Today I want to use the story of The Sussex Vampyre as the starting point for an inquiry into the recent Archer-Daniels-Midland Corp (ADM) Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) enforcement action. In the story, Holmes receives a letter from Robert Ferguson, who has become convinced that his second wife has been sucking their baby son’s blood and is a vampire. He has a crippled son from his first marriage who is terribly jealous of the new baby in their home. It turns out that this lame son, Jack, has been shooting poisoned darts at his baby brother and his stepmother’s behavior is actually sucking the poison out of the baby’s neck. The baby’s wounds were caused by Jack sending the darts, not by the mother biting her baby. In other words, what might be seen as something very scary is easily explained.
Once again demonstrating that the FCPA Professor and myself look at the same thing and come to different conclusions are reflected by those he states in his article “Why You Should Be Alarmed By the ADM FCPA Enforcement Action”. I see the ADM enforcement action as a continuation of the available case law favoring interpretations of the business nexus requirement to be applied broadly, where it is clear that bribery and corruption have occurred.
When I look at the facts laid out in the ADM settlement documents, I see the following: four separate bribery schemes hidden in the companies books and records clearly designed to influence the decision of a foreign government official. From 2002 to 2010, the company’s Ukrainian subsidiary rolled up VAT receivables of up to $46MM. What I see is a company, which over several years of slow and no response to its application for VAT tax refunds for goods purchased in Ukraine, responded to this problem by engaging in bribery and corruption to help them get the money that they were believed they were owed.
So what were these bribery schemes? There was the Charitable Donation Scheme, which according to the SEC Complaint, “an ADM executive in the tax department sent an e-mail to the head of an international tax organization and stated, “One of our affiliates operates in the Ukraine. In order to recover 100% of their input VAT they have to pay 30% of the amount to local charities.”” Next was the Stevedoring Company Scheme where two ADM subsidiaries made “payments to a stevedoring company in the port of Odessa so that it could pass on nearly all of those payments to Ukrainian officials in order to obtain VAT refunds on behalf of ACTI Ukraine.” Next was the Mischaracterization of Write-offs Scheme where ADM’s German subsidiary reported to the US parent that they had to write off 18% of the tax refund due back to the company. However upon payment of the VAT refund it would be at 100% of the total due. As the German subsidiary had taken a write off of 18% of the total, the corresponding amount of money would be funneled to “third-party vendors so that nearly all of those monies could be provided to Ukrainian government officials.” Finally, and most ingenuously, was the Fake Insurance Premiums Scheme. In this scheme, ADM’s Ukrainian subsidiary, arranged for an insurance company to falsely bill it for crop insurance, which said “Insurance Company never intended to honor, adjusting the premiums to be roughly 20% of the VAT refund.” This inflated amount was then paid to Ukrainian officials.
The FCPA itself says:
It shall be unlawful for any issuer which has a class of securities registered pursuant to section 781 of this title or which is required to file reports under section 780d of this title, or for any officer, director, employee, or agent of such issuer or any stockholder thereof acting on behalf of such issuer, to make use of the mails or any means or instrumentality of interstate commerce corruptly in furtherance of an offer, payment, promise to pay, or authorization of the payment of any money, or offer, gift, promise to give, or authorization of the giving of anything of value to—
(1) any foreign official for purposes of—
(i) influencing any act or decision of such foreign official in his official capacity,
(ii) inducing such foreign official to do or omit to do any act in violation of the lawful duty of such official, or
(iii) securing any improper advantage; or
(B) inducing such foreign official to use his influence with a foreign government or instrumentality thereof to affect or influence any act or decision of such government or instrumentality,
in order to assist such issuer in obtaining or retaining business for or with, or directing business to, any person;
In the case of US v. Kay, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals exhaustively reviewed the legislative history of the FCPA, from its passage in 1977 through the two amendments in 1988 and 1998. The Kay decision stands for the proposition that the defendant intend the paying of bribes to be a quid pro quo, which would assist (or is meant to assist) the payor in obtaining or retaining business. Further, it specifically stated that the “business nexus is not to be interpreted narrowly.” The facts in Kay were different than those presented in the ADM matter. However, with the admonition that the business nexus requirement is not to be interpreted narrowly, I believe the holding in Kay is such that it is not a stretch to see the conduct engaged in by ADM did assist, or was meant to assist, it in doing business in Ukraine. Indeed, the Kay decision stated, “In addition, the concern of Congress with the immorality, inefficiency, and unethical character of bribery presumably does not vanish simply because the tainted payments are intended to secure a favorable decision less significant than winning a contract bid.” Thus I look at Kay and see the conduct of ADM as falling within the broad outlines of the Kay decision.
How about the facilitation payment exception and that somehow the ADM subsidiaries were making payments exempted out of the FCPA because they were for routine services?
The FCPA itself states:
(b) Exception for routine governmental action
Subsections (a) and (g) of this section shall not apply to any facilitating or expediting payment to a foreign official, political party, or party official the purpose of which is to expedite or to secure the performance of a routine governmental action by a foreign official, political party, or party official.
Further, the term “routine governmental action” is defined as one of the following:
- Obtaining Permits;
- Processing visas and work orders;
- Providing police protection, mail pick-up and delivery;
- Providing phone services and utilities;
- Actions of a similar nature.
There is nothing in the statute about processing multi-million dollar tax refunds as a routine governmental action. Once again the Kay decision spoke to the issue of facilitation payments, similar to those made in the context of the ADM settlement, when it said “This observation is not diminished by Congress’s understanding and accepting that relatively small facilitating payments were, at the time, among the accepted costs of doing business in many foreign countries.” One key there is that facilitating payments be “relatively small”. Whatever 18% of $46MM might be, it certainly is not “relatively small”.
All of this leads me to see the ADM settlement as a continuation of the very limited case law interpretation that exists around the FCPA. So just as Holmes looked at the facts in The Sussex Vampyre and did not see something which could not be explained or need be feared; I look at the ADM enforcement action and see a company which engaged in bribery and corruption, knew it was doing so and actively tried to hide the corrupt payments in its books and records.
And once again, I would cite that the easiest response to all of this might be the advice given by Department of Justice (DOJ) representative Greg Anders, in his testimony to the House Judiciary Committee regarding amending the FCPA, that being that companies should not engage in bribery.
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© Thomas R. Fox, 2014