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« The Sporting Life | Main | A Prince Of Persia »

Feds Call Time Out

There hasn't been a new FCPA enforcement action from the DOJ since Daimler's on April 1 and only Dimon's from the SEC. That's strange. The first three months of this year were the busiest in FCPA history. But since then, hardly a peep.

With around 150 cases pending and pressure building to resolve long-standing actions involving Panalpina, Technip, ENI, ABB, Alcatel-Lucent, Pride International, Inc., Alcoa, the medical device makers, and pharmas, you have to ask: Where are the enforcement actions for April and May?

In a typical year, we'd expect a couple of actions a month; this year, we'd expect more. So what's happening?

Here are a few guesses:

  • Changing horses. Mark Mendelsohn, head of the DOJ's FCPA unit, left government service in mid-April. His departure would be a natural time for those still there or newly arrived to take inventory -- to use the white board to plot their present location and itinerary for the coming year.
  • Resources are stretched. With all the pending prosecutions, including the 22-defendant shot-show case, the DOJ's FCPA group has to be stretched. Maybe they're taking a couple of months to catch their breath, bring in reinforcements, and lift their eyes above the trenches to make sure they aren't about to make any big mistakes.
  • A new strategy. Could the DOJ be assessing its overall enforcement approach? Looking, perhaps, at how decisions are made to prosecute corporations (which are defenseless because of respondeat superior)? Or whether financial penalties that punish innocent stakeholders make sense? Or if enforcement should zero in on individuals, or find new ways to spotlight foreign officials who demand bribes . . . ?

There's precedent for the current FCPA moratorium. In February and March 2008, the DOJ also came to a dead stop. The reason was never announced but it could have been the controversy over the unregulated appointment of compliance monitors. Former Attorney General John Ashcroft's $52 million gig with Zimmer in a domestic kickback case threw Washington into a spin. The storm blew over and the DOJ was back in the FCPA business after about two months.

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