Archive for the ‘Airline Industry’ Category

Current CEO Of LAN Airlines Resolves SEC FCPA Enforcement Action Based On A Payment He Authorized 10 Years Ago In Connection With A Labor Dispute

Monday, February 8th, 2016

PlazaLast week was busy for SEC Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement.

First, there was the $3.9 million enforcement action against SAP (see here).

Then, there was the $12.8 million enforcement action against SciClone Pharmaceuticals (see here).

And then, as highlighted in this post, there was an individual action against Ignacio Cueto Plaza, the current CEO of LAN Airlines (pictured at left).

The Cueto enforcement action was noteworthy in at least five respects.

  • First, it was a rare SEC individual FCPA enforcement action (the Cueto action represents only the fourth core individual action since April 2012).
  • Second, it was an FCPA enforcement action against a CEO (rarely do individual FCPA enforcement actions involve an executive officer).
  • Third, it was an FCPA enforcement action against an existing CEO (most individual FCPA enforcement involve former employees because the company, as part of its remedial measures, terminates the employee found to be in violation of the FCPA).
  • Fourth, even though most FCPA enforcement actions are based on “old” conduct, a 2016 enforcement action based on 2006 conduct stretches the credibility of the SEC’s enforcement program to a new level, coupled with the fact that a U.S. law enforcement agency brought an enforcement action against a Chilean citizen based on alleged improper conduct in Argentina.
  • Fifth, most FCPA enforcement actions, even those that “only” charge or find FCPA books and records and internal controls violations, are still based on the alleged “foreign officials.” In this regard, the Cueto enforcement action is vague whether the SEC viewed the Argentine “union officials” to be “foreign officials” under the FCPA. If the SEC did view the “union officials” as such, it stretches the definition of “foreign official” even further. If the SEC did not view the “union officials” as foreign officials, the Cueto action represents a rare enforcement action concerning improper booking and insufficient internal controls concerning an instance of commercial bribery.

In this administrative action, the SEC found as follows.

“In 2006 and 2007, Ignacio Cueto Plaza (“Cueto”), the CEO of LAN Airlines S.A. (“LAN”), authorized $1.15 million in improper payments to a third party consultant in Argentina in connection with LAN’s attempts to settle disputes on wages and other work conditions between LAN Argentina S.A. (“LAN Argentina”), a subsidiary of LAN, and its employees. At the time, Cueto understood that it was possible the consultant would pass some portion of the $1.15 million to union officials in Argentina. The payments were made pursuant to an unsigned consulting agreement that purported to provide services that Cueto understood would not occur. Cueto authorized subordinates to make the payments that were improperly booked in the Company’s books and records, which circumvented LAN’s internal accounting controls.”

Cueto is described as follows.

” [A] Chilean citizen and, since 2012, has been CEO of LAN. From 1995 to 1998, Cueto served as President of LAN Cargo, a LAN subsidiary located in Miami, Florida. He served on the Board of Directors of LAN from 1995 to 1997. From 1999 to 2005, Cueto was CEO of LAN’s passenger airline business. In 2005, Cueto became President and COO of LAN Airlines S.A. He remained in that position until June of 2012, when LAN merged with Brazilian Airline TAM, S.A. (“TAM”) and became LATAM Airlines Group S.A. (“LATAM”). Cueto remains CEO of LAN, which is now part of LATAM.”

The enforcement action focuses the “obstacles that LAN might face in trying to enter the Argentine airline market.” Under the heading “LAN Faces Major Issues Upon Entering the Argentine Market,” the order states:

“Upon entering the Argentine passenger airline market LAN immediately faced several major issues impacting its viability and began losing money. First, it needed to meet demands from labor unions representing the employees acquired from LAFSA and Southern Winds. Second, LAN needed majority ownership of its Argentine subsidiary, and therefore had to persuade the Argentine government to change its existing law on foreign ownership of domestic airlines and to increase caps on airfares. Third, LAN needed regulatory authorization to operate various flight routes, both domestically and internationally, in Argentina. Since the Argentine passenger airline market was heavily regulated by the government, particularly officials within the Department of Transportation who had close ties to the unions, LAN sought help from the government officials with each of these issues.

In early 2006, the consultant again contacted the Vice President of Business Development and offered to assist LAN in Argentina. By this time, the consultant was a government official in the Ministry of Federal Planning, Public Investment and Services, Department of Transportation. On January 31, 2005, the Secretary of Transportation appointed the consultant as a Cabinet Advisor “ad-honorem.”

LAN executives, including Cueto, knew that for LAN Argentina to become profitable it would need an infusion of cash. LAN asked Argentine government officials to liberalize the laws on foreign ownership so that LAN could own a majority share of LAN Argentina and sought government authorization to raise regulated airfares. On or about August 8, 2006, the President of Argentina signed a Decree that enabled LAN to become a majority owner of LAN Argentina and allowed LAN to raise airfares by 20%. LAN Argentina was also awarded critical additional flight routes by the Transportation Secretary.”

Under the heading “LAN Encounters Problems with the Unions in Argentina,” the order states:

“As part of the deal that LAN reached with the Argentine government in March 2005, LAN was required to hire between six and eight hundred employees from the defunct LAFSA and Southern Winds airlines. LAN was bound by the existing bargaining agreements between LAFSA, Southern Winds and the labor unions.

There were five unions representing airline employees in Argentina. They included the grounds crew union, the Asociación del Personal Aeronáutico (APA), the pilots’ union, the Asociación de Pilotos de Lineas Aereas (APLA), the mechanics’ union, Asociacion del Personal Técnico Aeronáutico (APTA), the flight attendants’ union, Asociación de Tripulantes de Cabina de Pasajeros de Empresas Aerocomerciales (ATCPEA), and the supervisors’ union, Unión del Personal Superior y Profesional de Empresas Aerocomerciales (UPSA).

All of the unions were powerful and unafraid to make demands on LAN. They sought wage increases and additional benefits, and used the terms of their respective Collective Bargaining Agreements (“CBAs”) as leverage. These labor agreements contained provisions that LAN believed were unfavorable, such as restrictions on the hours employees could work and their work locations.

The mechanics’ union, the flight attendants’ union and the supervisors’ union each had a single-function rule contained in their CBAs. The single-function rule was a provision that limited workers from performing more than one work function at a time for LAN. The single-function rule was loosely interpreted and for the most part not enforced by the unions. Had it been enforced, the single-function rule would have required LAN to double its work force and would have seriously imperiled LAN’s ability to continue its operations in Argentina.

Around 2006 the unions began campaigning for wage increases. The unions threatened to enforce the single-function rule unless LAN Argentina agreed to a substantial wage increase. LAN’s management, including Cueto, attempted to negotiate on the wage issues but made no progress and things worsened over time. Eventually there were work stoppages and slowdowns on the part of the workforce, including strikes involving the pilots’ and the mechanics’ unions.”

Under the heading “Cueto Approves Improper Payments,” the order states:

“Beginning in the summer of 2006, the consultant supplied LAN executives with information on how to deal with specific union members and the unions in general. Eventually, the consultant offered to negotiate directly with the unions on LAN’s behalf, making it clear that he would expect compensation for such negotiations, and that payments would be made to third parties who had influence over the unions. After his staff informed Cueto that the consultant was well connected with the unions and could effectively negotiate an agreement with union officials, Cueto approved the retention of the consultant.

During the summer of 2006, Cueto approved payments totaling $1,150,000 to the consultant in connection with LAN’s attempts to settle disputes on wages and other work conditions with the unions. At the time, Cueto understood that it was possible the consultant would pass some portion of the $1.15 million to union officials in Argentina. Cueto approved the payments to get the unions to abandon their threats to enforce the single-function rule and to get them to accept a wage increase lower than the amount asked for in negotiations. LAN and the consultant agreed that LAN would make the payment to a company controlled by the consultant in Argentina. In 2006, LAN did not have a policy requiring that due diligence be performed on consultants, and neither Cueto nor LAN conducted any due diligence on the consultant or any of his related entities.

Around August 2006, Cueto’s staff informed him that the consultant had reached an oral agreement to settle the wage dispute with the mechanics’ union on LAN’s behalf. Although the existing Collective Bargaining Agreement with the mechanics’ union would remain unchanged, Cueto understood that the union would orally agree not to seek enforcement of the single-function rule for a period of four years in exchange for a wage increase of approximately 6 15% of salary. The wage increase of approximately 15% was lower than the amount originally sought by the mechanics’ union.

Around August 2006, the flight attendants’ and supervisors’ unions both agreed to accept wage increases of approximately 15% and 10% respectively of salaries. The amounts were lower than the amounts originally sought by each union.”

Under the heading, “Cueto Authorized Improper Payments That Were Not Accurately and Fairly Feflected on LAN’s Books and Records,” the order states:

“Cueto directed subordinates to make the improper payments. The improper payments authorized by Cueto were improperly described in the books and records as “other debtors” costs in a LAN subsidiary that had no role in LAN’s argentine business.”

Under the heading, “Cueto Caused LAN’s Internal Accounting Control Failure,” the order states:

“As President and Chief Operating Officer of LAN, Cueto, along with others, was responsible for devising and maintaining compliance with internal accounting controls at LAN. Cueto did not follow the company’s existing internal accounting controls when he authorized the payment of $1,150,000 to the consultant’s company and failed to prevent the payment of $58,000 to another company owned by consultant’s son and wife. Cueto received and approved the sham contract for the consultant’s company to provide consulting services to LAN, knowing that such services would never be provided. Cueto also authorized payment of invoices from the consultant’s company that contained a description of services listed on the invoices that was false.”

Based on the above findings, the order finds that Cueto caused books and records and internal controls violations by LAN and that Cueto also knowingly circumvented or knowingly failed to implement a system of internal accounting controls or knowingly falsified book, record or account and that Cueto also violated falsified or cause to be falsified, a book, record, or account.

Under the heading “Remedial Actions and Undertakings,” the order states:

“As the CEO of LAN, which is now a division of LATAM, Cueto is subject to LATAM’s enhanced compliance structure and internal accounting controls. Cueto is required to certify compliance with LATAM’s new Code of Conduct that was adopted in 2013, as well as other internal corporate policies, including an Anti-Corruption Guide, a Gifts, Travel, Hospitality and Entertainment Policy, an Escalation Policy, and Procurement and Payment policies.

Cueto has attended the Corporate Governance Training provided by the LATAM Chief Compliance Officer and has provided a certification confirming acknowledgement of the Code of Conduct, the relevant applicable regulations, as well as the Company policies. Cueto has also executed an amendment to his employment agreement whereby Respondent acknowledges having been informed regarding the LATAM Manual for the Prevention of Corruption, among other matters, and his responsibilities to perform his duties with the highest ethical standards, in compliance with all Company Policies and Procedures.

[...]

Cueto also undertakes to attend all anti-corruption training sessions required for senior executives at LAN. These sessions will include, but are not limited to, both live and online anti-corruption trainings to be completed on at least an annual basis and according to LAN’s Compliance Department’s training schedule. These sessions will include, in addition to anticorruption laws and regulations, such as the FCPA, training on anti-trust laws, the Company’s Code of Conduct and all other applicable policies that each LAN employee must follow. After the conclusion of each session Cueto will sign the appropriate documentation that acknowledges his attendance and understanding of the topics presented. Should LAN modify the schedule of such  training sessions for any reason, Cueto will, so long as he is a senior executive of LAN, attend a comparable anti-corruption session on an annual basis and complete appropriate documentation attesting to his attendance and the session’s contents.”

Without admitting or denying the SEC’s findings, Cueto agreed to cease and desist from future legal violations and agreed to pay a $75,000 civil penalty.

Cueto was represented by Richard Grime (Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher –  a former Assistant Director of Enforcement at the SEC heavily involved in FCPA enforcement). Commenting generally on the SEC’s evolving and expansive FCPA enforcement theories, Grime recently stated:

“It’s not that you couldn’t intellectually [conceive of] the violation. It’s that the government is sort of probing every area where there is an interaction with government officials and then working backwards from there to see if there is a violation, as opposed to starting out with the statute … and what it prohibits.”

Dallas Airmotive Inc. The Latest Aircraft Maintenance Company To Resolve An FCPA Enforcement Action

Friday, December 12th, 2014

Dallas Air

First it was Oklahoma-based BizJet International in 2012 (see here).  Then it was Oklahoma-based The NORDAM Group in 2012 (see here). The latest aircraft maintenance company to resolve a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement action is Texas-based Dallas Airmotive.

Earlier this week, the DOJ announced that “Dallas Airmotive Inc., a provider of aircraft engine maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) services based in Grapevine, Texas, has admitted to violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and agreed to pay a $14 million criminal penalty to resolve charges that it bribed Latin American government officials in order to secure lucrative government contracts.”

As highlighted in this post discussing unsealed documents in connection with individual FCPA prosecutions of BizJet executives, all three enforcement actions seemed to be casually related.

Criminal Information

The Dallas Airmotive criminal information focuses on the conduct of Dallas Airmotive do Brasil (DAB), a corporate affiliate under the direction and control of Dallas Airmotive Inc. (DAI), and the information states that DAB’s employees were supervised and managed by directors and managers of DAI.  According to the information, DAB assisted DAI in providing MRO engine services to customers in Latin America, including to governmental and other customers.  The information states that DAB also bid on and secured engine service contracts with Brazilian government and commercial customers, the work for which was often done in part by DAI.

According to the information, DAI conspired with a DAI Sales Director (an individual responsible for overseeing DAI’s sales efforts in Latin America), a DAI Sales Agent (an individual responsible for obtaining and retaining MRO business for DAI and DAB in Latin America, including with commercial and government customers), a DAI Sales Manager (an individual responsible for obtaining and retaining MRO business for DAI and DAB in Latin America, including with commercial and government customers), DAB Manager A (an individual responsible for obtaining and retaining MRO business for DAI and DAB in Latin America, including with commercial and government customers), DAB Manager B (an individual responsible for obtaining and retaining MRO business for DAI and DAB in Latin America, including with government customers), Official 1 (a Sub-Officer in the Brazilian Air Force – BAF), Official 2 (a Sergeant in the BAF), Official 3 (a Captain for the Governor of the Brazilian state of Roraima), Front Company A (a Brazil-based sales and logistics services company that was affiliated with Official 1), Front Company B (a Brazil-based sales and logistics services company that was beneficially owned by Official 1), and a Intermediary Company (a Brazil-based company that was used to make payments for the benefit of Official 3), and others to make improper payments to the foreign officials to assist DAI in obtaining and retaining business.

According to the information, the purpose of the conspiracy was to obtain and retain engine MRO service business for DAI and DAB from foreign government customers in Latin America, including the BAF, the Peruvian Air Force, the Office of the Governor of the Brazilian State of Roraima, and the Office of the Governor of the Argentinean State of San Juan, by paying bribes to foreign officials employed by such customers.

According to the information, DAI, through its employees and agents, including employees of DAB, discussed in person and via e-mail making bribe payments – which they called “commissions” or “consulting fees” – and granting other benefits to employees of customers, including foreign government customers, in order to obtain and retain for DAI and DAB business to perform engine MRO services.  According to the information, certain bribe payments were wired from DAI’s bank account in New York and DAB’s bank account in Brazil to bank accounts of Front Company A, Front Company B, and Intermediary Company in Brazil.

The information also alleges that DAI/ DAB paid for a vacation for Official 2 and his spouse in exchange for Official 2′s assistance in securing MRO business.

As to Peru and Argentina, the information alleges that payments were made to a bank account of a third party commercial representative in Florida and Argentina (respectively) while knowing that the funds, at least in part, would be passed on to officials of the Peruvian Air Force and the office of the Governor of the Argentinean State of San Juan.

In addition to the conspiracy charge, DAI was also charged with one substantive violation of the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions.

Deferred Prosecution Agreement

The above charges were resolved via this DPA in which DAI admitted, accepted and acknowledged that it was responsible for the acts alleged in the information.  The 3 year DPA states, under relevant considerations, as follows.

“The DOJ enters into this Agreement based on the individual facts and circumstances presented by this case and the Company. Among the factors considered were the following: (a) the Company’s substantial cooperation, including conducting an internal investigation, voluntarily making U.S. and foreign employees available for interviews, and collecting, analyzing, and organizing voluminous evidence and information for the DOJ; (b) the Company’s improvements to date to its compliance program and internal controls, as well as its commitment to continue to enhance its compliance program and internal controls, including ensuring that its compliance program satisfies the minimum elements set forth in the DPA; (c) the nature and scope of the offense conduct; and (d) the Company’s agreement to continue to cooperate with the DOJ in any ongoing investigation of the conduct of the Company and its officers, directors, employees, and agents relating to possible violations under investigation by the DOJ.”

As highlighted in the DPA, the advisory guidelines fine range was $17.5 million to $35 million.  The DPA states as follows.

“The Company agrees to pay a monetary penalty in the amount of $14,000,000 to the United States Treasury within ten (10) days of the filing of the Information. The Company and the Office agree that this fine is appropriate given the facts and circumstances of this case, including the cooperation in this matter and the nature and scope of the offense conduct.”

As common in FCPA DPAs, DAI “expressly agree[d] that it shall not, through present or future attorneys, officers, directors, employees, agents or any other person authorized to speak for the Company, make any public statement, in litigation or otherwise, contradicting the acceptance of responsibility by the Company set forth [in the DPA and Information].”

Karen Seymour (Sullivan & Cromwell) represented Dallas Airmotive.

This Wall Street Journal Risk & Compliance post notes:

“A spokeswoman for the company said the U.S. Justice Department acknowledged the firm’s cooperation and the improvements it made to its compliance program. She said the company upholds high standards articulated in its code of business ethics, but it regrets that “those standards were breached by a limited number of third-party agents and employees of Dallas Airmotive’s business in South America” from 2008 through 2012. “These individuals are no longer with the company, and Dallas Airmotive do Brasil and our South American sales team are operating under new leadership,” the spokeswoman said in an email.”

An FCPA Enforcement Action That Led To A Supreme Court Decision

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

[This post is part of a periodic series regarding "old" FCPA enforcement actions]

The first Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement action to involve business conduct in Nigeria was a 1985 enforcement action against W.S. Kirkpatrick, Inc. (a privately held New Jersey avionics supply firm) and Harry Carpenter (Chairman and CEO of the company).

The criminal informations filed against the company (here) and Carpenter (here) alleged one count of violating the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions and contains the same concise allegation.

“On or about December 21, 1982 … W.S. Kirkpatrick, Inc. … used a means and instrumentality of interstate commerce, that is, a Western Union international telex from Fairfield, New Jersey, to New York, New York, to order Standard Chartered Bank of New York to pay $580,973 to the Bank of New York for the account of Bank of Commerce and Credit International in Luxembourg corruptly in furtherance of an offer, payment, promise to pay and authorization of the payment of money to: (a) a person, that is Benson ‘Tunde’ Akindale through two companies, Deriks and Los, Panamanian bearer share corporations, while having reason to believe that a portion of such money would be offered, given, or promised, directly or indirectly to foreign officials, Nigerian Air Force officers, the Party of Nigeria, the Minister of Nigeria and other government defense personnel for the purpose of influencing the acts and decisions of such foreign officials and others in their official capacity and inducing them to use their influence within the Government of Nigeria in order to obtain a contract for flight training equipment for W.S. Kirkpatrick, Inc.”

An offer of proof filed in Carpenter’s case contains the following additional information.

Carpenter learned of the opportunity to sell various equipment to the Nigerian Air Force and he “believed Kirkpatrick needed an agent in Nigeria to assist in negotiating and obtaining the contract.”  “On recommendation of two British businessmen, Carpenter contracted a London solicitor, who in turn put him in touch with Benson ‘Tunde’ Akindele, a Nigerian national.”  According to the offer of proof, “Akindele offered to assist Kirkpatrick by serving as its local agent in Nigeria.  Carpenter negotiated an agreement with Akindele which provided that Kirkpatrick would pay a commission equal to twenty percent of the contracted price of [the equipment] to two Panamanian bearer share corporations, which were set up, and controlled by Akindele to receive payments from Kirkpatrick.”

W.S. Kirkpatrick Inc. pleaded guilty and was fined $75,000 (see here) and Carpenter pleaded guilty, was sentenced to three years probation and ordered to pay a $10,000 fine (see here).  Noted white collar criminal defense attorney Theodore Wells (here) represented Carpenter.

See here for the DOJ’s release which notes that the contract at issue was worth $10.8 million.

After the DOJ enforcement action, Environmental Tectonics Corporation (“ETC” –  an unsuccessful bidder for certain of the Nigerian contracts which first brought the problematic conduct to the attention of the Nigerian Air Force and the U.S. Embassy) brought a civil action against W.S. Kirkpatrick, Carpenter, Akindele and others seeking damages under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, the Robinson-Patman Act and the New Jersey Anti-Racketeering Act.

The defendants moved to dismiss the complaint on the ground that the action was barred by the act of state doctrine.  The district court granted the motion and concluded that the act of state doctrine applies “if the inquiry presented for judicial determination includes the motivation of a sovereign act which would result in embarrassment to the sovereign or constitute interference in the conduct of foreign policy of the United States.”  See 659 F.Supp. 1381.    The court held that ETC’s suit had to be dismissed because, in order to prevail, it would have to show that “the defendants or certain or them intended to wrongfully influence the decision to award the Nigerian Contract by payment of a bribe, that the Government of Nigeria, its officials or other representatives knew of the offered consideration for awarding the Nigerian Contract to Kirkpatrick, that the bribe was actually received or anticipated and that ‘but for’ the payment or anticipation of the payment of the bribe, ETC would have been awarded the Nigerian Contract.”

The Third Circuit reversed finding that application of the act of state doctrine was unwarranted given the facts of the case.  In particular, the Third Circuit found persuasive a letter to the district court by the State Department legal adviser which stated that a judicial inquiry into the purpose behind the act of a foreign sovereign would not produce the ‘unique embarrassment, and the particular interference with the conduct of foreign affairs that may result from the judicial determination that a foreign sovereign’s acts are invalid.”

Defendants then appealed to the Supreme Court which agreed to hear the case.

In 1990, Justice Scalia authored the opinion of a unanimous Supreme Court.  See 493 U.S. 400.  The opinion begins as follows.  “In this case, we must decide whether the act of state doctrine bars a court in the United States from entertaining a cause of action that does not rest upon the asserted invalidity of an official act of a foreign sovereign, but that does require imputing to foreign officials an unlawful motivation (the obtaining of bribes) in the performance of such an official act.”

The Court concluded that the “factual predicate for application of the act of state doctrine does not exist” because nothing in the case required the Court to declare invalid the official act of a foreign sovereign.  The Court reasoned that “neither the claim nor any asserted defense requires a determination that Nigeria’s contract with Kirkpatrick International was, or was not, effective,” that ETC “was not trying to undo or disregard the governmental action,” but rather that ETC was only trying to “obtain damages from private parties who had procured” the contract.

In short, the Court stated that the act of state doctrine “has no application to the present case because the validity of no foreign sovereign act is at issue.”

NORDAM Group Resolves Enforcement Action Through A Non-Prosecution Agreement

Thursday, July 19th, 2012

Earlier this week, the DOJ announced (here) that NORDAM Group. Inc. (here) (a Tulsa, OK based privately held provider of aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) services that employs approximately 2,500 people) agreed to enter into a non-prosecution agreement (here) and pay a $2 million penalty “to resolve violations of FCPA.”

The DOJ has previously stated that its DPAs and NPAs benefit the public and industries by “providing guidance on what constitutes improper conduct” (see this GAO report (Appendix III) and that it provides “clear guidance to companies with respect to FCPA enforcement through a variety of means” including “charging documents, plea agreements, deferred prosecution agreements and non-prosecution agreements, press releases, and relevant pleadings and orders” that “are lengthy and detailed.”

If the DOJ wants all to have full confidence in its FCPA enforcement program and if it is genuinely interested in providing transparent guidance through its enforcement actions, the DOJ can do much better than its effort in the NORDAM NPA.  It is not as bare-bones as the Lufthansa Technik NPA (see here for the prior post), but close.

The substantive statement of facts (here) (all two pages) state as follows.

“NORDAM’s customers in China include state-owned and -controlled entities, including airlines created, controlled, and exclusively owned by the People’s Republic of China.  [...]  From 1999 until 2008, employees at NSPL [NORDAM Singapore Pte. Ltd., a wholly owned subsidiary of NORDAM that provides MRO services to customers in the Asia Pacific region, including China]  and WAAPL [World Aviation Associates Pte. Ltd., an affiliate of NORDAM that performs marketing and sales services for both NORDAM and NPSL in the Asia Pacific region, including in China] paid bribes to employees of state-owned and -controlled entities in China in order to obtain or retain MRO business with those customers. Several NORDAM employees in the United States were made aware of and approved these bribes. The bribes were referred to internally as “commissions” or “facilitator fees.” The facilitator fees were paid to “facilitators” who, in fact, were employees of customers. These facilitators were also referred to internally as “internal guys,” “internal ghosts,” or “our friends inside.”  The facilitator fees either were paid directly to the customer’s employee by wire transferring money to the employee’s bank account or were paid indirectly by first depositing the money into the personal bank accounts of WAAPL employees, who would then withdraw all or a portion of these fees to pay the customer employees in cash.  In or about 2002, in an effort to further disguise the payments to customer employees, three WAAPL employees created fictitious entities and entered into sales representation agreements with those entities. The commissions that NORDAM paid to these fictitious entities were used, at least in part, to pay employees of customers to assist in securing contracts for NORDAM and NSPL.  Although many of the bribe payments were paid out of NORDAM’s and NSPL’s gross profits, in some instances NORDAM, NSPL, and WAAPL artificially inflated the customer invoice to offset the bribes paid to those customers’ employees. As a result, in these instances, NORDAM’s customers were unknowingly reimbursing NORDAM for the bribes that NORDAM paid to customer employees to secure the projects.  On or about April 22, 2004, a NORDAM employee sent an e-mail to two WAAPL employees, stating, “[d]o what you have to do to get the business. If that means using an agent, then let’s make sure we are discrete when communicating the information in trip reports. I agree . . . that we should not require an agent at every account, however, I also understand the reality of doing business in Asia. I trust your judgment, it is your call.”  On or about December 30, 2004, an agent of WAAPL sent an e-mail to a NORDAM employee and two WAAPL employees, stating, “[o]n this deal we also need to cover our friends inside.”  On or about December 30, 2004, the NORDAM employee responded to the email …  stating, “I don’t see where our friends have done anything to help us here. If our friends can help us, I will agree to split 50/50 with you any amount we get over $160K.”  In all, NORDAM, NSPL, and WAAPL paid as high as $1.5 million in bribes to secure roughly $2.48 million in profits from state-owned and controlled customers in China.”

Who were the state-owned and controlled entities in China?  What attributes of those entities made them state-owned or controlled?.  As to the employees at NSPL and WAAPL, what types of employees, what was their job function?  As to the NORDAM employees in the U.S. “made aware of and approved these bribes” what types of employees, what was their job function?  How did they become aware of the bribes?  How did they approve the bribes?

Is it asking/expecting too much for the DOJ to set forth such information in its resolution documents?

The NPA (which has a term of three years) states as follows.

“The Department enters into this [NPA] based, in part, on the following factors:  (a) the Company’s timely, voluntary, and complete disclosure of the conduct; (b) the Company’s real-time cooperation with the Department, including conducting an internal investigation, voluntarily making employees available for interviews, and collecting and analyzing voluminous documents and information for the Department; (c) the Company’s remedial efforts already undertaken, including enhancing its internal audit function, its compliance program, and its due diligence protocol for third-party agents, and to be undertaken, [pursuant to the NPA]; (d) the Company’s agreement to provide annual, written reports to the Department on its progress and experience in monitoring and enhancing its compliance policies and procedures [pursuant to the NPA]; and (e) the Company has agreed to continue to cooperate with the Department in any ongoing investigation of the conduct of the Company and its officers, directors, employees, agents, and consultants relating to violations of the FCPA.

As noted in the DOJ’s release, the NPA “recognizes that a fine below the standard range under the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines is appropriate because NORDAM fully demonstrated to the department, and an independent accounting expert retained by the department verified, that a fine exceeding $2 million would substantially jeopardize the company’s continued viability.”  As to the fine reduction, the NPA further states as follows.  “This discount recognizes that, over a period of months, the Company fully cooperated with the Department and with an independent accounting expert that the Department retained to review the Company’s financial condition.  Following that review, the Department and its independent expert both concluded that this discount was appropriate under the Sentencing Guidelines.”

What was the discount?  There is no information in the NPA or associated documents that shed light on this issue.

This Tulsa World article states as follows.

“NORDAM executives said all but three of the employees involved in the bribery schemes had left the company when the scandal was discovered in 2008. The three employees still with the company were fired, they said.  NORDAM officials said three employees of World Aviation Associates created fictitious companies and entered into agreements with the companies under which the companies would be paid commissions for sales of NORDAM products and services to customers. The arrangements made it difficult to trace the money, company executives said.”

The article further states as follows.

“NORDAM CEO Meredith Siegfried said it is “disheartening” for a company that has prided itself on its values and integrity to discover the violations of federal law. “At the same time, our determination and efforts to make sure no such event would ever occur again have given us a significantly higher level of alertness and much improved procedures and processes,” she said. “We are striving to have a robust compliance program which is considered to be an industry benchmark.” In a letter to NORDAM employees, Siegfried said everybody at NORDAM is receiving training to comply with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. “Every stakeholder has also signed a statement that the requirements are understood and agreed to, and this statement is required to be signed annually by all of us,” Siegfried said. “We have also revised our policies and procedures regarding our use of agents and conducted a comprehensive review of the agents we use in other countries. These agents have also received training regarding the FCPA. “We also brought in outside counsel to conduct a comprehensive investigation of all the issues connected to these violations. It is important for you to know that the investigation concluded that no individual associated with NORDAM’s leadership or governance since 2008 was ever involved in, or approved of, any of the illegal activities.

Carlos Ortiz (LeClairRyan – here) represented NORDAM.

NORDAM has an active military aircraft business (see here) and has received, including recently and during the time period relevant to the conduct at issue, numerous federal government contracts.

BizJet FCPA Enforcement Action Involves Executive Conduct

Thursday, March 15th, 2012

Yesterday the DOJ announced (see here) that BizJet International Sales and Support Inc. (see here - a Tulsa, OK based provider of aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul services (MRO)) agreed to pay an $11.8 million criminal penalty ”for bribing government officials in Latin America to secure contracts to perform aircraft MRO services for government agencies.”

The enforcement action involved a criminal information (here) against BizJet resolved through a deferred prosecution agreement (here).  The DOJ release states that BizJet’s ”indirect parent company, Lufthansa Technik AG” (see here - a German provider of aircraft-related services) also ”entered into an agreement with the DOJ in connection with the unlawful payments by BizJet and its directors, officers, employees and agents.”  The release states as follows.  “The DOJ has agreed not to prosecute Lufthansa Technik provides that Lufthansa Technik satisfies its obligations under the agreement for a period of three years.  Those obligations include ongoing cooperation and the continued implementation of rigorous internal controls.”  There is no mention of Lufthansa Technik in the below described BizJet information.

Criminal Information

The information alleges that between 2004 – 2010 BizJet and others conspired “to obtain and retain MRO service contracts and other business for BizJet from foreign government customers, including the Mexican Federal Police, the Mexican President’s Fleet [the air fleet for the President of Mexico], Sinaola [the air fleet for the Governor of the Mexican State of Sinaloa], the Panama Aviation Authority, and other customers, by paying bribes to foreign officials employed by such customers.

The foreign officials included:  Official 1 – “a Captain in the Mexican Federal Police,”  Official 2 – “a Colonel in the Mexican President’s Fleet,” Official 3 – “a Captain in the Mexican President’s Fleet,” Official 4 – “employed by the Mexican President’s Fleet,” Official 5 – “a Director of Air Services at Sinaloa,” and Official 6 – “a chief mechanic at the Panama Aviation Authority.”  According to the information, all of the above officials “had broad decision-making authority and influence over the award of contracts to MRO service providers.”

The information alleges conduct by several executives including:  Executive A (a senior executive at BizJet from 2004 to 2010 who “was responsible for the operations and finances of BizJet”); Executive B (a senior executive at BizJet from 2005 to 2010 whose duties included “oversight of BizJet’s efforts to obtain business from new customers and to maintain and increase business with existing customers”); Executive C (a senior finance executive at BizJet from 2004 to 2010 who “was responsible for overseeing BizJet’s accounts and finances and the approval of payment of invoices and of wire and check requests”); and Sales Manager A (a regional sales manager at BizJet from 2004 to 2010 who “interacted with potential and existing customers and was responsible for obtaining business from new customers and maintaining and increasing business with existing customers”).

The information alleges that the purpose of the conspiracy – which BizJet accomplished through its employees including Executive A, Executive B, Executive C, and Sales Manager A – was to make bribe payments “which they called ‘commissions,’ ‘incentives’ or ‘referral fees’ to employees of customers, including foreign government customers, in order to obtain and retain for BizJet contracts to perform MRO services.”  The information further alleges that these individuals attempted to conceal the payments to foreign officials by using Shell Company A (owned by Sales Manager A and run out of this personal residence) to funnel the payments from BizJet to the foreign officials and by making payments in cash delivered by hand to the foreign officials.

The overt acts section of the information begins as follows.  In November 2005, “at a Board of Directors meeting of the BizJet Board, Executive A and Executive B discussed with the Board that the decision of where an aircraft is sent for maintenance work is generally made by the potential customer’s director of maintenance or chief pilot, that these individuals are demanding $30,000 to $40,000 in commissions, and that BizJet would pay referral fees in order to gain market share.”

The information then alleges various payments made to the above officials in return for the official’s help in securing contracts.

Based on the above conduct, the information charges one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA.

DPA

The DOJ’s charges against BizJet were resolved via a deferred prosecution agreement.  Pursuant to the DPA, BizJet admitted, accepted, and acknowledged that it was responsible for the acts of its officers, directors, employees and agents as charged in the Information.

The term of the DPA is three years and its states that the DOJ entered into the agreement based on the following facts:  “(a) following discovery of the FCPA violations during the course of an internal audit of the implementation of enhanced compliance related to third-party consultants, BizJet initiated an internal investigation and voluntarily disclosed to the DOJ the misconduct …; (b) BizJet’s cooperation has been extraordinary, including conducting an extensive internal investigation, voluntarily making U.S. and foreign employees available for interviews, and collecting, analyzing, and organizing voluminous evidence and information for the DOJ; (c) BizJet has engaged in extensive remediation, including terminating the officers and employees responsible for the corrupt payments, enhancing its due diligence protocol for third-party agents and consultants, and instituting heightened review of proposals and other transactional documents for all BizJet contracts; (d) BizJet has committed to continue to enhance its compliance program and internal controls, including ensuring that its compliance program satisfies the minimum elements set forth in the” corporate compliance program set forth in an attachment to the DPA; and (e) “BizJet has agreed to continue to cooperate with the DOJ in any ongoing investigation of the conduct of BizJet and its officers, directors, employees, agents, and consultants relating to violations of the FCPA.”  With so many executives generically identified in the information as being involved in the improper conduct, it will be interesting to see whether individual FCPA prosecutions are forthcoming.

As detailed in the DPA, the advisory Sentencing Guidelines range for the criminal charge was $17.1 million – $34.2 million.  Pursuant to the DPA, BizJet agreed to pay $11.8 million (30% below the minimum amount suggested by the Guidelines).  The DPA states as follows.  “BizJet and the DOJ agree that this fine is appropriate given the facts and circumstances of this case, including the nature and extent of BizJet’s voluntary disclosure, extraordinary cooperation, and extensive remediation in this matter.”

Interestingly, the DPA was signed by the DOJ, BizJet and BizJet’s counsel – Jay Holtmeier (here – Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr) in late December 2011, but only made public yesterday.