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Understanding the KBR, Halliburton Charges

With the Halliburton / KBR settlement in mind, we asked readers last week (here) to help us understand how decisions are made to charge companies or individuals under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act with violations of the antibribery provisions — criminally or civilly. The best responses, we said, would earn both our gratitude and a copy of Bribery Abroad. We’re sending a copy today to David P. Burns (left). His comments are below, and they’re great.

Burns (Boston College ’91, Columbia Law ’95) is a partner in the D.C. office of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, where he has a white-collar criminal defense practice. From 2000 to 2005, he was an Assistant United States Attorney in the Southern District of New York, earning in 2004 the DOJ’s Director’s Award for superior performance. He works with the FCPA — helping clients handle internal and government investigations, dealing with the DOJ and SEC, developing and running compliance programs — and on securities and accounting fraud, criminal antitrust violations, government procurement fraud and public corruption investigations. His full bio is here.

Here’s what he told us:

Dear FCPA Blog,

In your Waters So Deep post, you raised two separate questions regarding the distinction between civil and criminal charges under the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions: (1) Is there any difference in the elements required for a civil versus a criminal violation of the anti-bribery provisions; and (2) In the KBR / Halliburton case, why did the SEC charge Halliburton and KBR Inc. with civil anti-bribery violations, while the DOJ charged only Kellogg Brown and Root LLC?

1. Civil versus Criminal Anti-bribery Violation
According to the statute, the elements necessary for a criminal violation of the anti-bribery provisions are identical to those required for a civil violation, except where the defendant is a natural person. Where the defendant is a natural person, in order for criminal liability to attach, the government must additionally prove that the defendant acted “willfully.” See 15 U.S.C. § 78ff(c); 15 U.S.C. § 78dd-2(g). Of course, the level of proof required to establish a criminal violation (beyond a reasonable doubt) versus a civil violation (by a preponderance of the evidence) also is different.

2. Why DOJ Charged Kellogg Brown & Root but not Halliburton
The SEC did not charge Halliburton with civil anti-bribery violations. Rather, the SEC charged only KBR Inc. with anti-bribery violations; it charged Halliburton solely with books-and-records and internal controls violations. The DOJ charged Kellogg Brown & Root LLC with anti-bribery violations and made no books-and-records or internal controls charges.

Why did neither the SEC nor the DOJ charge Halliburton with anti-bribery violations? There are at least two possible answers. First, the charges likely were the result of intense negotiations between the companies and the SEC and DOJ, and the result may have been something that all parties agreed to live with. The DOJ, for example, frequently exercises its prosecutorial discretion to charge only those entities most directly responsible for the FCPA violation at issue. See, for example, Schnitzer Steel (SSI Korea charged), Flowserve Corporation (Flowserve Pompes charged), and Fiat S.p.A. (Iveco, CNH Italia, and CNH France charged).

Second, it is possible that the SEC and DOJ did not believe they had evidence that Halliburton acted “corruptly,” an element required for both civil and criminal applications of the anti-bribery provisions. (Note that “corruptly” is a separate element from “willfully” which, as described above, applies only to criminal violations of the anti-bribery provisions by natural persons.) The SEC’s complaint states that although Halliburton was aware of KBR’s use of United Kingdom and Japanese “agents” in relation to the Nigerian joint venture, KBR officials “did not tell the Halliburton officials that the UK Agent would use the money to pay bribes” (SEC Complaint at 10). With regard to the Japanese agent, the SEC alleged that “senior KBR officials…effectively hid the true nature of the relationship” (SEC Complaint at 11).

FCPA legislative history and courts have defined “corruptly” to mean acting with an evil purpose and with an intent to influence a foreign official to misuse his official position. See, e.g., Stichting v. Schreiber, 327 F.3d 173 (2d Cir. 2003); United States v. Kay, 513 F.3d 432 (5th Cir. 2007). Without knowledge that bribes were being paid by its subsidiary, Halliburton could not have “corruptly” authorized the payments.

Best,
David P. Burns
[email protected]
Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP (Washington, D.C)
.

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1 Comment

  1. Good, clear. Thanks to both of you.


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