Making The Justice Department Keep Its Word
Zealous legal and regulatory activity is inevitable in a world where public stakeholders mistrust business, and where a global business environment often makes foreign companies easy targets. Unfortunately, the likelihood of overzealous action by powerful public entities–from state attorneys general and the DOJ to the SEC and the highest reaches of federal power–becomes commensurately greater as well.
In seeking the largest regulatory fine in its history up to that point in time (since surpassed by the slightly larger Siemens fine of $1.3 billion) against Stolt-Nielsen S.A., a Norwegian shipping company, the Justice Department breached its own amnesty agreement with the company. Not just a threat to this one shipping company, the DOJ’s action would have created a permanently dangerous precedent and sent a damaging message to any interest doing business in or with the United States. The DOJ could make and break promises at will, all in an effort to gain incriminating evidence.
LEVICK’S aggressive communications campaign reframed the issue to focus on the government’s broken promises and prosecutorial overreach, and it did so throughout the US and Europe. This aggressive public affairs communications campaign isolated the Justice Department and put the prosecutors themselves on the defensive.
A federal judge dismissed the case and the Justice Department–in a late Christmas Eve press announcement in an effort to avoid public embarrassment–that it would not appeal. A complete victory for Stolt-Nielsen.