Barclays’ dealings with a sovereign wealth fund are apparently under investigation by both US and UK authorities. The disclosure from the UK’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) states:
On 15 August 2012 the Director of the SFO formally opened an investigation into certain commercial arrangements between Barclays Bank and Qatar Holdings in 2008.
Qatar Holdings is a subsidiary of the Qatari SWF, Qatar Investment Authority, and has been in the news (and on this blog) recently for their high-profile influence on the proposed Glencore-Xstrata merger.
The SFO’s investigation was recently followed up by a SEC and DOJ investigation of potential FCPA violations, as described in Barclays’ Interim Management Statement released yesterday.
Subsequent to reporting the investigations of the Financial Services Authority and Serious Fraud Office in July and August 2012 respectively, Barclays has been informed by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) and US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that they are undertaking an investigation into whether the Group’s relationships with third parties who assist Barclays to win or retain business are compliant with the United States Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Barclays is investigating and fully co-operating with the DOJ and SEC
It is likely that the FCPA investigation also involves Barclays’ dealings with Qatar Holdings.
I have gone on record as saying that efforts to treat SWF employees as “foreign officials” for purposes of the FCPA seem to be misplaced in many–if not most–cases. I gave three reasons for that judgment:
First, it is unclear whether the FCPA can or should be read to cover state-owned funds. There are several practical reasons for arguing that it should not, among them a recognition that most of these enterprises and funds operate as quasi-independent entities that should not be viewed as direct agents of their respective governments. These funds also typically (but admittedly not always or exclusively) serve economic and financial purposes, rather than a political or governmental purpose.
Second, even if foreign enterprises and funds can be viewed as foreign instrumentalities, it is not clear that the FCPA provides the best remedy for the type of harm that occurs when a state-controlled fund employee is bribed. In non-FCPA contexts, the SEC has characterized the acceptance of bribes by fund managers as a breach of fiduciary duty to the fund investors. Cast in these terms, the harm was an agency cost, and the SEC assists the fund investors by applying their enforcement resources to cover some of the investors’ costs of monitoring the fund managers. If the fund investors are the beneficiaries of this shifting of agency costs from private investors to public enforcers, who are the beneficiaries of a similar shift when foreign officials are bribed?
A third concern, related to the foregoing, is the apparent agency and judicial drift away from the original purpose of the FCPA as a tool to prevent corruption that affects foreign policy. If this original purpose is to have any meaning in the context of state-controlled enterprises and funds, there must be a link between the foreign government, the instrumentality of the government, and the foreign officials who work for the instrumentality. Each of these entities must be connected like three links of a chain—the foreign government linked to the instrumentality, and the instrumentality linked to the foreign official. In this way, the acts of the foreign government have an effect on the foreign official, and the acts of the foreign official have an effect on the government. Only if there exists this linkage between the foreign official and the foreign government—in the case of state-controlled enterprises and state-controlled funds, through their respective links to an instrumentality—should we expect to find the kind of foreign policy effect that the FCPA was designed to police. Current SEC and DOJ interpretations, as well as the scant jurisprudence that has tested these interpretations, tends to look only at the connection between the foreign government and the instrumentality. The legislative history of the FCPA, however, suggests that because foreign policy concerns are central to the FCPA, the link between the instrumentality and the foreign official must also be tested. To more directly rephrase the question of who is benefitted when the U.S. government pays for foreign fund agency costs, why are U.S. taxpayers paying for enforcement that serves to reduce agency costs for foreign governments, their citizens, and in some cases, the stockholders of partially state-controlled enterprises, but has no effect on U.S. foreign policy considerations?
My full paper on SWFs and the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act can be found here.