Cross-border mergers and acquisitions can provide tremendous business opportunities for companies looking to expand globally. Reduced labor and operational costs, new technology and vast new markets for existing products are just some of the benefits companies look to take advantage of when considering entering new geographical areas. However, in analyzing cross-border deals M&A professionals must be conversant with the risk factors associated with the vigorous and cooperative anti-corruption efforts being taken by regulators around the world. While these anti-corruption efforts are increasingly legislated through many jurisdictions, the most significant attention remains focused on the efforts undertaken by the United States in this area.
Posts Tagged ‘DOJ’
In 2002, Arthur Andersen LLP collapsed in the wake of an obstruction of justice conviction. Since then, conventional wisdom has been that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) resists filing criminal charges against large business entities because of fears of another similar failure. Indeed, the DOJ has consistently acknowledged that it considers such risks, and the U.S. Attorneys’ Manual expressly identifies “collateral consequences” as a factor that should be weighed in making charging decisions. In the wake of the Great Recession, however, the DOJ has been faced with competing pressures, especially with respect to financial institutions. On the one hand, the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy, among other bank failures and near-failures, suggested vulnerability on the part of some financial institutions and illustrated the potentially grave consequences that the collapse of a financial institution can have on the broader economy. The DOJ clearly does not want to cause a financial institution to fail. On the other hand, there is a pervasive public sentiment that large financial institutions were responsible for the economic collapse from which the country is only now emerging. Particularly in recent months, the DOJ has been criticized for its decision not to bring criminal charges against any major financial entity.
Anyone watching white collar and regulatory enforcement developments unfold during 2012 knows that the government’s appetite for bringing huge cases against major companies, including massive fines, extensive remedial undertakings, and extended monitorships, has continued unabated. It is, admittedly, a gloomy picture, and most commentators (and law firms) have tended to outdo each other in stressing the storm clouds and challenges.
In this treacherous environment, making investments that may help to avoid criminal problems is a wise strategy. We have previously written about the many elements of an effective corporate compliance program, and such programs can materially reduce the risk of a severe and potentially crippling white collar criminal or regulatory enforcement proceeding. In our experience, however, the single most important element of such a program is a searching and well-informed survey, conducted periodically, aimed at identifying potential compliance risks. Nowadays, virtually every well-run corporation has training programs, a code of conduct, and a comprehensive set of compliance policies; the real distinguishing features of the best programs, in our view, are the capacity of a firm to (1) spot intelligently and quickly potential risks inherent in its business and then timely implement appropriate preventive measures before serious problems arise, and (2) respond promptly and appropriately if such a program detects potential wrongdoing.
“Over the last decade, DPAs [Deferred Prosecution Agreements] have become a mainstay of white collar criminal law enforcement,” Lanny Breuer, the head of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Criminal Division, declared on September 13, 2012. Corporate Deferred Prosecution Agreements (“DPAs”) and Non-Prosecution Agreements (“NPAs”) (collectively, “agreements”) have, in Mr. Breuer’s words, ameliorated the “stark choice” that prosecutors faced: either to employ “the blunt instrument of criminal indictment” that he likened to using “a sledgehammer to crack a nut” or to “walk away” and decline prosecution outright. Mr. Breuer declared that DPAs and NPAs “have had a truly transformative effect on . . . corporate culture across the globe” resulting in “unequivocally far greater accountability for corporate wrongdoing–and a sea change in corporate compliance efforts.” Mr. Breuer’s comments are timely, coming in a year during which such agreements yielded a record level of monetary penalties and related payments totaling nearly $9.0 billion and are increasingly used to resolve front-page criminal matters.
This client alert, the ninth in our series of biannual updates on DPAs and NPAs, (1) summarizes the DPAs and NPAs from 2012, (2) considers detailed remarks from leading enforcement officials with the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”) regarding settlement agreements, (3) examines compliance measures presented in recent non-FCPA agreements as examples of DOJ-endorsed good practices in various industries, and (4) looks across the Atlantic to evaluate the United Kingdom’s prospective use of DPAs.
Last week, the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice and the Enforcement Division of the Securities and Exchange Commission released their long-awaited guidance on the application and enforcement of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The release—a 120-page “Resource Guide”—confirms that FCPA enforcement remains a central priority of the U.S. government while simultaneously and most importantly identifying the circumstances when the government may decline to pursue an enforcement action. It is available at http://www.sec.gov/spotlight/fcpa/fcpa-resource-guide.pdf.
Compliance Program Guidance
While much of the guidance reaffirms statutory interpretations that practitioners have gathered from published government settlements and opinion releases, it also provides a useful tool for companies seeking to develop FCPA compliance programs that will minimize the risk of enforcement action or severe penalties in the event those systems fail to prevent a violation. Having such a compliance program in place is particularly important given the SEC’s announcement last week that it received more than 3,000 whistleblower complaints in the first year of the new whistleblower program implemented under the Dodd-Frank Act.
The Guide identifies the hallmarks of strong compliance programs generally and addresses the elements of effective FCPA controls, reiterating that there is no “one-size-fits-all” program; an effective FCPA compliance program addresses corruption risks specific to the organization and includes meaningful unique controls to mitigate those risks. Some possible risk-based compliance controls that the Guide suggests are:
While the insider trading conviction of Rajat Gupta and SEC settlement with Hall of Fame baseball player Eddie Murray attracted headlines — and the 12-year prison sentence imposed earlier this summer on former corporate attorney Matthew Kluger set a new standard for criminal insider trading penalties — there have been several other legislative, regulatory and judicial developments in recent months relating to insider trading that are of equal or greater significance. All reflect an increased focus on preventing and prosecuting the trading of securities and commodities based on material nonpublic information.
Congress has passed legislation expressly prohibiting its members and other government officials from trading on nonpublic information they learn from their official positions, even as a prominent Congressman was investigated regarding (though ultimately not charged with) such alleged trading. Meanwhile, the Department of Justice and the SEC have continued their active pursuit of those they believe supplied and traded on inside information obtained and disseminated via “expert network” investment research firms. Finally, courts and prosecutors have demonstrated an inclination to find at least the possibility of illegal insider trading even when the information came from an indirect source or via seemingly benign means.
These recent developments all suggest that, in the current environment, investors and investment advisers should be particularly vigilant in ensuring that they and their employees do not acquire and trade on nonpublic information obtained directly or indirectly from an individual or entity who was not authorized to disclose it, or that otherwise is not in the public domain.
Deferred Prosecution Agreements (“DPAs”) and Non-Prosecution Agreements (“NPAs”) (collectively, “agreements”) in recent years have become a primary tool of the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) for resolving allegations of corporate criminal wrongdoing. Since 2000, DOJ entities have entered into 230 reported agreements with corporate entities, extracting a total of $31.6 billion in fines, penalties, forfeitures, and related civil settlements. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”), which announced the adoption of DPAs and NPAs as part of its Cooperation Initiative in January 2010, has since entered into three NPAs without monetary penalties and one DPA, which included disgorgement. With these agreements, companies obtain finality and closure and agree not to commit further legal violations and to undertake specific cooperation and compliance obligations in exchange for DOJ or the SEC agreeing to forgo enforcement action. In the DOJ context, the two agreement types differ in one material respect: for DPAs, DOJ files a criminal information in federal court, while NPAs generally are not filed in court.
During the last 12 years, DOJ and the SEC have employed DPAs and NPAs in some of the most high-profile cases and continue to turn to them in cases where they believe criminal conduct may have occurred but for a variety of reasons, including a company’s extensive cooperation, internal management shakeups, or the grave risk of collateral consequences to the corporate entity, a conviction through a guilty plea would not be equitable. In the final analysis, DOJ’s increasing reliance on DPAs and NPAs demonstrates its recognition that they are precision instruments to resolve allegations of corporate wrongdoing. The SEC, which recently embraced DPAs and NPAs, and the United Kingdom, which appears to be in the process of doing so, recognize that these agreements can be fine-tuned to help reward cooperation and mitigate collateral consequences.