Why A Compliance Defense Will Not Make A Compliance Program Effective

by Thomas Fox

Ed. Note – this week, I am pleased to join my colleagues David Simon, partner at Foley & Lardner LLP, and William ‘Bill’ C. Athanas, partner at Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis, LLP, in a tripartite debate on the efficacy of the affirmative defense of a compliance program to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). Today, I will present my views, from the perspective of a former in-house counsel, on why a compliance defense would not help to create greater compliance with the FCPA. Tomorrow, David will discuss his views, from the perspective a white collar defense practitioner, on why a compliance defense under the FCPA would foster greater compliance with the Act. And finally, on Friday, Bill will present his views as a former Department of Justice (DOJ) prosecutor. I hope that you will enjoy our debate.

My starting position is that I do not believe a compliance defense would be effective in giving companies additional clarity or comfort in the design or implementation of their anti-corruption compliance program.  I also think that a compliance defense could lead to unintended and adverse consequences that could seriously downgrade the effectiveness of anti-corruption programs.

I.                   Current Credit in Place

Currently there is credit for an effective compliance, as set out in the DOJ’s prosecution guidelines; the “Principles of Federal Prosecution of Business Organizations”, which is the DOJ’s policy on the factors it considers when instigating a prosecution of a company, it includes a requirement that prosecutors consider “the existence and effectiveness of the corporation’s pre-existing compliance program.” These factors have been borne out in the numerous Declinations to Prosecute granted over the years. While only one of these Declinations, the Morgan Stanley Declination, has been publicly announced, there were six Declinations listed in last year’s FCPA Guidance, with the company identifiers removed. All of this information makes clear that the DOJ currently takes the state and effectiveness of a compliance program into account when making a decision.

II.                Trial Lawyers v. Corporations

Both of the two gents I am debating with this week are trial lawyers and I am a recovering trial lawyer. A trial lawyer’s job is to try cases. If you do not want to go to the courthouse, you should not consider yourself to be a trial lawyer. I grew up in a litigation system where there was one lawyer per side at trail. Mano-y-Mano; the two gunslingers on Main Street at High Noon, the King’s Champion – single combat warriors sent out to do battle in the courtroom for their clients. Such is the job of the trial lawyer. Trial lawyers are risk takers and will to push the envelope in front of a judge or jury. If you claim to be a trial lawyer and never go to court it will not instill any fear or much respect from your opposition. You may even turn into a laughingstock. It does not matter how big a jerk you can be in discovery and pre-trial pleading practice, if you are afraid to go to trial, you are useless as a trail lawyer.

Just as trial lawyers are made for trials corporations are not. Corporations do not and will not go to trial in FCPA cases because it is not in their interest to do so. So if a corporation will not go to trial, a compliance defense has as much use as a trail lawyer afraid of the courtroom, in other words it is useless. There are a myriad of reasons that it is not the job of a company to go to trial but I will focus on two: (1) certainty; and (2) the “Arthur Anderson” effect.

A.     Certainty

The primary reason for a company, which violates the FCPA, entering into a settlement via a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA), Non-Prosecution Agreement (NPA) or other vehicle, is certainty. The one thing I learned in almost 20 years of trying cases in the US (civil side only) is that nothing is certain when you leave the final decision to an ultimate trier of fact who is not yourself, whether that trier of fact be a jury, judge or arbitrator. The most important thing for a company is certainty and that is even more paramount when a potential criminal conviction looms over its corporate head. Certainty is equally critical for the prosecution. No matter how ‘slam dunk’ the facts are, or appear to be, once a prosecutor turns over the final decision to another trier of fact; the prosecution has also lost certainty in the final decision. Every corporate defendant that goes to trial can, and should, raise all procedural and factual defenses available to it. No prosecutor can ever be 100% certain that it will win every court ruling or that a guilty conviction will be upheld on appeal. However, a settlement brings certainty and for a company that certainty is in its rights and obligations and for the prosecution the same is true.

B.     The Arthur Anderson Effect

Arthur Anderson was the auditor for Enron Corporation (Enron). Neither Enron nor Arthur Anderson exists today. The reason that Enron no longer exists is that it was guilty of unsustainable fraud. The reason Arthur Anderson no longer exists is that it destroyed documents relating to its auditing services for that unsustainable fraud – Enron; primarily for countenancing in and/or not detecting the fraud. Arthur Anderson was convicted for these actions. It is of no matter that the verdict was overturned on appeal.

My former This Week in FCPA podcast partner, Howard Sklar, wrote in a piece for forbes.com entitled “Against a FCPA Compliance Defense”, that “Corporations cannot afford to fight these cases through to the stage where an affirmative defense becomes relevant.” He quoted Doug Bain, the former General Counsel (GC) of Boeing Co., for the effect on Boeing if it were to be indicted:

So what’s the impact if we get indicted or convicted?

Besides the normal fines and that kind of stuff, there’s a presumed denial of export licenses, and that would be both on the commercial and the government side. In a moment, I’ll give you an idea of why we are concerned about that one.

We can get re-suspended or all of IDS (Integrated Defense Systems) can be debarred.

We can lose our security clearances.

And one nasty little thing is that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, which has an almost explicit prohibition on possessing explosives. For those of you who are at BCA [Boeing Commercial Airplanes], you might remember that every single door on an airplane has actuators that are triggered by explosives.

Other commentators have attempted to demonstrate quantitatively that the Arthur Anderson effect is not correct. While I do not agree with their analysis, even if I did, simply running the numbers misses the point. Corporate counsel are not trial lawyers, they are in-house corporate counsel. Their job is not to be gunslingers but to protect and preserve the corporation for its stakeholders. So, by their nature, they tend to be less of a risk-taker than trial lawyers and can be more conservative. This difference in philosophy plays out in the following question: Do you want to be the first GC to go to trial and find that the Arthur Anderson effect is real? Or do you want to settle and play it safe? And, of course, as Sklar notes “Even if a company wins eventually, oftentimes the damage is done: see, e.g., Arthur Andersen.”

The value of a compliance defense is suggested in the name, ‘defense’. It is only useful if it is raised as an affirmative defense at trial. If a company says, ‘we have a compliance defense, you cannot get to us’ a rational response from the prosecutors might be, ‘OK, let’s go to trial.’ There would be no credit for an effective compliance program in any settlement discussion because there would not be any settlement. More pointedly, it might make the DOJ even more aggressive in negotiations because they could simply take the position that a company must now prove it had a compliance program and that the compliance program was effective. How many compliance programs could stand the detailed scrutiny which would occur in a criminal case or in civil pretrial discovery? Every company has documents which discuss the areas in which the program is not fully effective. They would certainly be found in discovery. Lastly, no honest compliance officer could ever say that a program is fully “effective.”

Moreover, how would a company prove to a jury that it had an effective compliance program? Bring in an expert to say that simply because a rogue employee, group of rogue employees or entire country sales team paid out multi-million dollars in bribes that we did not detect, we still have an effective compliance program. Remember, both GlaxoSmithKline PLC (GSK) and Wal-Mart claimed to have world class, best practices compliance programs.

III.             Two Recent Examples – GSK and Wal-Mart

 A.     GSK

Consider the following about GSK, a little over one year ago, in July of 2012; GSK pled guilty and paid $3 billion to resolve fraud allegations and failure to report safety data in what the DOJ called the “largest health care fraud settlement in U.S. history”. You would think that any company which has paid $3 billion in fines and penalties for fraudulent actions would take all steps possible not to engage in bribery and corruption. Indeed, as part of the settlement GSK agreed to a Corporate Integrity Agreement (CIA). This CIA not only applied to the specific pharmaceutical regulations that GSK violated but all of the GSK compliance obligations, including the FCPA.

In addition to requiring a full and complete compliance program, the CIA specified that the company would have a Compliance Committee, inclusive of the Compliance Officer and other members of senior management necessary to meet the requirements of this CIA, whose job was to oversee full implementation of the CIA and all compliance functions at the company. These additional functions required Deputy Compliance Officers for each commercial business unit, Integrity Champions within each business unit and management accountability and certifications from each business unit. Training of GSK employees was specified. Further, there was detail down to specifically state that all compliance obligations applied to “contractors, subcontractors, agents and other persons (including, but not limited to, third party vendors)”. How would you say all of the above helped GSK make its anti-corruption compliance program effective?

B.    Wal-Mart

Wal-Mart prided itself on its world-wide FCPA anti-corruption compliance program. Its ethics policy offered this clear direction, “Never cover up or ignore an ethics problem”.  What do you think a compliance defense would do for Wal-Mart about now? Do these facts seem like a rogue employee or even junta of rogue Mexican employees going off on their own? And what if Wal-Mart’s corporate headquarters in Bentonville AR was not involved in any illegal conduct or even kept in the dark by Wal-Mart de Mexico? What does that say about having an effective compliance program?

How do these two investigations portend the end of efforts to add a compliance defense to the FCPA? As stated in its Code of Conduct, “The GSK attitude towards corruption in all its forms is simple: it is one of zero tolerance.” and Wal-Mart stated “Never cover up or ignore an ethics problem.” What do you think a compliance defense would do for these two companies in trial? The claim that companies would act more ethically and in compliance if they could rely on a compliance defense would seem to be negated by facts reported about GSK and Wal-Mart. It certainly appears that having a best practice compliance program did not lead to either company doing business more ethically.

IV.              False Sense of Security

I also think that the compliance defense would give companies a false sense of security that, combined with other recent regulations, can seriously degrade internal risk management. In an article in the summer 2013 issue of the MIT Sloan Management Review, entitled “Designing Trustworthy Organizations”, by the quartet of authors: Robert F. Hurley, Nicole Gillespie, Donald L. Ferrin and Graham Dietz; they addressed this issue. Their comments seem directly on point for our debate when they intone that that external government regulation, such as a as compliance program required under the FCPA, could be a helpful starting point; but it is not the complete answer in the construction of an ethical organization and one which does business in compliance with relevant anti-corruption legislation, such as the FCPA. That is because such legal requirements can only set a minimum standard. Further, such a reliance on a paper program of compliance could well give organizations “a false sense of security that can lull them and their stakeholders into complacency.” This is the current position of the DOJ in giving credit to companies which have an effective compliance program, rather than simply a paper compliance program.

I think that the DOJ gives credit when a compliance program is effective. While the best practices have clearly evolved, it is not difficult to fully understand what the DOJ considers best practices. But, at the end of the day, the compliance defense will not help a company because no company will go to trial and face a fraud finding from a jury. It is always better to settle and obtain certainty than to risk everything.

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

Written by:

Thomas Fox

Compliance Evangelist on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.


JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at info@jdsupra.com. In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at: info@jdsupra.com.

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.