CorruptionToday, I continue my four-part series on the above question posed to me recently by a colleague. In Part I, I wrote that only the US government had the wherewithal, tools and will to do so. Yesterday, I focused on corruption on the pitch and how bribery and corruption ‘changes the game’ of soccer (AKA Football). Today is the third of my of my four reasons on why Americans should care about the Department of Justice (DOJ) bringing their indictments against the 14 named defendants who were all associated with the governing body of international soccer, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA). Up today is the corruption and US companies.

While there were no US companies specifically identified in the indictments, there were allegations that bribes were paid and pocketed in connection with the sponsorship of the Brazilian national soccer team by “a major U.S. sportswear company.” This company was later determined to be Nike. In an initial statement Nike denied any involvement in the payment of bribes and said they were cooperating with the relevant authorities. However, they later changed this original statement to say, “Like fans everywhere we care passionately about the game and are concerned by the very serious allegations. Nike believes in ethical and fair play in both business and sport and strongly opposes any form of manipulation or bribery. We have been cooperating, and will continue to cooperate, with the authorities.”

Nike is not alone in its World Cup sponsorship as there are numerous other American companies involved, both sportswear manufacturers and other retailers, such as those from the beverage industry. The involvement of US companies and companies subject to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) brings up the specter of the FCPA for companies involved in FIFA sponsorship and marketing partnerships. I do not see this as an issue so much about level playing fields for business or even the greater benefits that US companies can bring even when they are required to pay bribes. (The latter argument was used by Wal-Mart apologists around the company’s payments of bribes to do business in Mexico as benefiting the people of Mexico. Let us be quite clear-the bribes paid by Wal-Mart benefitted Wal-Mart and its income from its Mexican operations.)

Information in the indictments was quite damning about the involvement of a company identified as ‘sportswear company A or E’. In a Financial Times (FT) article, entitled “Fifa corruption scandal threatens to engulf Nike as sponsors raise pressure”, Joe Leahy and Mark Odell reported one of the cooperating defendants Jose Hawilla, owner of Traffic Group and who has pled guilty, acted as a third party agent for Nike’s landmark 1996 agreement to allow Nike to fit out the Brazilian national soccer team. Moreover, the article noted, “The prosecutors said that additional financial terms between Traffic and the unnamed sportswear company were not reflected in the CBF agreement. Under these terms, the company agreed to pay a Traffic affiliate with a Swiss bank account an additional $30m in ‘base compensation’ on top of the $160m it paid to the CBF. Three days later, the company and Traffic signed a one-page contract saying the CBF had authorized Traffic to invoice Nike directly “for marketing fees earned upon successful negotiation and performance of the agreement”. Anyone see any Red Flags in that scenario?

Beyond the criminal side of the FCPA, there is the civil side enforced by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) through the Accounting Provisions, which consist of the books and records provisions and the internal controls provisions. According to the FCPA Guidance, “The FCPA’s accounting provisions operate in tandem with the anti-bribery provisions and prohibit off-the-books accounting. Company management and investors rely on a company’s financial statements and internal accounting controls to ensure transparency in the financial health of the business, the risks undertaken, and the transactions between the company and its customers and business partners. The accounting provisions are designed to “strengthen the accuracy of the corporate books and records and the reliability of the audit process which constitute the foundations of our system of corporate disclosure.””

As was made clear with the recent BHP Billiton FCPA enforcement action, violations of the accounting provisions do not apply only to brib­ery-related violations of the FCPA. The FCPA Guidance states these provisions “stand alone to help investors have assurance that all public companies account for all of their assets and liabilities accurately and in reasonable detail.” For the books and records provisions this means that US public companies must “make and keep books, records, and accounts, which, in reasonable detail, accurately and fairly reflect the transactions and dispositions of the assets of the issuer.” For the internal controls provisions, US public companies must provide a system of internal controls that “provide reasonable assurances regarding the reliability of financial reporting and the preparation of financial statements.” In other words, the accounting provisions are designed to protect investors in addition to working towards preventing, detecting and remediating bribery and corruption.

In addition to these basic legal requirements, which are all set out in the FCPA and violation thereof could lead to criminal or civil exposure; there will be the costs. The FCPA Professor has identified “three buckets” of costs relating to an alleged FCPA violation. The first is the pre-resolution investigative and remediation costs, the second is the fine and penalty assessment and the third is the post-resolution implementation costs. It is generally recognized that buckets one and three can be up to two to six times the amount of the fine and penalty.

But with the FIFA scandal, there will be another huge factor for companies to consider and that is the negative publicity. This scandal is the largest worldwide corruption case ever brought. It is also the highest profile corruption case ever brought. It will command attention for years to come. If any US companies are linked to bribery and corruption at FIFA, their name will be dragged through the international press ad nauseum. If there are leaks about information on companies before they investigate or get out ahead of any allegations, which may spill into the press, it will certainly not look good.

For a taste of this you can look to the accounting firm KPMG, who is the auditor for FIFA. In a story originally reported by Francine McKenna at the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) and later reported by the New York Times (NYT), KPMG has blessed FIFA’s books since at least 1999. In the NYT piece, entitled “As FIFA case grows, focus turns to its auditors”, Lynnley Browning wrote that the KPMG audits “only heightens the puzzling disconnect between the different pictures that are emerging of FIFA as an organization: riddled with bribes and kickbacks in the view of prosecutors yet spotless according to the outsider most privy to its internal financial dealings.” How well do you think KPMG will come out of this?

The bottom line is that any US company or any other entity subject to the FCPA had better take a close look at its dealings with FIFA, regional soccer federations such as CONCACAF and national soccer federations. A full review is in order starting with who you did business with and how you did business with them. As Mike Brown would say, “follow the money” and see where it went, if you can account for it and if it was properly recorded on your company’s books and records. Finally, now would be a very propitious time to review your internal controls; for even if you had a robust paper system of internal controls like BHP Billiton did, if it is simply a check-the-box exercise or even worse you do not follow the internal compliance controls you have in place, you should begin remediation now.

As to why Americans should care about US companies engaging in corruption, that answer would seem to be straightforward. Companies which engage in bribery and corruption mislead investors and diminish the marketplace of information to base investments upon. If a company is engaging in bribery and corruption, they never report it in their books and records; they always try to hide it so that it cannot be detected. Usually poor internal controls exist, which can allow bribery and corruption to exist or even the possibility of it, once again demeaning the value of a company if that company cannot assure its investors that funds will be paid out with the approval of management. Further, contracts or other business obtained through bribery and corruption presents a false picture of the true financial health of a company as it allows profits obtained through illegal means to be booked as legitimate. Finally, if a company is engaging in bribery and corruption, the financial cost to the company can be astronomic. There is only one Wal-Mart that can sustain hundreds of millions dollars spent to investigate allegations of bribery and corruption and remediate any issues. Avon spent north of $500MM on its pre-resolution investigation and remediation. All of this does not even get to the issue of inflated stock values and the inevitable shareholder derivative litigation. Lastly, there is reputational damage. If a company is willing to engage in bribery and corruption as a part of a business strategy do you want to invest in the organization?

As an American should I care about US companies involved in the FIFA corruption scandal? If the facts reported in the FT are close to correct, I would certainly think so. If monies were paid by a ‘sportswear’ company in the form of marketing fees to Traffic or even a flat $40MM payment to a Traffic affiliates Swiss bank account, this is something which should not be tolerated.

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2015

 

 

 

 

Agatha ChristieI conclude my week of exploration of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple short stories and the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) enforcement of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) by reviewing some of the new things I’ve learnt during this week of research. I learned that Christie made several social observations and revealed much about herself through these stories. She is very much constrained by the roles given to women in the early to mid-1920s, including the lack of a proper education. She also writes about some of the disdainful attitudes of people to an older woman. I found a number of inside jokes that Christie placed into the stories, even referring to the prevalence of detective fiction in print and on the stage at the time the stories were written. Finally is the fact that people make the mistake of not noticing her but that she is watching them and listening and that they will remain unaware of her presence for not too much longer.

In his recent blog post, entitled “Are You An FCPA Contender Or Pretender?”, the FCPA Professor suggested that if you want to practice in the area of FCPA compliance, you really should take the time to read some of the very few underlying sources and documents relating to the subject. After my week exploration of the SEC enforcement of the FCPA, I would note that you can learn quite a bit by heeding his advice.

Internal Controls

There was a trend, beginning in the fall of 2014 of SEC FCPA enforcement actions, where the Department of Justice (DOJ) either declined to prosecute the company or settled with the company via a Non-Prosecution Agreement (NPA). This led me to conclude that the SEC was ramping up its review and enforcement of the accounting provisions under the FCPA separate and apart from criminal side enforcement of the FCPA by the DOJ. Earlier this month, when Andrew Ceresney, the SEC Director, Division of Enforcement, spoke at CBI’s Pharmaceutical Compliance Congress in Washington DC he discussed the importance of internal controls in SEC enforcement. While his remarks were primarily directed “in the context of financial reporting” I believe they could be equally applicable in the FCPA compliance context.

Ceresney said, “What kinds of practice pointers for how to avoid these issues? Well, in cases we have brought, we see controls that were not carefully designed to match the business, or that were not updated as the business changed and grew. And we see that senior leadership was not asking the tough questions – and sometimes not even asking the easy questions. Senior management in some cases was just not engaged in any real discussion about the controls. As a result, employees did not properly focus on them and the firm and its shareholders are put at risk.” I think these statements, particularly taken in the context of his overall remarks, portend a greater focus on internal controls review and enforcement in the FCPA context.

Finally, in the area of internal controls, is the interplay of Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) with FCPA enforcement and several sections of the Act that have FCPA implications. These include SOX §302 that requires the principle officers of a company to “take responsibility for and certify the integrity of these company’s financial reports on a quarterly basis.” Under SOX §404 companies must present annually their conclusion “regarding the effectiveness of the company’s internal controls over accounting.” Finally, SOX §802 prohibits “altering, destroying, mutilating, concealing or falsifying records, documents or tangible objects” with the intent to obstruct or influence a federal investigation, such as the FCPA.

Every public company is required to report on its internal controls. The SEC may well start mining those required, annual public disclosures for information on compliance internal controls. If the SEC finds a company’s report lacking and then after requesting further information, still finds a company’s response lacking, a company may be looking at strict liability and a financial penalty based on profit disgorgement as I lay out next.

Strict Liability

I have written about the coming of strict liability to the SEC enforcement of the FCPA’s accounting provisions, including books and records and internal controls. However, after having read, re-read and reviewed the FCPA and commentary, I now believe that a strict liability interpretation for enforcement of the FPCA is fully supported by the plain language of the Act itself. I come to this conclusion because there is no language in the text of the Act that ties the accounting provision requirements to any other operative violation of the statute. In other words, there is no language that says that an accounting provisions violation must be tied to an offer or payment of a bribe to obtain or retain business. While the FCPA does not specifically say that a company will be strictly liable for a violation of the accounting provisions, it is certainly not prohibited. Since violations of the accounting provisions as enforced by the SEC are civil violations only, I now believe that such a position is not prohibited by the Act.

Profit Disgorgement 

Similar to my views on strict liability for accounting violations, I have also come to believe that profit disgorgement is a remedy fully supported and available to the SEC in FCPA enforcement actions. This change was made by an un-related law, entitled The Penny Stock Reform Act of 1990, which amended the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 to: allow the SEC to (1) impose tiered civil money penalties pursuant to administrative findings of violations of the Act; (2) enter an order requiring an accounting and disgorgement; (3) issue cease and desist orders; and (4) issue temporary restraining orders. Profit disgorgement has generally been considered an equitable remedy. Sasah Kalb and Marc Alain Bohn, in their article “Disgorgement: The Devil You Don’t Know, wrote “As an equitable remedy, disgorgement is not intended as tool to punish, but as a vehicle for preventing unjust enrichment. The SEC is therefore only permitted to recover the approximate amount earned from the alleged illicit activities. Disgorging anything more would be considered punitive.”

In conjunction with this equitable nature for profit disgorgement, is the concept of proportionality. In the article by David C. Weiss, entitled “The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, SEC Disgorgement of Profits and the Evolving International Bribery Regime: Weighing Proportionality, Retribution and Deterrence”, he wrote that regarding proportionality “punishment schemes fail a utilitarian test when the punishment exceeds, or threatens to exceed, the offense. Put another way, deterrence requires that a punishment be proportionate to the harm—allowing for some multiplier based on the likelihood of being caught. Punishments that are not proportionate are not justified under this utilitarian theory.”

Profit Disgorgement as a Remedy for Strict Liability

In this final section, I give my opinion as to where I think the next step of SEC enforcement may be headed. I think it will be a combination of the enforcement of the accounting provisions of the FCPA through a strict liability reading of them by the SEC to the remedy of profit disgorgement. Admittedly this opinion seems contrary to the equitable nature of the remedy of profit disgorgement. However the greater focus of SEC scrutiny and enforcement of the accounting provisions point me in that direction. While it is also true that profit disgorgement has traditionally required some specific ill-gotten gains; with the statutory authority provided by the Penny Stock Act to the SEC allows for disgorgement with no language around its equitable beginning, this may be enough for the SEC to make such an intellectual leap. Further, as noted by Kalb and Bohn, “Because calculations like these often prove difficult, courts tend to give the SEC considerable discretion in determining what constitutes an ill-gotten gain by requiring only a reasonable approximation of the profits which are causally connected to the violation.”

The final component is the lack of judicial review in FCPA enforcement actions. Every practitioner is aware of the absolute dearth of cases in this area. With the SEC moving towards more administrative actions, through the 2010 Dodd-Frank amendment that enables the SEC to collect civil penalties through administrative proceedings, there may not be many federal district court reviews going forward. Of course to have a federal district court review of a remedy, it generally takes the defendant to make some objection and companies seemingly do not wish to take on the SEC in any FCPA enforcement matter (or the DOJ for that matter). But even if there was a federal district review of a Cease and Desist Order filed before it, you almost never hear the court reject an agreed Order on the grounds that the remedy was too harsh or unwarranted.

I hope you have enjoyed and learned something this week unique to the SEC enforcement of the FCPA. I know I have both enjoyed reading many of the excellent commentators I have reviewed during my research. David Weiss, Marc Alain Bohn, Sasha Kalb, Russ Ryan and the FCPA Professor have all contributed significant legal work and thought leadership in this area that I have built some of my theories on so I thank them for their contributions. Another joy was reading Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple short stories. If you have a few evenings or some down time for spring break or summer vacation, I suggest you pick up the volume. It is just like visiting with an old friend on a dark and stormy night…

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2015

 

 

Miss Marple Short StoriesI am a huge Agatha Christie fan. I have read most of the Poriot novels and many of the Jane Marple novels as well. However, I was not aware of Christie’s work in the short story format until I recently read a volume entitled Miss Marple Short Stories. This volume included 13 short stories first published in 1932. In many ways reading them was like revisiting an old friend, who had new stories to tell me that I had not previously heard. So in honor of my love of Agatha Christie and her short stories, I will theme my blog posts this week around one of her original short stories, published as The Thirteen Problems.

The first story was called The Tuesday Night Club and introduced Miss Marple and her cast of characters around these stories. Each was asked to relate some mystery and the others would try and solve the mystery. As with most of Christie’s writing, there were the stories and the characters who were, in many ways, stories themselves so there was a double layer of intersection. In this story a wife died of poisoning and her husband was the prime suspect. However Miss Marple deduced that the couple’s longtime housekeeper who has gotten “into trouble” through a liaison with the husband had poisoned the wife in hope’s of marrying the now widow. The group around Miss Marple was astounded when her deduction was confirmed by the storyteller when he related the housekeeper’s own deathbed confession.

Just as many readers may not have focused on Agatha Christie’s work in the short story format, many Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) practitioners tend to focus on Department of Justice (DOJ) FCPA enforcement actions. However, just as Christie aficionados who did not focus on her short stories, many FPCA compliance practitioners do not tend to focus on FCPA enforcement by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). To help address this, over the next week I will discuss issues relating to SEC enforcements.

Today, I begin with reviewing some jurisdictional issues unique to the SEC; commonly referred to as the FCPA accounting provisions, they consist of the books and records provisions which, as set out in the FCPA Guidance, requires that “issuers must make and keep books, records, and accounts that, in reasonable detail, accurately and fairly reflect an issuer’s transactions and dispositions of an issuer’s assets and internal controls requirements.” Under the internal controls provisions, “issuers must devise and maintain a system of internal accounting controls sufficient to assure management’s control, authority, and responsibility over the firm’s assets.”

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the ‘accounting provisions’ under the FCPA as stated in the FCPA Guidance, is as follows: , “Although the accounting provisions were originally enacted as part of the FCPA, they do not apply only to bribery-related violations. Rather, the accounting provisions ensure that all public companies account for all of their assets and liabilities accurately and in reasonable detail”. [emphasis supplied] This means there can be strict liability for stand alone violations of these provisions, with no ties back to the corrupt intent or elements of a FCPA violation are present.

Who is covered under SEC enforcement of the FCPA? 

The SEC prosecutes ‘issuers’ who are defined as a company “that has a class of securities registered pursuant to Section 12 of the Exchange Act or that is required to file annual or other period reports pursuant to Section 15(d) of the Exchange Act.” The SEC also enforces the FCPA against companies “whose securities trade on a national securities exchange in the United States, including foreign issuers with exchange traded American Depository Receipts” and trade in over-the counter markets. While the SEC does not bring enforcement actions against private companies, private companies are also subject to the FCPA, just as public companies for bribing a foreign government official, in violation of the FCPA.

Accounting Provisions

Consistent with the concern that bribe payments are often disguised as other types of payments in a company’s books and records, “requires issuers to “make and keep books, records, and accounts, which, in reasonable detail, accurately and fairly reflect the transactions and dispositions of the assets of the issuer.”” The “in reasonable detail” qualification was adopted by Congress “in light of the concern that such a standard, if unqualified, might connote a degree of exactitude and precision which is unrealistic.” The addition of this phrase was intended to make clear “that the issuer’s records should reflect transactions in conformity with accepted methods of recording economic events and effectively prevent off-the-books slush funds and payments of bribes.”

The Guidance goes on to give several examples of SEC enforcement actions of the books and record provisions where bribes were mischaracterized in a company’s books and records. Such examples include bribes paid out in the guise of commissions, royalties or consulting fees. Another prominent example includes reimbursement for sales and marketing or miscellaneous expenses where no such activity occurred. A favorite has been mischaracterized travel and entertainment expenses. Finally, a large group of often over-looked expenses include free goods for demonstration products, intercompany accounts, vendor payments and customer write-offs.

A key distinction of FCPA enforcement by the SEC from other types of accounting fraud is that there is no materiality requirement under the FCPA. Typically, internal audit, external audit or even forensic accounting, only review material transactions. Obviously for a large multi-national company subject to the FCPA, materiality could be millions of dollars or multiplies thereof. However we have seen FCPA enforcement actions with corrupt payments made in the low thousands of dollars.

Internal Controls Provisions

The FCPA says that internal controls requires issuers to devise and maintain a system of internal accounting controls sufficient to provide reasonable assurances that—

(i) transactions are executed in accordance with management’s general or specific authorization;

(ii) transactions are recorded as necessary (I) to permit preparation of financial statements in conformity with generally accepted accounting principles or any other criteria applicable to such statements, and (II) to maintain accountability for assets;

(iii) access to assets is permitted only in accordance with management’s general or specific authorization; and

(iv) the recorded accountability for assets is compared with the existing assets at reasonable intervals and appropriate action is taken with respect to any differences.

As further explained in the FCPA Guidance, “the Act defines “reasonable assurances” as “such level of detail and degree of assurance as would satisfy prudent officials in the conduct of their own affairs.” Neither the FCPA nor the FCPA Guidance specifies a particular set of controls that companies are required to implement. However the FCPA Guidance does note, “the internal controls provision gives companies the flexibility to develop and maintain a system of controls that is appropriate to their particular needs and circumstances.”

Moreover, the FCPA Guidance recognizes that “An effective compliance program is a critical component of an issuer’s internal controls.” To do so, a company needs to access its risk and then design and implement a system of internal controls to “account the operational realities and risks attendant to the company’s business.” The FCPA Guidance suggests some of these areas should include “the nature of its products or services; how the products or services get to market; the nature of its work force; the degree of regulation; the extent of its government interaction; and the degree to which it has operations in countries with a high risk of corruption”. But the over-riding key is to assess your company’s FCPA compliance risks and set up a set of internal controls to help manage those risks effectively.

Other SEC Enforcement Areas Relating to FCPA Compliance 

In addition to the accounting provisions there are other laws and regulations that the SEC enforces and ties into FCPA enforcement. As noted in the FCPA Guidance, “Issuers have reporting obligations under Section 13(a) of the Exchange Act, which requires issuers to file an annual report that contains comprehensive information about the issuer. Failure to properly disclose material information about the issuer’s business, including material revenue, expenses, profits, assets, or liabilities related to bribery of foreign government officials, may give rise to anti-fraud and reporting violations under Sections 10(b) and 13(a) of the Exchange Act.”

There are also several sections under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) that have FCPA implications. These include SOX §302 that requires the principle officers of a company “take responsibility for and certify the integrity of these company’s financial reports on a quarterly basis.” Under SOX §404 companies must present annually their conclusion “regarding the effectiveness of the company’s internal controls over accounting.” Finally, SOX §802 prohibits “altering, destroying, mutilating, concealing or falsifying records, documents or tangible objects” with the intent to obstruct or influence a federal investigation, such as the FCPA.

The remainder of this week I will tie another Miss Marple short story to another SEC FCPA enforcement issue. I hope that you will tune in for the next installment.

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This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2015

ByzantiumPorphyry is a type of stone that was much favored in the Roman world. In a review of several books in the New York Review of Books, entitled “The Purple Stone of Emperors”, Peter Brown looked into the history of the lithic in the context of Byzantium as the true heir of the Roman Empire. He theorized that if “porphyry was the blood of ancient empire, then it must be to Constantinople that we should look (and not to Western Europe) if we wish to understand the heritage of Rome in the Middle Ages.” I found that an appropriate way to think about an apparent anomaly in the recent Alstom Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) enforcement action. In Part III of my series on the Alstom natter I consider the accounting records violations that the French parent, Alstom SA, agreed to in this enforcement action.

The FCPA Professor noted in his second blog post on this matter, entitled “Issues to Consider from the Alstom Action”, “The charges against Alstom S.A. are a real head-scratcher. The conventional wisdom for why the Alstom action involved only a DOJ (and not SEC) component is that Alstom ceased being an issuer in 2004 (in other words 10 years prior to the enforcement action). Yet, the actual criminal charges Alstom pleaded guilty to – violations of the FCPA’s books and records and internal controls provisions – were based on Alstom’s status as an issuer (as only issuers are subject to these substantive provisions). In other words, Alstom pleaded guilty to substantive legal provisions in 2014 that last applied to the company in 2004.”

The Professor had also raised this issue in his first blog post on the resolution, entitled “All About the Alstom Enforcement Action”. After considering his thoughts on this issue, I decided to look into it a bit more deeply. Alstom SA was charged with several different FCPA violations including the following, 15 U.S.C. 78m(b)(2)(A), 15 USC §78m(b)(2)(B) and 78m(b)(5) which read in whole,

15 U.S.C. § 78m [Section 13 of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934] 

(b) Form of report; books, records, and internal accounting; directives

(2) Every issuer which has a class of securities registered pursuant to section 78l of this title and every issuer which is required to file reports pursuant to section 78o(d) of this title shall—

(A) make and keep books, records, and accounts, which, in reasonable detail, accurately and fairly reflect the transactions and dispositions of the assets of the issuer;

(B) devise and maintain a system of internal accounting controls sufficient

to provide reasonable assurances that—

(5) No person shall knowingly circumvent or knowingly fail to imple­ment a system of internal accounting controls or knowingly falsify any book, record, or account described in paragraph (2).

These provisions are generally referred to as the ‘accounting provisions’ of the FCPA. As stated in the FCPA Guidance, “In addition to the anti-bribery provisions, the FCPA contains accounting provisions applicable to public companies. The FCPA’s accounting provisions operate in tandem with the anti-bribery provisions and prohibit off-the-books accounting. Company management and investors rely on a company’s financial statements and internal accounting controls to ensure transparency in the financial health of the business, the risks undertaken, and the transactions between the company and its customers and business partners. The accounting provisions are designed to “strengthen the accuracy of the corporate books and records and the reliability of the audit process which constitute the foundations of our system of corporate disclosure.””

Moreover, these accounting provisions, including both the books and records and internal control provisions, are defined to apply to “issuers”. As set out in the FCPA Guidance, “The FCPA’s accounting provisions apply to every issuer that has a class of securities registered pursuant to Section 12 of the Exchange Act or that is required to file annual or other periodic reports pursuant to Section 15(d) of the Exchange Act.244 These provisions apply to any issuer whose securities trade on a national securities exchange in the United States, including foreign issuers with exchange traded American Depository Receipts. They also apply to companies whose stock trades in the over-the-counter market in the United States and which file periodic reports with the Commission, such as annual and quarterly reports. Unlike the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions, the accounting provisions do not apply to private companies.”

Charging Box Score

Alstom Entity Charges Time of Criminal Conduct Issuer Status
Alstom SA 15 USC §78m(b)(2)(A)15 USC §78m(b)(2)(B)15 USC §78m(b)(5)

15 USC §78ff(a)

18 USC §2

1998-2004 Issuer until 2004
Alstom Power Inc. 18 USC §371-conspiracy to violate the FCPA 2002-2009 Subsidiary of Issuer until 2004
Alstom Grid Inc. 18 USC §371-conspiracy to violate the FCPA 2000-2010 Subsidiary of Issuer until 2004
Alstom Network Schweiz AG 18 USC §371-conspiracy to violate the FCPA 2000-2011 Subsidiary of Issuer until 2004

While I agree with the above, I do disagree with the Professor’s final statement that “This free-for-all, anything goes, as long as the enforcement agencies collect the money nature of FCPA enforcement undermines the legitimacy and credibility of FCPA enforcement.” The reason I disagree is that this was a negotiated settlement, not a dictat or court proceeding. With no doubt excellent FCPA defense counsel involved, Alstom must have had its own reasons for agreeing to such a settlement. Without any further comment by the company, we will have to speculate as to some of the reasons for this component of the resolution.

First and foremost is that clearly Alstom did engage in conduct which substantially violated the FCPA. It would further appear that the conduct reached right up into the corporate home offices in France. By agreeing to the books and records and internal control violations, Alstom may have avoided any direct admission of guilt under French law, which we now know from the Total FCPA enforcement action is significant for a French company, because what is illegal bribery and corruption under US law is not necessarily illegal under French law.

Other than the anomalous French law issue, there may be another important consideration going on here. Alstom is under acquisition by General Electric (GE). Not only does GE pride itself and very publicly inform about its anti-corruption compliance program, GE has a large number of contracts with the US and other governments which might looks askance at doing business with a business unit that admitted to substantive FCPA violations of bribery and corruption. While I do not think that GE would be in danger of being debarred, it might well be that certain governments might not want to do business with a new subsidiary which made such a court admission. I find this to be more than simply a distinction without a difference. Consider the trouble that Hewlett-Packard (HP) is in north of the border in Canada regarding potential debarment by the Canadian government for its FCPA violations as set forth in its FCPA resolution of last April. So perhaps from Alstom’s perspective, the company believed it received benefits from settling based upon accounting violations.

But whatever the reason, it is clear that Alstom did engage in substantive FCPA violations. It’s settlement is that, a settlement of outstanding issues, which the company was a willing participant. It may not have been what the company wanted but I do not find that by charging Alstom for books and records and internal controls violations for the time frame it was clearly liable in any way demeans, degrades or lessens FCPA enforcement going forward. But just as we need to look to Byzantium to determine the heritage of Rome through the Middle Ages, by looking at the facts and circumstances around Alstom’s FCPA from the Alstom perspective and what it hoped to obtain in the settlement, we might be able to glean some insights.

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2015

In my final post of 2013, I reviewed all of the individual Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement actions which occurred in the past year. In this first post of 2014, I review all the corporate enforcement actions in 2013. If you would like to have a handy reference on all of the 2013 FCPA enforcement actions, I am pleased to announce the publication of my latest book, entitled, “2013-the FCPA Year in Review”. It is available in an eBook format on Amazon.com.

A.     Total

Total SA engaged in a nearly decade long, breathtaking bribery scheme. In this scheme, Total paid approximately $60MM to an un-named Iranian Official of the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC), who steered two major projects Total’s way. The projects for which Total paid the bribes were the Sirri A and E oil and gas fields and South Pars gas field. Total paid a criminal penalty to the DOJ of $245.2 million and civil penalty of $153 to the SEC.” Total’s agreed monetary penalty of $398MM was the fourth biggest FCPA resolution.

B.     Parker Drilling

The company was involved in a bribery scheme to pay-off judges in a Nigerian Tax Court to allow Parker Drilling to pay lower than warranted tax assessments for its drilling rigs in the country. Due to its efforts to create a gold standard compliance program all the while undergoing its own internal investigation, Parker Drilling’s conduct earned it an “approximately 20 percent reduction off the bottom of the fine range” which suggested a fine of between $14.7MM to $29.4MM. The final DOJ fine was $11,760,000. The company also agreed to pay disgorgement of $3,050MM plus pre-judgment interest of $1,040,818, to the SEC.

C.     Ralph Lauren

The Ralph Lauren Company received Non-Prosecution Agreements (NPA) granted by the SEC and DOJ. The illegal conduct at issue related to its Argentinian subsidiary and efforts by the General Manager of that operation, who conspired with a customs clearance agency to make payments “to assist in improperly obtaining paperwork necessary for goods to clear customs, to permit clearance of items without the necessary paperwork, to permit the clearance of prohibited items, and to avoid inspection.” For its conduct, Ralph Lauren agreed to pay $882K to the DOJ and $593K in disgorgement and $141K in pre-judgment interest to the SEC.

D.    Weatherford

In late November, Weatherford International Limited (Weatherford) concluded one of the longest running open FCPA investigations when it agreed to the ninth largest FCPA fine of all-time and one of its subsidiaries, Weatherford Services Limited (WSL), agreed to plead guilty to violating the anti-bribery provisions of the FCPA. The total amount of fines and penalties for the FCPA violations was $152.6 million. The company was also hit with another $100 million in fines and penalties for trade sanctions bringing its total amount paid to $252.6 million. The bribery schemes that Weatherford used were varied but stunning in their brazen nature. But in spite of how things began, Weatherford was able to make a turnaround and substantially improve its position by reversing this initial nose-thumbing at US regulators.

E.     Stryker

In an interesting FCPA enforcement action resolved in October, the Stryker Corporation agreed to settle with the SEC via an Administrative Order, not a criminal action filed by the DOJ. According to the FCPA Blog, “The SEC said Stryker Corporation will pay $13.2 million to resolve FCPA violations. The bribes totaled about $2 million and were ‘incorrectly described as legitimate expenses in the company’s books and records,’ according to the SEC. Stryker will disgorge to the SEC $7.5 million and prejudgment interest of $2.28 million. It is also paying a penalty of $3.5 million.” SEC Complaint. There was not even a civil Complaint filed by the SEC and Stryker is not required to have a Corporate Monitor to assess its ongoing compliance efforts or its commitment to having a compliance program.

F.     Diebold

In late October, Diebold, an Ohio company which makes ATM machines, agreed to pay a criminal fine of $25.2 million to the DOJ and $23 million in disgorgement and prejudgment interest to the SEC to resolve allegations it violated the FCPA by covering up bribes to bank officials in China, Indonesia and Russia. The total fine of just over $48MM. The DOJ charged it in a two-count information with conspiring to violate the FCPA’s anti-bribery and books and records provisions and a substantive books and records offense. There were no charges under the anti-bribery provisions, which apply only to corrupt payments to foreign officials. The Diebold resolution took the form of a DPA with the DOJ, along with a fines and a Corporate Monitor. From its resolution with the SEC in addition to the profit disgorgement and prejudgment interest paid the company agreed to an agreed injunction to stop, once again, violating the FCPA.

G.    Bilfinger SE

In early December, DOJ announced it had resolved an ongoing FCPA with German entity Bilfinger SE (Bilfinger). This case involved the same background facts and events as the Willbros corporate FCPA enforcement action and the related individual enforcement actions with some of its former employees. The facts in this case were bad, bad, bad. The Bilfinger enforcement action moves towards the ending of one of the sorriest examples of corporate malfeasance in the FCPA world. While it took a long time, justice has certainly been a long time coming. With the continued flight from justice of former Willbros employee James Tillery who renounce his US citizenship to try and escape prosecution by taking refuge in Nigeria; perhaps things are coming to an end. But with the conclusion of this corporate enforcement action against Bilfinger, perhaps there may be additional individual enforcement actions.

H.    Archer-Daniels-Midland

In late December, it was announced by the DOJ and SEC that they had settled both a criminal and civil enforcement action with Archer-Daniels-Midland Company. The DOJ resolved the criminal action when a subsidiary of ADM pled guilty and agreed to pay more than $17 million in criminal fines to resolve charges that it paid bribes through vendors to Ukrainian government officials to obtain value-added tax (VAT) refunds, in violation of the FCPA. In a parallel civil FCPA action settled with the SEC and the SEC Press Release noted that “The payments were then concealed by improperly recording the transactions in accounting records as insurance premiums and other purported business expenses. ADM had insufficient anti-bribery compliance controls and made approximately $33 million in illegal profits as a result of the bribery by its subsidiaries.” In addition to the DOJ fine of $17.8MM, ADM agreed to pay “disgorgement of $33,342,012 plus prejudgment interest of $3,125,354.”

What Did It All Mean?

The clear message from these corporate enforcement actions is that early detection and remediation can lead to a significant reduction in fines and penalties. I believe that these corporate enforcement actions make clear that a company’s actions during the pendency of the investigation, in addition to the underlying FCPA violations, will be evaluated and assessed to determine the final penalty. The DOJ and SEC continue to communicate not only what they believe constitutes a best practices compliance program but equally importantly what actions a company can engage in which will significantly reduce a company’s overall fine and penalty. Both the DOJ and SEC continue to communicate, through their enforcement actions, to the compliance practitioner what they expect from companies in the way of a best practices compliance program and what a company should do if they discover a potential FCPA violation. These communications, through enforcement actions, DPAs, NPAs and Declinations, are consistent with the information provided by the DOJ/SEC in the FCPA Guidance. These enforcement actions demonstrate that if a company gets ahead of the curve, it can significantly lessen its overall penalty and pain.

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2014