One of the more confusing areas of the FCPA is that of facilitation payments. Facilitation payments are small bribes, but make no mistake about it, they are bribes. For that reason, many companies feel they are inconsistent with a company culture of doing business ethically and in compliance with laws prohibiting corruption and bribery. Further, the 2012 FCPA Guidance specifies, “while the payment may qualify as an exception to the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions, it may violate other laws, both in Foreign Country and elsewhere. In addition, if the payment is not accurately recorded, it could violate the FCPA’s books and records provision.” Finally, the 2012 FCPA Guidance states, “Whether a payment falls within the exception is not dependent on the size of the payment, though size can be telling, as a large payment is more suggestive of corrupt intent to influence a non-routine governmental action. But, like the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions more generally, the facilitating payments exception focuses on the purpose of the payment rather than its value.” [emphasis on original text]

Interestingly, one of the clearest statements about facilitation payments comes not from a FCPA case about facilitation payments but the case of Kay v. Rice, 359 F.3d 738, 750-51 (5th Cir. 2004). This case dealt with whether payment of bribes to obtain a favorable tax ruling was prohibited under the FCPA. In its opinion, the Fifth Circuit commented on the limited nature of the facilitating payments exception when it said:

A brief review of the types of routine governmental actions enumerated by Congress shows how limited Congress wanted to make the grease exceptions. Routine governmental action, for instance, includes “obtaining permits, licenses, or other official documents to qualify a person to do business in a foreign country,” and “scheduling inspections associated with contract performance or inspections related to transit of goods across country.” Therefore, routine governmental action does not include the issuance of every official document or every inspection, but only (1) documentation that qualifies a party to do business and (2) scheduling an inspection—very narrow categories of largely non-discretionary, ministerial activities performed by mid- or low-level foreign functionaries.

The Kay decision narrowed the definition of facilitation payments. In addition to its restrictions, a key to FCPA compliance is accurately recording them going forward. As with all things FCPA-related, the “document, document, document” mantra holds.