How Transparent Should Prosecutors Be About Investigations Into High-Level Corruption?

Today’s post is going to be one of those ones where I raise a question that I’ve been puzzling over, without having much to offer in the way of good answers.

Here’s the question: How open and transparent with the public should the officials investigating serious allegations of high-level corruption be about the progress of their investigations?

To be sure, no competent investigator or prosecutor would or should be completely transparent, as doing so might well tip off the targets of the investigation to what the investigators know, their investigative and legal strategies, and so forth. But even with that constraint, there’s a fairly broad range of options. Investigators could be absolutely tight-lipped about everything. Or they could hold regular press conferences covering significant developments in the case (and perhaps even going further to comment on the larger issues that the investigation implicates). Or something in between.

I was prompted to think more about this question in part by an exchange I had with Jose Ugaz at last month’s Harvard conference on Populist Plutocrats. I was asking Mr. Ugaz about his experience serving as Peru’s Ad Hoc State Attorney investigating and prosecuting high-level corruption in the Fujimori regime, and in particular how he dealt with concerns that his investigation might be perceived as politicized. Those who are interested can watch the video of our exchange (which starts around 7:15:55), but the key part of Mr. Ugaz’s response (slightly edited for clarity) ran as follows: 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

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