Archive for the ‘China’ Category

“Golf In The Morning And Beer-Drinking In the Evening” – SciClone Pharmaceuticals Resolves $12.8 Million FCPA Enforcement Action For Subsidiary’s Marketing And Promotional Activities

Friday, February 5th, 2016

Golf and BeerYesterday, the SEC released this administrative action finding that SciClone Pharmaceuticals (a California pharmaceutical company with a China-focused business) violated the FCPA’s anti-bribery, books and records and internal controls provisions.

The conduct at issue related to the marketing and promotional activities of SciClone Pharmaceuticals International Ltd., a wholly-owned subsidiary of SciClone incorporated in the Cayman Islands with an affiliate in Hong Kong.

Among other things of value provided to healthcare professionals employed by state-owned hospitals in China were weekend trips, foreign language classes, “golf in the morning and beer drinking in the evening,” and travel to the Grand Canyon and Disneyland.

In summary fashion, the SEC’s order states:

“From at least 2007 to 2012, employees of SciClone subsidiaries, who acted as agents of SciClone in conducting business in China, gave money, gifts and other things of value to foreign officials, including healthcare professionals (“HCPs”) who were employed by state-owned hospitals in China, in order to obtain sales of SciClone pharmaceutical products. Various means were employed, and these schemes were known to and condoned by various managers within SciClone’s China-based corporate structure. The related transactions were falsely recorded in SciClone’s books and records as legitimate business expenses, such as sponsorships, travel and entertainment, conferences, honoraria, and promotion expenses. During this period, SciClone also failed to devise and maintain a sufficient system of internal accounting controls and lacked an effective anti-corruption compliance program.”

The conduct at issue largely focused on SciClone Pharmaceuticals International Ltd. (“SPIL”) which is described as a wholly-owned subsidiary of SciClone that is incorporated in the Cayman Islands with an affiliate in Hong Kong. According to the order:

“SciClone operates internationally primarily through subsidiaries, including SPIL and SPIL’s wholly-owned subsidiaries that sell and promote SciClone’s products in China. SciClone directs the relevant operations of SPIL and its subsidiaries and oversees SPIL’s operations through various means including through the appointment of directors and officers of SPIL, review and approval of its annual budget, business and financial goals, and oversight of its legal, audit, and compliance functions. SciClone also reviews and approves annual marketing and promotion budgets of SPIL and its subsidiaries. During relevant periods, some SciClone officers also served as officers and/or directors of SPIL, traveled frequently to China to participate in the management of SPIL, and were responsible for negotiating its contracts with its Chinese distributors. SPIL’s books and records are consolidated by SciClone and reported in its financial statements.”

Under the heading “Facts,” the order states:

“Although SciClone has local distributor relationships in China, its sales and marketing activities there are conducted through SPIL. Sales representatives in China regularly reported to senior management of SPIL on their efforts to increase sales. In these reports, sales representatives openly referred to instances in which they provided weekend trips, vacations, gifts, expensive meals, foreign language classes, and entertainment to HCPs in order to obtain an increase in prescriptions from those HCPs. As described by one sales manager, this was “luring them with the promise of profit.”

Some sales representatives referred to those HCPs with the greatest impact on their sales volume as VIP clients, and provided details on their volume of prescriptions when reporting to SPIL. This practice was known and encouraged by certain former SPIL managers at the time SPIL and SciClone had overlapping officers and/or directors. These reports included such things as:

  • In August 2005, numerous surgical VIP clients including several hospital presidents attended the annual Qingdao Beer Festival consisting of golf in the morning and beer-drinking in the evening. In later years, SPIL continued to sponsor VIPs to the annual festival.
  • In February 2007, VIP clients were provided with vacations to Anji, China.
  • In November 2007, a sales representative recounted the experience of recruiting a VIP client by paying for family vacations and regular family dinners through an employee expense account. The sales representative attributed a nearly four-fold sales increase to that VIP as a result.

In 2007, SciClone submitted a license application to the State Food and Drug Administration for a new medical device product and had a renewal pending for its largest product. SciClone hired a well-connected regulatory affairs specialist (“Specialist”) to facilitate that licensing.

The Specialist arranged trips for two foreign officials to attend an academic conference in Greece at SciClone’s expense. The conference was solely related to the new medical device. One of the foreign officials had oversight over new product approvals, and the other foreign official had oversight over renewals for existing licensed products. At the time the trip was arranged, both SciClone’s renewal application and its application for a new license were pending.

As the foreign officials were unable to obtain travel visas in time to attend the conference in Greece, the Specialist instead provided them at least $8,600 in lavish gifts. The Specialist submitted two expense reimbursements for the gifts, the first of which was approved by the senior vice president of SPIL.

After learning of the gifts, SciClone terminated the Specialist and conducted an internal investigation related to the Specialist’s conduct and practices in China. The review did not look more broadly at sales and marketing practices in China. No further action or remedial measures were taken by SciClone or SPIL after the conclusion of the internal investigation in 2008.

Local Chinese travel companies were routinely hired to provide services (such as arranging transportation, accommodations, and meals for HCPs) in connection with what were ostensibly legitimate conferences, seminars, and other events. In addition to a lack of due diligence for these third party vendors, prior to 2012, there was a lack of controls over the events to ensure they had an appropriate business purpose and that the events actually occurred. Many events did not include a legitimate educational purpose or the educational activities were minimal in comparison to the sightseeing or recreational activities. For example:

  • Between at least 2008 and 2010, SciClone sponsored dozens of Chinese HCPs to attend liver and oncology conferences in the United States. While a portion of the travel was devoted to educational purposes, it also consisted of significant sightseeing that involved, for example, travel to Las Vegas and Los Angeles with tours of the Grand Canyon or Disneyland.
  • In April 2010, SPIL sponsored Chinese HCPs to attend a seminar in Japan regarding Zadaxin, its principle product. While a portion of the meeting appeared to involve half a day of educational activities, the remaining six days involved sightseeing and tourist locations such as Mt. Fuji.
  • In March 2010, SPIL held its annual sales meeting in China on the island of Hainan, a resort destination. The sales meeting was attended by the sales representatives and senior management from SPIL. The weekend before the sales meeting, SPIL hosted VIP clients to a weekend stay on Hainan. There was no educational component to the VIP clients’ stay.

As part of its remedial efforts, SciClone conducted a detailed, comprehensive internal review of promotion expenses of employees from 2011 to early 2013. This review found high exception rates indicating violations of corporate policy that ranged from fake fapiao, inconsistent amounts or dates with fapiao, excessive gift or meal amounts, unverified events, doctored honoraria agreements, and duplicative meetings. A portion of the funds generated through the reimbursements were used as part of the sales practices described above that continued through at least 2012.”

Based on the above, the SEC found as follows:

“SciClone through SPIL violated [the anti-bribery provisions] by providing things of value to foreign officials, including healthcare professionals (“HCPs”) who were employed by state-owned hospitals in China, in order to obtain sales of SciClone pharmaceutical products. SciClone violated [the books and records provisions] by improperly recording the payments to health care providers as sales, marketing, and promotion expenses. The false entries were initially recorded by SPIL which were then consolidated and reported by SciClone in its consolidated financial statements. SciClone violated [the internal controls provisions] by failing to devise and maintain a sufficient system of internal accounting controls to detect and prevent the making of improper payments to foreign officials.”

Without admitting or denying the SEC’s findings, SciClone is required to cease and desist from committing future FCPA violations and agreed to pay approximately $12.8 million ($9,426,000 in disgorgement and prejudgment interest of $900,000 as well as a $2.5 million civil penalty).

In resolving the action, SciClone agreed to “report to the Commission staff periodically, at no less than nine-month intervals during a three-year term, the status of its remediation and implementation of compliance measures.” Specifically, SciClone is required to “submit to the Commission staff a written report within 180 calendar days of the entry of this Order setting forth a complete description of its Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) and anti-corruption related remediation efforts to date, its proposals reasonably designed to improve the policies and procedures of Respondent for ensuring compliance with the FCPA and other applicable anticorruption laws, and the parameters of the subsequent reviews.” In addition, SciClone is required to ”undertake at least three follow-up reviews, incorporating any comments provided by the Commission staff on the previous report, to further monitor and assess whether the policies and procedures of Respondent are reasonably designed to detect and prevent violations of the FCPA and other applicable anti-corruption laws.”

Under the heading “Remedial Efforts,” the order states:

“SciClone has taken steps to improve its internal accounting controls and to create a dedicated compliance function. These include the following: (1) hiring a compliance officer for its China operations; (2) undertaking an extensive review of the policies and procedures surrounding employee travel and entertainment reimbursements; (3) substantially reducing the number of suppliers providing third-party travel and event planning services; (4) improving its policies and procedures around third-party due diligence and payments; (5) incorporating anticorruption provisions in its third-party contracts; (6) providing anti-corruption training to its third-party travel and event planning vendors; (7) disciplining employees (and their managers) who violate SciClone’s policies; and (8) creating an internal audit department and compliance department.”

In this release, SciClone’s Chief Executive Officer (Friedhelm Blobel) commented: “We are very pleased to have reached a final settlement with the SEC and DOJ that is in line with our previous expectations and brings this matter to conclusion. We believe that we have established an industry-leading compliance program, including a commitment to constant improvement, which is a key business asset. We look forward to continuing to focus on providing high quality medicines to patients, growing our business and creating value for our shareholders.”

John Dwyer and Jessica Valenzuela Santamaria (Cooley) represented SciClone.

Next Up – Bristol-Myers

Tuesday, October 6th, 2015

BMSFirst it was Johnson & Johnson (see here – $70 million enforcement action in April 2011).

Then it was Smith & Nephew (see here - $22 million enforcement action in February 2012).

Then it was Biomet (see here – $22.8 million enforcement action in March 2012).

Then it was Pfizer / Wyeth (see here  – $60 million enforcement action in August 2012).

Then it was Eli Lilly (see here – $29 million enforcement action in December 2012).

Then it was Stryker (see here – $13.2 million enforcement action in October 2013).

Then it was Mead Johnson (see here – $12 million enforcement action in July 2015).

The latest of the most recent Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement actions (there are many more than those listed above) premised on the theory that physicians of certain foreign health care systems are “foreign officials” under the FCPA is Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. (“BMS”).

Some will say this enforcement action – like certain of the others mentioned above – merely involved the FCPA’s books and records and internal controls provisions, but make no mistake about it, this action – as well as the prior actions – was all about the alleged “foreign officials.”

Yesterday, the SEC announced this administrative cease and desist order in which BMS agreed, without admitting or denying the SEC’s findings, to pay approximately $14.7 million.

The order states in summary fashion as follows.

“These proceedings arise out of violations of the internal controls and recordkeeping provisions of the FCPA by BMS and its majority-owned joint venture in China. Between 2009 and 2014, BMS failed to design and maintain effective internal controls relating to interactions with health care providers (“HCPs”) at state-owned and state-controlled hospitals in China. Through various mechanisms during this period, certain sales representatives of the joint venture improperly generated funds that were used to provide corrupt inducements to HCPs in the form of cash payments, gifts, meals, travel, entertainment, and sponsorships for conferences and meetings in order to secure new sales and increase existing sales. BMS falsely recorded the relevant transactions as legitimate business expenses in its books and records.”

The findings focus on Bristol-Myers Squibb (China) Investment Co. Limited (“BMS China), a company through which BMS conducts business in China, and how BMS China, in turn, primarily operates in China through Sino-American Shanghai Squibb Pharmaceuticals Limited (“SASS”), a majority-owned joint venture.

According to the Order:

“BMS holds a 60% equity interest in SASS and has held operational control over this entity since 2009 when it obtained the right to name the President of SASS and a majority of the members of SASS’s Board of Directors.

BMS began operating in China in 1982 when it formed SASS, the first SinoAmerican pharmaceutical joint venture. Following a successful product launch in 2005, BMS China’s business grew quickly. By 2009, BMS China had 1490 full-time employees and net sales of more than $200 million. This upward trend continued through 2014 when the number of full-time employees expanded to 2464 and net sales reached nearly $500 million.

Certain BMS China employees achieved their sales, in part, by providing HCPs and other government officials with cash and other inducements in exchange for prescriptions and drug listings.”

Under the heading “Failure to Respond to Red Flags,” the Order states:

“BMS China failed to respond effectively to red flags indicating that sales personnel provided improper payments and other benefits in order to generate sales from HCPs. In 2009, BMS China initiated a review of travel and entertainment expenses submitted for reimbursement by its sales personnel and found non-compliant claims, fake and altered invoices and receipts, and consecutively numbered receipts. Shortly thereafter, BMS China retained a local accounting firm to conduct monthly post-payment reviews of all claims for travel, entertainment, and meeting expenses to identify false, improperly documented, and unsubstantiated claims. BMS China brought this function in-house in early 2011 and the results of both the external and internal reviews were provided to management of BMS China as well as regional compliance and corporate business managers who reported directly to senior management of BMS.

During the period between mid-2009 and late 2013, BMS China identified numerous irregularities in travel and entertainment and event documentation, including fake and altered purchase orders, invoices, agendas, and attendance sheets for meetings with HCPs that likely had not occurred. BMS China inaccurately recorded the reimbursement of these false claims as legitimate business expenses in its books and records, which were then consolidated into the books and records of BMS.

Certain BMS China employees admitted that they had submitted false reimbursement claims and used the funds for the benefit of HCPs in support of sales by BMS China. They also alleged that the use of false reimbursement claims to fund payments to and for the benefit of HCPs in order to secure prescription sales was a widespread practice at BMS China. In emails to the BMS China President in November 2010 and January 2011, certain terminated employees wrote that they used the funds to pay rebates, provide entertainment, and fund gift cards for HCPs, as there was no other way to meet their sales targets. Citing the “open secret” that HCPs in China rely upon the “gray income” to maintain their livelihood, they said that they tried to meet the demands of the HCPs for the benefit of BMS China. Despite the widespread exceptions and serious allegations of potentially widespread bribery practices, BMS China did not investigate these claims.”

Under the heading “Compliance and Controls Environment,” the Order states:

“Despite its longstanding presence in China, BMS did not implement a formal FCPA compliance program until April 2006 when it adopted its first standalone anti-bribery policy and corresponding corporative directive. At approximately the same time, BMS began conducting compliance assessments and audits of BMS China that included a review of internal controls relating to anti-bribery risks. These internal reviews revealed weaknesses in the monitoring of payments made to HCPs, the lack of formal processes around the selection and compensation of HCPs as speakers, deficiencies in obtaining and documenting the approval of donations, sponsorships, and consulting arrangements with HCPs, and the failure to conduct post-event verification of meetings and conferences sponsored by sales representatives. Reports of these findings were provided to senior management of BMS China as well as members of BMS’s global compliance department.

These identified controls deficiencies were not timely remediated and compliance resources were minimal. The corporate compliance officer responsible for the Asia-Pacific region through 2012 was based in the U.S. and rarely traveled to China. There was no dedicated compliance officer for BMS China until 2008, and no permanent compliance position in China until 2010. In addition, the BMS sales force in China received limited training and much of it was inaccessible to a large number of sales representatives who worked in remote locations. For example, when BMS rolled out mandatory anti-bribery training in late 2009, 67% of employees in China failed to complete the training by the due date.

Annual internal audits of BMS China repeatedly identified substantial gaps in internal controls, and the results were reported to the Audit Committee and senior management of BMS. In connection with each audit, the audit team cited a lack of effective controls and documentation relating to interactions with HCPs and the monitoring of potential inappropriate payments to HCPs. Among Internal Audit’s conclusions were that BMS China’s controls around the review and approval of travel and entertainment expenses and gifts to HCPs were not effective and that it failed to track payments to HCPs, including high-risk payments, in its quarterly review of potential inappropriate payments, and to enforce controls relating to the documentation, approval, and payment of distributor rebates. Internal Audit also cited the lack of due diligence assessments of distributor compliance, including anti-bribery compliance, the failure to properly document and approve agreements with HCPs who served as speakers, and the lack of a mechanism to ensure that services were received in exchange for sponsorships. As a result, Internal Audit issued a series of qualified opinions in connection with its annual audits of BMS China between 2009 and 2013.”

Under the heading “Internal Documents Reveal Improper Benefits Provided to HCPs,” the Order states:

“Emails and other BMS China documents detail, among other things, proposed “activity plans,” “action plans,” and plans for “investments” in HCPs to increase prescription sales. These contemporaneous documents were prepared at the direction of, and sometimes transmitted to, district and regional sales managers of BMS China, and show that sales representatives used funds derived from travel and expense claims to make cash payments to HCPs and to provide gifts, meals, entertainment, and travel to HCPs in order to induce them to prescribe products sold and marketed by BMS China. The sales representatives provided a variety of benefits to HCPs, ranging from small food and personal care items to shopping cards, jewelry, sightseeing, and cash payments, in exchange for prescription sales. This kind of conduct was captured in a July 2013 email from a sales representative to a regional manager. The sales representative explained that a former sales representative had offered cash for sales to HCPs at a local hospital and “the attitude of the director of the infectious diseases department was extremely clear when I took over: ‘No money, no prescription.’” Similarly, the work plans prepared by other sales representatives also identified correlations between the value of the benefits provided to specific HCPs and the volume of prescription sales expected.

Certain documents within BMS China were replete with references to “investments” made in order to obtain sales, such as offering speaking engagements and sponsorships for domestic and international conferences and meetings in exchange for prescriptions. Some sales representatives also sought to increase prescription sales and maintain drug listings at pharmacies by hosting cash promotions and events for pharmacy employees. Based on the volume of prescriptions, certain BMS China sales representatives gave cash, shopping cards, and foodstuffs as promotional prizes to pharmacy employees; at least one sales representative characterized the expenses as a “departmental development fee” in contemporaneous documents.”

Based on the above, the Order finds:

“As described herein, BMS, through the actions of certain BMS China employees, violated [the FCPA's books and records provisions] by falsely recording, as advertising and promotional expenses, cash payments and expenses for gifts, meals, travel, entertainment, speaker fees, and sponsorships for conferences and meetings provided to foreign officials, such as HCPs at state-owned and state-controlled hospitals as well as employees of state-owned pharmacies in China, to secure prescription sales. BMS also violated [the FCPA's internal controls provisions] by failing to devise and maintain a system of internal accounting controls relating to payments and benefits provided by sales representatives at BMS China to these foreign officials. As identified in various internal reviews, audits, and investigations conducted since at least 2009, BMS lacked effective internal controls sufficient to provide reasonable assurances that funds advanced and reimbursed to employees of BMS China were used for appropriate and authorized purposes.”

Under the heading “Remedial Efforts,” the Order states:

“BMS has implemented significant measures to enhance its anti-bribery and general compliance training and policies and to strengthen its accounting and monitoring controls relating to interactions with HCPs, including travel and entertainment expenses, meetings, sponsorships, grants, and donations funded by BMS China. BMS took numerous steps to improve the internal controls and compliance program at BMS China. Examples include a 100% pre-reimbursement review of all expense claims; the implementation of an accounting system designed to track each expense claim, including the request, approval, and payment of each claim; and the retention of a third-party vendor to conduct surprise checks at events sponsored by sales representatives. Additionally, BMS terminated over ninety employees, and disciplined an additional ninety employees, including sales representatives and managers of BMS China, who failed to comply with or sufficiently supervise compliance with relevant policies. In addition, BMS replaced certain BMS China officers as part of an overall effort to enhance “tone at the top” and a culture of compliance. Further, BMS revised the compensation structure for BMS China employees by reducing the portion of incentive-based compensation for sales and distribution, eliminated gifts to HCPs, implemented enhanced due diligence procedures for third-party agents, implemented monitoring systems for speaker fees and third-party events, and incorporated risk assessments based on data analytics into its compliance program.”

As stated in the Order:

“Without admitting or denying the findings, Bristol-Myers Squibb consented to the order and agreed to return $11.4 million of profits plus prejudgment interest of $500,000 and pay a civil penalty of $2.75 million.  Bristol-Myers Squibb also agreed to report to the SEC for a two-year period on the status of its remediation and implementation of FCPA and anti-corruption compliance measures.”

In the SEC’s release Kara Krockmeyer (Chief of the SEC’s FCPA Unit stated):

“Bristol-Myers Squibb’s failure to institute an effective internal controls system and to respond promptly to indications of significant compliance gaps at its Chinese joint venture enabled a widespread practice of providing corrupt inducements in exchange for prescription sales to continue for years.”

Yesterday Bristol-Myers’s stock closed down .47%.

According to reports, Bristol-Myers was represented by F. Joseph Warin of Gibson Dunn.

Next Up – Mead Johnson

Wednesday, July 29th, 2015

MeadFirst it was Johnson & Johnson (see here – $70 million enforcement action in April 2011).

Then it was Smith & Nephew (see here - $22 million enforcement action in February 2012).

Then it was Biomet (see here – $22.8 million enforcement action in March 2012).

Then it was Pfizer / Wyeth (see here  – $60 million enforcement action in August 2012).

Then it was Eli Lilly (see here – $29 million enforcement action in December 2012).

Then it was Stryker (see here – $13.2 million enforcement action in October 2013).

The latest of the most recent Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement actions (there are many more than those listed above) premised on the theory that physicians of certain foreign health care systems are “foreign officials” under the FCPA is Mead Johnson Nutrition Company. Some will say this enforcement action – like certain of the others mentioned above – merely involved the FCPA’s books and records and internal controls provisions, but make no mistake about it, this action – as well as the prior actions – was all about the alleged “foreign officials.”

Yesterday, the SEC announced that Mead Johnson (a leading pediatric nutrition products) agreed to pay approximately $12 million pursuant to an administrative cease and desist order in which the company neither admitted or denied the SEC’s findings.

The substance of the order is approximately four pages and states in summary fashion as follows.

“This matter concerns violations of the books and records and internal controls provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) by Mead Johnson. The violations, which occurred in connection with the operations of Mead Johnson’s subsidiary in China, took place up through 2013.

The conduct at issue relates primarily to the misuse of marketing and sales funds in China. Despite prohibitions in the FCPA and Mead Johnson’s internal policies, certain employees of Mead Johnson’s majority-owned subsidiary in China, Mead Johnson Nutrition (China) Co., Ltd. (“Mead Johnson China”), made improper payments to certain health care professionals (“HCPs”) at state-owned hospitals in China to recommend Mead Johnson’s nutrition products to, and provide information about, expectant and new mothers. These payments were made to assist Mead Johnson China in developing its business. For the period from 2008 through 2013, Mead Johnson China paid approximately $2,070,000 to HCPs in improper payments and derived profits therefrom of approximately $7,770,000.

Mead Johnson China failed to accurately reflect the improper payments in its books and records. Mead Johnson China’s books and records were consolidated into Mead Johnson’s books and records, thereby causing Mead Johnson’s consolidated books and records to be inaccurate. Mead Johnson failed to devise and maintain an adequate system of internal accounting controls over Mead Johnson China’s operations sufficient to prevent and detect the improper payments that occurred over a period of years.”

Under the heading “Mead Johnson China’s Improper Payments to HCPs,” the order states in full as follows.

“A portion of Mead Johnson China’s marketing efforts during the 2008 to 2013 period was through the medical sector, which included marketing through healthcare facilities and HCPs. Despite the prohibitions in the FCPA and Mead Johnson’s internal policies, certain employees of Mead Johnson China improperly compensated HCPs, who were foreign officials under the FCPA, to recommend Mead Johnson’s infant formula to, and to improperly provide contact information for, expectant and new mothers.

Funding for those payments came from funds generated by discounts provided to Mead Johnson China’s network of distributors.

Mead Johnson China uses third-party distributors to market, sell and distribute product in China. Some of Mead Johnson China’s funding of its marketing and sales practices were effected through discounts provided to the distributors. Pursuant to contracts between Mead Johnson China and its distributors, Mead Johnson China provided the distributors a discount for Mead Johnson’s products that was allocated for, among other purposes, funding certain marketing and sales efforts of Mead Johnson China. This form of funding was referred to as “Distributor Allowance.”

Although the Distributor Allowance contractually belonged to the distributors, certain members of Mead Johnson China’s workforce exercised some control over how the money was spent, and certain Mead Johnson China employees provided specific guidance to distributors concerning the use of the funds. Mead Johnson China staff also maintained certain records related to Distributor Allowance expenditure by distributors. In addition, Mead Johnson China used some of the funds to reimburse Mead Johnson China’s sales personnel for a portion of their marketing and other expenditures on behalf of Mead Johnson China.

Mead Johnson China’s sales personnel marketed product through medical channels, including healthcare facilities. These sales personnel encouraged HCPs at the healthcare facilities to recommend Mead Johnson products to mothers and to collect contact information of the mothers for Mead Johnson China’s marketing purposes. To incentivize HCPs to recommend Mead Johnson product and collect information from the mothers, these sales personnel improperly paid HCPs, providing cash and other incentives, contrary to Mead Johnson’s internal policies. The Distributor Allowance was the funding source for the cash and other incentives paid to HCPs.”

Under the heading “Mead Johnson Failed to Make and Keep Accurate Books and Records and Devise and Maintain an Adequate Internal Control System,” the order states in full as follows.

“The Distributor Allowance funds contractually belonged to the distributors, but were in large part under Mead Johnson China’s control. Mead Johnson China’s employees maintained certain records related to the Distributor Allowance, including records reflecting payments to HCPs. However, those records were incomplete and did not reflect that a portion of Distributor Allowance was being used contrary to Mead Johnson’s policies.

Mead Johnson failed to devise and maintain an adequate system of internal controls over the operations of Mead Johnson China to ensure that Mead Johnson China’s method of funding marketing and sales expenditures through its distributors was not used for unauthorized purposes, such as the improper compensation of HCPs. The use of the Distributor Allowance to improperly compensate HCPs was contrary to management’s authorization and Mead Johnson’s internal policies. Mead Johnson failed to devise and maintain a system of internal accounting controls sufficient to provide reasonable assurances that Mead Johnson China’s funding of marketing and sales expenditures through third-party distributors was done in accordance with management’s authorization.”

Notwithstanding the above, the order otherwise specifically states:

“Mead Johnson has established internal policies to comport with the FCPA and local laws, and to prevent related illegal and unethical conduct. Mead Johnson’s internal policies include prohibitions against providing improper payments and gifts to HCPs that would influence their recommendation of Mead Johnson’s products.”

Under the heading “Internal Investigation and Remedial Efforts,” the order states in full:

“In 2011, Mead Johnson received an allegation of possible violations of the FCPA in connection with the Distributor Allowance in China. In response, Mead Johnson conducted an internal investigation, but failed to find evidence that Distributor Allowance funds were being used to make improper payments to HCPs. Thereafter, Mead Johnson China discontinued Distributor Allowance funding to reduce the likelihood of improper payments to HCPs, and discontinued all practices related to compensating HCPs by 2013. Mead Johnson did not initially self-report the 2011 allegation of potential FCPA violations and did not thereafter promptly disclose the existence of this allegation in response to the Commission’s inquiry into this matter.

As a result of its second internal investigation commenced in 2013, Mead Johnson undertook significant remedial measures including: termination of senior staff at Mead Johnson China; updating and enhancing financial accounting controls; significantly revising its compliance program; enhancing Mead Johnson’s compliance division, adding positions including a second senior-level position; establishing new business conduct controls and third party due-diligence procedures and contracts; establishing a unit in China that monitors compliance and controls in China on an on-going basis; and providing employees with a method to have immediate access the company’s policies and requirements.

Despite not self-reporting the 2011 allegation of potential FCPA violations or promptly disclosing the existence of this allegation in response to the Commission’s inquiry into this matter, Mead Johnson subsequently provided extensive and thorough cooperation. Mead Johnson voluntarily provided reports of its investigative findings; shared its analysis of documents and summaries of witness interviews; and responded to the Commission’s requests for documents and information and provided translations of key documents. These actions assisted the Commission staff in efficiently collecting valuable evidence, including information that may not have been otherwise available to the staff.”

Based on the above findings, the order finds:

“Up through 2013, certain Mead Johnson China employees made payments to HCPs using funds maintained by third parties. These funds and payments from the funds were not accurately reflected on Mead Johnson China’s books and records. The books and records of Mead Johnson China were consolidated into Mead Johnson’s books and records. As a result of the misconduct of Mead Johnson China, Mead Johnson failed to make and keep books, records, and accounts, which, in reasonable detail, accurately and fairly reflected its transactions as required by [the FCPA's books and records provisions].

Up through 2013, Mead Johnson failed to devise and maintain an adequate system of internal accounting controls to ensure that Mead Johnson China’s method of funding marketing and sales expenditures through third-party distributors was not used for unauthorized purposes, such as improperly compensating Chinese HCPs to recommend Mead Johnson’s products. As a result of such failure, the improper payments to HCPs occurred contrary to management’s authorizations, in violation of [the FCPA's internal controls provisions].”

In the SEC’s release Kara Brockmeyer (Chief of the SEC Enforcement Divisions’s FCPA Unit) stated:

“Mead Johnson Nutrition’s lax internal control environment enabled its subsidiary to use off-the-books slush funds to pay doctors and other health care professionals in China to recommend its baby formula and give the company marketing access to mothers.”

As noted in the release:

“The company consented to the order without admitting or denying the findings and agreed to pay $7.77 million in disgorgement, $1.26 million in prejudgment interest, and a $3 million penalty.”

In this press release, Mead Johnson’s CEO Kasper Jakobsen stated:

“We are pleased to have reached this final resolution with the SEC. Integrity and compliance with laws and regulations are central to the success of our operations around the world. We will continue to reinforce these operating principles in all our interactions with customers and business partners. Our China business is one of Mead Johnson’s most important operations, and we remain confident in its continued long-term growth.”

Yesterday Mead Johnson’s stock closed up .64%.

According to reports, Mead Johnson was represented by F. Joseph Warin, Michael S. Diamant and Christopher W.H. Sullivan of Gibson Dunn.

Friday Roundup

Friday, March 27th, 2015

Roundup2Is this appropriate, sentenced, scrutiny alerts and updates, quotable, a future foreign official teaser?, Brazil update, and for the reading stack.

It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Is This Appropriate?

If this truly is an event, “Drinks With an FBI Agent – Inside Stories From the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act,” is it appropriate?

Sentenced

Chinea and DeMeneses Sentences

The DOJ announced

“Benito Chinea and Joseph DeMeneses, the former chief executive officer and former managing director of a broker-dealer Direct Access Partner “were sentenced to prison … for their roles in a scheme to pay bribes to a senior official in Venezuela’s state economic development bank, Banco de Desarrollo Económico y Social de Venezuela (Bandes), in return for trading business that generated more than $60 million in commissions.”

Chinea and DeMeneses were each sentenced to four years in prison.  They were also ordered to pay $3,636,432 and $2,670,612 in forfeiture, respectively, which amounts represent their earnings from the bribery scheme.  On Dec. 17, 2014, both defendants pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and the Travel Act.”

In the release, Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell stated:

“These Wall Street executives orchestrated a massive bribery scheme with a corrupt official in Venezuela to illegally secure tens of millions of dollars in business for their firm. The convictions and prison sentences of the CEO and Managing Director of a sophisticated Wall Street broker-dealer demonstrate that the Department of Justice will hold individuals accountable for violations of the FCPA and will pursue executives no matter where they are on the corporate ladder.”

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara of the Southern District of New York stated:

“Benito Chinea and Joseph DeMeneses paid bribes to an officer of a state-run development bank in exchange for lucrative business she steered to their firm. Chinea and DeMeneses profited for a time from the corrupt arrangement, but that profit has turned into prison and now they must forfeit their millions of dollars in ill-gotten gains as well as their liberty.”

Elgawhary Sentence

This previous post highlighted the DOJ enforcement action against Asem Elgawhary, a former principal vice president of Bechtel Corporation and general manager of a joint venture operated by Bechtel and an Egyptian utility company, for allegedly accepting $5.2 million in kickbacks to manipulate the competitive bidding process for state-run power contracts in Egypt.

The DOJ recently announced that Elgawhary was sentenced to 42 months in federal prison.

When the Alstom enforcement action was announced in December 2014 (see here and here for prior posts), Elgawhary was described as an Egyptian “foreign official.”

So what was Elgawhary?

A former principal vice president of Bechtel Corporation and general manager of a joint venture operated by Bechtel and an Egyptian utility company or a Egyptian “foreign official?”

Can the DOJ have it both ways?

Scrutiny Alerts and Updates

Anheuser-Busch InBev

Anheuser-Busch InBev recently disclosed in its annual report:

“We have been informed by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice that they are conducting investigations into our affiliates in India, including a non-consolidated Indian joint venture that we previously owned, ABInBev India Private Limited, and whether certain relationships of agents and employees were compliant with the FCPA. We are investigating the conduct in question and are cooperating with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice.”

Bilfinger

As highlighted in this previous post, in December 2013 German-based Bilfinger paid approximately $32 million to resolve an FCPA enforcement action concerning alleged conduct in Nigeria.  The enforcement action was resolved via a three-year deferred prosecution agreement.

As noted in the previous post, Bilfinger’s CEO described the conduct at issue as “events from the distant past.”

From the not-so distant past, Bilfinger recently announced:

“Bilfinger received internal information last year indicating that there may have been violations of the Group’s compliance regulations in connection with orders for the supply of monitor walls for security control centres in several large municipalities in Brazil. The company immediately launched a comprehensive investigation. The allegation relates to suspected bribery payments from employees of a Bilfinger company in Brazil to public officials and employees of state companies.”

See here for a follow-up announcement from the company.

As a foreign company, Bilfinger is only subject to the FCPA’s anti-bribery violations to the extent the payment scheme involves a U.S. nexus (as was alleged in the prior Bilfinger FCPA enforcement action).

IBM

Canadian media reports:

“Seven people, including Revenue Quebec employees and officials with computer companies IBM and EBR, were [recently] arrested … in connection with an alleged corruption scheme aimed at obtaining a government IT contract worth $24 million.Two Revenue Quebec employees, Hamid Iatmanene and Jamal El Khaiat, stand accused of providing privileged information about an upcoming government contract to a consortium made up of IBM and Quebec company Informatique EBR Inc.”

As highlighted here, in 2000 IBM resolved an FCPA enforcement action.

As highlighted here, in 2011 IBM resolved another FCPA enforcement action.  This enforcement action was filed in federal court (back in the day when the SEC actually filed FCPA enforcement actions in federal court vs. its preferred in-house method now) and Judge Richard Leon was concerned about the settlement process.  As highlighted here, Judge Leon approved the settlement, but his July 2013 final order states, among other things:

“[For a two year period IBM is required to submit annual reports] to the Commission and this Court describing its efforts to comply with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”), and to report to the Commission and this Court immediately upon learning it is reasonably likely that IBM has violated the FCPA in connection with either improper payments to foreign officials to obtain or retain business or any fraudulent books and records entries …””

According to media reports, Judge Leon stated: “if there’s another violation over the next two years, it won’t be a happy day.”

Quotable

In this Law360 article, Richard Grime (former Assistant Director of Enforcement at the SEC and current partner at Gibson Dunn) states regarding recent alleged FCPA violations.

“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.”

Given that most SEC FCPA enforcement actions are the result of voluntary disclosures, it is a curious statement.  Perhaps its companies, at the urging of FCPA Inc., that are probing every area where there is an interaction with government officials and then working backwards?

*****

As reported here:

“Greek authorities [recently] indicted 64 people to stand trial over years-old allegations of bribery involving Siemens AG, the German engineering giant … A probe of corporate dealings from 1992 to 2006 allegedly found that Greece had lost about 70 million euros in the sale of equipment from Siemens to Greek telephone operator Hellenic Telecommunications also known as OTE, which was still owned by the state at the beginning of that period … A panel of judges decided that those indicted, including both Greek and German nationals, should stand trial for bribery or money laundering. The list of suspects includes former Siemens and OTE officials.”

As noted here, Joe Kaeser (President and CEO of Siemens) reportedly stated:

“I really believe the country (Greece) can move to the future, rather than trying to find the solutions in the past.” He added that his company had a “dark history,” mentioning compliance issues. But he said it was not a “black and white story” when asked whether the indictments had been politically motivated by the current friction between the German and Greek governments. ”Looking at the past doesn’t help the future because the past is the past.”

If the U.S. brings FCPA enforcement actions based on conduct that in some instances is 10 – 15 years old, it is not surprising that Greece is doing the same.  Yet is this right?

As the U.S. Supreme Court recently stated in Gabelli:

“Statute of limitations are intended to ‘promote justice by preventing surprises through the revival of claims that have been allowed to slumber until evidence has been lost, memories have faded, and witnesses have disappeared.  They provide ‘security and stability to human affairs.  [They] are ‘vital to the welfare of society [and] ‘even wrongdoers are entitled to assume that their sins may be forgotten.’ […] It ‘would be utterly repugnant to the genius of our laws if actions for penalties could ‘be brought at any distance of time.’”

****

Since day one, I called Morgan-Stanley’s so-called declination politically motivated.  (See here and here).

I am glad to see that FCPA commentator Michael Volkov recently joined the club.  Writing on the Garth Peterson / Morgan Stanley so-called declination, Volkov states:  ”my intelligence on the case indicated that … [the] DOJ apparently wanted to demonstrate for political reasons that it could recognize a company’s compliance program to decline a case against a company.

A Future Foreign Official Teaser?

As recently reported by the Wall Street,

“China’s leadership is preparing to radically consolidate the country’s bloated state-owned sector, telling thousands of enterprises they need to rely less on state life support and get ready to list on public markets. [...] Communist Party leaders plan to release broad guidelines in the next months for restructuring the country’s more than 100,000 state-owned enterprises, according to government officials and advisers with knowledge of the deliberations. [...]  Strategically important industries such as energy, resources and telecommunications are marked for consolidation, the officials and advisers say. The merged entities would then be reorganized as asset-investment firms, with a mandate to make sure they run more like commercial operations than arms of the government. Upper management will be under orders to maximize returns and prepare many of the companies for eventual listing on stock markets, these people say.”

In U.S. v. Esquenazi, the 11th Circuit concluded that  an “instrumentality” under the FCPA is an “entity controlled by the government of a foreign country that performs a function the controlling government treats as its own.” The Court recognized that what “constitutes control and what constitutes a function the government treats as its own are fact-bound questions” and, without seeking to list all “factors that might prove relevant,” the court did list “some factors that may be relevant” in deciding issues of control and function.

As to control, the 11th Circuit listed the following factors:

“[whether] the foreign government’s formal designation of that entity; whether the government has a majority interest in the entity; the government’s ability to hire and fire the entity’s principals; the extent to which the entity’s profits, if any, go directly into the governmental fisc, and, by the same token, the extent to which the government funds the entity if it fails to break even; and the length of time these indicia have existed.”

As to function, the 11th Circuit listed the following factors:

“whether the entity has a monopoly over the function it exists to carry out; whether the government subsidizes the costs associated with the entity providing services; whether the entity provides services to the public at large in the foreign country; and whether the public and the government of that foreign country generally perceive the entity to be performing a governmental function.”

Have fun applying this test should China’s proposed changes go forward.

Brazil Update

My own cents regarding Brazil’s recent implementation of regulations regarding certain features of its Clean Companies Act (a law which provides for only civil and administrative liability of corporate entities for alleged acts of bribery) is that the regulations are a yawner for any company that is already acting consistent with FCPA best practices.

Yet, if you feel the urge to read up on Brazil’s recent regulations, comprehensive coverage can be found here from Debevoise & Plimpton and here from FCPAmericas.

For the Reading Stack

A thoughtful article here from Alexandra Wrage (President of Trace) regarding the “cult of the imperfect.”  It states:

“Sir Robert Alexander Watson-Watt is credited with saving thousands of lives in Britain during the worst days of World War II after developing Chain Home, a low-frequency radar system able to detect aircraft from about 90 miles away. He openly encouraged what he called the “cult of the imperfect” among his team. He knew that Britain didn’t need the best possible radar system in five years; the country needed a viable radar system urgently. Immediately. Watson-Watt, who was knighted shortly after the Battle of Britain, is said to have instructed his team to strive for the third-best option, because “the second-best comes too late . . . the best never comes.

[...]

Perfect due diligence risk assessments never come. And even second-best may come too late. Just get started. You’ll see more protections and benefits from good (for now) than perfect (some day, maybe . . .).”

Sound advice that I agree with and completely consistent with Congressional intent in enacting the FCPA’s internal controls provisions and even prior enforcement agency guidance.

Problem is, the DOJ and SEC wear rose-colored glasses, including as to conduct years ago, and if a company is acting consistent with FCPA best practices 99% of the time, that means 1% of the time they are not.

*****

A good weekend to all. On Wisconsin!

Avon Resolves Long-Standing FCPA Scrutiny By Agreeing To $135 Million Settlement

Friday, December 19th, 2014

AvonEarlier this week, the DOJ and SEC announced resolution of Avon’s long-standing FCPA scrutiny in China.  The conduct at issue took place between 2004 and 2008 and Avon disclosed the conduct to the enforcement agencies in 2008.

In short, the DOJ and SEC alleged that Avon’s indirect subsidiary (Avon China) provided approximately $8 million in things of value, including gifts, cash, and non-business travel, meals and entertainment, which it gave to Chinese officials in order to obtain and retain business benefits for Avon China.  Avon resolved FCPA books and records and internal controls charges related to this conduct.

Consistent with Avon’s prior disclosure, the aggregate settlement amount was $135 million.  While not a top-ten Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement action, the settlement is the third-largest ever against a U.S. company.

The enforcement action included:

  • a DOJ component (a criminal information against Avon China resolved via a plea agreement and a criminal information against Avon Products resolved via a deferred prosecution agreement with an aggregate fine amount of $67.6 million); and
  • an SEC component (a civil complaint against Avon Products which it agreed to resolve without admitting or denying the allegations through payment of $67.4 million).

This post summarizes the approximately 175 pages of resolution documents.  Because all of the resolution documents have substantial overlap, the core allegations are highlighted in connection with the Avon China criminal information, yet repeated in the other resolution documents as well.

DOJ

Avon China Information

Avon Products (China) Co. Ltd. (“Avon China”) is described as an indirect subsidiary of Avon incorporated in China.  According to the information, Avon China and its affiliates manufactured and sold beauty and healthcare products through direct sales, as well as through “beauty boutiques” that were independently owned and operated.  The information states that in addition to independent sales representatives, Avon China had between 1,000 and 2,000 employees.  According to the information, Avon China’s books, records and accounts were consolidated into Avon’s books and records and reported by Avon in its financial statements.

Under the heading “The Chinese Regulatory Regime for Direct Selling” the information states:

“In or around 1998, the Chinese government outlawed direct selling in China for all companies.  In or around 2001, as a condition of its entry into the World Trade Organization, China agreed to lift its ban on direct selling.  In or around 2005, in order to test its planned regulations for direct selling, the Chinese government decided to issue one company a temporary license to conduct direct sales (the ‘test license.’). In or around March 2005, the Chinese government awarded the test license to Avon China, the defendant.  In or around late 2005, China lifted its ban on direct selling and allowed companies to apply for licenses to conduct direct sales.  Under China’s newly promulgated direct selling regulations, to conduct direct sales, a company was required to obtain a national direct selling license and approvals from each province and municipality in which it sought to conduct direct sales.  In order to obtain a license, a company was required to satisfy a number of conditions, including, in pertinent part, having a ‘good business reputation’ and a record that demonstrated no material violations of Chinese law for the preceding five years.  In or around February 2006, Avon China, the defendant, obtained its national direct selling license.  Between in or around February 2006 and in or around July 2006, Avon China, the defendant, obtained all of its provincial and municipal approvals to conduct direct selling.”

According to the information, Avon China created and maintained a Corporate Affairs Group whose duties included maintaining “guanxi (good relationships) with government officials and lobbying those officials on behalf of Avon China.”

Under the heading, “Overview of the Scheme to Falsify Books and Records,” the information states that from 2004 to 2008, Avon China, and Avon, acting through certain executives and employees, together with others, conspired to falsify Avon China’s and, thereby ultimately, Avon’s books and records in order to disguise the things of value Avon China executives and employees provided to government officials in China.

Specifically, the information alleges that from 2004 to 2008 Avon China “acting through certain executives and employees, disguised on its books and records over $8 million in things of value, including gifts, cash, and non-business travel, meals and entertainment, which it gave to Chinese officials in order to obtain and retain business benefits for Avon China.

The information alleges that:

Avon China “falsely and misleadingly described the nature and purpose of certain transactions on Avon China’s books and records, in part, because they believed that Chinese government officials did not want a paper trail reflecting their acceptance of money, gifts, travel, entertainment and other things of value from Avon China executives and employees.  The executives and employees also knew that, contrary to how the expenses were being described in Avon China’s books and records, the expenses were not incurred for legitimate business purposes.”

According to the information:

“Avon executives and employees, including high-level executives, attorneys, and internal auditors, learned that executives and employees of Avon China, the defendant, had in the past routinely provided things of value to Chinese government officials and failed to properly document it.  Instead of ensuring the practice was halted, disciplining the culpable individuals, and implementing appropriate controls at Avon and Avon China to address the problem, the Avon executives and employees, in conjunction with Avon China executives and employees, took steps to conceal the significant concerns raised about the accuracy of Avon China’s books and records and its practice of giving things of value to government officials.  These Avon and Avon China executives and employees, knowing that Avon China’s books and records would continue to be inaccurate if steps were not taken to correct Avon China’s executives and employees’ conduct, failed to take steps to correct such actions, despite knowing that Avon China’s books and records were consolidated into Avon’s books and records.”

The information then alleges various categories of payments.

Under the heading “gifts for government officials,” the information details designer wallets, bags, or watches “to obtain benefits from government officials, such as obtaining and retaining the direct selling license and requisite provincial and local approvals, avoiding fines, avoiding negative media reports, obtaining favorable judicial treatment, and obtaining government approval to sell nutritional supplements and healthcare apparel products, via direct selling, that did not meet or had yet to meet government standards.  According to the information, Avon China executives and employees, at various times, falsely or misleadingly described the gifts, including describing them as employee travel and entertainment, samples or public relations business entertainment.” Specific gifts mentioned include a $890 gift or entertainment expense, a $960 gift purchased from Louis Vuitton, a $800 Gucci Bag, and a $460 gift from Louis Vuitton.

Regarding avoiding negative media reports, the information alleges that a leading government-owned newspaper intended to run a story about Avon China improperly recruiting sales associates and that this article could cause Avon China to lose its direct selling license.  According to the information, “in order to convince the newspaper not to run the article … an Avon China employee caused Avon China to pay approximately $77,500 to become a “sponsor” of the paper at the request of a government official at the paper who was in charge of determining whether the potential article would run and who may have received a commission on monies received from sponsors.”

Under the heading “meals and entertainment,” the information alleges that Avon China “routinely entertained government officials in order to obtain the same business benefits highlighted above.  According to the information, executives and employees of Avon China, “intentionally concealed these improper meal and entertainment expenses in Avon China’s books and records by (1) intentionally omitting reference to the participation of government officials in order to conceal their participation, using descriptions like business entertainment, public relation entertainment, or no description at all; or (2) revealing the participation of government officials but intentionally describing the event inaccurately by omitting the identity or number of officials, the cost of the event, or the true purpose of the event.”

Under the heading “travel for government officials,” the information alleges that executives and employees of Avon China caused Avon China to “pay for travel expenses for government officials, and sometimes their families” in order to obtain the same improper business benefits highlighted above.  According to the information, “to conceal the true nature of these expenses, these executives and employees intentionally omitted from or concealed in Avon China’s records the name of the government officials, the fact that the travelers were government officials or relatives of government officials, and, at times, the number of travelers.”  The information also alleges that executives and employees of Avon China “intentionally falsified in Avon China’s books and records the purpose of the travel, which often was for personal, not legitimate business, purposes.  For example, the information alleges that certain personal trips for government officials (and occasionally their spouses and children) were described as “study trips” or “site visits” when the officials were instead sightseeing or taking a beach vacation.”  Specifically, the information alleges, among other trips, that Avon China paid for six officials from the Guandong Food and Drug Administration to travel to Avon’s headquarters in New York City and its research and development facility in upstate New York for a “site visit/study visit.” According to the information, the “officials never visited Avon’s headquarters, only spent one morning at Avon’s research and development facility, and spent the rest of the 18-day trip sightseeing and being entertained by an Avon China employee in New York, Vancouver, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Philadelphia, Seattle, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Hawaii, and Washington D.C.

Under the heading “cash for government officials,” the information alleges that “executives and employees of Avon China, gave cash to government officials in order to obtain benefits for Avon China and falsified Avon China’s records to conceal the true recipient of and purpose for the money.”  According to the information, “these employees accomplished this by submitting for reimbursement meal or entertainment receipts given to them by government officials and falsely claiming that the receipts reflected employee business expenses.  In truth, the employees had no such expenses, and the receipts were used to obtain cash to make payments to government officials.  The information also alleges other instances in which executives and employees of Avon China “gave cash to government officials in order to obtain business benefits for Avon China and falsely reported the payments as fine payments.”  In other instances, the information alleges that Avon China executives and employees “made payments to organizations designated by government officials.”

The information also contains a separate section regarding payments to Consulting Company A that was retained by Avon China “purportedly” to provide various services to Avon China.  The information alleges that these services “were memorialized in a scant two-page contract” and that Avon China “did not conduct any due diligence of Consulting Company A, nor did they require Consulting Company A to comply with Avon’s Code of Conduct (in particular, the provisions related to payments to government officials), even though Consulting Company A was retained specifically to interact with government officials on behalf of Avon China.”  The information alleges that executives and employees of Avon China caused Avon China to pay Consulting Company A additional monies for purportedly legitimate, though ambiguously described, services even though an Avon China executive knew Consulting Company A’s invoices were often false, and no Avon China executives or employees knew of any legitimate services being provided by Consulting Company A.

Based on the above conduct, Avon China was charged with one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA’s books and records provisions.

The information also contains a separate section titled “Discovery of the Falsification and Cover-Up.”  In pertinent part, the information alleges:

  • In 2005, a senior audit manager in Avon’s internal audit group reported to Avon’s Compliance Committee, that executives and employees of Avon China were not maintaining proper records of entertainment for government officials and that an Avon China executive had explained that the practice was intentional because information regarding that entertainment was “quite sensitive.”
  • In 2005, Avon’s internal auditors audited the Corporate Affairs Group’s travel and entertainment and discretionary expenses and issued a draft report.
  • The Draft Audit Report, which was reviewed by various Avon executives and Avon attorneys, contained conclusions regarding the Corporate Affairs Group’s expenses including: (1) high value gifts and meals were offered to government officials on an ongoing basis; (2) the majority of the expenses related to gifts, meals, sponsorships, and travel of substantial monetary value for Chinese government officials to maintain relationships with the officials; (3) a third party consultant was paid a substantial sum of money to interact with the government but was not contractually required to follow the FCPA, was not actively monitored by Avon China, and was paid for vague and unknown services; and (4) the payments, and the lack of accurate, detailed records, may violate the FCPA and other anti-corruption laws.
  • The management team of Avon China “insisted that the internal audit team remove the discussion of providing things of value to government officials and potential FCPA violations from the Draft Audit Report.
  • Certain Avon executives agreed with executives of Avon China to delete the discussion of the Corporate Affairs Group’s conduct from the Draft Audit Report.  An Avon Executive then directed the internal audit team to either (1) retrieve every copy of the Draft Audit Report and destroy them or (2) instruct the individuals who possessed copies of the Draft Audit Report to destroy them.
  • Avon executives did not instruct any executives or employees of Avon China to stop the conduct identified in the Draft Audit Report, put in place controls to prevent the conduct or ensure the accuracy of Avon China’s books and records.
  • In 2006, Avon’s internal auditors again reviewed the Corporate Affairs Group’s travel and entertainment and discretionary expenses and found that Corporate Affairs Group executive and employees were continuing their practice of giving things of value to government officials.  Notwithstanding learning that the conduct was continuing and that the books and records of Avon China were still being falsified, no Avon or Avon China executives or employees took steps to stop or prevent the conduct from recurring, and Avon China executives and employees continued operating in the same improper manner.
  • In 2007, an Avon executive reported to the Avon Compliance Committee that the matter reported in 2005 regarding potential FCPA violations by executives and employees of Avon China had been closed as “unsubstantiated” even though the executive and others knew of Avon China’s previous – and continuing – practice of giving things of value to government officials and the ongoing failure of Avon China’s books and records to reflect accurately and fairly the nature and purpose of the transactions.
  • From 2004 to 2008, Avon China executives signed false management representation letters to Avon China’s external auditor stating that Avon China’s books and records were fair and accurate.

Avon China Plea Agreement

According to the plea agreement, the advisory Sentencing Guidelines fine range was $73.9 million to $147.9 million.  Pursuant to the plea agreement, Avon China agreed to pay a criminal fine in the amount of $67.6 million.

In the plea agreement, Avon China waived all defenses based on the statute of limitations.

Avon Products Information

The information is based on the same core conduct alleged in the Avon China information.

Under the heading “Avon’s Internal Controls,” the information alleges, in pertinent part, as follows.

“Although Avon … and certain of its subsidiaries had policies in place relating to the review and approval of employee expenses, it lacked adequate controls to ensure compliance with those policies and thus, in practice, employee expenses were not adequately vetted to ensure that they were reasonable, bona fide, or properly documented.

Avon … lacked sufficient controls to ensure the integrity of its internal audit process, particularly with regard to its review of allegations of and testing for improper payments made to foreign government officials.  Avon’s internal audit group also failed to devote adequate funding, staffing, and resources to Avon China.

Avon … did not have adequate internal accounting and financial controls designed to detect and prevent, among other things, corruption-related violations, including FCPA violations.  In particular, after senior Avon executives … learned of specific corruption issues in China related to the provision of cash, meals, gifts, travel, and entertainment to government officials, Avon failed to take the necessary steps to implement appropriate controls to address such issues and prevent such risks in the future.

Avon … had an inadequate compliance program.  In fact, Avon did not have a dedicated compliance officer or compliance personnel.  Avon’s compliance program was particularly weak with regard to risks associated with foreign bribery.  For example, even though Avon operated in over 100 countries, including many countries with high corruption risks, Avon did not have a specific anti-corruption policy, nor did it provide any stand alone FCPA-related training.  Moreover, although Avon had a code of conduct that covered all of its employees and its subsidiaries’ employees, which, among other things, prohibited paying bribes, many employees of Avon and its subsidiaries were unaware of its existence.

Avon .. did not conduct corruption-related due diligence on appropriate third parties or have effective controls for the meaningful approval of third parties.  Avon also did not require adequate documentation supporting the retention of payments to third parties.

Avon … did not undertake periodic risk assessments of its compliance program and lacked proper oversight of gifts, travel, and entertainment expenditures.  Avon’s failure to maintain an adequate compliance program significantly contributed to the company’s failure to prevent the misconduct in China.”

Based on the core conduct and the specific allegations detailed above, Avon was charged with one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA’s books and records provisions as well as one count of violating the FCPA’s internal controls provisions for knowingly failing to implement a system of internal accounting controls sufficient to provide reasonable assurance of various aspects of its business as required by the provisions.

Avon Products DPA

Pursuant to the three year DPA, Avon admitted, accepted and acknowledged that it was responsible for the conduct alleged in the information.

Under the heading “Relevant Considerations,” the factors the DOJ considered in resolving the action were:

“(a) the Company’s cooperation, which included conducting an extensive internal investigation in China and other relevant countries; voluntarily making U.S. and foreign employees available for interviews; collecting, analyzing, translating, and organizing voluminous evidence and information for the Department; (b) the Company’s voluntary disclosure of its employees’ and its subsidiary’s employees’ misconduct to the Department, which came relatively soon after the Company received a whistleblower letter alleging misconduct but years after certain senior executives of the Company had learned of and sought to hide the misconduct in China; (c) the Company’s extensive remediation, including terminating the employment of individuals responsible for the misconduct, enhancing its compliance program and internal controls, and significantly increasing the resources available for compliance and internal audit; (d) the Company’s 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]; and (e) the Company’s agreement to continue to cooperate with the Department …”

The DPA also states:

“The Department also considered that the Company, taking into account its own business interests, expended considerable resources on a company wide review of and enhancements to its compliance program and internal controls.  While the Company’s efforts in this regard were taken without Department request or guidance, and at times caused unintended delays in the progress of the Department’s narrower investigations, the Department recognizes that the Company’s efforts resulted in important compliance and internal controls improvements.”

Based on the conduct at issue, the DPA sets forth an advisory Sentencing Guidelines range of $84.6 million to $169.1 million.  The DPA sets forth a criminal fine amount of $67.6 million and the above-mentioned Avon China criminal fine was deducted from this amount.

Pursuant to the DPA, Avon agreed to retain an independent compliance monitor for an 18 month term and agreed to various periodic reporting obligations to the DOJ.

The DPA contains a standard “muzzle clause” in which it (or those associated with it) agreed not to make any public statements contradicting its acceptance of responsibility under the DPA.

In this release, Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell stated:

“Companies that cook their books to hide improper payments will face criminal penalties, as Avon China’s guilty plea demonstrates. Public companies that discover bribes paid to foreign officials, fail to stop them, and cover them up do so at their own peril.”

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara of the Southern District of New York stated:

“For years in China it was ‘Avon calling,’ as Avon bestowed millions of dollars in gifts and other things on Chinese government officials in return for business benefits. Avon China was in the door-to-door influence-peddling business, and for years its corporate parent, rather than putting an end to the practice, conspired to cover it up.  Avon has now agreed to adopt rigorous internal controls and to the appointment of a monitor to ensure that reforms are instituted and maintained.”

Assistant Director in Charge Andrew G. McCabe of the FBI’s Washington Field Office stated:

“When corporations knowingly engage in bribery in order to obtain and retain contracts, it disrupts the level playing field to which all businesses are entitled. Companies who attempt to advance their businesses through foreign bribery should be on notice.  The FBI, with our law enforcement partners, is continuing to push this unacceptable practice out of the business playbook by investigating companies who ignore the law.”

SEC

Based on the same core conduct alleged in the DOJ actions, in this civil complaint the SEC charged Avon with violating the FCPA’s books and records and internal controls provisions.  In summary, the SEC’s complaint states:

“This matter concerns violations by A von Products, Inc. (“A von”) of the corporate record keeping and internal controls provisions of the federal securities laws. [...] . From 2004 through the third quarter of 2008, Avon’s books and records failed to accurately and fairly reflect payments by Avon Products (China) Co., Ltd. (“Avon Products China”) to Chinese government officials. Avon Products China provided cash and things of value, including gifts, travel, and entertainment, to various Chinese government officials, including government officials responsible for awarding a test license, and subsequently a direct sales business license, that would allow a company to utilize direct door-to-door selling in China. Avon Products China  was, in fact, awarded a test license and, then, the first official direct selling business license in China. Avon Products China also adopted an internal “no penalty policy” and provided cash and things of value to Chinese government officials to avoid fines and other penalties in order to maintain an ostensibly pristine corporate image. Avon Products China also paid a third-party consultant for purportedly legitimate interactions with government officials, even though Avon Products China management knew the consultant’s invoices were often false and could not point to legitimate services provided by the consultant. At times , payments were made to suppress negative news in state-owned media and to obtain competitor information. In addition, Avon Products China provided cash to government officials on behalf of other Avon subsidiaries in China. Avon Products China falsified its books and records so as to conceal the cash and things of value provided to government officials.  Near the end of 2005, an Avon internal audit team reported potential issues concerning things of value provided to Chinese government officials. Nevertheless, remedial measures sufficient to address the issues were not implemented at Avon Products China. Similar issues related to Avon Products China were raised at the end of 2006. Again, responsive remedial measures were not implemented. The books and records at A von Products China were consolidated into the books and records of Avon. Avon thus violated [the books and records provisions] by failing to make and keep books, records , and accounts, which, in reasonable detail , accurately and fairly reflected the transactions and disposition of assets of the issuer. By failing to ensure that it maintained adequate internal controls sufficient to record the nature and purpose of payments, or to prevent improper payments, to government  officials, Avon failed to devise and maintain a system of internal accounting controls sufficient to provide reasonable assurances that its transactions and the disposition of its assets were recorded correctly, accurately, and in accordance with authorization of management. Avon thereby violated [the internal controls provisions]. Finally, in May 2008, Avon began a review of its compliance with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”), the U.S . legislation that, among other things, prohibits payments to foreign government officials to obtain or retain business. As a result of its review, the company instituted extensive, related reforms.”

In certain respects, the SEC’s complaint contains additional details regarding certain of the alleged conduct such as:

  • Certain of the Chinese “foreign officials” are alleged to be individuals associated with the Ministry of Commerce (“MOFCOM”) and the State Administration for Industry and Commerce (“AIC”).
  • Regarding the Draft Audit Report, “Avon’s Legal Department took the position that conclusions about potential FCPA violations fell within the purview of Legal, and not Internal Audit.”
  • Regarding Avon’s initial investigation of the matter, Avon engaged a “major law firm” but “in mid-December 2005, sent the law firm a short e-mail stating that the company had ”moved on” from the issues and asking for an estimate of the fees incurred.”
  • “In May 2008 , the Avon Products China Corporate Affairs executive who had been terminated wrote to Avon’ s Chief Executive Officer alleging improper payments to Chinese government officials over several years in the form of meals, entertainment, travel, sponsorship of cultural events, gifts of art, and cash. The letter was forwarded to A von’s Legal Department and, in tum, to the audit committee of Avon’s board of directors. The audit committee commenced an internal investigation into the allegations and, in October 2008, Avon informed the Commission and the Department of Justice.”
  • As to various things of value: (i) “The majority of these payments were for meals and entertainment expenses under $200 per occurrence, without indication as to who attended the meal/entertainment or the business purpose of the expense.” (ii) a “Pearl River cruise for 200 State and Regional AIC officials during a conference of officials with responsibility for the oversight of Avon Products China’s direct selling business license.”; (iii) “corporate boxes at the China Open tennis tournament, given to AIC and other government officials in 2004 and 2005 “to thank them for their support.” During these years, Avon Products China was a corporate sponsor of the tournament and received the tickets as part of that sponsorship . Avon Products China also provided government officials with gifts that included Louis Vuitton merchandise, Gucci bags, and Tiffany pens.” (iv) “$23,000 for travel and expenses for government journalists to attend the ceremony at which Avon Products China launched its direct selling test;” (v) “Avon Products China’s employees also made payments to government officials for conferences, and related meals, gifts, and entertainment, in 150 instances aggregating $143,000. Records for these expenses do not indicate who attended the conferences, or the business purpose of the expenses. Approximately $15,000 of this amount was for expenses related to government journalists’ attendance at an Avon Products China media event.”

As noted in this SEC release:

“Avon, which neither admitted nor denied the allegations, agreed to pay disgorgement of $52,850,000 in benefits resulting from the alleged misconduct plus prejudgment interest of $14,515,013.13 for a total of more than $67.36 million.  In the parallel criminal matter, Avon entities agreed to pay $67,648,000 in penalties.  Avon also is required to retain an independent compliance monitor to review its FCPA compliance program for a period of 18 months, followed by an 18-month period of self-reporting on its compliance efforts.  Avon would be permanently enjoined from violating the books and records and internal controls provisions of the federal securities laws.  In reaching the proposed settlement, which is subject to court approval, the SEC considered Avon’s cooperation and significant remedial measures.”

In the release, Scott Friestad (Associate Director in the SEC’s Enforcement Division) stated:

“Avon’s subsidiary in China paid millions of dollars to government officials to obtain a direct selling license and gain an edge over their competitors, and the company reaped substantial financial benefits as a result. Avon missed an opportunity to correct potential FCPA problems at its subsidiary, resulting in years of additional misconduct that could have been avoided.”

In this release, Sheri McCoy (CEO of Avon Products, Inc.) stated: ”We are pleased to have reached agreements with the DOJ and the SEC.”

Avon was represented by Evan Chesler and Benjamin Gruenstein of Cravath, Swaine & Moore.