Archive for the ‘Deferred Prosecution Agreements’ Category

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.

Assistant Attorney General Caldwell’s Unconvincing Defense Of DPAs / NPAs

Monday, December 8th, 2014

As noted in this Global Investigations Review article, at a recent event in Paris in connection with the release of the OECD’s Foreign Bribery Report, Assistant Attorney General Lisa Caldwell defended the DOJ’s frequent use of DPAs and NPAs to resolve Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement actions.  As stated in the article:

“Caldwell defended the Department of Justice’s (DoJ) reliance on settlements in FCPA cases. “In the United States we are often able to achieve much more through a settlement – a negotiated settlement – than we could achieve following conviction at trial,” she said. “We are able to impose reforms, impose compliance controls, and impose all sorts of behavioural change that a court would never be able to impose following even a conviction at trial.” Since 2009 over 50 companies have settled with the DoJ for alleged FCPA violations. Caldwell told the audience in Paris: “Companies cannot be sent to jail, so all a court can do is say you will pay ‘x’. We can say: ‘you will also have a monitor and will do all sorts of other things for the next five years, and if you don’t do them for the next five years then you can still be prosecuted’.” “In the United States system at least it is a more powerful tool than actually going to trial,” she said.

Post-enforcement action compliance obligations typically last 2-3 years, not 5 as Caldwell suggested.  Regardless, Caldwell’s defense of DPAs and NPAs is just as unconvincing as former Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer’s defense of DPAs and DPAs in September 2012 (see here for the prior post).

For starters, the function of the DOJ’s criminal division, as stated on its website, is to “serve the public interest through the enforcement of criminal statutes.”  Whether the function of the DOJ is, in addition, to “impose reform, impose compliance controls, and all impose all sorts of behavioral changes” on a business organization is a point of much disagreement. (See, e.g., “Prosecutors in the Boardroom“).

Regardless of one’s thoughts on whether the DOJ’s criminal division ought to play the role of a quasi-regulator, the notion that the DOJ is powerless to effect corporate change through old-fashion law enforcement (that is enforcing the FCPA without use of NPAs and DPAs) is plainly false.

For instance, the Siemens enforcement action did not involve the use of an NPA or DPA.  Yet, it is clear from the plea agreement, sentencing memorandum, and judgment that the DOJ was able to obtain the reforms, compliance controls and behavioral changes it wanted.  More recently in 2014, the Alcoa enforcement action was resolved without an NPA or DPA.  The plea agreement and judgment in the case (see here and here) again demonstrate that the DOJ was again able to obtain the reform, compliance controls and behavioral changes it wanted.

To return to Caldwell’s words, perhaps NPAs and DPAs are indeed a more powerful tool in FCPA enforcement actions than actually going to trial, but then again the DOJ is 0-2 in FCPA history when put to its ultimate burden of proof by a business organization in an FCPA enforcement action.

Just because the DOJ may have difficulty proving FCPA violations against business organizations and just because the DOJ is troubled – with good reason – by traditional notions of corporate criminal liability, does not mean the DOJ needs to continue to champion the alternate universe of NPAs and DPAs it has created.

*****

To read a different perspective on Caldwell’s recent remarks, see here from Tom Fox at the FCPA Compliance and Ethics Blog.

Friday Leftovers

Friday, November 28th, 2014

Roundup2Scrutiny update, a double standard, ripples, that’s interesting, and for the reading stack.  It’s all here in a leftovers edition of the Friday roundup.

Scrutiny Update

One of the longest-lasting instances of FCPA scrutiny concerns PBSJ Corporation (a global engineering and architectural firm) that first disclosed FCPA scrutiny in December 2009.  PBSJ was subsequently acquired by WS Atkins (a U.K. company) and WS Atkins disclosed in a recently regulatory filing as follows.

“There are ongoing discussions regarding the longstanding and previously reported Department of Justice and Securities and Exchange Commission enquiries relating to potential Foreign Corrupt Practices Act violations by the PBSJ Corporation prior to its acquisition by the Group. We anticipate resolution of this matter before the end of the current financial year.”

Double Standard?

Several FCPA enforcement actions or instances of FCPA scrutiny have been based on providing things of value such as meals, entertainment and consulting fees to foreign physicians.

Against this backdrop, the Wall Street Journal reports:

“As it fights to buy Botox maker Allergan Inc.,  Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc. is investing cash and time wooing the doctors it would need on its side after a takeover. A centerpiece of the effort: Valeant said it met with a total of 45 influential cosmetic surgeons and dermatologists in September at events in Aspen, Colo., and Palm Beach, Fla. Valeant paid for the physicians’ airfares, two-night stays at luxury hotels and meals. The company also agreed to provide consulting fees that could amount to as much as $30,000, according to doctors who attended the meetings. Valeant, a smaller player than Allergan in cosmetic medicine, must win over doctors if it wrests control of the Botox maker, since it will rely on the physicians for business. Valeant said the pursuit seems to be paying off. Several doctors who attended the sessions, of what Valeant called its special advisory committee, said they were won over by the company’s plans for Allergan—including attracting patients to physicians’ offices and introducing new products.”

Ripples

My recent article “Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Ripples“ highlights that settlement amounts in an actual FCPA enforcement action are often only a relatively minor component of the overall financial consequences that can result from FCPA scrutiny or enforcement in this new era.

One such ripple is offensive use of the FCPA to further advance a litigating position and that is just what Instituto Mexicano Del Seguro Social (“IMSS”) has done in this recent civil complaint against Orthofix International.

You may recall that in July 2012 Orthofix resolved a $7.4 million FCPA enforcement action based on allegations that its Mexican subsidiary paid bribes totaling approximately $317,000 to Mexican officials in order to obtain and retain sales contracts from IMSS. (See here for the prior post).

In the recent civil complaint, IMSS uses the core conduct at issue in the FCPA enforcement action and alleges various RICO claims, fraud claims, and other claims under Mexican law.

That’s Interesting

As has been widely reported (see here for instance), “President Obama called on the Federal Communications Commission … to declare broadband Internet service a public utility, saying that it was essential to the economy …”.

That’s interesting because – as informed readers know – in the 11th Circuit’s “foreign official” decision the court concluded that an otherwise commercial enterprise can be a “instrumentality” of a government if the “entity controlled by the government … performs a function the controlling government treats as its own.”  Among the factors the court articulated for whether an entity performs a “function the controlling government treats as its own” was “whether the public and the government of that foreign country generally perceive the entity to be performing a governmental function.”

Reading Stack

Several law firm client alerts regarding the DOJ’s recent FCPA Opinion Procedure release concerning successor liability (see herehere, here).  In this alert, former DOJ FCPA Unit Chief Charles Duross leads with the headline “Is DOJ Evolving Away from the Halliburton Opinion Standard?” (a reference to this 2008 Opinion Procedure release).

From Foley & Larder and MZM Legal (India) – “Anti-Bribery and Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Compliance Guide for U.S. Companies Doing Business in India.”

Recent interviews (here and here) with Richard Bistrong, a real-world FCPA violator and undercover cooperator.  See here for my previous Q&A with Bistrong.  As noted here, Bistrong recently spoke to my FCPA class at Southern Illinois University School of Law. Having the ability to hear from an individual who violated the law my students were studying, and being able to hear first-hand of real-world business conditions, was of tremendous value to the students and added an important dimension to the class.

Should the government reconsider its use of deferred prosecution agreements?  That is the question posed in this New York Times roundtable (in the context of recent bank prosecutions).

Finally for your viewing pleasure, an FCPA-related interview here of SciClone’s CEO (a company that has been under FCPA scrutiny since approximately August, 2010).

*****

A good weekend to all.

And The Apple Goes To …

Monday, September 22nd, 2014

applepicFitting of the season, the FCPA Professor apple award goes to Matthew Fishbein (Debevoise & Plimpton).

In this recent article titled “Why Aren’t Individuals Prosecuted for Conduct Companies Admit,” Fishbein (who previously served in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York as Chief Assistant U.S. Attorney and Chief of the Criminal Division, among other DOJ positions), picks an orchard. He writes:

“The public has every right to wonder how it can be that the government brings no charges against individuals in the wake of [corporate criminal settlements]. Companies act only through the conduct of individuals—if the conduct is as egregious as portrayed in these settlements, and if the massive penalties are appropriate, how is it that so often the government charges no individuals?

[...]

Prosecutors’ increasing appreciation of the leverage they enjoy over corporate entities, coupled with companies’ determinations that a “bad” settlement is likely better than a “good” litigation, has resulted in a greater number of corporate settlements in cases where the government would be unlikely to prevail if forced to prove its case in court. The result, increasingly common over the last 20 years, is that prosecutors can obtain what appears to be a monumental victory without needing to develop a theory, supported by evidence, that could survive a legal challenge or prevail before a jury.

Prosecutors have far less leverage over individuals. People, unlike corporations, often face the prospect of incarceration and financial ruin in the event of a criminal conviction. As a result, individuals are more likely to test the government’s legal theories and version of the facts. Of course, the government often does pursue complex cases against individuals where the legal theory is clear and the facts compelling (for example, the recent wave of insider trading cases). But in many of the recent settlements, prosecutors know from their interactions with lawyers for individuals that, unlike with the corporation, they are likely to have a fight on their hands if they bring charges. Prosecutors are under enormous pressure from Congress and the public to pursue cases against senior executives who are thought to have caused the financial crisis. If they thought they would prevail, is there any doubt that they would bring these cases?

[...]

As NPAs and DPAs have become increasingly common, the government’s leverage over corporations in negotiating these settlements has become more apparent. In addition to the tremendous risks associated with an indictment, prosecutors have several other powerful sources of negotiating leverage. These include: government suspension and debarment; the loss of key licenses, such as banking licenses; the drain on the time and energy of corporate executives and other witnesses; legal costs; and costs associated with the uncertainty of a criminal investigation and potential indictment.

Corporations are also reluctant to go to trial because they are risk averse. Regardless of the strength of the government’s case, the facts in corporate criminal cases are often complex or esoteric, and there is always a chance that a jury may not understand why a few problematic documents do not add up to criminal liability.

In light of these factors, companies often may view an admission of criminal conduct as preferable to a legal victory that clears the company’s name but requires years of uncertainty. By entering into a settlement, a company often confines its exposure to a press conference followed by writing a large check, after which the incident may be relegated to a paragraph in a 10-Q filing. By contrast, a company that goes to trial may receive negative—and unpredictable—news coverage for years.

From a business perspective, the preference to settle appears to be prudent: Even though DPAs often involve damaging admissions and massive fines, such negotiated resolutions tend to lead to an immediate increase in a company’s stock price. [...] The increase of a company’s stock price after it admits to often egregious criminal conduct and pays a multimillion dollar fine reflects the strong desire of shareholders and the market—and the consequent pressure on corporate executives—to resolve investigations by entering into settlements. The market appears to value the certainty of a resolution more than it is concerned by admissions of criminal conduct.

The above factors all contribute to an environment in which the government can test the limits of its leverage in negotiating corporate settlements. In recent years, prosecutors have pushed those limits further, knowing that they often need not develop a theory of criminal liability that would likely survive a court challenge. A December 2013 NPA that Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) entered into to settle FCPA charges provides a telling example. Under the NPA, ADM agreed to pay $54 million in penalties for bribing foreign government officials. Although it was undisputed that officials of ADM indirect subsidiary ACTI Ukraine paid off foreign officials, they did so in order to receive tax refunds owed by the Ukrainian government.

According to FCPA expert and Southern Illinois University School of Law Professor Michael Koehler, “it is difficult to square [the elements of the FCPA] with the facts alleged in the [ACTI] Ukraine information, and anyone who values the rule of law should be alarmed by it.” The FCPA was designed to prevent companies from “corruptly” acquiring “business”—not receiving owed tax refunds. Moreover, the statute specifically exempts from its anti-bribery provisions “payments to a foreign official…the purpose of which is to expedite or to secure the performance of a routine government action by a foreign official.”

The ADM NPA appears to reflect what Mark Mendelsohn, former head of the Justice Department’s FCPA Unit, has described as the “danger” of NPAs and DPAs: “it is tempting for the [Justice Department] or the SEC…to seek to resolve cases through DPAs or NPAs that don’t actually constitute violations of the law.” But if a case turns out to be marginal, why would a prosecutor pursue it? My experience as a former prosecutor and current defense lawyer suggests that there are at least three reasons for this phenomenon.

First, competition between prosecutors’ offices and public demands for immediate investigations in the wake of high-profile stories place substantial pressure on prosecutors to investigate companies quickly and to pursue cases without having necessarily vetted their appropriateness for criminal charges.

Second, many of the subjects of corporate investigations are complicated, esoteric, and place a substantial burden on the limited resources of prosecutors’ offices. After a lengthy investigation, a prosecutors’ office may not be inclined to simply close a case, especially if it can induce the company to enter into a settlement.

Third, as a result of the leverage discussed above, prosecutors can obtain settlements and massive payments in even marginal cases. Corporate prosecutions represent a low-risk, high-reward opportunity: The risk inherent in pursuing a marginal case is blunted by the high likelihood that a corporation will settle because of the prosecutor’s superior leverage and the corporate defendant’s rational risk aversion. And as settlements increase and monetary penalties skyrocket, the government accumulates and issues press releases reporting record amounts in fines and forfeitures.

[...]

[F]ew prosecutions of individuals actually occur. The reason is simple: Prosecutors do not possess the same kind of leverage over individuals that they do over companies. Because an admission of wrongdoing by an individual has far greater consequences, individuals are more likely to test the prosecution’s case. In cases where the evidence of criminal conduct is weak, prosecutors may well succeed in inducing the corporation to settle, but fail to convince individuals to do the same. Consequently, we see DPAs, often accompanied by inflammatory statements of fact (drafted by prosecutors) documenting outrageous criminal conduct by the company through its employees, without any follow-up prosecution of individuals.

Prosecutors have long been able to charge companies for the criminal conduct of their employees. And in the appropriate case, it makes sense that the corporation, which is created by the laws of the state, should be held accountable to ensure that its employees follow the law. But it follows that if criminal conduct has occurred, the individuals responsible should also be pursued.

The leverage the government can exercise over companies has tipped the scales to a troubling degree. By using their considerable leverage to induce companies to enter into settlements in increasingly marginal cases and forcing them to admit to egregious conduct to settle charges that likely would not survive a legal challenge or be proved to a jury, prosecutors have created a situation where the public is deceived into thinking that the individuals involved in corporate criminal conduct are receiving a free pass.

If these cases were exposed to the light of day by the adversarial system, the public would learn that they are often far murkier than they appear in the DPA’s statement of facts. Instead, however, the public sees a fundamental disconnect between the prosecution of corporations and the prosecution of individuals—and is justifiably left to wonder why prosecutors do not pursue the individuals through whom all corporations must act.”

For additional reading on the above topics see:

The Facade of FCPA Enforcement“ (2010)

My 2010 Senate FCPA testimony (“The lack of individual prosecutions in the most high-profile egregious instances of corporate bribery causes one to legitimately wonder whether the conduct was engaged in by ghosts. [...]  However, a reason no individuals have been charged in [most FCPA] enforcement actions may have more to do with the quality of the corporate enforcement action than any other factor. As previously described, given the prevalence of NPAs and DPAs in the FCPA context and the ease in which DOJ offers these alternative resolution vehicles to companies subject to an FCPA inquiry, companies agree to enter into such resolution vehicles regardless of the DOJ’s legal theories or the existence of valid and legitimate defenses. It is simply easier, more cost efficient, and more certain for a company … to agree to a NPA or DPA than it is to be criminally indicted and mount a valid legal defense – even if the DOJ’s theory of prosecution is questionable …”.

But Nobody Was Charged” (2011)

“DOJ Prosecution of Individuals – Are Other Factors At Play?” (2011) (2013) (2014)

Why You Should Be Alarmed by the ADM Enforcement Action” (2014).

*****

[The FCPA Apple Award recognizes informed, candid, and fresh thought-leadership on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act or related topics. There is no prize, medal or plaque awarded to the FCPA Professor Apple Award recipient. Just recognition by a leading FCPA website visited by a diverse group of readers around the world. There is no nomination procedure for the Apple Award. If you are writing something informed, candid and fresh about the FCPA or related topics, chances are high that I will find your work during my daily searches for FCPA content.]

Friday Roundup

Friday, September 12th, 2014

The problem with NPAs and DPAs, how does your product go to market in China, media coverage in China, victory, scrutiny alerts and updates, and for the reading stack.  It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

The Problem With NPAs and DPAs

I’ve long called for the abolition of NPAs and DPAs in the FCPA context as part of a two-pronged reform approach (see here among other posts).  As highlighted here among other posts, NPAs and DPAs are problematic across a wide spectrum and the agreements often contain meaningless or senseless language.

This recent Wall Street Journal Law Blog post titled “5 Things Companies Agree to But Can’t Deliver On in DPAs” is a worthy read. It begins:

“FCPA lawyers have a love-hate relationship with deferred-prosecution agreements,” said Laurence Urgenson, a partner at Mayer Brown. “We need them to get around the collateral consequences of prosecutions…but there is language in the agreements that drives us crazy.” Mr. Urgenson said the agreements originated with settlements prosecutors would reach with individuals, often children, placing certain requirements on them as a condition for the charges eventually being dropped. But many of those requirements make no sense in a settlement with a company; Mr. Urgenson picked out some of his favorites.”

How Does Your Product Go To Market In China?

Returning to issues discussed in this 2011 post and this 2011 post, this recent article in Food Navigator – Asia (not my typical source of FCPA material) states as follows concerning practices in China:

“One currently emerging trend is how companies are apparently becoming more comfortable to talk openly about measures they are taking to avoid gaining approvals and still move their products to market.  Indeed, four companies outlined to us the agreements they had made with Chinese distributors to deliver their products to locations near to China and then leave the local partners to navigate their movement into the People’s Republic.  Most likely, this would be done in cahoots with ministry officials in deals that would involve sweeteners and other transactions.  ’Once we’ve delivered the product, it isn’t our problem what our partner decides to do with it,’ an executive at a U.S.-based multinational told us in Hong Kong.  ’It’s not the cost of approvals that concerns us, it’s the time,” a mid-market manufacturer, also from the U.S., told us.  ”It is important for us that we hit China right now.’  Not all the companies we talked to about this were from America, but the fact that two were was surprising.  This is not least because business practices there are governed by the FCPA …  [...]  What is surprising to us is not the fact that these practices exist at all, it is how U.S. businesses in particular have now become comfortable enough to openly brief the press about their part in this trend.”

That makes two of us that are surprised!

Media Coverage in China

This prior 2012 post titled “All the News That Fit? To Print” highlighted the practice of paying journalists for media coverage in China.  Related to the general issue is this recent New York Times article which describes how “journalists who worked for a business news website under investigation in Shanghai have described a scheme of extorting Chinese companies, which were pressed to pay in return for the production of flattering articles or the burying of damaging ones.”

Victory

In this prior post I exposed how the DOJ and SEC literally re-wrote the FCPA statute in the November 2012 issued FCPA Guidance. The post highlighted the difference – even a first year law student would be expected to see – between what the FCPA actually says and the version of the FCPA in the Guidance.

Set forth below is the text of the FCPA regarding the “obtain or retain business” element.

   ”anything of value to

         any foreign official for purposes of

(A) (i) influencing any act or decision of such foreign official in his official capacity, (ii) inducing such foreign official to do or omit to do any act in violation of the lawful duty of such official, or (iii) securing any improper advantage; or

(B) inducing such foreign official to use his influence with a foreign government or instrumentality thereof to affect or influence any act or decision of such government or instrumentality,

         in order to assist such issuer in obtaining or retaining business for or with, or directing business to, any person;

Set forth below is how the text of the FCPA was [originally] portrayed in the FCPA Guidance.

   “anything of value to

         any foreign official for purposes of

(A) (i) influencing any act or decision of such foreign official in his official capacity, (ii) inducing such foreign official to do or omit to do any act in violation of the lawful duty of such official, or (iii) securing any improper advantage; or

(B) inducing such foreign official to use his influence with a foreign government or instrumentality thereof to affect or influence any act or decision of such government or instrumentality, in order to assist such issuer in obtaining or retaining business for or with, or directing business to, any person;

Recently, I received an interesting e-mail from a reader who was confused by my prior post because the FCPA Guidance does not portray the FCPA as suggested in my original post.  The reader was right!  That’s because the DOJ/SEC changed the version of the FCPA originally set forth in the Guidance to its proper form.  To prove that the original FCPA Guidance literally re-wrote the FCPA, here is the version of the FCPA that originally appeared in the FCPA Guidance which relevant portions highlighted.

Subtle yes, but sometimes victory occurs in the shadows.

Scrutiny Alerts and Updates

HP Russia

Related to the April 2014 DOJ enforcement action against HP related entities (see here for the prior post), the DOJ announced yesterday that HP Russia formally pleaded guilty.

As stated in the DOJ release

“In a brazen violation of the FCPA, Hewlett Packard’s Russia subsidiary used millions of dollars in bribes from a secret slush fund to secure a lucrative government contract,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Marshall Miller.  “Even more troubling was that the government contract up for sale was with Russia’s top prosecutor’s office.   Tech companies, like all companies, must compete on a level playing field, not resort to secret books and sham transactions to hide millions of dollars in bribes.  The Criminal Division has been at the forefront of this fight because when corruption takes hold overseas, American companies and the rule of law are harmed.  Today’s conviction and sentencing are important steps in our ongoing efforts to hold accountable those who corrupt the international marketplace.”

“Today’s conviction and sentence of HP Russia demonstrates that the United States Attorney’s Office is dedicated to aggressively prosecuting all forms of corporate fraud that touch our district, wherever they may occur,” said U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag.  “HP’s cooperation during the investigation is what we expect of major corporate leaders facing the challenges of doing business around the world.”

“For more than a decade HP Russia business executives participated in an elaborate scheme that involved paying bribes to government officials in exchange for large contracts,” said Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office Andrew McCabe. “There is no place for bribery in any business model or corporate culture.  Along with the Department of Justice, the IRS and international law enforcement partners, the FBI is committed to investigating corrupt backroom deals that threaten our global commerce.”

Image Sensing Systems

Earlier this week, the company issued the following release:

“Image Sensing Systems, Inc. today announced that the DOJ has closed its inquiry into the Company in connection with the previously disclosed investigation of potential violations of the FCPA citing the Company’s voluntary disclosure, thorough investigation, cooperation and voluntary enhancements to its compliance program.  The SEC earlier notified the Company that it had closed its investigation under the FCPA without recommending enforcement action. Kris Tufto, Image Sensing Systems chief executive officer, commented, “We are very pleased to conclude the DOJ and SEC investigations without further action.  From the very beginning, we have voluntarily cooperated with the authorities and have worked diligently to implement measures to enhance our internal controls and compliance efforts. We understand that those efforts have been recognized and that the resolution of the investigation reflects this cooperation.”  As previously reported by Image Sensing Systems, it had learned in early 2013 that Polish authorities were conducting an investigation into alleged violations of Polish law by two employees of Image Sensing Systems Europe Limited SP.Z.O.O., its Polish subsidiary, who had been charged with criminal violations of certain laws related to a project in Poland. A special subcommittee of the audit committee of the board of directors immediately engaged outside counsel to conduct an internal investigation.  Image Sensing Systems voluntarily disclosed the matter to the DOJ and the SEC, and it has cooperated fully with those agencies in connection with their review.”

Alstom

Regarding the previously announced U.K. criminal charges against Alstom (see here for the prior post), the U.K. Serious Fraud Office recently released this charge sheet detailing the charges in connection with alleged conduct in India, Poland and Tunisia.

Reading Stack

A very interesting read from the New York TimesForeign Powers By Influence at Think Tanks.”  The article begins as follows.

“More than a dozen prominent Washington research groups have received tens of millions of dollars from foreign governments in recent years while pushing United States government officials to adopt policies that often reflect the donors’ priorities, an investigation by The New York Times has found. The money is increasingly transforming the once-staid think-tank world into a muscular arm of foreign governments’ lobbying in Washington.”

Forbes asks – is it “silly season” in China?  What is perhaps silly is the advice highlighted in the article to negotiate the regulatory minefield:

“[B]uild a network. ‘Involve some powerful local Chinese partners in some peripheral areas in order to build a political foundation. I don’t necessarily recommend an overall partnership, since they would be better off with a well-placed approach in specific areas. Have a partnership in marketing or R&D and develop a perception that you are working closely with Chinese firms, but in reality you will not give away anything that is sensitive.”

This is probably only going to increase a company’s risk because of the FCPA’s third-party payment provisions.

*****

A good weekend to all.