2nd Circuit rules that FCPA does not reach foreign individuals without their own ties to U.S.
On August 24, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit rejected the government’s argument for a broad interpretation of personal jurisdiction in FCPA cases, ruling that a non-resident foreign national lacking sufficient ties to a U.S. entity cannot be charged with conspiracy to violate the FCPA or with aiding and abetting an FCPA violation. The three-judge panel upheld the lower court’s finding that a British national and former French multinational rail transportation company executive (defendant-appellee), could not be charged with conspiring or aiding and abetting something he could not be directly charged with because he was “not an agent, employee, officer, director or shareholder of an American issuer or domestic concern” within the scope of the FCPA’s jurisdictional provision and had not himself taken actions inside the U.S.
The defendant-appellee was an employee of the French company’s UK subsidiary and worked for a French subsidiary. The government alleged that he was “one of the people responsible for approving the selection of, and authorizing payments to,” consultants used by the French company’s U.S. subsidiary to bribe Indonesian officials related to a power contract. The government alleged numerous U.S. acts in furtherance of the bribery (including e-mails and calls by the defendant-appellee to the U.S.), although the defendant-appellee himself never traveled to the U.S. during the scheme. The defendant-appellee was one of four executives charged in 2013 in connection with the bribes; the other three executives—all of whom worked for the U.S.-based subsidiary—a power generation equipment manufacturer (which entered into a deferred prosecution agreement)—entered guilty pleas. The company pleaded guilty in December 2014 and paid a fine of $772 million.
The charges against the defendant-appellee included a FCPA conspiracy count as well as substantive FCPA bribery violations and related money laundering charges. The District Court granted the defendant-appellee’s motion to dismiss part of the conspiracy count, ruling that if he was not alleged in that count to be a covered person under the FCPA, then the government could not impose accomplice liability either. Similarly, where the government had not alleged that the defendant-appellee ever traveled to the U.S. during the bribery scheme, then he could not be accused of conspiring to violate the provision proscribing acts by foreign nationals taken within the U.S. The District Court allowed the count to move forward where it separately alleged that the defendant-appellee was also an agent of the U.S. subsidiary, which would bring him within the FCPA’s defined reach.
The 2nd Circuit agreed with the District Court that if the defendant-appellee was not an agent of the French company’s U.S. subsidiary (something the court assumed for the purpose of the appeal only), and therefore himself covered under the FCPA, then he could not be charged with conspiracy or complicity liability. The court relied primarily on the idea that Congress enacted an “affirmative legislative policy” in the FCPA that was intended to punish some categories of defendants, taking into account considerations of extraterritoriality, while intentionally omitting others. Secondarily, the court also held that there was no “‘clearly expressed congressional intent to’ allow conspiracy and complicity liability to broaden the extraterritorial reach of the statute.” The court summed up its ruling as requiring that the government demonstrate that the defendant-appellee “falls within [a category enumerated in the FCPA] or acted illegally on American soil.”
The court did reverse the District Court’s second ruling that unless the defendant-appellee traveled to the U.S. during the bribery scheme, he could not be charged with conspiring to violate the FCPA provision covering acts by foreign nationals within the U.S. The government had indicated that it still intended, at trial on the other counts, to prove that he was an agent of the U.S. subsidiary, thereby bringing him back within the categories explicitly covered by the FCPA. (The substantive FCPA counts remaining did allege that the defendant-appellee was acting as an agent).