Thursday, May 17, 2012

M&A FCPA Compliance Risks

The risk of liability under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) cannot be understated when undertaking corporate merger and acquisition activity.
In recent years, pressure to avoid corruptive practices within mergers and acquisitions has heightened, with due diligence becoming imperative for companies undertaking acquisitions outside the U.S. The DOJ’s Criminal Division Presidential Budget Request stated:
FCPA enforcement is consistent with Obama’s administration goals of promoting transparency, democracy, sustainable development and good governance’.
Through several administrative cease-and-desist proceedings, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has reasserted the importance of the Act. In particular, they have highlighted the importance of completing proper due diligence, so as to ensure both the determination of the deal’s true value and the extent to which compliance related steps must be implemented after closing.

Key Corruption Risks: Mergers and Acquisitions

There is a risk of corruption when undertaking any Merger or Acquisition. Crucially, if an acquired company was tainted by corruption prior to its acquisition, its new parent company will assume both civil and criminal liability for that corruption. Recent SEC findings have confirmed this. The cases of the Ball Corporation, Diageo and Watts Water Technologies, where companies were fined for failing to operate comprehensive compliance programs, all involved successor liability.

There is also a risk that a company enters into a merger or acquisition on the basis of financial statements which include revenue that has been corruptly obtained and is therefore not sustainable. When a party to a merger or acquisition has entered into corrupt behavior, the reputation of the law abiding party may come into jeopardy. This may impact upon sales figures. It may also impact upon overhead costs in the form of significant penalty charges.

Factors Leading to Increased Risk of Corruption: Mergers and Acquisitions
Increased global support for US investigations into foreign corrupt practices and global anti-corruption efforts should not be overlooked. However, where an international element is present, the risk of corruption is enhanced. For example, when joint venture deals are entered into in developing/emerging countries, investors are often required to incur additional risks by forming associations with local partners. In addition, undertaking financial transactions also carries increased risk in developing/emerging countries which may not have as robust financial regulatory framework as other jurisdictions. Thus, due diligence must be exercised when transferring money abroad as part of an international acquisition.

The way in which an acquisition is structured will also directly impact upon the risk of corruption. When acquiring a company, it is critical to ascertain whether a complete acquisition is required as opposed to an asset only purchase. Significantly, asset only purchases pose less corruption risks for the acquiring companies than whole company acquisitions. This is because when a company (as opposed to just its assets) is acquired, all historical liabilities remain.

Completing A Merger or Acquisition: Understanding the FCPA
As we have shared in greater depth in previous posts on this blog the FCPA applies to those with formal ties to the U.S. and also to those who violate the Act within the U.S. In broad terms, the act prohibits any payments to foreign officials where the motive is corrupt. Any payment must be intended to influence the recipient’s acts or decisions in order to assist with obtaining or retaining businesses with any party.

Crucial to FCPA compliance is the completion of pre-closing due diligence. This involves undertaking an investigation of the business that is being acquired prior to the signing of contacts. In such an investigation a company may refer to many documents including procurement reports, financial statements and compliance procedures.

Post-acquisition due diligence should also be undertaken. This involves an in-depth examination of the operational dynamics of the newly acquired company. It should build upon the pre-closure due diligence and may identify significant impact factors and potential areas for compliance enhancement.

Understanding Recent Developments
On 21st February 2012, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Legal Reform and 36 other business organizations wrote to the DOJ seeking guidance relating to:

several issues and questions of significant concern to businesses seeking in good faith to comply with the FCPA’.

Queries related to compliance programs, instrumentalities of foreign government, parent company and successor company liability, the extent to which intent is necessary and issues surrounding gifts between parties.

Several informal meetings have since been facilitated with members of both private and public sector organisations in order to discuss topics relevant to the guidance. On 24th April 2012, the DOJ and the SEC attended a discussion with representatives from both the American Bar Association of International Law and the International Corruption Committee.

As a result of this consultation, it has been predicted that guidance will be produced as a joint issue between the SEC and the DOJ. As yet, however, it appears that no commitment has been made relating to the exact content of the guidance. Equally, no timescale for release of the guidance has been issued, nor is it clear whether the guidance will be developed using the notice and commitment process included within the Administrative Procedure Act.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Anatomy of Corruption in Public Procurement

Public procurement presents significant risk under the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). Cases like Siemens Argentina, Siemens Venezuela, Johnson & Johnson, and Tenaris highlight the risk. Large amounts of money are at stake when the government procures things like roads, computer systems, oil extraction services, medical equipment, power stations, and textbooks. Companies must interact directly with government officials. And government officials have pockets of discretion that can give rise to manipulation of the process. When corruption is involved, procurement decisions are no longer based on price, experience, and quality.

I investigated corruption and fraud for The World Bank for several years in multiple countries known for high corruption risk. Almost every one of these investigations involved an expensive public procurement that The World Bank was financing in whole or in part. This financing is what gave The World Bank the jurisdiction to investigate and proceed against companies and businesspeople that we had found to have engaged in wrongdoing.
Public Procurement is Common
Government procurement is more common than one might think. It has been estimated to account for 14 to 20 percent of a country’s GDP, which would be between $8.16 trillion and $11.65 trillion worldwide each year. In Mexico, for example, the federal government spent about $53 billion in 2008 on public procurements, constituting about 18.4 percent of Mexico’s GDP. In 2009, it spent about $78 billion.
Common Corruption Schemes in Public Procurement
Through my experiences in private practice and at The World Bank, I have seen several common corruption schemes in public procurements. Internal compliance officers should be especially vigilant when their companies engage in this area of work. Here are some common issues to watch for.
Sometimes procurement officials require that bidders hire “consultants” as a way to funnel money back to the officials. This formed the basis of one Baker Hughes action and several of the Siemens actions.
Sometimes companies will disguise direct payments to procurement officials as something else. In the Johnson & Johnson case, the company funneled money to procurement authorities at state-owned hospitals by using sales agents to award “civil contracts” to doctors, purportedly to conduct trainings for the company that never actually happened.
Sometimes companies hire “experts” that, with or without the company’s knowledge, previously worked for the procurement agency itself. These individuals still have contacts in the procurement offices. Maybe they even designed the actual specifications of the tender at issue.  As former officials, they know how to game the system.
Sometimes improper payments, if made during the project design phase, will influence procurement authorities to narrowly design a project’s specifications to benefit the company making the payments.
Sometimes project designers proactively seek to include complicated technical features in the tender. The more technical, the more room an official has to use discretion in the selection process to favor one bidder over another.
Sometimes companies gain access to confidential information, such as getting to see the tender specifications before they are officially released. In the Tenaris case, the company obtained access to competitors’ confidential bid information and then revised its own bids accordingly to win.
Sometimes procurement officials might choose to fully vet the bid of one company while giving a less rigorous review to the bid of another. In this way, companies that are unable to show appropriate qualifications and experience or the ability to deliver the appropriate product are still able to win the contract.
Sometimes companies will learn early on that a government is considering the procurement of goods and will then seek to “entertain” procurement officials before the tender process even begins. During these periods, actors are able to develop complicated schemes to transfer improper payments and direct contracts in return.
The World Bank does a good job in its publication, “The Most Common Red Flags of Fraud and Corruption in Procurement,” of highlighting other red flag in procurement. For example, when a procurement authority does not select a lowest bidder, repeatedly awards contracts to the same bidder, or changes the contract terms and values after the process concludes, investigators know to take a closer look.
High Alert Needed
Compliance officers should be on high alert when dealing with procurements. The above themes can help in structuring their own compliance measures to respond to risk.
In addition to being mindful of these corruption schemes, companies should also be mindful of the books and records and internal controls violations that can be associated with them. They should put mechanisms in place to ensure that management authorizes any use of agents, third parties are fully vetted and trained, transactions are accurately recorded in the books, backup documentation is maintained to justify expenses, and justification is maintained for the amount of fees paid to agents.
Companies should also make sure they know and follow the rules of public procurements. Almost every country has in place detailed rules that govern this activity. The World Bank requires countries to follow Procurement Guidelines for projects it finances. Companies should understand when they can and cannot interact directly with officials. They should know when it is appropriate to revise or clarify their bids. They should know and comply with timelines for submitting their bids, submitting clarification questions, and expecting procurement decisions.

@2012 Matteson Ellis Law, PLLC
Author: Matt Ellis

Friday, January 13, 2012

Another BRIC in the Anti-Corruption Wall (Brazil considers foreign bribery law overhaul)

The Brazilian Congress is now considering Draft Bill 6.826/2010 that would dramatically strengthen its foreign bribery law. This is a significant development – the result of years of effort by Brazilian authorities working closely with their OECD, United States, and other counterparts. It is also timely. Sophisticated Brazilian-based multinationals are quickly expanding internationally, and encountering corruption risk. At the same time, Brazil is grappling with corruption on the domestic front: the President’s administration has lost six Ministers to corruption allegations since June 2011, and the country consistently ranks high on corruption risk indices.
Brazil’s effort is part of a broader movement. Countries that have adopted the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention, the United Nations Convention Against Corruption and other treaties are working to strengthen their anti-corruption laws. The FCPA Professor summarized Turkey’s recent progress in an earlier post. The Brazilian bill should improve its treaty implementation status with the OECD. (Brazil’s gaps were highlighted in the OECD’s Country Monitoring Reports for Brazil.) Moreover, as a significant effort by a major economy and regional leader, this bill may have impact outside of Brazil.
These provisions constitute dramatic changes in the Brazilian legal system. According to Carlos Henrique da Silva Ayres, one of the attorneys heading the Anti-Corruption and Compliance Committee of the Brazilian Institute for Business Law (Ibrademp):
The new law still requires some adjustments; however, it should be more easily applied than current laws. It introduces features that are relatively new or non-existent in the Brazilian anti-corruption arena, such as the credits corporations will get for compliance programs, self-disclosure and cooperation with authorities.
Key Provisions in Brazil’s Draft Legislation
In addition to penalizing domestic bribery, Brazil’s draft bill prohibits bribery of foreign public officials, defining the act in a way that appears consistent with the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention. Some provisions are particularly relevant:
Corporate Liability. The draft bill establishes the direct civil liability of corporations (also known as “legal persons”) for bribery of foreign public officials. It also makes corporations liable for the acts of their directors, officers, employees and agents under the theory of respondeat superior. These are dramatic developments in a country where the notion of corporate liability has received only limited recognition.
These changes bring Brazilian law closer to the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). Why not extend criminal liability to corporations, like the FCPA does? The answer is reflected in Brazil’s civil law system. Unlike common law jurisdictions, civil law systems generally do not apply criminal liability to legal persons. Civil law typically considers corporations to be abstract, intangible entities that have no capacity for the mens rea (intent) required to establish criminal conduct.
The OECD Antibribery Convention recognizes this variation in legal systems and compensates for it. Article 3(2) provides:
In the event that, under the legal system of a Party, criminal responsibility is not applicable to legal persons, that Party shall ensure that legal persons shall be subject to effective, proportionate and dissuasive non-criminal sanctions, including monetary sanctions, for bribery of foreign public officials.
Tightened Sanctions. The draft bill would establish harsh consequences for bribery of foreign officials. Fines would range between 1% and 30% of the company’s gross revenue. In addition, the bill would make prosecutions public, potentially creating reputational risk. Companies can be debarred from public contracts based on bribery violations.
These steep penalties appear responsive to the requirement of sanctions that are “effective, proportionate and dissuasive.” If the legislation is enacted, it will be important to watch how Brazilian courts apply these sanctions. The OECD Working Group on application of the convention is certain to review that question (see a previous review here).
Voluntary Disclosure, Cooperation, and Compliance Programs. The draft bill provides that the government should take into account voluntary disclosure, cooperation with government investigations, the existence of pre-existing and effective compliance programs, and other factors when determining sanctions. Specifically, Article 9 states:
The following will be taken into consideration at the application of the sanction:
I. the seriousness of the offense;
II. the advantage obtained or sought;
III. the accomplishment or non-accomplishment of the offense;
IV. the extension of the breach or the danger of injury;
V. the negative result caused by the injury;
VI. the economic status of the company;
VII. the cooperation in investigating the facts, through practices such as reporting violations to public authorities before a legal proceeding is initiated and the promptness in providing information in the course of investigations; and
VIII. the existence of internal integrity mechanisms and procedures, audits, and incentives to report violations, as well as the effective application of codes of ethics and conduct within the company.
This also makes the Brazilian approach similar to that of the FCPA. In fact, many of the provisions in the Brazilian bill appear to be directly lifted from the U.S. Department of Justice’s McNulty Memorandum and Chapter 8 (Sentencing of Organizations) of the 2010 United States Federal Sentencing Guidelines. But the bill goes further than the FCPA by incorporating considerations of such factors into the law. Under the FCPA, such factors make up enforcement policy and practice.
The difference, again, flows from Brazil’s civil law system. As a general principle of law, prosecutors and public authorities do not have discretion to seek specific sanctions. Rather, sanctions must be determined in accordance with a written law. Invoking a memorandum on enforcement practice would have little, if any, effect before a Brazilian court. In order to have any relevance, considerations like cooperation and compliance must be written into the law.
Mr. Ayres, along with Bruno Carneiro Maeda (also of Ibrademp), have testified before the Brazilian Congress about the draft legislation. They point out some lingering questions related to Article 9. They seek clarification on whether companies will get credit for their cooperation after proceedings have already begun. They are also concerned that the draft bill does not describe the elements of a credit-worthy compliance program.
Foreign Official. The Brazilian draft bill defines “Foreign Public Administration” and “Foreign Public Official” in a way that is consistent with the OECD and United Nations Conventions. Specifically, Article 6 provides:
The agencies and government entities or diplomatic representations of a foreign country are considered foreign public administration, no matter their level or sphere of government, as well as companies held directly or indirectly by the government of a foreign country.
For purposes of this law, a foreign government official is any individual who, although momentarily or without payment, holds a public position, employment or function in any public agency or entity or diplomatic representations of foreign country, and also in companies held directly or indirectly by the government of a foreign country or in any international public organization.
This definition encompasses a broad range of entities, including agents of the state, state-owned enterprises, international public organizations, and other instrumentalities of the state. This definition would make employees at these entities “foreign public officials.” The broad definition appears to stand in contrast with ongoing efforts in the United States to clarify or narrow the
meaning of that term.
Accounting Provisions. The Brazilian draft bill does not include any accounting provisions, as required under Article 8 of the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention. However, Brazil’s laws provide similar provisions elsewhere, which work to meet the OECD requirement as noted in the OECD Working Group Phase II Report. The report also notes that, while an advanced framework for accounting requirements exists under other laws, requirements under the law for internal controls have room for development.

The FCPAméricas blog is not intended to provide legal advice to its readers. The blog entries and posts include only the thoughts, ideas, and impressions of its authors and contributors, and should be considered general information only about the Americas, anti-corruption laws including the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, issues related to anti-corruption compliance, and any other matters addressed. Nothing in this publication should be interpreted to constitute legal advice or services of any kind. Furthermore, information found on this blog should not be used as the basis for decisions or actions that may affect your business; instead, companies and businesspeople should seek legal counsel from qualified lawyers regarding anti-corruption laws or any other legal issue. The Editor and the contributors to this blog shall not be responsible for any losses incurred by a reader or a company as a result of information provided in this publication. For more information, please contact
The author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author.
@2012 Matteson Ellis Law, PLLC
Author: Matt Ellis

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The End is Nigh for Facilitation Payments – Get Ahead of the Breeze

Last summer, an article was published in the University of Pennsylvania, Journal of Business Law, entitled “The OECD’s Call for an End to the ‘Corrosive’ Facilitation Payments and the International Focus on the Facilitation Payments Exception under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act”. It was authored by Jon Jordan, Senior Investigations Counsel, in the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) Unit of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). In this article, Jordan reviews, at length, the creation of the facilitation payment exception to the FCPA and the international criticism of the US position by the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Transparency International, the World Economic Forum and TRACE International. The article also contains a discussion of the hidden costs to US companies which still allow facilitation payments under their company compliance regimes. I found this article to be an excellent review of the issue of facilitation payments and a useful guide to the compliance practitioner on how to navigate this knotty problem.
Costs of Facilitation Payments
1. The Bull’s Eye
Jordan notes that the cost of making facilitation payments is often higher than simply the (purportedly) small dollar amount. He believes that once a company starts down the road of making such payments, it may well lead “to higher costs imposed on those companies that choose to engage in that type of activity.” He quotes Alexandra Wrage, President of TRACE International, that having a corporate policy of allowing facilitation payments is like “putting a bull’s eye on your company’s forehead” as the payment of facilitation payments sets “a permissive tone, which leads to more and greater demands.”
2. Books and Records Issues
A second reason detailed by Jordan is the hidden intra-corporate transaction costs in making facilitation payments. There are a “complex matrix of domestic and foreign anti-bribery laws that companies must navigate when making facilitation payments, and steering through that matrix can be a compliance nightmare and a costly legal undertaking.” The clearest example of this situation is the UK Bribery Act, which has no exception for facilitation payments. If your company has a UK subsidiary, or any employees who are UK citizens, you must carve out an exclusion for them from your facilitation payment exception under your FCPA compliance policy. Got that? So not only must you have an entire carve out in your compliance protocols, your internal accounting system, which is required under the FCPA to record internal controls, you must also make sure that no UK citizen or person otherwise under the jurisdiction of the UK Bribery Act, makes such a claim for reimbursement under your company policy.
 3. Customers
The same is true for large UK based multi-national companies with which your company might transact business. The most obvious example in the energy arena is BP, which not only bans facilitation payments, but requires that any company which provides services for them ban facilitation payments made while doing work for or performing services on BP’s behalf. So think through how you would train your employees on how to properly make and record facilitation payments under your FCPA compliance policy with the HUGE EXCEPTION of when they might be performing some work under the 5 year Master Services Agreement with BP. It’s an administrative nightmare.
Is it Legal to Bribe?
Jordan also brings up the issue that there is not any country in which facilitation payments to public officials of that country are permitted under the written law of the recipient’s country. Accordingly, even if a particular facilitation payment qualifies for an exception of the FCPA, it, nevertheless, is likely to constitute a violation of local law – as well as under anti-bribery laws of other countries that also might apply simultaneously – and thus exposes the payer, his employer and/or related parties to prosecution in one or more jurisdictions. While enforcement to date in this area has been limited increased global attention to corruption makes future action more likely. Countries that are eager to be seen as combating corruption are prosecuting the payment of small bribes with greater frequency. Remember the hellish example of UK citizen Bill Smith, who was sentenced to two years imprisonment in an Afghanistan prison for making a ‘facilitation payment’ to get his company’s vehicles out of a Kabul impoundment lot. Apparently, even Afghanistan will fight the corruption of its own government officials, particularly if the fight involves a foreigner.
You Don’t Need a Weatherman
Jordan concludes by stating, “The facilitation payments exception has become a dinosaur remnant of a bygone era…” He advises US companies to get ahead of this issue and ban such payments in their company compliance programs now. This is sound advice. I would, however, add one additional reason for such advice, which is foretold in the intro paragraph to this article.
Who does the author work for and where does he work? Let’s recap: The SEC in the FCPA Unit. The article clearly states, “The Securities and Exchange Commission, as a matter of policy, disclaims responsibility for any private publication or statement of its employees…and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Commission…” Did I mention who the author works for and where he works? You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows and the direction of that breeze you feel at your back about now is clearly running against allowing the facilitation payments to continue.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2012