The CFTC filed a record number of enforcement actions in 2019 against market participants, the majority of which involved commodities fraud, market manipulation, and spoofing.  As a result of these actions, the CFTC reports that it obtained over $1.3 billion in monetary sanctions and disgorgement in 2019—a 39% increase over the prior fiscal year.  And at this year’s ABA Derivatives & Futures Law Committee Winter Meeting, regulators from the CFTC and ICE warned market participants to expect these enforcement trends in spoofing and market manipulation to continue into 2020.

CFTC Seeks Parallel Enforcement with Market Regulators, but Coordinated Resolutions Scarce

 The CFTC’s Chief Counsel of the Division of Enforcement, Gretchen Lowe, commented that protecting market integrity continues to be a top priority at the CFTC.  She noted that Enforcement is particularly focused on spoofing and market manipulation, as well as matters involving regulatory infractions, such as registrants’ reporting obligations, failure to supervise, business conduct standards, and adequacy of remediation efforts.

Lowe also signaled that Enforcement will continue to pursue “parallel cooperative enforcement efforts” with both domestic and foreign market regulators—including SROs and criminal enforcement authorities in the spoofing context.  ICE Futures U.S. Enforcement Counsel, Frances Mendieta reinforced that the lines of communication are “very open” between ICE and the CFTC, and that the regulators may share information with each other over the course of an investigation.

However, despite such extensive interplay between the regulators, coordinated or “global” resolutions appear to be the exception, rather than the rule.  Both Lowe and Mendieta suggested that the sequential nature of the regulators’ respective investigations can make it difficult to coordinate settlements.  Consequently, while regulators seem keen to build on each other’s investigations, the resolutions often occur months, or sometimes years apart, which can leave market participants in protracted cycle of enforcement involving the exact same conduct.
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The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission’s (CFTC) Director of the Division of Swap Dealer & Intermediary Oversight (DSIO), alongside fellow panelist and National Futures Association’s (NFA) General Counsel, fielded wide-ranging questions from co-panelists and audience members alike in a discussion focused on Intermediaries & Advisors at the ABA’s Derivatives & Futures Law Committee Winter Meeting in Naples, Florida (January 23-25, 2020).  Chief among the topics addressed were views regarding DSIO and NFA’s evolving approach to swap dealer oversight, particularly on the heels of DSIO’s recently issued guidance on the Chief Compliance Officer Annual Report for futures commission merchants, swap dealers, and major swap participants.
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The DOJ is increasingly using a “data focused approach” to identify economic crime and corporate misconduct, according to a DOJ official.  In remarks to the 6th Annual Government Enforcement Institute, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Matthew S. Miner recently shared that using data analytics to identify fraud improves efficiency, expedites case development, and makes program enforcement “more targeted.”

While Miner indicated that data analytics are being utilized across the DOJ’s white collar enforcement efforts, he pointed to the healthcare industry and financial sector as two such targets of the DOJ’s data-driven enforcement approach.  The DOJ has already successfully used Medicare claims data to identify fraud.  That success is attributed, in part, to the DOJ’s healthcare data analytics team which analyzes the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ payment database for health care fraud activity and trends.  The financial sector—specifically the commodities and securities arena—represents an expanding “area of focus” for the DOJ’s data-driven enforcement.  Miner indicated that the DOJ uses trading data to identify indicators or anomalies that are suggestive of market manipulation and other fraudulent activity.
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One of the many challenges companies face when assessing their Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) liability is determining whether a potential business partner constitutes a “foreign government official” under the FCPA.  From a definitional perspective, the FCPA is far from a model of clarity on this point.  See 15 U.S.C. § 78dd-2(h)(2)(A).

By way of example, consider the compliance sandbars companies must circumnavigate to determine whether (and when) providing something of value to “traditional authorities” (including First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples) could impose FCPA liability.  This question often arises when U.S.-based companies are asked to make donations to American Indian tribes with whom they interact, or to do favors for individual members of a tribe.  For instance, a tribal elder may ask that a company doing business with the tribe employ a certain tribal member, or provide an internship to the chief’s son, etc.  Under such circumstances, companies might find themselves evaluating the contemplated transaction through the amorphic lens of the FCPA.

Understanding the Definitional Challenge

Going back to basics, the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions define a “foreign official” as:

[A]ny officer or employee of a foreign government or any department, agency, or instrumentality thereof, or of a public international organization, or any person acting in an official capacity for or on behalf of any such government or department, agency, or instrumentality, or for or on behalf of any such public international organization. 15 U.S.C. § 78dd-2(h)(2)(A).

Do American Indian tribes fit under this definition?  While there is little guidance on this analysis outside the United States (see this helpful article by my colleagues on that issue), there is even less in the context of  American Indian tribes, even though they possess much-discussed “sovereign status” in the United States.  This is both surprising and concerning.
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Last month, attorneys from around the world descended upon Buenos Aires to tango with criminal justice and anti-corruption experts at the International Bar Association’s 22nd Annual Transnational Crime Conference.  Conference highlights included remarks from distinguished members of the Argentine government, including the Minister of Justice and Human Rights, President of the Financial Information Unit, and Supreme Court President.  These officials focused their comments on criminal justice reforms in Argentina, the role of regulators and the judiciary in establishing and inspiring confidence in the rule of law, and the hope that such efforts would improve Argentina’s reputation in the global fight against graft and corruption.

Panelists and attendees also discussed similar efforts across the globe, cross-border cooperation, and collateral issues to consider when representing clients subject to international anti-corruption inquiries or enforcement actions. Of note were discussions regarding the following:

Evolving Mechanisms for Detecting and Penalizing Corruption  

  1. Increased use of money laundering statutes and administrative remedies.

Although most anti-corruption laws around the world criminalize the payment of bribes to government officials, the receipt of bribes (passive bribery) is conspicuously absent from laws like the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”).  As a result, beneficiaries of bribes have traditionally escaped FCPA liability.  However, panelists noted, recent years have seen an increase in anti-money laundering prosecutions and civil administrative actions targeting profits from corrupt dealings that otherwise fall outside the reach of traditional anti-bribery paradigms.  Using money laundering statutes, U.S. prosecutors were able to prosecute officials working for Venezuela’s state-owned energy company, Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A., who accepted bribes from several U.S. executives (themselves prosecuted under the FCPA).

Panelists noted that more than €2 billion in anti-money laundering fines were assessed globally in 2018 alone, calling banks not yet penalized for money laundering issues “the exception and not the norm.”  Another new norm is the decoupling of predicate offenses (i.e., conduct generating illegal proceeds) from allegations that such proceeds were in fact “laundered,” allowing prosecutors to bring intentional and negligent money laundering cases.  Panelists also warned that lawyers were being targeted more than ever as negligent money launderers, based on the sources of client payments.
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During the financial crisis, government enforcement agencies started taking a hard look at Wall Street institutions, and these days a company must respond proactively and dynamically when addressing the challenges of government investigations and litigation.  Perkins Coie’s Adam H. Schuman and Kraft Heinz’s Prasanth R. Akkapeddi detail some key takeaways for both in-house and outside

On December 26, 2018, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) announced a settlement with communications technology firm Polycom, Inc. (“Polycom” or the “Company”) for violating the books and records and internal accounting controls provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) in connection with a scheme to bribe Chinese government officials. Under the settlement, Polycom agreed to pay the SEC approximately $12.5 million in disgorgement and prejudgment interest and a civil money penalty of $3.8 million. The Polycom settlement illustrates the liability that can arise from reliance on third-party agents such as distributors, but—as explored below—also presents a missed opportunity for the SEC to provide some clarifying guidance for companies looking to avoid similar outcomes.
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Last month, a D.C. federal judge ordered the Department of Justice to turn over the names of prospective monitors nominated to oversee the corporate compliance programs of fifteen companies found to be in violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).  While recognizing that these individuals have “more than a de minimis privacy interest in their anonymity,” the court found that any such privacy interest was outweighed by the public’s interest in learning their identities.

In April 2015, journalist Dylan Tokar filed a FOIA request seeking records related to the review and selection of corporate compliance monitors in FCPA settlement agreements between DOJ and fifteen corporate defendants.  Tokar, a reporter for the trade publication Just Anti-Corruption, hoped these records would shed light on the monitor selection process, including whether DOJ had been abiding by the guidelines for monitor selection set forth in its 2008 Morford Memorandum.  The Memorandum, which establishes several principles to avoid potential and actual conflicts of interest and address concerns of cronyism, prescribes the consideration of “at least three qualified monitor candidates” whenever practicable.  Accordingly, Tokar requested the names of the three monitor candidates and their associated firms for fifteen cases.

More than eighteen months later, DOJ provided Tokar with a table purportedly responding to his request, but redacted the names of the monitor candidates who were nominated but not selected, as well as their affiliated firms in some cases.  DOJ asserted that these redactions were necessary and justified under FOIA Exemptions 6 and 7(C), which exempt from disclosure certain information that would constitute an “unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”

After both parties cross-moved for summary judgment, the court concluded that the redactions were improper and ordered DOJ to release the candidates’ names.  It found that while DOJ had demonstrated sufficient privacy interests to warrant coverage under Exemptions 6 and 7(C)—as it was “plausible that these individuals would prefer to have their consideration and ultimate[] non-selection withheld from the public’s view”—these interests were outweighed by the public’s interest in disclosure.  The court agreed with Tokar that without disclosure of the candidates’ names, it would be “difficult (if not impossible) to know whether either the government or the corporate entity under investigation is taking advantage of the selection process in a manner that undermines the objectives of the DPA” and the principles delineated in the Morford Memorandum.
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The DOJ recently took another step to encourage corporate self-disclosure for FCPA violations through the announcement of a new FCPA Enforcement Policy based on the eighteen month FCPA Pilot Program.  The DOJ’s Pilot Program proved to be successful—the FCPA Unit received over 30 voluntary disclosures in the 18-month period the Pilot was in place—compared to only 18 voluntary disclosures in the previous 18-month period, according to Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein.  The new Enforcement Policy contains many of the same incentives as the Pilot Program, with a few added benefits to sweeten the deal for corporations hoping to avoid hefty FCPA fines.

Presumption of Declination. Building on the cooperation credit offered under the Pilot Program—and barring aggravating circumstances—corporations will receive a presumption that the DOJ will resolve the case through a declination if they 1) voluntarily self-disclose; 2) fully cooperate; and 3) timely and appropriately remediate.  The Enforcement Policy delineates the DOJ’s expectations as to each of these requirements, many of which track the Pilot Program.  Evaluation of compliance programs, for example, will vary depending on the size and resources of a business and includes factors such as fostering a culture of compliance; dedicating sufficient resources to compliance activities; and ensuring that experienced compliance personnel have appropriate access to management and to the board.
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At the annual Food Safety Summit in Rosemont, Illinois, the Department of Justice’s increased focus on food safety enforcement was a key topic of discussion. While it was quite clear that the DOJ’s increased enforcement activity in high-profile food contamination cases involving companies such as Dole Foods and Chipotle Mexican Grill in 2016 caught the