Today, I continue my look at what I think were some of the most significant highlights from the first half of 2014 relating to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). Yesterday, the focus was on corporate and individual enforcement. Today we review a very rare court of appeals decision on whether a state-owned enterprise is covered by the FCPA; yet another surprising result in an opinion release and finally take a look at some real world examples of why the FCPA is such a powerful and positive law for US companies doing business overseas.
Esquenazi Decision on State Owned Enterprises Covered by the FCPA
In what can only be called a judicial decision based on common sense the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, in an opinion released on May 16, upheld the convictions of Joel Esquenazi and Carlos Rodriguez for violations of the FCPA and certain US anti-money laundering (AML) laws. The two had engaged in a long running bribery scheme with the Haitian telephone company, Telecommunications d’Haiti, S.A.M (Teleco). The pair were convicted and sentenced to lengthy jail terms, Esquenazi receiving 15 years and Rodriguez receiving 7 years. One of their myriad defenses was that a state owned enterprise, such as Telco, was not an instrumentality and thereby not covered under the FCPA.
This opinion was the first time that a Court of Appeals had reviewed the FCPA question of what is an ‘instrumentality’ under the Act. Both defendants had argued that instrumentality could only mean (1) “that only an actual part of the government would qualify as an instrumentality” or (2) the FCPA should be construed to encompass only foreign entities performing ‘core’ governmental functions similar to departments or agencies. The Court rejected both arguments.
The Court constructed a two-prong test to determine if a state owned enterprise is an instrumentality under the FCPA. The first prong is the ‘Control Test’ and the second prong is the ‘Function Test’. Under the Control Test, a compliance practitioner should analyze how much control a foreign government has over a state owned enterprise. The Court suggested questions like: (1) The foreign government’s formal designation of the entity; (2) Whether the government has an interest in the entity; (3) The government’s ability to hire and fire the entity’s principals; (4) The extent to which the entity’s profits, if any, go directly into the governmental fisc; (5) The extent to which the government funds the entity if it fails to break even; and (6) The length of time these indicia have existed. The Court suggested the following for the Function Test: (1) Does the entity have a monopoly over the function it exists to carry out; (2) Does the foreign government subsidize the costs associated with the entity providing the services; (3) Does the entity provide services to the public at large in the foreign Country; and (4) Does the foreign government generally perceive the entity to be performing a governmental function?
I can only say that common sense won out in this decision. The word ‘instrumentality’ must mean something under the FCPA and I believe the Court correctly found that state owned enterprises falls under the rubric of instrumentality under the FCPA.
Opinion Release 14-01
Continuing its run of publishing Opinion Releases where it comes down on the side I had not expected, the DOJ released Opinion Release 14-01. In 14-01, a company wanted to buy-out a now government official from a company he had been a part of before he went into government service. The problem was that his buy-out provision was entered into during the past economic downturn and the value of his buy-out was under water. He wanted to get something for his prior investment. The Relator proposed another formula for his exit compensation and the DOJ agreed it would not be a FCPA violation to do so.
For the compliance practitioner, there are several key points to consider. The first point is found in a footnote detailing the length of time it took to secure the DOJ opinion. This is the first time that I recall seeing a time line laid out in an Opinion Release. This gives a compliance practitioner some idea of the time frames involved in the process. The second is the use of representations and warranties by the parties. In 14-01, the DOJ accepted representations that the foreign official in question would not pass on business in which he either had an interest or help the Relator to ‘obtain or retain’ business with the agency at which the foreign official now worked. This type of evidence is something that a company should now consider when designing protocols to satisfy issues similar to those presented in 14-01. Finally was the quality and quantity of payment(s) to be made to the now foreign official to cash him out and purchase his interest. Here the parties agreed to an independent valuation by an internationally recognized accounting firm. This provides some type of arms-length analysis. It also provides a market based approach to the payment issue so that there is evidence of true (or perhaps truer) market value, not some arbitrary number agreed to by the parties.
The message from 14-01 and last year’s Opinion Release, seems to me, that the DOJ is open to creative arguments about ways to comply with the FCPA. 14-01 also shows that the process can move quickly when the situation warrants it.
The International Effect of the FCPA
In certainly one of the most interesting revelations of the first half of 2014, former US Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates wrote the following in his recently released memoirs, entitled “Duty: A Memoir of a Secretary at War”, in which he said the following, ““In a private meeting, the king [King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia] committed to a $60 billion weapons deal including the purchase of eighty-four F-15’s, the upgrade of seventy-15s already in the Saudi air force, twenty-four Apache helicopters, and seventy-two Blackhawk helicopters. His ministers and generals had pressed him hard to buy either Russian or French fighters, but I think he suspected that was because some of the money would end up in their pockets. He wanted all the Saudi money to go toward military equipment, not into Swiss bank accounts, and thus he wanted to buy from us. The king explicitly told me saw the huge purchase as an investment in a long-term strategic relationship with the United States, linking our militaries for decades to come.”
I would ask you to consider, just how many US interests can be identified in the above quote. I can identify at least five: (1) US security interests; (2) US foreign policy interests; (3) US military interests; (4) US economic interests; and (5) US legal interests as reflected in compliance with the FCPA. For any person or business interest that does not think that the FCPA has a positive aspect, I would commend you to the above Gates quote. His quote, buried at page 395 of a 618-page book, did not even merit an entry in the Index. Yet, I find it to one of the finest, clearest and most concise affirmations of the positive power of the FCPA. Anytime you face criticism of your FCPA compliance program, a senior executive wants to know why you need resources to comply with the FCPA or you hear a business colleague whining about how ‘those people’ do business corruptly, I would suggest that you read to them this quote to show the power of the FCPA in international business.
Tangentially related to this revelation was the work by Scott Killingsworth to lay the legal and theoretical foundations for my real world observation about a business solution to FCPA compliance in his latest article entitled “The Privatization of Compliance”, which he calls this “private-to-private or P2P compliance.” In his introduction he stated, “Embodied in contract clauses and codes of conduct for business partners, these obligations often go beyond mere compliance with law and address the methods by which compliance is assured. They create new compliance obligations and enforcement mechanisms and touch upon the structure, design, priorities, functions and administration of corporate ethics and compliance programs. And these obligations are contagious: increasingly accountable not only for their own compliance but also that of their supply chains, companies must seek corresponding contractual assurances upstream. Compliance is becoming privatized, and privatization is going viral.”
With the long-expected Avon settlement on the horizon and the collapse of the SEC case against the Noble executives, it will be most interesting to see what the second half of the year will bring.