Updated DOJ Guidance Steers Effective Compliance and Remediation Programmes

Authors: Kyle Wombolt, Jeremy Birch and Charlotte Benton

The US Department of Justice Criminal Division (DOJ) has issued updated guidance on the Evaluation of Corporate Compliance Programs (guidance). Under the guidance, DOJ prosecutors evaluate the effectiveness of a company’s compliance programme when conducting an investigation, determining whether to bring charges or negotiating plea or other arrangements.

“Whether in the US, Asia Pacific or elsewhere, the guidance sets out useful prompts for a best practice compliance framework” observes Hong Kong corporate crime and investigations partner, Jeremy Birch. “Given the propensity of regulators to borrow from each other’s procedures and practices, it will also be of interest to companies subject to regulatory scrutiny, investigation or enforcement outside the US, as a benchmark for appropriate remediation and resolution.”

The guidance covers many of the same areas as the previous version, providing additional context to the multifactor analysis of a compliance programme.

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OFAC Emphasizes Importance of Risk-Based Sanctions Compliance Programs for US and International Companies

Authors: John O’Donnell, Jonathan Cross, Geng Li, Christopher Milazzo, Susannah Cogman and Daniel Hudson

Further emphasizing its expectation that all companies whose business touches on the United States should maintain a robust, risk-based US economic sanctions compliance program (“SCP”), the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) has published a detailed “Framework for OFAC Compliance Commitments” (the “Framework”) setting forth the key components of an adequate SCP. OFAC’s release of the Framework heightens the need for US and international companies to review their existing policies, procedures and controls relating to sanctions compliance, and to make appropriate changes to update relevant policies in line with OFAC’s guidance. As the number and scale of US sanctions enforcement actions increase, maintaining an effective SCP is an essential tool for managing sanctions risk; conversely, the Framework makes clear that the absence of an adequate SCP will be viewed negatively by OFAC pursuant to its Economic Sanctions Enforcement Guidelines.

The Framework includes a discussion of the typical “root causes” of sanctions violations leading to OFAC enforcement action; in most cases, SCP deficiencies are key elements in these examples. Thus, all companies whose business directly or indirectly involves the US or US persons should review their SCP carefully in consideration of these identified root causes.

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No More “Significant Reduction Waivers” – The Trump Administration Further Strengthens Sanctions against Iran

On April 22, 2019, the White House announced that the Trump administration will not issue further “significant reduction waivers” exempting specified countries from the threat of secondary sanctions based on their purchases of Iranian crude oil. The move signals the Trump Administration’s intention to utilize economic sanctions to bring Iran’s level of oil exports to zero. The announcement follows the recent determination to designate the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist group, both forming part of the Administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign with respect to Iran. The campaign aims to push Iran to take action in response to the Trump Administration’s “twelve demands,” which relate both to nuclear issues and to other aspects of Iran’s behaviour, such as its involvement in conflicts in Syria and Yemen and tensions with US allies in the region.

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High Court refuses permission for collateral use of disclosed documents and witness statements to respond to US grand jury subpoena

In a decision illustrating the court’s strict approach to the rule prohibiting the use of disclosed documents and witness statements for a collateral purpose, the High Court has refused a party permission to provide disclosed documents and witness statements to the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for the purpose of complying with a US Grand Jury subpoena: ACL Netherlands BV v Lynch [2019] EWHC 249 (Ch).

The court’s permission was required because under CPR 31.22 (in relation to disclosed documents generally) and 32.12 (in relation to witness statements), a party may only use disclosed material for the purpose of the proceedings in which it is disclosed, subject to certain exceptions including where the court gives permission.

On the facts of the case, the court held that the applicant had not established cogent and persuasive reasons in favour of granting permission, as it was required to do. The court also considered that the grant of permission might have occasioned injustice, particularly given that the trial in the civil proceedings was imminent.

The decision highlights that the fact that a party may be facing legal compulsion to produce documents is not a “trump card” leading necessarily to the grant of permission (although in any event the court was not satisfied here that compulsion had been established). Courts considering such applications will not apply a mechanistic approach and will consider all the circumstances in weighing the competing public interests involved. That is the case even if refusing permission may result in a party finding itself effectively stuck between a rock and a hard place, unable to comply with a legal demand from an enforcement or regulatory agency – though that will be a relevant factor. Continue reading

Corporate Crime Update – Winter 2019

Welcome to the Winter 2019 edition of our corporate crime update – our round up of developments in relation to corruption, money laundering, fraud, sanctions and related matters. Our update now covers a number of jurisdictions.

For the full update on each jurisdiction, please click on the name of the jurisdiction below. Below we provide a brief overview of what is covered in each update.

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The importance of supply chain due diligence and the risks of modern slavery – OFAC settles North Korean sanctions case with fine

Authors: Kyle Wombolt, Jeremy Birch, Antony Crockett and Emily Purvis.

A recent enforcement action by the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) against US company e.l.f Cosmetics Inc (ELF) highlights the importance of supply chain due diligence in conducting cross border business. The action against ELF reflects a global trend of increased regulatory focus on supply chains in relation to a range of business conduct issues, including corruption, modern slavery, and other human rights violations. To mitigate sanction violation risk, companies should verify the country of origin of goods and services in their supply chains.

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OFAC Imposes Blocking Sanctions on PdVSA

Authors: Susannah Cogman, Partner, London; Daniel Hudson, Partner, London; Jonathan Cross, Counsel, New York; Geng Li, Associate, New York; and Christopher Milazzo, Associate, New York.

On January 28, 2019, the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) announced the designation of Venezuelan state-owned oil producer Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PdVSA) as a Specially Designated National (“SDN”), which follows the White House’s earlier announcement recognizing Venezuelan National Assembly President Juan Guaidó as the Interim President of Venezuela. The sanctions are significant because PdVSA has a monopoly in the Venezuelan oil sector and contributes significantly to Venezuela’s foreign trade income. Concurrent with the designation announcement, OFAC also issued a number of general licenses that authorize a range of activities involving PdVSA and its subsidiaries.

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Second Wave of United States Sanctions Against Iran Re-Imposed

Following President Trump’s decision on May 8, 2018 to withdraw the United States from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (“JCPOA”), the US government announced that it would re-impose pre-JCPOA nuclear-related Iran sanctions (both primary and secondary) that were lifted under the JCPOA. As we reported previously, two “wind-down” periods—of 90 and 180 days respectively—commenced from the day of the announcement, during which non-US, non-Iranian companies were encouraged by the US government to withdraw from operations in Iran that would be affected by re-imposed sanctions. OFAC’s guidance discouraged non-US persons from engaging in new activity during the wind down periods, and stated that any such new activity may be a factor in connection with future enforcement action for actions taken after the wind-down period.

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US Appellate Court Rejects DOJ’s Expansive Use of Conspiracy for FCPA Jurisdiction

On August 24, 2018, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the government’s broad interpretation of the jurisdictional reach of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) and held the government could not use aiding and abetting and conspiracy theories to prosecute an individual who was not otherwise covered by the FCPA. Specifically, the Court held that the FCPA does not apply to foreign nationals without ties to US entities for foreign bribery crimes.  In this briefing, our New York team discusses the decision and its implications.

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Corporate Crime update – May 2018

Welcome to the May 2018 edition of our corporate crime update – our round up of developments in relation to corruption, money laundering, fraud, sanctions and related matters. Our update now covers a number of jurisdictions. For the full update on each jurisdiction, please click on the name of the jurisdiction below.

We are proud to announce that the Corporate Crime and Investigations practice at Herbert Smith Freehills has been awarded Investigation Firm of the Year at the Who’s Who Legal Awards 2018. Continue reading