On January 10, 2024, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced settlements with SAP SE (SAP), a German software company, to resolve allegations that SAP violated the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) by, among other things, making improper payments to government officials in South Africa and Indonesia to secure and retain software and services contracts with government entities. SAP agreed to pay the DOJ and the SEC over $220 million and entered into a three-year deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) with the DOJ. The U.S. regulators coordinated their resolutions with prosecutors in South Africa.

The resolutions provide insights into how the DOJ and the SEC are enforcing the FCPA and how corporations can reduce their FCPA liability.Continue Reading Key Takeaways from SAP’s FCPA Resolutions with DOJ and SEC

Just this week, the Securities and Exchange Commission announced its enforcement results from fiscal year 2022. The Commission recovered a record $6.4 billion in penalties and disgorgement from companies and individuals. The announcement touted the 760 total enforcement actions in FY 2022—a nine percent increase from the year before—and summarized areas of innovation and growth within the Enforcement Division. Two such areas are familiar refrains that are worth highlighting: (1) the SEC leveraging its investigative process—emphasizing its use of data analytics—to identify suspicious activity; and (2) its penalties against “gatekeepers” (i.e., individuals and companies who owe a heightened duty of trust and responsibility to clients and investors).Continue Reading Play it again, SEC: Two Familiar Refrains from the FY 2022 Enforcement Results

On September 27, 2022, the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced a settlement with Oracle Corporation (Oracle) to resolve allegations that its subsidiaries in India, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) by creating off-the-books slush funds and using those slush funds to bribe foreign government officials.

Without admitting or denying the SEC’s findings, Oracle agreed to cease and desist from violating the anti-bribery, books and records, and accounting provisions of the FCPA and to pay approximately $8 million in disgorgement and a $15 million penalty.

Notably for both attorneys and companies, the SEC’s order provides insights into how to design an effective corporate compliance program to minimize legal risk, including FCPA risk.

The SEC’s Findings

The SEC found that, from at least 2014 to 2019, Oracle’s subsidiaries in India, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates “used discount schemes and sham marketing reimbursement payments” to finance slush funds, which were held by Oracle’s “channel partners” (i.e., distributors and resellers) in those markets. The subsidiaries transacted through these channel partners during the relevant period under Oracle’s indirect sales model, by which channel partners sell Oracle products to end customers. According to the SEC, the subsidiaries and the complicit channel partners used the slush funds—which employees of the subsidiaries referred to as the “buffer,” “moneybox,” “pool,” and “wallet”—to bribe government officials in return for business. Specifically, the SEC determined that, among other things, (i) employees of Oracle Turkey and Oracle UAE used slush funds to pay for travel for government officials, including to Oracle’s annual technology conference in California; (ii) an Oracle Turkey employee directed cash bribes to government officials; (iii) an Oracle UAE employee paid approximately $130,000 in bribes to the chief technology officer of a state-owned entity (SOE) in return for six contracts in 2018 and 2019; (iv) Oracle India employees funneled $330,000 to an entity known for paying government officials; and (v) an Oracle India employee maintained a spreadsheet indicating that $67,000 was available to make payments to a government official.Continue Reading Key Compliance Takeaways from Oracle’s $23M FCPA Settlement with the SEC

Background on the Guidelines and FOIA

On March 15, 2022, the United States Department of Justice (“DOJ”) released new guidelines favoring the disclosure of federal agency records under the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”). Signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1967, FOIA established a statutory right of public access to executive branch records. At a high-level, FOIA provides that any person has a legally enforceable right to obtain federal agency records subject to the Act to the extent that such records are not protected from public disclosure by one of FOIA’s nine exemptions. The Supreme Court has explained that “the basic purpose of FOIA is to ensure an informed citizenry,” which is “needed to check against corruption and hold the governors accountable to the governed.”

The DOJ’s new guidelines direct federal departments and agencies to apply a presumption of openness in administering FOIA and explicitly state that the DOJ will not defend nondisclosure decisions that fail to do so. Under the new guidelines, the executive branch should not withhold requested information that might fall within one of FOIA’s exemptions unless the relevant agency can identify a foreseeable harm or legal bar to disclosure. The guidelines also remind federal agencies that FOIA requires the proactive disclosure of records and emphasize that such agencies should make records more readily accessible without requiring individuals to file FOIA requests. As an example, the guidelines note that the DOJ’s Executive Office for Immigration Review will no longer require individuals to file FOIA requests to obtain copies of their own records of immigration court proceedings.Continue Reading New DOJ Guidelines Regarding FOIA Create Presumption of Openness

In its recent decision in United States ex. rel. Schutte v. SuperValu Inc., the Seventh Circuit joined four other circuits in holding that the Supreme Court’s objective scienter standard articulated in the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) case Safeco Insurance Company of America v. Burr applies to the False Claims Act (FCA). Under the objective scienter standard, a defendant who acts under an incorrect interpretation of a statute does not do so with reckless disregard—and therefore scienter, a required element of a FCA violation—if (i) the interpretation was objectively reasonable, and (ii) no authoritative guidance cautioned the defendant against it.

Notably for companies that contract with the federal government, this decision narrows the scope of their liability under the FCA. It also highlights the importance of such companies identifying and acting in accordance with authoritative guidance—a term of art whose precise contours remain undefined.
Continue Reading Seventh Circuit Holds Objective Scienter Standard Applies to FCA