Does an FCPA Violation Require a Quid Pro Quo? Further Developments in the JP Morgan “Sons & Daughters” Case

One of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act cases we’ve been paying relatively more attention to here on GAB is the investigation of JP Morgan’s hiring practices in Asia (mainly China), in connection to allegations that JP Morgan provided lucrative employment opportunities to the children of powerful Chinese officials–both in the government and at state-owned enterprises (SOEs)–in exchange for business. A couple weeks back the Wall Street Journal published a story about the case, indicating that the government and JP Morgan were likely to reach an agreement soon in which the firm would pay around $200 million to settle the allegations. (The WSJ story is behind a paywall, but Thomas Fox has a nice succinct summary of both of the case generally and of the recent developments reported by WSJ.)

I’ll admit that my first reaction, on seeing the WSJ report, was skepticism that we were actually on the verge of seeing a settlement announcement. After all, the last time the WSJ broke a story about an imminent settlement of an FCPA case we’ve been following here on GAB, it was a story about the Walmart investigation last October; that report said that “most of the work had been completed,” and hinted that the announcement of a (smaller-than-expected) settlement was imminent. It’s now nine months later… and still no settlement. Apparently the Walmart case may have gotten more complicated since the WSJ‘s October report, but still, I think there are sometimes good reasons to season these inside scoops with the appropriate grains of salt. But, back to the reports on JP Morgan’s Asian hiring practices.

To me the most interesting feature of the recent report concerns the legal issue that is reportedly the sticking point between the government and JP Morgan. That issue is not the question whether an SOE official is a “foreign official” for FCPA purposes: According to the WSJ report, JP Morgan is not disputing the government’s position that SOE executives, at least in this case, are foreign officials, even though that issue is a major focus of critics who believe the government’s interpretation of the FCPA is too broad. And, the question whether a job for a relative counts as “anything of value”–the question that provoked the extended blog debate between Professor Andrew Spalding and me, as well as a good chunk of the other commentary on the case–also does not seem to be something that JP Morgan is contesting. Rather, at least according to the WSJ report, the big question seems to be whether an offer of a job to an official’s relative, given with the intent to influence that official’s exercise of her duties, is a violation of the FCPA even if there is no quid pro quo–at least if the conduct takes place in a country where preferential hiring for official’s relatives is “standard business practice.”

This seems to be to be a legitimately hard legal question, and one where I’m not yet sure what I think. As our regular readers may know, I’m generally fairly “hawkish” on FCPA enforcement, usually sympathizing with the government’s broad reading. And the text of the FCPA can certainly be read not to require any quid pro quo–indeed, that might be the more natural reading. But in contrast to some of the other accusations of alleged overreach lodged against the US FCPA enforcement agencies, here (if the reports are to be believed) the argument on the other side is fairly strong, both as a matter of law and as a matter of policy. In the end, I think I still come down on the government’s side, both on the legal question and the policy issue. But I’m genuinely conflicted, and would very much like to hear what others think on this one. Continue reading

The Economist Gets It Badly Wrong on Anti-Bribery Law

Last week, The Economist published an op-ed entitled “Daft on Graft,” which argued that the enforcement of transnational anti-bribery laws like the U.S. FCPA and U.K. Bribery Act is “becoming ridiculous,” with costs that are “spiraling beyond what is reasonable,” and that we are now witnessing “a descent into investigative madness.”

If I spent all my time responding to poorly-reasoned claptrap that looks like it was written either by a shill for business lobbyists or by someone who didn’t know much about the topic, I wouldn’t have time to do anything else. But when such claptrap appears in a widely-read, well-respected publication like The Economist, I can’t just let it pass. I know, I know—it may be unfair to beat up on a short op-ed, a format that doesn’t lend itself to in-depth analysis or nuance. But still, even by the standards of op-eds in popular periodicals, this is pretty bad. The diagnosis of the problem is shrill, one-sided, and hyperbolic, and the proposed reforms are either already in place, or misguided.

Maybe the best way to approach this is to consider each of the op-ed’s four proposed “reforms” to anti-bribery law enforcement one at a time: 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