During this season of Thanksgiving, the folks at Norway’s Statoil ASA will be celebrating the end of the company’s three-year deferred prosecution agreement — and the Justice Department’s public announcement about it here. In 2006, Statoil (which trades on the NYSE under the symbol STO) was charged with violating the anti-bribery and accounting provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. It had paid more than $5 million through a middleman to an Iranian official for access to the South Pars natural gas field, one of the world’s largest. In settling with the DOJ, it agreed to pay a $10.5 million penalty and enter into the three-year deferred prosecution agreement. It also agreed with the SEC to pay $10.5 million in disgorgement and retain a monitor.
The case made waves in ’06. Statoil’s was the earliest criminal enforcement action against a foreign company. The financial penalties the DOJ and SEC imposed set that year’s record for an FCPA case. And Statoil had already been punished in Norway for the bribery and fined about $3 million. The U.S. government evidently deemed that inadequate but, in an act of comity, allowed Statoil to deduct the Norwegian fine from the U.S. criminal penalty.
U.S. Attorney Prett Bharara got it right when he said yesterday: “This case shows that deferred prosecution agreements against corporations can work as an important middle ground between declining prosecution and obtaining the conviction of a corporation. The deferred prosecution agreement . . . helped restore the integrity of Statoil’s operations and preserve its financial viability while at the same time ensuring that it improved what was obviously a failed compliance and anti-corruption program.”
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Frederic Bourke and William Jefferson will be thankful to be out on bail pending their appeals. The DOJ may have put too much zeal into Bourke’s prosecution, and may have botched part of Jefferson’s trial. But both men will have second chances on appeal. Bourke to argue that he never intended to break the law, and that being a criminal in the United States still requires some mens rea. And Jefferson that he was convicted for private acts under a law governing public acts, that he never had a chance to confront the main witness against him — the government’s informant, that her relationship with an FBI agent working on his investigation was evidence the jury should have heard, that the “honest services” statute he was convicted under is too vague to understand, and that the jury’s verdict on the conspiracy count should have been tossed.
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We’re thankful, as always, for the rule of law. Our system of justice isn’t perfect. It can’t be. But as we said a few weeks ago, when it works as it should, the guilty are usually punished and the innocent usually go free. And that’s a rare blessing at any time and place. We’re thankful too for the freedom we and others have to praise the system when it works and criticize it when it doesn’t.
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We’re thankful so many people are at work right now trying to spread the rule of law around the world. People in governments, in NGOs, in universities and private institutions, and on their own. Wherever it goes, the rule of law helps people escape from fear and poverty.
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We’re thankful for everyone who supported the FCPA Blog during the past year — our readers, sponsors, contributors, fellow bloggers, and kibitzers. They all help keep us honest and cheerful.
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Finally, we give thanks for these words from Walden, written in 1854 by Henry David Thoreau, one of the most thankful and sanest Americans who ever lived:
At length the winter set in good earnest, just as I had finished plastering, and the wind began to howl around the house as if it had not had permission to do so till then. Night after night the geese came lumbering in the dark with a clangor and a whistling of wings, even after the ground was covered with snow, some to alight in Walden, and some flying low over the woods toward Fair Haven, bound for Mexico. . . . The snow had already covered the ground since the 25th of November, and surrounded me suddenly with the scenery of winter. I withdrew yet farther into my shell, and endeavored to keep a bright fire both within my house and within my breast.