This article was reprinted with permission from www.fcpaprofessor.com
The “Foreign Officials” of Medicine Bow
Given the enforcement agencies’ untethered and boundless views on who is a “foreign official” under the FCPA, one never knows where a “foreign official” will pop up.
Such as Medicine Bow, Wyoming – population 300.
As noted in this recent Wall Street Journal article, “an arm of [China] state-controlled Sinopec Group, also known as China Petrochemical Corp., is planning to build an advanced facility [in Medicine Bow] that will convert coal into gasoline.” According to the article, the project will create approximately 400 full-time jobs when the facility goes into operation.
In this 2010 article, I noted that with foreign government owned sovereign wealth funds making investments around the world (including in U.S. companies) and with SOEs listing public shares on various exchanges and otherwise doing business around the world, there has never been a more critical time for the enforcement agencies to make clear their legal and policy reasoning on “foreign official.”
Far from adding clarity on this issue, the recent “foreign official” trial court decisions (see here and here), as well as the DOJ’s recent “foreign official” reversal (see here), has only muddied the waters.
Are You Sure the Company Is Compliant?
Subject to a few observable exceptions, investors seem to care very little about FCPA scrutiny and enforcement actions. All the more reason the below exchange from the recent Novartis AG earnings conference call caught my eye.
ANDREW BAUM (Citigroup Analyst): One trend would notice with some of you peers is where there is a sudden acceleration in the growth in China, it is often closely followed by scrutiny under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Could you just give us an update on what you’re doing to ensure compliance in Novartis in China, is held in check, so that doesn’t become a risk?
DAVID EPSTEIN (Novartis, Head of Pharmaceuticals): “You asked about compliance. And just — I would just say rest assured our Company does everything that is in the power to be done, on a worldwide basis, to teach our people to be compliant. Both in terms of training and coming from the top and everything else. So I’m quite pleased with where our Chinese business is going. And leave it at that.”
The U.K. Independent recently ran (here) a profile of David Green (who became Director of the U.K. Serious Fraud Office this past spring).
Below are some notable Green quotes.
- “I would like the SFO to have a hard-edged, tough reputation. It should be something which is feared. You don’t want to be investigated by the SFO.”
- On the issue of guidance. “I am sceptical of guidance notes. I suspect the motives of those that want absolutely precise guidance, because I suspect they want to wait round the corner and hit you over the head with it, and say, you are acting contrary to your guidance. The criminal law covers an endless multitude of possibilities and possible sets of facts. It is very hard to be specific. On corporate hospitality, it rather depends on the motive and the context and the timing and the value. You can’t just say, Wimbledon tickets are OK. They’ll say that you said, ‘Wimbledon tickets are all right.’”
- On the issue of criminal law enforcement as a funding source. “It is a good source of income, and as a matter of principle I see nothing wrong with prosecutors being in part funded by money taken from criminals. I am all for that.”
Matthew Jacobs, a former DOJ prosecutor who now heads the San Francisco offices of Vinson & Elkins LLP, stated as follows in a recent Law360 article (“FCPA Enforcement Will Stay Robust Beyond Obama’s 2nd Term”): “The Department of Justice has figured out that conducting investigations of corporations is a lucrative business. This is the one area of government activity that actually brings money in rather than shoots money out. We’re talking about literally billions of dollars that the government is able to collect … as long as there’s a budget issue it’s not too cynical to say that … generating revenue is a factor in bringing these cases.”
Matt Kelly at Compliance Week recently stated (here) as follows concerning the DOJ’s promise of upcoming FCPA guidance and the role of Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer. “We’d be foolish to ignore the profit motive, too [in addressing the why FCPA guidance now question]: Breuer will be in the private sector again soon enough, representing companies ensnared in FCPA probes. He’ll be able to command quite a premium if he can legitimately say, ‘I know how the Justice Department will interpret its FCPA guidance, because I wrote it. I don’t believe that career advancement is why Breuer is pushing for this guidance, but the fact remains that he stands to reap more money because of it.”
See here for a write-up of an article examining the differences between a tip and a bribe. From the article. “It is generally considered a good-natured prosocial thing to tip, but bribing is considered to be antisocial and negative. […] Tips and bribes can possess striking similarities that may lead to their positive association. In a sense, both are gifts intended to strengthen social bonds and each is offered in conjunction with advantageous service. One could even argue that the main difference between the two acts is merely the timing of the gift: Tips follow the rendering of a service, whereas bribes precede it.”
About the Author
Thomas Fox has practiced law in Houston for 25 years. He is now an independent consultant, assisting companies with FCPA and international transaction issues. He recently published the book Lessons Learned on Compliance and Ethics: The Best from the FCPA Compliance and Ethics Blog, available on Amazon.
Thomas Fox can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his website www.tfoxlaw.com