Board Members and Prudent Discharge of Duties under the FCPA


Monday’s FCPA Blog post wrote about what it called a “compliance donnybrook” inside the company China Northeast Petroleum. The facts of this melee are straight-forward, in July, the head of the Board of Director’s Audit Committee Robert Bruce, communicated to his fellow directors that he believed the company needed an investigation to make sure it had not violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act’s (FCPA) anti-bribery provisions and did so in a letter detailing his reasons for making this request. As reported by the FCPA Blog, Mr. Bruce stated, in part "I strongly believe that substantial additional investigation is required in order for the Company and/or the members of the board to be confident that . . . the Company has not made payments to government officials as proscribed by the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act."

The Chairman of the Board of Directors of China Northeast Petroleum, Mr. Edward Rule, responded declining this request for a FCPA investigation, which Mr. Bruce had suggested be led by an outside law firm with a strong FCPA background. Mr. Rule noted that such an investigation “could last as long as a full year and cost the Company as much as several millions of dollars“ and could even lead to the delisting the company from the NYSE AMEX. Mr. Rule ended his letter by noting “the course of action you recommend that the Board pursue seems at odds with the prudent discharge of duties to the shareholders”.

This final sentence caught the attention of the FCPA Compliance and Ethics Blog. What are the obligations of a Board member regarding the FCPA? Are the obligations of the Audit Committee under the FCPA at odds with a director’s “prudent discharge of duties to shareholders”? Do the words prudent discharge even appear anywhere in the FCPA? My search into answers for the first two questions began with a recent ethics•point webinar, entitled “Reporting to the Board on Your Compliance Program: New Guidance and Good Practices”, where attorneys Rebecca Walker and Jeffery Kaplan, of the law firm of Kaplan and Walker, explored these and other issues.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Thomas Fox, Compliance Evangelist | Attorney Advertising

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