The new FCPA guidance ("Resource Guide") states that the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions can apply to conduct both inside and outside the United States and that issuers and domestic concerns (as well as their officers, directors, employees, agents or stockholders) may be prosecuted for using the US mails or any means or instrumentality of interstate commerce in furtherance of a corrupt payment to a foreign official.

The FCPA defines “interstate commerce” as:

“trade, commerce, transportation, or communication among the several States, or between any foreign country and any State or between any State and any place or ship outside thereof…”  

The term also includes the intrastate use of any interstate means of communications or any other interstate instrumentality.  The guide explains that by way of example placing a telephone call or sending an email, text message or fax from, to, or through the United States involves interstate commerce as does sending a wire transfer from or to a US bank or otherwise using the US banking system, or travelling across state borders or internationally to or from the United States.

This is very interesting, because clearly very little indeed needs to be done in order for the United States’ courts to take jurisdiction over foreign defendants.  The jurisdictional hurdle is so low that defendants can pretty much fall over it without even realising!

By way of comparison with the UK Bribery Act, section 7 (which deals with the failure by commercial organisations to prevent bribery) applies to foreign corporations and partnerships which carry on  

“a business, or part of a business, in any part of the United Kingdom”.  

The British government’s Guidance on the Bribery Act, dated 30 March 2011, provides at paragraph 35:

“…the Government expects that whether such a body or partnership can be said to be carrying on a business will be answered by applying a common sense approach…”.  The BriberyLibrary thinks that that particular piece of guidance is challenging in its vagueness, as we find that common sense is not something everyone shares, and even those who do possess it, may find that there is not an entirely common standard of it.  The UK Guidance points out that, of course, the courts will be the final arbiter as to whether a business was being carried on in the United Kingdom “however, the Government anticipates that applying a common sense approach would mean that organisations that do not have a demonstrable business presence in the United Kingdom would not be caught.  The Government would not expect, for example, the mere fact that a company’s securities had been admitted to the UK Listing Authority’s Official List and therefore admitted to trading on the London Stock Exchange, in itself, to qualify that company as carrying on a business or part of a business in the UK and therefore falling within the definition of a “relevant commercial organisation” for the purposes of section 7.  Likewise, having a UK subsidiary will not, in itself, mean that a parent company is carrying on a business in the UK, since a subsidiary may act independently of its parent or other group companies”.  

There are some anti-corruption practitioners (including those blogging at the BriberyLibrary), however, who believe that the courts, when these issues are put before it in the future, may take a different view to the government’s Guidance and that the fact that a foreign company has agreed to abide by the rules and laws of the United Kingdom in relation to the listing of its securities on the London Stock Exchange means that it should also be expected to adhere to the laws in the Bribery Act.

Further, in relation to the parent-subsidiary relationship, where a parent has a controlling interest, it does by definition control the subsidiary, so the subsidiary could in our view never be regarded as acting truly independently: this is something else for the court to consider in due course.

We would not necessarily expect the British courts to go to the same lengths of finding that merely placing a telephone call in the United Kingdom (perhaps while passing through the UK on your way to another country) means that one is necessarily doing business here, but the court might find, for example, that foreign businesses which sell goods into the United Kingdom via a website, which are paid for from the United Kingdom by the purchaser using a Sterling bank account, and which are delivered into the United Kingdom means that even if the seller has no physical presence and no employees in the United Kingdom, that nevertheless it is clearly doing business in the UK and is susceptible to the Bribery Act’s provisions.

The FCPA Guidance continues that a foreign national or company may also be liable under the FCPA if it aids and abets, conspires with, or acts as an agent of an issue or domestic concern, regardless of whether the foreign national or company itself takes any action in the United States.

In truth, it is increasingly likely that two or more foreign prosecutors could simultaneously have jurisdiction over a defendant, due to the international nature of many illegal transactions, and the increasing globalisation of trade generally.  This may lead to related (but not identical) charges being pursued in several jurisdictions, although it is unlikely there would be direct overlap because of the double jeopardy rule (which many countries adhere to, although not always in the same way).  We blogged on Transparency International’s publication “Deterring and Punishing Corporate Bribery” on 30 January 2012.  Recommendation 7 sets out TI UK’s position on double jeopardy.  For its part, the SFO currently regards the double jeopardy rule as applying across borders. In practice we suspect that the SFO will probably only prosecute if British interests are adversely affected by a rigged competitive bid process abroad, and not on a pure jurisdictional hurdle test of any calls made in the UK etc.