Thursday, March 10, 2011

Regime Change Due Diligence?

Today's post is from a reader with government experience who wished to remain anonymous.

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"I have read with interest this blog's prior post (here) relating to the recent political turmoil in Egypt, and the possible implications of those events from the standpoint of the FCPA and other anti-corruption laws and regulations around the world. Also of interest was this blog raising the question whether the next generation enforcement device by anti-corruption officials looking at these regime changes might include the "country sweep" as a corollary to the "industry sweep" that has been used in past corruption exercises. These considerations are brought further under the klieg light when considering the evolving state of affairs in the Middle East and the possible additional regime changes that may take place after certain leaders have been in power for decades and have amassed reported family fortunes that would make the most ardent of capitalists sit up and take notice.

Reading posts on this blog and others (see here for a similar recent post on the FCPA Blog), as well as observing general media reports on the amounts that these leaders have supposedly put in their bank accounts, makes one wonder of the level of criminality that must have occurred. It shouldn't take one with an overly cynical view to surmise that we must be talking of thousands of crimes by hundreds or more actors.

Surely, there will be investigations galore by new regimes to try to discredit the vanquished and reclaim national funds. It will be easier to determine who were the beneficiaries or recipients of all the funds to the extent tracing is possible. But given the sums that are being bandied about, there will be a far larger number of sources from which such funds may have originated that ultimately found their way to the autocrats and their legion. And it will be interesting to see where the investigations and questioning leads in terms of where all that money has come from. One can only hope that people with important titles on their business cards sitting in governmental agencies around the world are also sitting up and paying attention and are planning to use those titles and the power that goes along with them to further the goals of the laws they have sworn to uphold. It goes far beyond simply freezing assets. It will be a massive undertaking. Where it leads could raise delicate issue for businesses. Perhaps also national security and statecraft.

All this also makes one test their empathy skills by playing the "What-Would-You-Do" game. That game goes something like this: imagine you were standing in the high priced wing-tips of a Chief Risk/Compliance Officer or a General Counsel of any public company that has been doing business in that part of the world. What should you be thinking just about now? Surely you have seen the news reports and heard the stories. Do you just shake your head on the speed with which change occurs? Or would you feel compelled (either because you believe it's the right thing to do, or, more basically, because you would never want to be in a position of being criticized later for at least never having raised it) to walk down the hall to the CEO's office or the board room for that matter, and say: "we really should be thinking about running an audit or review or bringing in people to run an audit of everything we've been doing in [Insert Country or Countries of Choice] just so we understand what we've got in terms of any issues. We should be refreshing and testing our protocols." Board members should be thinking along these lines too. They should be asking these kinds of questions if their own management teams aren't raising them. You can bet your shareholders' bottom dollar that plaintiffs' counsel are or will be thinking like this and pursuing claims, and D&O insurance providers will be concerned about it too. It may be a long way off, and telescoping is never easy, but it will be surprising if the fallout zone in the aftermath doesn't include some of this laundry."

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