The prosecution of James Giffen for violating the FCPA is a ghostlike case. As David Glovin of Bloomberg wrote earlier this month: “Oil consultant Jim Giffen was told by a U.S. judge six months after his 2003 arrest in an international bribery scheme that he would go on trial in the fall of 2004. He’s still waiting.”
His trial may be on hold, but his case made legal history years ago. Professor Elizabeth Spahn, a friend of the FCPA Blog and an occasional contributor here, has published a great article on U.S. v. Giffen and the act of state doctrine — the notion that sovereign nations engaged in domestic actions cannot be questioned in the courts of another nation.
The act of state doctrine is not typical fare for most prosecutors or judges in U.S. criminal proceedings. The first opinion addressing the act of state doctrine in a U.S. bribery case was issued in 2002 in the Giffen prosecution [when it was still before a grand jury] by Judge Denny Chin (more recently famous for sentencing white collar criminal, Ponzi scheme architect Bernie Madoff). The 2002 Chin opinion is a landmark case of first impression. It provides helpful precedent for future decisions on the most significant legal hurdle facing prosecutors developing a case—discovering the facts of complicated bribery schemes where the documents are ostensibly protected by foreign law. [footnotes omitted]
Prof Spahn describes the Giffen case as “a gripping story of alleged grand corruption bribery suitable for a Hollywood movie.” What’s remarkable, she says, is that despite the best efforts of powerful U.S. lobbyists and law firms in an FCPA case allegedly involving $105 million in bribes in Kazakhstan, during one of the darkest periods in the history of the U.S. Department of Justice, the case still “demonstrates the rule of law operating even handedly, even when major oil interests are at stake.”
The article can be downloaded from SSRN here. The citation is Discovering Secrets: Act of State Defenses to Bribery Cases (2009), Hofstra Law Review, Vol. 38, p. 163, 2009.
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And more from Prof Spahn. We’d like to thank her for mentioning the FCPA Blog during her talk at the June 30 ABA ROLI Anti-Corruption Mini-Seminar. She referred to us as a clearinghouse serving the FCPA / compliance community. We’ll do our best to live up to that role. During the last segment of her talk, Prof Spahn suggested topics for future compliance-related research. We often hear from students and others looking for ideas, so check out what she had to say here.