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Compliance Officers Struggling with Expanded Responsibilities and Liabilities

September 11th, 2014
in Anti-Corruption / FCPA, Legal Conferences, Regulatory Compliance and Trade |

Compliance and Legal Risk Leaders SummitThe recent Munich Court Judgment against Neubürger (April 2014) has shown how the failure to address regulatory risks and comply with relevant laws exposes senior management to prosecution.

As a result, legal counsel and compliance officers whose responsibility it is to report to, adequately inform and protect the board are increasingly challenged to answer to their CEO, board, regulators, and investors.

What does this mean for the compliance officers who are now viewed as the watchdogs of their company? Are they really all that stands between the company and potentially costly compliance breaches?

Comprehensive industry research recently conducted by C5’s legal division with compliance officers and legal counsel from across Europe’s leading multinational and up-and-coming SME companies delved into the evolution of the compliance role, revealing the key challenges keeping them awake at night.

“Under-Resourced and Over-Exposed”

The rapid development of the compliance role has led compliance officers to question the remit of their job description in light of increased responsibilities, liabilities, and internationally accepted standards.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a senior compliance officer from an MDAX-listed company expressed concern that they are “under-resourced and over-exposed”.

“We are increasingly being seen as a proactive job function, whereas in prior years it could be said that the role of the compliance officer was to react to legal and regulatory developments.”

This is the result of ever-expanding responsibilities that have seen them tasked with managing and harmonising a diverse range of corporate governance issues such as “human resources, environmental, human rights, data protection, anti-trust, and anti-bribery”.

The international nature of modern business only exacerbates the problem, having to work through a myriad of potential regulatory issues in “every country they operate in”.

Top 5 Challenges Keeping Compliance Officers Awake at Night

As a key focus of the research, over 50 cross-industry compliance officers and legal counsel were asked: “what are the top 5 compliance challenges keeping you awake at night?” Their revealing answers and select quotes are below:

  1. Anti-trust and competition: “This area is very interesting because of the level of enforcement and penalties potentially exceeding that of FCPA breaches”
  2. Data privacy: “The NSA scandal has heightened awareness of this issue in Germany, and it is an area we could use extra definition and discussion”
  3. Personal liability of compliance officers: “This really hits where it hurts… extradition is possible!”
  4. Labour law & HR compliance: “Arguably the biggest issue on the horizon, and we still don’t know who in the company wears responsibility for it”International trade sanctions: “We have recently begun exploring operations in Russia, so this is currently an incredibly problematic issue to determine what we can and can’t do”

An over-arching challenge faced by compliance officers was revealed to be establishing the critical importance that compliance plays within a company, and therefore securing buy-in from a board questioning whether compliance really does create additional value; “without the board taking this seriously, how do we get the financial and internal support we need?”

 Implications for Compliance Officers?

With the avoidance of reputational damage a key motivating factor for companies, it is absolutely business critical that risk assessments are conducted and robust compliance programmes are implemented as a result. These programmes need to reflect a broad range of diverse regulations, and must translate a company’s values and principles into day to day operations and behaviour.

However, this process requires a business-specific tailored approach, and when compliance officers are faced with limited resources and budget, how can you efficiently install a compliance programme without sacrificing any efficiency?

Unsurprisingly and unfortunately, there are no easy answers. What works for any given company will differ based on size, geographical scope, and inherent corporate cultures and values. Simply put, benchmarks vary.

The good news is that companies are increasingly seeing the value in a robust compliance programme, if for no other reason than to protect against the heightened risk of individual liability for board members.

Based on our research, the role and responsibilities of compliance officers and legal counsel have expanded quicker than expected, and it will be some time until the support afforded them matches what is expected of them. In the meantime, they will be left looking for insight wherever they can find it, with a hope to establishing a best practice approach suitable for their company.

 

 

 

Article written by Ben Sharples, Senior Legal Conference Producer – B.Sharples@C5-Online.com

Compliance and Legal Risk Leaders Summit

The Corruption risks Scandinavian businesses face when doing business in overseas markets

August 26th, 2014
in Anti-Corruption / FCPA, Legal Conferences, Litigation, Regulatory Compliance and Trade |

Recent enforcement activities by the UK’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) and FCPA are signaling a new era of relentless invAC Scandinavia small brochureestigation and prosecution of corrupt practices. The cases involve investigations for individuals and companies such as GlaxoSmithKline, Alstom UK, Airbus Group NV, Sweett Group and others. In this article we review the recent bribery and corruption cases brought against Scandinavian companies.

The Transparency International Perception index ranks Scandinavian countries as “least corrupt countries”: Denmark (1st), Finland (2nd), Sweden (3rd), Norway (5th) and Iceland (12th). However, companies from most of these countries have been involved in corruption scandals. Some cases are settled others are on-going for alleged violations in overseas markets.

In the majority of the cases, the industries targeted include: Defense, Pharma, Chemical, Oil & Gas…the activities involved include: exports, cross-border transactions, bribing senior foreign government officials to gain/retain business and the companies involved are partially owned by the local government.

Local anti-corruption enforcers have been involved in some of these cases but other enforcement agencies such the U.S. DOJ and the U.S. SEC have brought cases against these companies including:

-       “In 2004, Oil Company Statoil has been found guilty of bribery and fined 20m Norwegian kroner (£1.6m; $2.8m) for paying bribes to secure contracts in Iran”. 

-       “Oil for Food scandal: In late summer 2005, the public was shocked by revelations that about 20 named Danish companies had allegedly paid money under the table in connection with contracts entered into with Iraqi companies and authorities. The contracts had been entered into in connection with the oil for food programme, after the UN had relaxed the total embargo previously imposed on Iraq because of its occupation of Kuwait.”

-       “On 11th May 2009, Novo Nordisk (Novo) entered into a deferred prosecution agreement for their involvement in a bribery scheme involving the Iraq government as well as the Oil-for-Food program. Novo is a global healthcare leader in diabetes, hemophilia, growth hormone therapy, and hormone replacement therapy based out of Bagsvaerd, Denmark. They have agreed to pay roughly $18 million in fines and penalties as well as meet other conditions set by the deferred prosecution agreement.”

-       “In July 2012, The Norwegian state controlled Statoil (70%) has been involved a number of corruption scandals.

-       In January 2014, “The Norwegian chemical fertilizer company Yara International has been ordered to pay a fine of 295 million Norwegian kroner (48 million U.S. dollars) for three gross corruption cases abroad. The Yara International issued a statement on Wednesday, accepting the fine for the bribery cases the company committed in Libya, India and Russia. After a prolonged investigation, the Norwegian National Authority for Investigation and Prosecution of Economic and Environmental Crime (ØKOKRIM) has come to the conclusion that a large sum of bribe money was paid by Yara International over a period from 2004 and 2009 to senior officials in Libya and India and suppliers in Russia, according to the NTB report.”

-       “In February 2014, Kongsberg Gruppen, the Norwegian defence contractor, is under investigation by Norwegian authorities for corruption related to sales of communications equipment in Romania from 1999 to 2008. Kongsberg’s contracts in Romania are said to total 1.4 billion NOK (233 million USD).

-       In March 2014, “Telenor, Norway’s majority state-owned phone company has been pulled into the corruption case surrounding Russian phone company Vimpelcom in Uzbekistan, with Norwegian investigators visiting its offices.”

-       Kongsberg has disclosed that it conducted an internal investigation in 2012 to 2013 and did not find enough evidence to inform the Norwegian authorities. According to the CEO Walter Qvam, Kongsberg “heard in the spring of 2012 through different vague signals that there could be suspicion that the business practice wasn’t quite as it should be in parts of the business,” and so initiated the investigation with the help of PwC.”

With all these states already being through the OECD Phase 3 Evaluations (Finland in October 2010), Iceland (in December 2010), Norway (in June 2011), Sweden (in June 2012) and Denmark (in March 2013), their respective governments are expected to enforce local anti-corruption laws.

Recent enforcement activities by the UK’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) are signaling a new era of relentless investigation and prosecution of corrupt practices. The cases involve individuals and both domestic and foreign companies such as GlaxoSmithKline PLC under investigation for possible criminal violations; charges against Alstom UK unit for alleged overseas bribery; Airbus Group NV employees under investigation into possible corruption at a subsidiary; the formal investigation of survey and construction services firm Sweett Group; the closure of the Innospec prosecution with final two individual convictions.

It is clear, that conducting business, in regions that have traditionally rated poorly on the global transparency perception index, it is critical that multinationals have a robust management compliance programme in place. In this era of increased enforcement the compliance programme must be capable of assessing and mitigating all low, medium and high risks to constantly demonstrating commitment to compliance.

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Actions speak louder than words

October 29th, 2013
in Anti-Corruption / FCPA |

 

Practical steps your company can take to demonstrate a culture of zero tolerance to bribery and corruption.

 

 

C5′s 2nd Annual Compliance & Economic Crime in Financial Institutions Conference

August 23rd, 2012
in Anti-Corruption / FCPA, Financial Services, Legal Conferences, Regulatory Compliance and Trade, Russia and CIS |

When: Thursday, October 04 to Friday, October 05, 2012

Where: Mariott Tverskaya Hotel, Moscow, Russia

Compliance and Economic Crimes in Financial Institutions is the 2nd Russian edition forum in the series of original and most consistently well-attended anti-corruption, global economic sanctions and fraud events organised by C5. These events have been the number one choice for practitioners in Europe and the US for over the past 15+ years with the CIS summit on Anti-Corruption is becoming more and more popular in the region as well.

Countless opportunities for money laundering, fraud and other illicit financial activities are on the rise as a result of increasing globalisation and the proliferation of new technologies and communication platforms. In response, regulatory frameworks are developing and financial institutions and other organisations are becoming subject to AML, CTF regulations and Economic Sanctions, globally responsible for their operations and their clients’ transactional activities. Russian financial institutions must also demonstrate a strict and continued commitment to compliance with the latest standards of AML and counter-terrorism financing, anti-corruption and anti-tax evasion.

Implementing an effective risk-based compliance programme is your first defence. However, it is also apparent that while many companies signal intent to comply and spend a great deal of time and money investing in compliance programmes, breaches may still occur. Participation in this conference will give you an opportunity to discuss recent developments, benchmark your practices and learn from pioneering case studies.

  • How to Ensure your Compliance Infrastructure is Meeting the Complex and Constantly Changing Regulatory Priorities
  • Applying a Risk Based Approach to Assessing Compliance Risk; Building a Watertight Compliance Programme
  • Extraterritorial Reach of the FCPA and the UK Bribery Act: Understanding the Implications for Russian Business, and How to Incorporate into your Compliance Programme
  • Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act: How to Build an Effective System of Compliance Procedures in Russia
  • How Leading Banks are Implementing Know Your Customer (KYC) Principles to Manage AML-CTF Risk
  • Practical Recommendations for Uncovering Anti-Money Laundering Schemes
  • Understanding the Specifics of Compliance Controls in Financial Markets; How to Probe Weak Spots to Improve your Company’s Compliance
  • How to Ensure Effective Collaboration and Timely Information Exchange between Financial Institutions to Prevent Financial Crime
  • The Best Practices of Building Anti-Insider System within Russian Bank
  • Methods of Identifying Operations with Signs of Insider Dealing and Market Abuse

For more details please download the BROCHURE

C5′s 2nd Forum on Anti-Corruption – Southern Africa

August 3rd, 2012
in Anti-Corruption / FCPA, Legal Conferences, Regulatory Compliance and Trade |

When: Tuesday, September 18 to Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Where: Radisson Blu Hotel Waterfront, Cape Town, South Africa

 

Attend C5’s Second Anti-Corruption – Southern Africa conference to benchmark your regional and global compliance procedures to avoid crippling international anti-corruption investigations and fines.

UK giant GlaxoSmithKline has been hit with a £1.9 billion penalty after admitting to the ‘biggest healthcare fraud in history’. It handed out cash as well as everything from Madonna concert tickets to pheasant-hunting trips to doctors and other health care professionals to prescribe various GSK drugs to underage patients. As part of the settlement, GSK agreed to be monitored by government officials for five years.

The pharmaceutical industry is one of the most highly regulated and monitored sectors in the world. Pharmaceutical companies operating in the Southern African region need to take extra precautions to ensure that relationships between sales and business development representatives and healthcare professionals remains clear and transparent in a region characterized by expectations of hospitality and gifts. The Southern Africa pharmaceutical community needs to act now to ensure their internal anti-corruption compliance systems are up to scratch to meet all requirements under the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, the UK Bribery Act and local anti-corruption laws. The complex and sometimes conflicting US and UK laws have far-reaching extraterritorial scope meaning any company operating in the Southern region could be examined by foreign authorities.

C5’s Second Forum on Anti-Corruption – Southern Africa Edition offers you a unique opportunity hear from and share practical insight with seasoned chief compliance officers and general counsels from the pharmaceutical and other industries who are responsible for compliance in this region.

Learn from some of the largest and most successful companies in the world as to how they achieve the following steps:

You and your colleagues have a special opportunity to hear from your counterparts in some of the world’s largest and most successful companies as to how they structure their compliance procedures, paying particular attention to cultural and business realities in the Southern Africa region.  You will pick up new tools to be able to lead your company through the following key steps to full compliance:

  • Step 1: Building a Culture of Compliance whilst Adhering to Varying Local Customs: How to Promote and Demonstrate an Organisational Commitment from Top to Bottom.
  • Step 2: Designing, Implementing and Maintaining a Regional and Sector Specific Anti-Corruption Compliance Programme.
  • Step 3: Creating your Gifts, Hospitality, Sponsorship and Charitable Donations Policy Factoring in Local Customs and Expectations and International Anti-Corruption Standards.
  • Step 4: Tailoring Training Programmes for Employees, Third Parties and Other Stakeholders.
  • Step 5: Establishing a Trustworthy Whistleblower Policy in line with Evolving Local and International Compliance Requirements.
  • Step 6: Maintaining Adequate Accounting Records and Documentary Evidence to Facilitate Greater Organisational Transparency.

For more details please download the BROCHURE

Strengthening Your Compliance Program in China through Employment Building Blocks – From Onboarding to Termination

December 11th, 2011
in Anti-Corruption / FCPA, Expert Guest Blog Entries, Regulatory Compliance and Trade |

Expert Article by Ananda Martin & Lesli Ligorner

For multinational corporations operating in the People’s Republic of China (“PRC”), employment considerations play a key role in the design of a robust anti-corruption compliance program. From onboarding to termination, having the right contractual protections and corporate policies in place can greatly reduce the risk of corruption-related issues and increase the ability to investigate and discipline employees who run afoul of the company’s code of conduct.

Getting it Right at the Beginning: Considerations for Onboarding

Because China does not recognize at-will employment arrangements, disciplining and terminating employees can be especially challenging. It is therefore crucial that PRC-based employers build contractual provisions into employment agreements that give them maximum flexibility in the event that an employee becomes involved in a corruption-related matter. From a contractual perspective, this means setting forth clear grounds for termination for violations of anti-corruption law under both PRC and international law. It also means providing Chinese language versions of all key employment documents, including the employment agreement, the employee handbook and the code of conduct or other documents outlining the company’s anticorruption policies. From a policy standpoint, the “tone at the top” – and in the middle – must send a clear message that bribery is inconsistent with company culture and must be supported by protocols and written materials such as an employee handbook that sets clear guidelines with respect to high risk expenditures such as gifts, travel and entertainment. Intake procedures for new employees should ensure that employees have a working knowledge of company policies and know whom to turn to with questions or concerns.

Getting it Right in the Middle: Monitoring and Internal Investigations

Some companies stop there, but a truly robust compliance program includes ongoing training, monitoring and strategic “stress testing” of sensitive areas such as relationships with third parties and government officials. Accounting, legal and human resources departments should work together to formulate coordinated approaches to perennial China challenges such as business expense reimbursements and handling of official invoices or fapiao.

In the event that an internal investigation becomes necessary, companies must be careful to comply with PRC rules governing employee data privacy. Best practices include building prospective language into employment agreements that permit an employer to search, copy and transmit employee communications on company computers and other electronic devices. Employers should also consider providing employees with company-issued cell phones and personal digital assistants to ensure that they can access all relevant data on those devices.

Getting it Right at the End: Considerations for Termination

As previously mentioned, China lacks the concept of at-will employment and imposes a number of obligations and restrictions on the employment relationship. Chief among these is the requirement that, in the event of an employment dispute, both parties submit to mandatory arbitration whose outcome, in practice, is heavily weighted in favor of employees. Many employers seek to avoid this process through a negotiated settlement. If allegations of bribery are driving the termination, management should consider the potential for misuse (or the appearance of misuse) of severance payments.

If arbitration is unavoidable, many employers will want to keep the content of such proceedings confidential. A pre-negotiated confidentiality agreement or similar language in the employment agreement is much easier to secure at the beginning of the employment relationship than at the end. Employers should be prepared for retaliation from employees slated for termination and have in place solid whistleblower protocols to investigate any allegations that arise from disgruntled workers.

Through proactive planning at the intersection of employment and anti-corruption law, PRC- based multinationals can bolster their compliance program and mitigate some of the risks attendant to doing business in this challenging environment.

For more information about the topics discussed in this [Client Alert], please listen to K. Lesli Ligorner’s talk on “Strengthening Your China Compliance Program through Employment Building Blocks: From Onboarding to Termination,” presented on September 9, 2011 as part of the American Bar Association International Anticorruption Committee’s programming.

Thomas Fox

March 25th, 2011
in Anti-Corruption / FCPA, Expert Guest Blog Entries, Regulatory Compliance and Trade |

Biography

Anti-corruption and FCPA Expert ArticlesThomas Fox has practiced law in Houston for 25 years. He is now assisting companies with FCPA compliance, Risk Management and international transactions. He was most recently the General Counsel at Drilling Controls, Inc., a worldwide oilfield manufacturing and service company.  He was previously Division Counsel with Halliburton Energy Services, Inc. where he supported Halliburton’s software division and its downhole division, which included the logging, directional drilling and drill bit business units.

Tom attended undergraduate school at the University of Texas, graduate school at Michigan State University and law school at the University of Michigan.

Tom writes and speaks nationally and internationally on a wide variety of topics, ranging from FCPA compliance, indemnities and other forms of risk management for a worldwide energy practice, tax issues faced by multi-national US companies, insurance coverage issues and protection of trade secrets.

You can subscribe to his blog at http://tfoxlaw.wordpress.com/ or visit his website for more info at http://www.tfoxlaw.com/home

Expert Articles

Contact Thomas Fox

Phone: 1-832-744-0264 (US), +44 (0) 23-92006548 (UK)

Email: tfox@tfoxlaw.com

@Tfoxlaw

How Does the FCPA Apply to Your Business?

January 24th, 2011
in Anti-Corruption / FCPA, Expert Guest Blog Entries, Regulatory Compliance and Trade |

Expert Article by Thomas Fox

How Does the FCPA Apply to Your Business?

One question that I often hear about the application of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) is something along the lines of the following: “I am not in the international energy business, I am in the restaurant, retail, banking, or (fill in the blank) business. And yes my company has international operations but we don’t transact business with foreign governments. Why do I need to worry about the FCPA?”

The answer to this oft-asked question is laid out in a new resource for the FCPA practitioner. It is a book entitled “Foreign Corrupt Practices Act – A Practical Resource for Managers and Executives” authored by Aaron Murphy. It is a welcome addition to the growing literature on the FCPA, which, as noted by Mr. Murphy’s title, is designed to be a practical resource. Aaron is a partner in the Los Angeles office of Latham & Watkins, who practices in the White Collar and Government Investigations Group and in his introduction states that this book is primarily for managers and “the most common problems areas where managers get themselves into FCPA trouble.”

One chapter is entitled “You Do More With the Government Than You Think”. In this chapter Aaron gives several examples of how any US company doing business overseas will come into contact with a foreign governmental official and, thereby, create a possible FCPA liability. These interactions include some of the following examples

  • Interactions with Customs Officials. Every time your company sends raw materials into, or brings them out of, a country there is an interaction with a foreign governmental official in the form of a Customs Official. Every customs transaction involves a payment to a foreign government and every transaction involves some form of a foreign governmental regulatory process. While the individual payment per transaction can be small, the amount of total transactions can be quite high, if a large volume of goods are being imported into a foreign country.
  • Interaction with Tax Officials. While noting that interacting with international tax authorities can present problems similar to those with customs officials, Murphy observes that the stakes can often be much higher since tax transactions may be less in frequency but higher in financial risk. These types of risks include the valuation of raw materials for VAT purposes before such materials are incorporated into a final product, or the lack of segregation between goods to be sold on the foreign country’s domestic market as opposed to those which may be shipped through a free trade zone for sale outside that country’s domestic market
  • Licensing and Permits. Your company is a retail seller of clothes and cosmetics and you do not understand how the FCPA applies to your foreign sales operations? Every physical location that you sell your goods in will require some type of license to operate your business. It could require multiple license such as a national license, state license and local municipal license, additionally you will need a building permit if you intend to build out or modify your retail stores.
  • Work Permits and Visas. If your company does any business overseas it will have to send someone from the home office to operate in-country at some point. In the post-9/11 world this probably means that, at a minimum, your company will have to obtain a visa for each employee who enters the foreign country and perhaps a work permit as well. The visa process can start in the United States with a trip to foreign government consulate or even the embassy and at that point you are dealing with a foreign governmental official. The work permit process can also begin in the United States but often may continue in the foreign country.
  • Inspections and Certifications. We recently wrote about franchising overseas and the impact of the FCPA on such businesses. Consider the Tex-Mex restaurant chain which desires to take this cuisine across the world. In any city in the world there will be some type of certification process to enable to the business to set up and start operating and then there will be the need for ongoing inspections for sanitary conditions. Such inspections may be rare but if there is “slime in the ice machine” it may be grounds to close the restaurant
  • Bid and Tender Process. Your company is one of the worlds best at designing and constructing LNG facilities. You have assisted a foreign government to draft the specifications for the world’s largest, most technologically advanced LNG facility. During this specification development phase, your company has paid for all meals delivered during meetings and flown certain officials from the National Energy Company to the US to work on these specifications. Now the specifications go out to bid for the construction phase and your company is the successful bidder. Has your company violated the FCPA? According to Murphy, “Telling the difference is tough”.

These examples are not an exclusive list. Murphy also notes that in some foreign jurisdictions, the bribery of judges may be prevalent or even standard in both civil and criminal litigation. The clear message that Murphy brings is that anytime a US company conducts business outside the US it impacts the FCPA. But in addition to his warnings, Murphy lays the steps he believes can assist a company to keep it from running afoul of the FCPA. We welcome Aaron’s work as a new and valuable resource for the FCPA compliance practitioner. We applaud his work in this area.

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.
© Thomas R. Fox, 2011

Franchising and the FCPA

January 19th, 2011
in Anti-Corruption / FCPA, Expert Guest Blog Entries |

The American Conference Institute would like to thank Thomas Fox for his expert guest article contribution. Thomas will be attending ACI’s FCPA Houston and will be blogging and tweeting about  his experience at the event. Don’t forget to follow Thomas and the American Conference Institute on Twitter via @Tfoxlaw and @anticorruption1, respectively.

Franchising and the FCPA

The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) applies to all US companies and individuals which conduct business overseas. FPCA practitioners recognize there are two components: (1) the anti-bribery component, handled by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and (2) the books and records components, handled by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). None of this is new information and indeed, has been present it the FCPA since it was enacted in 1977. This breadth and scope of the FCPA make it mandatory that any business or person which conducts business overseas does so in compliance with the FCPA. One of the lessons learned from 2010 is that a business not traditionally thought of as high risk for FCPA compliance can still run afoul of the FCPA. In October, CB Richard Ellis, a global real estate firm, disclosed possible FCPA violations in China. As reported by the FCPA Blog, the Company reported in a SEC filing that its employees made payments for entertainment and gifts to Chinese government officials, which were discovered during an internal investigation. This blog will look at the franchising industry and explore its possible FCPA exposure.

The franchising model has been in vogue for many years. It has been a successful model in the US and now many corporations are looking at overseas expansion opportunities. Franchise law has become well developed across the US, with many states developing laws to protect the rights and obligations of both parties in a franchise agreement. According to an International Franchise Association survey nearly 1,600 franchise systems in 2008, “nearly two-thirds (61 percent) of respondents currently franchise or operate in non-U.S. markets and three-fourths (74 percent) plan to begin international expansion efforts or accelerate their current ventures immediately.”

There are no reported FCPA enforcement actions regarding franchisors. However, the factors in a franchise relationship would appear to lead to clear FCPA responsibility of the franchisor for its overseas franchisee’s actions. Additionally, court interpretation of the FCPA has held that it is applicable where conduct, violative of the Act, is used to “to obtain or retain business or secure an improper business advantage” which can cover almost any kind of advantage, including indirect monetary advantage even as nebulous as reputational advantage. As almost everyone knows, the FCPA prohibits payments to foreign officials to obtain or retain business or secure an improper business advantage. Nevertheless many US companies view franchisors as different from other types of more direct sales representatives, such as company sales representatives, agents, resellers or even joint venture partners, for the purposes of FCPA liability. However, the DOJ takes the position that a US company’s FCPA responsibilities extend to the conduct of a wide range of third parties, including the aforementioned company sales representatives, agents, resellers, joint venture partners and distributors. It does not take too great a leap of imagination to see that a franchise relationship could be contained within this interpretation. It does not take too many legal steps to see that a franchisee’s actions can impute FCPA liability to a US franchisor.

There are other factors, unique to the franchise relationship, which would point towards FCPA liability of the US franchisor. A US franchisor’s intent and the degree of control it exercises over its overseas franchisees’ operations are factors the DOJ/SEC might consider in determining whether to pursue an FCPA case against a franchisor for bribes made by one of its foreign franchisees. It is always in the financial interest of a US franchisor for its franchisees to be successful businesses. Additionally, most US franchisors require its overseas franchisee’s to use the same company name for branding.

How would all of this play out for a franchisor? As a franchisor moves into foreign markets there could well be the temptation to “grease the skids” and make payments or offer gifts to government officials, or their family members, to get the permits or permissions necessary to open and operate. In many countries, bribery is a common way of getting business done, and there can be tremendous pressure from local agents or franchisee candidates to follow regional customs and use bribes to become or remain competitive. Even if it is not the US franchisor’s own employees which engage in the FCPA violations, the US franchisor will still face the risk of an enforcement action if the franchisee’s employees engage in such conduct.

Most franchisors have thorough financial vetting requirements before allowing any person or business to become a franchisee. However, how many of these same business  perform FCPA compliance due diligence on their prospective overseas franchises? How many US franchisors have FCPA compliance training programs? How many evaluate, on an ongoing basis, the FCPA compliance and program of their overseas franchisees? How many US franchisors have a compliance hotline or other reporting mechanism for any compliance violations made against their franchisees?

If you are a US franchisor, looking to expand overseas, one of the first things you should do is to perform a FCPA risk assessment and then use that risk assessment to implement a full FCPA compliance program within your company going forward. If you are a US franchisor which has international franchises but which has not previously reviewed your FCPA requirements, you should do so as soon as possible. If not, your FCPA exposure may be unlimited….

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2011

Legal Conferences

What’s in a Name Under the FCPA

November 17th, 2010
in Anti-Corruption / FCPA, Expert Guest Blog Entries |

What is in a name? The terms agent, reseller and distributor are sometimes used interchangeably in the business world. However in the legal world they usually have distinct definitions. An agent can be generally defined as is a person who is authorized to act on behalf of another to create a legal relationship with a Third Party. An agent can also be a person who makes introductions and generally facilitates relationships between the seller of goods or services and end-using buyer. Such an agent usually receives some type of percentage of the final sale as his commission. An in-country national agent is often required in most Middle East and Far East countries. A reseller can be generally defined as a company or individual that sells goods to an end-using buyer. A reseller does not take title and thereby own the goods; the reseller is usually a conduit from the seller to the end-using buyer. A reseller usually receives a flat commission for his services, usually between 5-10% of the final purchase price. This format is often used in the software and hardware industries. A distributor can be generally defined as a company or individual which purchases a product from an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) and then independently sells that product to an end user. A distributor takes title, physical possession and owns the products. The distributor then sells the product again to an end-using purchaser. The distributor usually receives the product at some discount from the OEM and then is free to set his price at any amount above what he paid for the product. A distributor is often used by the US manufacturing industry to act as a sales force outside the US.

The landscape of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) is littered with cases involving both agents and resellers are they are the most clearly acting as representatives of the companies whose goods or services they sell for in foreign countries. However many US businesses believe that the legal differences between agents/resellers and distributors insulate them from FCPA liability should the conduct of the distributor violate the Act. They believe that as the distributor takes title and physical possession of the product, the legal risk of ownership has shifted to the distributor. If the goods are damaged or destroyed, the loss will be the distributor’s not the US business which manufactured the product. Under this same analysis, many US companies believe that the FCPA risk has also shifted from the US company to the foreign distributor. However such belief is sorely miss-placed.

As almost everyone knows, the FCPA prohibits payments to foreign officials to obtain or retain business or secure an improper business advantage. But many US companies view distributors as different from other types of sales representatives such as company sales representatives, agents, resellers or even joint venture partners, for the purposes of FCPA liability. However the Department of Justice (DOJ) takes the position that a US company’s FCPA responsibilities extend to the conduct of a wide range of third parties, including the aforementioned company sales representatives, agents, resellers, joint venture partners but also distributors. No U.S. company can ignore signs that its distributors may be violating the FCPA. Company management cannot engage in conscious avoidance to the activities of a distributor that the company has put into a business position favorable to engaging in FCPA violations. Court interpretation of the FCPA has held that it is applicable where conduct violative of the Act is used to “to obtain or retain business or secure an improper business advantage” which can cover almost any kind of advantage, including indirect monetary advantage even as nebulous as reputational advantage.

This scenario played out in China from 1997 to 2005 through AGA Medical Corporation. The Minnesota-based firm manufactured products used to treat congenital heart defects. To boost is China sales, AGA worked through its Chinese distributor. AGA sold products at a discounted rate to its Chinese distributor. This distributor then took some of the difference between his price from the equipment manufacturer AGA and the price he sold the equipment to Chinese hospitals to and paid corrupt payments to Chinese doctors to have them direct their government-owned hospitals to purchase AGA’s products. Its sales in China for the period were about $13.5 million. The Chinese distributor was found to have paid bribes in China of at least $460,000 to doctors in government-owned hospitals and patent-office officials. In 2008, AGA agreed to pay a $2 million criminal penalty and enter into a deferred prosecution agreement with the Department of Justice to settle Foreign Corrupt Practices Act violations.

The same game was played by a Volvo subsidiary, Volvo Construction Equipment International (“VCEI”) when it used a Tunisian distributor to facilitate additional sales of its products to Iraq. VCEI reduced its prices to enable the distributor to make the illegal payments based on bogus after-sales service fees. Volvo’s 2008 settlement with the SEC included an agreement permanently enjoining it from future violations of Sections, ordering it to disgorge $7,299,208 in profits plus $1,303,441 in pre-judgment interest, and to pay a civil penalty of $4,000,000. In addition to this fine imposed by the SEC, Volvo also paid a $7,000,000 penalty pursuant to a deferred prosecution agreement with the DOJ.

So what is in a name? Do we simply look to Shakespeare and his immortal words, “”What’s in a name? That which we call a rose; By any other name would smell as sweet.” Unfortunately I do not think the answer is quite so ethereal. It is more down to earth. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it probably is a duck. If you have a distributor, it must be subjected to the same FCPA scrutiny and management as an agent, reseller or joint venture partner.

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal adviser. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.
© Thomas R. Fox, 2010
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