In a story first reported in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), entitled Halliburton Says Court Approved Corruption Lawsuit Settlement, Sam Rubenfeld reported that Halliburton has settled a shareholder derivative action which had been filed in state district court in Houston, Texas. The lawsuit, the consolidation of actions brought by two institutional shareholders and one individual shareholder against the company and its Board of Directors individually, had alleged that “the board’s failure to stop the activity caused the company to have to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements and fines, and it damaged Halliburton’s reputation”.

The settlement is interesting for several reasons. Initially, it should be noted that Halliburton will not pay any damages but more than that, Rubenfeld reported that “the plaintiffs said in the settlement they faced “very steep hurdles” in establishing that the directors named in the suit were liable for the illegal activity, and that it was unlikely they would win damages “even closely approaching” what they sought in litigation”. In the settlement, Halliburton agreed to make changes to its corporate governance structure “including a clawback of compensation for board members who were involved in or approved the activity, beefing up its compliance program and strengthening the roles of its board members.” In other compliance areas, the company agreed to publish “newsletters and internal bulletins to include at least six articles per year addressing ethics and compliance issues.” Finally, Halliburton agreed that it’s “code of conduct has to be revised so as a layperson can understand it, and it has to be changed to specifically prohibit the use of bribes and kickbacks.”

I.                   Clawback Provisions

There were several specific provisions relating to clawbacks which may well now become standard provisions for officers and directors of companies going forward. They related to both monetary compensation and non-monetary compensation, such as stock. All the provisions turn on the following:

  1. If an officer or director is named for “substantially participating in a significant violation of the law”;
  2. And either a company investigation determines the officer’s or director’s conduct was “not indemnifiable”; OR
  3. The officer or director “does not prevail at trial, enters into a plea arrangement…or otherwise admits to the violation in a legal proceeding.”
  4. Then the clawback is triggered.

 II.                Greater Oversight of Compliance

The settlement specifies several steps the Audit Committee of the Board should take to enhance its role in the compliance function including holding more regular meetings and reporting to the full Board on issues relevant to compliance and risk management in general. The settlement also specified that a Management Compliance Committee shall be created and detailed investigation and reporting protocols for any “Significant Violation of any federal or state law”.

III.             Compliance Program Enhancements

Here the settlement specified that for employees working in high risk countries “who have job descriptions associated with business development and procurement activities [emphasis mine] they should have annual compliance training. The settlement also specified Halliburton to rewrite its Code of Business Conduct in plain English “so that it is written in a manner as is commonly understood by a layperson.” The Code of Business Conduct rewrite is to be expanded to make clear that foreign bribery and kickbacks are prohibited and will not use agents recommended by foreign governmental officials, unless such agents are screened through appropriate due diligence. As noted by Rubenfeld’s article Halliburton agreed to publish newsletters and provide email updates and intranet postings, which will address compliance at least six times per year. The company agreed to strive to maintain a ratio of one “Audit Service position for every 5,000 employees” and to certain restrictions in hiring a Chief Financial Officer (CFO).

In a section specified “To assure that its compliance program be deemed “effective” under the revised Federal Sentencing Guidelines” the company agreed to have a compliance program which would be designed to detect an offense “before discovery outside of the organization or before discovery was reasonably likely”. If there is a determination that such conduct occurs the company will take steps to prevent it from reoccurring. Halliburton agreed to take “reasonable steps to remedy the harm from criminal conduct”. Lastly, the Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) was given direct reporting authority to the Board and directed to report “no less than annually on the implementation and effectiveness of Halliburton’s compliance program.”

This settlement is a welcome addition for the compliance practitioner. First and foremost, the no payment of damages is a welcome change from such claims. Moreover, the enhancements agreed to by Halliburton give both compliance practitioners and company specific guidance on good corporate government practices in the compliance arena and specific ways to tie a compliance program to the US Federal Sentencing Guidelines.

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, 2012

On Monday, June 18, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced the resolution of a matter involving violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) by Data Systems & Solutions LLC (DS&S), a US entity based in Virginia. The settlement resulted in the company agreeing to a two year and 7 day Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA). The case was interesting for a number of reasons and it has some significant lessons which the compliance practitioner can put into place in a corporate compliance program. The charges related to DS&S’s business included the design, installation and maintenance of instrumentation and controls systems at nuclear power plants, fossil fuel power plants and other critical infrastructure facilities. In reading the Criminal Information, I can only say that this was no one-off or rogue employee situation but this was a clear, sustained and well known bribery scheme that went on within the company.

I.                   The Criminal Information

The bribery scheme involved payments made to officials at a state-owned nuclear power facility in Lithuania, named Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant (INPP). The payments were made to allow DS&S to obtain and retain business with INPP. The Information listed contracts awarded to DS&S in the amount of over $30MM from 1999 to 2004. Significantly, DS&S did not self-disclose this matter to the DOJ but only began an investigation after receiving a DOJ Subpoena for records.

The Players Box Score

DS&S Officials INPP Officials Subcontractors
Exec A – VP of Marketing and Business Development (BD) Official 1 – Deputy Head of Instrumentation and Controls Department Subcontractor A – Simulation Technology Products and Services
Official 2 – Head of Instrumentation and Controls Department Subcontractor B – Beneficially owned by Official 1 and which employed INPP Officials
Official 3 – Director General at INPP Subcontractor C – Shell company used a funneling entity to pay bribes
Official 4 – Head of International Projects at INPP
Official 5 – Lead SW Engineer at INPP

The bribery scheme used by DS&S recycled about every known technique there is to pay bribes. The Information listed 51 instances of bribes paid or communications via email about the need to continue to pay bribes. The bribery scheme laid in the Information reflected the following techniques used by:

  •       Payment of bribes by Subcontractors to Officials on behalf of DS&S;
  •       Direct payment of bribes by DS&S into US bank accounts controlled by INPP Officials;
  •       Creation of fictional invoices from the Subcontractors to fund the bribes;
  •      Payment of above-market rates for services allegedly delivered by the Subcontractors so the excess monies could be used to fund bribes;
  •      Payment of salaries to INPP Officials while they were ‘employed’ by Subcontractor B;
  •       Providing travel and entertainment to Officials to Florida, where DS&S has no facilities and which travel and entertainment had no reasonable business purpose; and last but not least…
  •      Purchase of a Cartier watch as a gift.

II.                The Deferred Prosecution Agreement

I set out these details with some specificity for two reasons. The first is that the Information is a must read for anyone in Internal Audit who reviews books and records. It gives you the precise types of Red Flags to look for. But secondly is the fact that DS&S received a discount of 30% off the low end of the penalty range as calculated under the US Sentencing Guidelines. The calculation as listed in the DPA is as follows:

Calculation of Fine Range:

Base Fine $10,500,000

Multipliers 1.20(min)/2.40(max)

Fine Range $12,600,000/$25,200,000

The ultimate fine paid by DS&S was only $8.82MM, which the DPA states is “an approximately thirty-percent reduction off the bottom of the fine range…” So for the compliance practitioner the question is what did DS&S do to get such a dramatic reduction? We know that one thing they did NOT do was self-report as the DPA notes that this case began as a DOJ investigation and DS&S received Subpoenas “in connection with the government’s investigation.” However, after this initial delivery of Subpoenas DS&S engaged a clear pattern of conduct which led directly to this 30% discount of the low end of the fine range. The DPA reports that DS&S took the following steps:

 

  • Internal Investigation. DS&S initiated an internal investigation and provided real-time reports and updates of its investigation into the conduct described in the Information and Statement of Facts.
  • Extraordinary Cooperation. DS&S’s cooperation has been extraordinary, including conducting an extensive, thorough, and swift internal investigation; providing to the Department searchable databases of documents downloaded from servers, computers, laptops, and other electronic devices; collecting, analyzing, and organizing voluminous evidence and information to provide to the DOJ in a comprehensive report; and responding promptly and fully to the DOJ’s requests.
  • Extensive Remediation. The number of steps DS&S took in regard to remediation included the following:
    • Termination of company officials and employees who were engaged in the bribery scheme;
    • Dissolving the joint venture and then reorganizing and integrating the dissolved entity as a subsidiary of DS&S;
    • Instituting a rigorous compliance program in this newly constituted subsidiary;
    • Enhancing the company’s due diligence protocols for third-party agents and subcontractors;
    • Chief Executive Officer (CEO) review and approval of the selection and retention of any third-party agent or subcontractor;
    • Strengthening of company ethics and compliance policies;
    • Appointment of a company Ethics Representative who reports directly to the CEO;
    • The Ethics Representative provides regular reports to the Members Committee (the equivalent of a Board of Directors in a LLC); and
    • A heightened review of most foreign transactions.
    • Enhanced Compliance Program. More on this in the next section.
    • Continued Cooperation with DOJ. The company agreed to continue to cooperate with the Department in any ongoing investigation of the conduct of DS&S and its officers, directors, employees, agents, and subcontractors relating to violations of the FCPA and to fully cooperate with any other domestic or foreign law enforcement authority and investigations by Multilateral Development Banks.

III.             Enhanced Compliance Obligations

One of the interesting aspects of the DS&S DPA is that there are 15 points listed in the Corporate Compliance Program, attached as Schedule C to the DPA, rather than the standard 13 items we have seen in every DPA since at least November 2010. The new additions are found on items 13 & 14 on page C-6 of Schedule C and deal with mergers and acquisitions. They read in full:

13. DS&S will develop and implement policies and procedures for mergers and acquisitions requiring that DS&S conduct appropriate risk-based due diligence on potential new business entities, including appropriate FCPA and anti-corruption due diligence by legal, accounting, and compliance personnel. If DS&S discovers any corrupt payments or inadequate internal controls as part of its due diligence of newly acquired entities or entities merged with DS&S, it shall report such conduct to the Department as required in Appendix B of this Agreement.

14. DS&S will ensure that DS&S’s policies and procedures regarding the anticorruption laws apply as quickly as is practicable to newly acquired businesses or entities merged with DS&S and will promptly:

a. Train directors, officers, employees, agents, consultants, representatives, distributors, joint venture partners, and relevant employees thereof, who present corruption risk to DS&S, on the anti-corruption laws and DS&S’s policies and procedures regarding anticorruption laws.

b. Conduct an FCPA-specific audit of all newly acquired or merged businesses as quickly as practicable.

This language draws from and builds upon the prior Opinion Release 08-02 regarding Halliburton’s request for guidance during an attempted acquisition and the Johnson and Johnson (J&J) Enhanced Compliance Obligations which were incorporated into its DPA. While the DS&S DPA does note that it is specifically tailored as a solution to DS&S’s FCPA compliance issues, I believe that this is the type of guidance that a compliance practitioner can rely upon when advising his or her clients on what the DOJ expects during Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A). The five keys under these new items, 13 & 14 highlighted above, are: (1) develop policies and procedures for M&A work prior to engaging in such transactions; (2) full FCPA audit of any acquired entities “as quickly as practicable”; (3) report any corrupt payments or inadequate internal controls it discovers in this process to the DOJ; (4) apply DS&S anti-corruption policies and procedures to the newly acquired entities; and (5) train any persons who might “present a corruption risk to DS&S” on the company’s policies and procedures and the law.

IV.              Summary

The DS&S DPA provides some key points for the compliance practitioner. First and foremost, I believe that it demonstrates the reasonableness of the DOJ. The bribery scheme here was about as bad as it can get, short of suitcases of money carried by the CEO to pay bribes. The company did not self-report, yet received a significant reduction on the minimum level of fine. The specificity in the DPA allows a compliance practitioner to understand what type of conduct is required to not only avoid a much more significant monetary penalty but also a corporate monitor. Lastly, is the specific guidance on FCPA compliance in relation to M&A activities, to the extent that if anyone in the compliance arena did not understand what was required in the M&A context; this question would seem to be answered in the DS&S DPA.

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, 2012

Lin-sanity still reigns and it may well now have reached its penultimate level. What evidence do I have of this cultural phenomenon? It is that both US President Barack Obama AND Sarah Palin are now on the Lin-sanity bandwagon. Palin, who played basketball in high school, is pictured at the left with the highly coveted Lin gear outside her Manhattan hotel. Not to be outdone, last week on the B.S. Report, a weekly podcast hosted by the Sports Guy Bill Simmons, held at the White House, President Barrack Obama talked about Lin-sanity and his fellow Harvard alum Jeremy Lin.

The President made an interesting comment, which I thought spoke to an ongoing issue in the compliance world. His observation was that Lin’s in-game success did not happen overnight, so question for you where were all of the ubiquitous NBA coaches all through his practices during the 15 months he has been in the NBA? The President thought that some coach, should have seen something, which indicated Lin had some talent. While we can ponder the wisdom of the 30+ coaches, between the Warriors and Rockets, who all blew that one, one of the things that the President’s comment brought up for me is the role of training in any best practices compliance program. Why you might ask? The answer is because one of focuses within an organization is to not only develop talent, but to evaluate talent in everyday work situations; similar to evaluating a basketball player in practice. So the Lin-sanity Lesson III is that one of the areas of training is to teach business unit employees to coach and evaluate compliance talent in an organization.

This is an area that Human Resources (HR) can be of great assistance to the Compliance Department. Compliance can take the lead in training on the substance of compliance. However, HR can assist in training managers to evaluate and audit employees on whether they conduct themselves within a culture of compliance and ethics. This is the traditional role of HR. While there is a training requirement for any minimum best practices compliance program, based upon the requirements in the US Sentencing Guidelines, I would submit that there is an opportunity to bring additional and more focused HR based training to bear which would enable a company to develop leaders who are thoroughly grounded in compliance and ethics.

Under the US Sentencing Guidelines, companies are mandated to “take reasonable steps to communicate periodically and in a practical manner its standards and procedures, and other aspects of the compliance and ethics program, to the individuals referred to in subdivision (B) by conducting effective training programs and otherwise disseminating information appropriate to such individuals’ respective roles and responsibilities.” This requirement would also suggest that training results should also be evaluated and once again HR can fill this role. As part of this evaluation, a candidate for promotion can be assessed in not only their interest in the area but their retention of the materials going forward. Lastly, HR can evaluate how a candidate for promotion incorporates compliance and ethics not only into his or her work but how the candidate might help to foster a culture of compliance in the company.

President Obama’s remark about Jeremy Lin and what he may have shown in practice brought up the day-to-day work that any NBA player must go through which is watched by numerous NBA coaches. This concept is the same in a business organization. The day-to-day practices equate to how employees comport themselves whilst doing the routine and daily business of their companies. It’s a good bet that if an employee acts in an ethical manner in his or her routine dealings, they will do so in a situation which requires conducting business through a culture of compliance. HR is a part of the corporate organization that can evaluate these day-to-day scenarios. HR can also train business unit employees to evaluate personnel on compliance and ethics issues. You should not miss this opportunity to watch and evaluate your employees!

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, 2012

A distributor can be generally defined as a company or individual who purchases a product from an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) and then independently sells that product to an end user. A distributor takes title, physical possession and owns the products. The distributor then sells the product again to an end-using purchaser. The distributor usually receives the product at some discount from the OEM and then is free to set the resell price at any amount above what was originally paid for the product. A distributor is often used by the US manufacturing industry to act as a sales force outside of the US.

The landscape of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) is littered with cases involving both agents and resellers, who are most clearly acting as representatives of the companies whose goods or services they sell for in foreign countries. However, many US businesses believe that the legal differences between agents/resellers and distributors insulate them from FCPA liability should the conduct of the distributor violate the Act. They believe that as the distributor takes title and physical possession of the product, the legal risk of ownership has shifted to the distributor. If the goods are damaged or destroyed, the loss will be the distributor’s not the US business which manufactured the product. Under this same analysis, many US companies believe that the FCPA risk has also shifted from the US company to the foreign distributor. However, such belief is sorely miss-placed.

As reported by the FCPA Professor and FCPA Blog, on February 1, 2012, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that it entered into a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA) with Smith & Nephew, Inc., a medical equipment manufacturer, for violations of the FCPA.  Smith & Nephew paid a monetary penalty of $16.8MM to the DOJ and $5.4MM to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) as a civil penalty, all for a total of $22.2MM in fines and penalties. The violations revolved around a Greek distributor of Smith & Nephew who paid bribes to Greek doctors so that they would purchase and use Smith & Nephew products. According to the FCPA Professor, in a post entitled “Next Up – Smith & Nephew”, Smith and Nephew and its German subsidiary, would sell products to the entities “at a discount to the ‘list’ price and the Greek Distributor would re-sell to Greek HCPs and government hospitals at a profit.”

Further, as noted by the Professor, the purpose in setting up these entities “was to secure lucrative business with hospitals in the Greek public health care system by making and promising to make corrupt payments of money and things of value to publicly-employed Greek HCPs.”  According to the information, “S&N, certain of its executives, employees, and affiliates agreed to sell to [the] Greek Distributor at full list price, then pay the amount of the distributor discount – between 25 and 40 percent of the sales made by [the] Greek Distributor – to an off-shore shell company controlled by [the] Greek Distributor, in order to provide off-the-books funds for [the] Greek Distributor to pay cash incentives and other things of value to publicly-employed Greek HCPs to induce the purchase of S&N products, while concealing the payments.”  According to the information, S&N “falsely recorded or otherwise accounted for the payments to the shell companies on its books and records as ‘marketing services’ in order to conceal the true nature of the payments in the consolidated books and records of S&N and GmbH.”

In honor of the commencement of Spring Training next week, I put together a handy Box Score of the entities which Smith & Nephew set up for this FCPA conspiracy.

Entity Designation Domicile of Entity Commission Rate Services Provided Actual Services
Shell Company A UK 40% of sales of Greek distributor Marketing Did not perform any services
Shell Company B UK 26% of sales of Greek distributor Marketing None listed
Shell Company C UK 35% of sales of Greek distributor Marketing Did not perform any true services

Indicia of Bribery and Corruption

What are some of the factors that demonstrate the distributors used by Smith & Nephew were fraudulent and did not have a legitimate business purpose? Initially I would note that the distributor was domiciled in a location separate, the UK, and apart from the sole location it was designed to deliver products or services into, Greece. This clearly demonstrated that the entities were used for a purpose that the company wished to hide from Greek authorities. While it is true that a distributor might sell products into a country different than its domicile, if the products are going into a single country, this should raise a Red Flag.

However, the biggest indicium of corruption was the amount of the commission paid. The traditional sales model for a distributor has been to purchase a product, take the title, and therefore the risk, and then resell it to an end user. Based upon this sales model, there has been a commission structure more generous than those usually accorded a reseller or sales agent, who is usually only a negotiator between the OEM and the end user. This difference in taking title, and risk of loss, have led to a cost structure which has provided a deeper discount of pricing for distributors than commission rates paid to resellers or sales agents. The sales structure used by Smith & Nephew had pricing discounts of between 26-40% off the list price. Further, this money was used precisely to pay bribes to Greek doctors to use Smith & Nephew products. If your company uses a distributor model, I would suggest that you review and reassess your pricing structure in light of this enforcement action.

Monitorship

A very interesting feature of the Smith & Nephew DPA is that the company agreed to an external Monitor. This is not something we saw in most DPAs from 2011. The Monitor’s primary purpose is to “assess and monitor Smith & Nephews compliance with the terms of this Agreement so as to specifically address and reduce the risk of any recurrence of Smith & Nephew’s conduct.” The Monitor is to be retained by Smith & Nephew “for a period of not less than eighteen (18) months.” The DPA specifies that the Monitor is to perform at a minimum two reviews and corresponding reports. The Monitor shall provide to Smith & Nephew a written work plan no less than 60 days before commencing either review. The Monitor is to formulate conclusions based upon “among other things (a) inspection of relevant documents, including Smith & Nephew’s current anti-corruption policies and procedures; (b) onsite observation of selected systems and procedures of Smith & Nephew at sample sites, including internal controls and record-keeping and internal audit procedures; (c) meetings with, and interviews of, relevant employees officers, directors and other persons at mutually convenient times and places; and (d) analyses, studies and testing of Smith & Nephew’s compliance program with respect to the anticorruption laws.”

The Smith & Nephew DPA provides the compliance practitioner with specific guidance regarding how not to use a distributor. While this post did not focus on the conduct of Smith & Nephew during the pendency of the investigation, suffice to say that its conduct after self-disclosure led to a fine which was 20% below the minimum suggested by the Sentencing Guidelines. This fact clearly points to the value of self-disclosure and cooperation with the DOJ, as a key, if not THE key component during any enforcement action.

Lessons Learned on Compliance and Ethics is available for purchase on amazon.com by clicking here.

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.

In a post last week on his site, Corruption, Crime and Compliance, Mike Volkov named the Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) his “Person of the Year”. He did so because “There is no other position in a company which has taken on more significance.” This significance was foretold, in part, by the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) minimum best practices compliance program, where they have listed in each Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA) and Non-Prosecution Agreement (NPA) released beginning in 2010 and continuing into 2011,  the following:

Senior Management Oversight and Reporting. A Company should assign responsibility to one or more senior corporate executives of the Company for the implementation and oversight of the Company’s anti-corruption policies, standards, and procedures. Such corporate official(s) shall have direct reporting obligations to the Company’s Legal Counsel or Legal Director as well as the Company’s independent monitoring bodies, including internal audit, the Board of Directors, or any appropriate committee of the Board of Directors, and shall have an adequate level of autonomy from management as well as sufficient resources and authority to maintain such autonomy.”

In November 2010, the US Sentencing Guidelines were also amended to make the role of the CCO more robust and allow direct reporting to a Board of Directors or subcommittee of the Board. The amendment read “the individual…with operational responsibility for the compliance and ethics program…have direct reporting obligations to the governing authority or any appropriate subgroup… (e.g. an audit committee or the board of directors)”. If a company has the CCO reporting to the General Counsel (GC) who then reports to the Board? Such structure may not qualify as an effective compliance and ethics program under the amended Sentencing Guidelines.

These two bits of guidance came to mind when reading about MF Global over the past few weeks, regarding its Chief Risk Officer, the financial services equivalent of a CCO. As reported on December 15, in a New York Times (NYT) article entitled “MF Global’s Risk Officer Said to Lack Authority” Ben Protess and Azam Ahmed reported that the company replaced its Chief Risk Officer, Michael Roseman, earlier in 2011, after he “repeatedly clashed with Mr. Corzine [the CEO] over the firm’s purchase of European sovereign debt.” He was given a large severance package and left the company. When he left, there was no public reason given. His replacement was brought into the position with reduced authority.

Writing in the December 16, edition of the NYT’s DealB%K, in an article entitled “Another View: MF Global’s Corporate Governance Lesson” Michael Peregrine stated that “compliance officer is the equivalent of a “protected class” for governance purposes, and the sooner leadership gets that, the better.” Particularly in the post Sarbanes-Oxley world, a company’s CCO is a “linchpin in organizational efforts to comply with applicable law.” When a company fires (or asks him to resign), it is a significance decision for all involved in corporate governance and should not be solely done at the discretion of the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) alone.

Both the DOJ minimum best practices and the amendment to the US Sentencing Guidelines, giving the CCO direct access to a company’s Board of Directors, would seem to provide the profile that would mandate that a Board wants to know the reason why a CCO (or Chief Risk Officer) would suddenly resign, particularly after he “repeated clashed” with a CEO over compliance issues. The universal corporate blanket “resigned to pursue other opportunities” is a white-wash that a Board should look beyond, if indeed that reason was given to the MF Board. The bottom line is that when a CCO leaves, particularly if it was due to a clash with the CEO, the Board had better take a close look into the reasons as it may be that the CEO wants to take risks which could put the company at grave risk.

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, 2011