Yet again, the past year has witnessed a staggering array of massive financial settlements in regulatory and white collar matters. Prominent examples, among many others, include Toyota, which was fined $1.2 billion in connection with resolving an investigation into safety defects; BNP, which pleaded guilty and paid $8.9 billion to resolve criminal and civil investigations into U.S. OFAC and other sanctions violations; Credit Suisse, which also pleaded guilty and paid $2.6 billion to resolve a long-running cross-border criminal tax investigation; and the global multi-agency settlements with six financial institutions for a total of $4.3 billion in fines, penalties and disgorgement in regard to allegations concerning attempted manipulation of foreign exchange benchmark rates. The government also continued to generate headlines with settlements arising out of the financial crisis, including settlements with numerous financial institutions totalling more than $24 billion. We have no reason to expect that this trend will change in 2015.
Posts Tagged ‘FCPA’
As the debate continues over whether and how to punish companies for unlawful conduct, U.S. federal prosecutors continue to rely significantly on Non-Prosecution Agreements (“NPAs”) and Deferred Prosecution Agreements (“DPAs”) (collectively, “agreements”). Such agreements have emerged as a flexible alternative to prosecutorial declination, on the one hand, and trials or guilty pleas, on the other. Companies and prosecutors alike rely on NPAs and DPAs to resolve allegations of corporate misconduct while mitigating the collateral consequences that guilty pleas or verdicts can inflict on companies, employees, communities, or the economy. NPAs and DPAs allow prosecutors, without obtaining a criminal conviction, to ensure that corporate wrongdoers receive punishment, including often eye-popping financial penalties, deep reforms to corporate culture through compliance requirements, and independent monitoring or self-reporting arrangements. Although the trend has been robust for more than a decade, Attorney General Eric Holder’s statements in connection with recent prosecutions of financial institutions underscore the dynamic environment in which NPAs and DPAs have evolved.
The Walmart bribery scandal is one of the most closely-watched cases of alleged malfeasance by a global company. It broke into the open in April, 2012, when the New York Times published a lengthy investigative piece alleging Walmart bribery in a Mexican subsidiary and a cover-up in its Bentonville, Arkansas, global headquarters. The piece, which won a Pulitzer Prize for reporter David Barstow, raised a host of personal accountability and corporate governance issues for the company.
Late last month, on the second anniversary of the story nearly to the day, Walmart released its first Global Compliance Report (GCR). The report describes the company’s governance response and changed compliance framework—from holding 20 audit committee meetings in 2014, to substantial organizational restructuring, to enhanced education and training. On paper, Walmart appears to have adopted many best practices and to have set out a sound plan for moving forward. However, questions of accountability remain unanswered, when it comes to determining what actually happened in the past, what systems failed, and who was responsible for possible violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which bars bribery of foreign officials. A lengthy internal inquiry continues, as well as investigations by the Justice Department and the SEC, with the scope broadened to include possible Walmart improprieties in Brazil, China and India.
Marked by leadership changes, high-profile trials, and shifting priorities, 2013 was a turning point for the Enforcement Division of the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC” or the “Commission”). While the results of these management and programmatic changes will continue to play out over the next year and beyond, one notable early observation is that we expect an increasingly aggressive enforcement program.
“This Order contains no findings that an officer, director or employee of Alcoa knowingly engaged in the bribe scheme.”
There are several notable aspects of aluminum producer Alcoa, Inc.’s (“Alcoa”) recent FCPA settlement. The $384 million in penalties, forfeitures and disgorgement qualify as the fifth largest FCPA case to date. Further, it is remarkable that such a large monetary sanction was imposed when the criminal charges brought by the U.K. Serious Fraud Office against the consultant central to the alleged bribery scheme were dismissed on the grounds that there was no “realistic prospect of conviction.” Perhaps most striking, however, is the theory of parent corporate liability that the settlement reflects. Although there is no allegation that an Alcoa official participated in, or knew of, the improper payments made by its subsidiaries, the government held the parent corporation liable for FCPA anti-bribery violations under purported “agency” principles. Alcoa serves as an important marker in what appears to be a steady progression toward a strict liability FCPA regime.
Last year, in our annual survey (discussed on the Forum here) of the white collar and regulatory enforcement landscape, we noted that the trend toward ever more aggressive prosecutions reflected a “gloomy picture” for large companies facing such investigations. Our assessment remains the same, as the pattern of imposing massive fines and extracting huge financial settlements from companies continued unabated in 2013. For example, on November 17, 2013, DOJ announced that it had reached a $13 billion settlement with JPMorgan to resolve claims arising out of the marketing and sale of residential mortgage-backed securities—the largest settlement with a single entity in American history. Johnson & Johnson agreed to pay more than $2.2 billion to resolve criminal and civil investigations into off-label drug marketing and the payment of kickbacks to doctors and pharmacists. Deutsche Bank agreed to pay $1.9 billion to settle claims by the Federal Housing Finance Agency that it made misleading disclosures about mortgage-backed securities sold to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. SAC Capital entered a guilty plea to insider trading charges and was subjected to a $1.8 billion financial penalty—the largest insider trading penalty in history. And in the fourth largest FCPA case ever, French oil company Total S.A. agreed to pay $398 million in penalties and disgorgement for bribing an Iranian official. Not to be outdone, the SEC announced that it had recovered a record $3.4 billion in monetary sanctions in the 2013 fiscal year.
Significant FCPA developments continued apace during the first six months of 2013. After a relative downtick in 2012, the first half of 2013 saw criminal enforcement of the statute return to the robust levels of recent years. With approximately 60 devoted prosecutors and enforcement attorneys, whose efforts are frequently supplemented by their colleagues in the U.S. Attorneys’ and regional enforcement offices across the country, the Government’s efforts to enforce the statute have never been stronger.
This client update provides an overview of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) as well as domestic and international cross-border anti-corruption enforcement, litigation, and policy developments from the first half of 2013. There is much for us to report—the last six months witnessed a series of judicial decisions that further define the FCPA’s scope, a plethora of enforcement actions, Corporate America’s response to the U.S. government’s Resource Guide to the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, and increasingly vigorous anti-corruption enforcement and legislative activities from around the world.
The FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions make it illegal to corruptly offer or provide money or anything of value to officials of foreign governments or foreign political parties with the intent to obtain or retain business. These provisions apply to “issuers,” “domestic concerns,” and “agents” acting on behalf of issuers and domestic concerns, as well as to “any person” that violates the FCPA while in the territory of the United States. The term “issuer” covers any business entity that is registered under 15 U.S.C. § 78l or that is required to file reports under 15 U.S.C. § 78o(d). In this context, foreign issuers whose American Depository Receipts (“ADRs”) are listed on a U.S. exchange are “issuers” for purposes of the FCPA. The term “domestic concern” is even broader and includes any U.S. citizen, national, or resident, as well as any business entity that is organized under the laws of a U.S. state or that has its principal place of business in the United States.
Deferred Prosecution Agreements (“DPAs”) and Non-Prosecution Agreements (“NPAs”) (collectively, “agreements”) continue to be a consistent vehicle for prosecutors and companies alike in resolving allegations of corporate wrongdoing. In the two decades since their emergence as an alternative to the extremes of indictment and outright declination, DPAs and NPAs have risen in prominence, frequency, and scope. Such agreements are now a mainstay of the U.S. corporate enforcement regime, with the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) leading the way, and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) recently expanding its use of this tool. These types of agreements have achieved official acceptance as a middle ground between exclusively civil enforcement (or even no enforcement action at all) and a criminal conviction and sentence. With the United Kingdom’s recent enactment of its own DPA legislation, the trend toward use of these alternative means for resolving allegations of corporate wrongdoing is poised to continue.
On April 22, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced its first non-prosecution agreement (NPA) with a company in a matter involving alleged violations of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).  The SEC entered into the agreement with Ralph Lauren Corporation (Lauren), resolving allegations that Lauren violated the FCPA when its Argentine subsidiary allegedly paid bribes to government and customs officials to improperly secure the importation of Lauren’s products into Argentina. The NPA in this case resulted from Lauren’s prompt self-reporting and extensive cooperation. Prior to the Lauren NPA, the SEC seemed to provide limited credit to public companies for cooperation in FCPA investigations.
Time will tell whether the Lauren NPA is a harbinger of a new approach.
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.