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SFO Gives Self-Reporting Guidance

This is a guest post from D.C. lawyers Drew Harker and Keith Korenchuk.

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Dear FCPA Blog,

The director of the U.K.’s Serious Fraud Office, Richard Alderman, recently clarified some of the SFO’s positions on its new approach to overseas corruption in a December 7, 2009 open letter to our partner, Marcus Asner. A full copy of the letter can be downloaded here. Here’s a summary:

Mr. Alderman’s letter answered five questions about the SFO’s enforcement policy.

1. What criteria will the SFO apply when deciding whether to treat a self-reported matter criminally or civilly?

  • The seriousness of the wrongdoing;
  • Whether the matter is an isolated incident or whether the company has uncovered other examples of this type of misconduct;
  • Whether the wrongdoing is systematic and part of the company’s established practice;
  • Whether the affected group within the company was warned that its processes were inadequate;
  • Whether the company reported the matter to the SFO within a reasonable time of discovering the incident; and
  • Whether the report provided to the SFO is detailed and complete.

2. What scope of investigation will satisfy the SFO and avoid the need for additional, SFO-directed investigation?

The SFO’s strong preference is that all investigative work on the facts surrounding the wrongdoing be carried out by the company’s professional advisors and not by the SFO itself. The SFO expects self-reporting companies to present the SFO with reports that allow the SFO (1) to determine whether the company has fully investigated the issues; and (2) to discuss remediation measures with the company. Mr. Alderman recognized that the cost of investigations can become unwieldy and suggested a rule of reason will apply, noting: “we are anxious not to put disproportionate cost on the corporates.”

3. Under what circumstances would monitors be appointed?

The SFO is taking a nuanced approach to monitoring. Mr. Alderman stated that the SFO’s goal with monitorships will be to balance assuring the public that the company is genuinely committed to anti-corruption measures while not imposing disproportionate burdens on the company. Specifically, Mr. Alderman noted the SFO will not appoint a monitor in cases where a company’s board proves that it is committed to enforcing an anti-corruption corporate culture.

In cases involving more serious violations of anti-corruption laws, the SFO will implement some “light touch,” on-going monitoring. In those cases, the SFO will expect a company to propose monitors in the first instance. Mr. Alderman further stated that the SFO will not impose a specific monitor against the wishes of a company’s board. Finally, the SFO will work with its international counterparts in assigning monitors in cases where the conduct at issue involves other jurisdictions.

4. What position will the SFO take on attorney-client privilege?

Mr. Alderman acknowledged that the concept of the waiver of attorney client privilege differs under U.K. and U.S. law. The SFO will not expect companies to provide documents reflecting legal advice the company received on how to conduct the investigation, the types of remediation to be discussed with the SFO or issues relating to conducting negotiations with the SFO. However, the SFO does expect to be provided a full factual report on the investigation, including any relevant interview notes from the investigation. Mr. Alderman stated that the SFO expects companies to waive any privilege with respect to these materials. The SFO is primarily interested in factual reports and suggests that legal advisors seeking to protect the companies’ privileges could separate the fact issues from legal advice when preparing the materials to share with the SFO.

As has been discussed following the issuance of the U.S. Justice Department’s Filip Memo, even a requirement that lawyer-discovered facts be disclosed raises genuine concerns about preservation of the attorney-client privilege. The SFO appears to go even a step further, suggesting it will require the production of actual interview notes.

5. Will the SFO ever close a voluntary disclosure case without any actions?

In limited cases, the SFO could terminate its involvement in a matter (1) if special circumstances apply and the company offers to pay suitable remediation; or (2) if after the company self-reported to the SFO at an early stage of the investigation, the ultimate report on the investigation provided to the SFO does not support the initial suspicions of corruption. Mr. Alderman stated that due to the strong public interest in publicly announcing these settlements, it expects that these instances will be comparatively rare. Mr. Alderman did not explain what special circumstances would lead to SFO’s terminating its investigation, but he noted that the SFO has done this in “a few cases at present.”

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