Yesterday we posted our 2011 FCPA enforcement index. Today we look at corporate enforcement for all the years from 2006.
Entries in Paradigm (5)
In a post here we described our edits to Wikipedia's article on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (here). Wiki's old article said a bank owner (pictured far left) whose brother was the minister of finance (far right) would be a foreign official for the FCPA. That's wrong, we said, because although consanguinity might be important, it has never been a definitive test of foreign-officialdome under the FCPA.
One of our readers had this to say about our edits: The omission of prohibitions on payments to family members creates a significant loophole. Are there any cases where business dealings with family members have been examined? My reading of the SEC statement on Statoil is that the Iranian official may not have had the formal authority to guarantee the contract but that it was his family connections which were being purchased.
We replied this way: Good point. But as far as we know, neither the FCPA itself nor any Opinion Releases or cases say that commercial dealings with family members of government officials are per se violations of the FCPA. If a family member is being used to make an illegal payment "indirectly" to a foreign official, then a violation would probably result, in the same way that indirect payments through other agents are illegal. But the mere fact of the consanguinity is not determinative, and that was the problem with Wiki's original article. No question, however, that dealing with family members of foreign officials always raises compliance red flags. It should probably be avoided in most cases because of the risks. But under some circumstances commercial relationships with family members of foreign officials may be permissible under an effective compliance program.
Exhibit A for our answer is FCPA Review Procedure Release No. 82-04 (November 11, 1982) [mislabeled as 82-02 on the DOJ site]. It's available here. In it, the Department of Justice received a review request from Thompson & Green Machinery Company, Inc. ("T & G"). It hired a foreign businessman ("Mr. X") as its agent in connection with a generator sale in a foreign country. However, Mr. X's brother was an employee of the same foreign government to whom T & G was trying to sell its generator. The DOJ gave its blessing, however, after receiving assurances from T & G that (i) the written consultant agreement with Mr. X prohibited him from using any part of his commission to pay a finder’s fee to a third party, and also expressly referred to the FCPA; and (ii) both Mr. X and his brother signed separate affidavits in which they pledged to adhere to the FCPA’s antibribery provisions.
So it's not illegal per se under the FCPA to have commercial dealings with family members of foreign officials. No question, however, that doing so is full of risk. For example, Paradigm's hiring of the brother of an official from Pemex, from which Paradigm was then awarded a contract, was cited as an offense. See our post here. Family members were also involved in FCPA convictions or allegations in U.S. v. Kozeny (see our posts here), U.S. v. Sapsizian & Acosta [see also Alcatel] (S.D. Fla. 2006), SEC v. Bellsouth Corporation (N.D. Ga. 2002), U.S. v. Metcalf & Eddy (D. Ma. 1999), and others.
But the FCPA itself doesn't mention family members, and as of today, Exhibit A above -- FCPA Review Procedure Release No. 82-04 -- remains "good law," if we can refer to a DOJ opinion that way. It means the fact that someone is related by blood or marriage to a foreign official doesn't make the person a foreign official for the FCPA. It does, however, mean dealing with them is always a high-risk proposition. That's why lots of compliance-minded companies ban the practice entirely.
Many thanks to our reader who contributed the thoughtful comment about family relationships and the FCPA.
Yesterday we talked about a recent story in the Chinese press blaming foreign companies for more than half of the PRC's corruption, and singling out U.S. companies that violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in China. On reflection, we may have been unduly skeptical about China's motives for publishing the story. So today we want to set the record straight.
To be clear, the PRC's economic policies and the results they've produced are phenomenal. Last year the country attracted nearly $75 billion in foreign direct investment. Total FDI has topped $700 billion. There are now some 120,000 foreign-invested enterprises in the PRC, double the number from just 2002. The economy is still growing at over 11% a year, and in a country of more than 1.3 billion people, per capita income has reached around $5,500. Foreign businesses in China are getting bigger. McDonald's this week said it plans to open 125 more outlets there in 2008, and Dunkin' Donuts wants 100 new locations in Shanghai alone over the next 10 years. What's the growth look like at street level? Our first visit to China was in 1993. Crossing main roads in Beijing was nearly impossible because of the streaming bicycles pedaled by factory workers wearing black Mao suits. The same blocks now make up some of the world's fanciest neighborhoods -- upscale condos and cafes filled with world-class fashionistas, and streets flowing with BMWs and Audis, Lamborghinis and more.
With such a staggering level of foreign activity in the economy, it's logical that a lot of the corruption over the past ten years can be traced to foreign companies. We thought 64% -- the amount noted in the aforementioned story -- sounded too high. But it could be close to the mark after all. For sure, the number of Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement actions and investigations related to China has ballooned over the past few years. Among the companies involved are Lucent Technologies Inc., Faro Technologies, Inc., York International Corporation, Paradigm B.V., Schnitzer Steel Industries Inc., InVision Technologies, Inc., Diagnostics Products Corporation, Alltel Corporation, BearingPoint Inc. and UTStarcom Inc. Siemens may have FCPA issues in China, and there could be others. That's a long list in the rather limited FCPA universe. So what gives?
We've wondered before if some companies go into certain countries -- China, Nigeria and Indonesia come to mind -- expecting to find a corrupt environment. And once there -- no matter what they find -- they lower their compliance standards instead of raising them. Some pundits in Nigeria have talked about this syndrome and how it victimizes the local economy and the people in it. Perhaps the Chinese press is now sensitive to the same thing.
So in the spirit of the approaching Lunar New Year -- the beautiful character above means "rat," the sign next up on the Chinese calendar -- we acknowledge that ten years ago China put out the welcome mat to the world's entrepreneurs on a scale never seen before. Since then people by the billions have enjoyed the fruits, both in China and around the globe. At the same time, the Chinese government has struggled with public corruption -- as most developing economies do. It has fought against it using all available weapons. [Sometimes we cringe to read about executions for bribe-taking there.] Now China is telling the international community that a big part of its corruption problem is imported from overseas -- even from the United States. It's a good reminder to foreign companies -- especially those required to comply with the FCPA -- that instead of being part of the problem they should be part of the solution.
The online edition of Nigeria's Business Day newspaper carried a story on November 19, 2007 that's noteworthy. It's about how corrupt multinationals are undermining the country's economy. The story can be found here. Public corruption always involves two parties -- the crooked official and the bribe-paying privateer. Both share the blame. Still, looking at corruption through the eyes of the host country reminds us of the damage inflicted on economies and the harm done to innocent citizens.
We can't vouch for all the reporting in the Business Day story. But the writer, Martins Azukwike, compiles a roll call of companies recently linked by their home countries to corrupt payments in Nigeria or now being investigated for illegal activities there. The names include Siemens, Shell, ChevronTexaco, Willbros, Halliburton, Technip, Snamprogetti, Kellogg, Japanese Gas Corporation, Agip, TotalFina/Elf, Baker Hughes, Vetco, GlobalSantaFe, Transocean, Tidewater, Noble Corporation, Nabors Industries, Pride International Inc. and Panalpina. Mr. Azukwike could have added ABB, Bristow, Paradigm and others.
No wonder ordinary Nigerians are pointing fingers. Players in the oil patch and elsewhere should pay attention to this warning from the story: "With the gale of exposure of corporate scandals in foreign lands involving the operations of multinationals in Nigeria, opinions are already building with a call to urgently declare a force majeure on the oil companies’ operations in the country. The list of exposure of the misdeeds of these companies, which have opened the Pandora’s Box, is becoming almost endless."
The drafters of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act knew that public bribery is not a victimless crime. Eventually, ordinary citizens whose daily lives are ruined reach their limit. That's part of what happened in Somoza's Nicaragua, the Shah's Iran, Marcos' Philippines and Suharto's Indonesia. Will Nigeria join the list?
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.