Today I conclude my three-part series on the Nortek, Inc. (Nortek) and Akamai Technologies, Inc. (Akamai) Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) enforcement actions. These enforcement actions resulted in excellent results for both companies in that they each received Non Prosecution Agreements (NPAs) from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and declinations to prosecute from the Department of Justice (DOJ). The more I have read and reread the resolution documents from both enforcement actions, the more I have come to believe they are hugely significant and need to be studied by each and every Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) and compliance practitioner whose company is subject to the FCPA. The reason is we may have well reached a turning point in FCPA enforcement and how companies evaluate potential FCPA claims and disclosure.
The reason I think we may have reached this stage is that previously, in the fact pattern presented by either Nortek or Akamai, a company may have well made the decision to investigate thoroughly, remediate effectively and then not self-disclose to the government. However these two enforcement actions, coupled with the Pilot Program, may well change this calculus. This begins with the length of time from initial discovery to self-disclosure to the final resolution announced last week.
These enforcement actions were resolved quickly and efficiently. Further, Nortek’s self-disclosure was based on the company’s 2014 audit that had identified potential issues in a routine audit of the China subsidiary. These concerns were elevated for a full FCPA forensic audit and that investigation provided the information for the self-disclosure. Akamai began its investigation after a whistleblower report in December 2014. Both cases then show a less than two-year period from initial discovery to conclusion. This speaks to the robust nature of their detect prongs; either through Nortek’s internal audit or Akamai’s whistleblower program and response.
As noted by the FCPA Blog, in a post entitled “Akamai, Nortek settle China bribe cases with SEC non-prosecution agreements”, Nortek self-disclosed this matter in January 2015 and Akamai self-disclosed to the government in February 2015 and both had resolutions in June, 2016. This is a very short reported time frame for resolution of a FCPA matter and hopefully it will be a harbinger of things to come in terms of the reduced time frame from self-disclosure to resolution. Further, the reported investigations costs were far below those usually seen in FCPA investigations and enforcement actions as Nortek reported approximately $3.1MM in “FCPA related costs”; which is significantly lower than most reported costs in such a matter.
With the stated credit available in the Pilot Program and now the language from the DOJ in its declination and from the SEC in the two NPAs, I think companies may now see the benefits of coming forward and self-disclosing. Any company that makes the decision to not self-disclose most probably investigated and remediated so those costs will be incurring under such a scenario. However, if companies see the benefit of such self-disclosure, both in terms of not only a positive result but also a quick and efficient process, I think the calculus will change. I would also note, the straight line from the Yates Memo to the hiring of the new DOJ Compliance Counsel, Hui Chen, to the Pilot Program may well need to be extended to these two enforcement actions to demonstrate the change in the DOJ enforcement strategy.
However, there is more to be learnt from these enforcement actions than simply the fact that it may now be better to self-disclose than to choose not to do so, after complete investigation and full remediation. There were nuts and bolts nuggets about what to look for in your internal investigations. Indeed there were a couple of compelling references made not often seen in FCPA investigations reports. First in the Akamai internal investigation, its NPA reported that as a part of the company investigation it provided to the government “analyses of customer usage versus purchased capacities”. This is the type of data analysis we rarely see discussed in FCPA compliance programs yet I believe can greatly assist a CCO in looking at a large amount of information to see what risks strategically need to be investigated. Yet typically how many compliance practitioners either make this type of analysis or even have the capability to do so? This is why data analytics can be of use to the CCO going forward and, indeed, may be one of the prime ways to help the compliance function in the detect prong. Moreover, if such an analysis is used proactively, as a monitoring tool on an ongoing basis, it could move the needle from detect to prevent. This is well worth considering as you think about your compliance budget and resources going forward.
The second investigative prong reference I found interesting was in Nortek’s investigation protocol that stated the company conducted “a risk assessment to determine whether the improper conduct at Linear China occurred at Nortek’s other manufacturing locations in China.” Note that the government did not say Nortek performed a full FCPA forensic audit at the company’s other manufacturing locations in China but only a risk assessment. If there was ever language which validates the concept that a company does not have to “boil the ocean” in the context of an internal FCPA investigation, I think this statement may be it. If you move forward with a thoughtful approach, that is a well-thought out process, in a step-by-step approach, you do not need to look everywhere for everything under every rock.
Next, a word about translations. I would have thought it was almost self-evident that in any FCPA investigation it would be mandatory to translate into English foreign language documents. However in both NPAs the SEC specifically stated that the respondents “voluntarily translating documents from Chinese into English”. I guess there are still companies out there that have not gotten the message that documents have to be translated into English. So call Mr. Translations, Jay Rosen, and he will explain to you how to accomplish this requirement.
You should use both of these NPAs as guideposts to benchmark your company’s compliance program as the DOJ and SEC favorably commented on the remediation steps that both entities engaged in. In other words there were lessons on the actual doing of compliance that are significant for the compliance professional.
From the Nortek NPA, it articulated the following steps the company took:
- Revising its internal audit testing and protocols to focus on quickly discovering any FCPA-related improprieties;
- Strengthening the company’s its anti-corruption policies;
- Developing a Compliance Committee consisting of representatives from management and subsidiaries to supervise compliance implementation of Nortek’s policies and training;
- Providing extensive mandatory in-person and on-line trainings on the FCPA and anti-corruption policies to its employees around the globe in appropriate languages (there’s that translations issues again); and
- Adjusting its internal audit schedules to prioritize facilities located in geographic areas known for higher incidences of corruption.
From the Akamai NPA, it articulated the following steps the company took:
- Implementing a comprehensive due diligence processes for channel partners, which included engaging an outside consultant to conduct channel partner risk assessments;
- Strengthening the company’s anticorruption policies;
- Implementing enhanced compliance monitoring functions and structures, such as naming a Chief Compliance Officer and staffing a global team of dedicated compliance professionals in Europe, the U.S., and Asia;
- Providing extensive mandatory in-person and on-line trainings on FCPA and anti-corruption policies to its employees around the globe in appropriate languages; and
- Enhancing the company’s travel and expense control requirements in China, including requiring more detailed expense descriptions and supporting documentation and appointing an independent function with Chinese language capability to review and approve expense claims.
I hope that you will study these NPAs and declinations closely to see what lessons you may find for your compliance program. I also hope they will be a harbinger for both DOJ and SEC enforcements to come, where companies not only receive credit for turning over information on individuals for the government to prosecute but for taking steps to engage in the doing of compliance and not simply having a paper compliance program in place. No matter what the reason for the timing of these settlement resolutions, they are a welcomed addition for the FCPA compliance practitioner.
We may have well reached a turning point in FCPA enforcement and how companies evaluate potential FCPA disclosure.Click to tweet
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© Thomas R. Fox, 2016