Entries in Employees (5)
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.
Perhaps the biggest, although not yet the loudest, international corruption story involves Siemens AG, the German electronics and electrical engineering giant. Siemens says it has identified "a multitude of payments made in connection with [consulting agreements] for which we have not yet been able either to establish a valid business purpose or to clearly identify the recipient. These payments raise concerns in particular under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) in the United States, anti-corruption legislation in Germany and similar legislation in other countries." Some reports put the level of potentially corrupt payments at a staggering half a billion dollars.
The press, led by the Wall Street Journal, is also reporting that Siemens' managers in many countries are stonewalling the internal investigation. That, in turn, may have pushed the U.S. Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission to begin working on a deal with German prosecutors to share information and possibly resources in their respective investigations.
With Siemens' own managers now going silent, the DOJ and SEC face tough challenges collecting evidence abroad and compelling non-residents to appear in American courts, either as witnesses or defendants. Meanwhile, the tension among Siemens' management-level employees must be enormous. If they voluntarily give evidence, they could end up being prosecuted. If they refuse to give evidence, they could end up being fired and still be prosecuted. And unless the internal investigation gets back on track, Siemens itself may lose the opportunity to work out a favorable disposition of the case with U.S. and other prosecutors.
Siemens AG's ADRs trade on the NYSE under the symbol SI.
View A Recent Press Report Here.
View Siemens' Recent SEC Disclosure Here.
One consistent measure of a compliance culture is executive responsibility. In the case of Enron's CEO, Jeffrey Skilling, there was little evidence of that. True, he was obligated to comply with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. But remarkably, his January 1, 1996 Employment Agreement might have allowed him to be convicted under the FCPA and still keep his job. How? By his own declaration that he had no personal knowledge of or involvement in the crime -- the same defense he later bet on and lost at his federal trial for conspiracy, securities fraud, wire fraud and insider trading.
Fellow executives Rebecca Mark, Kenneth Rice and Joseph Sutton lacked Mr. Skilling's sui generis right to declare themselves innocent. Upon an FCPA offense, however, their employment agreements, like his, allowed the board to decide that if they'd acted in good faith after all, they could remain employed by Enron (never mind the mens rea element of a federal criminal conviction under the FCPA).
Mr. Skilling's Employment Agreement said in part:
Employee shall at all times comply with United States laws applicable to Employee's actions on behalf of Employer, including specifically, without limitation, the United States Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, generally codified in 15 USC 78 (FCPA), as the FCPA may hereafter be amended, and/or its successor statutes. If Employee pleads guilty to or nolo contendere or admits civil or criminal liability under the FCPA, or if a court finds that Employee has personal civil or criminal liability under the FCPA, or if a court finds that Employee personally committed an action resulting in any Enron entity having civil or criminal liability or responsibility under the FCPA with knowledge of the activities giving rise to such liability or knowledge of facts from which Employee should have reasonably inferred the activities giving rise to liability had occurred or were likely to occur, such action or finding shall constitute "cause" for termination under this Agreement unless (i) such action or finding was based on the activities of others and Employee had no personal involvement or knowledge of such activities, or (ii) Employer's Board of Directors or Enron's management committee (or, if there is no Enron management committee, the highest applicable level of Enron management) determines that the actions found to be in violation of the FCPA were taken in good faith and in compliance with all applicable policies of Employer and Enron.
View Jeffrey Skilling's Employment Agreement Here.
“An Overview of the Organizational Guidelines” from the United States Sentencing Commission's May 2004 release includes the following jaw-dropping statement:
Criminal liability can attach to an organization whenever an employee of the organization commits an act within the apparent scope of his or her employment, even if the employee acted directly contrary to company policy and instructions. An entire organization, despite its best efforts to prevent wrongdoing in its ranks, can still be held criminally liable for any of its employees’ illegal actions.
This is meant to encourage adoption of effective compliance programs in order “to alleviate the harshest aspects of this institutional vulnerability . . . .”
It is also fair warning.
The majority view of the federal courts of appeals which have considered the question have held that a corporation is vicariously criminally liable for the crimes employees commit while acting within the scope of their employment--that is, within their actual or apparent authority and on behalf of the corporation. See Standard Oil Co. v.
Under this view, which constitutes an application of respondeat superior principles to criminal statutes, it may be irrelevant that the employee is not a high managerial official, that the corporation may have specifically instructed the employee not to engage in the proscribed conduct, or that the statute is one that requires willful or knowing violations, rather than one that imposes strict liability. See, e. g., United States v. Hilton Hotels Corp., 467 F.2d 1000 (9th Cir. 1972), cert. denied, 409 U.S. 1125 (1973); Continental Baking Co. v. United States, 281 F.2d 137 (6th Cir. 1960); United States v. Armour & Co., 168 F.2d 342 (3d Cir. 1948); but see Holland Furnace Co. v. United States, 158 F.2d 2 (6th Cir. 1946). The stated rationale is that the criminal statutes impose a duty upon the corporation to prevent its employees from committing the statutory violations.
See Committee Comment to Instruction 5.3, Pattern Criminal Federal Jury Instructions (7th Cir. 1998).
What, then, should corporations do? The "Overview of the Organizational Guidelines" says this:
The [federal sentencing guidelines mitigate] the potential fine range - in some cases up to 95 percent - if an organization can demonstrate that it had put in place an effective compliance program. This mitigating credit under the guidelines is contingent upon prompt reporting to the authorities and the non-involvement of high level personnel in the actual offense conduct.
View "An Overview of the Organizational Guidelines" Here.
View the Seventh Circuit’s Pattern Criminal Federal Jury Instructions Here.