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Bloomberg reports that Wal-Mart is nearing a resolution of a five-year old joint inquiry by the DOJ and SEC. Citing an unnamed source familiar with the matter, Bloomberg reports that the company is preparing to pay $300 million to settle allegations that company employees paid bribes in Mexico, China, and India. The same source reported that the resolution will also include at least one guilty plea by a Wal-Mart subsidiary, a non-prosecution agreement for the parent company, and a monitorship.
In March of 2015, a federal district court in Arkansas dismissed with prejudice a consolidated shareholder derivative suit accusing Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s (Wal-Mart) board of directors of concealing Mexican bribery claims from investors. The lawsuit was filed after a 2012 article by the New York Times reported that top officials at Wal-Mart’s Mexican subsidiary oversaw millions of dollars in bribes in connection with the company’s expansion in Mexico. See previous Scorecard coverage here. The same article is believed to have touched off the DOJ’s and SEC’s inquiry. If true, a $300 million resolution would not be near the top end of FCPA resolutions.
On April 24, 2017, in a speech at the Ethics and Compliance Initiative Annual Conference in Washington, D.C., Attorney General Jeff Sessions appeared to commit to the continued aggressive enforcement of the FCPA. He noted that bribery "increases the cost of doing business and hurts honest companies that don’t pay these bribes,” and he explained that the Trump administration’s DOJ will enforce laws that protect honest businesses: “One area where this is critical is enforcement of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). Congress enacted this law 40 years ago, when some companies considered it a routine expense to bribe foreign officials in order to gain business advantages abroad.” AG Sessions also emphasized that individuals, not just companies, may face increased FCPA focus.
These remarks come on the heels of comments from another senior DOJ official who recently noted that robust FCPA enforcement will continue. As previously reported, Trevor McFadden, the DOJ’s Criminal Division's Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General, noted that the DOJ remains "intent on creating an even playing field for honest businesses."
These remarks suggest that the DOJ will remain active in enforcing FCPA compliance issues, despite comments from then-candidate Trump that FCPA enforcement may be scaled back under his watch.
On April 18, Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Trevor McFadden spoke at the 10th annual Anti-Corruption, Export Controls and Sanctions Compliance Summit in Washington, D.C. According to Mr. McFadden, the Justice Department “remains committed to enforcing the FCPA and to prosecuting fraud and corruption more generally.” He emphasized the importance of company cooperation, stating that that the department considers voluntary self-disclosures and remedial efforts when making charging decisions. Mr. McFadden also stated that the department is making a “concerted effort to move corporate investigations expeditiously,” adding that FCPA investigations should be “measured in months, not years.”
Mr. McFadden also discussed an increased prioritization of anti-corruption prosecutions around the world and stated that the DOJ will “seek to reach global resolutions that apportion penalties between the relevant jurisdictions so that companies that want to accept responsibility for misconduct are not unfairly penalized by multiple agencies.”
Additionally, the department is assessing its FCPA Pilot Program. Last year, as part of the Program, the department began publishing information on cases it declined to prosecute due to voluntary self-disclosure, full cooperation, and comprehensive remediation. Mr. McFadden stated that the Program is “one example of an effort to provide more transparency and consistency for our corporate resolutions” and “will continue in full force.”
On April 11, the DOJ filed a memorandum in its case against Odebrecht S.A., requesting that the Court approve a lower sentence than originally proposed based on Odebrecht’s inability to pay. On December 21, Brazilian construction company Odebrecht and its petrochemical affiliate, Braskem S.A., reached a $4.5 billion combined global settlement with U.S., Brazilian, and Swiss authorities to resolve FCPA allegations, in which both companies agreed to plead guilty in the U.S. to conspiracy to violate the FCPA. As part of that agreement, the U.S. and Brazilian authorities agreed to conduct an independent analysis to confirm the accuracy of Odebrecht’s representation that it had an inability to pay a penalty in excess of $2.6 billion. The memorandum set forth the DOJ’s determination that Odebrecht lacks the ability to pay a criminal penalty in excess of $2.6 billion and included adjustments for the requested penalty to match that ability. In particular, the portion of the penalty paid to the United States would be lowered from approximately $117 million to approximately $93 million. The sentencing hearing is scheduled for April 17.
Prior Scorecard coverage of the Odebrecht settlement can be found here.
In an annual report filed with the SEC on March 20, 2017, ING Groep, N.V., a Netherlands-based financial services company, stated that it is under criminal investigation by Dutch authorities “regarding various requirements related to the on-boarding of clients, money laundering, and corrupt practices,” and that it has also received “related information requests” from U.S. authorities. A spokesperson for the Dutch prosecutor reportedly expressed suspicion that ING failed to report irregular transactions and may have enabled international corruption, including unusual payments made by VimpelCom, the Russian telecom company, to a government official in Uzbekistan through a shell company. VimpelCom settled bribery charges with the U.S. and Dutch governments in February 2016, admitting to paying bribes amounting over $114 million to an Uzbek official and agreeing to pay over $397 million in penalties to the DOJ and SEC for violations of the FCPA. ING stated that it is cooperating with the ongoing investigations and requests of Dutch and U.S. authorities.
Speaking at the American Bar Association’s National Institute on White Collar Crime yesterday, U.S. Department of Justice official Kenneth Blanco reportedly announced that the Justice Department’s FCPA pilot program encouraging corporate cooperation will not end on April 5 of this year as originally announced. Instead, until the Justice Department is able to render a final decision based on a complete evaluation, the program will remain in force. Notably, as previously reported, the new Deputy Assistant Attorney General with oversight over the Fraud Section, Trevor N. McFadden, co-authored an article during his time in the private sector praising the program as “a step forward in providing companies and their counsel with more transparent and predictable benefits for self-reporting, cooperating, and remediating FCPA misconduct.”
In late January of 2017, President Donald Trump appointed Trevor N. McFadden as Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the U.S. Department of Justice Criminal Division, a position that includes oversight over the Fraud and Criminal Appellate Sections. The Fraud Section is in charge of enforcing the FCPA, placing the former Baker & McKenzie Litigation and Government Enforcement partner, who also served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney and Counsel to the Deputy Attorney General, in a key role to determine the future of FCPA enforcement under the new administration. On February 16, 2017, McFadden gave a speech at the Global Investigations Review Conference in which he proclaimed his dedication to the continued enforcement of the statute. While McFadden’s comments reflect Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recent promise to enforce the FCPA, they contrast with President Trump’s 2012 comments that the FCPA is a “horrible law” that “should be changed.”
Above all, McFadden’s message was one of enforcement, enforcement, enforcement. He commented that the law “has been vigorously enforced” over its 40-year history, efforts which have “steadily increased over time.” McFadden specifically highlighted two important trends of this history of enforcement: transparency to businesses, and cooperation with foreign nations in the fight against corruption. McFadden’s emphasis on the “utmost importance” of working with other countries also signaled a continued commitment to what he called “important anti-corruption conventions,” including “the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention, the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (NCAC), the Convention on Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC), and several others.”
In looking to the future of FCPA enforcement, McFadden called the law’s continued “fight against official corruption  a solemn duty of the Justice Department…regardless of party affiliation.” He also emphasized that the Justice Department will continue to prioritize “individual accountability,” although he did comment that some people “may be unwittingly involved in facilitating an illegal payment under circumstances that do not merit criminal prosecution of the individual.” Finally, McFadden expressed that a company’s “voluntary self-disclosures, cooperation, and remedial efforts” will “continue to guide our prosecutorial discretion determinations,” along with the “penalty reductions for companies that self-disclose, cooperate, and accept responsibility for their misconduct” provided for in the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines. Interestingly, the only whiff of questioning past Justice Department approaches was McFadden’s mention of an upcoming review of the FCPA pilot program encouraging such company cooperation. However, plans to re-evaluate the pilot program were already in place under the Obama administration, according to an article McFadden co-wrote with colleagues at Baker & McKenzie in April of 2016. Notably, McFadden’s article called the pilot program “a step forward in providing companies and their counsel with more transparent and predictable benefits for self-reporting, cooperating, and remediating FCPA misconduct.”
As previously covered here, Crawford & Co., an Atlanta-based claims management firm, disclosed in November 2015 that it self-reported possible FCPA violations to the DOJ and SEC. These potential violations were identified during an internal audit. On February 27, 2017, Crawford announced that it had received notice that the SEC “concluded its investigation and did not intend to recommend an enforcement action” related to this matter. The company did not reference the DOJ in its announcement.
On February 24, a major financial services institution disclosed in its 10-K that government and regulatory agencies, including the SEC, are conducting investigations concerning potential violations of the FCPA related to hiring of candidates referred by or related to foreign government officials. The institution stated that it was cooperating with the investigations.
This is not the first FCPA-related investigation of a company’s hiring practices. As previously reported here in November 2016, a global financial company and a Hong Kong subsidiary agreed to pay approximately $264 million to the DOJ, SEC, and the Federal Reserve, ending a nearly three year, multi-agency investigation of the subsidiary’s “Sons and Daughters” referral program through which the children of influential Chinese officials were allegedly given prestigious and lucrative jobs as a quid pro quo to retain and obtain business in Asia. Similarly, as reported here, in August 2015, the SEC announced a settlement with a multinational financial services company over allegations that the company violated the FCPA by giving internships to family members of government officials working at a Middle Eastern sovereign wealth fund in hopes of retaining or gaining more business from that fund. The company paid $14.8 million to settle the charges.
Nor are the inquiries confined to financial services companies. For example, the SEC announced in March 2016 that it settled charges with Qualcomm Inc., the San Diego-based mobile chip maker. Qualcomm agreed to pay a $7.5 million civil penalty to resolve charges that it violated the FCPA by hiring relatives of Chinese government officials and providing things of value to foreign officials and their family members, in an attempt to influence these officials to take actions that would assist Qualcomm in obtaining or retaining business in China.
The DOJ’s Fraud Section recently published an “Evaluation of Corporate Compliance Programs.” The guidelines were released on February 8 without a formal announcement. Their stated purpose is to provide a list of “some important topics and sample questions that the Fraud Section has frequently found relevant in evaluating a corporate compliance program.” The guidelines are divided into 11 broad topics that include dozens of questions. The topics are:
- Analysis and Remediation of Underlying Conduct
- Senior and Middle Management
- Autonomy and Resources
- Policies and Procedures
- Risk Assessment
- Training and Communications
- Confidential Reporting and Investigation
- Incentives and Disciplinary Measures
- Continuous Improvement, Periodic Testing and Review
- Third Party Management
- Mergers & Acquisitions
According to the Fraud Section, many of the topics also appear in, among other sources, the United States Attorney’s Manual, United States Sentencing Guidelines, and FCPA Resource Guide published in November 2012 by the DOJ and SEC. While the content of the guidelines is not particularly groundbreaking, it is nonetheless noteworthy as the first formal guidance issued by the Fraud Section under the Trump administration and new Attorney General Jeff Sessions. By consolidating in one source and making transparent at least some of the factors that the Fraud Section considers when weighing the adequacy of a compliance program, the guidelines are a useful tool for companies and their compliance officers to understand how the Fraud Section and others at the DOJ may proceed in the coming months and years.
However, while the guidelines may give some indication of what the DOJ views as a best practices compliance program, they caution that the Fraud Section “does not use any rigid formula to assess the effectiveness of corporate compliance programs,” recognizes that “each company’s risk profile and solutions to reduce its risks warrant particularized evaluation,” and makes “an individualized determination in each case.”