Can the OECD Convention Prevent FCPA Backsliding?

A little while back I expressed some concern (perhaps excessive) about the possibility that we might be seeing a revitalized movement to “reform” (that is, weaken) the FCPA; I also worried a bit that a greater focus on prosecutions of individuals might lead to judicial rulings that would force the government to substantially narrow its reading of the statute (for example, with respect to the definition of “foreign official,” or what counts as “anything of value,” or the scope of statutory jurisdiction, or other matters where the statute itself is arguably ambiguous). In response to the latter concern, Duke Law Professor Rachel Brewster raised an intriguing possibility (in addition to several other reasonable responses to my worries): The OECD Anti-Bribery Convention, she suggested, might limit the degree to which the U.S. Congress or courts narrow or limit the FCPA. As Professor Brewster succinctly put the point in her comment on one of my earlier posts:

[T]he OECD treaty … is even broader than the FCPA. Moreover, the courts of appeal that have ruled on the meaning of the FCPA (Kay, Esqenazi) have explicitly relied on the more robust OECD treaty provisions to support the government’s position. That gives me some comfort that the US court system is going to continue to support the DOJ/SEC’s current enforcement strategy. Even if the OECD treaty does not explicit answer questions like “who is a foreign official” and “what is anything of value” (although it does help with the narrow interpretation of the facilitating payments), the general tenor of the treaty (and subsequent treaties the US has backed and joined) supports the government’s strong enforcement approach.

This is a valuable point, and to a certain extent I agree. But I am less sanguine than Professor Brewster that the OECD Convention will prove much of a firewall against a potential congressional or judicial backlash against the DOJ and SEC’s aggressive approach to interpreting and enforcing the statute. Continue reading

The ATS, the FCPA, and Being Thankful for Criminal & Civil Liability

In a recent post, Matthew teased out a counterintuitive worry that has bothered FCPA supporters in recent years — the fear that increased enforcement against individuals might actually be bad for the FCPA on the whole. Matthew’s argument is straightforward and intuitive: DOJ has long been able to press expansive interpretations of some of the statute’s more ambiguous provisions because corporations have been unwilling to litigate FCPA liability. But as the Esquenazi, Shot Show, and Aquilar cases show, individual defendants are far more likely to go to trial to combat FCPA charges. So, as DOJ prosecutes more individuals, we’re likely to see more extended legal challenges to the FCPA and, perhaps, more sympathetic defendants. Maybe the decisions will continue, like Esquenazi, to go DOJ’s way. The fear, though, is that they may not, and that narrowing constructions of the statute could undercut its deterrent force.

Matthew’s post drew my thoughts to another statute — specifically, the Alien Tort Statute (“ATS”) — which has graced our pages a couple times courtesy of Maryum (here and here). Over the past few decades, the ATS — a two-centuries-old statute that permits aliens to sue in U.S. courts for torts committed in violation of the law of nations — has followed a path that is, in a way, the inverse of the FCPA: at first it was used primarily to sue individual foreign officials who often fled U.S. jurisdiction rather than litigate; only after a few decades was the ATS commonly used to target corporations, and these targets began to push back in court. Unfortunately for ATS plaintiffs, that inverse story arc hit its climax in the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Kiobel, a case that did to the ATS what Matthew fears might happen to the FCPA.

Fret not, though, supporters of the FCPA! Yes, the rise and fall of the ATS might teach us something about the fate of the FCPA — but I think the lesson is to be thankful, not fearful. Here’s why: Continue reading

Individual FCPA Liability: A Risky Proposition for FCPA Enforcement Proponents?

Both supporters and skeptics of aggressive enforcement of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act have criticized the fact that the act is enforced much more often against corporations than against individuals. Some critics of FCPA enforcement often assert that it is unfair for the government to insist on corporations acknowledging criminal liability when the government is unwilling or unable to prosecute the individuals who committed the actual crimes. At the same time, supporters of aggressive FCPA enforcement argue that the failure to hold individuals personally liable, and to impose criminal penalties (including prison time) on those culpable actors undermines the FCPA’s deterrent effect. And they have a point: many doubt that fines and other monetary sanctions on corporations—at least at the levels that can be imposed under the FCPA—are sufficient to deter bribery, and there is evidence to support this claim.

Of course, individual FCPA liability is hardly novel; a number of past FCPA cases have included criminal convictions of individual company employees. But many have called for dramatically ramping up focus on individuals, and there are some signs that the U.S. Department of Justice may be heeding those calls. For someone like me, who tends to think that FCPA enforcement needs to be even more robust, this would seem like welcome news. And for the most part it is… but I do have a nagging worry, which may be entirely groundless, but that I want to try to flesh out in this post. The worry goes something like this: Continue reading