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Entries in Serious Fraud Office (246)

Thursday
Mar052009

KBR's U.K. Middlemen Indicted

Two U.K. citizens who allegedly helped Houston-based Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR) bribe Nigerian officials have been indicted for violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Jeffrey Tesler, 60, of London, England, and Wojciech Chodan, 71, of Maidenhead, England, were indicted on Feb. 17, 2009 by a federal grand jury sitting in Houston. The Justice Department didn't unseal the indictments until after yesterday's arrest of Tesler by British police, who acted at the request of U.S. authorities. Chodan hasn't been arrested but faces an outstanding U.S. warrant. The DOJ said it will try to extradite Tesler and Chodan from the U.K. to stand trial in the U.S.

Tesler, a lawyer in London, and Chodan, a former employee and consultant of KBR's U.K subsidiary, were charged with one count of conspiracy to violate and ten counts of violating the FCPA. They face up to 55 years in prison if convicted on all counts. The indictment also seeks forfeiture from them of more than $132 million.

The indictment says a joint venture that included KBR entered into consulting contracts with a Gibraltar corporation allegedly controlled by Tesler called Tri-Star Investments. The joint venture paid Tri-Star about $132 million to be used to bribe Nigerian government officials. The bribes were intended to secure contracts worth more than $6 billion to build liquefied natural gas facilities on Bonny Island, Nigeria. The joint venture, known as TSKJ, was equally owned by KBR, Technip, SA of France, Snamprogetti Netherlands B.V. (a subsidiary of Saipem SpA of Italy) and JGC of Japan. Chodan allegedly participated in meetings where the bribery was discussed and he wired $50 million from KBR-controlled accounts to a Japanese trading company to be used to bribe Nigerian officials.

Among the details in the indictment: In August 2002, a KBR representative, using money KBR provided to Tesler, "delivered a pilot's briefcase containing one million U.S. dollars in one-hundred dollar bills to the [Nigerian] Official at a hotel in Abuja, Nigeria, for the benefit of a political party in Nigeria." And in April 2003, a KBR representative "delivered a vehicle containing Nigerian currency valued at approximately $500,000 to the hotel of the [Nigerian] Official in Abuja, Nigeria, for the benefit of a political party in Nigeria, leaving the vehicle in the hotel parking lot until the . . . Official caused the money to be removed."

Last month, KBR pleaded guilty to violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. It agreed with the DOJ to pay a $402 million fine. KBR and its former parent company, Halliburton Company, also agreed to pay $177 million in disgorgement to the Securities and Exchange Commission to settle the FCPA offenses. KBR's former CEO, Albert "Jack" Stanley, pleaded guilty in September 2008 to conspiring to violate the FCPA and to mail and wire fraud charges. He has been cooperating with prosecutors. His sentencing is now scheduled for Aug. 27, 2009.

The DOJ said it had help in the case from "authorities in France, Italy, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, including in particular the Serious Fraud Office’s Anti-Corruption Unit, the London Metropolitan Police and the City of London Police."

The indictment against Tesler and Chodan contains only FCPA charges. Usually the DOJ adds other criminal counts, such as money-laundering, mail and wire fraud. Relying strictly on alleged antibribery offenses will test the jurisdictional reach of the FCPA over foreign citizens who apparently were not in the U.S. at any times relevant to the charged conduct.

The FCPA asserts jurisdiction over foreign companies and nationals that take any act in furtherance of a corrupt payment while within the territory of the United States. See §78dd-3(a), (f)(1). This part of the FCPA is untested in court, but the DOJ interprets it expansively as conferring jurisdiction whenever a foreign company or national acting as an agent of an issuer or domestic concern causes an act to be done within the territory of the United States. (See the United States Attorneys' Manual, Title 9, Criminal Resource Manual §1018 “Prohibited Foreign Corrupt Practices” here.) The indictment says Tesler and Chodan were agents of KBR and sent some of the bribe money through U.S. bank accounts.

Another unusual aspect of the indictment is the use of the forfeiture remedy against Tesler and Chodan. (See 28 USC Section 2461, and Title 18 USC Section 981 (a)(l )(C), "all property, real and personal, which constitutes or is derived from proceeds traceable to the violations.") The U.S. government says it wants the entire $132 million that KBR transferred to Tesler's Gibraltar company or the property derived from it. The DOJ apparently isn't distinguishing the KBR money Tesler allegedly paid out in bribes from amounts he may have kept.

Jeffrey Tesler was identified in KBR's 2007 annual report. British and French authorities investigated him two years ago but didn't file any charges. In 2007, British authorities searched his London office at the request of U.S. officials. He is listed as a consultant to a small North London law firm called Kaye Tesler & Co. Among other things, the firm offers anti-money laundering training. 

As the Justice Department says: Criminal indictments are only charges and not evidence of guilt. A defendant is presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty.

The DOJ's March 5, 2009 release can be downloaded here.

The federal grand jury's February 17, 2009 indictment of Jeffrey Tesler and Wojciech Chodan can be downloaded here.

Monday
Feb022009

A Bit Of An Old Boy's Club

The U.K.'s Serious Fraud Office was created in 1988 with the mission to investigate and prosecute big-time fraud and corruption -- the misdeeds, as Teddy Roosevelt would have said, of the wealthy criminal class. But things at the SFO haven't gone well, and Britain's Sunday Times is reporting that dozens of lawyers, accountants and investigators are being offered up to three times their annual salaries to leave their jobs.

The SFO has often been in hot water because of blown prosecutions. But the worst trouble came after its 2006 decision to stop investigating BAE Systems for bribery. It said it had to drop the case because Saudi Arabia threatened not to buy Typhoon aircraft or continue sharing anti-terrorism intelligence. The High Court called the episode an outrage, an abject surrender to threats, and a capitulation.

After the BAE debacle, the U.K.'s then-attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, hired a former New York City prosecutor to find out why the SFO couldn't get it right. Jessica de Grazia had been an assistant district attorney in Manhattan for 13 years before she took the job. As the Times said, her arrival at the SFO sparked panic.

What de Grazia found, among other things, was that in 2007, the Serious Fraud Office had about three times more lawyers than the Frauds Bureau at the Manhattan District Attorneys Office. The New York DA's 19 lawyers, with virtually no outside help, managed to conclude the prosecution of 124 white collar defendants from 2003 to 2007. During the same period, however, the SFO's 56 staff lawyers concluded 166 prosecutions, even though the SFO spent more than £4 million on external counsel, ranging from newly qualified barristers to Queen’s Counsel. In other words, the per-lawyer prosecution rate in the New York DA's office was at least double and maybe triple that of the SFO.

De Grazia also found huge discrepancies in conviction rates. During the 2003-2007 period, the SFO’s average conviction rate for serious and complex white collar crimes was just 61%; the Frauds Bureau in New York had a 92% conviction rate for the same type of offenses. And at the federal prosecutor's office in New York City, the conviction rate was a nearly perfect 97%.

What's the problem in the SFO? De Grazia cited "a commingling of external and internal factors." External factors, she said, were the laws, government policy, and legal professional rules and practices. The big problem within the SFO's control, she said, was "insufficient innovation." The Times newspaper wasn't so polite. Cronyism and incompetence, it said, and “a bit of an old boy’s club.”

Former SFO director Robert Wardle left his post in April 2008, two months before de Grazia released her report. “She caused chaos,” one of her eventual victims recalled last week. The Times report said, “She called meetings of case controllers and asked them to identify the crap assistant directors. Then she went to the investigators and asked them who was a crap case controller.”

More changes at the SFO are probably ahead. The Times says de Grazia has just delivered another report -- this one highly confidential -- to Britain's new attorney general, Baroness Scotland. The new report, the Times says, is far more blunt than the June '08 version released to the public. It calls the SFO “a demoralised and underperforming agency” where the work of many dedicated and competent employees was “ blocked by inadequate management and leadership.”

Our thanks to a friend, now in Paris, for sending us the Times stories this weekend.

Download a copy of Jessica de Grazia's June 2008 report here.

Listen to this podcast here.
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Friday
Jan092009

Aon Pays £5.25 Million Corruption Fine

The U.K.'s Financial Services Authority said yesterday that it has fined Aon Ltd £5.25 million ($8.05 million) for failing to recognize and control the risks of overseas payments being used as bribes. The fine is the largest the FSA has levied for financial crimes. Aon Ltd is the principal U.K. subsidiary of Chicago-based Aon Corporation, the world's biggest insurance broker.

Aon Corporation disclosed in November 2007 an internal investigation into possible violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and non-U.S. anti-corruption laws. Aon said then in its Form 10-Q that it had self-reported the investigation to the Department of Justice, the Securities and Exchange Commission and others, and that it had already agreed with U.S. prosecutors to toll any applicable statute of limitations. The U.S. investigations are still pending.

This is now the third case brought by U.K. authorities involving overseas bribery by U.K. companies. In September 2008, the Overseas Anti-Corruption Unit of the City of London Police said an employee of CBRN Team Ltd, a U.K. security consulting firm, and an official of Uganda, had pleaded guilty to bribery charges. The CBRN employee received a suspended sentence and the Ugandan official was sentenced to twelve months in jail. And in October last year, the U.K.'s Serious Fraud Office reached a £2.25 million civil settlement with construction firm Balfour Beatty plc for alleged unlawful accounting in connection with overseas "payment irregularities" which it self-reported.

Apparently to emphasize the new willingness of her agency and other U.K. authorities to prosecute overseas bribery, Margaret Cole, the FSA's director of enforcement, said:

The involvement of UK financial institutions in corrupt or potentially corrupt practices overseas undermines the integrity of the UK financial services sector. The FSA has an important role to play in the steps being taken by the UK to combat overseas bribery and corruption. We have worked closely with other law enforcement agencies in this case and will continue to take robust action focused on firms’ systems and controls in this area.
According to its website, the Financial Services Authority is an independent non-governmental body with statutory powers under the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000. It has a range of rule-making, investigatory and enforcement powers intended to "promote efficient, orderly and fair financial markets and help retail financial service consumers get a fair deal." The Treasury appoints its 12-member board.

Between January 2005 and September 2007, according to the FSA, Aon Ltd didn't properly assess or control the risks involved in its dealings with overseas firms and individuals who helped it win business. "As a result of Aon Ltd’s weak control environment, the firm made various suspicious payments, amounting to approximately US$7 million, to a number of overseas firms and individuals." The payments were made in Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Burma, Indonesia and Vietnam.

The FSA said Aon cooperated fully and agreed to settle early in the investigation, qualifying for a 30% discount under the FSA’s settlement discount scheme. Without the discount the fine would have been £7.5 million.

View the FSA's January 8, 2009 release here.

Download the FSA's Final Notice (January 6, 2009) here.

View Aon's January 8, 2009 statement here.
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Sunday
Oct192008

Amid OECD Criticism, A Breakthrough In Britain

The U.K.'s failure to prosecute its multinationals for overseas bribery, while other European countries and the U.S. are stepping up enforcement, threatens the integrity of the international anti-bribery effort. That's what a fed-up OECD Working Group on Bribery says in its just-released report.

The 37-member OECD anti-bribery group launched an investigation into Britain's enforcement practices after the U.K.'s Serious Fraud Office quashed a corruption investigation into BAE Systems in December 2006. The military equipment supplier had been accused of funneling £1 billion in secret payments to the former Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar bin-Sultan, in exchange for help selling jet fighters to the Saudi government. Both BAE and the Prince have denied breaking any laws.

The OECD was blunt. It said in its report:

The Working Group is disappointed and seriously concerned with the unsatisfactory implementation of the [OECD Anti-bribery] Convention by the UK. The continued failure of the UK to address deficiencies in its laws on bribery of foreign public officials and on corporate liability for foreign bribery has hindered investigations. . . . The Working Group also strongly regrets the uncertainty about the UK's commitment to establish an effective corporate liability regime in accordance with the Convention, as recommended in 2005, and urges the UK to adopt appropriate legislation as a matter of high priority.
Meanwhile, the U.K. government is celebrating two well-timed maiden anti-corruption victories. The breakthrough prosecutions are reported in a briefing from a Fulbright & Jaworski team led by Washington partner William B. Jacobson. Billy -- who joined Fulbright last month after serving with distinction as the Assistant Chief for FCPA Enforcement at the Justice Department's Fraud Section, Criminal Division -- graciously consented to our liberal use of the material. We're happy about that. For the past few days we haven't had a spare minute due to the ALCS -- i.e., planning to watch the games, watching the games, then talking about what happened in the games.

Here, then, is an abridged version of Fulbright's report:

In the course of just a few weeks, the UK has brought two separate foreign bribery cases to conclusion - the first such cases brought by UK authorities.

First, in late September, the Overseas Anti-Corruption Unit ("OACU") of the City of London Police announced that both an employee of CBRN Team Ltd ("CBRN"), a UK security consulting firm, and an official of Uganda pled guilty to bribery charges stemming from a scheme in which CBRN paid the Ugandan official in order to receive a contract to advise the Ugandan Presidential Guard. While the CBRN employee received a suspended sentence, the Ugandan official was sentenced to twelve months' incarceration.

Second, on October 6, 2008, the UK's Serious Fraud Office ("SFO"), in a case the SFO was investigating for evidence of foreign bribery, announced that it had reached a £2.25m (US$3.9m) settlement with major construction firm Balfour Beatty plc for alleged unlawful accounting in connection with certain 'payment irregularities' which it self-reported. While the SFO acknowledged that there were no grounds for criminal prosecution of either the company or any individual, this marks the first time a company has reached this type of civil settlement as part of a foreign bribery investigation. This is a significant event in the UK's enforcement of anti-corruption laws and comes only 6 months after the SFO was given the powers to make a civil recovery of the proceeds of crime.

The SFO's Powers

The SFO is a UK investigation and enforcement authority established to deal with serious financial crime and has the power to investigate any suspected offence appearing on reasonable grounds to involve serious or complex fraud. In the course of an investigation, the SFO may give notice to the subjects of the investigation, or to anyone else that the SFO thinks may have relevant information, to answer questions or to provide information or specified documentation, and in appropriate circumstances may issue warrants to compel production. The SFO may also commence and conduct criminal proceedings relating to that fraud. The SFO's powers to obtain civil recoveries in relation to the proceeds of crime are relatively new. In April 2008, the Serious Crime Act 2007 transferred the civil recovery powers formerly vested in the Assets Recovery Agency to a number of agencies including the SFO.

The CBRN Team Case

The prosecution of the managing director of CBRN and the Ugandan official who received the bribe is noteworthy in many respects. First and foremost, it represents the first convictions for foreign bribery in UK history. Second, having been investigated by the City of London Police's OACU, it also marks the first successful foreign bribery investigation by that recently-formed unit. Third, the prosecution was handled by the Crown Prosecution Service and not the SFO, which usually investigates foreign bribery with the OACU.

Additionally, the UK's ability to prosecute the foreign official who took the bribe sets the UK's legislation apart from the United States' foreign bribery law, the Foreign Corrupt Practice Act ("FCPA"). Under the FCPA, only the giver of a bribe, and not the foreign official who received the bribe' may be prosecuted. For all the criticism that the UK's foreign bribery legislation has received in recent years, those laws are, in this respect, stronger than the FCPA.

View Fulbright's full briefing on the cases here.

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Tuesday
Jul292008

Distasteful But Not Illegal, Say The Lords

The House of Lords ruled today that the Serious Fraud Office didn't break the law when it stopped its investigation into bribery allegations involving BAE Systems and Saudi Arabia.

In April this year the High Court in London slammed the SFO's decision. In its appeal to the Lords, however, the SFO argued that then-director Robert Wardle was justified in shutting down the investigation because of national security concerns. Wardle said he believed the Saudi threats to stop sharing anti-terrorism intelligence with the U.K government put British lives at risk.

All five law lords hearing the case agreed that the SFO acted lawfully. One of the Lords, Baroness Hale, said it was "extremely distasteful that an independent public official should feel himself obliged to give way to threats of any sort." Nevertheless, she said, the SFO's Wardle didn't break the law. And Lord Bingham said Wardle "was confronted by an ugly and obviously unwelcome threat." But because he believed British lives to be at risk, his action in stopping the investigation was justified.

The High Court in April rejected the SFO's argument that it was powerless to resist the Saudi threats. "So bleak a picture of the impotence of the law invites at least dismay, if not outrage," the court said. It added that to give in so easily "merely encourages those with power, in a position of strategic and political importance, to repeat such threats, in the knowledge that the courts will not interfere with the decision of a prosecutor to surrender."

U.S. authorities are continuing their investigation of BAE's sales to Saudi Arabia.

BAE has denied breaking any laws.

View our prior posts about BAE here.

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Thursday
Jul102008

Heading For The Hammock

It's the weekend again. Good thing. We need (and deserve) some rest. What serious mind, after all, wouldn't be exhausted pondering how Tampa Bay can be one and a half games clear of the Red Sox? Strangely, our spouse seems to hold no opinion on the subject. So in our household the burden of the American League East falls entirely on our shoulders.

Still, we managed to cover some new ground this week. Iraq's civil suit against those implicated in the oil-for-food scandal caught our eye. And we noted the appeal to the House of Lords by Britain's Serious Fraud Office. We're not sure if the bigger scandal there involves BAE and Prince Bandar or the SFO itself.

What else? Oh yes -- we were wowed by the D&O Diary's trend-spotting. Looks like FCPA-inspired civil litigation is the next big hazard in the lives of our already-pummeled corporate leaders.

Meanwhile, we're waiting for the DOJ to deal with Panalpina. The global logistics firm may have stretched "facilitating payments" well beyond the current legal definition -- and in the process caused compliance headaches for practically everyone in the oil-and-gas services sector.

Siemens' hopes for a quick resolution in the U.S. of its massive corruption problems have now evaporated. Our first post about that company was back in September 2007, an eon ago in the life of a blog.

Speaking of eons . . .

Aon Corporation -- the giant insurance broker -- disclosed back in November 2007 an internal investigation into possible violations of the FCPA. When it self-reported to the DOJ it also agreed to toll the statute of limitations. So we guess no one's in a big hurry to wrap up that one.

The orthopedic device makers are waiting to learn their fate with the FCPA. We first wrote about the investigation by the DOJ and SEC into the group's overseas sales practices in October 2007. That post was also our first mention of John Ashcroft's appointment as a compliance monitor in a domestic bribery case for Zimmer Holdings.

The revelation that Mr. Ashcroft might take home $52 million from the appointment prompted our favorite blog editor emeritus, Prof Peter Henning, to note in his '07 Thanksgiving Day message: That's not a bad payday, and Zimmer -- like every other company that enters into a deferred or non-prosecution agreement -- can hardly object to the fees lest it look uncooperative and bring down the wrath of the U.S. Attorney's Office. So much to give thanks for this Thanksgiving.

Well, with the FCPA backlog still growing, we could keep at this for a long time. But our thoughts must now return to more weighty matters. That's right -- the mystery of the American League East.

Enjoy the weekend.

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Monday
Jul072008

The Lords Hear From The SFO

Yesterday the Serious Fraud Office asked the House of Lords to overturn April's High Court ruling that the SFO broke the law when it dropped its corruption investigation of BAE Systems.

The case involves BAE's alleged secret payments of £1 billion to the former Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar bin-Sultan. The payments were allegedly made when BAE was trying to sell jet fighters to the Saudi government.

In late 2006, the SFO was about to gain access to Swiss bank accounts that may have shown where BAE's payments went. The Saudis threatened to end anti-terrorism cooperation with the U.K unless the SFO stopped its investigation. The High Court in April criticized the government's capitulation as illegal and blasted the Saudi threats. "No one within this country or outside," the court said, "is entitled to interfere with the course of our justice."

Yesterday the SFO's lawyer told the Lords that Robert Wardle, who was then the SFO's director, was "convinced that Saudi Arabia was not bluffing." By December 2006, the lawyer said, Wardle believed the "danger was now both very grave and imminent." Because Wardle's decision was based on national security and not on commercial considerations, the lawyer said, the SFO was justified in stopping its investigation.

Public interest groups are arguing that the SFO's action contravened its charter and Britain's commitments under the OECD's anti-corruption convention.

The hearing before the Lords is continuing.

Whatever happens in London, the U.S. Justice Department is conducting its own investigation. The DOJ wants to know whether BAE and Prince Bandar violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and anti-money laundering laws.

In May this year, the DOJ turned up the heat. BAE's chief executive Mike Turner and director Nigel Rudd were detained at U.S. airports. Authorities apparently copied information from their laptop computers, cell phones, and papers before letting them leave. The DOJ has also reportedly served subpoenas on other BAE employees in the U.S.

In November 2007, according to the U.K.'s Guardian, the DOJ obtained Swiss banking records and evidence from a U.K. businessman who was part of the deal. The paper reported that Peter Gardiner had boxes of invoices allegedly detailing payments made by BAE to members of the Saudi royal family. Gardiner was flown by FBI agents to Washington in August 2007 to give testimony there. He traveled via Paris to avoid British attention, the paper said.

There's no evidence that BAE is co-operating with the DOJ's investigation. In fact, a Times Online article in May this year quoted a former DOJ official as saying that the recent heavy-handed behavior of U.S. authorities indicated "a severe lack of cooperation by BAE."

BAE and Prince Bandar have denied breaking any laws.

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Thursday
May222008

The Highest Roller In Town

Does it ever pay to stonewall the Department of Justice in an FCPA investigation? We're asking because of an item that ran in the May 21st edition of the U.K. Times Online (available here). It described the DOJ's detention of BAE's ceo and a director as they travelled separately through the Houston and Newark airports last week. The DOJ, investigating alleged corrupt payments to Saudi officials, reportedly searched and copied information from their laptops, phones and briefcases, then let the men continue traveling. In the Times piece, Joshua Hochberg, the former head of the DOJ's group responsible for Foreign Corrupt Practices Act prosecutions, explained "that the recent heavy-handed behaviour of investigators indicated 'a severe lack of cooperation by BAE'."

Is a "severe lack of cooperation" a viable legal strategy -- for BAE and its personnel, or for any company facing an FCPA investigation? Does being non-cooperative and recalcitrant ever serve the best interests of a corporation? When dealing with the FCPA, does ordering company employees and agents to keep quiet and stay away from the DOJ ever enhance a company's defensive position?

The questions aren't merely academic. In most criminal investigations, corporate targets have some options to consider. They can decide to force the government to do the hard work of uncovering evidence. That's their right. Defendant's don't have to testify against themselves, and the government's burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt is a safeguard for corporations too. At its criminal trial, an accused company can sit mute and force the government to make its case.

But the FCPA doesn't work like a typical criminal statute. Companies facing FCPA charges don't go to trial. They can't withstand the withering publicity -- the front page stories around the world of their alleged international public bribery. They usually can't risk being banned from U.S. government contracts, or losing their export licenses -- which can happen based on mere allegations of FCPA offenses. And anyway, their chances at trial are exremely bleak. With the application of respondeat superior, once a company employee admits to violating the FCPA, the company is guilty as a matter of law. That's the rule in most U.S. circuits that have considered the question. It doesn't matter if the guilty employee held a low rank or was violating company policy. The employee's guilt is still imputed to the company. So one bad apple really does spoil the barrel.

Companies are sitting ducks in FCPA cases, and their people are vulnerable too. Let's face it, what director, officer or executive responsible for compliance wants to risk his or her hide because an assistant sales manager in Mongolia decided sui generis to grease some government palms? In other words, it's all downside risk to fight the DOJ in an FCPA case. So instead, companies cooperate, knowing a "good" outcome -- usually involving a deferred prosecution agreement -- is only possible when the DOJ is on their side.

If fighting isn't an option, if cooperating is the only way to salvation, then the DOJ ends up holding all the cards. Its decision to investigate and charge a corporation becomes paramount. There won't be a trial where lawyers can argue, raise defenses, challenge the witnesses' credibility, and implore the jury to dish out justice. Instead the process will start and end with the DOJ itself. Yes, there are grounds to criticize the prosecutors' omnipotence in FCPA cases. But for now that omnipotence is a fact of life that has to be faced. Why, then, would a corporation under investigation for alleged FCPA offenses thumb its nose at the prosecutors? What's to be gained?

Instead of fighting, the path forward has been for accused companies to work with the DOJ, to investigate the facts cooperatively, to self-disclose the results, to take remedial action, and to hope the DOJ will be willing to defer the prosecution if the company keeps its nose clean. But that's not what BAE is doing. Why not?

Well, in the U.K., BAE has been protected. The Serious Fraud Office -- responsible for investigating and prosecuting high-level overseas public corruption -- opened a file on the company but closed it in 2006 under irresistible pressure from the Blair government. The High Court in March this year ruled that the SRO couldn't legally drop the investigation, but the government is now appealing that decision to the House of Lords. In the U.K., BAE may yet keep its secrets. So is the company also betting that its U.K. protectors will prevail against U.S. prosecutors as well? That the Western Alliance will be unwilling to press the case and embarrass Saudi Arabia -- a key security ally and OPEC's largest exporter?

We don't know what's going on inside BAE. It has denied doing anything illegal. So all we really know is that the company isn't playing by the usual rules. Instead of making peace with the DOJ, it's flipping the feds an awfully rude gesture. Does that mean BAE has a legal strategy that relies on an ultimate savior, such as the man in the White House? If that's true, what happens if the strategy doesn't work? What happens if BAE ends up in the hands of the Department of Justice like every other company facing FCPA allegations? In that case, BAE and its leaders will have lost an enormous bet, and life will never be the same.

View prior posts about BAE here.

Monday
May192008

U.S. Prosecutors Detain And Search BAE Leaders

The Justice Department escalated its politically explosive investigation into BAE Systems' role in the $2 billion bribery scandal involving alleged illegal payments to former Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar bin-Sultan, in return for the sale of jet fighters to the Saudi government.

BAE confirmed today that chief executive Mike Turner and director Nigel Rudd were detained by U.S. officials when they landed last week at Houston's George Bush International Airport. They were later released and allowed to leave the country. Reports say U.S. authorities confiscated and copied information on the executives' laptop computers, cell phones, and papers. The DOJ has also reportedly served additional subpoenas in the U.S. on employees of BAE Systems PLC and BAE Systems Inc. The DOJ's investigation centers on alleged violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and money laundering.

Britain's Serious Fraud Office dropped its investigation of BAE in 2006. The High Court last month ruled that the SFO acted illegally when it shut down the investigation, but allowed the SFO to appeal the decision to the House of Lords. That appeal is pending. Evidence in the High Court showed that Prince Bandar threatened to stop Saudi Arabia's cooperation with the U.K. on counter-terrorism unless the SFO ended its investigation. The High Court strongly criticized the government's capitulation. It said, "No one within this country or outside, is entitled to interfere with the course of our justice."

View prior posts about BAE here.

Tuesday
May062008

The Woolf Report Tells No Tales

The message in our inbox yesterday said: You may find this interesting if you haven't seen it already. It's the Woolf Committee Report on BAE -- released this morning. It's breathtaking in the extent to which they have focused stubbornly on the future and avoided a meaningful review of past conduct. I know that was the basis upon which the committee was formed, but it's difficult to imagine how future conduct can be determined without past wrongdoing explored.

Our correspondent is a fine compliance professional with one foot in Washington and the other in London, so we took the warning seriously. That is, we lowered our expectations. But even so, the report was disappointing. Not only does it avoid dealing with anything historical or factual, but it also never says that public corruption is wrong. That it's a crime that always cheats a national treasury somewhere, perverts the marketplace, and victimizes the citizens. There was none of that.

Instead, the report from the 75-year-old former lord chief justice, who was commissioned in June 2007 by BAE at a wage of £6,000 a day, says over-and-over that BAE's reputation is hurt when the company is caught doing bad things, and that damage to its reputation is in turn bad for its business. Beyond that, the report's action items could have been cut-and-pasted from compliance boilerplate -- creating an impression that the Woolf Committee (Lord Woolf, Philippa Foster Back, Sir David Walker, Dr Richard Jarvis and Douglas Daft) either didn't actually speak with anyone who works at BAE, or didn't find anything they said notable enough to be repeated.

The Guardian, meanwhile, posted a short list of provocative questions that remain unanswered:

· Did BAE set up a secret offshore subsidiary called Red Diamond to handle worldwide cash for arms deals?

· Did the company pay 31% "commission" into a Swiss account on a sale to the African state of Tanzania?

· Did BAE employ Count Alfons Mensdorff-Pouilly, previously caught up in a bribery scandal, as its undercover agent in central Europe?

· Did it provide exotic holidays and prostitutes to the entourage of the head of the Saudi air force?

· Did it pay £1bn to Saudi agents including Wafic Said, and another £1bn to Saudi Prince Bandar? To every question about what BAE may have actually done, Woolf's answer was the same: "We weren't given the job of looking at the past."

The Guardian also reminded readers that BAE "still faces criminal investigations in London, Washington, Dar es Salaam, Bucharest, Prague, Berne, Budapest and Johannesburg, over continuing multi-million pound arms contracts. Last month Woolf's former colleague, Lord Justice Moses, ruled that the abandonment of the Serious Fraud Office investigation into BAE had betrayed the rule of law. Moses said there had been an 'abject surrender' to threats when the SFO, under pressure from BAE, from the then prime minister Tony Blair, and from Prince Bandar, agreed to drop investigations into the Saudi payments."

(As an aside, we're not often on common editorial ground with the Guardian. But its enterprise and leadership on the BAE story show why the somewhat offbeat, trust-controlled newspaper has a reputation for courageous reporting. In the movie, "The Bourne Ultimatum," an investigative report in the Guardian that mentions Jason Bourne is important to the plot and ultimately leads to the assassination of the fictional reporter. )

The Corner House, one of the public-interest campaigners that won the BAE court case against the Serious Fraud Office, called the Woolf inquiry "an interesting academic exercise. . . BAE should have saved its £1.7m spent on the committee and adopted instead accepted best practice: namely, to employ a law firm as an independent investigator to go through all its internal emails and documents in order to make adequate disclosure to the law enforcement authorities. . . . If BAE is serious about breaking from the past, it needs to show that it is fully cooperating with all the current investigations by law enforcement officers in the UK, US and Switzerland."

As for our disappointment, we always try to be realistic about public corruption. We know bribery is the second oldest profession and won't disappear anytime soon. The temptation in business to take shortcuts via well-placed bribes to government officials is powerful. When people fall, as they sometimes will, they and their approving employers deserve punishment. Once punished, though, they also deserve another chance -- assuming there's at least some recognition of wrongdoing ("mistakes were made"). That, after all, is the path to rehabilitation and to a full restoration of corporate citizenship.

The Woolf Committee Report is available here.

Thursday
Apr242008

U.K. Government Appeals BAE Decision

The U.K. government is appealing the High Court's ruling that the Serious Fraud Office broke the law in shutting down an investigation into BAE's sale of jet fighters to Saudi Arabia. Pending the appeal to the House of Lords, the SFO will not reopen the investigation. The High Court panel of Lord Justice Moses and Mr. Justice Sullivan gave the government permission to challenge their judgment because the case raises crucial issues. As reported by the Guardian (here), Lord Justice Moses said: "This is a paradigm case that goes to the way this country is governed and to its constitutional principles."

View prior posts about BAE and the SFO here.

Monday
Apr212008

The Majesty of the Law

We admit to being stunned. Boggled, bowled over, dumbfounded, floored and flabbergasted (thanks, Roget's). We never expected the British High Court to disturb the U.K.'s somnolent status quo in the fight against international public corruption, by ruling that the Serious Fraud Office broke the law in dropping its investigation of BAE. After all, in the ten years since it became a party to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials, Britain did not bring a single prosecution against overseas public bribery. Not one. History, as they say, was unanimous.

That's why we could write in December last year: "It's official. Britain's absence from the global war on public corruption is now a full-fledged scandal. Nearly ten years after the U.K. ratified the Anti-Bribery Convention of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), there hasn't been a single British prosecution. And as England shirks, its friends are both baffled and alarmed."

Other voices, we noted, had joined the chorus of condemnation. The Wall Street Journal said, "The OECD, which isn't prone to naming and shaming uncooperative member states took the unusual step of voicing 'serious concerns.' But that didn't move Mr. Blair, who warned the probe could harm relations with Saudi Arabia." The New York Times reported that during the OECD's recent tenth anniversary celebration of the Anti-Bribery Convention in Rome, its head, Angel Gurria, said "national security concerns — the reason Mr. Blair gave for terminating the BAE investigation in Britain — 'should not be used' as a reason for quashing bribery investigations. He also voiced concern that anti-corruption efforts were in danger of weakening. "

Who, then, could have predicted that on April 10, 2008, Lord Justice Moses and Mr. Justice Sullivan would reassert the authority of the U.K.'s independent judiciary? That they would reclaim for Britain and all common law countries the rule of law -- the simple idea that no man or woman is above the law -- an idea that shapes and preserves every great and not-so-great democracy on the planet.

The High Court's 46-page decision can be found here. It's a powerful, magisterial document, evidence of a court compelled at last to act as final arbiter of right and wrong -- to step forward, stand alone and draw a line in the sand. "No one," the court said, "within this country or outside, is entitled to interfere with the course of our justice." Strong words from officialdom in our politically correct, interdependent, terror-strickened world.

While the court's entire opinion is worthwhile, especially its brave conclusion, we particularly admire the Introduction. It is two parts John le Carré and one part Authorized Version. With simple but dramatic prose, it sets the tone for what's to come. It gives us character, place and plot -- and draws us into an irresistible detective story, where the search is not for the missing person or murderer or stolen jewels, but for . . . a legal principle.

Here's the Introduction:

1. This is the judgment of the court.

2. Between 30 July 2004 and 14 December 2006 a team of Serious Fraud Office lawyers, accountants, financial investigators and police officers carried out an investigation into allegations of bribery by BAE Systems plc (BAE) in relation to the Al-Yamamah military aircraft contracts with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. On 14 December 2006 the Director of the Serious Fraud Office announced that he was ending the SFO' s investigation.

3. In October 2005 BAE sought to persuade the Attorney General and the SFO to stop the investigation on the grounds that its continued investigation would be contrary to the public interest: it would adversely affect relations between the United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia and prevent the United Kingdom securing what it described as the largest export contract in the last decade. Despite representations from Ministers, the Attorney General and the Director stood firm. The investigation continued throughout the first half of 2006.

4. In July 2006 the SFO was about to obtain access to Swiss bank accounts. The reaction of those described discreetly as "Saudi representatives" was to make a specific threat to the Prime Minister's Chief of Staff, Jonathan Powell: if the investigation was not stopped; there would be no contract for the export of Typhoon aircraft and the previous close intelligence and diplomatic relationship would cease.

5. Ministers advised the Attorney General and the Director that if the investigation continued those threats would be carried out; the consequences would he grave, both for the arms trade and for the safety of British citizens and service personnel. In the light of what he regarded as the grave risk to life, if the threat was carried out, the Director decided to stop the investigation.

6. The defendant in name [the SFO], although in reality the Government, contends that the Director [of the SFO] was entitled to surrender to the threat. The law is powerless to resist the specific and, as it turns out, successful attempt by a foreign government to pervert the course of justice in the United Kingdom, by causing the investigation to be halted. The court must, so it is argued, accept that whilst the threats and their consequences are "a matter of regret", they are a "part of life".

7. So bleak a picture of the impotence of the law invites at least dismay, if not outrage. The danger of so heated a reaction is that it generates steam; this obscures the search for legal principle. The challenge, triggered by this application, is to identify a legal principle which may be deployed in defence of so blatant a threat. However abject the surrender to that threat, if there is no identifiable legal principle by which the threat may be resisted, then the court must itself acquiesce in the capitulation.