Due diligence is generally recognized in three levels: Level I, Level II and Level III. Each level is appropriate for a different level of corruption risk. The key is to develop a mechanism to determine the appropriate level of due diligence and then implement that going forward.

The Evaluation of Corporate Compliance Programs – Guidance Document (2019 Guidance) stated, “A well-designed compliance program should apply risk-based due diligence to its third-party relationships. Although the degree of appropriate due diligence may vary based on the size and nature of the company or transaction, prosecutors should assess the extent to which the company has an understanding of the qualifications and associations of third-party partners, including the agents, consultants, and distributors that are commonly used to conceal misconduct, such as the payment of bribes to foreign officials in international business transactions. Prosecutors should also assess whether the company knows its third-party partners’ reputations and relationships, if any, with foreign officials”. Finally, “Prosecutors should further assess whether the company engaged in ongoing monitoring of the third-party relationships, be it through updated due diligence, training, audits, and/or annual compliance certifications by the third party.”

The question becomes how you use the information you obtained in the business justification and the questionnaire to determine an appropriate level of due diligence for the next step in the five-step process of third-party management. A three-step approach of varying levels of due diligence is the appropriate analysis to take going forward.

A three-step approach was discussed in Opinion Release 10-02, in which the DOJ discussed the due diligence that the requesting entity performed:

First, it [the requestor] conducted an initial screening of six potential grant recipients by obtaining publicly available information and information from third-party sources…Second, the Eurasian Subsidiary undertook further due diligence on the remaining three potential grant recipients. This due diligence was designed to learn about each organization’s ownership, management structure and operations; it involved requesting and reviewing key operating and assessment documents for each organization, as well as conducting interviews with representatives of each MFI [microfinance institution] to ask questions about each organization’s relationships with the government and to elicit information about potential corruption risk. As a third round of due diligence, the Eurasian Subsidiary undertook targeted due diligence on the remaining potential grant recipient, the Local MFI. This diligence was designed to identify any ties to specific government officials, determine whether the organization had faced any criminal prosecutions or investigations, and assess the organization’s reputation for integrity.

This Opinion Release sets out a clear break which every compliance practitioner should use in considering an appropriate level of due diligence to engage with your third-party risk management process or when considering the level of due diligence required on a potential business venture partner. A very good description of the three levels of due diligence was presented by Candice Tal, Founder and CEO of Infortal Worldwide, in an article entitled “Deep Level Due Diligence: What You Need to Know”.

Level I. First level due diligence typically consists of checking individual names and company names through several hundred Global Watch lists comprised of AML, anti-bribery, sanctions lists, coupled with other financial corruption and criminal databases. These global lists create a useful first-level screening tool to detect potential red flags for corrupt activities. It is also a very inexpensive first step in compliance from an investigative viewpoint. Tal believes that this basic Level I due diligence is extremely important for companies to complement their compliance policies and procedures; demonstrating a broad intent to actively comply with international regulatory requirements.

Level II. Level II due diligence encompasses supplementing Global Watch lists with a deeper screening of international media, typically major newspapers and periodicals from all countries plus detailed internet searches. Such inquiries will often reveal other forms of corruption-related information and may expose undisclosed or hidden information about the company; the third-party’s key executives and associated parties. I believe that Level II should also include in-country database searches. Other types of information you should consider obtaining are country of domicile and international government records; use of in-country sources to provide assessments; a check for international derogatory electronic and physical media searches, which should be performed both English and foreign-languages, in its country of domicile. Further, if you are in a specific industry, use technical specialists and obtain information from sector specific sources.

Level III. This level is a deep dive. It will require an in-country ‘boots-on-the-ground’ investigation. I agree with Tal that a Level III due diligence investigation is designed to supply your company “with a comprehensive analysis of all available public records data supplemented with detailed field intelligence to identify known and more importantly unknown conditions. Seasoned investigators who know the local language and are familiar with local politics bring an extra layer of depth assessment to an in-country investigation.” Further, “Direction of the work and analyzing the resulting data is often critical to a successful outcome; and key to understanding the results both from a technical perspective and understanding what the results mean in plain English. Investigative reports should include actionable recommendations based on clearly defined assumptions or preferably well-developed factual data points.”

But more than simply an investigation of the company, including a site visit and coupled with onsite interviews, Tal says that some other things you investigate include “an in-depth background check of key executives or principal players. These are not routine employment-type background checks, which are simply designed to confirm existing information; but rather executive due diligence checks designed to investigate hidden, secret or undisclosed information about that individual.” Tal believes that such “Reputational information, involvement in other businesses, direct or indirect involvement in other lawsuits, history of litigious and other lifestyle behaviors which can adversely affect your business, and public perceptions of impropriety, should they be disclosed publicly.”

Further, you may need to engage a foreign law firm to investigate the third-party in its home country to determine their compliance with its home country’s laws, licensing requirements and regulations. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, you should use a Level III to look the proposed third-party in the eye and get a firm idea of his or her cooperation and attitude towards compliance as one of the most important inquiries is not legal but based upon the response and cooperation of the third-party. More than simply trying to determine if the third-party objected to any portion of the due diligence process or did they object to the scope, coverage or purpose of the FCPA; you can use a Level III to determine if the third-party is willing to stand up with you under the FCPA and are you willing to partner with the third-party?

There are many different approaches to the specifics of due diligence. By laying out some of the approaches, you can craft the relevant portions into your program. The Level I, II and III trichotomy appears to have the greatest favor and one that you should be able to implement in a straightforward manner. But the key is that you must assess your company’s risk and then manage that risk. If you need to perform additional due diligence to answer questions or clear red flags you should do so. And do not forget to “Document, Document, and Document” all your due diligence.

Three key takeaways:

  1. A Level I due diligence should only be used where there is a low risk of corruption.
  2. A Level II due diligence is sufficient in a high-risk jurisdiction if there are no red flags to be cleared.
  3. Level III due diligence is deep dive, boots on the ground investigation.

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