The risk of liability under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) cannot be understated when undertaking corporate merger and acquisition activity.
In recent years, pressure to avoid corruptive practices within mergers and acquisitions has heightened, with due diligence becoming imperative for companies undertaking acquisitions outside the U.S. The DOJ’s Criminal Division Presidential Budget Request stated:
‘FCPA enforcement is consistent with Obama’s administration goals of promoting transparency, democracy, sustainable development and good governance’.
Through several administrative cease-and-desist proceedings, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has reasserted the importance of the Act. In particular, they have highlighted the importance of completing proper due diligence, so as to ensure both the determination of the deal’s true value and the extent to which compliance related steps must be implemented after closing.
Key Corruption Risks: Mergers and Acquisitions
There is a risk of corruption when undertaking any Merger or Acquisition. Crucially, if an acquired company was tainted by corruption prior to its acquisition, its new parent company will assume both civil and criminal liability for that corruption. Recent SEC findings have confirmed this. The cases of the Ball Corporation, Diageo and Watts Water Technologies, where companies were fined for failing to operate comprehensive compliance programs, all involved successor liability.
There is also a risk that a company enters into a merger or acquisition on the basis of financial statements which include revenue that has been corruptly obtained and is therefore not sustainable. When a party to a merger or acquisition has entered into corrupt behavior, the reputation of the law abiding party may come into jeopardy. This may impact upon sales figures. It may also impact upon overhead costs in the form of significant penalty charges.
Factors Leading to Increased Risk of Corruption: Mergers and Acquisitions
Increased global support for US investigations into foreign corrupt practices and global anti-corruption efforts should not be overlooked. However, where an international element is present, the risk of corruption is enhanced. For example, when joint venture deals are entered into in developing/emerging countries, investors are often required to incur additional risks by forming associations with local partners. In addition, undertaking financial transactions also carries increased risk in developing/emerging countries which may not have as robust financial regulatory framework as other jurisdictions. Thus, due diligence must be exercised when transferring money abroad as part of an international acquisition.
The way in which an acquisition is structured will also directly impact upon the risk of corruption. When acquiring a company, it is critical to ascertain whether a complete acquisition is required as opposed to an asset only purchase. Significantly, asset only purchases pose less corruption risks for the acquiring companies than whole company acquisitions. This is because when a company (as opposed to just its assets) is acquired, all historical liabilities remain.
Completing A Merger or Acquisition: Understanding the FCPA
As we have shared in greater depth in previous posts on this blog the FCPA applies to those with formal ties to the U.S. and also to those who violate the Act within the U.S. In broad terms, the act prohibits any payments to foreign officials where the motive is corrupt. Any payment must be intended to influence the recipient’s acts or decisions in order to assist with obtaining or retaining businesses with any party.
Crucial to FCPA compliance is the completion of pre-closing due diligence. This involves undertaking an investigation of the business that is being acquired prior to the signing of contacts. In such an investigation a company may refer to many documents including procurement reports, financial statements and compliance procedures.
Post-acquisition due diligence should also be undertaken. This involves an in-depth examination of the operational dynamics of the newly acquired company. It should build upon the pre-closure due diligence and may identify significant impact factors and potential areas for compliance enhancement.
Understanding Recent Developments
On 21st February 2012, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Legal Reform and 36 other business organizations wrote to the DOJ seeking guidance relating to:
‘several issues and questions of significant concern to businesses seeking in good faith to comply with the FCPA’.
Queries related to compliance programs, instrumentalities of foreign government, parent company and successor company liability, the extent to which intent is necessary and issues surrounding gifts between parties.
Several informal meetings have since been facilitated with members of both private and public sector organisations in order to discuss topics relevant to the guidance. On 24th April 2012, the DOJ and the SEC attended a discussion with representatives from both the American Bar Association of International Law and the International Corruption Committee.
As a result of this consultation, it has been predicted that guidance will be produced as a joint issue between the SEC and the DOJ. As yet, however, it appears that no commitment has been made relating to the exact content of the guidance. Equally, no timescale for release of the guidance has been issued, nor is it clear whether the guidance will be developed using the notice and commitment process included within the Administrative Procedure Act.