United States: What Enforcement Actions Based On Distributor Conduct Teach About Improving FCPA Compliance Programs

Last Updated: March 5 2013
Article by William C. Athanas

In a recent post, Distributors Under the FCPA, Tom Fox detailed three enforcement actions filed in 2012 which show that the actions of distributors can create FCPA liability for the companies that hire them.  The Smith & Nephew, Oracle and Lilly actions summarized in Tom's post demonstrate the continuing viability of distributor conduct as the basis for FCPA enforcement actions by aligning with previous cases (such as GE InVision and AGA Medical) also grounded on that theory.  Together, those cases make plain that the government perceives no distinction between distributors and any other kind of intermediary used as a conduit for bribe payments.  Tom's post offers a useful jumping-off point an equally significant and far less apparent lesson:  just because distributors' actions can give rise to FCPA exposure does not mean that companies are best served by relying on traditional compliance measures to mitigate the risk they present.

FCPA exposure arises when companies pay money – either directly or indirectly – to fund bribe payments.  In the traditional intermediary scenario, the company funnels money to the agent or consultant, who then passes on some or all of it to the bribe recipient.  Often, the payment is disguised as compensation to the intermediary, and some portion is redirected for corrupt purposes.

But distributors are an atypical intermediary, at least where compensation is concerned.  Unlike the standard intermediary relationship, companies generally do not transfer funds to distributors as payment for services rendered.  Rather, as Fox explained in a prior post, What's in a Name: Agents, Resellers and Distributors under the FCPA, distributors make money by buying goods for one price and selling them for a higher amount.  As a result, the greater the discount provided to the distributor, the more money available to pay bribes.

When companies grant distributors uncommonly steep discounts, bribes can result either: 1) because the distributor is instructed by the company to use the excess amounts to fund corrupt payments; or 2) because the distributor pays bribes on its own, without the express direction or implicit suggestion from the company to do so, in an effort to gain some business advantage.  (Note on this issue the reference in the Resource Guide to the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act  recently released by the DOJ and SEC, which notes that common red flags associated with third parties include "unreasonably large discounts to third-party distributors").  The distributor enforcement cases offer lessons to combat the second scenario, which is where legitimate companies require assistance.

Assuming that the company's desire is not to use its distributors as a conduit for paying bribes, how can it manage the FCPA risk that distributors present?  By installing a distributor discount policy and monitoring system tailored to the company's operational structure.  In virtually every business, there exists a range of standard discounts granted to distributors.  Under the approach recommended here, discounts within that range may be granted without the need for further investigation, explanation or authorization (absent, of course, some glaring evidence that the distributor intends use even the standard cost/price delta to fund corrupt payments).

Where the distributor requests a discount above the standard range, however, the policy should require a legitimate justification.  Evaluating and endorsing that justification requires three steps:  (1) relevant information about the contemplated elevated discount must be captured and memorialized; (2) requests for elevated discounts should be evaluated in a streamlined fashion, with tiered levels of approval (higher discounts require higher ranking official approval); and (3) elevated discounts are then tracked, along with their requests and authorizations, in order to facilitate auditing, testing and benchmarking.  The basics concepts underlying each step are discussed below.

1.         Capturing and Memorializing Discount Authorization Requests

Through whatever means are most efficient, a discount authorization request ("DAR") template should be prepared.  While remaining mindful of the need to strike a balance between the creation of unnecessary red tape and the need to mitigate risk, the DAR template should be designed to capture the particulars of a given request and allow for an informed decision about whether it should be granted.  Because the specifics of a particular DAR are critical to evaluating its legitimacy, it is expected that the employee submitting the DAR will provide details about how the request originated (e.g., whether as a request from the distributor or a contemplated offer by the company) as well as explain the legitimate justification for the elevated discount (e.g, volume-based incentive).  In addition, the DAR template should be designed so as to identify gaps in compliance that may otherwise go undetected (e.g., confirmation that the distributor has executed a certification of FCPA compliance).

2.         Evaluation and Authorization of DARs

Channels should be created to evaluate DARs submitted.  The precise structure of that system will depend on several factors, but ideally the goal should be to allow for tiered levels of approval.  Usually, three levels of approval are sufficient, but this can expanded or contracted as necessary.  Ultimately, the greater the discount contemplated, the more scrutiny the DAR should receive.  Factors to be considered in constructing the approval framework include the expected volume of DARs and the current organizational structure.  The goal is to ensure that all DARs are vetted in an appropriately thorough fashion without negatively impacting the company's ability to function efficiently.

3.         Tracking of DARs

Once the information gathering, review and approval processes are formulated, there must be a system in place to track, record and evaluate information relating to DARs, both approved and denied.  This captured data can provide invaluable insight into FCPA compliance and beyond.  By tracking the total number of DARs, companies will find themselves better able to determine where and why discounts are increasing, whether the standard discount range should be raised or lowered, and gauge the level of commitment to FCPA compliance within the company (e.g., confirming the existence of a completed and approved DAR is an excellent objective measure for internal audit to perform as part of its evaluation of the company's FCPA compliance measures).  This information, in turn, leaves these companies better equipped to respond to government inquiries down the road.

Rethinking approaches to evaluating distributor activities is but one of the ways that the increased number of enforcement actions and FCPA Guidance have provided insight into how the government interprets and enforces the FCPA.  This information, in turn, allows companies to get smarter about FCPA compliance.  With a manageable amount of forethought, companies who rely on distributors can create, install and maintain systems which allow them to spend fewer resources to more effectively prevent violations.  Moreover, these systems generate tangible proof of a company's genuine commitment to FCPA compliance, which can be invaluable in responding to a government inquiry.

For further information visit Waller

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
 
In association with
Related Topics
 
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Related Articles
 
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.

Disclaimer

The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.

General

Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions