Bribe?!? What Bribe?!? - Clark & Trevithick | Full Service Boutique Law Firm in Los Angeles, California | Southern California
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Bribe?!? What Bribe?!?

Bribe?!? What Bribe?!?

These can be the first words of someone who has just been accused of giving (or taking) a bribe. We all know what a bribe is—the corrupt public official, the dark alley, the cash in an envelope—all provided to influence some official act — and it has long been a crime. That’s something most of us have no direct experience with (thankfully) and most businesses in this Country wouldn’t even consider engaging in such unsavory conduct.

But how about this? The world is shrinking and more and more businesses in the United States, large and small and maybe yours, are finding markets overseas to which they export their products. That trend will only continue as we market our wares to the “Global Village”. As any good marketer can tell you, making the product is only part of a successful business. A market must be identified, accessed and convinced to buy what you make. When selling overseas into markets governed by different laws, traditions, cultures and certainly languages, local help is needed to obtain licenses, permits and contacts that can make your product a success. Local distributors or agents with good contacts can be vital.

Perfect, but what does selling overseas have to do with bribery? That’s a question the United States answered back in 1977 with the passage of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). If you already know about the FCPA and have implemented a compliance program at your company, feel free to turn to the sports page and enjoy the articles there. If, however, you aren’t familiar with the FCPA, please take a few minutes to read part one below and them simply click as directed to review parts two and three.

What is the FCPA?

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) at its website on this statute summarizes the FCPA as follows:

The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977, as amended,…was enacted for the purpose of making it unlawful for certain classes of persons and entities to make payments to foreign government officials to assist in obtaining or retaining business.

As with most laws, the FCPA can be easily stated, but more complicated to understand when you begin to look behind the summary language. Here are a few more detailed explanations for some of the terms and phrases noted above:

“Certain classes of persons and entities”: Who can violate the law?

The FCPA has been amended twice (1988 and 1998) and now can be violated by virtually any individual, firm, officer, director, employee or agent of a firm or any stockholder acting on behalf of a firm. Moreover, such “firms” need not be public companies, but can include “domestic concerns” that include any corporation, partnership, association, joint-stock company, business trust, unincorporated organization or sole proprietorship.

“Make payments”: Are cash payments required to violate the law?

No. The law itself refers to “anything of value”, and while the statute does not define that term, it has been broadly construed to include not only cash and cash equivalents, but also, discounts; gifts; use of facilities or equipment; entertainment; drinks; meals; transportation; lodging; insurance benefits; and promises of future employment. Moreover, there is no de minimis value associated with the term “anything of value”.

“Foreign government official”: Who’s that?

It doesn’t need to be the President, Prime Minister, Foreign Minister or Ambassador. The statute defines this term to mean:

“…any officer or employee of a foreign government or any department, agency or instrumentality thereof…or any person acting in an official capacity for or on behalf of any such government, department, agency, or instrumentality….”

This term has also been broadly interpreted by the DOJ to include not only traditional government officials, but also employees of state-owned or state-controlled entities since these entities can be “instrumentalities” of a foreign government. Assuming some foreign company is deemed an instrumentality because of the government’s ownership (or partial ownership) or control, every employee of that entity will be considered a “foreign official” for purposes of the FCPA.

Direct payments to a foreign official aren’t the only way to run afoul of the statute, since indirect payments to agents, distributors, consultants and joint venture partners can also result in liability. Such indirect payments through a third party must be made with knowledge “that all or a portion of such money or thing of value will be offered, given, or promised, directly or indirectly, to a foreign official.” Once again, the FCPA defines “knowledge” broadly and such knowledge can be found when one knows that an event is certain or likely to occur. Being willfully blind to what is going on can also constitute knowledge for purposes of the statute.

“Obtaining or retaining business”: Does the payment need to result in a successful deal to violate the FCPA?

Again, no. This element of the statute can be satisfied even if the payment to the foreign official does not result in a government contract. Payments made to secure special tax or customs treatment, obtain government permits or licenses, or otherwise secure an unfair/improper advantage over a competitor can satisfy this element.

Continue to Part Two: Why Worry About the FCPA Now?

Contact Us
For further information on complying with the Act, please contact Eric L. Dobberteen, Esq. at EDobberteen@clarktrev.com or at 213.629.5700. Website: www.ClarkTrev.com.


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Clark & Trevithick, PLC is a full service law firm representing clients throughout California and western states for more than three decades.  Our practice includes specialization in federal and state taxation law and tax reporting compliance, as well as estate planning for owners of closely-held businesses and other high net worth individuals. We also counsel on the sale of closely-held businesses. We develop methods for transferring wealth to surviving spouses and descendants by the most efficient and tax-advantaged methods available.  Our practice profile also includes corporate, real estate, litigation, creditors’ rights and remedies and employment law matters.

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