Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A Q&A With Homer Moyer

In running a site called "FCPA Professor" it is only appropriate to touch base with a "Dean" on occasion.

I do so in this post with Homer Moyer, a "dean" of the FCPA bar. Moyer, a partner with Miller & Chevalier (see here) addresses a variety of topics in this Q&A - from evolution of the FCPA and FCPA enforcement to voluntary disclosure and investigative fees. Moyer closes out the Q&A with a few FCPA reform proposals of his own.


Your government experience prior to law practice was with the Commerce Department, not the DOJ or SEC as is typical of many FCPA enforcement lawyers. How has your Commerce Department experience informed your FCPA practice?

I was at the Commerce Department when the FCPA was enacted, and I chaired an inter-agency group on FCPA issues. Of greater value to my later FCPA practice, however, was having served as general counsel of the Department that deals most directly with corporate issues and that both promotes and regulates American businesses. Also of great value were the experiences of having litigated cases as both a prosecutor and defense counsel. Perhaps most important, however, is having now seen hundreds of different FCPA issues for dozens of different clients.

Working on FCPA cases at the SEC or DOJ provides prosecutors with unique experience, but not the opportunity to counsel and represent corporate clients, manage complex legal issues for them, or help them devise and implement innovative compliance programs.

Describe your first FCPA matter or case? What were the issues? What were your client's concerns?

One of my early cases, some 20 years ago, presented a host of issues that had not yet become commonplace. The case I have in mind involved potential vicarious liability for the acts of a third party, a third party who claimed that the work it did for a U.S. company created a “constructive partnership” that entitled it to share the company’s profits, questions of whether to consult voluntarily with DOJ, an industry with which DOJ was not yet well-acquainted, innovative compliance enhancements, related civil litigation, and forged evidence presented to a court.

That matter ended well, but it presented issues of first impression and foreshadowed how complicated FCPA cases could be.

The FCPA has evolved much since your first case. From your perspective, has this evolution been positive? Any negative aspects of this evolution? How has this evolution affected your practice and your clients?

The evolution of FCPA enforcement has unquestionably brought more and more attention to the issue of official corruption and has had an indisputable impact on corporate behavior, or the “supply side” of the bribery equation. In addition, it has done something that unilateral U.S. laws rarely do, namely, led to a far-reaching change and consensus in the international legal landscape, as now reflected in international anti-corruption conventions to which more than 150 countries have become signatories.

Despite two sets of amendments, the FCPA itself has changed relatively little since it was adopted in 1977. Its “evolution” has primarily been through a steady escalation in enforcement -- the number and variety of enforcement actions, expansive interpretations of key provisions, the size and variety of penalties, the frequency of voluntary disclosures, and a steady rise in the levels of sophistication the government looks for in independent investigations, due diligence processes, and compliance programs.

Has this evolution been positive or negative? Few people would now dispute that corruption and bribery of foreign officials imposes staggering economic and social costs, frequently on countries that can afford it least. The question then becomes whether FCPA enforcement has made a positive difference in reducing or eliminating corruption. It probably has, but more relevant today is the continuing pervasiveness of official corruption and the daunting challenges to controlling it on a global basis.

With respect to the FCPA itself, complaints that it has created an “uneven playing field” have been somewhat undercut by aggressive FCPA enforcement against non-U.S. companies, by new international anti-corruption conventions, and by the beginnings of genuine enforcement in some other countries. And the lament that few FCPA cases are adjudicated in court does not distinguish FCPA enforcement from the enforcement patterns of many other regulatory laws. The infrequency of judicial review may occasionally embolden the government to overreach, but it has rarely resulted in abusive prosecutions.

In terms of our own practice, the increase in enforcement has plainly caused clients to be far more focused on anti-corruption issues than was once the case. This has certainly caused Miller & Chevalier’s long-standing FCPA practice to grow dramatically. It also appears to have created something of a traffic jam of newly minted “FCPA lawyers.”

Your point “that few FCPA cases are adjudicated in court does not distinguish FCPA enforcement from the enforcement patterns of many other regulatory laws” is a very valid point. However, isn’t a key difference though that other laws have benefited from several dozen circuit court opinions and perhaps a few Supreme Court decisions, such that the parameters of the law are at least set by someone other than the enforcement agencies? [Granted, 2011 will likely see several trial court decisions as to certain FCPA elements, but the FCPA is still a law that is lacking much meaningful precedential case law.]

One has to take the view -- and I certainly do -- that independent judicial review is a good thing -- a critical part of our legal system and important to preserving the rule of law. Judicial review, or the prospect of judicial review, can help prevent regulatory or enforcement excesses. In some regulatory programs -- environmental statutes come to mind -- the level of judicial review is robust. And we are beginning to see more judicial review in FCPA cases involving individual defendants.

At the same time, some regulatory areas have been subject to as little, or even less, judicial scrutiny than the FCPA. Statutory restrictions on judicial review and judicial deference to agency interpretations of regulations having “national security” ramifications effectively reduce judicial oversight. One can look long and hard for good case law on the regulations enforced by the Office of Foreign Assets Controls (“OFAC”) or on export controls rules under the ITAR (International Traffic in Arms Regulations), each of which has seen regulatory overreaching and little accountability. One recent Federal Circuit Court opinion referred to the discretion reserved by the Executive Branch combined with the lack of clarity in the ITAR as something that would be expected of a totalitarian regime, not the United States Government.

In the end, however, the amount of judicial review is determined by the private sector. Clients are, of course, free to challenge FCPA enforcement actions, although historically corporate clients have tended to favor settlement as a preferable route. Moreover, recent FCPA court decisions reflect that courts will not necessarily interpret laws differently from enforcement agencies. Nonetheless, both corporate and individual defendants are free to challenge agency interpretations of the laws they enforce, and I and many other counsel would undoubtedly be available to help.

When President Obama, high-ranking DOJ officials and others in government talk about corruption and bribery, they talk about the bridge that crumbles because the contractor was selected based on a bribe payment or other similar scenarios. However, very few FCPA enforcement actions fit this scenario, rather the alleged violator is generally viewed as an industry leader that sells the best products for the best prices. Do you agree that a divide exists between such government or civil society statements and typical FCPA enforcement action scenarios? If so, how do we bridge this divide?

Bribery of foreign officials is, in the first instance, typically designed to overcome market forces and to distort competition, not to ensure the purchase of the best products at the best price. Whether or not a bridge is the best metaphor, FCPA violations reflect illicit payments that are made to enrich corrupt officials and that shift that cost to consumers and taxpayers. The consistent scenario in FCPA enforcement actions is that an alleged violator, or someone acting on its behalf, did, in fact, pay bribes, often egregious ones.

The most significant “divide” today is the uneven enforcement among signatories to anti-corruption conventions. Whereas the 1980s saw an industry push to repeal or relax the FCPA on the grounds that it was creating a competitive disadvantage for American companies, the more common complaint today is that other countries must consistently and meaningfully enforce their own anti-corruption laws to assure that the proverbial playing field is level.

Many calls to roll back the FCPA are now anomalous, as they would put the United States out of compliance with international conventions that the FCPA inspired and that the United States fought hard to achieve. They also run counter to the anti-corruption momentum of the last 20 years and would effectively legalize some practices that are coming to be universally condemned, if not yet universally punished.

I find that most U.S. multinational corporations would be delighted to compete on the merits. Indeed, some companies are affirmatively using integrity in the marketplace to gain a competitive advantage. Many have voluntarily prohibited “facilitating payments,” even though they are permissible under the FCPA. It is also interesting to note that Siemens, after paying record-shattering FCPA fines and taking aggressive steps to transform its entire corporate culture, has been posting record profits.

What is your reaction to this statement from a recent high-ranking DOJ official - "“the government sees a profitable program, and it’s going to ride that horse until it can’t ride it anymore.” Do you believe that FCPA enforcement has become a government cash cow? FCPA enforcement fines and penalties simply go into the U.S. Treasury. Are there better places for this money accepting the notion that bribery results in victims?

FCPA fines probably don’t rise to the level of a governmental “cash cow.” In fiscal terms, they are of no real moment. The government unfortunately needs some much bigger revenue cows.

I do believe, however, that law enforcement penalties should be a consequence of, not a reason for, enforcing criminal laws. And although penalties have risen, I do not have the sense that revenue production has been a driver of FCPA enforcement.

Your interesting question about whether penalties might be used to compensate the “victims” of corruption is a favorite in developing countries. It highlights the difficulties of tracing, seizing, and repatriating funds that corrupt officials have stolen from their countries. Even where recovery of funds is possible, assuring that they are then used to benefit the citizens who were cheated by official corruption is a challenge. That is, however, the right use of repatriated funds.

Because countries that have been cheated by their own rulers have rarely been able to recover the stolen funds, some have asked whether they should be compensated with funds collected as penalties in anti-corruption enforcement actions. This would be a break from past law enforcement patterns, and the idea appears not to have gained significant traction. The strongest case for making that break probably relates to funds collected as disgorgement of profits rather than pure fines. Indeed, one could argue that it would be more just for the bounties that whistleblowers can now earn under the Dodd-Frank law to go not to whistleblowers, but rather to the countries affected for the benefit of the victims of corruption.

Your response speaks of corrupt “officials,” “official corruption” and “rulers.” Yet, the vast majority of FCPA enforcement actions involve no such individual – rather the alleged recipient of the bribe is an employee of an alleged state-owned or state-controlled enterprise. In these cases, would not the most direct victim be the competitor who lost the contract or did not have the opportunity to bid. Are you in favor of an FCPA private right of action?

In most FCPA violations, there is more than one victim. Competitors can certainly be victims. So can government agencies or instrumentalities that are procuring goods or services. Even where there is an admitted bribe, however, determining which competitors may have been “victims” would undoubtedly be a messy and imperfect process. And allegations of improper payments are far more common than proof of improper payments, as any practitioner knows, and the complications of trying to identify victims and allocate compensation among everyone claiming status as a victim might make us long for the days when the principal issues were simply the ones you have asked about here.

What percentage of internal investigations you have worked on in the past 3-5 years that ended with a conclusion that the company violated the FCPA resulted in a voluntary disclosure? Same question for investigations you worked on during the time period 1995-2005? Why the difference?

Although we have clients who, after weighing all the relevant factors, have elected not to disclose, the percentage of matters that result in voluntary disclosures has plainly been rising. The reasons include changes in the sentencing guidelines, the enactment of Sarbanes-Oxley, greater Audit Committee oversight of investigations, the campaign by enforcement agencies to assure companies that voluntary disclosure and cooperation will result in “tangible benefits,” and the gradually spreading view that this is true, if not numerically predictable.

With Avon's recent disclosure that it has spent over $100 million in professional fees and expenses in connection with an FCPA inquiry and other similar disclosures (albeit perhaps not as dramatic) have professional fees and expenses (law firm, accounting firm, etc.) associated with FCPA internal investigations gotten out of control?

I have to confess to being stunned at some of the reported costs of investigations. To be sure, the costs of investigations have risen with increased emphasis on electronic documents and the insistence that investigations must be independent, thorough, and knowledgeable.

Accepting those requirements, the cost-effectiveness of an investigation can be significantly improved by developing a careful work plan, utilizing a firm with experienced FCPA lawyers at all levels of seniority, tailoring the type of investigation to the type of issue, and making informed and reasonable judgments about when to stop an investigation and focus on remediation. In my experience, it is often possible to have a reasoned and productive dialogue with enforcement agencies about the scope and extent of investigations.

FCPA reform proposals are floating around and are reportedly being considered by certain members of Congress. In your view what reform proposals have merit and what issues are at the top of Homer Moyer's FCPA reform list?

I find some of the calls for statutory reform less than compelling. Proposals to change the statute in ways that would be inconsistent with international conventions to which the U.S. is committed are unlikely to be successful, in my view, and could well open the door to other “reforms” that advocates for change might dislike, such as eliminating the exception for facilitating payments.

To be sure, in enforcing the FCPA, the government tries to overreach from time to time -- exercising anti-bribery jurisdiction over foreign subsidiaries and aggressive applications of dd-3 jurisdictional on the grounds that some step in the process took place “in the territory of the United States” come to mind as occasional examples. When enforcement agencies overreach, they should be challenged.

My dream list of “reforms” might read something like the following:

• Internal DOJ guidance that voluntarily disclosed matters must normally be resolved by the Department within 90 days after completion of an internal investigation; that agencies should make public their calculations of credit for voluntary disclosure and coordination; and that the Department will publish sanitized summaries of its declinations.

• An amendment to tweak the whistle-blower provision of Dodd-Frank to relieve the SEC of the conundrum of implementing the statute consistent with its terms but in a manner that does not undercut effective corporate compliance programs;

• An agreement among prosecutors that in the case of parallel investigations by more than one country, private parties may request state-to-state consultations (as called for by the OECD convention), and the consulting states should assure that investigations are coordinated and penalties made complementary so that companies do not face redundant penalties or unnecessarily overlapping investigations.

• Insistence by the OECD that OECD membership for China, Russia, and India must include accession to the Anti-Corruption Convention, accelerated peer review, and possible reconsideration of OECD membership if implementation and enforcement of anti-corruption laws prove to be insufficient.

• Multilateral reform measures designed to minimize current legal impediments to identifying and seizing funds stolen by corrupt officials and to facilitate repatriation of such funds.

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