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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Guest Post: How Will Nationalist Election Outcomes in the US and UK Affect Foreign Anticorruption Enforcement?

Professor Rachel Brewster of Duke Law School and Mat Tromme, Project Lead & Senior Research Fellow at the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law, contribute today’s guest post, which is based on discussions at a recent Bingham Center-Duke Law School FCPA Roundtable:

In the past year, we have twice seen voters make a significant turn toward nationalism. In June 2016, in a move that was largely motivated by protectionist views, the UK voted to leave the EU, and in November, the United States elected Donald Trump, who campaigned on an “America First” promise. What do these developments mean for US and UK enforcement of their respective laws against overseas bribery (the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and UK Bribery Act (UKBA), respectively)? Many worry that, insofar as government leaders view anticorruption laws as harming their country’s international competitiveness (a dubious assumption), then nationalistic fervor can lead to weaker enforcement. This is a reasonable concern in both countries—but a more careful analysis of the situation suggests uncertainty is greater in the UK than it is in the US.

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Guest Post: An Exercise in Underachievement–The UK’s Half-Hearted Half-Measures To Exclude Corrupt Bidders from Public Procurement

GAB is delighted to welcome back Susan Hawley, policy director of Corruption Watch, to contribute today’s guest post:

A year ago, in May 2016, the UK government gathered 43 nations around the world together at the London Anti-Corruption Summit to show their commitment to fighting corruption. The resulting declaration made a number of bold promises. One of the most important—though not one that grabbed a lot of headlines—was the announcement that corrupt bidders should not be allowed to bid for government contracts, and the associated pledge by the declaration’s signatories that they would commit to ensuring that information about final convictions would be made available to procurement bodies across borders. Seventeen signatories went further, making specific commitments to exclude corrupt bidders, while six countries pledged to establish a centralized database of convicted companies as a way of ensuring procurement bodies could access relevant information. (Three other countries committed to exploring that possibility.)

The London Anti-Corruption Summit was right to be ambitious about focus on this issue in its declaration. Research shows that the risk of losing business opportunities such as through debarment from public contracts ranks has a powerful deterrent effect—equal to that associated with individual executives facing imprisonment, and much greater than one-off penalties such as fines. Yet debarment of corrupt companies for public contracting is quite rare. The OECD Foreign Bribery report found that while 57% of the 427 foreign bribery cases it looked at spanning 15 years involved bribes to obtain government procurement contracts, only two resulted in debarment. Even the US which has a relatively advanced debarment regime and which debars or suspends around 5000 entities a year from public procurement, appears to debar very few for foreign bribery and corruption. And the UK does not appear to have ever excluded a company from public procurement, despite laws in place since 2006 that require companies convicted of corruption and other serious crimes to be excluded from public contracts.

Did the London Anti-Corruption Summit mark significant turning point in the UK’s approach to this issue? Having persuaded 43 countries to sign a declaration that included a commitment to exclude corrupt bidders, did the UK have its own bold new vision to implement that commitment domestically? Unfortunately, the answer is no. Continue reading

Guest Post: Corporate or Individual Liability? Converging Approaches to Fighting Corruption

GAB is delighted to welcome back Gönenç Gürkaynak (Managing Partner at ELIG Attorneys-at-Law in Istanbul and 2015 Co-Chair of the B20 Anti-Corruption Task Force), who, along with his colleagues Ç. Olgu Kama (ELIG partner and B20 Anti-Corruption Task Force Deputy Co-Chair) and Burcu Ergün (ELIG associate), contributes the following guest post:

Combating international corruption has come a long way in the last decade. More and more jurisdictions are adapting and updating their legal systems in an effort to eradicate impunity for corruption crimes. Yet an important question persists: Who should be held primarily liable for corruption crimes, the individual or the company? The US and European countries have traditionally provided diverging answers to this question, but there now seems to be some evidence of an emerging convergence, though a consensus is yet to be reached.

In the United States—the pioneering legal system in terms of fighting international corruption—although individuals can be charged with violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), it is the companies that are primarily held liable for FCPA violations. The US embraces a broad notion of corporate criminal liability, based on the principle of respondeat superior (the employer is responsible for the acts or omissions of its employees) and the US Department of Justice (DOJ) and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) have employed this theory as the basis for FCPA settlements with scores of corporations, raking in hundreds of millions of dollars in fines. However, there have been relatively few FCPA cases brought against individuals. This may be due in part to the fact that it is often difficult to attribute a corrupt act to any one specific individual, though it may also be due to the DOJ’s and the SEC’s traditional focus on going after the “deep pockets” of the corporations that come under their scrutiny.

In contrast to the US, the focus of criminal law in continental European systems has typically been on the culpability of individuals; thus, the introduction of the concept of “corporate criminal liability” is a relatively new development. Traditionally, the continental European systems have taken the view that criminal punishment can only be imposed on grounds of personal culpability, and that organizations cannot be held liable under criminal law (societas delinquere non potest). To that end, some European jurisdictions have preferred imposing administrative liability on corporations for actions that are considered to be administrative (rather than criminal) offenses.

In terms of deterring corrupt acts, a broad notion of corporate criminal liability goes a long way. The willingness of US authorities to impose significant fines on corporations provides powerful incentives for corporations to self-police. Furthermore, the threat of criminal FCPA sanctions—and the associated “moral sanctioning” of criminal liability—may have a more powerful effect on corporations than would similar fines imposed as administrative sanctions. On the other hand, the threat of corporate criminal liability is likely not sufficient, on its own, to foster a compliance culture within an organization. In a legal environment in which individuals face a credible threat of prosecution for their personal roles in organizational corruption, corporations could maintain a stronger culture of compliance as the employees themselves would be legally responsible for their misconduct and therefore less likely to engage in (or turn a blind eye to) corrupt practices.

Even though significant differences remain among jurisdictions, it is an encouraging development that there now seems to be gradually converging views regarding corporate criminal liability among these different legal systems. Continue reading

Guest Post: Limited Corporate Criminal Liability Impedes French Enforcement of Foreign Bribery Laws

Frederick Davis, a lawyer in the Paris office of Debovoise & Plimpton, contributes the following guest post:

The U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), adopted in 1977, prohibits bribery of foreign public officials. In 2000, France adopted its own law on foreign bribery, which generally prohibits the same conduct. Yet despite the similarity of the laws on the books, the FCPA has been vigorously enforced, with scores of settlements and large fines imposed on corporations, while in France, not a single corporation has been convicted of foreign bribery under the 2000 law—even though since that law’s passage, four large French corporations have entered into negotiated agreements with US authorities to settle alleged FCPA violations, paying more than US$3 billion in fines and other penalties. What explains this difference in enforcement?

While suspicions lurk that French authorities may not be terribly serious about fighting overseas corruption, the more plausible explanations lay the blame on other aspects of the French legal system. One difficulty is that French criminal investigations proceed very slowly, often taking ten years or longer. (At least some of the French corporations that negotiated outcomes with the U.S. DOJ were investigated for the same conduct in France; it’s likely that the U.S. authorities declined to defer to a French investigation without having any idea when it might end, or what the result would be.) Second, as Sarah Krys and Liz Loftus have pointed out in an earlier posts on this blog, France lacks a mechanism permitting a negotiated corporate outcome comparable to the “deferred prosecution agreements” and “non-prosecution agreements” (DPAs and NPAs) that the US authorities routinely used to resolve FCPA cases against corporations; even a corporate “guilty plea” is difficult and very rarely used in France. Just as important, though, and perhaps not sufficiently appreciated, is the difference between the two countries’ laws concerning corporate criminal responsibility, and the incentives those laws create for corporate decision-makers: Continue reading

Can a Corporate Settlement that Names Names Be Grounds for a Defamation Suit?

A running theme in discussions—and criticisms—of government settlements with corporations in foreign bribery cases is the failure to focus adequately on individuals. Most commonly, this criticism emphasizes the alleged failure of the “supply-side” enforcers (e.g., the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), the U.K. Serious Fraud Office (SFO), etc.) to bring charges against the individual corporate officers and employees responsible for the illegal conduct. Additionally, though, some—including some contributors to this blog (see here and here)—have emphasized that settlements with supply-side enforcers should contain enough information on the illegal transactions that enforcement authorities in the demand-side countries (that is, the countries whose public officials took the bribes) can go after individuals under their jurisdiction. Such individuals would include, most obviously, the government officials who took the bribes, but might also include third-party intermediaries and other local agents over whom the supply-side enforcers lack jurisdiction.

The idea that the public documents in these settlement agreements ought to include a detailed discussion of the transactions, including the identities of the individuals involved, sounds like a good idea. Indeed, I think it generally is a good idea (though I confess I haven’t thought through the issue carefully). But recent news reports out of Tanzania last week highlight a potential pitfall that I confess I hadn’t previously considered: The individuals named as wrongdoers in corporate settlement agreements might sue. Are such suits viable? I have no idea. But the problem is worth considering.

Let me first lay out a brief synopsis of the Tanzania case, and then offer a few under-informed speculations about what this all means. Continue reading

Can the United State Avoid a Hypocritical Anticorruption Policy?

Last week Matthew wrote how hypocritical Britain appeared when at virtually the same time Prime Minister David Cameron was telling leaders in Southeast Asia to take more vigorous action against corruption, his government was asking U.K. companies if Britain’s anti-bribery law was too harsh.  As Matthew explained, the contradiction was likely more apparent than real, probably the result of poor timing rather than any real difference between the government’s policy towards bribery by British and non-British firms.  Nonetheless, even the possibility of differing standards offered much ammunition to critics of the Cameron government’s aggressive international anticorruption campaign.

Like Prime Minister Cameron, U.S. President Barack Obama has been vocal in urging other governments to tackle corruption, lecturing the African Union during his recent visit on the evils of rampant bribery and telling its members to emulate the American example with its “strong laws” against bribery that “we actually enforce.” And like Britain, sooner or later the United States will face the charge that its international anticorruption rhetoric is hypocritical.  The difference will be that whereas the charges laid against the British government arose from a public relations faux pas, in the American case the charges will stem from a genuine contradiction, that between its human rights policy and its commitment to the U.N. Convention Against Corruption.

How will it happen? Continue reading