In November 2012, the SEC and DOJ released a joint Resource Guide to the Foreign Corrupt Practice Act to much fanfare. While some FCPA practitioners found the Guide underwhelming, others considered it a “thoughtful attempt to . . . provide clarity and practical guidance to the business community.”
Entries in Joint Ventures (25)
Parental controls: Anti-corruption compliance programs for joint ventures, subsidiaries and franchisees (Part 8)
Over the course of the prior posts in this series, we examined various approaches to what we call "parental controls," meaning compliance measures aimed at joint ventures and other affiliated entities that a company might employ. In this final post, we will review a few FCPA prosecutions to issue a note of caution.
Parental controls: Anti-corruption compliance programs for joint ventures, subsidiaries and franchisees (Part 6)
Our most recent post in this series considered compliance programs in the holding company context. In this sixth installment of eight posts on "parental controls," we turn to more actively managed subsidiaries.
Parental controls: Anti-corruption compliance programs for joint ventures, subsidiaries and franchisees (Part 5)
In this fifth of an eight-part series on "parental controls," we turn from consideration of compliance programs in joint ventures (JVs) to exploring such programs in the context of other affiliated entities.
Parental controls: Anti-corruption compliance programs for joint ventures, subsidiaries and franchisees (Part 4)
Parental controls: Anti-corruption compliance programs for joint ventures, subsidiaries and franchisees (Part 3)
Parental controls: anti-corruption compliance programs for joint ventures, subsidiaries and franchisees (Part 1)
Due to the strict liability approach governing the FCPA’s accounting provisions, public companies generally include majority-owned subsidiaries in their anti-corruption compliance programs. But what is the best compliance governance approach for other "parent-child” contexts?
The U.K. Serious Fraud Office issued a news release on Friday 13th January stating that it has reached a civil settlement with the shareholders of Mabey Engineering (Holdings) Ltd to pay over £130,000 it received in dividends from Mabey & Johnson Ltd, its wholly owned subsidiary.
Cobalt International Energy, Inc.'s annual report filed with the SEC on March 1 repeats a disclosure, of sorts, about FCPA compliance in an Angolan development project.
RAE Systems acquired majority stakes in two China joint ventures, knowing that both had paid bribes to win business.
Millipore's announcement last week was unusual. The Massachusetts-based life science firm said in its 10-Q that the SEC won't bring an enforcement action for potential Foreign Corrupt Practices Act violations the company self-reported in 2006. "By its letter on May 14, 2009," Millipore said, "the Securities and Exchange Commission notified us that its investigation has been completed and it will not pursue any enforcement action on this matter."
Not many companies hear that sort of good news, so why did Millipore?
The company said it decided in January 2006 to consolidate the results of its 40 percent-owned India joint venture. It learned then through its own internal controls "that certain payment and commission practices at the India JV [raised] issues of compliance." There was an internal investigation, self-reporting to the SEC and DOJ, and "certain corrective actions." That's all we know.
But the key to the SEC's no-enforcement decision is probably Millipore's ownership of only 40 percent of the India JV. Under the FCPA's internal controls provisions, an issuer holding 50 percent or less of the voting power in another firm is required to use its influence in good faith -- to the extent reasonable under the circumstances -- to cause the other firm to devise and maintain a system of acceptable accounting controls. (Section 13(b)(6) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934) That provision, part of the FCPA's 1988 Amendments, was meant "to recognize that it is unrealistic to expect a minority owner to exert a disproportionate degree of influence over the accounting practices of a subsidiary." (H.Rept. 100-576, at 917)
Section 13(b)(6) also says that an "issuer which demonstrates good faith efforts to use such influence shall be conclusively presumed to have complied" with its internal controls obligations. Conclusively presumed to have complied. So the test is whether Millipore acted in good faith to cause the India JV to devise and maintain acceptable accounting controls. Not whether the JV did so or not.
Is it time to celebrate? Not quite. Although now cleared by the SEC on the internal controls side, what about antibribery aspects? Did any of Millipore's employees know about or help the India joint venture make questionable payments? If so, the Justice Department could still come calling. But if no one at Millipore knew anything (which seems likely, given the SEC's no-action), then the company couldn't have acted "knowingly" to help the JV make corrupt payments to foreign officials in violation of the FCPA.
The DOJ rarely tells companies formally that they're in the clear. For Millipore, the FCPA's five-year statute of limitations will be up in 2011, assuming the company didn't waive the time bar after it self-reported the India JV's potential compliance problems.
Millipore Corp. trades on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol MIL.
Millipore's Form 10-Q filed August 12, 2009 for the period ending July 04, 2009 can be downloaded here.
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From U.S. v. Green. The AP reported here that the Los Angeles trial of Hollywood producers Gerald and Patricia Green has been delayed for at least a week. "A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles, said Tuesday that the delay was due to the availability of a prosecution witness. Jury selection is slated to begin Aug. 25." The Greens are charged with violating the FCPA and other laws by paying $1.8 million in bribes to Thai officials in exchange for $14 million in contracts. The movies they produced include Salvador, Rescue Dawn, and Diamonds.
Compliance-savvy executives worry about the risks that come from third parties -- overseas acquisition targets, joint venture partners, distributors and agents. About three quarters of the bosses, according to KPMG's 2008 Anti-Bribery and Anti-Corruption Survey, think their company's handling of intermediaries isn't working. They cite difficulties performing effective due diligence and their inability to adequately audit third parties for compliance.
The executives are right to be concerned. The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act says you can't hire an agent to pay bribes for you. You can't use joint venture partners for the dirty work either. You can't use a brother-in-law or charitable foundation or any other circuitous route. Bribes to foreign officials that originate from your hand are your responsibility, no matter how indirectly you try to pass them on. So when American companies go abroad, it's up to them to make sure all their business partners -- suppliers, subcontractors, professional advisors, agents and joint venture partners -- keep the business clean. Companies that don't try to stop intermediaries from paying bribes have no real defense under the FCPA when problems happen.
But how far must companies go to prevent their middlemen from paying bribes? That's always the question on everyone's mind. There's no bright line here, no blueprint from the DOJ or SEC, no safe harbor. And that's what worries the executives. They have to do business with and through intermediaries, but they also have to comply with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Doing both sometimes seems impossible.
Take, for example, our reader who sent the comments below. He's a top compliance professional but he doesn't have all the answers and neither do we. But we appreciate his honesty and willingness to share his concerns and thoughts. He's fairly typical, we think, of those who want to comply with the FCPA but aren't always sure how to do that -- a group most of us are in most of the time.
Here's what he says:
During the ACI FCPA conference held in Washington in November, the topic of documentation of agents came up. This is a familiar topic to anyone who has experience with the FCPA.
One of the points was that companies get hammered because they do a poor job of documenting or having the agent document their activities. I thought to myself "what would the agent document?" If they are out trying to drum up business what is it that they need to report? Do they report the golf trip with potential customers? Do they document the dinner they had or the train ride they took where they discovered a potentially new client and discussed opportunities?
This led me to ask what do business development people document for their activities? Surely they must provide something to justify their salaries. Shouldn't an agent's documentation be just as thorough? But then again, because a business development person is on salary and everyone knows they're sort of doing something, maybe they don't have to document very well. If they get results, some companies may ask "Does it matter?" If the documentation is poor or nonexistent, and all the focus (risk) is on agents, why wouldn't a company consider bringing agents in as business development employees? They could structure the compensation (salary and/or bonus) to be identical to what the agent already received. This would have the effect of moving the expense to payroll from agent commission or something similar.
Speaking from experience in conducting FCPA investigations, the scrutiny of payroll expense is night and day different from the scrutiny of commission or agent expense. Furthermore, perceived FCPA due diligence requirements are not the equal for employees as agents. What about the recording of a bonus as payroll expense when all or a portion is used to pay a bribe to a government official? The question then would be what is documented as the purpose of the bonus and did the company know about where the money would ultimately go?
We all know about the high level Jack Stanley-like business development people, but what about the local agents with cousins in the Ministry or uncles in Parliament. These are the guys that bring relationships to the table who might be hired as "employees" and be buried in payroll but continue on agents as if nothing really changed. . . .
Other readers with good or bad experiences dealing with intermediaries are invited to share their thoughts, anecdotes and advice about this difficult topic.