Scaling the WallI recently wrote about the stupidity of General Custer and the defeat of his Calvary at Little Bighorn as a lead in for the failure to adequately assess and then manage risks in a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) compliance program. I received the following comment from a reader:

As a military history buff, I note that your comments on risk assessment reflect a very limited view of the battle. The Sioux made superb use of reconnaissance, fire and maneuver. The cavalry’s underestimation of the military skills of their Indian enemies were immediately assessed and dealt with aplomb and considerable skill. The great lesson to be learned from the Battle of the Little Big Horn is that there is great opportunity in exploiting the tactical stupidity of the overconfident. Reminds me of Napoleon and Prince Alexander at the Platzen Heights of Austerlitz. 

This comment made an excellent point that risk assessment and risk management are not simply to be viewed as negatives or a drag on business. These concepts are also valid in aiding companies to do business by exploitation of strategic risk. This point was driven home most clearly in the recent book by well-known risk management guru Norman Marks, entitled World-Class Risk Management. 

Marks’ thesis on this issue is that “It is essential that management take enough risk! If they take no risk, the organization will fail. So risk management is about taking the right risks for the organization at the desired levels, balancing the opportunities on the upside and the potential for harm on the downside” [emphasis in original]. I once heard former Chairman of Citigroup, John Reed say the reason a car has brakes is not to make it safer but so that you can drive faster. It is the same concept. FCPA compliance programs are often viewed as brakes on doing business. At best they slow things down and at worst the Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) is Dr. No from the Land of No.

However, as Marks points out in his chapter entitled “What is Risk and Why is Risk Management Important?”, it is a serious flaw to only see risk as a negative and indeed to limit risk management to the negative. He wrote, “Treating risk as only negative and overlooking the idea that organizations need to take risks in pursuit of their objectives. Effective risk management enables an organization to exploit opportunities and take on additional risk while staying in control and thereby, creating and preserving value.” He goes on to explain that a company should “understand the uncertainty between where we are and where we want to go so that we can take the right risks and optimize outcomes”.

These outcomes should be determined through an organization determining its risk appetite. Here Marks commented on the definition found in the COSO 2013 Framework for risk appetite by saying it is “the amount of risk, on a broad level, an organization is willing to accept in pursuit of value. Each organization pursues various objectives to add value and should broadly understand the risk it is willing to undertake in doing so.” As pointed out by the comment to my blog post on risk assessment and risk management, I focused on risks that were not properly assessed and not properly managed, leading to catastrophic results. But the comment pointed out that when properly used a risk assessment can lead to better management of risk and allow a company to take greater risk because it can manage the scenario more effectively. Marks stated this concept as “think of risk as a range: the low end is the minimum level of risk you are willing to take because you have the ability to accept risk, and recognize that taking the risk is essential to achieving your objective. The high end is the maximum level of risk you can afford to take.”

In the FCPA context, I think this is most clearly seen in the area of third party risk management. There are five steps to the lifecycle of third party management: (1) business justification; (2) questionnaire; (3) due diligence and its evaluation; (4) contract with compliance terms and conditions; and (5) post-contract management. If circumstances are such that you cannot fully perform all five steps to your satisfaction, this puts pressure on the remaining steps. In other words, while your risk may go up if one cannot be fully performed, it may well be that the additional risk can be mediated in another step.

The robustness of your third party risk management program can give you the ability to move forward and use third parties for a business advantage. Say you want to hire a royal family member from a certain foreign country as a third party representative. While at first blush this might seem to be prohibited under the FCPA, there are two Opinion Releases that hold that the mere hiring of a royal family member does not violate the FCPA. In Opinion Release 10-03 the Department of Justice (DOJ) reviewed the following factors of whether a Royal Family Member is a foreign governmental official, the factors were: “(i) how much control or influence the individual has over the levers of governmental power, execution, administration, finances, and the like; (ii) whether a foreign government characterizes an individual or entity as having governmental power; and (iii) whether and under what circumstances an individual (or entity) may act on behalf of, or bind, a government.”

Then in Opinion Release 12-01, the DOJ went further and added a duties test to what was believe to be a status test only. After initially noting that “A person’s mere membership in the royal family of the Foreign Country, by itself, does not automatically qualify that person as a “foreign official”” the DOJ goes on to reiterate its long held position that each question must turn on a “fact-intensive, case-by-case analysis” for resolution. The DOJ follows with a list of factors that should be considered. They include:

  1. The structure and distribution of power within a country’s government;
  2. A royal family’s current and historical legal status and powers;
  3. The individual’s position within the royal family; an individual’s present and past positions within the government;
  4. The mechanisms by which an individual could come to hold a position with governmental authority or responsibilities (such as, for example, royal succession);
  5. The likelihood that an individual would come to hold such a position;
  6. An individual’s ability, directly or indirectly, to affect governmental decision-making; and the (ubiquitous)
  7. Numerous other factors.

Additionally the DOJ recognized some of the risk management techniques that had been put into place by the company requesting the Opinion. These risk management techniques were having a robust anti-corruption compliance program and requiring one from the third party that had employed the royal family member. There was full transparency by the US Company in hiring the royal family member. The compensation was disclosed, was within a reasonable range and was appropriate for the services delivered to the company and the contract between the parties had appropriate FCPA compliance terms and conditions.

I had initially thought that the import of Opinion Release 12-01 was creative lawyering to create a new test around the hiring of royal family member and foreign government officials. However re-reading it in light of the comment to my earlier blog post and of Marks’ book, it can also be seen as an example of how using risk management can be a positive for a business going forward. I would posit to CCOs or compliance practitioners there may be ways to do business in compliance with the FCPA if you think of using your FCPA compliance program as a way to better manage risk to do business rather than simply saying something will violate your compliance program without thinking through how such a compliance risk could be managed effectively.

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

Dis-linkOne of my favorite words in the context of Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) enforcement is dis-link. I find it a useful adjective in explaining how certain conduct by a company must be separated from the winning of business. But it works on so many different levels when discussing the FCPA. Last week I thought about this concept of dis-linking when I read the second Opinion Release of 2014, that being 14-02. One of the clearest ways that the Department of Justice (DOJ) communicates is through the Opinion Release procedure. This procedure provides to the compliance practitioner solid and specific information about what steps a company needs to take in the pre-acquisition phase of due diligence. However, 14-02 directly answers many FCPA naysayers long incorrect claim about how companies step into FCPA liability through mergers and acquisitions (M&A) activity.

From the Opinion Release it was noted that the Requestor is a multinational company headquartered in the United States. Requestor desired to acquire a foreign consumer products company and it’s wholly owned subsidiary (collectively, the “Target”), both of which are incorporated and operate in a foreign country, never issuing securities in the United States. The Target had negligible business contacts in the US, including no direct sale or distribution of their products. In the course of its pre-acquisition due diligence of the Target, Requestor identified a number of likely improper payments by the Target to government officials of Foreign Country, as well as substantial weaknesses in accounting and recordkeeping. In light of the bribery and other concerns identified in the due diligence process, Requestor also detailed a plan for remedial pre-acquisition measures and post-acquisition integration steps. Requestor sought from the DOJ an Opinion as to whether the Department would then bring an FCPA enforcement action against Requestor for the Target’s pre-acquisition conduct. It was specifically noted that the Requestor did not seek an Opinion from the Department as to Requestor’s criminal liability for any post-acquisition conduct by the Target.

Improper Payments and Compliance Program Weaknesses

In preparing for the acquisition, Requestor undertook due diligence aimed at identifying, among other things, potential legal and compliance concerns at the Target. Requestor retained an experienced forensic accounting firm (“the Accounting Firm”) to carry out the due diligence review. This review brought to light evidence of apparent improper payments, as well as substantial accounting weaknesses and poor recordkeeping. The Accounting Firm reviewed approximately 1,300 transactions with a total value of approximately $12.9 million with over $100,000 in transactions that raised compliance issues. The vast majority of these transactions involved payments to government officials related to obtaining permits and licenses. Other transactions involved gifts and cash donations to government officials, charitable contributions and sponsorships, and payments to members of the state-controlled media to minimize negative publicity. None of the payments, gifts, donations, contributions, or sponsorships occurred in the US, none were made by or through a US person or issuer and apparently none went through a US bank.

The due diligence showed that the Target had significant recordkeeping deficiencies. Nonetheless, documentary records did not support the vast majority of the cash payments and gifts to government officials and the charitable contributions. There were expenses that were improperly and inaccurately classified. It was specifically noted that the accounting records were so disorganized that the Accounting Firm was unable to physically locate or identify many of the underlying records for the tested transactions. Finally, the Target had not developed or implemented a written code of conduct or other compliance policies and procedures, nor did the Target’s employees show an adequate understanding or awareness of anti-bribery laws and regulations.

Post-Acquisition Remediation

The Requestor presented several pre-closing steps to begin to remediate the Target’s weaknesses prior to the planned closing in 2015. Requestor aimed to complete the full integration of the Target into Requestor’s compliance and reporting structure within one year of the closing. Requestor has set forth an integration schedule of the Target that included various risk mitigation steps, dissemination and training with regard to compliance procedures and policies, standardization of business relationships with third parties, and formalization of the Target’s accounting and record-keeping in accordance with Requestor’s policies and applicable law.

DOJ Analysis

The DOJ noted black-letter letter when it stated, ““It is a basic principle of corporate law that a company assumes certain liabilities when merging with or acquiring another company. In a situation such as this, where a purchaser acquires the stock of a seller and integrates the target into its operations, successor liability may be conferred upon the purchaser for the acquired entity’s pre-existing criminal and civil liabilities, including, for example, for FCPA violations of the target. However this is tempered by the following from the 2012 FCPA Guidance, “Successor liability does not, however, create liability where none existed before. For example, if an issuer were to acquire a foreign company that was not previously subject to the FCPA’s jurisdiction, the mere acquisition of that foreign company would not retroactively create FCPA liability for the acquiring issuer.””

This means that because none of the payments were made in the US, none went through the US banking system and none involved a US person or entity that this would not lead to a creation of liability for the acquiring company. Moreover, there would be no continuing or ongoing illegal conduct going forward because “no contracts or other assets were determined to have been acquired through bribery that would remain in operation and from which Requestor would derive financial benefit following the acquisition.” Therefore there would be no jurisdiction under the FCPA to prosecute any person or entity involved after the acquisition.

The DOJ also provided this additional information, “To be sure, the Department encourages companies engaging in mergers and acquisitions to (1) conduct thorough risk-based FCPA and anti-corruption due diligence; (2) implement the acquiring company’s code of conduct and anti-corruption policies as quickly as practicable; (3) conduct FCPA and other relevant training for the acquired entity’s directors and employees, as well as third-party agents and partners; (4) conduct an FCPA-specific audit of the acquired entity as quickly as practicable; and (5) disclose to the Department any corrupt payments discovered during the due diligence process. See FCPA Guide at 29. Adherence to these elements by Requestor may, among several other factors, determine whether and how the Department would seek to impose post-acquisition successor liability in case of a putative violation.”

Discussion

Mike Volkov calls it ‘reading the tea leaves’ when it comes to what information the DOJ is communicating. However, sometimes I think it is far simpler. First, and foremost, 14-02 communicates that there is no such thing as ‘springing liability’ to an acquiring company in the FCPA context nor such a thing as simply buying a FCPA violation, simply through an acquisition only, there must be continuing conduct for FCPA liability to arise. Most clearly beginning with the FCPA Guidance, the DOJ and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) have communicated what companies need to do in any M&A environment. While many compliance practitioners had only focused on the post-acquisition integration and remediation; the clear import of 14-02 is to re-emphasize importance of the pre-acquisition phase.

Your due diligence must being in the pre-acquisition phase. The steps taken by the Requestor in this Opinion Release demonstrate some of the concrete steps that you can take. Some of the techniques you can use in the pre-acquisition phase include (1) having your internal or external legal, accounting, and compliance departments review a target’s sales and financial data, its customer contracts, and its third-party and distributor agreements; (2) performing a risk-based analysis of a target’s customer base; (3) performing an audit of selected transactions engaged in by the target; and (4) engaging in discussions with the target’s general counsel, vice president of sales, and head of internal audit regarding all corruption risks, compliance efforts, and any other major corruption-related issues that have surfaced at the target over the past ten years.

Whether you can make these inquiries or not, you will also need to engage in post-acquisition integration and remediation. 14-02 provides you with some of the steps you need to perform after the transaction is closed. If you cannot perform any or even an adequate pre-acquisition due diligence, the time frames you put in place after the acquisition closes may need to be compressed to make sure that you are not continuing any nefarious FCPA conduct going forward. But it all goes back to dis-linking. If a target is engaging in conduct that violates the FCPA but the target itself is not subject to the jurisdiction of the FCPA, you simply cannot afford to allow that conduct to continue. If you do allow such conduct to continue you will have bought a FCPA violation and your company will be actively engaging and participating in an ongoing FCPA violation. That is the final takeaway I derive from this Opinion Release; it is allowing corruption and bribery to continue which brings companies into FCPA grief. Opinion Release 14-02 provides you a roadmap of the steps you and your company can take to prevent such FCPA exposure.

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

Travel and GiftsEd. Note – I know yesterday I said this would be a two-part series but as usual I got carried away so it has become a three part series. Today I review the Opinion Releases and Enforcement Actions dealing with gifts, travel and entertainment.

A. Opinion Releases

  1. Gifts

In the early 1980s the Department of Justice (DOJ) issued three Opinion Releases related to gifts under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). While these Opinion Releases are clearly dated, they do remain instructive. In Opinion Release 82-01, the DOJ approved the gift of cheese samples made to Mexican governmental officials, made by the Department of Agriculture of the State of Missouri to promote the state of Missouri’s agricultural products. However the value of the cheese to be presented was not included. In Opinion Release 81-02, the DOJ approved a gift from the Iowa Beef Packers, Inc. to officials of the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Trade of its packaged beef products. The total value of all the samples presented was estimated to be less than $2,000 and the Iowa Beef Packers, Inc. averred that the individual sample packages would not exceed $250 in value. In Opinion Release 81-01, Bechtel sought approval to use the SGV Group to solicit business on behalf of Bechtel and Bechtel had proposed to reimburse the SGV Group for gift expenses incurred in this business solicitation. The DOJ approved gifts to be given by SGV in the amount of $500.00.

  1. Travel and Lodging for Governmental Officials

 Prior to the FCPA Guidance, the DOJ issued three Opinion Releases which offered guidance to companies considering whether, and if so how, to incur travel and lodging expenses for government officials. These facts provided strong guidance for any company that seeks to bring such governmental officials to the US for a legitimate business purpose. In Opinion Release 07-01, the Company was desired to cover the domestic expenses for a trip to the US for a six-person delegation of the government of an Asian country for an educational and promotional tour of one of the requestor’s US operations sites. In the Release the representations made to the DOJ were as follows:

  • A legal opinion from an established US law firm, with offices in the foreign country, stating that the payment of expenses by the US Company for the travel of the foreign governmental representatives did not violate the laws of the country involved;
  • The US Company did not select the foreign governmental officials who would come to the US for the training program;
  • The delegates who came to the US did not have direct authority over the decisions relating to the US Company’s products or services;
  • The US Company would not pay the expenses of anyone other than the selected officials;
  • The officials would not receive any entertainment, other than room and board from the US Company;
  • All expenses incurred by the US Company would be accurately reflected in this Company’s books and records.

In Opinion Release 07-02 the Company desired to pay certain domestic expenses for a trip within the US by approximately six junior to mid-level officials of a foreign government for an educational program at the Requestor’s US headquarters prior to the delegates attendance at an annual six-week long internship program for foreign insurance regulators sponsored by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC). In the Release the representations made to the DOJ were as follows:

  • The US Company would not pay the travel expenses or fees for participation in the NAIC program.
  • The US Company had no “non-routine” business in front of the foreign governmental agency.
  • The routine business it did have before the foreign governmental agency was guided by administrative rules with identified standards.
  • The US Company would not select the delegates for the training program.
  • The US Company would only host the delegates and not their families.
  • The US Company would pay all costs incurred directly to the US service providers and only a modest daily minimum to the foreign governmental officials based upon a properly presented receipt.
  • Any souvenirs presented would be of modest value, with the US Company’s logo.
  • There would be one four-hour sightseeing trip in the city where the US Company is located.
  • The total expenses of the trip are reasonable for such a trip and the training which would be provided at the home offices of the US Company.

Lastly, is Opinion Release 12-02, in which the Requestors, 19 non-profit adoption agencies located in the US, asked the DOJ about bringing certain foreign governmental officials involved in the foreign country’s adoption process to the US. All the foreign governmental officials were involved in the process of allowing children from their country go through the adoption process with the US non-profits involved. The trips to the US would be for two days of meetings. The purpose of the visit would be to demonstrate the Requestors’ work to the government officials so that the officials can see how adopted children from the foreign country had adjusted to life in the US and to help the Requestors learn how they can provide that information to the foreign country’s government with appropriate information during the adoption process. The Requestors would allow the government officials to meet with the Requestors’ employees and to inspect the Requestors’ offices and case files from previous adoptions. The foreign country’s government officials would also meet with families who had adopted children from their country and learn more about the Requestors’ work.

The Requestors stated that they would pay for the following:

  • Business class airfare on international portions of flights for ministers, members of the legislature, and the director of the Orphanage Agency; coach airfare for international portions of flights for all other government officials; and coach airfare for domestic portions of flights for all government officials;
  • Two or three nights hotel stay at a business-class hotel;
  • Meals during the officials’ stays; and
  • Transportation between agencies and local transportation.

What can one glean from these three Opinion Releases? Based upon them, it would seem that a US company could bring foreign officials into the US for legitimate business purposes. A key component is that the guidelines are clearly articulated in a compliance policy. Based upon these Releases the following should be incorporated into a compliance policy regarding travel and lodging:

  • Any reimbursement for air fare will be for economy class, unless it is a long haul international flight, high ranking foreign officials or those entitled to travel business class by contract.
  • Do not select the particular officials who will travel. That decision will be made solely by the foreign government.
  • Only host the designated officials and not their spouses or family members.
  • Pay all costs directly to the service providers; in the event that an expense requires reimbursement, you may do so, up to a modest daily minimum (e.g., $35), upon presentation of a written receipt.
  • Any souvenirs you provide the visiting officials should reflect the business and/or logo and would be of nominal value, e.g., shirts or tote bags.
  • Apart from the expenses identified above, do not compensate the foreign government or the officials for their visit, do not fund, organize, or host any other entertainment, side trips, or leisure activities for the officials, or provide the officials with any stipend or spending money.
  • The training costs and expenses will be only those necessary and reasonable to educate the visiting officials about the operation of your company.

Incorporation of these concepts into a compliance program is a good first step towards preventing any FCPA violations from arising, but it must be emphasized that they are only a first step. These guidelines must be coupled with active training of all personnel, not only on the compliance policy, but also on the corporate and individual consequences that may arise if the FCPA is violated regarding gifts and entertainment. Lastly, it is imperative that all such gifts and entertainment are properly recorded, as required by the books and records component of the FCPA.

B. Enforcement Actions

Mike Volkov refers to the FCPA Paparazzi when he talks about those FCPA practitioners who confuse FCPA information with FCPA scare tactics and manipulate legal reasoning and practical advice with “marketing” using fear as opposed to reliable and accurate information. In a recent blog post, entitled “The So-Called Re-Emergence of Gifts, Meals and Entertainment as a Compliance Problem” Volkov bemoaned recent FCPA Paparazzi client alerts which said that the DOJ was now gunning after companies for FCPA transgressions in this area.

But one point Volkov raised for consideration by the compliance practitioner was the overall management of these risks. He asked the following questions: “Who is responsible for approving expenditures? What controls are in place for ensuring that money is used for proper purposes? How are these expenditures monitored? Who watches the person responsible for controlling the money and what controls are in place to monitor their behavior?” All good questions, and all questions that the compliance function should be able to answer going forward.

While there were three of enforcement actions in 2013 and one in 2014 where gifts, travel and entertainment were discussed. In only one of the four such enforcement actions were gifts, travel and entertainment discussed, where over a period of 15 months these actions were the primary cause of the violation. That matter was the Diebold enforcement action. In all others, HP, Weatherford and Stryker, the gifts, travel and entertainment matters were all ancillary to the primary illegal conduct at issue. This is consistent with DOJ enforcement of the FCPA so Volkov rights notes, the FCPA Paparazzi are howling at the moon once again.

Travel and Entertainment Enforcement Expense Box Score

Company Trip Locations Trip Costs & Perks Company Facilities Present
Lucent Technologies DisneyWorld, Hawaii, Las Vegas, Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls, Universal Studios, NYC $10 million in trips for 1000 Chinese governmental officials, including $34,000 for five days of sightseeing None of the travel destinations
Ingersoll-Rand Trip to Florence after trip to company facility in Vignate, Italy $1000 ‘pocket money’ per attendee Facilities in Vignate but not in Florence
Metcaf & Eddy First trip – Boston, Washington, D.C., Chicago and Orlando. Second trip – Paris, Boston and San Diego. First Class Travel and trip expenses for Egyptian governmental official and his family. Cash payments prior to trips of 150% of estimated daily expenses. Wakefield Mass., not in Washington DC, Chicago, Paris or DisneyWorld
Titan Corporation Reference in company books and records of $20,000 for promotional travel expenses. Not clear if ever funded (Remember a promise to pay equals making a payment under the FCPA)
UTStarcom Hawaii, Las Vegas and NYC Up to $7 million on gifts and all expense paid trips to US No company offices present in any of the travel destinations
Diebold Europe, with stays in:

  • Paris,
  • Amsterdam,
  • Florence,
  • Rome

In the US with visits to:

  • Disneyland,
  • Grand Canyon,
  • Napa Valley,
  • Las Vegas
$1.6MM to employees of Chinese state-owned banks; $175K to employees of Indonesian state-owned banks No company offices present in any of the travel destinations
Weatherford
  • Trip to Germany for the World Cup
  • Honeymoon for Sonatrach official’s daughter
  • Trip to Saudi Arabia for religious holiday
Payment of $24,000 in cash advance for Algerian government officials visiting Houston No legitimate business purpose for any of the business travel
Stryker NYC and Aruba $7000 for Polish gov official and wife No company offices present in any of the travel destinations
HP Las Vegas $35,000 in travel expenses paid for Polish gov official No company offices present in any of the travel destinations

Tomorrow we will tie it all together for you.

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

Miners Win NCAAOn this date in 1966, the Texas Western University (now UTEP) Miners won the NCAA Basketball Championship, beating the University of Kentucky Wildcats. Now the first round has not even started by March 19, but it is not the date that made this event so noteworthy but the character of the teams. The Miners were the first team to start five African-Americans to win the NCAA championship. Adolph Rupp, who was making his final NCAA championship appearance that night after a long and storied career, coached the Wildcats. But on this night, the Miners clearly outplayed Rupp’s Wildcats, dominating them from the start to the finish.

I was thinking about the Miners and their triumph when I received a copy of the first Opinion Release of 2014, appropriately designated Opinion Release 14-01. In 14-01, the Department of Justice (DOJ) opined that paying a foreign government official for monies he was owed in the sale of a business interest that he owned prior to becoming a foreign government official would not be prosecuted as a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) violation. As intuitive as this decision might sound, there is, nevertheless, significant information for the compliance practitioner to take away from 14-01.

Background Facts

The Requestor had purchased Foreign Company A in 2007, from the Foreign Shareholder when he was a private citizen. To guarantee Foreign Shareholder’s participation, the parties’ agreement contained a five-year lock-in period that prohibited Foreign Shareholder from selling his interest prior to January 1, 2012. The Agreement did, however, allow Foreign Shareholder to leave Foreign Company A before the end of the five-year period if he were appointed to a minister level position or higher in the Foreign Country’s government.

In December 2011, Foreign Shareholder became a foreign government official under the FCPA when he was appointed to serve as a high-level official at Foreign Country’s central monetary and banking agency (“Foreign Agency”). Foreign Agency is responsible for bank and financial industry regulation and monetary policy. Upon his appointment, the Foreign Shareholder ceased to have any role or function at Foreign Company A, other than as a passive shareholder.

The now the foreign government official desired to sell his final interest in the company. However, under the formula for the repurchase of his interest, said interest was at zero value, primarily due to the financial crisis of 2008-9. Apparently the now foreign government official threatened to either sue or sell his interest to a third party and the Requestor decidedly did not want either eventuality. The parties agreed to another form of valuation and sought approval from the DOJ through its Opinion Release procedure regarding how to pay the now foreign government official under this new valuation.

Representations and Warranties by the Parties

The foreign government instrumentality involved did not regulate the Requestor but the Requestor has done business with said instrumentality in the past and would continue to do so. The now foreign government official informed the DOJ that he had not in the past “influenced or sought to influence, any decisions by Foreign Agency, Foreign Country’s government, or any third party with respect to” the entities in question and would not do so in the future. Additionally, the Requestor provided separate internal communications to the employees of the entity in question to the effect that their former owner was now a foreign government official and that “he is prohibited from participating in any discussion, consideration, or decision, or otherwise influencing any decision relating to the award of business” to the entity in question.

There were three additional representations, which I found significant, they were:

  • Requestor obtained a representation from now foreign government official that he has disclosed his ownership interest and the proposed sale of the shares in the entity in question to the relevant government authorities of Foreign Country and the relevant department at Foreign Agency, and the relevant government authorities have informed him that they approve or do not object to the sale of the shares.
  • Foreign Shareholder has warranted in writing that any payment to him to purchase the shares will be made to him solely as consideration for the shares, not in his official capacity or in exchange for any present or expected future official action.
  • The Requestor has received written assurance from local counsel in Foreign Country that the purchase of the shares is lawful in Foreign Country. 

DOJ Analysis

In its analysis, the DOJ focused on several factors. Initially, the DOJ noted that the commercial relationship began far before the individual at issue became a foreign government official. Further, even if the sales contract was not followed, because under it the foreign official would not have received fair value in the buy-out, the Requestor presented, “legitimate business considerations, prompted and justified the renegotiation of the buyout formula contained in the 2007 Agreement.” This justification was coupled with the new valuation set by “a leading, highly regarded, global accounting firm (the “Firm”) to determine the Shares’ value” and the apparent sharing of the entity’s financial information with the DOJ. The DOJ noted, “Requestor’s decision to engage the Firm to serve as the independent and binding arbiter of the value of the Shares provides additional assurance that the payment reflects the fair market value of the Shares, rather than an attempt to overpay Foreign Shareholder for a corrupt purpose. Neither Requestor nor Foreign Shareholder requested or obtained conditions or limitations on the valuation or the valuation formula prior to engaging the Firm, and the valuation was carried out strictly in accord with the terms of the engagement. There is no indication of either party requesting a minimum or specific valuation from the Firm or attempting to improperly influence the valuation.”

Equally important was the transparency involved. There was an “appropriate and meaningful disclosure of the parties’ relationship”. There was disclosure by the government official to his government of the relationship and pending sale. The “relevant government authorities of Foreign Country and the relevant department at Foreign Agency, and the relevant government authorities have informed him that they approve or do not object to the sale of the Shares.” Lastly, both the Requestor and the foreign government official involved had averred that he would not assist the US Company in obtaining or retaining business.

Discussion

For the compliance practitioner, there are several key points to consider. The first point is found in a footnote and it reads, “Following Requestor’s initial submission, the Department sent Requestor a letter seeking additional information on July 25, 2013. Requestor provided a partial response by letter on September 19, 2013, which was accompanied by significant backup documentation. Thereafter, the Department and counsel for Requestor had several follow up discussions to clarify certain issues. On February 13, 2014, Requestor provided a final submission that addressed the last outstanding issues raised by the Department.” This is the first time that I recall seeing a time line laid out in an Opinion Release. This gives a compliance practitioner some idea of the time frames involved in the process.

The second is the use of representations and warranties by the parties. In Opinion Release 13-01 a key component was an opinion from the Chief Legal Office of the foreign official’s country that the conduct in question would not violate that country’s laws. However in 14-01, the DOJ accepted representations that the foreign official in question would not pass on business in which he either had an interest or help the Relator to ‘obtain or retain’ business with the agency at which the foreign official now worked. This type of evidence is something that a company should now consider when designing protocols to satisfy issues similar to those presented in 14-01.

Next is the quality and quantity of payment(s) to be made to the now foreign official to cash him out and purchase his interest. Here the parties agreed to an independent valuation by an internationally recognized accounting firm. This provides some type of arms-length analysis. It also provides a market based approach to the payment issue so that there is evidence of true (or perhaps truer) market value, not some arbitrary number agreed to by the parties.

Finally, all the parties seemed to have documented everything. This clearly states to me the need for documentation, which can be reviewed and assessed by a regulator. As I often say the three most important things in FCPA compliance are: Document, Document and Document. I believe that Opinion Release 14-01 makes this point even clearer.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

7K0A0032“Each case turns on its own facts.” How many times have you heard a representative of the Department of Justice (DOJ) or Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) make that statement at a conference or other public event? The reality is that this is true and, in the context of Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), both regulators look at the facts and circumstances around each case in making a wide range of assessments. While this is frustrating to business types, as a lawyer I find it to be not only an appropriate analysis but also an accurate way in which to look at things.

Late in 2013 the DOJ issued its only Opinion Release, that being Opinion Release 13-01. One of the things that this Opinion Release stands for is that each fact scenario presented under the FCPA must be evaluated on its own facts. While this maxim is certainly true, I believe that the Opinion Release goes further and provides significant information to the compliance practitioner for charitable donations going forward.

Facts

The Requestor is a partner with a US law firm which represents Foreign Country A in various international arbitrations. This business relationship has enabled the law firm to bill Foreign Country A for over $2 million throughout the past 18 month; it is further anticipated that in 2014, the fees on matters for Foreign Country A will exceed $2 million. During the course of representation, the Requestor has become a personal friend of Foreign Official, who works in Foreign Country A’s Office of the Attorney General (the “OAG”). This Foreign Official’s daughter suffers from a severe medical condition that cannot effectively be treated in Foreign Country A or anywhere in the region. The physicians treating Foreign Official’s daughter have recommended that she receive inpatient care at a specialized facility located in Foreign Country B. Requestor reports that the treatment will cost between approximately $13,500 and $20,500 and that Foreign Official lacks financial means to pay for this treatment for his daughter. The Requestor has proposed to pay the medical expenses of the daughter of this foreign office.

Representations

The Requestor made the following representations in submitting the request for an Opinion Release.

  • The Requestor’s intention in paying for the medical treatment of Foreign Official’s daughter is purely humanitarian, with no intent to influence the decision of any foreign official in Foreign Country A with regard to engaging the services of the Law Firm, Requestor, or any third person.
  • The funds used to pay for the medical treatment will be Requestor’s own personal funds. The Requestor will neither seek nor receive reimbursement from the Law Firm for such payments.
  • The Requestor will make all payments directly to the facility where Foreign Official’s daughter will receive treatment in Foreign Country B. Foreign Official will pay for the costs of his daughter’s related travel.
  • Foreign Country A is expected to retain the Law Firm to work on one new matter in the near future. Requestor is presently unaware of any additional, potential matters as to which Foreign Country A might retain the Law Firm. However, if such a matter develops, Requestor anticipates that Foreign Country A would likely retain the Law Firm given its successful track record and their strong relationship.
  • Under the law for Foreign Country A, any government agency, such as OAG, that hires an outside law firm must publicly publish a reasoned decision justifying the engagement. It is a crime punishable by imprisonment under the penal code of Foreign Country A for any civil servant or public employee to engage in corrupt behavior in connection with public contracting.

In addition to the representations made by the Requestor, there was also information presented which showed that the Foreign Official and Requestor have discussed this matter transparently with their respective employers. Both the government of Foreign Country A and the leadership of the Law Firm have expressly indicated that they have no objection to the proposed payment of medical expenses. Additionally, the Requestor has provided a certified letter from the Attorney General of Foreign Country A that represents the following:

  • The decision by the Requestor to pay for or not to pay for this medical treatment will have no impact on any current or future decisions of the OAG in deciding on the hiring of international legal counsel.
  • In the opinion of Foreign Country A’s Attorney General, the payment of medical expenses for Foreign Official’s daughter under these circumstances would not violate any provision of the laws of Foreign Country A.

DOJ Analysis

In its analysis, the DOJ noted that “A person may violate the FCPA by making a payment or gift to a foreign official’s family member as an indirect way of corruptly influencing that foreign official. See United States v. Liebo, 923 F.2d 1308, 1311 (8th Cir. 1991). However, “the FCPA does not per se prohibit business relationships with, or payments to, foreign officials.” FCPA Opinion Release 10-03 at 3 (Sept. 1, 2010). Rather “the Department typically looks to determine whether there are any indicia of corrupt intent, whether the arrangement is transparent to the foreign government and the general public, whether the arrangement is in conformity with local law, and whether there are safeguards to prevent the foreign official from improperly using his or her position to steer business to or otherwise assist the company, for example through a policy of recusal.”

But I found the meat of the analysis to the following line of the Opinion Release, “the facts represented suggest an absence of corrupt intent and provide adequate assurances that the proposed benefit to Foreign Official’s daughter will have no impact on Requestor’s or Requestor’s Law Firm’s present or future business with Foreign Country A.”

Discussion

This analysis was based on several factors which are worth highlighting:

  • No role in obtaining or retaining business – The Foreign Official involved does not play any role in the decision to award Foreign Country A’s legal business to Law Firm.
  • Full transparency – Both the Requestor and Foreign Official informed their respective employers of the proposed gift and neither has objected.
  • The gift is not illegal under local law – The Attorney General of Foreign Country A has expressly stated that the proposed gift is not illegal under Foreign Country A’s laws. This is further reinforced by Foreign Country A’s public contracting laws, which require transparent reasoning in contracting for legal work and criminally punish corrupt behavior.
  • Direct payment to third party provider – The Requestor will pay the medical provider directly, ensuring that the payments will not be improperly diverted to Foreign Official.

I believe that Opinion Release 13-01 demonstrates once again that there is significant room for creative lawyering in the realm of FCPA compliance. Obviously the DOJ responded favorably by its final decision that it would not prosecute under the facts presented to it. For the compliance practitioner, there are several key takeaways beyond simply noting that you are limited only by your legal imagination. First, and foremost, is transparency. Both the Requestor and Foreign Official openly discussed this issue with their employers and superiors. One or both of them went to the Attorney General of the country in question and sought an opinion on the legality of the payment of medical expenses so there was visibility at the highest levels of the Foreign Country’s government in addition to confirmation that the gift was in fact legal under the laws of the country involved. Next is that the Foreign Official in question did have decision making authority over the law firm obtaining or retaining business. Finally, the direct payment to the third party provider is always a critical element which should not be overlooked.

I know, understand and appreciate that this Opinion Release is limited to its facts and circumstances but it gives the compliance practitioner some excellent guidance on how to think through charitable donations under the FCPA.

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