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FCPA Blog Daily News

Entries in Due Diligence (128)

Thursday
Jan172008

FCPA Release 08-01 Goes The Distance

The first Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Opinion Procedure Release of 2008 is out. It's the longest Release we know of -- just over twelve pages, and packed with details. It tells of a proposed investment in an overseas privatization, a raft of due diligence, tough and prolonged negotiations, yet more due diligence, and a final victory for compliance. The Release shows by its length, dense content and quick turnaround by the Department of Justice -- 13 days from Request to Release -- the new levels of awareness and effort that characterize modern FCPA compliance. Here's the short version:

The Players and the Proposed Transaction. The Requestor is a U.S. Fortune 500 company. It sought approval from the DOJ for a majority investment in the Target -- a foreign company that manages public services for a major foreign municipality. Compliance complications arose because a private citizen of the host country (the "Foreign Owner") was the ultimate controlling shareholder of the Target, which he jointly owned with the foreign government. After the Requestor's investment, the Foreign Owner would eventually buy out the government's interests. He would also remain a minority owner and enter into a joint venture with the Requestor. Due to his various roles and relationships with the foreign government, the Requestor deemed him to be a "foreign official" for purposes of the FCPA, 15 U.S.C. § 78dd-1(f)(1)(A) -- at least until he acquired all of the government's interests. The foreign government and the Foreign Owner himself disputed his status as a "foreign official," but the DOJ evidently agreed with the Requestor.

The Problem and the Solution.
When the bids for the privatization were in, the Requestor's bid valued the potential controlling interest in the Target at a significant premium. Although there was ample commercial support for the valuation, the Requestor became concerned that its payments to the Foreign Owner (as a "foreign official") could violate the FCPA. Working under tight deadlines imposed by the privatization rules, the Requestor decided to seek an Opinion from the DOJ on an expedited basis. In under two weeks, the DOJ considered the Request and determined that the payments would not violate the FCPA. It based its Opinion on the Requestor's extensive due diligence, the transparency of the transaction, the commercial valuation of the bid, the undertakings by both the Requestor and the Foreign Owner, and the terms and conditions of the joint venture between them.

The Due Diligence. The Requestor's due diligence was the most comprehensive yet described in a Release -- and we commend it as a useful guide. Here's the list:

-- The Requestor commissioned a report on the Foreign Owner by a reputable international investigative firm.

-- The Requestor retained a business consultant in the foreign municipality who provided advice on possible due diligence procedures in the foreign country.

-- The Requestor commissioned International Company Profiles on the Target and related entities from the U.S. Commercial Service of the Commerce Department.

-- The Requestor searched the names of all relevant persons and entities involved with the transaction from the Target's side, through the various services and databases accessible to the Requestor's International Trade Department -- including a private due diligence service -- to determine that no relevant parties were included on lists of designated or denied persons, terrorist watches, or similar designations.

-- The Requestor met with representatives of the U.S. Embassy in the foreign municipality and learned that there were no negative records at the Embassy regarding any party to the proposed transaction.

-- Outside counsel conducted due diligence and issued a preliminary report, to be followed by a final report before the closing.

-- An outside forensic accounting firm prepared a preliminary due diligence report with a final report to be completed before the closing.

-- A second law firm reviewed all of the due diligence.

Transparency. A lack of transparency in the sale of public assets to private parties is a compliance red flag. The Requestor worked hard to satisfy itself that the proposed transaction was known to the relevant authorities and entirely legal under the host country's laws. Although the Foreign Owner initially objected to any disclosure about his role, the Requestor eventually overcame his objections. Then the Requestor met with numerous officials and lawyers of the foreign government. It received assurances from multiple sources that the proposed transaction -- and specifically the Foreign Owner's role in it -- were adequately disclosed and compliant with local law. Only then did the Requestor resume negotiations with the Foreign Owner and perform additional due diligence.

Lessons Learned. A couple of notable features emerge. First, as the full text of the Release makes clear, the Requestor was unrelenting in its due diligence. It ran into obstacles and resistance but worked through them -- probably at the risk of offending the Foreign Owner and spoiling the deal. That business risk is present in most proposed overseas joint ventures. There is, unfortunately, something at least mildly insulting about the aggressive due diligence needed under an effective compliance program. Typically, when potential foreign partners perceive an insult and complain, the response is to throttle back the due diligence. Here, though, the Requestor pressed forward with its compliance duties.

Second, the final form of the transaction embodied all the right compliance features. The Foreign Owner represented and warranted that there had been no past violations of antibribery laws, including the FCPA, and that there would be none in the future. He said there were no other foreign officials involved. And crucially, he agreed to include in the joint venture documents potent remedies in case of breach -- including termination of the relationship, dissolution of the joint venture company, and a buy-out of the other party's interests. That's the unfettered remedial action needed to ensure FCPA compliance in a joint venture. By contrast, an earlier post called The Requestor's French Dilemma told how the DOJ refused to endorse a proposed overseas joint venture. The problem was that the Requestor could exit only if a compliance breach rose to a "materially adverse" level. The DOJ said,

"Should the Requestor's inability to extricate itself [from the joint venture] result in the Requestor taking, in the future, acts in furtherance of original acts of bribery by the French company, the Requestor may face liability under the FCPA. Thus, the Department specifically declines to endorse the 'materially adverse effect' standard."

Kudos in this case to the Requestor -- for its determination to do a complicated and important foreign transaction and yet comply in all ways with the FCPA. And to the DOJ -- for its extraordinary responsiveness in a fast-moving deal. It ran the mile in record time.

View Opinion Procedure Release No. 08-01 (January 15, 2008) Here.

View Prior Posts About Overseas Joint Ventures Here.

Monday
Jan072008

When Is Charity A Bribe?

No good deed goes unpunished, or so the saying goes. That sure came true for Schering-Plough a few years ago. From February 1999 to March 2002, the New Jersey-based maker of Afrin, Claritin, Coricidin and Cipro, among other leading drugs, violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act through overseas charitable giving.

According to the Securities and Exchange Commission's June 2004 complaint, the company's subsidiary in Poland made improper payments to a charitable organization called the Chudow Castle Foundation. The Foundation was headed by an individual who was the director of the Silesian Health Fund during the relevant time. The health fund was a Polish governmental body that, among other things, provided money for the purchase of pharmaceutical products and influenced the purchase of those products by other entities, such as hospitals, through the allocation of health fund resources.

The SEC said Schering-Plough Poland paid 315,800 zlotys (approximately $76,000 at the time of the payments) to the Chudow Castle Foundation to induce its director to influence the health fund's purchase of Schering-Plough's pharmaceutical products. The SEC also said that none of the payments to the Foundation were accurately reflected on the subsidiary's books and records and that Schering-Plough's system of internal accounting controls was inadequate to prevent or detect the improper payments.

As a result, Schering-Plough paid a $500,000 civil penalty and consented to an SEC order requiring it to avoid violating Sections 13(b)(2)(A) and 13(b)(2)(B) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. It also had to retain an independent consultant to review its policies and procedures regarding compliance with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and implement any changes recommended by the consultant.

Schering-Plough's case, as far as we know, remains the only FCPA prosecution based entirely on charitable giving. We're talking about it now because it raised important compliance concerns that still linger. For example, how much due diligence is expected of companies with respect to their overseas charitable donations? At an FCPA conference last year, an audience member popped that question to Mark Mendelsohn, the head of the Department of Justice's group that prosecutes FCPA cases. He said each donation has to be considered on its merits, but there are always common-sense guidelines that help determine if donations could violate the FCPA. Is there a nexus between the charity and any government entity from which the company is seeking a decision? If the governmental decision-maker holds a position at the charity, that's a red flag. Is the donation consistent with the company's overall pattern of charitable contributions? For Schering-Plough, the SEC said that "[d]uring 2000 and 2001, the payments constituted approximately 40% and 20%, respectively, of S-P Poland's total promotional donations budget. Moreover, the Foundation was the only recipient of such donations that received multiple payments, making the four payments in 2000 and seven payments in 2001 highly unusual." If one donation or a series of them is more than the company has made to any other charity in the past five years, that's a red flag too.

Beyond the points made by Mr. Mendelsohn, there are other smell tests for charitable donations. Who initiated the request for payment to the charity? The key to most bribery charges appears to be the personal benefit to the government official, or the quid pro quo expected of him or her. If a government official hinted at or begged for a payment to the charity, that's another red flag. Will there be a tax deduction for the donation? In most countries, one important result of any gift to charity is tax relief. Therefore, not seeking the tax benefit can become yet another red flag.

And one final point. All due diligence concerning charitable payments -- the asking and answering of the questions posed above -- should be well documented. Nothing will aid in defending against a potential FCPA charge more than a stack of contemporaneously-generated papers backing the story that the payment really was meant to be a charitable contribution and not a bribe. Don't be shy about it. Create real-time documents that demonstrate awareness of potential FCPA issues and measures taken to manage and mitigate the risk. That, after all, is what compliance is really about.

Schering-Plough Corporation trades on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol SGP.

View the SEC's Litigation Release No. 18740 / June 9, 2004 Here.

View the SEC's June 9, 2004 complaint against Schering-Plough Here.

As a postscript, we need to say how much we like what's written above. That sounds like outrageous braggadocio, but it's not. Our friend, Pete from D.C., is the inspiration and chief draftsman of this post. Despite his encyclopedic knowledge of the FCPA and vast experience in its application, he chooses to remain an anonymous contributor to these pages. We can only thank him yet again for his interest and great help in our work here -- and encourage him once more to reveal to the world his almost handsome face.

Tuesday
Jan012008

Joint Venture Compliance

International joint ventures bring very high risks under the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Unreliable partners -- those who might pay bribes to foreign officials to help the business -- need to be spotted early and either avoided or controlled. Like any courtship and marriage, the process of finding and keeping a suitable joint venture partner involves lots of work (and a dash of luck). The work part should be reflected through an effective compliance program aimed at managing the risks. Here, for example, are five (of many) joint venture-directed compliance elements:

1. Due Diligence. Take all necessary and prudent precautions through well-documented due diligence to ensure that business relationships are formed only with reputable and qualified joint venture partners.

2. Board or Management Reviews. Examine the suitability of all prospective joint venture partners for purposes of compliance with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Review the adequacy of due diligence performed in connection with the selection of overseas partners, as well as the joint venture's selection of agents, subcontractors and consultants for business development outside the United States. Reviewers should not be subordinate to the most senior officer of the Company's department or unit responsible for the relevant transaction.

3. Compliance Obligations in the Joint Venture Documents. Include in all joint venture agreements representations and undertakings by the joint venture partners, with periodic re-certifications, that no payments of money or anything of value have been or will be offered, promised or paid, directly or indirectly, to any foreign officials, political parties, party officials, or candidates for public or political party office, to influence the acts of such officials, political parties, party officials, or candidates in their official capacity, to induce them to use their influence with a government or an instrumentality thereof to obtain or retain business or gain an improper advantage in connection with any business venture or contract in which the Company is a participant

4. Audits and Approvals. Retain audit rights over the joint venture. Agree with all partners that the joint venture will not hire an ­agent, subcontractor or consultant without the Company's prior written consent (to be based on adequate due diligence).

5. Right to Terminate. Make sure all joint venture documents allow for immediate and unfettered termination for any breach of compliance-related obligations.

This list is not exhaustive.

See, for example, U.S. v. Monsanto Company, Deferred Prosecution Agreement, Appendix B, Remedial Compliance Program (January 6, 2005).

View the Monsanto Deferred Prosecution Agreement Here.

Tuesday
Oct232007

Compliance Resources -- India and Nigeria

Signs that the influence of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act is felt around the world come today from India and Nigeria.

Pradeep Akkunoor lets us know about a December 16, 2007 FCPA Conference sponsored by Indiaforensic. It's a non-profit group founded in 2003 by Chartered Accountant Mayur Joshi to raise compliance awareness and bring together the anti-fraud professionals in India. "We call it India's first organized effort to combat white-collared crime," says Mr. Akkunoor. "What began as a one-man effort is today a network of over 600 professionals from across India. Indiaforensic conducts research, informs and supports those engaged in fighting fraud around the country." Messrs. Akkunoor and Joshi also run Indiaforensic Consultancy Services, which specializes in fraud examinations and forensic accounting in India, as well as training and education in bank forensic accounting, anti-money laundering and corporate forensic accounting.

From Nigeria, we hear from ddcheck.com. It does one thing: due diligence checks on Nigerian companies. Run by a group of FCPA-savvy lawyers accredited by the Nigerian Corporate Affairs Commission to conduct public-records searches, it has an interesting approach. No up-front fees, and if the company being searched doesn't exist, there's no charge at all. The people at ddcheck.com acknowledge that "Nigerians are frequently considered 'high risk' business partners . . . . Until now, international businesses have found it very difficult to obtain urgent and reliable background or due diligence information about Nigerian companies. We solve this problem for you by obtaining all the important information you want from the Nigerian Corporate Affairs Commission and other official sources. We save you significant time, effort and money so that you can easily verify information about Nigerian companies quickly, conveniently and confidentially." Finally, if the target or its principals don't look legitimate, ddcheck.com will help their client file reports with appropriate anti-corruption agencies.

Tuesday
Oct092007

With Friends Like These . . . .

The U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act prohibits both direct and indirect corrupt payments to foreign officials. Indirect payments typically pass through the hands of an overseas partner or agent, then end up with the foreign official for an unlawful purpose. Most violations happen that way.

A plain-English explanation of the anti-bribery provisions written by the Department of Justice warns U.S. firms about their choice of overseas partners and agents. A bad choice is someone who is likely to make corrupt payments. That likelihood, the DOJ says, is usually indicated by warning signs called "red flags." If there are red flags to start with and if the intermediary does bribe a foreign official to help the business, the U.S. company will have trouble arguing it shouldn't be responsible for an FCPA violation based on an indirect corrupt payment.

Red flags, as the name suggests, are easy to spot. Unusual payment patterns or financial arrangements. A history of corruption in the country. A refusal by the foreign joint venture partner or representative to certify that it will not take any action that would cause the U.S. firm to be in violation of the FCPA. Unusually high commissions. Lack of transparency in expenses and accounting records. An apparent lack of qualifications or resources on the part of the joint venture partner or representative to perform the services offered. A recommendation from the local government of the intermediary. All these, the DOJ says, should set off compliance alarm bells.

When red flags appear, the burden of compliance increases. More red flags mean more caution is required. It's a mistake to interpret red flags merely as a sign of the local culture, a helpful clue about how business is really done there, and something you just have to live with. Seeing red flags and lowering compliance standards, when the right response is to raise them, often leads to an FCPA disaster.

View the DOJ's "Lay Person's Guide to FCPA" Here.

Monday
Sep242007

Paradigm's Pre-IPO Due Diligence Reveals FCPA Violations

Paradigm B.V., a Houston-based oil and gas services provider, entered into a non-prosecution agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice to resolve payments that violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Paradigm made prohibited payments to foreign officials in China, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Mexico and Nigeria. It will "pay a $1 million penalty, implement rigorous internal controls, retain outside compliance counsel, and cooperate fully with the Department of Justice," according to the DOJ's September 24, 2007 announcement.

Paradigm's parent company, Paradigm Ltd., which is controlled by private equity fund Fox Paine, discovered the corrupt payments during due diligence for its planned NASDAQ IPO and self-disclosed them to prosecutors. The conduct at issue did not involve current senior management, according to the company. The DOJ said, “Paradigm’s actions in this matter, including voluntary disclosure and remedial efforts, are consistent with our view of responsible corporate conduct when FCPA violations are uncovered. Accordingly, the Department has resolved this case to permit the company to move forward on sound footing, governed by ethical business practices.”

The corrupt payments involved $22,250 deposited into the Latvian bank account of a British West Indies company recommended as a consultant by an official of KazMunaiGas, Kazakhstan’s national oil company, to secure a tender for geological software. The DOJ said Paradigm performed no due diligence, did not enter into any written agreement and apparently received no services.

In China, Paradigm used an agent to make commission payments to representatives of a subsidiary of the China National Offshore Oil Company in connection with the sale of software to the CNOOC subsidiary. Paradigm also directly retained and paid employees of Chinese national oil companies or state-owned entities as "internal consultants" to evaluate Paradigm’s software and to influence their employers’ procurement divisions to purchase Paradigm’s products. Employees of CNOOC and other state-owned enterprises in China are "foreign officials" for purposes of the FCPA.

Paradigm said it also made corrupt payments in Mexico, Indonesia and Nigeria. In Nigeria, it used intermediaries to pay between $100,000 and $200,000 to politicians to obtain a contract to perform services and processing work for a subsidiary of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation. In Mexico, it hired the brother of a Pemex decision maker, and paid for the decision-maker's $12,000 trip to Napa Valley, California and $10,000 to entertain him. In Indonesia, its agent paid employees of Pertamina through a New York bank account.

In a sign that the DOJ is encouraging more voluntary disclosure and self-directed remedial action -- which means implementing an "effective compliance program" -- Paradigm's non-prosecution agreement expires after just 18 months instead of the usual three-year period, and requires appointment of outside compliance counsel instead of an independent monitor. In addition to Paradigm's self disclosure and remedial actions, another major influence on the DOJ's handling of the case must have been the fact that the company's current senior management was not involved in the unlawful conduct.

View the Department of Justice's News Release Here.

View Paradigm's Non-Prosecution Agreement Here.

Sunday
Sep162007

Schnitzer’s Victory

The case was full of bad facts. For nearly ten years until late 2004, some $1.8 million in bribes went to foreign officials and private parties in South Korea and China. Officers and employees of Schnitzer Steel Industries Inc. and its Korean subsidiary, SSI International Far East Ltd., approved the bribes, then used elaborate means to fund and conceal them.

Cash, gift certificates, a Cartier watch, pens, perfume, entertainment, a golf club membership, even a condo timeshare – all these changed hands. Off-the-books bank accounts in Korea held slush funds. The bribes were falsely accounted for as “refund to customer” or “rebate to customer,” or “quality claims,” “discounts,” “credits” or “freight savings.” They were disguised as “gratuities” or “congratulations money." Some bribes were even masked as “condolence money.” The corruption was so habitual that even after it was discovered and ordered stopped, an executive approved two more bribes.

There were still more bad facts. Schnitzer had no Foreign Corrupt Practices Act compliance program of any kind – no education for employees, no training, no due diligence, no audits. In ignorance of the FCPA, senior managers emailed each other about arranging “kickbacks” and protecting the crooked recipients from legal trouble in their home countries. Schnitzer, a public company and one of America's largest recyclers of scrap metal, lacked even the basic financial controls needed to prevent or detect secret bank accounts, corrupt payments and false accounting.

Did prosecutors, as expected, seek the corporate death penalty? Not at all. In the end, Schnitzer was never charged with a crime. Its subsidiary, SSI Korea, pleaded guilty in October 2006 to violating the FCPA's anti-bribery and books and records provisions, as well as conspiracy and wire fraud. It paid a $7.5 million criminal fine. Schnitzer itself, however, escaped with a $7.7 million civil penalty and a deferred prosecution agreement, whereby it promised to keep its nose clean and take remedial actions. Thereafter, Schnitzer survived and has since flourished in the robust global steel market.

What accounts for this surprising result? For a start, Schnitzer accepted all responsibility. On first learning about the corrupt payments, the board's audit committee commissioned an aggressive internal investigation. At each stage of the investigation, Schnitzer voluntarily disclosed what it was learning to the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission. Then, looking forward, Schnitzer set out to transform its culture. To make sure everyone inside the company and outside got the point, it replaced the chairman of the board, hired a new CEO, and brought in a fresh team of senior management.

The Department of Justice was satisfied, even impressed. “When companies voluntarily disclose FCPA violations and cooperate with Justice Department investigations, they will get a real, tangible benefit. In fact," the DOJ said, "Schnitzer Steel’s cooperation in this case was excellent and . . . the disposition announced today reflects that fact.”

The outcome was never inevitable. Like other companies facing a corruption scandal, Schnitzer had a crucial choice -- to retreat behind the corporate parapet and wait for prosecutors and public opinion to storm the gates, or to cooperate up to a point but try to keep defense options open, or to surrender peacefully, make a full confession, show a repentant spirit and seek forgiveness. By choosing the last option, the company was able to enjoy a quick rehabilitation and full restoration to corporate citizenship. Schnitzer's victory was no accident, but a product of its own decisions.

View the DOJ’s Press Release Here.

Wednesday
Aug292007

Materiality, But Not By The Numbers

Strictly speaking, “materiality” should never be part of an FCPA discussion. A payment or promise to pay anything of value can violate the antibribery provisions, and the books and records provisions apply to any book, record or account. So size doesn’t matter after all.

Even so, materiality discussions sometimes happen. For example, what test applies to small cash gifts to foreign officials that are unrecorded but discovered during pre-acquisition due diligence of a non-U.S. target?

There is no purely quantitative test. Under U.S. accounting standards, small undisclosed amounts can be material, depending on all the circumstances. Some questions to ask are whether the payments are illegal under local law? If the payments stop, does the target risk losing a big amount of business? Do the payments mean the target's compliance in other areas is questionable? Do they violate loan covenants or other contractual requirements?

An omission or misstatement about small illegal payments can interact with important aspects of the business and thereby become material. So it is more than a matter of numbers.

View SEC Staff Accounting Bulletin: No. 99 – Materiality Here.

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