The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit just reversed the decision of a lower federal district court which tossed out the deferred prosecution agreement between the Department of Justice and Fokker Services B.V. Fokker had admitted, in a voluntary disclosure to the Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”), that it had obtained U.S. origin aircraft parts which it then re-exported to Iran, Sudan and Burma without the required licenses. This blog has previously criticized both the highly unusual decision of the DoJ to turn a voluntary disclosure to OFAC into a criminal prosecution and the district court’s decision to toss aside the DPA as too lenient, apparently in the belief that Iran was somehow involved in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

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The Court of Appeals decision, which restores the DPA and reverses the lower court, is based simply on its interpretation of the Speedy Trial Act. Because a DPA starts the Speedy Trial Act’s seventy-day clock running, the Act provides, in 18 U.S.C. § 3161(h)(2), that a DPA can turn off this clock “with the approval of the court.” Otherwise, of course, the defendant could escape prosecution after seventy days, despite provisions of the DPA that prosecution would be avoided only upon good behavior by the defendant during a longer period, typically one to three years.

The Court of Appeals held that this requirement of approval did not give the district court the authority to question the leniency of the DPA, the charges brought by the government or the parties prosecuted under those charges. Rather the court reviewing a DPA is limited to determining if the DPA is

geared to enabling the defendant to demonstrate compliance with the law, and is not instead a pretext intended merely to evade the Speedy Trial Act’s time constraint.

The only other authority of the lower court, according to the Court of Appeals, would be to reject “illegal or unethical provisions” of the DPA, noting that the District Court had not argued that anything in the DPA was either illegal or unethical.

The Court of Appeals opinion is, thus, good news and bad news. The bad news is that a court can’t refuse to approve a DPA on the grounds that it was unfair for the government to turn a voluntary disclosure to an administrative agency into a criminal prosecution. The good news is that if the exporter does agree to a DPA, it can have a high degree of certainty that the district court cannot condition approval of the DPA on the insertion of more onerous provisions.

Photo Credit: Fokker Services Building in Hoofddorp via Fokker http://bit.ly/23bmktC [Fair Use] [cropped]