Kirkland & Ellis Partner Sam Williamson on FCPA Practice in China
26 Corporate Crime Reporter 2(11), January 9, 2012

When Sam Williamson was in high school, he told his mother he wanted to take a Chinese language class.


“Originally it was that I wanted to stop taking Latin,” Williamson told Corporate Crime Reporter in an interview last week. “My mother is a Latin teacher. And I was eager to stop taking Latin. My high school was offering a Chinese class. So, I convinced my mother that Chinese would be an acceptable substitute for Latin.”

“Once I got into it, I really enjoyed it.”

“My high school started a home stay program in China. I was in the first class to come over and stay with Chinese families.”

“I spent my fifteenth birthday on the Great Wall. And once I did that, I was hooked. I took Chinese throughout high school, including some summer study at Indiana University.”

“During college, I was a history major and a Chinese minor. But even my history study focused on Asia. I studied my junior year in China.”

“I also took some Japanese during that time. I studied in Kyoto as well.”

“So, I got very interested in Asia. It wasn’t hard to see that China was a place where a lot of exciting things were going to happen.”
Williamson is now a partner at Kirkland & Ellis.

Last year, Williamson moved with his family – his wife and two young children – to Shanghai.

Williamson is the only former U.S. federal prosecutor based in China who speaks Chinese.

His practice: Foreign Corrupt Practices Act – and white collar defense generally.

“The previous three years I had been spending a lot of time over here,” Williamson said. “We were hearing from clients that they were in a frustrating place. There was a lot of investigative work going on in China and a lot of response to U.S. and U.K. government investigations in China.”

“And they would have to fly someone with that kind of a background from the U.S. That was expensive and time consuming. And it was difficult to do in a smaller case.”

“Or they would have to hire a lawyer in China who was probably not a specialist in government investigations.”

“Often in these cases, you can save a lot of time and effort if you can respond to it quickly and early. And that was something that was hard to do with someone from the U.S.”

“If you wanted to interview just two or three employees, it didn’t make sense to fly someone from Washington to China to do that.”

“So, there was a lot of interest in someone being in the time zone to handle those questions.”

Williamson says there about 15 to 20 partners from U.S. law firms based in China.

“To my knowledge, I’m the only former federal prosecutor working for a U.S. firm in mainland China,” he says. “And I’m pretty confident I’m the only Chinese speaking former federal prosecutor practicing in Asia.”

Given the amount of business U.S. companies do in Asia, and given the prominence of the FCPA, isn’t it striking how few FCPA China cases there are?

“Actually, we are seeing a lot of cases,” Williamson said. “Many of them haven’t become public yet. There are two significant industry wide investigations going on now. One is in the medical device industry. And one is in the pharmaceutical industry. We are involved in both. So I can’t comment too much. But you will be seeing a fair amount of China specific cases. And there have been a number of them already. UT Starcom. Veraz Communications. Some of the older cases.”

“And there have been some cases that have been settled already that had some China aspects but for one reason or another the China part was not part of the enforcement action taken. But there were certainly China issues discussed with the government.”
What about public perception that corruption is rampant in China?

“I did a fair amount of public corruption prosecutions when I was at the Department of Justice,” Williamson said. “There is this bugaboo out there that China is such a different place. And yes, there is corruption here. And yes it probably is by some metrics, worse than it is in the U.S. And the Chinese government has concerns with it.”

“But I think four recent Governors of Illinois have ended up going to jail or are going to go to jail. It’s not that these are problems that only China is dealing with or that are completely foreign to people in the United States.”

“I read the paper. And I understand that people in the U.S. are frustrated in some way with what people believe is corruption in the United States – whether that’s reflected by Occupy Wall Street or others.”

“I’m not saying that China and the U.S. are an apples to apples corruption comparison. But I do think it would be realistic for Americans to understand that you can solve the corruption problems in China. They are not totally foreign – it’s like dealing with corruption in the U.S.”

“I get frustrated often with some of my peers in the U.S. who make China corruption seem a little scarier than it is. There are problems but for the most part they can be solved. And don’t get me wrong. These are important problems. If the U.S. companies ignore these problems, people can in some instances go to jail.”

“But there are also problems that with proper foresight and planning, can generally be solved in a successful and proper way.”

[For a complete transcript of the Interview with Sam Williamson, see 26 Corporate Crime Reporter 2(11), January 9, 2012, print edition only.]



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