When do sales incentives move from the realm of legal to the realm of the nefarious? When do company communications become so code-word laden as to demonstrate corrupt intent? Those were only a couple of questions which arose for me when reading an article in the Wall Street Journal that explored the revision of sales figures by the car manufacturer Fiat-Chrysler.

The article detailed the code words the company used when it wanted or needed to ramp up sales, usually at the end of a month or quarter. It would usually begin with an e-mail or con call from the “unnatural acts department” and was “meant to convey the urgency of drumming up last minute vehicle sales.” But was this simply a “way to rally dealers to meet objectives” or did it portend some more malicious such as stuffing the sales channel at the end of the month or quarter, then unwinding the sale at the beginning of the next accounting period, all to make the numbers look good?

For The Man From FCPA, it also raises larger questions about how such code words are used to indicate and indeed facilitate bribery and corruption in international sales subject to the FCPA. For if a company is willing to force its own dealers to sell cars at a loss or to ask dealers to purchase cars and them in test fleets for customer use, all the while booking this as a legitimate sale; how much farther would a sales person have to take this understanding to devine it was simply about the numbers.

Fiat, purchased its Chrysler sales dealership from the company after its bankruptcy had an ingenious response. Company CEO Sergio Marchionne did admit the company revised its sales figures but the reporting inaccuracies were based on a legacy system ported over from Chrysler, noting “we just kept applying the same reporting system for nearly 40 years.” One can only hope they are not using a 40-year-old FCPA compliance program.

Continue the conversation at Compliance Week Europe: 7-8 November at the Crowne Plaza Brussels. Join us as we look at changes in global anti-corruption regulations, slave labor risks in your supply chain, and how to detect fraud, to name just a few topics. Learn more