Why the WTO Should Tackle Border Corruption

When a state systematically fails to suppress bribery in its customs service, should that be an actionable violation of international trade law? More broadly, to what extent do anticorruption provisions have a place in the law of the World Trade Organization? In a 2014 post on this blog, Colette van der Ven squarely addressed these questions and concluded that the answer is no: the WTO, in her view, is not well suited to handling complaints of corruption.

I disagree with Colette’s well-reasoned analysis. While she is right to point out substantial challenges to grappling with anticorruption through the WTO, these challenges are surmountable—and the importance of a WTO remedy counsels in favor of surmounting them. Continue reading

A Plan To Share FCPA Penalties with Brazil has Been Thwarted… by Brazil: The Supreme Court’s Invalidation of the Lava Jato Foundation

A frequent criticism of how the US Department of Justice (DOJ) enforces the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) is that the fines recovered typically go to the US Treasury, rather than being used to make reparations for the damages caused by corruption in the countries where the bribery took place. Those who hold that view were likely encouraged by the non-prosecution agreement (NPA) that the DOJ concluded with Petrobras, the Brazilian state-owned oil company, in September 2018. The US enforcement action against Petrobras is a development of the so-called Lava Jato (Car Wash) investigation, in which firms paid off some Petrobras’ senior employees to benefit them in the contracts they had with the oil company. Such senior employees also shared a portion of the briber of politicians and political parties. In Brazil, Petrobras (and its shareholders, including the Brazilian federal government) are considered the victims of this scheme, but the US DOJ considered Petrobras a perpetrator (as well as a victim), because Petrobras officials had facilitated the bribe payments, in violation of the FCPA. Thus, the DOJ brought an enforcement action against Petrobras, and the parties settled via an NPA that required Petrobras to pay over US$852 million in penalties for FCPA violations. But—and here is the interesting part—the NPA also stated that the US government would credit against this judgment 80% of the total (over US$682 million) that Petrobras would pay to Brazilian authorities pursuant to an agreement to be negotiated subsequently between Petrobras and the Brazilian authorities.

This unusual agreement was the result of unusually close cooperation between U.S. and Brazilian authorities, especially the Lava Jato Task Force (group of federal prosecutors handling a series of Petrobras-related cases). After the conclusion of the NPA between the DOJ and Petrobras, the Task Force then entered into negotiations with Petrobras and reached an agreement under which Petrobras would use US$682 million that it would otherwise owe to the US government to create a private charity, known unofficially as the Lava Jato Foundation, with the Foundation using half of the money to sponsor public interest initiatives, and the other half to compensate minority shareholders in Petrobras. According to the agreement, the Foundation would be governed by a committee of five unpaid members from civil society organizations, to be appointed by the Task Force upon judicial confirmation. Once created, the Task Forcewould have the prerogative to have one of its members sitting at the Foundation’s board.

This resolution of the Petrobras case seemed to be a win-win resolution and a promising precedent for future cases: The US imposed a hefty sanction for violation of US law, but most of the money would be used to help the Brazilian people, who are arguably the ones most harmed by Petrobras’s unlawful conduct. Yet this arrangement has proven extremely controversial in Brazil, both politically and legally. Indeed, the issue has divided the country’s own federal prosecutors: The Prosecutor General (the head of the Federal Prosecutor’s Office, from which the Lava Jato Task Force enjoys a broad independence) challenged the creation of the Foundation as unconstitutional. She prevailed on that challenge in Brazil’s Supreme Court (Supremo Tribunal Federalor STF), which suspended the operation of the Foundation.

What, exactly, was the legal argument against the creation of the Lava Jato Foundation, and what are the implications of the STF’s ruling for this approach to remediating the impacts of foreign bribery going forward?

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Complying with Antibribery Laws: Mike Koehler’s Strategies for Minimizing Risk Under the FCPA and Related Laws

Professor Mike Koehler is perhaps the leading critic of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act – or at least of how the U.S. Justice Department and Securities and Exchange Commission currently enforce it.  On his FCPA Professor Blog, he regularly bemoans the way the enforcement agencies have stretched a law its authors wrote to outlaw hard core bribery to make donations to foreign charities, internships for relatives of business associates, birthday gifts to business partners, and other seemingly innocuous  conduct a serious felony under American law. Such broad interpretations of the law’s antibribery stricture could never withstand judicial review he argues, but because the costs, reputational and otherwise, of challenging an FCPA enforcement action are so great, companies facing FCPA charges quickly settle rather than contest the agencies’ interpretation in court.  The result is the agencies not only enforce the law but their interpretations in effect make it as well.

So what advice does Professor Koehler proffer businesses wanting to avoid running afoul of the FCPA or the similar laws of other nations in his new book Strategies for Minimizing Risk Under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and Related Laws?  Does he urge a corporation threatened with an enforcement action based on an overly broad reading of a law to fight back?  Has he produced a polemical guide to compliance?  One written for the risk-taking corporate maverick?  Is this how he separates his book from the many other compliance guides flooding the market?

Not at all. To the contrary, what distinguishes Professor Koehler’s book from many of its competitors is its straightforward, easy to read exposition of what any firm should do to minimize the chances that, thanks to the wayward act of an employee or consultant, it will face allegations it has bribed a government official. In eight tightly-written chapters, he brings his encyclopedic knowledge of FCPA cases, pre-trial settlements of enforcement actions, and the commentary on antibribery law to bear to explain how to develop and implement a sound, reasonable, cost-effective antibribery compliance program. Along the way he chucks the jargon that has grown up around antibribery compliance programs, opting instead for clearly written prose that demystifies rather obscures the process all firms should follow to develop and implement preventive measures.

Take his account in chapter six on how to conduct a risk assessment. Continue reading

Revisiting the “Public International Organization” Designation for International Sports Organizations under the FCPA

Three years have passed since U.S. federal prosecutors rocked the global sports community by indicting roughly 40 individuals in connection with an investigation into corruption at FIFA. Some preliminary commentary suggested that prosecutors in the FIFA case might bring charges under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). U.S. prosecutors instead pursued cases under money laundering, racketeering, and fraud charges against the individuals—primarily officials at FIFA and other soccer organizations—who accepted the bribes. In December 2017, for example, prosecutors obtained their first convictions from jury trials in this case, as Juan Ángel Napout (former president of South American football’s governing body) and José Maria Marin (the former president of Brazil’s football federation) were found guilty of racketeering, money laundering, and fraud for accepting large sums of money in exchange for lucrative FIFA media rights deals and influence over FIFA tournament hosting decisions.

The reason that the DOJ has only targeted bribe-taking FIFA officials, and has not used the FCPA to prosecute those who paid those bribes, is that bribes paid to FIFA officials fall outside the FCPA’s scope. But that could, and perhaps should, change.

The 1998 amendments to the FCPA expanded the statute’s scope to cover bribes not just to officials of foreign governments, but to officials of “public international organizations.” An organization may be designated as a public international organization either through an executive order pursuant to an existing statute (the International Organizational Immunities Act), or—importantly for present purposes—“any other international organization that is designated by the President by Executive order[.]” Pursuant to this statutory authority, the President has the power to designate international sports governing bodies like FIFA, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and others as “public international organizations” for FCPA purposes. (The fact that these sports bodies are nominally private does not prevent this; while most of the roughly 80 public international organizations currently covered by the FCPA are intergovernmental organizations like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, the list also includes some private, non-profit organizations, such as the International Fertilizer Development Center.) If the President designated international sports organizations like FIFA or the IOC as “public international organizations” for FCPA purposes, then individuals or firms that bribed officials at those organizations could be prosecuted under the FCPA, so long as the U.S. has jurisdiction over the defendants.

This is not a novel or radical idea. For decades, legislators and activists have clamored for designating sports organizations such as FIFA and the IOC as public international organizations under the FCPA. The discussion first surfaced in 1999, when U.S. Senator George Mitchell requested President Clinton to declare the IOC a public international organization following findings of a bribery-ridden culture in the Olympic movement. Senator John McCain later introduced a bill that would bring the IOC under the definition of public international organization under the FCPA, but the bill never made it out of committee. Although these past efforts proved unsuccessful, the time is ripe for revisiting this idea. Indeed, there are at least two compelling arguments for designating FIFA and the IOC as public international organizations under the FCPA.

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Why DOJ’s New FCPA Corporate Enforcement Policy May Be a Step Backwards

At the end of last year, the U.S. Department of Justice announced a new Corporate Enforcement Policy to guide prosecutors charged with overseeing Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) violations. This new policy codifies, and builds on, the DOJ’s FCPA Pilot Program, which had been in place since mid-2016. Under the Pilot Program, the DOJ announced that it would consider mitigated penalties for companies that voluntarily disclosed FCPA violations, fully cooperated with the government investigation, and agreed to remediation measures. Those mitigated penalties included a reduction in penalties by 50% below the low end of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines range, or in some cases outright declination of prosecution.

The new Corporate Enforcement Policy goes further, stating that when a company voluntarily self-discloses an FCPA violation, fully cooperates, and adopts timely and appropriate remediation measures (including disgorgement of any gains from the violation), there is a presumption that the DOJ will offer the company a declination, absent aggravating circumstances (such as a particularly severe offense). This presumption of a declination is stronger than the Pilot Program, which only said that the DOJ would “consider” a declination. Additionally, while Pilot Program gave prosecutors the discretion to reduce requested fines, the new policy directs prosecutors to ask for lower fines as long as companies meet the requirements noted above. The new policy also gives favorable terms even to companies that do not voluntarily disclose misconduct, so long as they later fully cooperate and implement a remediation program. For these companies, the DOJ will recommend a sentence reduction of up to 25% off of the low end of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines. (The DOJ also recently announced that it’s expanding this beyond the FCPA, applying it also to crimes such as securities fraud.)

One way to understand the new FCPA Corporate Enforcement Policy is as a response to concerns that the U.S. government’s traditional approach to enforcing the FCPA has over-emphasized corporate settlements at the expense of prosecuting individual wrongdoers. In that sense the new policy, and the Pilot Program before it, can be seen as consistent with the Yates Memo, which declared that the DOJ would focus more on individual liability. A related but distinct justification for the new Corporate Enforcement Policy is the idea that it will improve overall FCPA enforcement by encouraging more voluntary self-disclosures. The rationale is that there are likely a large number of low-level corporate bribery cases that companies learn about but don’t report, for fear of the expected penalties. The DOJ would prefer that companies disclose these transgressions, and the Department appears to have concluded that the benefits of encouraging such disclosures outweighs concerns about reducing punishments for FCPA violations. Indeed, in justifying the new enforcement policy, U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein emphasized that under the Pilot Program, the number of voluntary disclosures during the program doubled to 30.

These justifications for the new policy at first seem plausible, but they suffer from an important flaw: They overlook the impact of DOJ’s enforcement posture on corporate culture. The new policy may increase incentives for voluntary self-disclosure and post hoc remediation, but at the same time the new policy weakens incentives for companies to actively work to promote a pro-integrity corporate culture. For that reason, the new policy may end up worsening overall foreign bribery activity, even if both corporate self-disclosures and prosecutions of individuals increase.

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The Curious Absence of FCPA Trials

As is well known, enforcement actions brought under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) have expanded dramatically over the past decade and a half. With all this enforcement activity, someone unfamiliar with this field might suppose that the most important questions regarding the FCPA’s meaning and scope are now settled. But as FCPA experts well know, that is not the case; the realm of FCPA enforcement is a legal desert, with guidance often drawn not from binding case law but from a whirl of enforcement patterns, settlements, and dicta. As a result, many of the ambiguities inherent in the statutory language remain unresolved—even core concepts, such as what constitutes a transfer of “anything of value to a foreign official,” lack concrete legal decisions that offer guidance. While some claim that this ambiguity fades when the FCPA is applied to the facts at hand, past analysis shows that this may not always be the case.

The dearth of binding legal precedent in FCPA enforcement stems directly from the lack of FCPA cases that are actually brought to trial. Of course, most white collar and corporate criminal cases—like most cases of all types—result in settlements rather than trials. But a look at the major cases white collar cases going to trial in 2017, and the pattern of FCPA settlements, shows that FCPA trials are uniquely rare. In fact, FCPA cases are resolved through settlements more often than any other type of enforcement actions brought by the DOJ or SEC.

Why is this? Why are FCPA enforcement cases so rarely brought to trial, even compared to other white collar cases? The answer can help explain why FCPA case law is so sparse, and reveal whether this trend may change in the future.

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Anticorruption Tools in the Anti-Trump Toolkit: A Primer

[Kaitlin Beach provided helpful research and thoughtful contributions to this post.]

Since Donald Trump’s election, critics have asserted that his presidency presents unprecedented risks of corruption, cronyism, and conflict of interest. Many argue that President Trump and members of his administration are already engaging in conduct that is not only unethical, but also illegal. Because it can be hard for non-specialists to keep track of the myriad rules that have been referenced in the context, this post provides a brief, non-technical overview of the most important federal laws and regulations that are designed to prevent corruption, conflict-of-interest, and self-dealing in the U.S. government, focusing on those that have been most widely or most creatively discussed in relation to fighting a purportedly corrupt Trump administration.

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