Corporate Investigations

Legal and regulatory scrutiny regarding the use of non-disclosure agreements by companies to resolve allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct continues to increase in the wake of the #MeToo movement.  Such scrutiny featured prominently this month in two high-profile sexual harassment matters: the Wynn Resorts investigation and the various legal proceedings following the allegations against Harvey Weinstein.  Both in-house and outside counsel for companies with senior executives facing such allegations should take note of these developments, as they call into question whether the use of NDAs could in certain circumstances amount to investigatory obstruction or a violation of ethical obligations.
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As discussed in Cleary Gottlieb’s December 21, 2018 Alert Memorandum, on December 18, 2018, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit issued an important ruling in In re Grand Jury Subpoena, holding, inter alia, that foreign state-owned corporations are subject to criminal jurisdiction in the United States and upholding Special Counsel

On December 18, 2018, the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals issued an important ruling in In re Grand Jury Subpoena, holding that foreign state-owned corporations are subject to criminal jurisdiction in the United States and that the exceptions to sovereign immunity set forth in the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (the “FSIA”)[1] apply to criminal as well as to civil cases.[2]  The court also rejected the foreign sovereign entity’s argument that it should be excused from complying with a subpoena because doing so would violate the law of the respondent’s country of incorporation.  Although In re Grand Jury Subpoena arises in the context of enforcing a grand jury subpoena, its language and holding could potentially be extended to criminal prosecutions of a foreign state or state-owned entity.

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Last month, Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales effectively shut down the operation of the UN-operated International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (called by its Spanish initials, “CICIG”) by declining to renew its mandate past its September 2019 expiration date and by barring the head of CICIG, Iván Velásquez, from re-entering the country.  CICIG, a uniquely independent organ of the United Nations (“U.N.”), was created in 2007 to support and assist Guatemalan institutions in identifying, investigating, and prosecuting public corruption.  Over the past decade, it has investigated nearly 200 public officials, and its efforts led to the prosecution and ultimate resignation of former Guatemalan President, Otto Pérez Molina.[1] 
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On September 27, 2018, in remarks delivered at the 5th Annual Global Investigations Review New York Live Event, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Matthew S. Miner reported on the accomplishments of the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) over the course of the last twelve months.  Importantly, he also discussed recent changes to the DOJ’s policies on prosecution of business organizations and how those changes have been implemented.[1]  Miner highlighted the DOJ’s efforts to incentivize and provide guidance to companies to self-report, cooperate and remediate corporate misconduct while underscoring the importance of robust compliance programs to detect and prevent wrongdoing and to obtain full credit in resolving investigations by the DOJ.
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On September 14, 2018, a federal judge in the Southern District of New York certified as a class action a securities fraud suit against hedge fund Och-Ziff Capital Management Group LLC (“Och-Ziff”) and two of its executives.[1]  Shortly after the decision certifying the class, the parties informed the court that they had reached an agreement in principle to settle the case, which had gone forward on the basis of allegations that Och-Ziff had failed to make adequate disclosures related to its knowledge of the investigation.
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On September 4, 2018, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) announced a $25.2 million settlement with French pharmaceutical company Sanofi (“Sanofi” or the “Company”) for violating the books and records and internal controls provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) in connection with a scheme to bribe foreign officials to increase sales of Sanofi products.[2]  The Sanofi settlement encompasses conduct by three Sanofi subsidiaries organized in Kazakhstan, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates (“UAE”).  The Sanofi settlement follows a recent enforcement action by U.S. authorities against another French company—Société Générale—for FCPA violations.[3]  In announcing the Sanofi resolution, the SEC signaled its intention to focus further on bribery risk in the pharmaceutical industry.
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On August 27, 2018, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) announced a $34.5 million settlement with investment management firm Legg Mason, Inc. (“Legg Mason” or the “Company”) for violating the internal controls provision of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) in connection with a scheme to bribe Libyan government officials to secure investments from Libyan state-owned financial institutions.[1]  The SEC settlement follows a June 2018 non-prosecution agreement between Legg Mason and the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) regarding the same conduct.[2]  Under the non-prosecution agreement, Legg Mason agreed to pay $64.2 million.  The Legg Mason settlements reflect the increased focus of U.S. authorities on coordinating with other authorities in imposing penalties on a company, including not “piling on,” and the continued enforcement of the FCPA, while highlighting the potential risks under the FCPA of not having proper controls in place for assessing use of third party intermediaries.

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When the U.S. Department of Justice opened an investigation against Volkswagen AG (“VW“) and its subsidiaries Audi AG (“Audi”) and Volkswagen Group of America, VW instructed an international law firm to conduct an internal investigation and to represent it (i.e., only VW) before the U.S. Department of Justice.  The lawyers, including German lawyers based in the firm’s Munich office, conducted the internal investigation throughout the Volkswagen group.  Audi, though not a client of the law firm, allowed the internal investigation within its sphere and accessed the internal investigation’s findings via VW.  In January 2017, VW and the U.S. Department of Justice concluded a plea agreement covering 2.0 liter diesel engines designed and produced by VW and installed in VW and Audi vehicles and 3.0 liter engines designed and produced by Audi and installed in VW vehicles.
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A recent report in the Wall Street Journal, drawing on a source “familiar with the matter”, indicates that the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Division of Enforcement has launched a probe into whether certain issuers may have improperly rounded up their earnings per share to the next higher cent in quarterly reports. While the SEC has