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From his perch in Hogan Lovells’ Beijing office, partner Eugene Chen described the “debilitating pollution” enveloping the city to the worldwide audience of a Monday morning webcast. The smog is not unlike another problem in China, he added: corruption. “It’s a huge problem. It’s very apparent to everybody. You can see it in the air,” Chen said. Chen, who is normally based out of Hogan’s Shanghai office, joined colleagues in Washington, D.C., and the U.K. for the webcast called “Are you Exposed? Global Bribery and Corruption: 2012 Lessons and 2013 Predictions,” hosted by the firm’s International Bribery and Corruption Task Force. In China, 2012 was a relatively quiet year in the legislative and regulatory arenas. But enforcement activity increased across multiple fronts, from data privacy to labor issues. Commercial antibribery enforcement proved no exception, Chen said, and businesses experienced a “dramatic ramp up” in enforcement, as carried out by China’s Administration of Industry and Commerce. The agency has focused in particular on the life sciences and energy sectors, and on multinational companies. Chen described the government’s enforcement tack as “a fairly unprincipled approach.” Rather, he said, “the primary approach seems to be revenue generation.” By way of example, Chen said Chinese authorities have “turned the investigative process on its head.” Instead of investigating a possible offense, developing evidence, and then penalizing a company for wrongdoing, Chen said the government is identifying supposed offenses and then compelling companies to reach a monetary settlement to resolve the case. Companies wind up wrestling with the problem of admitting to liability when there is no clear evidence of wrongdoing, Chen said, as well as questions over their reporting obligations and reputational harm. Businesses involved in antibribery investigations in China face a thicket of additional logistical, procedural, and legal challenges. For starters, “there is no legal privilege in China,” Chen said. (Yes, try to ponder that.) China’s state secrets law presents another chief concern. The law is “extremely broad,” said Chen. “It’s extremely vague in terms of the definition of what is a state secret.” And it carries enormous penalties to boot. That will matter to any company considering whether it can present in another country evidence that was produced in the course of an investigation in China. “Are you potentially at risk of violating the state secrets law in China” in the course of an international investigation, Chen asked. The labor regime in the People’s Republic also makes it extremely difficult to penalize or terminate employees, even in the face of evidence of wrongdoing, Chen said. And, not surprisingly, China’s political dealings with rest of the world add to the complexities of an investigation. But, Chen warned the audience, don’t shy away from broaching the topic of corruption in China-based business dealings—no matter how impolite it may seem. Chen recalled one instance in which he was given only four hours to perform due diligence on a deal that two other major law firms had worked on for months. Before time was up, Chen’s team had uncovered enough information to torpedo the transaction. “Despite the sensitivities, and despite the fear of offense, you defer these topics at your detriment,” he said.

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