Thursday, April 14, 2011

No - The Consistent Answer In DOJ Responses to Senator Questions Regarding FCPA Reform

On November 30, 2010, the Senate Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs (chaired by then Senator Arlen Specter) held a hearing titled "Examining Enforcement of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act." (See here for the prior post).

Following the hearing, Senator Christopher Coons and Senator Amy Klobuchar submitted written questions to Greg Andres (DOJ) - one of the witnesses who testified at the hearing.

The DOJ responses are here.

As evident from the DOJ responses, certain of which are highlighted below, the consistent DOJ response to FCPA-related reform proposals is no.

Profiled below are DOJ's substantive responses to Senator questions regarding mandatory debarment for egregious FCPA violators; a potential FCPA compliance defense; a potential FCPA amnesty program; whether businesses face FCPA uncertainty; whether clarification of the "foreign official" element is needed; and whether the statute's corporate intent element needs revising.

Mandatory Debarment

Does the DOJ favor a "mandatory, conduct-based, debarment remedy for companies that engage in egregious bribery"?


The DOJ says that such "mandatory debarment would likely be counterproductive, as it would reduce the number of voluntary disclosures and concomitantly limit corporate remediation and the implementation of enhanced compliance programs."

In a related question, the DOJ adds that "a mandatory conduct-based debarment for companies could well have a negative impact on the Government's ability to investigate and prosecute transnational corruption effectively." "Linking mandatory debarment to a criminal resolution would fundamentally alter the incentives of a contractor-company to reach an FCPA resolution because such a resolution would likely lead to the cessation of revenues for a government contractor - a virtual death knell for the contractor-company. Similarly, mandatory debarment would impinge negatively on prosecutorial discretion. If every criminal FCPA resolution were to carry with it mandatory debarment consequences, then prosecutors would lose the necessary flexibility to tailor an appropriate resolution given the facts and circumstances of each individual case."

Boiled down to one sentence, the DOJ's opposition to mandatory debarment for egregious FCPA violators seems to be this - it would lessen our FCPA caseload, it would make our jobs more difficult, and it would take away our flexibility and leverage.

This is hardly a convincing argument to the position I articulated at the Senate hearing (see here) that "egregious instances of corporate bribery that legitimately satisfy the elements of an FCPA anti-bribery violation involving high-level executives and/or board participation should be followed with debarment proceedings against the offender."

As I noted in this previous post, H.R. 5366 (which passed the House in September 2010) is not the answer. However, the issue of mandatory debarment, in certain instances, remains a valid and legitimate issue notwithstanding the DOJ's responses.

Compliance Defense

Does the DOJ favor exploring a "formal compliance defense" to the FCPA?


The DOJ "opposes the adoption of a formal compliance defense."

According to the DOJ, it "already considers a company's compliance efforts in making appropriate prosecutorial decisions, and the United States Sentencing Guidelines also appropriately credits a company's compliance efforts in any sentencing determination." "Among other things" the DOJ states, "the creation of such a defense would transform criminal FCPA trials into a battle of experts over whether the company had established a sufficient compliance mechanism." "Against this backdrop, companies may feel the need to implement a purely paper compliance program that could be defended by an 'expert,' even if the measures are not effective in stopping bribery." "If the FCPA were amended to permit companies to hide behind such programs, it would erect an additional hurdle for prosecutors in what are already difficult and complex cases to prove."

As readers likely know, the U.K. Bribery Act, set to go live on July 1st, contains a so-called adequate procedures defense and such a defense should be considered under the FCPA as well.

Amending the FCPA to include a compliance defense is not a new idea. In the mid-1980’s numerous FCPA reform bills included such a defense and provided that a company would not be held vicariously liable for a violation of the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions by its employees or agents, who were not an officer or director, if the company established procedures reasonably designed to prevent and detect FCPA violations by employees and agents. In fact, an FCPA reform bill containing such a provision did pass the U.S. House.

A compliance defense is not about hiding behind "paper programs" as the DOJ asserts. Rather a so-called compliance defense, one that would be inapplicable in cases such as Siemens, it is about properly incentivizing corporate FCPA compliance and not putting a company at risk of FCPA scrutiny, costly FCPA internal investigations, and the growing collateral consequences of FCPA inquiries should a non-executive employee engage in conduct contrary to a company's pre-existing, published, and trained on FCPA compliance policies and procedures.

Amnesty Program

Is the DOJ in favor of a so-called "amnesty program" as recently advocated by some?


The DOJ says it "does not support the idea of an FCPA amnesty program." Among other things, the DOJ says that "as the beneficiary of [several established sources of information such as voluntary disclosures] the Department does not presently face difficulty in identifying sources of information of FCPA criminal violations." "Consequently, an amnesty program would provide protection for corporations who violate the law without providing accompanying meaningful benefits to law enforcement." "Finally, consistent with the United States Sentencing Guidelines and the Department's Principles of Federal Prosecution of Business Organizations, the Department already provides meaningful credit for voluntary self-disclosures, extraordinary cooperation, and substantial remediation by corporations where appropriate and deserved."


Does the DOJ believe that "well-meaning businesses are faced with significant uncertainty as to their potential exposure to civil and criminal penalties under the FCPA?"


The DOJ says that "it provides clear guidance to companies with respect to FCPA enforcement through a variety of means." It lists the DOJ's Lay Person Guide to the FCPA, various charging documents, plea agreements, non-prosecution and deferred prosecution agreements [see here for a recent guest post on prosecutorial common law] and the DOJ's FCPA Opinion Procedure Releases.

The DOJ concludes its response by saying "in the end, a review of the Department's FCPA enforcement actions makes clear that companies have never been charged for minor or incidental issues." "By contrast, the Department's prosecutions involved extensive and often widespread corruption over significant periods of time."

As explored in this prior guest post, in the FCPA's 1988 amendments, Congress directed the DOJ to consider providing formal guidance. However, in 1990 the DOJ declined to issue guidelines and stated as follows. "After consideration of the comments received, and after consultation with the appropriate agencies, the Attorney General has determined that no guidelines are necessary…. [C]ompliance with the [anti-bribery provisions] would not be enhanced nor would the business community be assisted by further clarification of these provisions through the issuance of guidelines."

"Foreign Official"

Does the DOJ agree that statutory clarification of "foreign official" would help clarify to businesses which of their transactions could be subject to the FCPA?"


The DOJ response begins as follows. "The term 'foreign official' has been defined in relevant case law and opinion releases. Some defense attorneys have attempted to argue that the definition of 'foreign official' does not extend to the employees of state-owned or state-controlled enterprises."

For the record, I am not a "defense attorney." See here for my declaration as to the legislative history on "foreign official."

In a related question, the DOJ further stated that it "has provided significant guidance regarding the definition of 'foreign official.'"


Should the FCPA be amended to "bring the intent standard for corporations in line with the current 'willfulness" standard that applies to individuals?"


The DOJ responded that it "does not believe that it is necessary or appropriate to amend the FCPA's intent standard with respect to corporations." "The Principles of Federal Prosecution of Business Organizations already governs the Department's decisions regarding whether to charge corporations for federal crimes, including under the FCPA." "Furthermore, the Department is not prosecuting FCPA matters where a corporation engaged in something less than willful criminal conduct."

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