In recent months, issues related to internal control systems and reporting have taken on an increased profile and significance. For example, as previously noted by the authors here and here, the SEC has sought to prioritize compliance with internal controls by initiating a growing number of investigations into companies based on allegations of inadequate internal controls.
Internal investigations are an ever-present challenge for companies. They can involve virtually any topic and arise in myriad ways. Embezzlement, accounting improprieties, bribery, and financial statement adjustments can all lead to a closely scrutinized investigation, with likely triggers of whistleblower reports, news articles, litigation demands, or regulatory inquiries. The common denominator is that they present high pressure and/or high stakes. Consequently, it is imperative that matters not be made worse through a flawed internal investigation. In today’s post, we cover some of the essential topics to keep in mind when managing an internal investigation to ensure that the investigation itself does not cause or exacerbate harm to the company.
For the first time in the nearly five years since Dodd-Frank went into effect, the SEC last week took action against a company over concerns that the company was preventing its employees from potentially blowing the whistle on illegal activity. The action is significant because the SEC was targeting seemingly innocuous language in a confidentiality agreement and there were no allegations that the company, KBR, Inc., was otherwise breaking the law.
Real estate investment trust American Realty Capital Properties (“ARCP”) recently announced the preliminary findings of an Audit Committee investigation into accounting irregularities and the resulting resignation of its Chief Financial Officer and Chief Accounting Officer. The events surrounding ARCP are a case study of how, within a matter of weeks, an internal report of concerns to the Audit Committee can lead to both internal and external scrutiny: an internal investigation and review of financial reporting controls and procedures, on the one hand; media coverage, securities fraud litigation, and an inquiry by the Securities Exchange Commission, on the other.
Securities fraud actions are often filed on the heels of an announcement of an internal or SEC investigation. A recent Ninth Circuit decision, Loos v. Immersion Corp., may make it easier for company executives to sleep at night following such an announcement. The Ninth Circuit has joined a growing number of circuits holding that the announcement of an internal investigation, standing alone, is insufficient to show loss causation at the pleading stage. READ MORE
On June 27, 2014, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit issued an important, unanimous decision upholding the assertion of attorney-client privilege for an internal investigation. The decision is especially significant because it (a) forcefully reversed a growing trend in the D.C. federal district courts that had narrowly applied the attorney-client privilege to internal investigations and (b) confirmed that communications made during the course of an internal investigation – e.g., interviews and interview notes and reports – are privileged whenever a primary purpose of the communication was to obtain legal advice.
The case involves a False Claims Act claim against Kellogg, Brown & Root (“KBR”), a former Halliburton subsidiary, regarding alleged fraud and other unlawful conduct violating the company’s code of business conduct. The plaintiff sought various materials relating to KBR’s investigation of the alleged conduct. Non-lawyers, acting at the direction of in-house lawyers, conducted the interviews.
Cloud computing may be the next shoe to drop. On the heels of Mary Jo White’s recent appointment as Chairman of the SEC and predictions that it may refocus enforcement on accounting fraud came word last week that the Commission is investigating IBM’s cloud-computing accounting. In an SEC filing, IBM defended its revenue accounting for cloud-based services, stating “[w]e are confident that the information we have provided has been consistently accurate.”
This may just be the tip of the iceberg for an industry estimated by some analysts to generate global revenues of $131 billion this year, 60% of which originate in the United States.
Cloud computing has no single definition but one basic expression would be the practice of storing and accessing information on servers accessed through the Internet. There are many cloud-computing business models, including Infrastructure as a Service (“IaaS”), in which customers access computing power, such as servers, through physical equipment owned by the provider; Platform as a Service (“PaaS”), in which customers use a provider’s computing environment—including operating systems, programming languages, and databases—to create applications remotely; and Software as a Service (“SaaS”), services that allows users to operate software remotely. Google Documents and the e-Discovery platform Relativity are just two cloud-based services that readers may be familiar with. READ MORE
On Monday, February 25, Goldman Sachs won its bid to force former director Rajat K. Gupta to pay legal fees it incurred while investigating Gupta’s insider trading activities. In October 2012, Gupta was sentenced to two years in prison following his conviction on conspiracy and securities fraud charges. As part of those sentencing proceedings, Judge Jed Rakoff of the Southern District of New York has now ordered Gupta to pay Goldman Sachs $6.2 million, an amount equal to approximately 90 percent of the legal expenses the banking firm sought to recover. See United States v. Gupta, Case No. 11 CR 907 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 25, 2013).
Background on the Ruling
Goldman Sachs sought its fees under the Mandatory Victim Restitution Act (“MVRA”), which allows some crime victims to recover expenses they incur as a result of a criminal defendant’s wrongful conduct. See 18 U.S.C. §3663A.
Judge Rakoff’s restitution order requires Gupta to pay the legal fees Goldman Sachs incurred conducting an internal investigation; responding to grand jury subpoenas and document requests from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”), and from Gupta himself; collecting and reviewing millions of documents leading to document productions of over 400,000 pages; and providing counsel to represent various of its officers and employees in depositions and at trial. The restitution order also covered fees Goldman Sachs incurred relating to the criminal investigation of Raj Rajaratnam, who was unaffiliated with Goldman Sachs but convicted for his role in the same insider trading scheme. Finally, Judge Rakoff ordered Gupta to pay Goldman Sachs its fees associated with preparing the request for restitution.
Implications of the Ruling
In ordering restitution, Judge Rakoff found that the requested attorney’s fees were “necessary,” were “incurred during participation in the investigation or prosecution of the offense or attendance at proceedings related to the offense,” and were incurred by a “victim.” While one may not have thought of Goldman Sachs – the entity from whom Gupta, the tipper, acquired the inside information – as a traditional victim of insider trading, in interpreting that term as anyone who was “directly and proximately harmed” by the offense of conviction, the Court had no difficulty in finding that Goldman was a victim and thus awarding it the attorney’s fees. READ MORE