Taking Aim at the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act

May 1, 2012

The New York Times on April 30, 2012 released the following:

“BY PETER J. HENNING

The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act has been at the center of a tug of war between business interests and federal authorities.

The United States Chamber of Commerce has led efforts to change the law, in response to ramped up prosecutions by the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission in the last few years. While the proposed changes are described as a means to “improve” the law, they would also make it more difficult to pursue cases.

But the revelations in The New York Times that Wal-Mart Stores squelched an investigation into bribery at its Mexican subsidiary may impel prosecutors to be even more forceful in applying the law and put legislative efforts to change it on the back burner.

Business leaders have long contended that the law is overly broad and too aggressively enforced, while federal authorities view it as a powerful means to police the overseas conduct of American companies.

The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act was adopted in 1977 in the wake of revelations of bribery of foreign officials by more than 400 United States companies. This was a time when misconduct by the Central Intelligence Agency and the Watergate scandal were still fresh in the public consciousness, so efforts to clean up business and government were paramount.

The law contains two parts: it prohibits bribing a foreign official for the purpose of “obtaining or retaining business,” and it requires that public companies file proper financial statements and maintain a system of internal controls.

The books and records provision is enforced regularly, most recently in the conspiracy prosecution of a former managing director of Morgan Stanley for hiding deals with a Chinese official. The Justice Department and the S.E.C. share authority over enforcement, which means companies have to deal with two sets of investigators whenever a potential violation comes to light.

For the first 30 years or so after its enactment, the antibribery portion of law was used sporadically. Only a handful of cases were brought each year against companies, almost always ending in settlements involving a modest fine, and even fewer involved individuals.

Prosecutors have now made enforcement of the law a priority, and more industries have been caught up in investigations. The Justice Department has filed cases against pharmaceutical manufacturers, like Pfizer, for dealings with state-run health care programs, and is reported to be pursuing an investigation into the dealings of American movie studios in China.

The push for changes in the statute coincided with its expanded enforcement as companies now have to deal with the vagaries of the law once viewed as a mild nuisance at best.

At a hearing before a House subcommittee last year, a former attorney general, Michael B. Mukasey, represented the United States Chamber of Commerce in supporting changes to restrain use of the law because “more expansive interpretations of the statute may ultimately punish corporations whose connection to improper acts is attenuated or, in some cases, nonexistent.”

The revelations about Wal-Mart’s conduct, however, shows the law’s importance as an anticorruption tool for policing large businesses.

Tinkering with the law could send the wrong signal to other countries about the importance of curbing bribery. Support among Congressional leaders for revisions that would make it harder to prosecute companies may dissolve if they could easily be portrayed as being soft on bribery — something that would become fodder for an opponent in an election campaign.

The Justice Department’s increased enforcement of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act has also included more charges against individuals rather than just companies. But that shift has also led to problems. In one of its most prominent cases, prosecutors dismissed charges against 22 defendants from the “Africa Sting” case in which the government used an undercover informant to entice suppliers into agreeing to pay bribes to receive contracts with an African government, all of which was fictitious.

The charges foundered over issues regarding the conduct of the informant that raised questions about whether individuals were unfairly enticed into the deals. Federal juries could not reach a verdict after two trials of a group of the defendants, and the Justice Department decided to forgo further prosecutions.

As James B. Stewart wrote in a New York Times column last week, there has been a noticeable absence of corporate employees charged with violations even when it appears that the company condoned foreign bribery.

But while companies have been much more amenable to settling investigations rather than challenging charges in court, prosecuting individuals faces a number of hurdles. Corrupt payments are often made by foreign intermediaries acting on behalf of the company, many of whom have no ties to the United States. It does little good to charge someone when there is not a realistic prospect that the person can be brought to the United States.

Pursuing a case against senior executives for turning a blind eye to questionable payments can be quite difficult. The notion that management “had to be aware of what was going on” may well be true in some instances, but that perception alone is not enough to prove any individual corruptly and willfully violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which is the required legal intent standard for a conviction.

Foreign bribery can takes years to come to the government’s attention, so the five-year statute of limitations can preclude prosecuting those involved in the payments. As I discussed in an earlier piece, the Wal-Mart payments to Mexican officials from 2003 to 2005 probably cannot be pursued against individuals at the company unless something more recent occurred.

Interestingly, in the Dodd-Frank Act, Congress extended the statute of limitations for securities fraud crimes to six years, apparently leaving out violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Even that small increase in the time available to pursue a case can help prosecutors in putting together charges. Congress can alter the limitations period for any offense, and the Justice Department may point to Wal-Mart to ask Congress to extend the time frame in which foreign bribery charges can be filed.

The investigation of Wal-Mart has brought the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act to the attention of the public in a way not seen since the 1970s scandals that led to its adoption. Congress may find it politically impossible to adopt changes to the statute that would arguably make it more difficult to pursue cases as long as the allegations of foreign bribery by a leading American company remain in the headlines.”

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Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Videos:

Federal Crimes – Be Careful

Federal Crimes – Be Proactive

Federal Crimes – Federal Indictment

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To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Criminal Defense Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition Defense, OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal, International Criminal Court Defense, and US Seizure of Non-Resident, Foreign-Owned Assets. Because we have experience dealing with INTERPOL, our firm understands the inter-relationship that INTERPOL’s “Red Notice” brings to this equation.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.


Weighing the Legal Ramifications of the Wal-Mart Bribery Case

April 24, 2012

The New York Times on April 23, 2012 released the following:

“BY PETER J. HENNING

The United States government puts a premium on corporate cooperation in foreign bribery cases, relying on companies to conduct thorough internal investigations and voluntarily disclose any wrongdoing.

Indications that Wal-Mart Stores may have taken steps to keep an internal investigation from digging deeper into $24 million in questionable payments — and later promoting an executive who may have been implicated in them — may affect how the government decides to proceed against the giant retailer.

Wal-Mart first disclosed in December that it had started “a voluntary internal review of its policies, procedures and internal controls pertaining to its global anticorruption compliance program.” That review was the result of reporting by The New York Times about bribery by Wal-Mart de México to secure permits and approvals to build new stores.

The company’s disclosures did not give any information about where the foreign bribery issues had arisen, only that the focus was on whether “permitting, licensing and inspections were in compliance with the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.” Wal-Mart said it had informed the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission about the internal investigation, and the company issued a statement in response to the Times article that its outside advisers “have and will continue to meet with the D.O.J. and S.E.C. to report on the progress of the investigation.”

Companies caught up in investigations of foreign bribery often seek to exert a measure of control over the flow of information by meeting early and often with government investigators in an effort to establish credibility regarding the scope and integrity of the investigation, usually sharing the results as quickly as possible. If corporate counsel can demonstrate its reliability, then the Justice Department and the S.E.C. are more likely to accept the findings of the internal investigation without conducting an independent review.

Cooperation is also important because it is a significant factor for prosecutors in deciding how to resolve a case. The Justice Department has allowed companies to pay reduced fines and avoid a guilty plea to criminal charges by entering into deferred or nonprosecution agreements because they came forward voluntarily and readily provided information.

While Wal-Mart may be angling for the same type of resolution, it is questionable whether being prodded by The Times’s reporting to start an internal investigation shows that it took affirmative steps to address a problem. The company had dropped its earlier investigation, and likely would have let that sleeping dog lie if not for potential media scrutiny.

The Times article also raises two significant red flags for investigators that may cause them to take a more aggressive approach in the case. First, the Mexican bribery involved senior management at the subsidiary, not just low-level employees operating on their own. One factor cited in the Justice Department guidelines for deciding whether to charge a business organization is the “pervasiveness of wrongdoing within the corporation,” and the most important consideration “is the role and conduct of management.”

Second, Wal-Mart’s own investigators raised questions about $16 million in “contributions” and “donations” to local governments, but there was no further review of those payments. Simply ignoring these types of transfers is sure to raise questions for the government about whether the company can claim it had an effective compliance program back in 2005 when these issue first came to light, another important consideration in determining whether to file charges.

Wal-Mart also pointed out twice in its statement that the payments in Mexico took place more than six years ago. That may be an effort to explain why it may be unable to conduct a complete investigation. Whether the excuse will fly with the Justice Department and the S.E.C. remains to be seen.

The time lag may present a problem if the Justice Department wants to prosecute any individuals for bribery of Mexican officials. The statute of limitations for a violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act is five years. The limitations period can be extended if the government was seeking evidence from a foreign country, but that does not appear to be the case because Wal-Mart only disclosed the issue in late 2011. So charges related to conduct before 2007 may be lost due to the passage of time.

One way the government can try to avoid the statute of limitations is to charge a conspiracy, which only requires that one act in furtherance of the criminal agreement take place within the last five years. If active steps by Wal-Mart executives to cover up payments to foreign officials occurred in 2007 or later, then prosecutors might be able to pursue that charge.

The statute of limitations will not work as much in Wal-Mart’s favor, however, because the company is required to annually file financial statements covering the previous five years. It is likely that questionable payments were not properly reflected on the company’s books and records. So even if no charges can be brought for any foreign bribery, at a minimum it could be charged with violating the accounting provisions of federal securities law for not properly disclosing the payments made by Wal-Mart de México.

Another potential avenue that prosecutors are likely to investigate is obstruction of justice under 18 U.S.C. § 1519, which was added by the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. If there is evidence that anyone at the company covered up or destroyed records “with the intent to impede, obstruct, or influence” a future investigation, that could be grounds for a criminal charge.

One factor working against Wal-Mart is that the Justice Department may be looking for a prominent case to demonstrate the need for vigorous enforcement of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act as a response to recent criticisms of the law. The Chamber of Commerce, which hired a former attorney general, Michael B. Mukasey, to lobby for changes to the statute, has argued that aggressive application of the law has caused companies to shy away from overseas investments for fear of being scrutinized.

The Times article makes it clear that Wal-Mart appeared to be more concerned with protecting its fast-growing Mexican operation than with thoroughly investigating allegations that corruption helped fuel its success. Prosecutors can make an example of Wal-Mart to show that the Justice Department will not tolerate foreign bribery, even by a leading American company. That would bolster the argument that revising the statute would send the wrong message to the rest of the world.

The payments at issue are comparatively paltry, perhaps totaling less than $50 million, although that number could increase as the internal investigation moves forward. The ultimate cost to Wal-Mart for the legal and accounting fees for the investigation, along with any monetary penalties the Justice Department and the S.E.C. may seek, will probably far exceed the bribes.”

18 U.S.C. § 1519

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Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Videos:

Federal Crimes – Be Careful

Federal Crimes – Be Proactive

Federal Crimes – Federal Indictment

————————————————————–

To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Criminal Defense Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition and OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.


Florida Telecommunications Company, Two Executives, an Intermediary and Two Former Haitian Government Officials Indicted for Their Alleged Participation in Foreign Bribery Scheme

July 13, 2011

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) on July 13, 2011 released the following press release:

“WASHINGTON – Cinergy Telecommunications Inc., Cinergy’s president and director, the president of Florida-based Telecom Consulting Services Corp. and two former Haitian government officials have been charged in a superseding indictment for their alleged roles in a foreign bribery, wire fraud and money laundering scheme, announced Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer of the Southern District of Florida and Special Agent in Charge Jose A. Gonzalez of the Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation’s (IRS-CI) Miami Field Office.

According to the superseding indictment, the defendants allegedly participated in a scheme to commit foreign bribery and money laundering from December 2001 through January 2006. The indictment alleges that during this time period Cinergy and its related company, Uniplex Telecommunications Inc., allegedly paid more than $1.4 million to shell companies to be used for bribes to foreign officials of the Republic of Haiti’s state-owned national telecommunications company, Telecommunications D’Haiti (Haiti Teleco).

According to court documents, Cinergy and Uniplex executed a series of contracts with Haiti Teleco that allowed the companies’ customers to place telephone calls to Haiti. The bribe payments allegedly were authorized by Washington Vasconez Cruz, the telecommunications companies’ president, and Amadeus Richers, the companies’ director, and were allegedly paid to Haitian government officials at Haiti Teleco, including Patrick Joseph and Jean Rene Duperval. According to the superseding indictment, the purpose of these bribes was to obtain various business advantages from the Haitian officials for Cinergy and Uniplex, including preferred telecommunications rates and credits toward sums owed. To conceal the bribe payments, the defendants allegedly used various shell companies to receive and forward the payments, including J.D. Locator Services, Fourcand Enterprises and Telecom Consulting Services.

The six defendants charged in the superseding indictment are:

  • Washington Vasconez Cruz, 63, of Miami, the president of Cinergy and Uniplex, is charged with one count of conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and to commit wire fraud, six counts of FCPA violations, one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering and 19 counts of money laundering;
  • Amadeus Richers, 60, of Pembroke Pines, Fla., and Brazil, the then-director of Cinergy and Uniplex, is charged with one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA and to commit wire fraud, six counts of FCPA violations, one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering and 19 counts of money laundering;
  • Cinergy Telecommunications Inc., a privately-held telecommunications company incorporated in Florida, is charged with one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA and to commit wire fraud, six counts of FCPA violations, one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering and 19 counts of money laundering;
  • Patrick Joseph, 49, of Miami and Haiti, a former general director for telecommunications at Haiti Teleco, is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering;
  • Jean Rene Duperval, 44, of Miramar, Fla., and Haiti, a former director of international relations for telecommunications at Haiti Teleco, is charged with two counts of conspiracy to commit money laundering and 19 counts of money laundering; and
  • Marguerite Grandison, 42, of Miramar, the former president of Telecom Consulting Services Corp., and Duperval’s sister, is charged with two counts of conspiracy to commit money laundering and 19 counts of money laundering.

The superseding indictment also charges Duperval and Grandison with laundering corrupt payments authorized by Joel Esquenazi and Carlos Rodriguez on behalf of another Florida telecommunications company.
Duperval was charged previously in the indictment returned on Dec. 7, 2009, with one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering and 12 counts of money laundering. Grandison was previously charged with one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA and to commit wire fraud, seven counts of FCPA violations, one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering and 12 counts of money laundering.
Esquenazi and Rodriguez were charged in the initial December 2009 indictment and are unaffected by the superseding indictment. They are scheduled to stand trial on July 18, 2011.

An indictment is merely an accusation, and defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

The conspiracy to commit violations of the FCPA and wire fraud count carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a fine of the greater of $250,000 or twice the value gained or lost. The FCPA counts each carry a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a fine of the greater of $100,000 or twice the value gained or lost. The conspiracy to commit money laundering counts each carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a fine of the greater of $500,000 or twice the value of the property involved in the transaction. The money laundering counts each carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a fine of the greater of $500,000 or twice the value of the property involved in the transaction. The superseding indictment also gives notice of criminal forfeiture.

On May 15, 2009, Juan Diaz, the president of J.D. Locator Services, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA and money laundering. He admitted to receiving more than $1 million in bribe money from telecommunications companies. On July 30, 2010, he was sentenced to 57 months in prison.

On Feb. 19, 2010, Jean Fourcand, the president and director of Fourcand Enterprises Inc., pleaded guilty to one count of money laundering for receiving and transmitting bribe monies in the scheme. On May 5, 2010, he was sentenced to six months in prison.

On March 12, 2010, Robert Antoine, the former director of international affairs for Haiti Telco, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. He admitted to receiving more than $1 million in bribes from Miami-based telecommunications companies. On June 2, 2010, he was sentenced to 48 months in prison.

The government’s investigation is ongoing. The Department of Justice is grateful to the government of Haiti for continuing to provide substantial assistance in gathering evidence during this investigation. In particular, Haiti’s financial intelligence unit, the Unité Centrale de Renseignements Financiers (UCREF), the Bureau des Affaires Financières et Economiques (BAFE), which is a specialized component of the Haitian National Police, and the Ministry of Justice and Public Security provided significant cooperation and coordination in this ongoing investigation.

The case is being prosecuted by Senior Trial Attorneys Nicola J. Mrazek and James M. Koukios of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section, with the assistance of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida. The Office of International Affairs in the Justice Department’s Criminal Division also provided assistance in this matter. The cases were investigated by the IRS-CI Miami Field Office.”

To find additional federal criminal news, please read The Federal Crimes Watch Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition and OFAC SDN List Removal.

The author of this blog is Douglas McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.

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