that the SEC and the DOJ have been at the forefront of enforcing this country’s OECD obligations and have begun encouraging and engaging international counterparts in the pursuit of anti-bribery enforcement.

Ms. Scarboro emphasized that the SEC will continue to pursue disgorgement of profits in its FCPA investigations, and also explained that the SEC has begun to focus on industry-wide corruption, taking individual instances of bribery and investigating whether patterns emerge within a given industry. The SEC has stepped up its pursuit of individuals, she said, viewing enforcement against individuals as a better deterrent than enforcing sanctions against a company.

The SEC has pursued a more flexible approach to remedies in its investigations. To encourage cooperation by businesses under scrutiny by federal agencies, Ms. Scarboro explained, the SEC has begun pursuing deferred prosecution and cooperation agreements with companies that voluntarily report and cooperate with the SEC. She said that the SEC fashions relief on a case-by-case basis, given that the facts and circumstances of each case, as well as the level of cooperation, differ significantly, and the SEC considers a broad range of factors in determining the relief in each case.

Calls for Reform from the Private Sector

Andrew Weissman has written critically about the statute in the past, and recently released an article, sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for Legal Reform, calling for specific reforms to the statute. Mr. Weissmann expressed concern that, because the vast majority of FCPA-related cases against corporations, like those involving allegations of other criminal law violations, are settled without trial, the DOJ and the SEC serve as the judge and jury; thus, there is no meaningful way to question their interpretation of the FCPA’s grey areas.

Mr. Weissman’s second major stated concern was that, due to the lack of clarity in enforcement, companies are less likely to pursue business opportunities in countries seen as highly corrupt, such as China, where the risks of running afoul of the FCPA are high. The potential for FCPA enforcement hangs over such business ventures, and Mr. Weissman characterized this as a tax on companies looking to do business abroad.

Mr. Weissman encouraged the United States to adopt a provision similar to one contained in the UK’s Anti-Bribery Bill, which, when it becomes effective in April 2011, will provide a defense to enforcement actions for companies that devote “adequate” resources to creating and enforcing anti-bribery procedures. Mr. Weissman suggested that the British statute recognizes the limitations of what a corporation can do about the actions of its individual employees.

Mr. Weissman also called for more clarity with respect to what constitutes an “instrumentality” of a foreign government, light-heartedly suggesting that almost everyone in China is an instrumentality of the government. Mr. Weissman fears that, without more clarity, a business would not know whether it could take someone employed at General Motors out to dinner (as the U.S. government is now a shareholder). Similar arguments might apply to hospitality provided to an employee of Bloomberg (as New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg owns 85% of that company), or a Professor at Columbia (a school that receives public grants).

Judge Mukasey noted that the United States has a facilitation payment exception that the UK statute does not have, but Mr. Weissman described the facilitation payment exception as very narrow, and limited to grease payments that expedite inevitable occurrences. Judge Mukasey characterized this exception as applying to payments that help a company to “move up the list” toward an approval it would obtain in any event as opposed to helping a company “get on the list.” Mr. Weissman also noted that there is no de-minimis exception in the FCPA, putting companies at risk of FCPA violations even for very minor favors or transactions.

Although the new UK statute goes beyond the FCPA in some ways – including its extension to commercial bribery – Mr. Weissmann believes that the availability of the “adequate procedures” defense makes that statute more reasonable than the FCPA.

The intent standard applied in FCPA enforcement actions also concerns Mr. Weissman. For individual prosecutions under the FCPA, he explained, the intent standard is “willfulness,” which is considerably more stringent than the “knowing” standard applied to corporations. The “knowing” standard, Mr. Weissman argued, makes doing business in certain countries very risky, as the act in furtherance of the bribery needs to be only an intentional act, that is, not one that is a mistake.

Anomalies Resulting from Increased Enforcement

Mr. Terwilliger began his discussion of anomalies in increased enforcement by noting that U.S. companies are devoted to free market principles, and that corrupt markets are not free – a principle sufficient to justify anti-bribery enforcement but not necessarily sufficient to justify uneven enforcement.

Mr. Terwilliger outlined problems with what he described as the great leverage held by the DOJ and the SEC in FCPA enforcement: few trials (almost no trials involving corporate defendants) and no body of jurisprudence governing the field, which results in no real opportunity for corporations to contest the government’s decision to pursue an FCPA enforcement action.

Although prosecutors stress the benefits of self-reporting and internal investigations, Mr. Terwilliger expressed an ongoing concern of many corporations that plaintiff’s lawyers representing shareholders and sometimes competitors have begun to latch on to those self-reports in pursuing litigation against companies who report bribery activities.

Similarly, Mr. Terwilliger explained that, in his view, the new bounty provisions of the Dodd Frank Act, which provide for recoveries of up to 30% of settlements with the SEC in excess of $1 million, misalign incentives that are crucial for successful self-reporting. The best source for self policing bribery issues are a company’s employees, and as such, companies are now required to rely on people who have financial incentive to go directly to the government to report these issues. Mr. Terwilliger said he viewed this as a major concern given that a company’s willingness to self-report is often a consideration in the remedies pursued by government agencies.

Incentives for Self-Reporting

Mr. Terwilliger argued that the incentives for companies faced with potential FCPA violations are also skewed in the self-reporting context. The better the procedures to detect bribery, the more likely the company will be to uncover bribery and face the decision of whether or not to self-report. Rather than being rewarded for voluntarily rooting out bribery problems, companies are often faced with costly punishment, an anomaly that weighs heavily in the board room when determining whether to self-report. Mr. Terwilliger called for the creation of a presumption of non-criminal disposition and reduced penalties for companies voluntarily reporting FCPA violations. Judge Mukasey added that such an approach could help lawyers in advising their clients on FCPA compliance policies.

Mr. Darden responded that the DOJ would see this as an unnecessary step, because the program is working well without such a “carrot.” Characterizing Mr. Terwilliger’s suggestion as amnesty and comparing it to the anti-trust division’s amnesty program, Mr. Darden said that the DOJ does not need companies to come forward and voluntarily report, whereas the anti-trust division’s amnesty policy is justified by the fact that it is impossible to investigate a cartel without one member of that cartel coming forward. Mr. Darden said that additional carrots are not needed in anti-bribery enforcement, as companies have shown that there is enough incentive to come forward.

Mr. Terwilliger argued that, in his experience with certain long-running voluntary FCPA investigations, it would have been impossible for the DOJ to gather the same evidence as was gathered in a voluntary investigation, and said that the anti-trust program is a very good analogy to the DOJ’s program. He also noted that he was not discussing amnesty, but rather a reduced penalty that would give the company better incentives to self-report.

Mr. Darden and Ms. Scarboro both stated that only about one-third of FCPA investigations are voluntarily reported to the DOJ or the SEC, but the proportion of cases that are resolved with cooperation of the companies being investigated is much higher than one-third, and in those cases that cooperation factors significantly into the remedies the agencies seek.

Ms. Scarboro noted that the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, which the DOJ uses (and courts apply) in assessing fines for FCPA violations, provide for downward departures, and the availability of non-prosecution agreements gives the DOJ added flexibility. While other enforcement models, like the UK’s, provide for the negotiation of remedies prior to the investigation, the U.S. model gives federal agencies discretion to account for a variety of facts and circumstances after an investigation to assess the proper penalty. The SEC, for example, in determining whether to bring an action against a corporation, considers the corporation’s cooperation in the investigation and its remediation efforts in determining what remedies the SEC will seek, if any.

Ms. Scarboro noted that, in many cases, the level of cooperation is sufficient that the SEC will not initiate a full investigation. Those cases are generally not publicized in order to avoid unwanted publicity or embarrassment for the cooperating companies. Mr. Darden echoed that sentiment, and said that, while some companies affirmatively publicize their avoidance of FCPA charges, in many cases when the DOJ determines not to pursue charges, companies do not want the publicity of the DOJ’s decision not to prosecute or investigate, because that publicity could give rise to the need to issue a new 8-K.

During a Q&A period, Mr. Darden stated that the Federal Prosecution Principles, which were supposed to add clarity, have in some cases raised more questions than answers. In an attempt to give more clarity, especially in the area of compliance, the Prosecution Principles fail to give guidance about the type of cases the DOJ seeks to pursue. For example, the DOJ cares less about a company with some far flung employee who did not “get the memo” on the company’s anti-bribery compliance policy, than it does about a higher level corporate employee generating phony documents. Mr. Darden said that the failure to distinguish these schemes is a weakness in the Federal Prosecution Principles and is driving a need for more clarity.


Although the private sector has called for reform, the federal agencies responsible for FCPA enforcement have signaled no reversal of the trend of increased enforcement of the FCPA against companies and individuals at home and abroad.

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