Written by: G. Derek Andreson, James L. Kelly, Christopher M. Zochowski, Marc H. Axelbaum and Ryan R. Sparacino
This article was also published in Law360.
Until a few years ago, private equity firms enjoyed relative insulation from regulatory scrutiny of overseas acquisitions and the operations of multi-national portfolio companies. No longer is that the case. Spurred by the unfounded belief that PE firms are not invested in compliance or the conduct of their portfolio companies, the DOJ and SEC are now training their attention on how PE firms exert oversight and control over their portfolios, with a particular emphasis on FCPA issues. PE firms should prepare for this new scrutiny by taking proactive measures to demonstrate both their awareness and their commitment to earning profits on a level playing field. Most importantly, PE firms must recognize that these efforts are not about appeasing regulators, but go directly to maximizing return on investment.
It’s About Deal Risk, Not Legal Risk
A private equity firm’s foreign investments carry unique risks in the anti-corruption world: the firm may have exposure to substantial fines, penalties and reputational harm through the conduct of a portfolio company, even though the firm maintains only partial control.
This risk arises not only in the context of acquisitions, but also in strategic combinations such as joint ventures. And under successor liability principles, the conduct at issue may have occurred years before the firm considered taking a stake in the company or venture.
These risks permeate the deal cycle, including the exit phase. A sophisticated buyer in today’s market will take a hard look at a target’s anti-corruption compliance. If the compliance program falls short of industry standards, that fact may persuade the buyer to look for other opportunities, or it may convey additional leverage in negotiations.