Global Investigations Review - The law and practice of international investigations

GIR 100 2019

Baker McKenzie

25 October 2019

Baker McKenzie is one of the few firms to have a global investigations practice. All over the world, the firm has local experts to call upon. Other major law firms turn to Baker McKenzie for assistance as a result.

The firm

When Russell Baker and John McKenzie founded the firm that bears their names, they did so with a specific goal in mind: forming a truly international law firm with the ability to serve clients around the world. Baker McKenzie’s global compliance and investigations practice does exactly that.

The group is co-chaired by Joanna Ludlam and William Devaney. Ludlam, who is based in London, was among those nominated in GIR’s Women in Investigations survey in 2018. She oversees investigations work around the world. Devaney is a former federal prosecutor, based in New York.

The practice was previously chaired by Who’s Who Legal: Investigations nominee Mini vandePol, an Australian lawyer who works in Hong Kong and China and is responsible for the Asia-Pacific region. 

The US team boasts over a dozen former federal prosecutors and top government officials. 

Among them are the North America government enforcement practice co-chairs: Jerome Tomas in Chicago and Thomas Firestone in Washington, DC. He regularly conducts international investigations and advises companies on US Department of Justice (DOJ) and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) enforcement actions.

Other prominent DC-based partners include Richard Dean and Brian Whisler, who previously served as chief of the criminal division at the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. 

The firm’s Houston office is home to Who’s Who Legal: Business Crime Defence and Who’s Who Legal: Investigations nominee Lawrence Finder, the former US attorney for the Southern District of Texas.

In 2018, Baker McKenzie hired Barclays’ in-house counsel Terence Gilroy as a partner in its New York litigation and government enforcement practice. Gilroy works with large corporates and financial institutions, as well as individuals, on Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and sanctions investigations. In 2019 the firm added former SEC lawyers Peter Chan and Amy Greer from Morgan Lewis & Bockius. Chan joined in Chicago while Greer is in New York.  

In Canada, firm clients can count on partner Peter MacKay QC, Canada’s former attorney general and minister of justice, and in Austria the firm is home to Georg Krakow, who served as the head of cabinet for the Austrian Federal Ministry of Justice. Krakow is listed in Who’s Who Legal: Investigations.

The London office is home to Jonathan Peddie, who previously worked at Barclays Bank as head of litigation, investigations and enforcement. Sunny Mann, meanwhile, focuses on compliance with export controls and international trade sanctions.

In Düsseldorf, Baker McKenzie has 40 under 40 lawyer Anahita Thoms, who advises on white-collar crime and compliance matters. She leads the firm’s international trade team in Germany.

Baker McKenzie has a significant presence in Latin America, where it first set up shop in Caracas over 50 years ago. In Mexico City, Jonathan Adams oversees investigations in Latin America, where he has more than 15 years of experience. It partners with Trench Rossi Watanabe in Brazil. Trench Rossi’s investigations practice has suffered some departures, including Esther Flesch who left the firm by mutual agreement in 2017 amid an investigation into the hiring of a former prosecutor. Authorities in Brazil cleared her of wrongdoing in 2019.

In a related departure, Washington, DC-based partner Joan Meyer left the firm in 2019. According to court documents, her decision to leave related to the same matter that caused Flesch to leave, though the exact reasons have not been made public.

In July 2019 former client J&F Investimentos dropped its malpractice claim over the ex-prosecutor’s hire, after initially suing the firms in 2018 claiming in court documents that the firms had put a leniency deal with Brazilian prosecutors in jeopardy.

Trench Rossi’s compliance and investigations practice is now led by Heloísa Barroso Uelze in São Paulo.

Recent events

The firm advised German software company SAP in 2017 on an internal investigation into allegations of misconduct connected to the Guptas, a wealthy South African family with ties to former president Jacob Zuma. In October 2017, SAP disclosed the preliminary findings of the investigation to the DOJ and the SEC, which are investigating the matter. SAP said that the internal investigation had uncovered “indications of misconduct” relating to a firm with links to the Guptas. However, SAP said that Baker McKenzie had found no evidence of bribes paid to South African government officials.

The firm helped Chicago-based spirits producer Beam Suntory secure in 2018 its US$8 million settlement with the SEC to resolve allegations that a subsidiary bribed Indian government officials. Beam Suntory, represented by Richard Dean, neither admitted nor denied the allegations. 

The firm also negotiated on behalf of Swiss bank and asset manager Mirelis a US$10 million non-prosecution agreement (NPA) with the DOJ, which was announced in 2018. The NPA resolved charges that Mirelis helped clients conceal assets from the Internal Revenue Service.

Baker McKenzie’s Brazilian partner firm handled one of the largest and most significant corruption investigations in recent years. Trench Rossi acted for Brazil’s state-controlled oil company, Petrobras, in an internal investigation into a widespread bid-rigging and kickback scheme that has implicated scores of companies and politicians and led to the impeachment of Brazil’s former president. Petrobras settled with US authorities in 2018.

GIR reported in 2018 that the firm carried out an internal investigation for German engineering company ThyssenKrupp into a US$2.3 billion deal to supply Israel with three submarines. Prosecutors in Germany opened their own investigation into the matter in March 2019.

Network

By GIR’s count, the firm has partners with white-collar and investigations experience in over 40 offices internationally.

In China, Baker McKenzie is one of only a few international firms to have been granted a joint operation licence with a leading domestic law firm. The firm’s affiliation with FenXun Partners allows the firm to provide international clients with local legal expertise, and to conduct investigations for domestic companies and government bodies in China.

Clients

Big-ticket clients include freight-forwarding company Panalpina, Brazilian state-owned oil company Petrobras, petrochemicals company Braskem, aircraft manufacturer Embraer and Google. Among the financial institutions that have relied on Baker McKenzie lawyers are Privatbank IHAG Zürich, Dreyfus Sons Co Ltd, Banquiers and Habib Bank AG Zürich.

Track record 

Baker McKenzie played a significant role in the US Department of Justice’s Swiss Bank Program. Six lawyers worked on a total of 10 settlements. The DOJ announced its final resolutions in 2016 under the programme, which rewarded Swiss banks that handed over information on US citizens who evaded tax with non-prosecution agreements.

In 2017, Baker McKenzie negotiated a favourable FCPA-related settlement for Mondelēz International. The company agreed to pay only US$13 million to the SEC to resolve FCPA violations by a subsidiary in India.

The firm acted as lead counsel to Braskem, Latin America’s largest petrochemical company. Braskem and its parent company, Odebrecht, agreed to pay a combined US$3.6 billion to US, Swiss and Brazilian authorities, in what is currently the largest global FCPA settlement on record.

Peter Tomczak in Chicago helped to negotiate another FCPA settlement for Nordion, which was announced in March 2016. The SEC’s enforcement action focused on the actions of a former Nordion employee, who allegedly arranged bribes to Russian officials while hiding the scheme from the company.

Baker McKenzie obtained a DOJ declination for Harris Corporation in 2015 following an FCPA investigation into its China operations. A year later, the agency’s civil counterpart followed suit. But the SEC penalised the company’s former China CEO for authorising illegal gifts to officials at Chinese state-owned hospitals.

Baker McKenzie worked Trench Rossi on aircraft maker Embraer’s foreign bribery settlement in 2016 with US authorities. The company was required to retain a monitor as a result.

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