The Foreign Corrupt Trade Practices Act: Why It Matters to Your Company
Recently, Deloitte LLP conducted a survey which demonstrated that United States companies are having a difficult time detecting or preventing corruption prohibited by the Foreign Corrupt Trade Practices Act (“FCPA”). You can read more about Deloitte’s survey here.
Of course, Deloitte’s survey is particularly of interest as government agencies are increasing the number of FCPA enforcement actions each year. In 2009, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) and the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) collectively brought 40 enforcement actions concerning the FCPA; in 2010, that number jumped to 74 enforcement actions – 85% greater than the previous year. Indeed, 2009 itself was another record year for its number of FCPA related enforcement actions.
Clearly, the number of enforcement actions have been increasing as it has become obvious that the stakes are high. In 2008, the United States’ settlement with Siemens AG, a Germany based company, netted the government $800 million in fines and disgorgement of ill-gotten gains. In 2009, Halliburton Co. paid $579 million in criminal fines and disgorgement, the largest combined settlement ever paid by a United States company since the FCPA’s inception. In 2010, with settlements of over $350 million by Snamprogetti Netherlands B.V. and BAE Systems plc, among other massive settlements, the SEC and the DOJ showed the true strength and impact of the FCPA.
What is the FCPA?
The FCPA was passed in 1977, as a response to numerous SEC investigations in the mid-1970s that revealed over $300 million in bribes to foreign officials. The FCPA’s purpose was to restore public confidence in the integrity of American businesses. The FCPA provides for internal accounting requirements and provisions which prohibit bribery of foreign officials. The FCPA potentially applies to payments by any individual, firm, officer, director, employee, or agent of a firm and any stockholder acting on behalf of a firm.
Internal Accounting Requirements
Under the FCPA, public companies are required to keep records of their transactions and disposition of assets of the company and must maintain a system of internal accounting controls.The controls must be able to detect any differences between the accountability for assets and the existing assets.
U.S. public companies, U.S. nationals, and foreign firms or persons who take any act to further a forbidden transaction in the United States are all prohibited from making an offer, payment or promise of payment to any foreign official or foreign political party in order to obtain or retain business with any person. Under this provision, foreign official means any officer or employee or individual acting in an official capacity for a foreign government or any department, agency, or instrumentality, or of a public international organization.
What is at stake?
The SEC and DOJ have been aggressive with their enforcement of the FCPA and with demanding large penalties. Under the FCPA, there are numerous criminal and civil remedies available to the SEC and the Department of Justice for violations. Criminal sanctions state that corporations and other business entities are subject to a fine of up to $2,000,000, while officers, directors, stockholders, employees, and agents are subject to a fine of up to $100,000 and imprisonment for up to five years. Moreover, under the Alternative Fines Act, these fines may be much higher – the actual fine may be up to twice the benefit that the defendant sought to obtain by making the corrupt payment. Given these sanctions, a small bribe could result in significant fines. It is also important to note that fines imposed on individuals may not be paid by their employer or principal.
What can my company do to protect itself?
The DOJ and the SEC have stated that the existence of a corporate compliance program is a factor to be considered when deciding whether to bring charges. Additionally, Federal Sentencing Guidelines allow lower fines if an effective compliance program exists within a company. The compliance program must have been effective or designed to detect potential corrupt practices.
A good FCPA compliance program will include a written corporate policy that makes clear which standards should be followed by those involved in any foreign transactions in order to avoid violations of the FCPA and other anti-corruption laws. The procedures should include a system to which potential violations should be reported, preferably with an anonymous tipline. The written policies should include appropriate disciplinary actions for violations of the FCPA, foreign anti-bribery laws or the company’s own policies. Companies should obviously maintain an adequately staffed compliance office, which will also maintain a list of people who are most likely to do business with foreign entities. The compliance office should also maintain very good records, including permanent records of all approvals for foreign transactions. Other factors to consider include:
- Education of the company’s officers, directors, employees and agents
- Due diligence of the companies with which your company does business
- Identifying high risk countries
Companies that take precautions to detect FCPA violations by implementing a compliance program are in a better position to avoid costly investigations and damage to their reputation. Given the potential costs at stake, companies are advised to retain an attorney with FCPA experience, who can aid the company in developing an effective compliance program that will suit its needs.