It’s Official: Hiring a Foreign Official’s Relative in Exchange for Business Violates the FCPA

The U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) prohibits the entities it covers from corruptly offering “anything of value” to a foreign official for the purposes of obtaining or retaining business. In most cases, the “thing of value” offered is a traditional bribe—money, expensive gifts, lavish vacations, etc. But in some cases, firms do “favors” for foreign officials that are less direct, and do not conform quite so obviously to traditional notion of bribery. Making a generous donations to the official’s favorite charity is one example; another, which has become increasingly prominent in recent FCPA investigations—primarily in cases involving China—is preferential hiring of the relatives of the foreign officials in exchange for business opportunities. This issue got a lot of press particularly in connection with the SEC’s investigation of hiring practices at JP Morgan and other investment banks in China, but the issue is more pervasive.

These investigations raised an interesting legal question: Can providing a job or internship to the adult relative of a foreign official ever count as providing “anything of value” to the official him- or herself? To my mind, the answer is a clear yes, but not everyone agrees. Last year, Professor Andy Spalding and I engaged in a spirited and constructive debate on this question (see here, here, here, and here)—and though I think in the end our positions (mostly) converged, there was perhaps still some lingering doubt (though not in my mind) as to whether the U.S. government would or should adopt the view that offering a bribe to an official’s relative can count as offering something of value to the official.

That doubt has been laid to rest. In the BNY Mellon settlement from last August, the settlement document explicitly endorsed the view that the firm’s decision to provide internships to foreign officials’ relatives counted as providing “anything of value,” because “[t]he internships were valuable work experience, and the requesting family members derived significant personal value in being able to confer this benefit on their family members.” And last week, the SEC announced a settlement with Qualcomm regarding investigations into Qualcomm’s alleged FCPA violations in China; although the violations included more traditional bribes (such as lavish gifts, travel, and entertainment), the settlement focuses substantially on Qualcomm’s practice of hiring the relatives of Chinese officials (and executives at state-owned enterprises, who count as foreign officials for FCPA purposes) in exchange for favorable treatment—even when these candidates would not meet Qualcomm’s normal hiring standards.

As GAB readers know, I think that this view is legally correct, good policy, and entirely consistent with the DOJ and SEC’s past statements on this issue, including the FCPA Resource Guide (which admittedly doesn’t discuss this specific scenario explicitly). The recent settlements in BNY Mellon and Qualcomm do not, of course, have any bearing on whether I’m correct in those views. But insofar as there might have been any uncertainty about the U.S. government’s position, it has been eliminated. This is likely bad news for J.P. Morgan, but good news for the world. Why do I think it’s good news for the world? Three main reasons: Continue reading

Guest Post: Spend Anticorruption Resources on Professional Training, Not Postgraduate Education

Alan Doig, Professor at Newcastle Business School, Northumbria University, contributes the following guest post:

Resources for anticorruption are scare; how should they be spent? In particular, how should the international community (national aid agencies, international institutions, and private donors and foundations) allocate resources for education and training programs for anticorruption professionals?

Although “education” and “training” are often lumped together as one category, in fact they are quite different. Education is about the acquisition of knowledge, with the accompanying change in awareness and understanding, through the provision and assimilation of information. Training involves the acquisition of the applied knowledge and technical skills required to improve individual and organizational performance in the workplace, invariably in relation to specific roles or functions. In terms of impact, education would look for longer-term benefits and impact while training can be judged more immediately by what the person does once trained.

The question of how to spend the even more limited funds that are not tied to the big spenders (the multilateral and bilateral donors) brings this issue into sharp focus, and raises the question of whether too much too much is allocated to postgraduate anticorruption education, at the expense of practical anticorruption training. Continue reading

Announcement: ASIL Anti-Corruption Conference–Call for Papers

GAB friend and occasional contributor Professor Andrew Spalding contributes the following announcement:

The American Society of International Law (ASIL) has established an Anti-Corruption Interest Group (ACLIG)  designed to create a forum for mutual engagement among practitioners and scholars. The group will be holding its inaugural conference/workshop on October 2-3, 2015, at the University of Pennsylvania.

The ACLIG co-chairs (Professor Spalding and Professor Philip Nichols) are soliciting papers for this event, from both academics and practitioners. Those who are interested in giving a paper at the meeting should submit a one-page proposal to Ms. Lauretta Tomasco at tomascol@wharton.upenn.edu by August 7, 2015 (two weeks from today!). If accepted, a proposer must supply a paper of at least five pages by September 25, 2015. Copies of all papers will be distributed to all participants before the workshop, so that all workshop participants will be able to read the material in advance and come to the workshop prepared to thoroughly discuss the ideas contained in each paper. (The precise format of the conference/workshop will depend on the number of submissions received.)

Submissions on any topic related to corruption are welcome. Possible topics might include but are not limited to:

  • the nature, manifestations and forms of corruption
  • effects of corruption on business, economies, governments, or society
  • domestic control of corruption
  • comparative analysis of domestic corruption laws
  • corporate liability for corruption
  • codes of conduct to control corruption
  • contracting/controlling third party risk
  • corruption within nongovernmental organizations
  • collective anticorruption programs
  • anticorruption certification standards
  • control of transnational corruption
  • national and international anticorruption regimes
  • coordination of anticorruption regimes
  • soft law controls on corruption
  • legal recourse for victims of corruption
  • an anticorruption organization

Those who are interested but have further questions should please contact Professor Spalding at aspaldin@richmond.edu.

The Problem With Framing Freedom From Corruption as a Human Right

It is widely recognized that corruption and human rights violations are linked. Corruption, after all, facilitates the violation of human rights–not only civil and political rights, but social and economic rights as well. (This blog has previously discussed those linkages here and here.) Some scholars and activists have gone further, arguing that freedom from official corruption is itself a human right. A useful recent example is a Brookings Paper by attorney Matthew Murray and Professor (and occasional GAB guest contributor) Andrew Spalding, but they are not alone. Advocates of this position claim that reframing corruption as a human rights violation is needed to instill a greater sense of obligation among national governments and to promote more robust enforcement.

I am skeptical. I do not deny the deep connection between human rights and anticorruption, particularly in developing countries, where access to basic human rights such as food, shelter, water, and education, is often hampered by rampant corruption. But I do not think that trying to establish “freedom from official corruption” as a human right per se (as opposed to recognizing the ways in which corruption contributes to human rights violations and other egregious social harms) is a productive use of time and energy.

Let me first summarize what I take to be the core arguments in favor of establishing freedom from corruption as a human right, and then explain why I respectfully disagree. Continue reading

Why Do People Care So Much About the Proposed FCPA Compliance Defense?

A while back I posted a commentary on the proposal to add a so-called “compliance defense” to liability under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). My basic take was that despite all the attention and controversy surrounding this proposal, in fact it would not make very much difference in practice. Without rehashing all the arguments in detail, my reasoning was basically as follows: First, corporate defendants (the only ones who would benefit from a compliance defense) are so reluctant even to be indicted—independent of the likely outcome if a case were actually to go to trial—that the addition of a formal compliance defense to liability would not significantly alter the bargaining game between the government and the corporate defendant. Second, the government already takes compliance efforts into account at several other stages in the process (and believes it is doing so appropriately), so the addition of the formal defense wouldn’t have much of an effect on the government’s position in settlement negotiations (which, as Jordan emphasized in a post from a few months ago, is really where all the action is).

I recently had an opportunity to discuss my hypothesis that the compliance defense wouldn’t actually matter much at a Duke Law School conference, where a bunch of white collar crime and FCPA experts who know much more about this subject than I do—including Duke Law Professor Sam Buell and Richmond Law Professor (and occasional GAB contributor) Andrew Spalding—pushed back against my argument. Among their many cogent criticisms, I wanted to address one in particular: If an FCPA compliance defense would make as little practical difference as I suggest, then why do the interested parties seem to care so much about it? Why (Professor Buell asks) have the Chamber of Commerce and the defense bar made this such a high priority on their FCPA reform agenda? And why (Professor Spalding asks) is the DOJ so dead set against it?

These are fair questions. I don’t have good answers, but in the interest of moving the conversation forward, let me suggest a few possibilities—and maybe folks out there in the blogosphere can react or offer their own explanations. Continue reading

Can Giving a Benefit to a Third Party Count as Bribing a Foreign Official? Yes, No, or Maybe So?

One of the things I enjoy most about participating in the anticorruption blogosphere is the opportunity to engage in serious, substantive debates with smart people who think differently about these issues than I do. The exchanges are helpful, even when they fail to eliminate the disagreement. Case in point: My friendly sparring with Professor Andrew Spalding about the investigation of the JP Morgan “Sons & Daughters” program in China, which raises the question about whether offering a job to a foreign official’s child (or other friend or family member) can violate the anti-bribery provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Professor Spalding, in a four-part series of posts on the FCPA Blog last summer (see here, here, here, and here), says no. (He further claims that the US government already took that position in a couple of DOJ Opinion Releases from the early 1980s, and that a DOJ reversal of that position would therefore be an affront to the rule of law). In my post last week, I disagreed, and argued that–depending on the facts of the case–it’s at least possible (perhaps even likely) that JP Morgan’s activities violated the FCPA, and more generally that offering something to a third party can, under some circumstances, count as offering an improper benefit to a foreign official under the FCPA.

Professor Spalding has now posted a thoughtful reply on the FCPA blog. While I continue to disagree with his analysis, the exchange has been helpful (at least for me) is elucidating an important distinction in how we analyze potential FCPA violations–that between conduct that may violate the FCPA (under the right factual circumstances) and conduct that always or never violates the FCPA. Appreciating this distinction is key–in my view–to understanding where Professor Spalding goes wrong (though I suspect he will continue to disagree!). While I don’t want to go round and round in circles on the same issues, let me take one more crack at what I view as the key point: Continue reading

JP Morgan, Sons & Daughters, and the Rule of Law

One of the more interesting ongoing Foreign Corrupt Practices Act investigations involves allegations that the investment banking giant JP Morgan’s “sons and daughters” program in China. According to media reports, JP Morgan’s China and Hong Kong offices offered jobs, and in some cases consulting contracts, to the children of well-connected officials in China (including the heads of state-owned enterprises and senior party officials) in return for lucrative business opportunities in the Chinese market (see, for example, here and here). The case is still under investigation, the facts are still in dispute, and the government enforcement agencies have not yet accused JP Morgan of any of its executives of any wrongdoing. Yet there have been hints that if the facts turn out to be as bad as they look, the U.S. government will consider JP Morgan’s so-called “sons & daughters” hiring program to have violated the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions. That conclusion would depend crucially on the premise that providing a job to the (adult, non-dependent) child of a foreign official counts as providing “anything of value” to the official. (Things would be different if there were evidence that the officials’ children funneled some of the money back to their parents, but at the moment no such evidence has come to light.)

About six months ago, Professor Andrew Spalding (who has also contributed a number of insightful posts to this blog – see here, here, and here) published a provocative four-part series at the FCPA Blog (see here, here, here, and here) raising serious concerns about this legal theory, and suggests that applying it in JP Morgan’s case would be not only inappropriate, but a serious affront to fundamental legal principles. Somewhat unusually, I find myself in disagreement with Professor Spalding. Indeed, if the facts turn out to be as bad as early media reports suggest, I think that this is an easy case. To my mind, it’s straightforward that offering a benefit to a third party can count as offering “anything of value” to a foreign official under the FCPA, and nothing in the DOJ’s prior opinion releases would constrain the U.S. government from applying that principle in this case. Continue reading