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On June 5, the Supreme Court ruled in Kokesh v. SEC that the SEC’s authority to disgorge profits from defendants is subject to the five-year statute of limitations applicable to penalties and fines. The Court rejected the SEC’s position that disgorgement is an equitable remedy and not a penalty, resolving a circuit split on the issue. Writing for the unanimous Court, Justice Sotomayor said that disgorgement “bears all the hallmarks of a penalty,” reasoning that it “is intended to deter, not to compensate.” The defendant in Kokesh was an investment adviser who had been ordered to disgorge approximately $35 million for allegedly misappropriating investor funds.
The SEC routinely seeks disgorgement in FCPA enforcement actions. The Kokesh decision may lead the SEC to seek tolling agreements sooner and in more circumstances, particularly where the alleged conduct occurred over a long period of time. The decision may also impact defendants’ ability to claim insurance coverage for disgorgement because insurers might deny coverage for payment of penalties.
On May 31, Samuel Mebiame, the son of a former Prime Minister of Gabon, a former consultant to a joint venture between mining company Och-Ziff Capital Management Group LLC (Och-Ziff) and an entity incorporated in the Turks and Caicos, was sentenced to two years in prison for conspiring to violate the FCPA by bribing government officials in several African countries.
As previously reported here, Mebiame previously pleaded guilty to allegations related to payments of approximately $3 million to high-level government officials in Niger, in addition to providing luxury cars, in order to obtain uranium mining concessions. Similarly, the DOJ charged Mebiame with bribing a high-ranking government official in Chad with luxury foreign travel to obtain a uranium mining concession there, and with bribing government officials in Guinea with cash, the use of private jets, and a luxury car in order to obtain confidential government information. Prior Scorecard coverage regarding Och-Ziff is here.
SFO Charges Additional Individual Defendant in Connection with F.H. Bertling North Sea Investigation
The United Kingdom’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has reportedly charged the former chief commercial officer of F.H. Bertling Ltd. with two counts of conspiracy to make corrupt payments to assist F.H. Bertling with attaining or retaining contracts for freight forwarding services to the North Sea oil exploration project Jasmine. The former executive is the seventh individual charged, in addition to the company, with violations of section 1 of the UK Prevention of Corruption Act 1906 and section 1 of the Criminal Law Act 1977 for alleged conduct between January 2010 and May 2013 in connection with the Jasmine project.
The charges follow on the heels of separate corruption charges against the company and other individuals related to an Angolan project. Last July, the SFO charged F.H. Bertling and seven individuals with violation of section 1 of the Prevention of Corruption Act 1906 and section 1 of the Criminal Law Act 1977 through conspiring to make corrupt payments between January 2005 and December 2006 to an agent of the Angolan state oil company, Sonangol, in order to facilitate F.H. Bertling’s freight forwarding business operations and contracts in Angola.
On April 24, 2017, in a speech at the Ethics and Compliance Initiative Annual Conference in Washington, D.C., Attorney General Jeff Sessions appeared to commit to the continued aggressive enforcement of the FCPA. He noted that bribery "increases the cost of doing business and hurts honest companies that don’t pay these bribes,” and he explained that the Trump administration’s DOJ will enforce laws that protect honest businesses: “One area where this is critical is enforcement of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). Congress enacted this law 40 years ago, when some companies considered it a routine expense to bribe foreign officials in order to gain business advantages abroad.” AG Sessions also emphasized that individuals, not just companies, may face increased FCPA focus.
These remarks come on the heels of comments from another senior DOJ official who recently noted that robust FCPA enforcement will continue. As previously reported, Trevor McFadden, the DOJ’s Criminal Division's Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General, noted that the DOJ remains "intent on creating an even playing field for honest businesses."
These remarks suggest that the DOJ will remain active in enforcing FCPA compliance issues, despite comments from then-candidate Trump that FCPA enforcement may be scaled back under his watch.
On April 17, former South Korean president Park Geun-hye was formally indicted on 18 charges of corruption including bribery, extortion, abuse of power, and leaking state secrets. Ms. Park was impeached in December after months of public protests. Last month, she was removed from office and arrested.
The corruption scandal has also implicated Ms. Park’s longtime confidante, Choi Soon-sil, who is currently on trial on corruption charges. The pair is accused of coercing Korean businesses into donating $68 million to two non-profit foundations that Ms. Choi controlled. Ms. Park and Ms. Choi are also accused of collecting or demanding $52 million in bribes from businesses, including $38 million from Korean conglomerate Samsung, $6.2 million from the retail conglomerate Lotte, and $7.8 million from the telecommunications and semiconductor conglomerate SK. Shin Dong-bin, the chairman of Lotte, was indicted on bribery charges on Monday.
On April 11, the DOJ filed a memorandum in its case against Odebrecht S.A., requesting that the Court approve a lower sentence than originally proposed based on Odebrecht’s inability to pay. On December 21, Brazilian construction company Odebrecht and its petrochemical affiliate, Braskem S.A., reached a $4.5 billion combined global settlement with U.S., Brazilian, and Swiss authorities to resolve FCPA allegations, in which both companies agreed to plead guilty in the U.S. to conspiracy to violate the FCPA. As part of that agreement, the U.S. and Brazilian authorities agreed to conduct an independent analysis to confirm the accuracy of Odebrecht’s representation that it had an inability to pay a penalty in excess of $2.6 billion. The memorandum set forth the DOJ’s determination that Odebrecht lacks the ability to pay a criminal penalty in excess of $2.6 billion and included adjustments for the requested penalty to match that ability. In particular, the portion of the penalty paid to the United States would be lowered from approximately $117 million to approximately $93 million. The sentencing hearing is scheduled for April 17.
Prior Scorecard coverage of the Odebrecht settlement can be found here.
On March 29, the former governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand was reportedly sentenced in Thailand to 50 years in prison for accepting $1.8 million in bribes from 2002 to 2007 from two U.S. filmmakers in exchange for rights to organize the Bangkok International Film Festival. The former tourism chief, Juthamas Siriwan, was also ordered to forfeit the bribe money. Her daughter, Jittisopa, received a 44-year prison sentence for her own involvement. In 2009, the U.S. filmmakers, Gerald and Patricia Green, who paid the bribes, were convicted in the U.S. on charges of FCPA violations. A U.S. federal court sentenced the Greens to six months incarceration, three years of supervised release, and $250,000 in restitution.
Ms. Siriwan and her daughter were also indicted in the U.S. in January 2009 for the same underlying conduct. The indictment raised interesting questions about the United States pursuing corruption on the “demand side,” in light of the fact that the FCPA does not criminalize the receipt of bribes. The indictment instead alleged money laundering violations and related charges. Ms. Siriwan moved to dismiss the U.S. indictment based on the double jeopardy provision of the Thai-US extradition treaty. The decision on her motion was stayed, pending the outcome of the Thai prosecution.
In late January of 2017, President Donald Trump appointed Trevor N. McFadden as Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the U.S. Department of Justice Criminal Division, a position that includes oversight over the Fraud and Criminal Appellate Sections. The Fraud Section is in charge of enforcing the FCPA, placing the former Baker & McKenzie Litigation and Government Enforcement partner, who also served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney and Counsel to the Deputy Attorney General, in a key role to determine the future of FCPA enforcement under the new administration. On February 16, 2017, McFadden gave a speech at the Global Investigations Review Conference in which he proclaimed his dedication to the continued enforcement of the statute. While McFadden’s comments reflect Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recent promise to enforce the FCPA, they contrast with President Trump’s 2012 comments that the FCPA is a “horrible law” that “should be changed.”
Above all, McFadden’s message was one of enforcement, enforcement, enforcement. He commented that the law “has been vigorously enforced” over its 40-year history, efforts which have “steadily increased over time.” McFadden specifically highlighted two important trends of this history of enforcement: transparency to businesses, and cooperation with foreign nations in the fight against corruption. McFadden’s emphasis on the “utmost importance” of working with other countries also signaled a continued commitment to what he called “important anti-corruption conventions,” including “the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention, the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (NCAC), the Convention on Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC), and several others.”
In looking to the future of FCPA enforcement, McFadden called the law’s continued “fight against official corruption  a solemn duty of the Justice Department…regardless of party affiliation.” He also emphasized that the Justice Department will continue to prioritize “individual accountability,” although he did comment that some people “may be unwittingly involved in facilitating an illegal payment under circumstances that do not merit criminal prosecution of the individual.” Finally, McFadden expressed that a company’s “voluntary self-disclosures, cooperation, and remedial efforts” will “continue to guide our prosecutorial discretion determinations,” along with the “penalty reductions for companies that self-disclose, cooperate, and accept responsibility for their misconduct” provided for in the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines. Interestingly, the only whiff of questioning past Justice Department approaches was McFadden’s mention of an upcoming review of the FCPA pilot program encouraging such company cooperation. However, plans to re-evaluate the pilot program were already in place under the Obama administration, according to an article McFadden co-wrote with colleagues at Baker & McKenzie in April of 2016. Notably, McFadden’s article called the pilot program “a step forward in providing companies and their counsel with more transparent and predictable benefits for self-reporting, cooperating, and remediating FCPA misconduct.”
On September 8, Cisco Systems Inc. disclosed in its annual statement that following an investigation into its operations in Russia and certain of the Commonwealth of Independent States, the DOJ and SEC have both declined to bring enforcement actions under the FCPA. An announcement of possible violations was first disclosed in the December 2013 blog post by Roxane Marenberg, Vice President and Deputy General Counsel in Cisco’s Global Compliance Enablement division. In the post, Marenberg stated that the company was conducting an investigation into alleged FCPA violations at the request of the SEC and DOJ in response to a communication those agencies had received concerning the company’s operations and discounting practices. Cisco’s disclosures did not provide any further detail about the nature of the business activities being investigated.
In conjunction with the SEC’s recent settlement AstraZeneca, the U.K.-based pharmaceutical company announced on August 30 that the DOJ has closed its parallel foreign bribery investigation. As detailed here, the SEC settled charges against Astrazeneca for allegedly improper payments made by the company’s wholly owned subsidiaries in China and Russia. Under the SEC settlement, the company agreed to disgorge $4.325 million and pay a $375,000 civil penalty with $822,000 in prejudgment interest. As reported by Reuters, the company issued a public statement stating it was “pleased to have resolution of these matters.”
- Daniel R. Alonso to moderate an interactive roundtable at the Latin Lawyer and GIR Connect: Anti-Corruption & Investigations Conference
- APPROVED Checkpoint Webcast: You have license renewal questions, we have answers
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Fintech trends” at the BIHC Network Elevating Black Excellence Regional Summit
- Jeffrey P. Naimon to discuss "Truth in lending” at the American Bar Association National Institute on Consumer Financial Services Basics
- Daniel R. Alonso to discuss anti-money-laundering at FELABAN Spanish-language webinar “Perspective for banks: LAFT, FINCEN, OFAC, Cryptocurrency”
- Daniel R. Alonso to discuss "What’s new in BSA/AML compliance?" at the Institute of International Bankers Regulatory Compliance Seminar
- Marshall T. Bell and John R. Coleman to speak at 2021 AFSA Annual Meeting
- Jon David D. Langlois to discuss "Regulatory update: What you need to know under the new boss; It won’t be the same as the old boss" at the IMN Residential Mortgage Service Rights Forum (East)
- Daniel R. Alonso to discuss internal investigations at the Institute of Internal Auditors of Argentina Spanish-language webinar
- Benjamin B. Klubes to discuss “Creating a Fantastic Workplace Culture”
- John R. Coleman and Amanda R. Lawrence to discuss “Consumer financial services government enforcement actions – The CFPB and beyond” at the Government Investigations & Civil Litigation Institute Annual Meeting
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Consumer financial services" at the Practising Law Institute Banking Law Institute
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Regulators always ring twice: Responding to a government request” at ALM Legalweek