|Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA)|
What is the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act? Indictment charging criminal violations of the FCPA.
For those of you unfamiliar with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), if may be time to get acquainted.
The FCPA, found at Title 15 U.S. Code Section 78dd, prohibits “bribes” to any individual working in the executive, legislative, or judicial branch of a foreign government in order to obtain or retain business. For years, business was done in certain foreign countries under a “pay to play” scenario- someone needed to get paid in order to get the deal done. Most often, when these arrangements were detected, the Department of Justice imposed civil fines and penalties and permitted the American company and its employees to keep doing business. That trend seems to have ended.
The DOJ and FBI have recently ramped up criminal enforcement of this law. Entire FBI squads as well as teams of DOJ lawyers are now assigned, full time, to identifying criminal violations and prosecuting alleged violators, individuals and companies. In addition to our very recent case in DC, on May 10, 2011, the government obtained convictions of Lindsey Manufacturing and two of its executives on charges of Conspiracy to violate the FCPA, arising out of an scheme to bribe Mexicans officials. Another criminal FCPA trial against employees of a California company, alleging bribes to a Chinese officials, will begin soon in Los Angeles. Do not think that these cases are limited to Fortune 500 companies and their employees- my client owned a mid-sized police equipment supply company in St. Petersburg . I must admit that I did not realize the full scope of the government’s efforts in this area until becoming involved in this case.
What happened in my case? After 9 weeks of trial and 6 days of deliberations, a mistrial was declared when the jury was unable to reach a verdict. They were hung 9-2 with one undecided for acquittal on the conspiracy, but closer on the substantive counts. We had raised many defenses available under the FCPA, including lack of business nexus between the payment and the contract, and absence of mens rea – the statute requires the government to prove both willfulness and corrupt intent. We also attacked, successfully, I believe, the method and integrity of the FBI’s investigation.
The bottom line here is that all clients and companies doing business with foreign governments must be made aware of this law. Although “bribes” are illegal, there are permissible ways to compensate foreign agents and foreign officials under limited circumstances. It is important to recognize the difference. Look for a lot more of these cases in the future.
Special Thanks to Guest Author.