Archive for the ‘Alliance One International’ Category

Friday Roundup

Friday, August 20th, 2010

The Bribery Act is not the only thing delayed in the U.K., where in the world is James Tillery, Thai authorities looking into Alliance One and Universal Corp bribe recipients, and corporate directors appear satisfied … it’s all here in the Friday roundup.

BAE U.K. Plea Agreement Delayed

In a recent article in The Times (London), Alex Spence and David Robertson report that the BAE – SFO plea agreement “is unlikely to come before the courts for approval before November.”

In February (see here) the SFO announced that it “reached an agreement with BAE Systems that the company will plead guilty” to the offense of “failing to keep reasonably accurate accounting records in relation to its activities in Tanzania.” The SFO resolution was controversial given that BAE was viewed by many to have engaged in bribery around the world.

The Times reports “that the SFO fears that a judge may now refuse to approve the BAE settlement or increase the penalties imposed on the company.” The article indicates that “BAE, which has always denied bribery, is understood to be frustrated by the slow progress of the SFO case, but the delay is not thought to have had an impact on the company’s operations.”

James Tillery

In December 2008, James Tillery, a former executive of Willbros International Inc., and Paul Novak, a consultant to the company, were criminally charged “in connection with a conspiracy to pay more than $6 million in bribes to government officials in Nigeria and Ecuador …” (see here).

In November 2009, Novak pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA and one substantive count of violating the FCPA (see here).

Tillery has apparently been hanging out in Nigeria, but is now apparently in custody according to various Nigerian news outlets. According to the sources, “Tillery was believed to have been handed over by officials of Interpol to officials of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).”

Apparently this occurred “without the knowledge of Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Mohammed Adoke, who is supposed to be notified before such action is taken. Under section 6 of the Extradition Act, a request for extradition is supposed to be sent to the AGF who is supposed to arraign such a deportee before a magistrate court and upon the declaration of the magistrate, the deportee is deported accordingly.”

Then it was reported that Tillery’s extradition “was stopped by immigration officials at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos because he did not have a travel document.”

Then Tillery’s Nigerian lawyer apparently stepped in and said that the attempted extradition was a “grave assault on the sovereignty of Nigeria” and a violation of Nigeria’s Extradition Act because Tillery renounced his U.S. citizenship and became a Nigerian by naturalization in 2009. Thus, the lawyer argued that the U.S. needed to follow legal steps in Tillery’s extradition.

Then it was reported that Justice Abang Okon of the Federal High Court in Lagos ordered the Federal Government to halt its alleged plan to extradite Tillery from Nigeria to the U.S.

For more on Willbros Group and other individuals involved in related enforcement actions (see here and here).

Thai Authorities Investigating Alliance One / Universal Corp. Bribe Recipients

Earlier this month, the DOJ and SEC announced a joint FCPA enforcement action against tobacco companies Alliance One International Inc. and Universal Corporation. Certain of the allegations against both companies involved bribe payments to “Thai government officials to secure contracts with the Thailand Tobacco Monopoly (TTM), a Thai government agency, for the sale of tobacco leaf.” (See here).

In this prior post, I noted that it is potentially embarrassing for a foreign country to have “one of its own” profiled in a U.S. FCPA enforcement action. With increasing frequency, the end result is that the alleged “foreign official” bribe recipient becomes the subject of an “in-country” investigation.

As noted in this Bangkok Post article:

“A local investigation is expected into US allegations that Thailand Tobacco Monopoly staff accepted US$1.93 million (62 million baht) in bribes to buy Brazilian tobacco. The Department of Special Investigation has asked the Finance Ministry to file a complaint against the TTM staff so it can look into the allegations. DSI director-general Tharit Pengdit told the Bangkok Post yesterday the Finance Ministry, which supervises the state-owned cigarette maker, should file a complaint with the DSI so it can look into the US claims. [...] Sathit Limpongpan, permanent secretary for finance, said his ministry would work with the Justice Ministry to seek information from the US Justice Department and would conduct an initial investigation.”

Corporate Directors Are Satisfied

According to a recent legal survey by Corporate Board Member and FTI Consulting (see here), 90% of directors “are satisfied with their in-house legal department’s management” of FCPA issues.

A good weekend to all.

Holy Smokes

Friday, August 6th, 2010

It’s a Friday in August, but a busy day for FCPA enforcement.

The DOJ and SEC announced today enforcement actions against two major tobacco companies, Universal Corporation, Inc. and Alliance One International, Inc.

“The DOJ filed criminal actions against a Universal subsidiary and two Alliance One subsidiaries charging each of them with one count of conspiring to violate the FCPA and one count of violating the anti-bribery provisions of the FCPA. Universal and Alliance One entered into non-prosecution agreements with the DOJ and agreed to pay criminal penalties of $4,400,000 and $9,450,000, respectively, and retain independent monitors for a period of three years.”

The SEC charged Universal and Alliance One with violating, among other things, the anti-bribery provisions of the FCPA for their “involvement in a multi-million dollar bribery scheme with government officials in Thailand to obtain nearly $30 million in sales contracts to supply tobacco. The SEC also charged Alliance One with paying bribes in Kyrgyzstan and making improper payments in China, Greece, and Indonesia and Universal with making improper payments in Malawi and Mozambique. Moreover, the SEC’s complaints alleged Universal and Alliance One engaged in books and records and internal control violations.”

More analysis to follow next week.

The Other Leaf Drops

Thursday, August 5th, 2010

The other tobacco leaf dropped for Bobby Jay Elkin Jr. this week.

In April (see here), the SEC charged Elkin, and others, with civil FCPA anti-bribery violations for authorizing, directing and making improper payments to various Kyrgyzstan officials in connection with tobacco business in that country.

This week, Elkin pleaded guilty to a one count criminal information charging him with conspiracy to violate the FCPA. The allegations in the information largely mirror the SEC’s allegations in the April enforcement action. See here for the DOJ release, here for the criminal information, and here for the plea agreement.

Elkin was Country Manager for Dimon International Kyrgyzstan (DIK), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Dimon Inc. Dimon and Standard Commercial Corporation merged to form Alliance One International in 2005. Dimon, Standard Commercial and Alliance One are referred to as Companies A, B, and C in the criminal information and DIK is referred to as the Kyrgyz Subsidiary.

According to the information, Elkin conspired and agreed with Dimon, DIK, and others to pay and authorize payment of bribes to “officials of state-owned enterprises and other public officials in Kyrgyzstan in order to secure business for” Dimon and DIK.

The officials included “Kyrgyz Official A,” “the Akims” and the “Kyrgyz Tax Inspection Police.”

According to the information, Kyrgyz Official A served as the “General Director of the Tamekisi” “an agency and instrumentality of the [Kyrgyz] government [established] to manage and control the government-controlled shares of the tobacco processing facilities throughout Kyrgyzstan.” According to the information, the Tamekisi agreed to issue a license to Dimon to process and export tobacco and that from October 1996 through at least February 2004 Elkin and others personally delivered $2.6 million in cash payments on behalf of Dimon and DIK to the official. The information charges that these payments were intended by Elkin and others to “influence acts or decisions” of the official in his official capacity and to secure Dimon’s “continued access to the tobacco processing facilities controlled by the Tamekisi.”

According to the information, an Akim is a head of Kyrgyz local government with “authority over the sale of tobacco by the growers” within a specific municipality or geographic area. The information charges that beginning in 1996 “it became necessary for [DIK and Elkin] to obtain approval from local Akims to purchase tobacco from the growers in each area. According to the information, several of the Akims demanded payment of a “commission” from Elkin “in order to secure the relevant Akim’s approval” for DIK to purchase tobacco from local growers. The information charges that from January 1996 to at least March 2004 Elkin and others personally delivered “numerous cash payments” on behalf of Dimon and DIK “to the Akims of five different municipalities totaling approximately $254,262.” According to the information, “the payments to the Akims were bribes, intended to influence the acts and decisions of the Akims and to secure [DIK's] continued ability to purchase tobacco from growers in the muncipalities controlled by the Akims.”

As to the Kyrgyz Tax Inspection Police, the information charges that “during periodic audits” of DIK, the police assessed penalties and threatened to shut down DIK. According to the information, from March 2000 to March 2003, Elkin and others “made approximately nine cash payments to officers of the Kyrgyz Tax Inspection Police totaling approximately $82,850 in order to influence the acts and decisions” of the police and to secure DIK’s “continued ability to conduct its business in Kyrgyzstan.”

What about Alliance One?

The company stated in its recent annual report (here) that it has reached an agreement in principle with the DOJ and the SEC and that its estimated “probable loss” in an enforcement action will be $19.45 million in disgorgement, fines and penalties.

The tobacco industry is proving to be fertile ground for FCPA enforcement.

See here for what Universal Corporation, a Richmond, Virgina based tobacco producer, had to say about its discussions with the DOJ and SEC as to its previously disclosed FCPA matters.

*****

As portrayed in the DOJ’s criminal information and the SEC’s prior enforcement action, carrying on a tobacco business in Kyrgyzstan appears to have a wild-west component to it.

Extortionate payments, facilitating payments, and payments made to obtain or retain business. These are all points on the same continuum. The first two do not violate the FCPA, payments made to obtain or retain business do.

What does the FCPA’s “obtain or retain business” element mean?

The only circuit court decision on this key FCPA element is U.S. v. Kay, 359 F.3d 738, 740 (5th Cir. 2004). The Fifth Circuit, like the trial court, concluded that the FCPA’s “obtain or retain business” language was ambiguous and it thus analyzed the FCPA’s legislative history.

After reviewing the legislative history, the Fifth Circuit was convinced that Congress intended to prohibit a range of payments wider than only those that directly influence the acquisition or retention of government contracts. The Fifth Circuit held that making payments to a “foreign official” to lower taxes and custom duties in a foreign country can provide an unfair advantage to the payer over competitors and thereby assist the payer in obtaining and retaining business. The court concluded that there was “little difference” between these type of payments and traditional FCPA violations in which a company makes payments to a “foreign official” to influence or induce the official to award a government contract.

However, the Fifth court emphatically stated that not all such payments to a “foreign official” outside the context of directly securing a foreign government contract violate the FCPA; it merely held that such payments “could” violate the FCPA. The court recognized that “there are bound to be circumstances” in which a custom or tax reduction merely increases the profitability of an existing profitable company and thus, presumably, does not assist the payer in obtaining or retaining business.

The court specifically stated:

“…if the government is correct that anytime operating costs are reduced the beneficiary of such advantage is assisted in getting or keeping business, the FCPA’s language that expresses the necessary element of assisting in obtaining or retaining business would be unnecessary, and thus surplusage – a conclusion that we are forbidden to reach.”

Did the payments at issue in the Elkin enforcement action “merely increase the profitability of an existing profitable company.”?

Record Year for Alliance One International Despite Pending $20 Million FCPA Enforcement Action

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

Earlier this week, leaf tobacco merchant Alliance One International Inc., (see here) announced record revenue, gross profit and operating income (see here).

The company also announced (see here at p. 8) that its negotiations with the DOJ and SEC to resolve previously disclosed Foreign Corrupt Practices Act issues “have reached a stage at which an agreement in principle has been reached and we are able to estimate a probable loss in connection with these matters of $19.45 million for any disgorgement, fines and penalties.”

I’ve posted before about the FCPA and reputational damage (see here) and posed the question whether companies that disclose FCPA issues or settle FCPA enforcement actions actually suffer any reputational damage?

For every company like Avon that has its credit downgraded during an FCPA investigation (see here), there seems to be more instances like Alliance One (i.e. a company doing just fine, in some cases really fine, notwithstanding an FCPA investigation or resolution of an FCPA enforcement action).

This raises the question – do customers, potential customers, and investors of an affected company even care if the company discloses FCPA issues or resolves an FCPA enforcement action?

Or, because of how the FCPA has come to be enforced (i.e. enforcement actions based on dubious and untested legal theories, subject to little or no judicial scrutiny, and subject to little or no legal defense by the company because of what that may mean in terms of cooperation) do customers, potential customers and investors of an affected company view the FCPA with a collective yawn?

*****

If Alliance One sounds familiar, you have a good memory.

In April, the SEC resolved an FCPA enforcement action against individuals employed by predecessor companies of Alliance One (see here).

Often times, it is the company that first resolves an FCPA enforcement action that is then followed by (although not in all cases) an enforcement action against culpable employees.

*****

For another tobacco company that also recently announced record earnings as well as a pending FCPA enforcement action (see here) regarding Universal Corporation.