While the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) is still the most widely recognized and enforcement anti-bribery and anti-corruption law across the globe, there have been a number of initiatives which will lead directly to greater anti-bribery and anti-corruption enforcement. This increased enforcement will lead to increased risks for companies that do not have anti-bribery and anti-corruption compliance programs in place. This post discusses the efforts of other countries to enact and enforce legislation to curb bribery and corrupt across the globe.
Over the past 18 months, GlaxoSmithKline PLC (GSK) was embroiled in a very public, very nasty bribery and corruption investigation. It culminated in the conviction of GSK and the assessment of a $491 million fine, criminal conviction of four senior GSK China subsidiary managers and the criminal convictions of two ancillary GSK-hired investigators. The entry of the Chinese government into the international fight against corruption and bribery is truly a game-changer. While there may be many reasons for this very public move by the Chinese government, it is clear that foreign companies are now on notice. Doing business the old fashioned way will no longer be tolerated. This means that international (read: western) companies operating in China have a fresh and important risk to consider; that being that they could well be subject to prosecution under domestic Chinese law.
The international component of this investigation may well increase anti-corruption enforcement across the globe. First of all, when other countries notorious for their endemic corruptions, for example India, see that they can attack their domestic corruption by blaming it on international businesses operating in their country, what lesson do you think they will draw? Most probably that all politics are local and when the localities can blame the outsiders for their own problems they will do so. But when that blame is coupled with violations of local law, whether that is anti-bribery or anti-price fixing, there is a potent opportunity for prosecutions.
One of the audit failures of GSK was around well known compliance risks in China, including (1) event abuse planning; (2) mixture of legitimate and illegitimate travel; (3) other collusion with travel agencies; and (4) parallel itineraries. So those risks are well known and have been documented. While the cost of monitoring is high and would involve the tedious work of verifying millions of receipts by calling hotels, airlines and office supply stores and scrutinizing countless transactions for signs of fraud; if your compliance risks are known for a certain profile, then you should devote the necessary resources to making sure you are in compliance in that area.
While GSK was a harbinger of international anti-corruption investigations and enforcement actions based on domestic anti-bribery laws; Brazil and its state-owned energy company Petrobras may become the world’s largest corruption investigation. In a New York Times (NYT) article, entitled “Scandal Over Brazilian Oil Company Adds Turmoil to the Presidential Race”, the scandal was detailed by a former Petrobras official, Paulo Roberto Costa. Mr. Costa was the person who oversaw the company’s refining operations. He has admitted to having engaged in the receipt of bribes for at least a 10 year period “equivalent to 3 percent of the value of the deals from the Brazilian construction companies that obtained the contracts” to build refineries. This amounted to literally millions being “stashed in bank accounts in Switzerland and the Cayman Islands.” He “inflated budgets for new projects” by 3% and then had that amount kicked back to him as bribes. The allegations were verified “through an associate, Alberto Youssef, a black-market money dealer who testified that he helped launder funds in the scheme. Mr. Youssef, who has also accepted a plea deal, testified that more than a dozen of Brazil’s largest construction companies had paid hefty bribes to obtain lucrative Petrobras contracts.” Interestingly, Brazilian President Rousseff “has also effectively acknowledged the prevalence of corruption inside the executive suites of Petrobras, while denying that she had known about the kickbacks when they were taking place.”
The scandal has not only engulfed suppliers to Petrobras in Brazil. It has now moved to the international stage. From shipyards in Singapore, which have been alleged to have paid bribes to Petrobras, to Rolls Royce in Great Britain which has been alleged to have paid bribes for the sale of turbine engines; this scandal truly is international in scope and may engulf more companies going forward. In addition to violations of Brazilian law, the US government has reportedly opened an investigation, as Petrobras USA is a US stock-exchange issuing entity and subject to the FCPA. Indeed, in the US there are already multiple shareholder derivative lawsuits against the US entity for mis-representing its true value because of the corruption allegations against the company in Brazil.
The Petrobras scandal continues to make news almost daily and its repercussions continue to reverberate across the globe. The FCPA Blog, in an article entitled “Swiss AG freezes $400 million in Petrobras bribe probe”, stated that in Switzerland alone there are nine open investigations into alleged money laundering tied to Petrobras. In mid-March the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland (OAG) announced that they had issued an order to freeze $400 million of assets allegedly tied to a Petrobras corruption scheme. The FCPA Blog further stated the OAG announced “The release of over $120 million reflects Switzerland’s clear intention to take a stand against the misuse of its financial center for criminal purposes and to return funds of criminal origin to their rightful owners.”
The domestic Brazilian Anti-Bribery Law, the Clean Company Act, enacted into law in 2014, is uniquely designed for oversight by internal audit. Compliance programs will be evaluated on three prongs: the structure of the program; specifics about the legal entity; and an evaluation of the program’s efficiency. The first prong will include consideration of the existence of mechanisms for reporting suspected or actual misconduct, training, code of conduct, policies and procedures, periodic risk assessments, and application of disciplinary measures against employees (including senior management too) involved in wrongdoing. Under the second prong, the compliance risks associated will be considered. Compliance programs should be tailored to the company’s risks; “one-size-fits-all” programs will not be accepted. The third prong will consist of a case-by-case verification, that it is not simply a paper program.
Finally, and no doubt spurred by the Petrobras corruption scandal, the FCPA Blog also reported, in another article entitled “After protests, Brazil president issues anti-graft regulations”, that Brazilian President Dilma Roussef issued a presidential decree with regulations under the Clean Company Act. The new regulations issued address some of the crucial questions concerning the administrative procedure for imposing corporate liability and assessing fines. It also set out the criteria for determining fines, evaluating compliance programs, and entering into leniency agreements. Finally, the decree also provides that books and records accuracy and completeness will be a key criterion for evaluating compliance programs, no doubt inspired by the FCPA accounting provisions. As the FCPA Blog said, “The regulations under the Clean Company Act are a critical milestone in the effort to restore credibility to Brazil’s federal government, in light of its past commitments to fighting corruption in the corporate world.”
What does all of the above mean for a global company? It means that some law that prohibits bribery and corruption will cover your business. It will not and does not matter if you are a US, UK or Brazilian company doing business outside of your home country, somewhere a law prohibiting bribery and corruption will cover your actions. Even if you are not covered by the FCPA, the UK Bribery Act or the Clean Company Act, if you are doing business in a local country you can still be subject to prosecution under its domestic anti-bribery laws. This means that there will be greater enforcement going forward and greater cooperation between enforcement agencies.
For businesses the only response to this plethora of new laws is to implement and enhance a best practices anti-bribery/anti-corruption compliance program and there are several examples that companies can follow to do so. In the US, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) provided their suggestions with their Ten Hallmarks of an Effective Compliance Program; the UK Ministry of Justice (MOJ) has provided commentary on the Six Principles of an Adequate Procedures compliance program and the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has put forth its Good Practice Guidance on Internal Controls, Ethics, and Compliance.
All of these anti-bribery/anti-corruption regimes set forth easily digested concepts that a company could implement. However, there must be more than simply a paper program in place. A company must actually do compliance for it to be effective. By making compliance a part of normal business practices, it will be possible to prevent, detect and then remediate any bribery or corruption issues that may arise.
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© Thomas R. Fox, 2015