The US Can (Probably) Charge Bribe-Taking Foreign Officials as Conspirators or Accomplices in FCPA Cases

Given everything else that’s happening related to corruption right now (much of it awful), perhaps it’s a mistake for me to be spending so much time thinking about fairly narrow doctrinal issues related to applications of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). But my reflections on the recent court of appeals decision in US v. Hoskins (which held that a foreign national could not be charged as an accomplice or co-conspirator in an FCPA violation based on conduct occurring abroad) have gotten me thinking about—and questioning—what I had assumed was a well-settled and straightforward conclusion that the foreign official who takes a bribe from a person or entity covered by the FCPA cannot be charged with aiding and abetting, or conspiring to commit, that FCPA violation.

That conclusion—that bribe-taking foreign officials may not be charged as accomplices or co-conspirators in FCPA cases—was announced by a US court of appeals in 1991 in a case called United States v. Castle. In Castle, according to the allegations (which for present purposes I’ll assume to be true), two private US businessmen paid a $50,000 bribe to two Canadian government officials in order to win a contract to provide public buses to the provincial government. The US government charged the American citizens with violating the FCPA—which, if the facts are as alleged, they clearly did. The Canadian officials cannot directly violate the FCPA, which by its terms prohibits only covered entities from giving (or promising or offering) bribes to foreign public officials; the FCPA does not criminalize the act of taking a bribe. But in the Castle case, the US government tried to get around this problem by charging the Canadian officials with conspiracy to violate the FCPA, pursuant to the federal conspiracy statute, codified at 18 U.S.C. § 371. That section makes it a separate crime (“conspiracy”) for “two or more persons [to] conspire … to commit any [federal] offense,” as long as “one or more of such persons do any act to effect the object of the conspiracy.” According to the U.S. government’s theory of the case, once the Canadian officials agreed with the US businessmen to accept money in exchange for a public contract, they had all conspired to commit a federal crime, and once the US businessmen took action in furtherance of this conspiracy (by paying the money), all the parties, including the Canadian officials, were liable as co-conspirators. The US district judge rejected that theory, and the court of appeals affirmed, simply endorsing and reprinting (with one minor correction) the district judge’s ruling.

Since Castle, so far as I can tell, this principle that the US government can’t prosecute bribe-taking foreign officials as conspirators in an FCPA violation (or, similarly, as accomplices to an FCPA violation under another statute, 18 U.S.C. § 2(a)), seems to have become generally accepted, largely unchallenged by the US government, and treated as clearly correct as matter of legal doctrine. And it matters a great deal as a policy matter: If the Castle ruling had gone the other way, than the FCPA—complemented by the general conspiracy and complicity statutes—would give the US government a very powerful tool, for better or worse, to prosecute bribe-taking foreign government officials, at least those with sufficient ties to the US to establish personal jurisdiction (an important qualification I’ll return to later). I’d always assumed, without much reflection, that Castle was rightly decided. But after some digging into the case law, prompted largely by the more recent decision in Hoskins, and re-reading the Castle opinion, I think that Castle’s broad holding is doctrinally incorrect. If certain other conditions hold, a bribe-taking foreign official can be guilty as an accomplice to or co-conspirator in an FCPA violation, even though the foreign official could not directly violate the FCPA. Continue reading

Was U.S. v. Hoskins Correctly Decided? (Probably Not.)

My post last week discussed the recent U.S. Court of Appeals decision in United States v. Hoskins, which held that a foreign national cannot be charged with aiding and abetting a violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), or with conspiracy to violate the FCPA, unless that foreign national either took some action connected to the violation within US territory, or else acted as an agent of a US domestic concern or an issuer of securities in the US. That’s a bit of a mouthful. To put this another way: The FCPA itself says that it applies extraterritorially to US nationals (including US firms), to non-US firms that issue securities on US markets, and to the officers, employees, directors, and to agents of firms in either of the preceding categories. The FCPA also applies to foreign individuals or firms (other than issuers) if but only if they engage in some part of the wrongful conduct while in US territory. The question is whether such foreign individuals (including non-issuer firms), who act outside of US territory, and so cannot be charged directly with violating the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions, can nevertheless be charged with aiding and abetting, and/or conspiring with, some other actor’s FCPA violation. In Hoskins, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit said no: Not only can a foreign national (other than an issuer or an agent of a US domestic concern or issuer) not be charged with FCPA violations based on conduct abroad, but such a defendant’s conduct abroad also cannot support a charge of aiding, abetting, or conspiring in an FCPA violation.

Perhaps because appellate court decisions on legal issues related to the FCPA are so rare, Hoskins has attracted considerable commentary. Most of this discussion, including my post last week, focuses on summarizing the court’s holding, considering its implications for future cases, and assessing whether Hoskins’ limitation of complicity and conspiracy liability is likely to improve or worsen FCPA enforcement overall. However, I haven’t seen very much commentary on the question whether, as a matter of legal doctrine and legal interpretation, Hoskins was decided correctly—that is, whether it is consistent with precedent, statutory text, and generally-accepted jurisprudential principals. That’s entirely understandable—most of the initial wave of commentary is coming either from law firms that want to explain to their clients what this decision means for them, or from those interested more in the policy issues than in parsing the doctrine. Nevertheless, I do think it’s worth getting a conversation going about whether Hoskins’ reasoning is (legally and doctrinally) sound. I may not be the best person to do this, as I’m not a criminal law specialist, but I figured I might as well take a crack at it, if only in the hopes that doing so might prompt some of the real experts to weigh in.

After reading the case a few times, and delving into some of the earlier case law and other materials, it seems to me that Hoskins is a hard case. Really really hard. And I tentatively think that is was probably decided incorrectly. Or maybe “incorrectly” is too strong—instead, perhaps I should say that the Hoskins result is in tension with existing doctrine, and the result the court reaches, though defensible, requires an aggressive expansion of traditional doctrinal principles, one that the court doesn’t really acknowledge. For those readers out there who care more about the policy bottom-line than about the intricacies of legal doctrine, you may want to stop here. Law nerds, read on! Continue reading

Some Preliminary Thoughts on US v. Hoskins and its Implications for FCPA Enforcement

The US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) is aggressively enforced but rarely litigated—most actions are brought against corporate entities that settle with the government. For that reason, any judicial opinion on the FCPA’s meaning, especially one from an appellate court, will attract a great deal of attention.

A couple weeks back, a US federal appeals court based in New York decided such a case, US v. Hoskins. The case addressed the question of whether a foreign national whose relevant conduct took place entirely outside the United States could be charged, not with violating the FCPA, but with conspiracy to violate the FCPA and/or aiding and abetting an FCPA violation. I’m a bit late to the discussion of Hoskins, which has already produced a great deal of commentary in the FCPA blogosphere (see here, here, here, here, and here). But for what it’s worth, here’s my quick summary of what the case is about, followed by some knee-jerk thoughts and observations about its significance. Continue reading