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Revisiting a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Compliance Defense


Mike Koehler


Southern Illinois University School of Law

January 10, 2012

2012 Wisconsin Law Review 609

Abstract:     
This article asserts that the current FCPA enforcement environment does not adequately recognize a company’s good faith commitment to FCPA compliance and does not provide good corporate citizens a sufficient return on their compliance investments. This article argues in favor of an FCPA compliance defense meaning that a company’s pre-existing compliance policies and procedures, and its good faith efforts to comply with the FCPA, should be relevant as a matter of law when a non-executive employee or agent acts contrary to those policies and procedures and in violation of the FCPA. This article further argues that a compliance defense is best incorporated into the FCPA as an element of a bribery offense, the absence of which the DOJ must establish to charge a substantive bribery offense.

Part I of this article contains a case study to demonstrate the type of conduct that would be covered by an FCPA compliance defense. Contrary to the claims of some, an FCPA compliance defense would not eliminate corporate criminal liability under the FCPA or reward “fig leaf” or “purely paper” compliance programs. A compliance defense would not apply to corrupt business organizations, activity engaged in or condoned by executive officers, or activity by any employee if it occurred in the absence of pre-existing compliance policies and procedures.

Part II of this article places an FCPA compliance defense in the context of the broader issue of corporate criminal liability and acknowledges the work of other scholars and commentators who have called for a general compliance defense to corporate criminal liability. This section channels that work into the specific context of the FCPA and argues that the unique aspects and challenges of complying with the FCPA in the global marketplace warrant a specific FCPA compliance defense.

Part III of this article highlights that an FCPA compliance defense is not a new idea or a novel idea. This section contains an overview of the FCPA legislative history of a compliance defense, most notably the compliance defense passed by the House of Representatives in the 1980’s. The justification and rationale for a compliance defense then pales in comparison to now as most U.S. companies engage in international business during an era of aggressive FCPA enforcement. This section also demonstrates that several countries, like the U.S. that are signatories to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions (the “OECD Convention”), have a compliance-like defense in their domestic laws.

Against this backdrop, Part IV of this article details the DOJ’s institutional opposition to an FCPA compliance defense, yet argues that the DOJ already recognizes a de facto FCPA compliance defense albeit in opaque, inconsistent and unpredictable ways. Thus, an FCPA compliance defense accomplishes, among other things, the policy goal of removing factors relevant to corporate criminal liability from the opaque, inconsistent, and unpredictable world of DOJ decision making towards a more transparent, consistent, and predictable model best accomplished through a compliance defense amendment to the FCPA. This section concludes by highlighting the growing chorus of former DOJ officials who support an FCPA compliance defense and argues that the DOJ’s current opposition to a compliance defense seems grounded less in principle than an attempt to protect its lucrative FCPA enforcement program.

Part V of this article concludes by highlighting certain policy objectives advanced by an FCPA compliance defense. This section argues that an FCPA compliance defense will better incentivize more robust corporate compliance, reduce improper conduct, and thus best advance the FCPA’s objective of reducing bribery. An FCPA compliance defense will also increase public confidence in FCPA enforcement actions and allow the DOJ to better allocate its limited prosecutorial resources to cases involving corrupt business organizations and the individuals who actually engaged in the improper conduct.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 52

Keywords: FCPA, Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, Compliance, Corporate Criminal Liability

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Date posted: January 11, 2012 ; Last revised: July 11, 2012

Suggested Citation

Koehler, Mike, Revisiting a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Compliance Defense (January 10, 2012). 2012 Wisconsin Law Review 609. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1982656

Contact Information

Mike Koehler (Contact Author)
Southern Illinois University School of Law ( email )
1150 Douglas Drive
Carbondale, IL 62901-6804
United States
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