This article originally appeared on Professor Koehler’s FCPA Professor website (www.fcpaprofessor.com) and is reprinted with his permission.
It is a thorny question with no easy answer. Where should the money go when a company resolves an FCPA enforcement action? It was addressed last year in connection with the Alcatel-Lucent enforcement action. Two recent events raise the issue again.
BAE Enforcement Action
Earlier this month, it was announced that the U.K. “Serious Fraud Office, the Government of Tanzania, BAE Systems and the Department for International Development (DFID) … signed a Memorandum of Understanding enabling the payment of £29.5 million [$47 million USD] plus accrued interest to be paid by BAE Systems for educational projects in Tanzania.”
As noted in the release, “textbooks will be purchased for all 16,000 primary schools in the country and as a result 8.3 million children will benefit” in subjects such as Kiswahli, English, math and science. The release further notes that funds will also be used to “provide all 175,000 primary school teachers with teachers’ guides, syllabi and syllabi guides to help improve their teaching skills” as well as the purchase of desks.
In the release, SFO Director Richard Alderman stated, “This agreement is a first for the SFO which piloted it through the U.K. legal system. It provides a satisfactory outcome for all concerned but most of all for the Tanzanian people and I am personally delighted that SFO staff were able to achieve this.”
In another release BAE systems chairman Dick Olver said, “We are glad to finally be able to make the payment to the Government of Tanzania and bring this matter to a close. We are grateful to DFID for their work in agreeing the Memorandum of Understanding with the Government of Tanzania.” The BAE release states that the “payment follows the settlement agreed between BAE Systems and the SFO.”
To be sure, BAE’s payment to Tanzania, and the role of the SFO in brokering the payment, feels good. What is not to like about children receiving textbooks?
However, the feel-good nature of this most recent BAE development should not mask the significant problems with the BAE enforcement action (on both sides of the Atlantic). As noted earlier, even the U.K. judge who accepted the SFO-BAE plea agreement called it “loosely and hastily drafted” and said the fine he levied reflected that he couldn’t “sentence for an offense which the prosecution failed to charge.”
And let’s not forgot how this story began. In 2004, the SFO began investigating whether BAE made bribe payments to secure Saudi fighter jet contracts. However, in late 2006, the SFO was forced to halt its investigation under pressure from the U.K. government, which cited national security concerns should the investigation go forward. Because BAE also allegedly made bribe payments in numerous other countries to secure business, the SFO, under a new director, revived its investigation of BAE, at least as to non-Saudi issues, including whether the company paid bribes to secure contracts in various European and African countries.
After settlement talks stalled – the conventional wisdom is that BAE was unwilling to plead guilty to bribery-related offenses given the collateral effect of the mandatory European Union debarment provisions – the SFO pressed ahead with the case. In late January 2010, the SFO issued a release stating that Count Mensdorff, a former BAE agent, was criminally charged with “conspiracy to corrupt” and for “conspiring with others to give or agree to give corrupt payments […] to officials and other agents of certain Eastern and Central European governments, including the Czech Republic, Hungary and Austria as inducements to secure, or as rewards for having secured, contracts from those governments for the supply of goods to them, namely SAAB/Gripen fighter jets, by BAE Systems Plc.”
Then, in early February 2010, the SFO announced its long-awaited resolution of the BAE matter. Despite allegations of wide-spread bribery on a global scale, and despite BAE’s agent being criminally indicted a few days earlier in connection with bribe payments in “certain Eastern and Central European countries” (presumably on evidence that such payments did indeed occur), the SFO resolution related solely to the company’s failure “to keep reasonable and accurate accounting records in relation to its activities in Tanzania.”
Most dramaticly, and in a strange turn of events, the SFO announced that it had withdrawn the criminal charges filed days earlier against Count Mensdorff. The same release also noted, “This decision brings to an end the SFO’s investigations into BAE’s defense contracts.” For more, see “BAE – Inside the SFO.”
In any event, at least some children in Tanzania received some textbooks from BAE as a result.
SERAP Letter To SEC
As previously highlighted on the FCPA Blog, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), a nongovernmental civil society organization in Nigeria, recently wrote a letter to SEC Enforcement Division Director Robert Khuzami (with a copy to Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer and Deputy Chief, Fraud Section Charles Duross) regarding “FCPA civil penalty and disgorgement proceeds that companies agree to pay to resolve US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act investigations.” As the letter notes, “currently such proceeds, once paid, are retained by the U.S. government.”
In summary, the SERAP letter requests “that the Enforcement Division establish a case-by-case policy or process that would enable foreign governmental entities that have been victims of corruptly-procured contracts to apply for, subject to appropriate anti-corruption safeguards, some or all of the civil penalty and disgorgement proceeds that would eventually be paid by companies alleged to have violated the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.”
SERAP also suggests that “civil society groups in the home country, or U.S. non-profit organizations serving that country, be eligible within a short time-period to apply for such proceeds as well, or instead, for use for ‘public benefits projects’ in the affected foreign country, again subject to anti-corruption safeguards.”
The SERAP letter notes, among other things, that “[m]any citizens in a country where such bribery has occurred might consider FCPA civil penalties and disgorgement payments imposed by the US, and then kept by the US, as in fact representing funds that rightfully ‘belong’ to the victim.”
Stating that “corruptly procured contracts ‘cost’ the victim at least 10 percent extra,” the SERAP letter says that “this figure ought to be a presumed measure of possible funds available for third-party application in the context of a civil FCPA settlement, particularly since the Enforcement Division typically settles an investigation before extensive evidence of damages, as opposed to liability, is placed in the public realm.”
The specific SERAP proposal:
“[A]fter, and ony after, public notice of an FCPA settlement agreement, the victim foreign government entity and any applicant NGO would have 60 days to file a request that the Enforcement Division pay some or all of the agreed payment proceeds to or for the benefit of the victim government entity or to a home country-based or US based NGO that would present a proposal [to] spend the proceeds for public purposes (e.g. on public health programs) in the country of the victim entity. Thereafter, the Enforcement Division would have 60 days to act upon the request, favorably or not in its discretion; in this context the Enforcement Division should provide a brief statement of its reasons for its decisions. In reaching its decisions the Enforcement Division would have the inherent authority to consult with Executive Branch agencies of the US government.”
The SERAP letter raises some interesting issues regarding alleged victims of FCPA enforcement actions. The SERAP letter also raises some interesting questions, including the following.
If the SEC would be required to relinquish a certain portion of money recovered in an FCPA enforcement action, what impact would this have on FCPA enforcement? Would the SEC be less aggressive in bringing enforcement actions or perhaps more aggressive because more enforcement actions would be needed to sustain the current FCPA ”revenue stream”? For instance, 10% of SEC FCPA “revenue” in 2011 was approximately $15 million, in 2010 approximately $53 million.
The SERAP proposal appears to assume that all FCPA enforcement actions involve foreign government procurement. This is not the case. Approximately 50% of recent FCPA enforcement actions (i.e. in the past five years) do not involve foreign government procurement, but rather issues relating to foreign taxes, customs duties, or foreign licenses, permits, certifications and the like. Is the victim analysis the same in these FCPA enforcement actions compared to foreign government procurement enforcement actions?
Are individuals or organizations located in the country giving rise to the FCPA enforcement action really the most direct victims of the conduct at issue? In the procurement context, what about a competitor who may have lost out on the foreign business because it was unwilling to make an improper payment? With victim issues attracting new attention, should an FCPA private right of action receive new attention?
Last, but certainly not least, companies settling SEC FCPA enforcement actions are allowed to settle without admitting or denying the SEC’s allegations. Even the SEC itself has stated that this settlement device often leads to settlements that ”do not necessarily reflect the triumph of one party’s position over the other.” Given this dynamic, would SERAP’s proposal lead to undeserved “windfalls” for civil society organizations? [In a prior piece, I asked the same question as to Dodd-Frank Act whistleblowers.]
About the Author
Mike Koehler is an assistant professor of business law at Butler University and is an expert FCPA columnist for Corporate Compliance Insights. He is a leading expert on FCPA and other anti-corruption laws and initiatives. Professor Koehler has testified before Congress on FCPA, and he is also frequently speaks about such topics before business and academic audiences.