Corporate Liability for Corruption in India: Some Notes on Reform

Last month, the Indian legislature passed sweeping amendments to the Prevention of Corruption Act. If accepted in their present form, those amendments portend a major shift in India’s antiquated legal regime pursuing corporate criminal liability, making it much easier to go after corporations on corruption charges. (The amendments make other changes as well, which I have discussed elsewhere. Here, I only focus on the changes that would pertain to corporate liability for corruption offenses.) The amendments do make some welcome changes, but they do not go far enough to update India’s antiquated legal regime for corporate criminal liability. I’ll touch on three features of this regime and discuss how the new amendments do or do not effect significant changes. Continue reading

India and Ireland Enact Anticorruption Compliance Program Laws

Legislation just approved in both Ireland and India create a powerful incentive for businesses to establish anticorruption compliance programs.  Both give firms a defense to criminal charges if one of their employees or agents is caught paying a bribe. Section 18 of the Irish Criminal Justice (Corruption Offences) Act 2018 provides that a “body corporate” can avoid liability if it can prove that “it took all reasonable steps and exercised all due diligence to avoid the commission of the offence.”  Under section 9 of India’s Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill 2018, a “commercial organization” escapes liability if it proves it “had in place adequate procedures in compliance of such guidelines as may be prescribed [by the Attorney General] to prevent persons associated with it from undertaking such conduct.”

The compliance provisions differ, as the quoted language shows, in two respects.  India imposes liability on any “commercial organization,” which includes not only corporations but partnerships and business associations “of any kind,” whereas the Irish law is limited to corporations alone.  Second, while the Irish Minister for Justice and Equality has the discretion to issue guidance on what constitutes “all reasonable steps” and “all due diligence” to prevent employee bribery, the Indian Central Government must, “in consultation with the concerned stakeholders . . .  prescribe such guidelines as may be considered necessary which can be put in place for compliance by [commercial] organizations.”

The Indian requirement follows a report of the Indian Law Commission on an earlier version of the bill.  Noting the “immediate and significant impact” the bill would have on corporations, particularly smaller ones, and that both the U.K. Bribery Act and the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act require law enforcement authorities to issue compliance guidance, the Commission recommended that the liability provision cum compliance defense be effective only once the Central Government published guidance on what was expected of companies wanting to assert a compliance defense.  An earlier post noted the burgeoning literature on compliance programs by governments, international organizations, and commentators alike evidences a broad consensus on what constitutes an effective compliance program.  Hence in practice the requirement shouldn’t lead to any real difference between what will be required under Indian law and what other nations with a compliance law already require.

The Nations with Anticorruption Compliance Laws table shows Ireland and India are now the fourteenth and fifteenth nations to enact legislation creating a defense to a criminal charge for businesses that have a compliance program.  (Readers are asked to submit a comment if I missed any country.)  With the six countries plus Quebec that require certain firms to have a compliance program, and with the United States, which both tempers corporate liability for firms with an “effective” compliance program and requires those winning public contracts of any appreciable size or duration to have one, the number of jurisdictions with some type of compliance program law now stands at 23.

What are the other 163 parties to UNCAC waiting for?  Why aren’t they enlisting their private sector in the fight against corruption?  Do they really think they can win the fight on their own?

Mixed Messages from the UK’s First Contested Prosecution for Failure to Prevent Bribery

In February 2018, the UK secured its first ever contested conviction of a company for “failure to prevent bribery.” Under Section 7 of the UK Bribery Act (UKBA), a company or commercial organization faces liability for failing to prevent bribery if a person “associated with” the entity bribes another person while intending to obtain or retain business or “an advantage in the conduct of business” for that entity. Following an internal investigation, Skansen Interior Limited (SIL)—a 30-person furniture refurbishment contractor operating in southern England—discovered that an employee at its firm had agreed to pay nearly £40,000 in bribes to help the company win contracts worth £6 million. Company management fired two complicit employees and self-reported the matter to the National Crime Agency and the City of London police. The Crown Prosecution Service ultimately charged SIL with failing to prevent bribery under Section 7. Protesting its innocence, SIL argued that the company had “adequate procedures” in place at the time of the conduct to prevent bribery; SIL, in other words, sought to avail itself of the widely-discussed “compliance defense” in Section 7(2) of the UKBA, which allows a company to avoid liability for failing to prevent bribery if the company can show that it “had in place adequate procedures designed to prevent persons associated with [the company] from undertaking” the conduct in question.

The case proceeded to a jury trial. The verdict? Guilty. The sentence? None. In fact, SIL had been out of business since 2014, so the judge had no choice but to hand down an absolute discharge—wiping away the conviction.

The hollow nature of the government’s victory has led some commentators to call the prosecution “arguably unprincipled” or even a “mockery of the UK criminal process.” Indeed, the bribing employee and the bribed individual had already separately pleaded guilty to individual charges under UKBA Sections 1 and 2, respectively, and the remaining shell of a corporation had no assets or operations. Other commentators pointed out that precisely because the company was dormant it would have been unable to enter into a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA), lacking assets to pay financial penalties or compliance programs to improve. Putting aside arguments about the wisdom or fairness of pursuing a prosecution in these circumstances, the SIL case sheds light on Section 7(2)’s “adequate procedures” defense. While the UK government has secured a few DPAs for conduct under Section 7—beginning with Standard Bank Plc in 2015—SIL is the first case in which the Section 7(2) “adequate procedures” defense was tested in front of a jury.

While the government argued that it prosecuted the case primarily to send a message about the importance of anti-bribery compliance programs, the UK government’s actions in the SIL case ultimately sends mixed messages to companies and may have counterproductive effects. Continue reading

Enlisting the Private Sector in the Fight Against Corruption — Part 2

Part 1 of this post lists 21 countries plus the Canadian province of Quebec that have taken measures to get corporations to join the fight against corruption.  Thanks to a bad case of jet lag, the post’s author ran out of steam before explaining what he meant by a company’s “joining the fight” or how countries got them to join it.  Herewith an explanation of both along with my apologies to readers puzzled by part 1.

To begin, a table summarizing the laws to which part 1 referred along with summaries of bills pending in the Irish and Vietnamese legislatures appears here: National Compliance Rules.  (Thanks to readers who caught errors in the part 1 list; similar scrutiny of the table solicited.)

As the table shows, the laws referenced require — or provide incentives for — companies under their jurisdiction to prevent their employees from paying bribes or engaging in other forms of corrupt conduct.  Some laws prescribe in detail the elements such an anticorruption compliance program should contain; others leave it to regulations or the courts to decide what companies must do.  With the October 2016 publication of ISO 37001 setting standards for corporate antibribery programs, most authorities will likely converge around the elements it recommends.   The recommendations are sensible and quite consciously track the experience of those countries that required corporate compliance programs, especially the United States, where guidelines on what constitutes an “effective” compliance program, drafted to help courts when deciding the culpability of corporations for the corrupt acts of employees and agents, have been in force since 2004.

Where national corporate compliance laws differ is in how countries “encourage” companies subject to their laws to institute a compliance program. The table reveals several approaches. Continue reading

Argentina’s Draft Bill on Corporate Criminal Liability for Bribery: Some Striking Innovations on Sanctions

A few weeks ago, I had the good fortune to be able to attend an event at the University of Buenos Aires (co-sponsored by the New York University Law School), that focused, among other things, on a new draft bill, currently under consideration in the Argentinian legislature, that would impose criminal liability on corporations and other legal persons for corruption-related offenses. I’m largely unfamiliar with Argentina’s legal system, so I was very much an outside observer for this discussion, but there were a couple of things about the draft bill that struck me as interesting and worthy of attention from the wider anticorruption community. (Apologies for not providing a link: I’m working off a hardcopy of an unofficial English translation of the draft bill, which I can’t find on the web.)

A lot of the provisions in the bill are fairly standard, though in many respects the bill is quite aggressive. For example, Article 3 makes parent companies jointly and severally liable for sanctions imposed on their subsidiaries (without any requirement to show that the subsidiary was an agent of the parent), while Article 4 imposes successor (criminal) liability in all cases of merger, acquisition, or other corporate transformation. In both these respects, the draft Argentinian bill imposes more sweeping corporate criminal liability than does U.S. law. Also, like U.S. law, the Argentinian bill (in Article 2) would make corporations criminally liable for the actions of its officers, employees, and agents.

But what most caught my attention were the draft bill’s provisions on sanctions: Continue reading

Guest Post: A Behavioral Science Approach to Preventing Corruption

Johann Graf Lambsdorff, Professor of Economic Theory at Passau University, contributes the following guest post:

Some of our current approaches to corruption prevention perform badly. One reason is that many preventive methods are built on distrust towards officials and employees, who are seen as potentially corrupt actors. Yet research in behavioral science has provided us with impressive evidence that (many) people are (mostly) trustworthy, intrinsically motivated, and responsive to encouragement, praise, expressions of gratitude, and criticism. The problem with assuming that everyone is prone to engage in corruption if not carefully monitored is not only that prevention strategies premised on that assumption are very costly, but also that such approaches can be counterproductive: The atmosphere of distrust that they create can reduce interpersonal trust, intrinsic motivation, and the self-esteem that people get from contributing to public goods and working responsibly.

Economists have labelled these adverse collateral consequences “the hidden costs of control.” In a recent paper entitled “Preventing Corruption by Promoting Trust – Insights from Behavioral Science”, I explain how taking this phenomenon, as well related insights from behavioral sciences about creating positive incentives for good behavior, can help us design more effective policies. The paper illustrates this with the help of six examples: Continue reading

NYU Roundtable on the DOJ Fraud Section’s New “Corporate Compliance Counsel”: The Video and Some Thoughts

As many readers are likely aware, the U.S. Department of Justice Fraud Section (now headed by Andrew Weissmann), which has responsibility for enforcing the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (among other things), recently created a new position called the “Corporate Compliance Counsel,” and appointed to the post Hui Chen, a former corporate compliance officer for a number of major firms (including Microsoft, Pfizer, and Standard Chartered). The avowed purpose of the new position is to assist the DOJ in assessing the quality of a company’s internal compliance program and remediation measures. In the FCPA context (and others), these assessments are relevant to the DOJ’s decisions regarding whether to prosecute, what penalties to seek, and what additional remedial measures to pursue, even though there is not a formal “compliance defense” under the FCPA (or other statutes that the Section enforces). Thus, the thinking behind the creation of the new DOJ position seems to be that having someone in the Section with a lot of background in corporate compliance will enable the DOJ prosecutors to do a better job in evaluating the quality of a company’s compliance program and remedial efforts.

The creation of the Corporate Compliance Counsel position has garnered praise in some quarters, but also attracted some criticism; the critics tend to argue that the creation of the new position is, at best, a public relations move with little real consequence, and at worst an indirect effort to weaken the enforcement of corporate criminal laws.

Last week, the NYU Program on Corporate Compliance and Enforcement (PCCE) hosted a public forum where Mr. Weissmann and Ms. Chen discussed the new position and answered some questions posed by NYU Professor (and PCCE co-director) Jennifer Arlen. Because I thought that this might be of interest to some readers, here’s a link to a video of the discussion.

A few additional thoughts about what I thought were the more interesting exchanges: Continue reading