Yesterday the FCPA Professor reported the Department of Justice (DOJ) had issued a Declination to Linde North American Inc. and Linde Gas North America LLC (collectively “Linde”). This is the first Declination issued by the DOJ in the era of the Trump Administration. For that reason alone, it was instructive and should be studied by the compliance profession. However, the case presented several interesting factors which merit consideration so I am presenting lessons to be learned for the Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) or compliance practitioner.

The Bribery Scheme

Linde acquired Spectra Gases, Inc. (Spectra Gases) in October 2006. In November 2006, it purchased certain assets from the National High Technology Center (NHTC) of the Republic of Georgia. One of the keys to this purchase was a piece of equipment called the ““boron column,” which were used to produce boron gas.” Sales of boron gas after the acquisition helped fund the purchase price and payout to Spectra executives who stayed on after Linde purchased Spectra Gases.

Unfortunately, the three Spectra executives who stayed on were in cahoots with corrupt offices from the NHTC who made the sales agreement with Linde. Part of the Earn-Out by the former Spectra (now Linde) officials was paid to these corrupt government officials, both directly and through certain third parties. But the funding scheme to pay the bribes was quite creative and demonstrates once again to the compliance practitioner the myriad ways in which funds can be generated to pay bribes.

For reasons not made clear, Linde did not purchase the boron column outright but allowed the former Spectra executives and the corrupt NHTC officials to form two new entities to own and operate the boron column, Spectra Investors LLC (Spectra Investors) and Spectra Gases Georgia, which was wholly owned by Spectra Investors. Spectra Investors was owned 51% by the corrupt NHT officials and 49% by the Spectra Gases executives who now worked for Linde. Spectra Gases Georgia was formed as a separate management company, by the NHTC officials, which was claimed to provide services to Spectra Investors for which it would receive recompense. Of course, there was no evidence of services being delivered under this arrangement as it was simply a mechanism to funnel monies to the corrupt officials.

As a result of the ownership structure of Spectra Investors, with 51% being owned by corrupt NHTC officials and the management services contract, the corrupt NHTC officials received “approximately 75% of the profits generated by the boron column” while Spectra Gases received 25% of the profits. Clearly even with bribery and corruption, it was a bad business deal. In January 2010, Linde dissolved Spectra Gases and became its successor-in-interest and at some point later discovered the illegal conduct. Prior to the time of the dissolution, Spectra Gases had “received approximately $6,390,000”. After Linde became the direct owner, it “received approximately $1,430,000 as a result of the corrupt” actions.

The Declination

While there is a dearth of fact about how the matter came to the attention of Linde and when it disclosed the matter to the DOJ, the decision to decline to prosecute was based on the following factors: (1) Linde’s timely self-disclosure; (2) a “thorough, comprehensive and proactive investigation” [emphasis supplied]; (3) Linde’s full cooperation and meeting the Yates Memo requirement for disclosing all known relevant facts about the “individuals involved in or responsible for the misconduct”; (4) full profit disgorgement; (5) Linde’s enhancement of its compliance program and internal controls; and (6) Linde’s full remediation, including termination or discipline of the three Spectra executives and lower-level employees involved in the misconduct; termination of the fraudulent management contract between the corrupt NHTC officials and Spectra Investors and termination of the Earn-Out payment due to the former Spectra executives who became Linde employees. The company also made the following payments.

Payment Category Amount
Spectra Gases Illegal profits $6,390,000
Linde illegal profits $1,430,000
Corrupt Payments to NHTC officials $3,415,000
Total $11,235,000

Lessons Learned

This was yet another Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) action where a company performed insufficient due diligence in the acquisition phase. The timing of the Linde purchase of Spectra Gases and Spectra Gases’ purchase of the income producing assets is too close in time to be a coincidence. It would certainly appear that Linde purchased Spectra Gases to facilitate its acquisition of the boron column and other assets. If your company is going to make such a multi-step acquisition, you must perform due diligence on all the actors and the assets involved.

The Byzantine corporate structure created for the ownership of the boron column, its operation and management contract are clear red flags that any CCO should sniff out immediately. While I am sure the internal corporate excuse for this clear ruse was the ubiquitous ‘tax considerations’; every such transaction should be reviewed by compliance as well. Anytime there is more than one entity to accomplish one task, there is the possibility of fraud present. Further, it is not clear how Linde could not have been aware of the ownership interests of a company which it ultimately controlled. It would seem that the company did not even make any inquiry.

Even in 2006, the Republic of Georgia’s reputation for bribery and corruption was quite high. The 2006 Transparency International-Corrupt Perceptions Index (TI-CPI) listed Georgia at 99 out of 176 countries listed so that alone warranted red flag scrutiny. If you are purchasing an entity in a country with such well known affinity for corruption, extra care is warranted. Perhaps back in 2006, Linde did not view the FCPA as something which it would deal with in such a situation.

Yet even with all the apparent miss-steps and non-steps of compliance, the company was able to secure a declination from the DOJ. While there may be some additional penalties or sanctions by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for the failures of internal controls, the result obtained by Linde was certainly a superior result. The company would seem to have met the four pillars under the FCPA Pilot Program through (a) self-disclosure, (b) extraordinary cooperation, (3) full remediation, and (d) profit disgorgement. Interestingly, the profit disgorgement in this case would appear to have been beyond the five year of limitations for profit disgorgement under the recent Supreme Court decision in Kokesh. If there is a FCPA enforcement action brought by the SEC perhaps additional facts will be recited in any resolution documents.

Nevertheless, kudos are due to Linde and its counsel for obtaining this declination. Every CCO should study it for both the superior result received and underlying facts to see if you face anything similar in the Republic of Georgia or elsewhere.

 

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, 2017

This week, as their tribute to their Dad, we are guest hosted by Jay’s daughters, Millie and Michela. They lead us through a wide-ranging discussion on some of the week’s top compliance related stories, including:

  1. The Covington and Burling report on corporate culture at Uber. For what it means to the compliance practitioner, see Tom’s piece in the FCPA Compliance & Ethics Blog. For another view on the car crash of corporate governance at Uber, see Matt Kelly’s piece in Radical Compliance. Finally for an article the on investor who took on both Uber and Silicon Valley for similar issues, see this article on NPR.
  2. Swiss banker, Jorge Luis Arzuaga pleads guilty to laundering money for FIFA officials. See article by Dick Cassin in the FCPA Blog.
  3. DOJ files civil forfeiture complaints Thursday against an additional $540 million in assets allegedly bought with money looted from a Malaysian sovereign wealth fund, 1MDB. See article in the WSJ by clicking here.
  4. Adnan Khashoggi, the Saudi arms dealer in the middle of the giant 1970s bribery scandal that led to enactment of the FCPA died this past week. See article by Dick Cassin in the FCPA Blog.
  5. CCOs still struggle with outdated technology, siloed data. See article by Aarti Maharaja in the FCPA Blog. See Ethisphere-Convercent Report, by clicking here.
  6. Brazilian prosecutor-turned-lawyer under ethics investigation following J&F settlement. See article by Michael Griffiths in GIR by clicking here (sub req’d)
  7. Jay previews his weekend report.
  8. Tom continues to talk about the release of his new book 2016 – The Year in Corporate FCPA Enforcement. For more information and to purchase, click here.
  9. Happy Father’s Day to all you dads out there.

Beginning with the Department of Justice’s (DOJ’s) Yates Memo, its Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) Pilot Program and then the release of the Evaluation of Corporate Compliance Programs (Evaluation), I believe the DOJ has put even more pressure on every Chief Compliance Officer (CCO), and indeed every company, to get an investigation done quickly, efficiently and most importantly done right is even greater.

I am continuing my series on internal investigations with Jonathan Marks, a partner at Marcum LLP and a well-known internal investigation expert, to get some of his thoughts around what goes into a well-run investigation. His perspective is from someone who performs investigations outside your organization, either because the matter was so serious an outside expert was required; specific subject matter expertise (SME) was not available in your organization or due to the objectivity of the investigation. Today I want to consider who should be on your investigation team.

As discussed previously data collection, retention and preservation are critical elements of any significant internal investigation so you will need to have the involvement of your IT function. IT can help put a litigation hold on email that can help with the preservation of data in other areas of the organization. Further, they can assist with certain other aspects as more facts and circumstances are known.

HR is often an underutilized function for an internal investigator. HR can be very useful to provide context about employees’ work history. There may be notes in HR areas as diverse as training and exit interviews. HR can also be useful to give the investigator “some insight regarding the credibility of the individual that might be making the allegation. For example, are they a good and trusted employee? How long have they been there? What’s their general demeanor? What’s been the feedback on that particular individual?”

Both the Board and senior management can provide different types of support for an investigation. Marks noted the Board has oversight responsibility and senior management is responsible for the day-to-day, tactical operations of the organization, including the internal controls. This means from the Board’s perspective, “we would want to make sure that our governance processes were in place and operating effectively when it comes to an investigation. So, my concern, or concern from a board member’s perspective, from an investigation, early on, is what’s the financial impact; what’s the legal impact, for a publicly traded organization? Are there potential issues here which we as a Board need to be concerned with going forward?”

From the senior management’s perspective, Marks believes “the key thing there is if there is an issue and there was the ability to either override controls or controls weren’t in place or there was something that basically caused this, what do we need to do to assess that? What do we need to do to fix that? What was the root cause for this potential bad behavior? Like I said, how do we fix that or how do we put a plan together in order to fix that or shore that up?” He emphasized this is not the Board’s responsibility but that of senior management. Marks also pointed out that while an investigator would probably assume that the Board of Directors had been notified at this point about the issues being investigated, the investigators may want to make certain the Board has been made aware of the incident and investigation.

Marks suggested outside consultants in the form of forensic accountants should be a part of your investigation team. Such a skilled set team member can bring an investigative mind that drives them to answer questions about what occurred, when and how it happened, and who was involved. However, most lawyers do not understand how forensic accounting is performed and how they can assist your compliance investigation going forward.

Forensic auditing works to collect and analyze accounting and internal-controls evidence. They use this information to produce a fact-based report that can inform the decision-making process in inquiries, investigations and dispute resolution. The by-products of internal audit’s work can include remediation strategies to help a company mitigate and remedy procedural or internal-controls gaps that allowed the underlying issue to occur. Inquiries into accounting and internal controls raise a host of technical issues requiring specialized knowledge that forensic accountants are uniquely positioned to provide. This is a qualitative difference from internal audit, which more often looks at process to determine if it has been adhered to in a procedure.

The objective of a forensic audit investigation team member is to collect, analyze and report on the evidence or facts surrounding an act that often has litigious, fraudulent or criminal implications. Auditors also collect and analyze evidence, but an independent auditor’s objective is to attest to the credibility of assertions that are under examination, such as the material accuracy of financial statements for which the audited company’s management is responsible. However, a key role of the forensic accountant is to identify a concern and to notify company management about the issue or issues discovered.

As with a decision on bringing in outside counsel to perform a compliance investigation, you will need to consider whether a forensic accountant should be retained as an outside consultant or hired as an employee. One critical reason to bring in an outside professional is so they will be not be governed by management or influenced by potential biases within a company. Lastly is the issue of privilege. If a forensic accountant is not assigned through your legal department or through outside counsel, you can kiss away even the chance of claiming privilege.

Obviously, the GC would be involved to help protect the attorney client privilege if for no other reason. Further, an investigation needs to have the corporate compliance function involved, to understand what compliance program was in place at the time of the incident in question, what procedures the compliance function had and understand if this truly was a gap in the compliance function or “maybe there was an area within the compliance function that wasn’t operating as prescribed, or maybe it was a little bit weak.”

Tomorrow, I conclude this three-part series with Marks thoughts on some of the top investigative challenges he has observed in his 25-year practice.

 

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, 2017

Adam West died this weekend. He was the TV Batman I knew growing up. They say the actor who first introduced you to a character will always be your favorite and while I am not sure if that holds true or not with West’s portrayal of Batman, I still do appreciate the wit, charm, double-entendres, camp, panache and style all his own that he brought to the role. According to his obituary in the New York Times, “The popularity of the “Batman” series was international, and fans had long memories. In 2005, Mr. West was interviewed for an article in The Independent of London. At 76, almost 40 years after the end of the TV show, Mr. West said: “What I loved about Batman was his total lack of awareness when it came to his interaction with the outside world.””

The thing I remember about West’s Batman was the singular passion he brought to crime-fighting, making it seem fun. I always thought that was the point of the comic books I grew up with in the 1960s. This style certainly changed with the introduction of the Dark Knight in the 1980s but it was all still Batman, even if he was more now of a vigilante and not crime fighter. So, here’s to Adam West with a kapow, a splat and of course a Nana, Nana, Nana BATMAN!

It is the passion which West brought to the role that informs today’s blog post. One thing many compliance practitioners have is passion for our roles. The reasons are as varied as each person. For me, it is largely the opportunity to make things a little better than I found them, through a business solution which has much broader societal implications. Many other compliance professionals are passionate about their jobs as well. I thought about all these concepts when I read an article in a recent Corner Office column by Adam Bryant, entitled “The Power of Positive Attitude, where he profiled Barbara Corcoran, an entrepreneur and judge on Shark Tank. One thing that came through loud and clear in the piece was the passion Corcoran brings to management and leadership.

I was most interested in how she was able to attract others to work for her that would share her passion for her primary business, which is real estate. Corcoran said, “I just look for the light in the person, to see what’s good about them. I can spot it a mile away. And I never read a résumé until after the interview because you never know who wrote it, and you can be fooled by it. If you read a résumé, the interview is nothing but a business small-talk session confirming stuff you just read. So I’ll just ask: “What do you like? Tell me about your mom. Where did you grow up? What’s your hobby? What was your favorite job? Why?””

Equally important is for a person to have joy in what they are doing for if you have joy in what you are doing, chances are you will be a happier person. Corcoran said this insight led to “also trying to figure out if they’re happy, because unhappy people don’t accomplish a lot. I’m also looking for their energy, and if they’re going to be able to see the possibility in anything I propose. Those are the major cards. They cover 90 percent of successful people in the workplace.”

But it is more than joy in your own role. Corcoran feels if you are not happy, it can infect your entire team. She said, “Early on, I hired a couple of people who had all the markings of great salespeople, but they were not happy people. I learned that if you have just one unhappy person in a pool of 30 happy people, you feel that weight.”

Corcoran’s insights for the Chief Compliance Officer (CCO), compliance practitioner and indeed corporate compliance function are significant. First and foremost, a compliance professional must have a can-do attitude. There is the biggest difference between the compliance function and the legal function. Corporate counsel is not there to solve, let alone prevent problems. An in-house legal department exists to protect the corporation. Hence many in-house lawyers take pride in being Dr. No as they see it as their job to tell the business folks they cannot do something.

This same concept also differentiates compliance professionals from legal professionals in another manner. As a recovering lawyer, I understand one having a passion about the law but that passion is generally articulated in the phase ‘is it legal’ while the passion of the compliance professional is broader, looking at the wider question of whether something should be done; not simply can it be done.

The insight around Corcoran’s employees being “able to see the possibility in anything I propose” is also an important insight. Compliance professionals are required to solve problems, or in the parlance of compliance-speak remediate. Compound the business process nature of a best practices compliance program and you quickly see how resolving problems through innovation is an important part of the compliance professional’s tool kit.

That is the passion I see in the compliance profession. Compliance is a profession that can make businesses operate more efficiently and more effectively through the identification, measurement and management of risk. Moreover, the compliance professional helps to fight the global scourge of bribery and corruption. I am proud to a part of that profession.

 

To listen to the iconic Batman TV show opening YouTube, click 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.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2017

In the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Evaluation of Corporate Compliance Programs (Evaluation), under Prong 7 Confidential Reporting and Investigation asks the following: Properly Scoped Investigation by Qualified Personnel How has the company ensured that the investigations have been properly scoped, and were independent, objective, appropriately conducted, and properly documented? These questions were clearly presaged by the DOJ’s Yates Memo and the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) Pilot Program. The pressure on every Chief Compliance Officer (CCO), and indeed company, to get an investigation done quickly, efficiently and most importantly done right is even greater now.

Jonathan Marks, a partner at Marcum LLP and a well-known internal investigation expert, to get some of his thoughts around what goes into a well-run investigation. Marks began by cautioning that any CCO must be cognizant of the strictures laid out in the Evaluation. It all begins with who in-house is looking at the complaint and does the CCO, compliance practitioner or legal team have the skills and capabilities to handle the matter which has arisen? Obviously if there are esoteric accounting issues or significant internal control work-arounds and overrides, a CCO may not have those skills to really understand all the issues. Similarly, if the matter is a global FCPA or equivalent bribery and corruption matter, Marks related, these “come in different flavors, and because they come in different flavors you may not have the skills or capabilities to do an investigation that would take place in say Brazil or Russia or China or India.”

All of this ties into how the government will view an investigation, particularly if the company does not have the skills and capabilities necessary to analyze the allegation, or if the allegation of fraud is serious enough where they believe that an independent investigation rather than an internal investigation really needs to be done.” Moreover, if allegations or the investigation are going to be subject to regulatory scrutiny, one of the benefits of having somebody come in from the outside is that there is independence, skepticism, the ability to work through things unlike you would with an internal investigation where an internal audit might be involved. Marks concluded by noted, “from an outsider’s perspective looking in, there is more credibility of having somebody come to conduct your investigation.”

Marks believes the first thing that any investigator must do is understand the business environment and the extended business enterprise. He further stated, “what I mean is really understand the business you’re dealing with, the industry that it’s in, the potential risks, the pressures and motivations that might be at play here. Understanding that generally with most frauds there is some pressure to do something because of something else and there are some motivations.” Such an initial understanding can help you formulate a comprehension of the internal controls that might be in place or that were lacking that could either have not been designed properly or overridden.

The next step is to quickly and thoroughly analyze the initial underlying facts and circumstances when it comes to the issue or the issues at hand. For Marks, the number one issue is the credibility of the complaint, which is more than simply the credibility of the complainant. Marks said it was important to understand how the allegations of wrongdoing came to light and the seriousness of the issues involved. He went on to note that his initial inquiry would include such questions as, “What are people saying happened or what is an individual saying that happened? You know the background of the complaint, if known. How long have they been with the organization? Are they credible? Have they complained before? If in fact this was either a whistle blower or a tip.”

At this early assessment, Marks believes you should also consider the possible legal and financial impact of the allegations. If you determine it is serious at this early juncture, you should always consider your internal crisis management team and if your organization does not have one, you should consider retaining such an expert. Marks explained, “Crisis management doesn’t necessarily mean that a crisis happened, it means that if in fact we are in crisis mode, how does that impact the company? So, thinking about those issues and then knowing what to do, if in fact you are in a crisis mode, I think is ultra-critical.” He went on to add, “I think crisis management is totally underplayed. I think that many organizations don’t have an appropriate crisis management plan. If something bad does happen, a lot of times I see organizations that are struggling to kind of put the pieces together.”

Marks also noted that both communication and collaboration are critical even at this early stage. He advocated that the company ask a series of questions such as what issues are “on the table” and who is impacted by these issues within the company; is it the company auditors or some other corporate function? He also advocated considering third parties and contracted entities in this calculus by inquiring if there were key suppliers impacted by the investigation. On the one hand, “a key supplier that might get wind of this and might not want to do business with us anymore?” Yet, conversely, such a key supplier could be a sole source supplier so you may need think about alternative arrangements. You should begin to consider these issues early on and continue to think about them as you are going through and doing and investigation.

Document preservation is always a critical issue and Marks believes this is one which government regulators will pay particular attention to both at this initial phase and throughout the investigation. You need to take steps to ensure all data is locked down. This means getting into the weeds on such issues as where are all your company’s servers located; what is your back-up situation; do you have hand-held devices secured and are the organization’s instant and text messaging tied down. If you do not take such steps you could well find yourself in a situation where either information is lost or there’s a possibility or suspicion that information is lost. Unfortunately, that is the situation that leads to a prosecutor’s imagination going wild. Basically, you need to have the information locked down so that if the government wants to come in and perform an independent review or test your hypothesis, you can provide them with the required information.

Three Key Takeaways

  1. Always remember your ultimate audience may be the government.
  2. You must understand both the business environment and extended business enterprise.
  3. Communication and collaboration in any investigation are critical so you should begin early and continue to do so throughout the investigation.