Mara Senn and a colleague, Michelle Albert, published in the FCPA Report, Volume 3, Number 1, entitled “Internal Investigations, How to Conduct an Anti-Corruption Investigation: Developing and Implementing the Investigation Plan”. I interviewed Senn on her thoughts about handling a cross-border investigation.

  1. Offer Interview Translations

While many people outside the US have various levels of capabilities in a non-native language, when you get into the very detailed questions in an interview, they may have enough English skills that you assume they understand everything, but in fact, they do not. You may ask a key question, for example, about expense reports, maybe they understand conversational English, but there’s no reason for them to know expense reports. This makes it important to have someone present in the interview that speaks the witness’s native language, and just assume that there are going to be times where you’re going to need to call on that person.

  1. Avoid Cultural Pitfalls

Cultural pitfalls are really truly pitfalls and, unfortunately, they can be big deep holes that you do not know anything about, but you can fall into pretty easily. She provided the issue of personal privacy as an example, where most countries have a different concept of privacy, particularly about whether your work area is your own versus what really belongs to the company. You should seek local counsel guidance to understand what needs to be done and also explain to you the best way to do it without offending people.

  1. Observe Data Privacy Restrictions

Most American lawyers are aware of different data privacy restrictions and requirements in countries governed by the European Union (EU) and the US. The point under this best practice is that your analysis and response must go much further to satisfy the US Department of Justice (DOJ) if you want to claim that you cannot get certain information out of a country because of data privacy restrictions.

  1. Comply with Labor Requirements

Similar to the long-standing Weingarten right of unionized employees in the US to have a representative present for interviews, in many countries outside the US there are Works Council and similar analogs in other countries, where, basically, the Works Council is responsible for the interactions between the employers and the employees. Moreover, employees have certain statutory or labor code based rights as employees, regardless of whether they are members of a labor union or not. These rights can drill down into the types of questions that you can ask or even prevent you from meeting with or interviewing certain employees.

  1. Be Aware of Other Local Requirements

Points three and four certainly lead into best practice No. 5. It is incumbent that you work with local counsel in the country you are performing the interviews to garner an understanding of the witnesses rights and your obligations during any investigation. She explained that many ways a US lawyer would think about doing an investigation could be problematic in other jurisdictions. She gave the examples of taking pictures or physically removing documents from a location, which could be issues that you might face. You certainly need advice and counsel on what is legal and what might not be going forward.

  1. Put Forms in Native Translations

There are times that the only way an investigation can collect an employee’s personal information is to obtain affirmative assent. Such information might include work documents, work emails, or similar information. However she cautioned that in this situation it is even more important to put the consent form in the native language. You do not want the employee to later claim they did not understand the consent form or thought they were executing something different. It can be critical that you have informed consent, because if you do not have informed consent, that consent could well turn out to be void.

  1. Preserve the Attorney Client Privilege

The rules outside the US can be quite different and perhaps a little bewildering. In many European countries there is no privilege from an in-house counsel, so if a General Counsel (GC) of a company speaks to the President or Chief Executive Officer (CEO) there is absolutely no privilege under basically any circumstances in Europe. Senn then noted that other jurisdictions have other kinds of laws, each with a slightly different parameter, leading to different attorney-client expectations.

  1. Prepare for Local Enforcement Actions

Many countries are becoming more aggressive in their enforcement actions for bribery and corruption, sometimes based upon local and domestic anti-bribery laws. This means the information which one government knows, whichever government that is, you should expect and assume that multiple governments are cooperating in some way. This then makes it more likely that there could well be some sort of local enforcement action against your client while you are investigating matters around a FCPA claim or potential FCPA claim.

  1. Prepare for Security Risks 

This means personal security, physical and health safety. Simply consider the recent situation when Ebola was going around Western Africa or Central Africa. If you are conducting an investigation in such ravaged areas you should not send your employees to Liberia at that time to interview people. The same can be true in worn-turn areas like Syria or similar locales.

The better plan would be to remove the people you are interviewing and bring them to you or to a local hub outside of the impacted areas. That avoids a whole host of issues, as you do not want to have to pay for extra security, for example you do not want your employees to have to walk around with loaded machine guns protecting them; you have to make a judgment call as to where and whether these potential threats need to be addressed in some way.

  1. Protect Whistleblowers

Here Senn had some very practical advice, which while it might seem counter-intuitive on the surface due to certain legal decisions, it might actually provide more protections for companies in the long run. Senn began by noting the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in the Liu case, which essentially found that the Dodd-Frank retaliation provisions that protect whistleblowers in the US do not apply abroad, so in other words, a foreign whistleblower brought a case saying, “I was retaliated against and I bring a case under the retaliation provisions of Dodd-Frank,” and they said, “No way, you can’t bring it.”

Senn believes that companies that use the Liu decision as a basis to retaliate against whistleblowers outside the US are wrong for several reasons. First, is that the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has announced they will still pay whistleblower outside the US, who come forward and meet the requirements, the Dodd-Frank bounty of up to 30% of the penalty. This means that even if courts determine that the Dodd-Frank provisions do not apply for retaliation for foreign nationals, the SEC can still honor the communication and compensate the foreign whistleblower.

The second reason is the US Sentencing Guidelines make clear that part of an effective compliance and ethics program includes having a publicized system for employees or agents to report potential or actual criminal conduct without fear of retaliation. These Sentencing Guidelines apply to all US companies, both domestic and internationally. If your company retaliates against foreign whistleblowers, the US government can take that into account, which could be viewed in a negative way, meaning that you don’t have an effective compliance and ethics program.

Three Key Takeaways

  1. Use translators and translations of key documents in witness interviews.
  2. Use local counsel to facilitate the investigation and to help navigate any local anti-corruption investigation issues.
  3. Never, never, never retaliate. The SEC will pay whistleblower bounties for non-US citizens.