The SEC announced today (see here) an FCPA enforcement action involving “multiple payments of bribes to foreign officials in Kyrgyzstan and Thailand by senior executives and employees of Dimon, Inc. (“Dimon”) and Standard Commercial Corporation (“Standard”), predecessor companies of Alliance One International, Inc. (“Alliance One”), during the period from 1996 through 2004 in violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act…”
In 2005, Dimon and Standard merged to form Alliance One (see here) and its stock is listed on the New York Stock Exchange.
According to the SEC complaint (see here), “from 1996 through 2004, Dimon International Kyrgyzstan (“DIK”), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Dimon, paid more than $3 million in bribes to Kyrgyzstan government officials in order to purchase Kyrgyz tobacco for resale to Dimon’s largest customers.”
The complaint alleges that “these payments were made to various government officials, including officials of the JSC GAK Kyrgyztamekisi (“Tamekisi”) [an entity established by the Kyrgyz government that had authority to issue and control licenses for the fermentation and export of tobacco] and local public official (“Akims”)” and “DIK also made improper payments to Kyrgyzstan tax officials.”
According to the compliant: (i) defendant Bobby Elkin Jr., Dimon’s country manager, “authorized, directed, and made these bribes in Kyrgyzstan through a DIK bank account under his name (the “Special Account);” (ii) defendant Baxter Myers, Dimon’s Regional Financial Director, “authorized all fund transfers from a Dimon subsidiary’s bank account to the Special Account;” and (iii) defendant Thomas Reynolds, Dimon’s International Controller, “formalized the accounting methodology used to record the payments made from the Special Account for purposes of internal reporting by Dimon.”
The complaint alleges that in September 1996 “the Kyrgyzstan government imposed a requirement that all exporters of fermented tobacco have an export license,” and that “Tamekisi acted as the issuing authorize and controlled the issuance of export licenses, thus effectively controlling all tobacco purchases in Kyrgyzstan.”
According to the complaint, Elkin “periodically delivered bags filled with $100 bills to a high-ranking Tamekisi official” and that from 1996 to 2004, Elkin, on behalf of Dimon, “paid more than $2.6 million to a high-ranking Tamekisi official…” The complaint also alleges that Elkin “also paid bribes to local government officials in Kyrgyzstan known as the Akims, who controlled the tobacco regions.” The complaint says that “DIK needed the support and consent from each local Akim in order to continue to purchase tobacco from local growers or agricultural collectives” and that “as governors, Akims had the power and influence to prevent the purchase of tobacco in the region, even if a company had an export license.” The complaint also states that “Akims could also send the police to block the entrance to buying stations or install a lock box to prevent the transfer of tobacco.” According to the complaint, “Elkin authorized and paid more than $260,000 to the Akims…”
Finally (at least as to Kyrgyzstan), the complaint details how DIK was “frequently subjected to audits by Kyrgyz tax officials” and that “during one audit, the tax officials determined that DIK failed to submit two reports to the tax office.” Accordingly, the complaint states that the tax officials imposed an approximate $172,000 fine against DIK and the “tax authorities also threatened to seize DIK’s bank accounts and tobacco inventory for tax violations.” However, according to the complaint, “the tax authorities later offered to reduce the tax penalties levied against DIK in exchange for a cash payment.” The complaint then alleges that Elkin “made a cash payment to the tax authorities” and that from 1996 through 2004 Elkin, on behalf of Dimon, “paid approximately $82,850 to Kyrgyz tax officials.”
According to the complaint, although the Special Account used to make the above-described payments “was funded by a Dimon subsidiary in the United Kingdom, the financial reporting on the Special Account by that subsidiary, and all other consolidated subsidiaries, went directly to Dimon’s corporate headquarters in the United States…”
The complaint also alleges that “from 2000 to 2003, Dimon paid bribes of approximately $542,590 to government officials of the Thailand Tobacco Monopoly (“TPM”) in exchange for obtaining approximately $9.4 million in sales contracts.” According to the complaint, defendant Tommy Williams, Dimon’s Senior Vice President of Sales, “directed the sales of tobacco from Brazil and Malawi to the TTM through Dimon’s agent in Thailand” and that he “authorized the payment of bribes to TTM officials and characterized the payments as commissions paid to Dimon’s agent in Thailand.”
The complaint alleges that a “portion of Dimon’s selling price to the TTM” included “kickbacks paid as commissions through Dimon’s agent to certain members of the TTM in exchange for the sales contracts.” The complaint alleges that these bribes to the TTM were authorized “by Dimon’s U.S. and Brazilian personnel,” in particular Williams.
The complaint also alleges that “Williams also knew about a purported business trip to Brazil that actually was a sightseeing trip arranged by Dimon and others for TTM officials.” According to the complaint, the “sightseeing trip occurred in May 2000 and included, among other things, trekking in the Amazon jungle, piranha fishing, and visits to Argentina and various Brazilian waterfalls.” The complaint also alleges that in 2002 Williams arranged a trip for a TTM delegation to travel from Bangkok to Brazil “purportedly to look at tobacco blends and samples.” According to the complaint, “the return portion of the TTM delegation’s trip included a one-week stay in Madrid and Rome that was unrelated to the inspection and purchase of tobacco by the TTM.”
Based on the above conduct, the SEC charged Elkin, Myers, Reynolds, and Williams for violating the SEC’s antibribery provisions and for aiding and abetting violations of the FCPA’s internal controls and books and records provisions.
According to the SEC release, “without admitting or denying the allegations” in the complaint, Elkin, Myers, Reynolds, and Williams consented to the entry of final judgments permanently enjoining violations of the FCPA. Myers and Reynolds also agreed to pay a civil monetary penalty of $40,000 each.
The SEC release notes that the settlement with Elkin “takes into account his cooperation” with the SEC’s investigation and “acknowledges of the assistance” of the DOJ and the FBI.
This is the second SEC FCPA enforcement action of the year which seems, according to the facts, to be based, in whole or in part, on extortion or something close to it. For a previous post on the NATCO enforcement action (see here). In addition, earlier this week I had a post “Facilitating Payments or Bribes” (see here). The Kyrgyzstan facts would seem relevant to that issue.
The FCPA, as part of the securities laws, has a statute of limitations of five years. The conduct at issue occured between 1996 and 2004. Perhaps there was a tolling agreement in place or perhaps this is another example where it is difficult to square black-letter law concepts with an FCPA enforcement action.