Archive for the ‘Andras Balogh’ Category

Friday Roundup

Friday, July 25th, 2014

The U.K. SFO flexes its pre-Bribery Act muscle in criminally charging an Alstom subsidiary, other scrutiny alerts and updates, nominate, double standard, quotable, and for the reading stack.  It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Alstom

As has been widely reported (see here and here for instance), the U.K. Serious Fraud Office announced:

“Alstom Network UK Ltd, formerly called Alstom International Ltd, a UK subsidiary of Alstom, has been charged with three offences of corruption contrary to section 1 of the Prevention of Corruption Act 1906, as well as three offences of Conspiracy to Corrupt contrary to section 1 of the Criminal Law Act 1977. The alleged offences are said to have taken place between 1 June 2000 and 30 November 2006 and concern large transport projects in India, Poland and Tunisia.”

According to the release, “the SFO investigation commenced as a result of information provided to the SFO by the Office of the Attorney General in Switzerland concerning the Alstom Group, in particular Alstom Network UK Ltd.”

I inquired with the SFO press office regarding any original source charging documents and was informed as follows.  ”Beyond our press release today, the nearest date for documents likely to be made available would be the charge sheet at the first court hearing – presently arranged for 9 September, at Westminster Magistrates’ Court.”

As readers likely know, since April 2013 the DOJ has charged four individuals associated with Alstom Power Inc., a subsidiary of Alstom, in connection with an alleged bribery scheme involving the Tarahan coal-fired steam power plant project in Indonesia. (See more below for a recent guilty plea).

As was the case in the U.S. – U.K. enforcement action against BAE (see here for the prior post) there may have been and/or currently is turf war issues between the agencies as to which agency is going to prosecute alleged conduct occurring in various countries.

Speaking of the DOJ action against various individuals associated with Alstom Power, last week, the DOJ announced that William Pomponi, a former vice president of regional sales at Alstom Power, pleaded guilty to a criminal information charging him with conspiracy to violate the FCPA in connection with the awarding of the Tarahan power project in Indonesia.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell stated:

“The Criminal Division of the Department of Justice will follow evidence of corruption wherever it leads, including into corporate boardrooms and corner offices.  As this case demonstrates, we will hold both companies and their executives responsible for criminal conduct.”

As noted in the DOJ release:

“Pomponi is the fourth defendant to plead guilty to charges stemming from this investigation.   Frederic Pierucci, the vice president of global boiler sales at Alstom, pleaded guilty on July 29, 2013, to one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA and one count of violating the FCPA; and, David Rothschild, a former vice president of regional sales at Alstom Power Inc., pleaded guilty to conspiring to violate the FCPA on Nov. 2, 2012.  Marubeni Corporation, Alstom’s consortium partner on the Tarahan project, pleaded guilty on March 19, 2014, to one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA and seven counts of violating the FCPA, and was sentenced to pay a criminal fine of $88 million.   FCPA and money laundering charges remain pending against Lawrence Hoskins, the former senior vice president for the Asia region for Alstom, and trial is scheduled for June 2, 2015.”

See here for the original post highlighting the enforcement action against the individuals associated with Alstom and here for the original post regarding the Marubeni enforcement action.

Scrutiny Alerts and Updates

SEC Enforcement Action Against Former Magyar Telekom Executives

From Law360:

“The SEC has slimmed down its FCPA case against three former Magyar Telekom PLC executives, dropping claims they bribed government officials in Montenegro, according to a new complaint …  The amended complaint alleged former Magyar CEO Elek Straub and two other former executives, Andras Balogh and Tamas Morvai, authorized bribe payments to government officials in the Republic of Macedonia in exchange for regulations designed to hurt a competitor. The SEC, in its initial complaint in December 2011, had also alleged the defendants engaged in a second bribery scheme in Montenegro.  The agency said in a July 14 court filing that it would “continue to pursue the same legal causes of action alleged in its original complaint,” but without the claims related to Montenegro.  The SEC previously advised the court and defense attorneys in January 2014 of its intention to narrow the suit.”

Interesting, isn’t it, what happens when the SEC is put to its burden of proof.

Kowalewski Pleads Guilty

The DOJ announced:

“Bernd Kowalewski, the former President and CEO of BizJet, pleaded guilty … to conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and a substantive violation of the FCPA in connection with a scheme to pay bribes to officials in Mexico and Panama in exchange for those officials’ assistance in securing contracts for BizJet to perform aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul services.”

Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell stated:

“The former CEO of BizJet, Bernd Kowalewski, has become the third and most senior Bizjet executive to plead guilty to bribing officials in Mexico and Panama to get contracts for aircraft services.  While Kowalewski and his fellow executives referred to the corrupt payments as ‘commissions’ and ‘incentives,’ they were bribes, plain and simple.  Though he was living abroad when the charges were unsealed, the reach of the law extends beyond U.S. borders, resulting in Kowalewski’s arrest in Amsterdam and his appearance in court today in the United States.  Today’s guilty plea is an example of our continued determination to hold corporate executives responsible for criminal wrongdoing whenever the evidence allows.”

U.S. Attorney Danny Williams (N.D. Okla.) stated:

“I commend the investigators and prosecutors who worked together across borders and jurisdictions to vigorously enforce the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Partnership is a necessity in all investigations. By forging and strengthening international partnerships to combat bribery, the Department of Justice is advancing its efforts to prevent crime and to protect citizens.”

See here and here for posts regarding the 2012 DOJ enforcement action against BizJet and here and here for the 2013 DOJ enforcement action against Kowalewski and others associated with BizJet.

Cilins Sentenced

As noted in this prior post, in April 2013 the DOJ announced (here) that “Frederic Cilins a French citizen, has been arrested and accused of attempting to obstruct an ongoing investigation into whether a mining company paid bribes to win lucrative mining rights in the Republic of Guinea.”  The Criminal Complaint charged Cilins with one count of tampering with a witness, victim, or informant; one count of obstruction of a criminal investigation; and one count of destruction, alteration, and falsification of records in a federal investigation.  Cilins was linked to Guernsey-based BSG Resources Ltd and in March 2014 the DOJ announced that Cilins pleaded guilty “to obstructing a federal criminal investigation into whether a mining company paid bribes to win lucrative mining rights in the Republic of Guinea.”  (See this prior post).

Last week, the DOJ announced that Cilins was sentenced to 24 months in prison.  In the DOJ release, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said:

“Frederic Cilins went to great lengths to thwart a Manhattan federal grand jury’s investigation into an alleged bribery scheme in the Republic of Guinea. In an effort to prevent the federal authorities from learning the truth, Cilins paid a witness for her silence and to destroy key documents. Today, Cilins learned that no one can manipulate justice.”

Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell said:

“Cilins offered to bribe a witness in an FCPA investigation to stop the witness from talking to the FBI. Today’s sentence holds Cilins accountable for his effort to undermine the integrity of our justice system, and sends a message that those who interfere with federal investigations will be prosecuted and sent to prison.”

FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge George Venizelos said:

“Cilins obstructed the efforts of the FBI during the course of this investigation. His guilty plea and sentence demonstrate our shared commitment with the U.S. Attorney’s Office to hold accountable those who seek to interfere with the administration of justice. This case should be a reminder to all those who try to circumvent the efforts of a law enforcement investigation: the original crime and the cover-up both lend themselves to prosecution.”

According to the release, Cilins was also ordered to pay a fine of $75,000 and to forfeit $20,000.

GSK

From Reuters:

“GlaxoSmithKline faces new allegations of corruption, this time in Syria, where the drugmaker and its distributor have been accused of paying bribes to secure business, according to a whistleblower’s email reviewed by Reuters. Britain’s biggest drugmaker said on Thursday it was investigating the latest claims dating back to 2010, which were laid out in the email received by the company on July 18. The allegations relate to its former consumer healthcare operations in Syria, which were closed down in 2012 due to the worsening civil war in the country.  [...]  GSK has been rocked by corruption allegations since last July, when Chinese authorities accused it of funneling up to 3 billion yuan ($480 million) to doctors and officials to encourage them to use its medicines. The former British boss of the drugmaker’s China business was accused in May of being behind those bribes.  Since then, smaller-scale bribery claims have surfaced in other countries and GSK is now investigating possible staff misconduct in Poland, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon. Syria is the sixth country to be added to the list. The allegations there center on the company’s consumer business, including its popular painkiller Panadol and oral care products. Although rules governing the promotion of non-prescription products are not as strict as for prescription medicines, the email from a person familiar with GSK’s Syrian operations said alleged bribes in the form of cash, speakers’ fees, trips and free samples were in breach of corruption laws. The detailed 5,000-word document, addressed to Chief Executive Andrew Witty and Judy Lewent, chair of GSK’s audit committee, said incentives were paid to doctors, dentists, pharmacists and government officials to win tenders and to obtain improper business advantages.”

Separately, this Reuters article states that the U.K. SFO  ”is working with authorities in China in a first for such Anglo-Chinese cooperation as it carries out its own investigation into alleged corruption at GSK.”  The article quotes SFO Director David Green as follows:  ”Certainly, so far as I am aware it is the first time we have had cooperation with the Chinese on an SFO case.”

Separately, in the U.S. this Wall Street Journal article states:

“Federal Bureau of Investigation agents have been interviewing current and former GSK employees in connection with bribery allegations made against the drug maker in China, according to a person familiar with the matter, as fresh claims of corruption surfaced against Glaxo’s operations in Syria. The interviews have taken place in Washington, D.C., in the past few months and are part of a Justice Department investigation into GSK’s activities in China, the person added. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission also is investigating the company’s business in China, according to people familiar with the matter.”

Key Energy Services

The company stated as follows in its Second Quarter 2014 Update and Earnings Release.

“Pre-tax expenses of approximately $5 million were incurred in connection with the previously disclosed Foreign Corrupt Practices Act investigations.”

Nominate

If FCPA Professor adds value to your practice or business or otherwise enlightens your day and causes you to contemplate the issues in a more sophisticated way, please consider nominating FCPA Professor for the ABA Journal’s Blawg 100 list (see here).

Double Standard

Beginning in 2009, I began writing about the “double standard” and how – despite the similarities between the FCPA and 18 USC 201 (the domestic bribery statute) – a U.S. company’s interaction with a “foreign official” is subject to more scrutiny and different standards than interaction with a U.S. official.  Since 2009, approximately 30 posts have appeared under the “double standard” subject matter tag.

Against this backdrop, I was happy to see another individual tackle the same general topic.  See here from the Global AntiCorruption Blog – “Is U.S. Campaign Finance Law More Permissive of Corruption Than the FCPA?”

Quotable

In this Corporate Crime Reporter interview, former U.S. Attorney Neil MacBride (E.D. Va.) says the following regarding the use of non-prosecution and deferred prosecution agreements:  “The Department now has the ability to reach more ambiguous conduct where it might be more difficult to prove a criminal conviction in court.”

Wait a minute!

If the conduct is ambiguous and the DOJ would have a difficult time to prove a criminal conviction in court, there should be no non-prosecution or deferred prosecution agreement.  Period.  End of story. The rule of law commands such a result.

Reading Stack

Over at the FCPA Compliance & Ethics blog, Tom Fox recently published a three-part series on M&A issues and the FCPA.  See Part I, Part II, and Part III.

Sherman & Sterling’s mid-year FCPA Digest, including its “Trends and Patterns” is here.  Among the trends and patterns:

“Recent paper victories by the SEC could be perceived as setbacks in the Commission’s actions against
individual defendants; and

The SEC has continued its practice of pursuing its theory of strict liability against a parent corporation
for the acts of its corporate subsidiaries.”

Kudos to Sherman & Sterling for adopting the “core” approach to keeping FCPA statistics.  (See here for the prior post regarding my suggested “core” approach).  The Digest states:

“We count all actions against a corporate “family” as one action. Thus, if the DOJ  charges a subsidiary and the SEC charges a  parent issuer, that counts as one action. In  addition, we count as a “case” both filed  enforcement actions (pleas, deferred prosecution agreements, and complaints)  and other resolutions such as  non-prosecution agreements that include  enforcement-type aspects, such as financial  penalties, tolling of the statute of  limitations, and compliance requirements.”

The most recent edition of Miller & Chevalier’s FCPA Update is here.  Debevoise & Plimpton’s always informative FCPA Update is here and Mayer Brown’s FCPA mid-year update is here.

Warning, the enforcement statistics cited in certain of the above updates will cause confusion because they do not adopt the “core” approach.

*****

A good weekend to all.

Friday Roundup

Friday, March 14th, 2014

Guilty plea in FCPA obstruction case, SEC trims a pending case, across the pond, turnabout is fair play, and for the reading stack.  It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Cilins Pleads Guilty

Earlier this week, the DOJ announced that Frederic Cilins pleaded guilty “to obstructing a federal criminal investigation into whether a mining company paid bribes to win lucrative mining rights in the Republic of Guinea.”  The DOJ release further states:

“Cilins pleaded guilty to a one-count superseding information …, which alleges that Cilins agreed to pay money to induce a witness to destroy, or provide to him for destruction, documents sought by the FBI.   According to the superseding information, those documents related to allegations concerning the payment of bribes to obtain mining concessions in the Simandou region of the Republic of Guinea.”

Cilins was originally charged in April 2013 (see this prior post for a summary of the criminal complaint) and there was much activity leading up to Cilins’s March 31st trial date.  For instance, on February 18th the DOJ filed a superseding indictment and on March 4th Cilins filed this motion to dismiss.  In pertinent part, the motion stated:

“For almost a year, the government has proceeded against Mr. Cilins under the theory that he criminally obstructed an investigation conducted by a federal grand jury in the Southern District of New York and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, after he first learned of that investigation in the spring of 2013. Now, on the eve of trial, the government has charged Mr. Cilins with conspiracy to commit criminal obstruction. The supposed conspiracy began in 2012, when, as the government admits, he had no intent to obstruct an American investigation—indeed, well before any such investigation had even been contemplated. The charge is instead based on a radical new theory: that Mr. Cilins interfered with a Guinean civil licensing investigation, which somehow amounts to a violation of U.S. obstruction law under 18 U.S.C. § 1519.

The government’s unprecedented and breathtaking attempt to federalize protection for investigations spread far and wide throughout the world has no basis in the text of the obstruction statute itself and no support in the case law. It also runs up against the well-established presumption that, absent strong evidence to the contrary, Congress did not intend to give federal statutes extraterritorial reach. Not only does § 1519 contain no textual evidence that Congress meant to give the law a worldwide sweep, the statute’s legislative history also confirms the obvious: that Congress wrote a federal obstruction statute in order to criminalize intentional interference with American investigations. The government’s new conspiracy count is fatally defective and must be dismissed.”

Cilins has been widely reported to be linked to Guernsey-based BSG Resources Ltd.  As reported here from 100 Reporters:

“The U.S. Justice Department has formally notified the Franco-Israeli billionaire Beny Steinmetz [the founder of BSG Resources] that he is the target of a federal probe of allegations of bribery in the Republic of Guinea, according to a source with knowledge of the matter. The disclosure places Steinmetz … personally at the center of a broad-based multinational corruption investigation involving some of the largest remaining untapped iron ore deposits in the world.  [...] According to the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, attorneys for Steinmetz have received a so-called “target letter” from federal prosecutors investigating allegations that Steinmetz’s mining company offered millions of dollars in bribes to win and keep the multi-billion dollar concession first awarded by the Guinean government in 2008.  The letter went to Steinmetz’s lawyers in January, the source said.”

For additional coverage of Cilins’s plea, see here from Reuters (noting that the plea agreement does not require any cooperation with the government’s investigation) and here from Bloomberg.

SEC Trims a Pending Case

This recent post highlighted how the SEC has never prevailed in an FCPA enforcement action when put to its ultimate burden of proof.

Against this backdrop, it is notable, as reported by the Wall Street Journal here and citing an SEC official, that the SEC is dropping its claims that former Magyar Telekom executives Elek Straub, Andras Balogh and Tomas Morval bribed Montenegro officials.  (The SEC’s claims that the former executives bribed Macedonian officials remains active).

See this prior post summarizing the SEC’s original 2011 complaint.

Across the Pond

More from the U.K. trial of former News Corp. executive Rebekah Brooks.  From the Guardian:

“Rebekah Brooks has admitted rubber stamping payments to military sources while she was editor at the Sun at the Old Bailey phone hacking trial. Brooks also admitted on Monday that she did not question whether the source of a series of stories that came from a reporter’s “ace military source” was a public official who could not be paid without the law being broken. Crown prosecutor Andrew Edis, QC, quizzed her about a series of emails from the reporter requesting tens of thousands of pounds for his military source. She responded to one request for payment in under a minute and to another within two minutes, the phone hacking trial heard. ”You really were just acting as a rubber stamp weren’t you,” Edis asked. Brooks replied: “Yes.”

As noted in previous posts here and here:

“What happens in these trials concerning the bribery offenses will not determine the outcome of any potential News Corp. FCPA enforcement action. But you can bet that the DOJ and SEC will be interested in the ultimate outcome. In short, if there is a judicial finding that Brooks and/or Coulson or other high-level executives in London authorized or otherwise knew of the alleged improper payments, this will likely be a factor in how the DOJ and SEC ultimately resolve any potential enforcement action and how News Corp.’s overall culpability score may be calculated under the advisory Sentencing Guidelines.”

Turnabout Is Fair Play

Last week’s Friday Roundup (here) highlighted how Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) called out Koch Industries on the Senate floor and accused the company of violating the FCPA.  The previous post noted that it was not just executives or companies that support Republican causes that have come under FCPA scrutiny (several Democratic examples could be cited as well).

Indeed, that is just what the Washington Examiner did in this article which states as follows.

“Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has received campaign contributions from people and political action committees linked to multiple companies suspected of violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.  [...]  [R]ecords reveal that Reid has accepted campaign money from individuals and political action committees associated with 10 companies linked to FCPA investigations.  The contributions total $515,100 between 2009 and 2013.”

The inference from both Senator Reid’s initial volley and the Washington Examiner report would seem to be that companies that resolve FCPA enforcement actions or companies under FCPA scrutiny are bad or unethical companies and that politicians who accept support from such companies are thus tainted as well.

Such an inference is naive in the extreme.

Yes, certain FCPA enforcement actions are based on allegations that executive management or the board was involved in or condoned the improper conduct at issue. However, this type of FCPA enforcement action is not typical.

A typical FCPA enforcement action involves allegations that a small group of people (or perhaps even a single individual) within a subsidiary or business unit of a business organization engaged in conduct in violation of the FCPA. Yet because of respondeat superior principles, the company is exposed to FCPA liability even if the employee’s conduct is contrary to the company’s pre-existing FCPA policies and procedures.

Also relevant to the question of whether companies that resolve FCPA enforcement actions are “bad” or “unethical” is the fact that most FCPA enforcement actions are based on the conduct of third-parties under the FCPA’s third-party payment provisions. Further, certain FCPA enforcement actions are based on successor liability theories whereby an acquiring company is held liable for the acquired company’s FCPA liability.

Finally, given the resolution vehicles typically used to resolve an FCPA enforcement – such as non-prosecution and deferred prosecution agreements – companies subject to FCPA scrutiny often decide it is quicker, more cost efficient, and more certain to agree to such a resolution vehicle than engage in long-protracted litigation with the DOJ or SEC. These resolution vehicles do not require the company to plead guilty to anything (or typically admit the allegations in the SEC context), are not subject to meaningful judicial scrutiny, and do not necessarily represent the triumph of one party’s legal position over the other. Rather resolution via such a vehicle often reflects a risk-based decision often grounded in issues other than facts or the law. Indeed, a former high-ranking DOJ FCPA enforcement official has stated that given the availability of such alternative resolution vehicles, “it is tempting for the [DOJ], or the SEC since it too now has these options available, to seek to resolve cases through DPAs or NPAs that don’t actually constitute violations of the law.”

Last, but certainly not least, many corporate FCPA enforcement actions concern conduct that allegedly took place 5, 7, 10 or even 15 years ago.

Reading Stack

An informative read from Catherine Palmer and Daiske Yoshida (Latham & Watkins) titled “Deemed Public Officials:  A Potential Risk For U.S. Companies in Japan.”  The article states:

“Deemed public officials are officers and employees of entities that are not government owned but serve public functions. This concept is somewhat analogous to state-owned enterprises, but rather than being government owned/controlled entities that participate in commercial activities, these are commercial entities that play quasi-government roles.  [...] The statutes that authorized the establishment of these companies stipulate that their officers and  employees are “deemed to be an employee engaged in public service” for the purposes of the Penal Code of Japan.”

Another informative read from Wendy Wysong (Clifford Chance) titled “Why, Whether, and When the FCPA Matters in Capital Market Transactions: The Asian Perspective.”  The article, in part, covers the FCPA’s tricky “issuer” concept and explores FCPA liability in Rule 144A and Regulation S offerings.

*****

A good weekend to all.

Request For Interlocutory Appeal Denied In Former Magyar Telekom Executive Case

Thursday, August 8th, 2013

This previous post highlighted the February 2013 decision by U.S. District Court Judge Richard Sullivan (S.D.N.Y.) in SEC v. Elek Straub, Andras Balogh and Tamas Morvai.  Judge Sullivan denied the defendants’ (former executives of Magyar Telekom) pre-trial motion to dismiss and his ruling principally focused on general personal jurisdiction issues, the FCPA’s specific jurisdictional element and statute of limitation issues.

As noted in this previous post, defendants soon thereafter moved to certify Judge Sullivan’s order for interlocutory appeal to the Second Circuit.  In pertinent part, the motion stated:

“The defendants respectfully submit that there is substantial ground for difference of opinion regarding the following three questions that lie at the  heart of the Order:  (i) whether the Court may exercise personal jurisdiction over the defendants; (ii) whether the SEC’s actions is barred by the applicable statute of limitations; and (iii) whether the SEC has adequately pled the use of an instrumentality of interstate commerce.”

Earlier this week, Judge Sullivan denied the defendants’ request for interlocutory appeal.

Judge Sullivan began by setting forth the legal standard for an interlocutory appeal:

“Litigants are generally required to wait for a final judgment before they may appeal. However, a district court may certify an immediate appeal of an interlocutory order if the court finds that the order (1) ‘involves a controlling question of law’ (2) ‘as to which there is substantial ground for difference of opinion’ and (3) ‘that an immediate appeal from the order  may materially advance the ultimate termination of the litigation.’ [...]  District court judges have broad  discretion to deny certification even where the statutory criteria are met. [...]  [An] interlocutory appeal is ‘a rare exception where, in the discretion of the district judge, it ‘may avoid protracted litigation.’  Consequently, ‘federal practice strongly disfavors discretionary interlocutory appeals [as they] prolong judicial proceedings, add delay and expense to litigants, burden appellate courts, and present issues for decisions on uncertain and incomplete records, tending to weaken the precedential value of judicial opinions.’”

As to the three issues presented, Judge Sullivan concluded that the applicable legal standards were not met.

Judge Sullivan also distinguished his opinion from a similar decision (here) in the S.D.N.Y. by Judge Shira Scheindlin granting Herbert Steffen’s motion to dismiss the SEC’s FCPA complaint based on general jurisdiction grounds.

Judge Sullivan stated as follows.

“Defendants also make much of the fact that, just weeks after the Court’s Order, Judge Scheindlin granted a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction over a defendant allegedly engaged in covering up a bribery scheme.  However, the Court does not find any tension between the decision in [Steffen]  and its Order. In [Steffen] Judge Scheindlin acknowledged that ‘there is ample (and growing) support in case law for the exercise of jurisdiction over individuals who played a role in falsifying or manipulating financial statements relied upon by U.S. investors in order to cover up illegal actions directed entirely at a foreign jurisdiction.’   In finding personal jurisdiction to be lacking, Judge Scheindlin did not buck this trend, but rather found the facts before her to be distinguishable from these other cases. As Judge Scheindlin explained, the defendants in the Straub case ‘orchestrated a bribery scheme aimed at the Macedonian government, and as part of the bribery scheme signed off on misleading management representations to the company’s auditors and signed false SEC filings. By contrast, in [Steffen] ‘the SEC did not allege that the defendant directed, ordered or even had awareness of the cover ups that occurred at [the company] much less that he had any involvement in the falsification of SEC filings in furtherance of those cover ups. Nor is it alleged that his position as Group President of [the company] would have made him aware of, let alone involved in falsification of these filings.’  Thus, the situation presented in [Steffen], where the defendant had taken no action with any connection to the United States, is unlike this case and the others cited in the Order. Accordingly, the [Steffen] decision does not provide any reason to find that there is a difference of opinion as to whether personal jurisdiction exists in this case, let alone create ‘substantial doubt’ that the Court’s Order is correct. Moreover, Defendants do not identify any other authority that is inconsistent with the Order.”

Former Magyar Telekom Executives Seek Second Circuit Review Of Recent Ruling

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

On the heels of Judge Richard Sullivan’s February 8th pre-trial order denying their motion to dismiss (see here for the prior post), former Magyar Telekom executives Elek Straub, Andras Balogh and Tamas Morvai have moved to certify Judge Sullivan’s order for interlocutory appeal to the Second Circuit.

Last week’s filing (here) states, in pertinent part, as follows (internal citations omitted).

“To satisfy the statutory prerequisites to certification [... the defendants] must show that there is substantial ground for difference of opinion on the issues presented.

“The defendants respectfully submit that there is substantial ground for difference of opinion regarding the following three questions that lie at the heart of the Order:  (i) whether the Court may exercise personal jurisdiction over the defendants; (ii) whether the SEC’s actions is barred by the applicable statute of limitations; and (iii) whether the SEC has adequately pled the use of an instrumentality of interstate commerce.  As explained more fully below, immediate appellate consideration of these questions is warranted in view of the overwhelming cost in time and money of proceeding to full-blown merits discovery and trial in this case.  As the parties have already informed the Court by letter and proposed scheduling order dated October 3, 2012, merits discovery is expected to last approximately thirty months and will require teams of lawyers to traverse thousands of miles, review millions of documents in foreign languages, depose scores of foreign witnesses in foreign languages and in multiple countries, and negotiate the complexities of foreign law – all with the Court’s frequent oversight and assistance with regard to the Hague Convention process for gathering evidence abroad and related matters.  The extraordinary resources needed to develop a complete factual record and bring this case to trial, which would include many millions of dollars to finance the defense of the case and the SEC’s prosecution of it, will be wasted if the Second Circuit reverses any part of the Order after trial, and would thus render unreasonable requiring these Hungarian defendants to travel thousands of miles from their homes to defend themselves.  The defendants respectfully submit that the questions presented here for certification, coupled with the huge resource outlay contemplated already by both sides if merits discovery should proceed, make this case ripe for early albeit limited appellate review.  This case is simply not a run-of-the-mill piece of litigation.

With regard to the first question presented of personal jurisdiction, prior to the Order no court had ever held that personal jurisdiction may be asserted in an FCPA action over foreign defendants whose sole contact with the United States involved signing allegedly false management certifications and sub-certifications, which the complaint fails to allege even reached or had any impact in the United States.  Absent a clear directive from Second Circuit or Supreme Court precedent, the caution that attends application of the Constitutional ‘minimum contacts’ standard in the international context in evaluating a foreign national defendant’s motion to dismiss on jurisdictional grounds - acknowledged most recently by another judge of this Court in SEC v. Sharef - should militate against an unprecedented broadening of the reach of United States courts.  Furthermore, relying on the defendants’ alleged preparation of either non-alleged or unfiled SEC filings to anchor the assertion of jurisdiction over them specifically as to the bribery counts in the complaint – which the SEC conceded at oral argument have ‘little, if any, connection to the United States,’ strayed from the obligation to evaluate personal jurisdiction on a per-claim basis.  Second, turning to the timeliness question, the Order represents the first modern interpretation and application of 28 USC 2462 to foreign defendants who are not found within the United States during the pertinent five-year period but who are nevertheless readily served.  Despite the Order’s ‘plain language’ analysis, the text and legislative history of the statute are ambiguous and there is a dearth of controlling authority on point, causing reasonable minds to disagree about the statute’s meaning.  It seems doubtful that Congress intended to toll the statute indefinitely for defendants residing outside the United States who can be readily served, as the SEC contends, and comparable authority suggests an outcome different from that reached in the Order.  Third, as the Court itself recognized, whether the use of an instrumentality of interstate commerce includes an intent or even some knowledge element is an issue of first impression in the FCPA context for which the text of the statute offers inadequate guidance.”

*****

A footnote in the above brief indicates that the SEC intends to oppose the motion for interlocutory appeal.

The case cite, SEC v. Sharef, refers to Judge Shira Scheindlin’s February 19th decision in the SEC’s enforcement against Herbert Steffen (a former Siemens executive).  See here for the prior post.

Motion To Dismiss Denied In Former Magyar Telekom Exec’s Case

Monday, February 11th, 2013

This previous post discussed the SEC’s December 2011 Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement action against former Magyar Telekom executives Elek Straub, Andras Balogh and Tamas Morvai (“Defendants”).  Magyar Telekom is a Hungarian telecommunications company that had shares listed on the New York Stock Exchange and previously resolved a joint DOJ/SEC enforcement action in December 2011.  (See here for the previous post).

Previous posts here, here and here discussed briefing on the Defendants’ motion to dismiss.  In sum, the foreign national defendants moved to dismiss the SEC’s complaint (alleging the Defendants’ role in a bribery scheme in Macedonia) on three principal grounds:  (1) the court lacked personal jurisdiction over them; (2) the SEC’s claims were time-barred; and (3) the complaint failed to state claims for certain of its causes of action.

Last Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Sullivan (S.D.N.Y.) denied defendants’ motion in its entirety.  (See here for the memorandum and order).  This post summarizes and analyzes Judge Sullivan’s decision.

While obviously important to the case, Judge Sullivan’s personal jurisdiction conclusion is case-specific and the least important conclusion from the standpoint of FCPA case law.  (Whether a court can exercise personal jurisdiction over a specific defendant is a separate and distinct question from whether the jurisdictional element of an FCPA anti-bribery violation has been met – an issue also discussed in Judge Sullivan’s opinion).

Even though Judge Sullivan’s decision is a non-binding trial court decision, the two most important aspects of his decision concern statute of limitations and the jurisdictional element of an FCPA anti-bribery violation.

As to statute of limitations, Judge Sullivan seemed to understand the logic of the Defendants’ positions, yet exhibited judicial restraint in concluding that the plain language of the applicable statute of limitations compelled the conclusion that the limitations period did not begin to run because the foreign national defendants were not physicially present in the U.S.  In the words of Judge Sullivan, “it is not for this Court to second-guess Congress and amend” a statute.

As to the jurisdictional element of an FCPA anti-bribery violation, Judge Sullivan found the jurisdictional element of 78dd-1 (use of the “mails or any means or instrumentality of interstate commerce”) to be ambiguous and he thus consulted legislative history.  In reviewing the legislative history, Judge Sullivan concluded that the corrupt intent element of the FCPA did not apply to the jurisdictional component of the FCPA.  Accordingly, Judge Sullivan concluded that e-mails routed through and/or stored on network servers located within the U.S. are sufficient to plead the jurisdictional element of an FCPA anti-bribery violation even if the defendant did not personally know where his e-mails would be routed and/or stored.

Judge Sullivan’s conclusions on the above two issues are all the more notable given that similar issues are also presented in the current challenge pending – also in the S.D.N.Y. -  by former Siemens executive Herbert Steffen.  (See here for a prior post with links to the briefing).

The remainder of this post summarizes Judge Sullivan’s decision.  [Note, internal citiations from the opinion are omitted].

Personal Jurisdiction

After setting forth the allegations in the SEC’s complaint and the procedural history of the case, Judge Sullivan’s decision begins with personal jurisdiction issues.

Judge Sullivan began by stating the pleading standard on a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction – that the SEC bears the burden of establishing that the court has jurisdiction over the defendants which can be met by pleading in good faith legally sufficient allegations of jurisdiction.

Judged against the due process standards of “minimum contacts” and “reasonableness,” Judge Sullivan concluded that the SEC established that defendants have minimum contacts with the United States and that the exercise of personal jurisdiction over the defendants would not be unreasonable.  Accordingly, Judge Sullivan concluded that “the SEC has met its burden at this stage of establishing a prima facie case of personal jurisdiction over defendants.”

As to “minimum contacts” Judge Sullivan stated as follows.

“[T]he Defendants here allegedly engaged in conduct that was designed to violate United States securities regulations and was thus necessarily directed toward the United States, even if not principally directed there.  [...] [D]uring and before the time of the alleged violations, both Magyar’s and Deutsche Telekom’s securities were publicly traded through ADRs listed on the NYSE and were registered with the SEC [...]  Because these companies made regular quarterly and annual consolidated filings during that time, Defendants knew or had reason to know that any false or misleading financial reports would be given to prospective American purchasers of those securities.”

“Indeed, during the period of the alleged violations, Straub allegedly signed false management representation letters to Magyar’s auditors, and Balogh and Morvai signed allegedly false management subrepresentation letters for quarterly and annual reporting periods in 2005.  Therefore, it is not only that Magyar traded securities through ADRs listed on the NYSE that satisfies the minimum contacts standard but also that Defendants allegedly engaged in a cover-up through their statements to Magyar’s auditors knowing that the company traded ADRs on an American exchange, and that prospective purchasers would likely be influenced by any false financial statements and filings.  The court thus has little trouble inferring from the SEC’s detailed allegations that, even if Defendants’ alleged primary intent was not to cause a tangible injury in the United States, it was nonetheless their intent, which is sufficient to confer jurisdiction.”

In discussing ”minimum contacts” Judge Sullivan rejected Defendants’ assertion that their contact must “proximately cause” a  ”substantial injury” in the forum.

As to Defendants’ argument that, should the Court exercise jurisdiction over them, “it would automatically imply that ‘any individual director, officer, or employee of an issuer in any FCPA case’ would also be subject to personal jurisdiction,” Judge Sullivan called Defendants’ concerns “overblown” and stated as follows.

 ”In holding that Defendants have met their burden of demonstrating a prima facie case for jurisdiction at this early stage, the Court does not create a per se rule regarding employees of an issuer but rather bases its decision on a fact-based inquiry – namely, an analysis of the SEC’s specific allegations regarding the Defendants’ bribery scheme, Defendants’ falsification of Magyar’s books and records, and Defendants’ personal involvement in making representations and subrepresentations with respect to and in anticipation of Magyar’s SEC filings. Although Defendants’ alleged bribes may have taken place outside of the United States (as is typically true in cases brought under the FCPA), their concealment of those bribes, in conjunction with Magyar’s SEC filings, was allegedly directed toward the United States.”

[...]

“Accordingly, the Court finds that the SEC has established a prima facie case that Defendants had the requisite minimum contacts with the United States to support personal jurisdiction.”

As to the “reasonableness” prong of the due process analysis, Judge Sullivan cited other authority for the proposition that “the reasonableness inquiry is largely academic in non-diversity cases brought under federal law which provides for nationwide service of process because of the strong federal interests involved.”

Judge Sullivan then stated as follows.

“Like each and every court in this Circuit to have applied the reasonableness standard after determining that a given defendant has the requisite minimum contacts, this Court finds that this is not the rare case where the reasonableness analysis defeats the exercise of personal jurisdiction. Although it might not be convenient for Defendants to defend this action in the United States, Defendants have not made a particular showing that the burden on them would be “severe” or “gravely difficult.” Indeed, as the SEC rightly notes, unlike in a private diversity action, here there is no alternative forum available for the government. Thus, if the SEC could not enforce the FCPA against Defendants in federal courts in the United States, Defendants could potentially evade liability altogether. Additionally, because this case was brought under federal law, the judicial system has a strong federal interest in resolving this issue here. The Court therefore finds that the exercise of personal jurisdiction over Defendants is not unreasonable.”

Statute of Limitations

Judge Sullivan began by setting forth the applicable limitations period found in 28 USC 2462.

“Except as otherwise provided by Act of Congress, an action, suit or proceeding for the enforcement of any civil fine, penalty, or forfeiture, pecuniary or otherwise, shall not be entertained unless commenced from the date when the claim first accrued if, within the same period, the offender or the property is found within the United States in order that proper service be made thereon.” (emphasis added).

Judge Sullivan began by noting that it was “undisputed that more than five years have elapsed since the SEC’s claims first accrued” but that the parties disagreed as to the plain meaning of section 2642 and, given that Defendants were not physically located within the United States during the limitations period, whether the statute of limitations has run on the SEC’s claims.

Judge Sullivan stated as follows.  “The SEC argues that the statute of limitations has not run because the statute applies only ‘if within the same period, the offender … is found within the United States.  Thus, according to the SEC, because Defendants were not ‘found’ in this country at any point during the limitations period in question, the Court’s inquiry should end.  The Court agrees.”

Judge Sullivan stated as follows.

“Here, the operative language in § 2462 requires, by its plain terms, that an offender must be physically present in the United States for the statute of limitations to run. In arguing otherwise, Defendants essentially seek to amend the statute to run against a defendant if he is either ‘found within the United States’ or subject to service of process elsewhere by some alternative means. Such a reading would be a dramatic restatement of the statutory language and would render the clause “if . . . found within the United States’ mere surplusage.”

“Additionally, reading the statute to require a defendant’s physical presence in the United States is not inconsistent with § 2462’s statement of purpose, as was originally understood.”

Referring to the precursor to § 2642 passed in the 1790′s, and referencing when Congress added the specific language in 1839 and through subsequent re-codifications, Judge Sullivan acknowledged “that it might now be possible, through the Hague Service Convention or otherwise to serve defendants who are not found in the United States.”  However, he stated as follows.

“[This] does not change the fact that Congress has maintained the statutory carve out for defendants not found within the United States.  Indeed, although the purpose underlying the carve-out may no longer be as compelling as it might have once been in light of the possibilities opened by worldwide service of process, it is not for this Court to second-guess Congress and amend the statute on its own.  Accordingly, the Court finds that the statute of limitations within § 2462 has not run on the SEC’s claims.”

In addition to the above jurisdiction and statute of limitations challenges, the Defendants also argued that the SEC’s complaint should be dismissed for failure to state a claim as to:  (i) whether the complaint adequately alleged that Defendants made use of U.S. interstate commerce; (ii) whether the complaint adequately alleged the involvement of “foreign officials”; and (iii) claims pursuant to Exchange Act Rule 13b2-2 concerning misleading statements to auditors.

Jurisdictional Element of an FCPA Anti-Bribery Violation

Judge Sullivan began by noting that the complaint alleges that “Balogh used e-mails in furtherance of the bribe scheme by attaching [various documents] all of which were the alleged means by which Defendants concealed the true nature of the payments offered to the Macedonian government officials” and “that the e-mails were sent from locations outside the United States but were routed through and/or stored on network services located within the United States.”

As stated by Judge Sullivan, “according to the Defendants, because the SEC fails to allege that Defendants personally knew that their e-mails would be routed through and/or stored on servers within the United States, the SEC’s allegations cannot state a claim under the FCPA’s bribery provision.”

Judge Sullivan stated as follows.

“The issue of whether § 78dd-1(a) requires that a defendant intend to use “the mails or any means or instrumentality of interstate commerce” is a matter of first impression in the FCPA context. Section 78dd-1(a) is not a model of precision in legislative drafting: its text does not make immediately clear whether “corruptly” modifies the phrase “make use of the mails or any means or instrumentality of interstate commerce” or the phrase “any offer, payment, promise to pay, or authorization of the payment of any money . . . or . . . anything of value.”  The use of the adverb “corruptly” appears to modify the verb “use,” but the word’s delayed placement in the statutory text appears to reflect a legislative choice to modify the grouping of words that follows: “offer, payment, promise to pay, or authorization of the payment of any money . . . or . . . anything of value.” 15 U.S.C. § 78dd -1(a).  Because the plain language of the provision is ambiguous, even when read in context and after applying traditional canons of statutory construction, the Court turns to the legislative history, which is instructive:  The word “corruptly” is used in order to make clear that the offer, payment, promise, or gift, must be intended  to  induce the recipient to misuse his official position in order to wrongfully direct business to the payor or his client, or to obtain preferential legislation or a favorable regulation. The word “corruptly” connotes an evil motive or purpose, an intent to wrongfully influence the recipient.  S. Rep. No. 95-114, at 10 (1977).”

“Thus, the legislative history reveals that, although Congress intended to make an “intent” or mens rea requirement for the underlying bribery, it expressed no corresponding intent to make such a requirement for the “make use of . . . any means or instrumentality of interstate commerce” element.”

“Such a reading is consistent with the way that courts have interpreted similar provisions in other statutes. For instance, courts have held that the use of interstate commerce in furtherance of violations of the securities laws, the mail and wire fraud statutes, and money laundering statutes is a jurisdictional element of those offenses.  [...] As such, defendants need not have formed the particularized mens rea with respect to the instrumentalities of commerce.”  [...]  Although no court appears to have addressed whether the use of interstate commerce is also a jurisdictional element of an FCPA violation, the similarity of the language in § 78dd-1(a) [...]  weighs in favor of finding that Congress intended a similar application of the requirement in the FCPA context.  [...]  [T]he mere fact that § 78dd-1(a) does not include the phrase ‘directly or indirectly’ does not indicate that the requirement ‘make use’ implies that a defendant must have made direct use.  Therefore, the Court finds that the Complaint sufficiently pleads that Defendants used the means or instrumentality of interstate commerce, pursuant to the FCPA.”

As to the issues in the above paragraph, Judge Sullivan stated in footnotes as follows.

“The Court also rejects two of Defendants’ additional arguments. First, the Court rejects Defendants’ argument that the SEC has failed to allege that there was any ‘use’ whatsoever of the instrumentalities of interstate commerce.  As noted above, the Complaint specifically alleges that Balogh emailed, on behalf of Defendants, drafts of the Protocols, the Letter of Intent, and copies of consulting contracts to third-party intermediaries, and that the e-mails were ‘routed through and/or stored on network servers located within the United States.  The mere  fact that Defendants may not have had personal knowledge that their emails would be routed through or stored in the United States does not mean that they did not, in fact, use an instrument of interstate commerce sufficient for purposes of conferring jurisdiction. Second, the Court rejects Defendants’ argument that it was not foreseeable that emails sent over the Internet in a foreign country would touch servers located elsewhere. The Court does not disagree with Defendants that “the internet is a huge, complex, gossamer web”, but that is all the more reason why it should be foreseeable to a defendant that Internet traffic will not necessarily be entirely local in nature.”

“Defendants also assert that the Complaint fails to sufficiently allege that Defendants used the means or instrumentalities of interstate commerce “in furtherance” of their FCPA violations.  Specifically, they argue that the Complaint alleges only that Defendants executed a “scheme” to bribe Macedonian government officials and not that they made an “‘offer, payment, promise to pay, or authorization of the payment of any money, or offer, gift, promise to give, or authorization of the giving of anything of value.”  However, Defendants ignore the fact that the Complaint specifically alleges that Defendants sent the Protocols and Letter of Intent, which were essentially their offers to pay or promises to pay the alleged bribes, to Macedonian government officials.  These e-mails also included reference to the alleged ‘sham’ contracts used to conceal the true nature of Defendants’ bribes.  Accordingly, such allegations are sufficient to satisfy the ‘in furtherance’ language of § 78dd-1.

Identity of “Foreign Officials” 

Judge Sullivan agreed with the recent decision by Judge Ellison in SEC v. Jackson (see here for the prior post) that “the language of the statute does not appear to require that the identity of the foreign official involved be pled with specificity.”

Judge Sullivan stated as follows.

“Such a requirement would be at odds with the statutory scheme, which targets actions (such as making an “offer” or “promise”) without requiring that the “foreign official” accept the offer or reveal his specific identity to the payor.  Indeed, the fact that the FCPA prohibits using “any person” or an intermediary to facilitate the bribe to any “foreign official” or “any foreign political party” suggests that the statute contemplates situations in which the payor knows that a “foreign official” will ultimately receive a bribe but only the intermediary knows the foreign official’s specific identity.”

Judge Sullivan concluded on this issue as follows.

“In light of the fact that there is no requirement that the “foreign official” be specifically named and that reading such a requirement into the FCPA would be contrary to the statutory scheme, the Court finds that the Complaint satisfies Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a). Specifically, the Complaint alleges, inter alia, that: (1) Magyar’s subsidiaries retained an intermediary to facilitate negotiations with “Macedonian government officials” on Magyar’s behalf; (2) the Protocols were signed by specific senior Macedonian officials from the majority and minority political parties of the governing coalition; (3) the Protocols “required government official to ignore their lawful duties” and recording obligations; (4) the government officials had the power to ensure both that “the government delayed or precluded the issuance of the third mobile telephone license” and that MakTel was exempted “from the obligation to pay an increased frequency fee”; (5) officials from the minority party in the governing coalition “occupied senior positions in the telecommunciations regulatory agencies with jurisdiction over the tender of the third mobile license”; and (6) Balogh communicated directly with the government officials of both parties in furtherance of the bribery scheme.  Such allegations are sufficient to put Defendants on notice of the substance of the SEC’s claims and that the allegedly bribed officials were acting in their official capacities. Accordingly, the Court finds that the SEC has satisfied its pleading obligations under Iqbal and Twombly with regard to the term “foreign official” in the FCPA.

Misleading Auditors

Judge Sullivan first found that the SEC’s complaint, rather than lumping Defendants together through group pleading, did state “with particularity the circumstances constituting the alleged fraud as to each defendant.”  As to whether Rule 13b2-2′s ”materiality” standard referred to the so-called “reasonable investor” standard, Judge Sullivan cited other case law for the proposition that under the Rule “a statement is material if ‘ a reasonable auditor would conclude that it would significantly alter the total mix of information available to him.”  Judge Sullivan stated that such an “interpretation of Rule 13b2-2 is reasonable given that the Rule speaks about the relationship between a corporation’s director or officer and an accountant rather than an investor or recipient of a registration statement.”  Indeed, Judge Sullivan noted, “it would make little sense to import the reasonable investor standard to a Rule that does not even require that the misstatement eve be communicated to an investor in order to establish a violation.”

Judge Sullivan concluded as follows.

“Here, the Complaint alleges that “[h]ad Magyar[’s] auditors known [the facts alleged in the Complaint regarding the alleged bribery scheme], they would not have accepted the management representation letters and other representations provided by Straub[, n]or would the auditors have provided an unqualified auditor opinion to accompany Magyar[’s] annual report on Form 20-F.  In light of the SEC’s allegations noted above and the fact that the materiality of the misstatements made to the auditors is “a mixed question of law and fact that generally should be presented to a jury,”  the Court finds that the Complaint sufficiently alleges the materiality of Defendants’ alleged misstatements to Magyar’s auditors. Accordingly, the Court finds that the SEC’s Rule 13b2-2 claim survives Defendant’ motion.

As to the future of the case, Judge Sullivan set an April 3rd status conference.