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January 18, 2011 2:04 PM

White & Case, Covington Hire U.K. Bribery Act Experts

Posted by Chris Johnson

White & Case and Covington & Burling have hired senior officials from the U.K. government's Serious Fraud Office (SFO) as firms continue to bolster their white-collar practices ahead of the introduction of a controversial new Bribery Act this April.

SFO assurance head Charlie Monteith joined White & Case's London office as counsel on Monday, while Robert Amaee, who led the SFO's Anti-Corruption and Proceeds of Crime units, joined Covington as of counsel, also on Monday.

While at the SFO, Amaee was responsible for the investigation and prosecution of bribery and money laundering cases, and also served as the authority's Head of International Assistance. He joins the Washington, D.C.-based firm's 20-strong and growing white-collar group, which was recently expanded with the September addition of Department of Justice prosecutors Steven Fagell and James Garland, and now boasts specialists in Beijing, Brussels, London, New York, San Francisco, and Washington.

White & Case also has been busy expanding its white-collar practice in the past year. Monteith, who the firm describes as one of the key authors of the new Briberty Act, followed several white-collar senior hires last fall. Bracewell & Giuliani partner Kenneth Caruso joined White & Case's New York office along with seven associates in September, and Michel Beaussier and Isabelle Fenayrou-Degas arrived in Paris from French boutique Beaussier & AssociƩs a few days later.

The increase in hires of former prosecutors by firms in London as a result of the new act, a practice that until now has been rare in the U.K., was predicted in this space last October.

"The U.K.'s new Bribery Act will change the risk landscape for any company which carries out business in the U.K., wherever it's located," says White & Case litigation partner Alistair Graham. "Having Charlie on board is going to be an enormous asset to clients in helping them understand and comply with this seismic piece of legislation."

Although the act is primarily designed to tighten the U.K.'s regulatory framework--the first change to the country's bribery laws in more than a century--firms on both sides of the Atlantic have been gearing up for its introduction. The broad jurisdictional reach of the act means that the majority of U.S. public companies are likely to be affected by what experts have described as the world's most draconian anticorruption legislation.

Any company that has a U.K. office, that has employees who are U.K. citizens, or that provides any services to a U.K. organization will be subject to the bill, which carries unlimited fines and an increased maximum jail term of ten years, meaning that U.S. lawyers already advising clients on Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) violations will soon face an increased workload and new reporting obligations to the SFO.

The Bribery Act is both wider ranging and more severe than the U.S. regulation.

Unlike the FCPA, which only deals with government bribery, the U.K. act also covers corruption between commercial entities. And where U.S. legislation requires prosecutors to prove intent and awareness of the bribe at a senior level, the Bribery Act imposes strict liability on any company that fails to prevent bribery from taking place. This not only covers bribes made by its own employees, but also by any individual "associated" with the company--a fact likely to be of major concern to smaller enterprises, which generally lack their own international networks and are therefore regularly forced to deal with third-party agents abroad.

The Bribery Act also makes no distinction between bribery and facilitation or so-called grease payments--a key safe harbor under the FCPA--and even prohibits corporate hospitality if it is determined to "subvert the duties of good faith or impartiality that the recipient owes his or her employer." It does allow a defense if companies can prove they have adequate antibribery procedures in place, however.

The prospect of major corporate investigations under the new act has seen the larger London practices reenter the market for bribery work, which in recent years has been the reserve of smaller boutique practices.

Last February, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer launched a global investigations practice, bringing together 60 partners from a range of practices under London international commercial disputes head Geoff Nicholas and fellow litigator Adam Siegel in New York, while in June, SJ Berwin put together its own group comprised of financial services, litigation, and competition partners. The market also saw the formation of the first barristers set specializing in bribery work, Fulcrum Chambers, which was set up by several senior counsel including David Williams QC of Essex Court Chambers and former SFO assistant director Helen Garlick of 18 Red Lion Court.

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