Trump Official: Fighting Foreign Bribery “Solemn Duty” of Justice Department “Regardless of Party Affiliation”

The Trump Administration official with immediate responsibility for overseeing enforcement of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act suggested yesterday there would be little change in the act’s enforcement under the new administration.  Trevor N. McFadden, newly-installed as Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice, told a Washington audience that while it would be “hard to predict exactly” how enforcement will evolve, “some common themes are clear.”  The three he identified:

1)  FCPA enforcement will continue to be a priority.  “The FCPA has been and remains an important tool in this country’s fight against corruption.”  McFadden underlined that at his confirmation hearing incoming Attorney General Jeff Sessions “explicitly noted his commitment to enforcing the FCPA, and to prosecuting fraud and corruption more generally.”  McFadden went on to stress that “The fight against official corruption is a solemn duty of the Justice Department, emphasizing that “each generation of Department leaders and line prosecutors takes up this mantel from their predecessors, regardless of party affiliation.”

2)  Prosecution of individuals remains a priority.  In a September 2015 Memo to Justice Department prosecutors, “Individual Accountability for Corporate Wrongdoing,” then Obama Administration Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates stressed the importance of prosecuting individual corporate executives and employees for corporate crimes. In his remarks McFadden not only seconded this effort but suggested that the growing cooperation between the Department and foreign law enforcement authorities would lead to its expansion. “The Criminal Division will continue to prioritize prosecutions of individuals who have willfully and corruptly violated the FCPA. … Indeed, our partnerships with foreign authorities are increasingly allowing us to ensure that even individuals living abroad are held accountable for their actions.”

3) Cooperating defendants will be rewarded.  Seconding a long-standing DoJ policy, the newly appointed Deputy Assistant Attorney General said a corporation’s voluntary disclosure of violations coupled with its cooperation and remedial efforts will remain an important factor when making charging decisions.  “These principles continue to guide our prosecutorial discretion determinations, and they further our ultimate goal of compliance with the law.”

McFadden spoke to a group of lawyers, accountants, and others involved in counseling corporations on FCPA issues at a conference organized by Global Investigations Review, perhaps the leading global news service on the enforcement of corporate criminal law.  Previously a partner at a major American law firm, McFadden brings a background both in public service, as an aide to the Deputy Attorney General in the George W. Bush Administration, and in private practice where he specialized in FCPA compliance work.  From all accounts a mainstream Republican who could well have been appointed to the same position by any Republican president, McFadden’s remarks strongly suggest that whatever changes the Trump Administration may have in store elsewhere, it will not back off vigorous enforcement of the FCPA. The full text of his remarks are here.

Why Does the SEC Enforce the FCPA?

Donald Trump’s nomination of Jay Clayton to chair the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has attracted some attention and concern from the anticorruption community. That concern is due mainly to a report issued by a New York Bar Foundation committee, chaired by Mr. Clayton, which criticized the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) for its alleged adverse and asymmetric impact on U.S. corporations. Though it remains to be seen how strongly committed Mr. Clayton is to the views expressed in the report, the concern is understandable given that the SEC is one of the two agencies—along with the Department of Justice (DOJ)—that is responsible for enforcing the FCPA. This controversy also highlights another, broader question that some FCPA critics have raised: Why is the SEC even involved in FCPA enforcement in the first place?

Congress created the SEC in 1934 through the aptly named Securities Exchange Act to enforce federal regulations regarding the trade of securities after they have been issued. The main impetus for the SEC’s creation was the belief that an under-regulated securities market helped drive the 1929 stock market crash. However, over the past 80 years, the SEC has expanded into other areas of enforcement—such as FCPA enforcement—that seem tentatively tied to the SEC’s original mandate. Some have argued that due to resource limitations, it does not make sense for the SEC to pursue vigorous FCPA enforcement at the expense of diverting resources from protecting investors. In pushing this point, some critics also point out that the SEC’s major regulatory fumbles of the past decade coincide with the escalation of FCPA enforcement activity—which perhaps suggests that expanding the SEC’s responsibilities beyond its original mandate has indeed weakened the agency.

The reasons for the SEC’s involvement in FCPA enforcement are partly historical, as explained further below. But beyond that, despite the critics’ complaints, in fact FCPA enforcement remains a valuable use of the SEC’s resources in the 21st century.

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Equitable Sharing, Not Deference: How US FCPA Enforcers Should Accommodate Foreign Interests

Frederick Davis recently published two guest posts (see here and here) emphasizing some of the risks that arise when the US government pursues FCPA prosecutions against foreign corporations. He notes that European anticorruption administrators are regularly irritated by aggressive US action in this field and by the apparent discrepancy in the treatment of US and non-US corporations. He also notes that foreign corporations are reasonably worried about being charged twice for the same transgression: While European countries have addressed this concern through an international version of the double jeopardy bar (also known as ne bis in idem), that bar does not protect a corporation against a subsequent US prosecution. Moreover, as Mr. Davis notes, US enforcement agencies (as compared to their counterparts in Europe) have wider authority to charge, are more willing to assert power abroad, wield more procedural tools, and are less subject to judicial supervision in their charging and settlement decisions. To address these problems, Mr. Davis recommends, among other measures, that the US DOJ issue guidelines for when to defer to foreign judgments.

However, US deference to foreign judgments may not be the best solution. It could be true, as Mr. Davis worries, that US prosecutors are “becoming the ultimate arbiters” of foreign bribery cases (at least those involving multinational corporations). But if the US standard is indeed more stringent, then US hegemony could lead to more aggressive anticorruption prosecution across the board, a boon for anticorruption advocates. Since in certain situations competition among administrative and enforcement agencies can create a de facto “race to the top” in terms of standards, it might not be such a good idea for the US to adopt a more deferential posture toward foreign judgments in transnational bribery cases.

That’s not to ignore the significant problems that Mr. Davis describes. Given that the fines and other monetary penalties for corrupt business behavior can be enormous, US FCPA counterparts in other nations would be rightly dismayed if they lost out on the potential recoveries. If a Danish corporation listed on a US exchange bribes an official in Gambia, all three countries should be able to penalize the wrongdoers and share—though not necessarily equally—in the fines and other penalties recovered. If the penalties are appropriately distributed, we need not sacrifice the aggressive anticorruption regime of US hegemony. My response to Mr. Davis is that we need guidelines for distribution of recoveries, not necessarily guidelines for deferral to foreign judgments operating under differing, and less aggressive, standards.

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Watching the Watchmen: Should the Public Have Access to Monitorship Reports in FCPA Settlements?

When the Department of Justice (DOJ) settles Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) cases with corporate defendants, the settlement sometimes stipulates that the firm must retain a “corporate monitor” for some period of time as a condition of the DOJ’s decision not to pursue further action against the firm. The monitor, paid for by the firm, reports to the government on whether the firm is effectively cleaning up its act and improving its compliance system. While lacking direct decision-making power, the corporate monitor has broad access to internal firm information and engages directly with top-level management on issues related to the firm’s compliance. The monitor’s reports to the DOJ are (or at least are supposed to be) critically important to the government’s determination whether the firm has complied with the terms of the settlement agreement.

Recent initiatives by transparency advocates and other civil society groups have raised a question that had not previously attracted much attention: Should the public have access to these monitor reports? Consider the efforts of 100Reporters, a news organization focused on corruption issues, to obtain monitorship documents related to the 2008 FCPA settlement between Siemens and the DOJ. Back in 2008, Siemens pleaded guilty to bribery charges and agreed to pay large fines to the DOJ and SEC. As a condition of the settlement, Siemens agreed to install a corporate monitor, Dr. Theo Waigel, for four years. That monitorship ended in 2012, and the DOJ determined Siemens satisfied its obligations under the plea agreement. Shortly afterwards, 100Reporters filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the DOJ, seeking access to the compliance monitoring documents, including four of Dr. Waigel’s annual reports. After the DOJ denied the FOIA request, on the grounds that the documents were exempt from FOIA because they comprised part of law enforcement deliberations, 100Reporters sued.

The legal questions at issue in this and similar cases are somewhat complicated; they can involve, for example, the question whether monitoring reports are “judicial records”—a question that has caused some disagreement among U.S. courts. For this post, I will put the more technical legal issues to one side and focus on the broader policy issue: Should monitor reports be available to interested members of the public, or should the government be able to keep them confidential? The case for disclosure is straightforward: as 100Reporters argues, there is a public interest in ensuring that settlements appropriately ensure future compliance, as well as a public interest in monitoring how effectively the DOJ and SEC oversee these settlement agreements. But in resisting 100Reporters’ FOIA request, the DOJ (and Siemens and Dr. Waigel) have argued that ordering public disclosure of these documents will hurt, not help, FCPA enforcement, for two reasons:  Continue reading

Welcome (Back) to The Jungle: Why Privatization of Meat Inspections Will Increase Corruption and Threaten Food Safety

Over a century ago, the tales of squalid meat production in Upton Sinclair’s famous novel The Jungle shocked the United States, contributing to a public outcry that ultimately led to regulations requiring a government inspector to examine every single meat carcass intended for human consumption. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s FSIS (Food Safety Inspection Service) is responsible for the inspection regime. The established assessment program requires multiple FSIS inspectors to be on-site, performing a process of continual, carcass-by-carcass inspection during slaughter. The system is far from perfect and has never been a stranger to scandal (see here, here, and here). Yet it has been seen as vital to safeguarding public health from foodborne illnesses, including e.coli and salmonella outbreaks. It is also backed by a robust legal regime designed to insulate the inspectors from bribery and other forms of improper influence.

Unfortunately, throughout its history, FSIS has faced pressure to favor in-house inspectors over government inspectors in the name of creating a “flexible, more efficient” system. The most recent experiment with limiting the role of FSIS inspectors is HIMP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point-Based Inspection Management Program), a program being piloted in a handful of pork plants and set to be proposed as a final regulation soon. (The related New Poultry Inspection System is being phased in now despite legal challenges.) HIMP uses in-house staff to conduct most of the inspections, particularly early on. A limited number of FSIS personnel do paperwork oversight and spot checks at particular points on the line.

However one chooses to balance competing calls for efficiency and safety, this is a short-sighted idea. Government inspectors and regulatory personnel are not perfect, but they are covered by anti-bribery laws and whistleblower protections that in-house inspectors are not, making them a safer bet for the safety of the meat supply. Filth and disease garner headlines, but civil society should continue to fight for an active role for government inspectors for another reason—public corruption is easier to fight than private influence. Even if one agrees that government inspectors are less efficient (a questionable proposition, despite how often it’s repeated), there are a number of laws and regulations in place designed to prevent (or expose) the corruption of these inspectors by the meat industry; there is no comparable regulatory regime in place to prevent equivalent corruption, or other forms of more subtle improper influence, from distorting the decisions of in-house private inspectors. Consider a few key areas of separation:

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Claims Against Petrobras Highlight Prospects for Shareholder Enforcement in US Courts

The fallout continues from the ongoing investigation of corruption at Petrobras, Brazil’s giant state-owned oil company. (See New York Times coverage here, and helpful timelines of the scandal here and here.) In March of 2014, Brazilian prosecutors alleged that Petrobras leadership colluded with a cartel of construction companies in order to overcharge Petrobras for everything from building pipelines to servicing oil rigs. Senior Petrobras executives who facilitated the price-fixing rewarded themselves, the cartel, and public officials with kickbacks, and concealed the scheme through false financial reporting and money laundering. The scandal has exacted a significant human toll: workers and local economies that relied on Petrobras contracts have watched business collapse: several major construction projects are suspended, and over 200 companies have lost their lines of credit. One economist predicted unemployment may rise 1.5% as a direct result of the scandal.

The enormous scale of the corruption scheme reaches into Brazil’s political and business elite. The CEO of Petrobras has resigned. As of last August, “117 indictments have been issued, five politicians have been arrested, and criminal cases have been brought against 13 companies.” In recent months, the national Congress has initiated impeachment proceedings against President Dilma Rousseff, who was chairwoman of Petrobras for part of the time the price-fixing was allegedly underway. And last month, federal investigators even received approval from the Brazilian Supreme Court to detain former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva for questioning. (Lula was President from 2003 to 2010—during the same period of time that Ms. Rousseff was chairwoman of Petrobras.) Meanwhile, the House Speaker leading calls for President Rousseff’s impeachment has himself been charged with accepting up to $40 million in bribes.

As Brazilian prosecutors continue their own investigations, another enforcement process is underway in the United States. Shareholders who hold Petrobras stock are beginning to file “derivative suits,” through which shareholders can sue a company’s directors and officers for breaching their fiduciary duties to that company. Thus far, hundreds of Petrobras investors have filed suits. In one of the most prominent examples, In Re Petrobras Securities Litigation, a group of shareholders allege that Petrobras issued “materially false and misleading” financial statements, as well as “false and misleading statements regarding the integrity of its management and the effectiveness of its financial controls.” (For example, before the scandal broke, Petrobras publicly praised its Code of Ethics and corruption prevention program.) The claimants allege that as a result of the price-fixing and cover-up, the price of Petrobras common stock fell by approximately 80%. In another case, WGI Emerging Markets Fund, LLC et al v. Petroleo, the investment fund managing the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has alleged that the failure of Petrobras to adhere to U.S. federal securities law resulted in misleading shareholders and overstating the value of the company by $17 billion. As a result, the plaintiffs claim they “lost tens of millions on their Petrobras investments.”

Thus, in addition to any civil or criminal charges brought by public prosecutors, private derivative suits offer a way for ordinary shareholders to hold company leadership accountable for its misconduct. In these derivative suits, any damages would be paid back to the company as compensation for mismanagement; the main purpose of the suits is not to secure a payout for shareholders, but to protect the company from bad leadership. The Petrobras cases illustrate how derivative suits can offer a valuable mechanism for anticorruption enforcement, but they also face a number of practical challenges.

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Judge Sullivan Calls Out the DOJ: What Corporate Settlements Reflect About The Broader Criminal Justice System

After the DOJ released the Yates Memo last September, I suggested that the DOJ was probably very serious about focusing attention on prosecuting individuals involved in corporate misconduct (including FCPA violations). This would constitute a significant shift away from the DOJ’s recent practice of resolving most allegations of corporate wrongdoing through deferred or non-prosecution agreements (known as DPAs and NPAs). Some proponents of DPAs and NPAs claim that such settlements—which allow companies to avoid formal legal charges if they cooperate with a DOJ investigation, disclose desired information, improve compliance measures, and perhaps pay a fine—are actually a “a more powerful tool” than convictions in changing corporate behavior. But many critics—such as Judge Rakoff—have argued that settlements usually obscure who is actually responsible for the misconduct, and “ever more expensive” compliance programs may do little to prevent future misconduct. As Judge Rakoff suggested:

“[T]he impact of sending a few guilty executives to prison for orchestrating corporate crimes might have a far greater effect than any compliance program in discouraging misconduct, at far less expense and without the unwanted collateral consequences of punishing innocent employees and shareholders.”

Federal judges, including Judge Rakoff, are responsible for approving the DOJ’s settlements with corporations. The scope of their review is quite limited, and they are required to defer to the prosecution decisions of the DOJ. But even before the Yates Memo, judges had begun reviewing settlements more carefully when individuals were not charged. At least one federal judge is still dissatisfied with the DOJ’s enforcement strategy, and recently took the opportunity—in a corruption case—to urge the DOJ to adhere to the Yates Memo and deal directly with individual wrongdoers. Moreover, he suggested this could have broader significance for how we think about the rest of the criminal justice system.

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