First InningYou might figure that the year I decide to jump back on the Houston Astros bandwagon, they go back in the tank. Last year they were one game away from the American League (AL) Championship. This year they have the third worst record in the AL, with a paltry .419 winning percentage. Is it too early in the season to draw any conclusions? I will leave that one up to you. And yet…

What are the lessons to be learned from allegations of corruption in the early stages of any investigation? Indeed, are there any lessons to be learned at all? If so when should you learn them? The FCPA Professor recently explored some of these issues in a blog post, entitled “Lesson Learned…”. Proving once again that the FCPA Professor and I can look at the same event or set of facts and see different things, I see significant lessons to be learned when reviewing ongoing Foreign Corrupt Practice Act (FCPA) or other significant matters, even when reported in the press. Or to use the Professor’s analogy, I believe it is both useful and appropriate to consider the ongoing results of the National Basketball Association (NBA) playoffs, on an ongoing basis and apply those results going forward.

Why should you consider reviewing events on an ongoing basis? When I look at these, I see information that could help the Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) or compliance practitioner going forward. I think Wal-Mart is a prime example. It really does not matter if you fall into the New York Times (NYT) or Wall Street Journal (WSJ) story camps; when the world’s largest retailer is on the front page, you can and should draw lessons from this applicable to your organization.

Such public reporting is a useful teaching paradigm for the FCPA practitioner. The day after the NYT broke the story I wrote a blog post about it and I called several client types (I am a proud card carrying member of FCPA Inc.) to make sure they were aware of the matter. Was it marketing? Or perhaps something more nefarious, like business development? How about the following – I wanted to make sure they were aware of it. Or a combination of all three? Does any of that lessen the messages to be learned from the NYT story about Wal-Mart? I would answer a resounding No.

The thing that struck me when I called around was how many CCOs had used the NYT front-page story about Wal-Mart as a teachable moment for several internal constituencies. These constituencies started with the C-Suite and the message was along the lines of this is what can happen if you do not have an effective compliance program in place. Several others used the Wal-Mart story as an opportunity to consider their internal use of facilitation payments; to explain to employees how they are defined under the FCPA and also to make sure they were properly recorded on the company’s books and records.

Was this in the first inning of Wal-Mart’s long trek FCPA investigation? Most probably, yet these CCOs were able to use this very public event as lessons learned for their organizations in a powerful and current events manner to help educate or reinforce.

What about the Unaoil matter? Once again, can the reported story provide anything worth writing about or commenting upon? I would certainly urge the answer is Yes. How could a CCO use the information in the Huffington Post story in the everyday doing of compliance? I can think of three immediate lessons to be learned that every compliance practitioner should take to heart and use going forward.

First and foremost, did your organization use Unaoil in any manner? If your organization has contracted with or has any contact with Unaoil in any company files you need to find out now as a Department of Justice (DOJ) subpoena could well be on its way. Second, as with Wal-Mart, can you utilize the discussion around Unaoil internally to educate senior management or others? Once again I think the answer is Yes and the most obvious way would be to discuss your risk management lifecycle of your third parties. Use this as an opportunity to explain that it is the management of the relationship which may well be the key element so that even if your due diligence was faulty you can demonstrate effective compliance. Finally, it is a very good reminder to review all of your third parties files to make sure they contain the required documentary evidence to support your compliance program. All of these lessons can be learned now, at the very beginning of the matter (first inning yet again).

Next, the Panama Papers. What can you draw from this event; even at the very beginning of what may be a very long slog? (Probably the top of the first inning.) As of today, you can review the 214,000 entities with offshore entities, in a searchable database. This is more than a lesson to be learned or even a teachable moment. This is a new resource available to anyone to use to find out if an entity their company is doing business with is who they say the are or even might be. This is information that is in the public domain, made available by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalism. You can search by jurisdiction or by country. It is axiomatic that when information becomes available a compliance practitioner should not only use it going forward but also use it to see if any third parties or counter-parties might need updating in your risk ranking.

As for the lesson to be learned, once again does your compliance department know with whom you are doing business with? Are you managing the relationship after the contract was signed? Have you Documented, Documented, and Documented the files and the relationship? When was the last time your business sponsor visited high-risk third parties to discuss your anti-corruption compliance program?

Information is critical to any best practices compliance program. Usually that information comes internally. Yet that information can also come from outside the organization. How many CCOs knew about Unaoil before the Huffington Post story? Or had thought about their company’s recordation of facilitation payments? Or had considered what it might mean if a third party was incorporated in Panama? I do not find any of the above to be scare mongering or even inappropriate questions to ask. For I have found it is always how you use information that forms the key inquiry; not when you obtain the information.


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© Thomas R. Fox, 2016