Archive for the ‘DOJ Enforcement Action’ 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.

Dallas Airmotive Inc. The Latest Aircraft Maintenance Company To Resolve An FCPA Enforcement Action

Friday, December 12th, 2014

Dallas Air

First it was Oklahoma-based BizJet International in 2012 (see here).  Then it was Oklahoma-based The NORDAM Group in 2012 (see here). The latest aircraft maintenance company to resolve a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement action is Texas-based Dallas Airmotive.

Earlier this week, the DOJ announced that “Dallas Airmotive Inc., a provider of aircraft engine maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) services based in Grapevine, Texas, has admitted to violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and agreed to pay a $14 million criminal penalty to resolve charges that it bribed Latin American government officials in order to secure lucrative government contracts.”

As highlighted in this post discussing unsealed documents in connection with individual FCPA prosecutions of BizJet executives, all three enforcement actions seemed to be casually related.

Criminal Information

The Dallas Airmotive criminal information focuses on the conduct of Dallas Airmotive do Brasil (DAB), a corporate affiliate under the direction and control of Dallas Airmotive Inc. (DAI), and the information states that DAB’s employees were supervised and managed by directors and managers of DAI.  According to the information, DAB assisted DAI in providing MRO engine services to customers in Latin America, including to governmental and other customers.  The information states that DAB also bid on and secured engine service contracts with Brazilian government and commercial customers, the work for which was often done in part by DAI.

According to the information, DAI conspired with a DAI Sales Director (an individual responsible for overseeing DAI’s sales efforts in Latin America), a DAI Sales Agent (an individual responsible for obtaining and retaining MRO business for DAI and DAB in Latin America, including with commercial and government customers), a DAI Sales Manager (an individual responsible for obtaining and retaining MRO business for DAI and DAB in Latin America, including with commercial and government customers), DAB Manager A (an individual responsible for obtaining and retaining MRO business for DAI and DAB in Latin America, including with commercial and government customers), DAB Manager B (an individual responsible for obtaining and retaining MRO business for DAI and DAB in Latin America, including with government customers), Official 1 (a Sub-Officer in the Brazilian Air Force – BAF), Official 2 (a Sergeant in the BAF), Official 3 (a Captain for the Governor of the Brazilian state of Roraima), Front Company A (a Brazil-based sales and logistics services company that was affiliated with Official 1), Front Company B (a Brazil-based sales and logistics services company that was beneficially owned by Official 1), and a Intermediary Company (a Brazil-based company that was used to make payments for the benefit of Official 3), and others to make improper payments to the foreign officials to assist DAI in obtaining and retaining business.

According to the information, the purpose of the conspiracy was to obtain and retain engine MRO service business for DAI and DAB from foreign government customers in Latin America, including the BAF, the Peruvian Air Force, the Office of the Governor of the Brazilian State of Roraima, and the Office of the Governor of the Argentinean State of San Juan, by paying bribes to foreign officials employed by such customers.

According to the information, DAI, through its employees and agents, including employees of DAB, discussed in person and via e-mail making bribe payments – which they called “commissions” or “consulting fees” – and granting other benefits to employees of customers, including foreign government customers, in order to obtain and retain for DAI and DAB business to perform engine MRO services.  According to the information, certain bribe payments were wired from DAI’s bank account in New York and DAB’s bank account in Brazil to bank accounts of Front Company A, Front Company B, and Intermediary Company in Brazil.

The information also alleges that DAI/ DAB paid for a vacation for Official 2 and his spouse in exchange for Official 2′s assistance in securing MRO business.

As to Peru and Argentina, the information alleges that payments were made to a bank account of a third party commercial representative in Florida and Argentina (respectively) while knowing that the funds, at least in part, would be passed on to officials of the Peruvian Air Force and the office of the Governor of the Argentinean State of San Juan.

In addition to the conspiracy charge, DAI was also charged with one substantive violation of the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions.

Deferred Prosecution Agreement

The above charges were resolved via this DPA in which DAI admitted, accepted and acknowledged that it was responsible for the acts alleged in the information.  The 3 year DPA states, under relevant considerations, as follows.

“The DOJ enters into this Agreement based on the individual facts and circumstances presented by this case and the Company. Among the factors considered were the following: (a) the Company’s substantial cooperation, including conducting an internal investigation, voluntarily making U.S. and foreign employees available for interviews, and collecting, analyzing, and organizing voluminous evidence and information for the DOJ; (b) the Company’s improvements to date to its compliance program and internal controls, as well as its 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; (c) the nature and scope of the offense conduct; and (d) the Company’s agreement to continue to cooperate with the DOJ in any ongoing investigation of the conduct of the Company and its officers, directors, employees, and agents relating to possible violations under investigation by the DOJ.”

As highlighted in the DPA, the advisory guidelines fine range was $17.5 million to $35 million.  The DPA states as follows.

“The Company agrees to pay a monetary penalty in the amount of $14,000,000 to the United States Treasury within ten (10) days of the filing of the Information. The Company and the Office agree that this fine is appropriate given the facts and circumstances of this case, including the cooperation in this matter and the nature and scope of the offense conduct.”

As common in FCPA DPAs, DAI “expressly agree[d] that it shall not, through present or future attorneys, officers, directors, employees, agents or any other person authorized to speak for the Company, make any public statement, in litigation or otherwise, contradicting the acceptance of responsibility by the Company set forth [in the DPA and Information].”

Karen Seymour (Sullivan & Cromwell) represented Dallas Airmotive.

This Wall Street Journal Risk & Compliance post notes:

“A spokeswoman for the company said the U.S. Justice Department acknowledged the firm’s cooperation and the improvements it made to its compliance program. She said the company upholds high standards articulated in its code of business ethics, but it regrets that “those standards were breached by a limited number of third-party agents and employees of Dallas Airmotive’s business in South America” from 2008 through 2012. “These individuals are no longer with the company, and Dallas Airmotive do Brasil and our South American sales team are operating under new leadership,” the spokeswoman said in an email.”

Bio-Rad Laboratories Agrees To Pay $55 Million To Resolve FCPA Enforcement Action

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014

Yesterday the DOJ and SEC announced (here and here) a coordinated FCPA enforcement action against Bio-Rad Laboratories Inc. based on alleged conduct in Russia, Thailand and Vietnam.

The enforcement action involved a DOJ non-prosecution agreement and an SEC administrative order.  Bio-Rad agreed to pay approximately $55 million to resolve the alleged FCPA scrutiny ($14.35 million in the DOJ action; and $40.7 million in the SEC action).

This post summarizes both the DOJ and SEC enforcement actions based on a review of the original source documents.

DOJ Enforcement Action

The enforcement action focused on the conduct of Bio-Rad Laboratorii OOO (“Bio-Rad Russia”) and Bio-Rad SNC as well as the alleged knowledge of certain Bio-Rad managers concerning various Russian business practices.

According to the NPA, Bio-Rad Russia is:

“[A] wholly owned subsidiary of BIO-RAD located in Moscow, Russia. Bio-Rad Russia primarily sold BIO-RAD clinical diagnostic products, such as HIV testing kits. Approximately 90% of its clientele were government customers, most notably the Russian Ministry of Health. In order to obtain certain Russian government contracts, Bio-Rad Russia was required to participate in public tender processes.”

According to the NPA, Bio-Rad SNC is:

“[A]n indirectly wholly-owned subsidiary of Bio-Rad headquartered in Marnes-la-Coquette, France.  Bio-Rad SNC manufactured, sold, and distributed Bio-Rad products worldwide.”

According to the NPA, Agent 1 (described as an agent retained by Bio-Rad SNC with respect to sales in Russia) assisted Bio-Rad Russia in connection with certain governmental sales in Russia and established Intermediary Companies (described as Agent 1 affiliated companies in Panama, the United Kingdom, and Belize) which Bio-Rad SNC retained “purportedly to perform extensive services on its behalf in Russia.”  However, according to the NPA, Intermediary Companies “were located offshore and had no employees aside from Agent 1.”  Moreover, according to the NPA, “Intermediary Companies used a phony address on its invoices that belonged to a Russian government agency.”

According to the NPA, Manager 1 (described as a high-level manager of Bio-Rad’s Emerging Markets sales region, which included Rusia, from 2004 to 2010 and based in Bio-Rad’s corporate offices in California) “authorized Bio-Rad SNC’ agreements with the Intermediary Companies without conducting any due diligence on the Intermediary Companies.”

According to the NPA,

“Bio-Rad SNC paid the Intermediary Companies a commission of 15-30% purportedly in exchange for various services outlined in the agency contracts, including acquiring new business by creating and disseminating promotional materials to prospective  customers, installing Bio-Rad products and related equipment, training customers on the installation and use of Bio-Rad products, and delivering Bio-Rad products.

The Intermediary Companies, however, lacked the capabilities to perform these contractually defined services. In some instances, the Intermediary Companies submitted invoices suggesting that they performed distribution services in connection with certain contracts. The Intermediary Companies did not perform these services, and would have been significantly overpaid even had they performed such services.”

According to the NPA:

“Manager 1, Manager 2 [described as a high-level accounting manager of Bio-Rad's Emerging Markets sales region, which included Russia, from around 2004 to 2010 and based in Bio-Rad's corporate offices in California] and Manager 3 [described as a high-level manager of Bio-Rad Russia from 2007 to 2011 and based in Moscow] reviewed and approved commission payments to Intermediary Companies, despite knowing that Intermediary Companies and Agent 1 were not performing the services from which they were being paid.”

The NPA further states that Manager 1, Manager 2, and Manager 3 used the code word “bad debt” when communicating with each other to refer to the Intermediary Companies’ commission payments.  According to the NPA, Manager 2 “instructed lower-level Bio-Rad SNC finance employees to ‘talk with codes’ when communicating about the Intermediary Companies’ invoices and that Manager 3 requested that Intermediary Company invoices be paid in installments of less than $200,000 each so as to avoid additional approvals required by Bio-Rad policy for payment over $200,000.

According to the NPA,

“The payments to the Intermediary Companies were made by Bio-Rad SNC and falsely recorded as “commission payments” in its books. Moreover, Manager 1 and Manager 2, who falsely described the commission payments as “bad debt” in e-mails, knew that Bio-Rad SNC maintained the bogus contracts with the Intermediary Companies, as well as the numerous associated false invoices Bio-Rad SNC had paid, as part of its books and records. Bio-Rad SNC’s books, records, and financial accounts were consolidated into Bio-Rad’s books and records and reported by Bio-Rad in its financial statements. Thus, Manager 1 and Manager 2 knowingly caused BIO-RAD to falsify its books and records.”

The NPA further states:

“Bio-Rad maintained a set of corporate policies, but Bio-Rad’s international offices were given autonomy by the company to implement and maintain adequate controls. However, Manager 1 and Manager 2 failed to implement adequate controls for Bio-Rad’s Emerging Markets sales region, including controls related to its operations in Russia where those managers knew that the failure to implement these controls allowed Agent 1 and the Intermediary Companies to be paid significantly above-market commissions for little or no services that were supported by false contracts and invoices. For example, Manager 1 and Manager 2 did not put in place a system of controls to conduct due diligence on third party agents, such as the Intermediary Companies, to ensure documentation supporting payments to third parties, or to monitor such payments. Nor did the company implement adequate testing of the controls that should have been in place.

Manager 1 and Manager 2′s knowing failure to implement adequate internal accounting controls with respect to Russia was due, at least in part, to their desire to continue to obtain and retain contracts with the Russian government. Bio-Rad Russia won 100% of its government contracts when Agent 1 was involved and lost its first major Russian government  contract after terminating Agent 1 in or around 2010.”

According to the NPA:

“In addition to the knowing failure to implement an adequate system of internal accounting controls, prior to the discovery of the misconduct in Bio-Rad did not maintain an adequate compliance program. The company did not provide any FCPA training to its employees and, although Bio-Rad had a business ethics policy and code of conduct that prohibited bribery and was posted on the company’s intranet site, many employees of Bio-Rad and its subsidiaries were unaware of its existence. Moreover, the code was only available in English despite the fact that a significant number of employees working for Bio-Rad’ss overseas subsidiaries did not speak or understand English well enough to understand the code.”

“Bio-Rad also decentralized its compliance program such that its international offices were responsible for ensuring adequate compliance with its business ethics policy and code of conduct. However, Manager 1 and Manager 2 did not take steps to ensure such compliance in Emerging Markets, and Bio-Rad did not take sufficient steps to monitor its international offices. As a result, Bio-Rad’s international offices did not undertake appropriate risk-based due diligence in connection with the retention of agents and business partners and, further, did not have distribution and agency agreements with appropriate anti-corruption terms. Bio-Rad also did not undertake periodic risk assessments of its compliance program. Bio-Rad’s failure to maintain an adequate compliance program significantly contributed to the company’s inability to prevent the misconduct in Russia, as well as improper payments to government officials in Vietnam and Thailand.”

The NPA states as follows.

“The [DOJ] enters into this Non-Prosecution Agreement based on the individual facts and circumstances presented by this case and the Company. Among the facts considered were the following: (a) following discovery of potential FCPA violations during the course of an internal audit, the Company’s audit committee retained independent counsel to conduct an internal investigation and voluntarily disclosed to the [DOJ] the misconduct described in the Statement of Facts; (b) the Company has fully cooperated with the [DOJ's] investigation, including conducting an extensive internal investigation in several countries, voluntarily making U.S. and foreign employees available for interviews, voluntarily producing documents from overseas, summarizing its findings, translating numerous documents, and providing timely reports on witness interviews for the [DOJ]; (c) the Company has engaged in significant remedial actions, including enhancing its anti-corruption policies globally, improving its internal controls and compliance functions, developing and implementing additional FCPA compliance procedures, including due diligence and contracting procedures for intermediaries, instituting heightened review of proposals and other transactional documents for all Company contracts, closing its Vietnam office after learning of improper payments by its Vietnam subsidiary, and conducting extensive anti-corruption training throughout the global organization; (d) the Company has committed to continue to enhance its compliance program and internal controls, including ensuring that its compliance program satisfies the minimum elements set forth in Attachment B to this Agreement; and (e) the Company has agreed to continue to cooperate with the [DOJ] in any ongoing investigation of the conduct of the Company and its officers, directors, employees, agents, and consultants relating to possible violations of the FCPA …”.

Pursuant to the NPA, which has a term of two years, Bio-Rad admitted, accepted and acknowledged that it was responsible for the acts of its employees and agents as set forth in the Statement of Facts.  The NPA also contains a “muzzle clause” in which Bio-Rad expressly agree[d] that it shall not, through present or future attorneys, officers, directors, employees, agents or any other person authorized to speak for the Company make any public statement, in litigation or otherwise, contradicting the acceptance of responsibility by the Company …”.

In the NPA, Bio-Rad also agreed to undertake a host of compliance enhancements and report to the DOJ during the two-year term of the NPA “regarding mediation and implementation of the compliance program and internal controls, policies and procedures” described in the NPA.

In the DOJ release, Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell stated:

“Public companies that cook their books and hide improper payments foster corruption.  The department pursues corruption from all angles, including the falsification of records and failure to implement adequate internal controls.   The department also gives credit to companies, like Bio-Rad, who self-disclose, cooperate and remediate their violations of the FCPA.”

Special Agent in Charge David Johnson of the FBI’s San Francisco Field Office stated:

“The FBI remains committed to identifying and investigating violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. This action demonstrates the benefits of self-disclosure, cooperation, and subsequent remediation by companies.”

The release further states:

“The department entered into a non-prosecution agreement with the company due, in large part, to Bio-Rad’s self-disclosure of the misconduct and full cooperation with the department’s investigation.  That cooperation included voluntarily making U.S. and foreign employees available for interviews, voluntarily producing documents from overseas, and summarizing the findings of its internal investigation.  In addition, Bio-Rad has engaged in significant remedial actions, including enhancing its anti-corruption policies globally, improving its internal controls and compliance functions, developing and implementing additional due diligence and contracting procedures for intermediaries, and conducting extensive anti-corruption training throughout the organization.”

SEC Enforcement Action

The SEC’s order is based on the same core conduct alleged in the DOJ action as relevant to Russia business and also contains allegations concerning conduct in Vietnam and Thailand.

In summary fashion, the SEC’s order states:

“From approximately 2005 to 2010, subsidiaries of Bio-Rad made unlawful payments in Vietnam and Thailand to obtain or retain business. During the same period, Bio-Rad’s subsidiary paid certain Russian third parties, disregarding the high probability that at least some of the money would be used to make unlawful payments to government officials in Russia. With respect to Russia, one of Bio-Rad’s foreign subsidiaries paid three off-shore agents (the“Russian Agents”) for alleged services in connection with sales of its medical diagnostic and life science equipment to government agencies. These agents were not legitimate businesses, and despite receiving large commissions, they did not provide the contracted-for services. In paying these agents, Bio-Rad’s foreign subsidiary demonstrated a conscious disregard for the high probability that the Russian Agents were using at least a portion of the commissions to pay foreign officials to obtain profitable government contracts. The General Manager (“GM”) of Bio-Rad’s Emerging Markets sub-division and the Emerging Markets Controller, both employees of the parent company (collectively, “the Emerging Markets managers”) ignored red flags, which permitted the scheme to continue for years. In Vietnam and Thailand, Bio-Rad’s foreign subsidiaries used agents and distributors to funnel money to government officials. In total, Bio-Rad made $35.1 million in illicit profits from these improper payments.

In violation of Bio-Rad’s policies, Bio-Rad’s foreign subsidiaries did not record the payments in their own books in a manner that would accurately or fairly reflect the transactions. Instead they booked them as commissions, advertising, and training fees. These subsidiaries’ books were consolidated into the parent company’s books and records. During the relevant period, Bio-Rad also failed to devise and maintain adequate internal accounting controls.”

As to the Vietnam and Thailand conduct, the SEC’s order focuses on Bio-Rad Laboratories (Singapore) Pte. Limited (“Bio-Rad Singapore”) described as a wholly-owned subsidiary located in Singapore and Diamed South East Asia Ltd. (“Diamed Thailand”) described as  a 49%-owned subsidiary of Diamed AG (Switzerland) that was acquired by Bio-Rad in October 2007.  According to the order, local majority owners ran Diamed Thailand’s operations until 2011, when Bio-Rad bought out their interest in the company.

Under the heading “Facts in Vietnam,” the order states:

“From at least 2005 to the end of 2009, Bio-Rad maintained a sales representative office in Vietnam. A country manager supervised the Vietnam Office’s sales activities, and was authorized to approve contracts up to $100,000 and sales commissions up to $20,000. Vietnam’s country manager reported to Bio-Rad Singapore’s Southeast Asia regional sales manager (“RSM”), who in turn reported to the Asia Pacific GM.

From 2005 through 2009, the country manager of the Vietnam office authorized the payment of bribes to government officials to obtain their business. At the direction of the country manager, the sales representatives made cash payments to officials at government-owned hospitals and laboratories in exchange for their agreement to buy Bio-Rad’s products.

In 2006, the RSM first learned of this practice from a finance employee. She raised concerns about it to the Vietnam Office’s country manager, who informed her that paying bribes was a customary practice in Vietnam. On or about May 18, 2006, the Vietnamese country manager wrote in an email to the RSM and the Bio-Rad Singapore finance employee that paying third party fees “[wa]s outlawed in the Bio-Rad Business Ethics Policy,” but that Bio-Rad would lose 80% of its Vietnam sales without continuing the practice. In that same email, the country manager proposed a solution that entailed employing a middleman to pay the bribes to Vietnamese government officials as a means of insulating Bio-Rad from liability. Under the proposed scheme, Bio-Rad Singapore would sell Bio-Rad products to a Vietnamese distributor at a deep discount, which the distributor would then resell to government customers at full price, and pass through a portion of it as bribes.

The RSM and the Asia Pacific GM were aware of and allowed the payments to continue. Between 2005 and the end of 2009, the Vietnam office made improper payments of $2.2 million to agents or distributors, which was funneled to Vietnamese government officials. These bribes, recorded as “commissions,” “advertising fees,” and “training fees,” generated gross sales revenues of $23.7 million to Bio-Rad Singapore. The payment scheme did not involve the use of interstate commerce, and no United States national was involved in the misconduct.”

Under the heading “Facts in Thailand,” the order states:

“Bio-Rad acquired a 49% interest in Diamed Thailand as part of its acquisition of Diamed AG (Switzerland) in October 2007. Bio-Rad performed very little due diligence on Diamed Thailand prior to the acquisition.

Diamed Thailand’s local majority owners managed the subsidiary. Bio-Rad’s Asia Pacific GM was responsible for working and communicating with Diamed Thailand’s majority owners and distributors.

Prior to the October 2007 acquisition, Diamed Thailand had an established bribery scheme, whereby Diamed Thailand used a Thai agent to sell diagnostic products to government customers. The agent received an inflated 13% commission, of which it retained 4%, and paid 9% to Thai government officials in exchange for profitable business contracts.

The scheme continued even after Bio-Rad acquired Diamed Thailand. Diamed Thailand renewed the contract with the distributor in June 2008, but unbeknownst to Bio-Rad, the distributor was partially owned by one of Diamed Thailand’s local Thai owners.

Bio-Rad’s Asia Pacific GM learned of Diamed Thailand’s bribery scheme while attending a distributor’s conference in Bangkok in March 2008. At the conference, Diamed Thailand’s local manager informed him that some of Diamed Thailand’s customers received payments, which the Asia Pacific GM understood to mean kickbacks. The Asia Pacific GM instructed Bio-Rad Singapore’s controller to investigate the matter. The controller confirmed to the Asia Pacific GM that Diamed Thailand was bribing government officials through the distributor. Despite these findings, the Asia Pacific GM did not instruct Diamed Thailand to stop making the improper payments to the distributor.

From 2007 to early 2010, Diamed Thailand improperly paid a total of $708,608 to the distributor, generating gross sales revenues of $5.5 million to Diamed Thailand. These  payments were recorded as sales commissions. The payment scheme did not involve the use of interstate commerce, and no United States national was involved in the misconduct.”

The SEC’s order found that:

“Bio-Rad violated [the FCPA's anti-bribery provisions] because Bio-Rad’s Emerging Markets managers demonstrated a conscious disregard for the high probability that the Russian Agents were using at least a portion of Bio-Rad Russia’s sales commission payments to bribe Russian government officials in exchange for awarding the company profitable government contracts. These managers knew the Russian Agents operated as mere shell entities. They also knew that, among other things, the commissions were large, and that the Russian Agents did not have the resources to perform any of the contracted-for services set forth in their agreements. Nevertheless, the managers approved all of their agreements, and authorized $4.6 million in payments to the Russian Agents’ off-shore accounts even though many of the payment requests and invoices raised substantial questions as to their legitimacy. Finally, the same Emerging Markets managers communicated about the Russian Agents under cover of secrecy, which further calls in question their legitimacy. These red flags surfaced repeatedly over a five year period.”

The SEC’s order also found violations of the books and records and internal controls provisions based on the Russia, Vietnam, and Thailand conduct.  As to internal controls, the order states:

“[A]lthough [Bio-Rad] had an ethics policy prohibiting the payment of bribes and various policies and procedures requiring accurate books and records, its systems of internal controls proved insufficient to provide reasonable assurances that such payments would be detected and prevented.”

Under the heading, “Self-Disclosure, Cooperation and Remedial Efforts,” the order states:

“Bio-Rad made an initial voluntary self-disclosure of potential FCPA violations to the Commission staff and the Department of Justice in May 2010, and immediately thereafter Bio-Rad’s audit committee retained independent counsel to conduct an investigation of the alleged violations. The audit committee conducted a thorough internal investigation, and subsequently expanded it voluntarily to cover a large number of additional potentially high-risk countries. The investigation included over 100 in-person interviews, the collection of millions of documents, the production of tens of thousands of documents, and forensic auditing. Bio-Rad’s cooperation was extensive, including voluntarily producing documents from overseas, summarizing its findings, translating numerous key documents, producing witnesses from foreign jurisdictions, providing timely reports on witness interviews, and making employees available to the Commission staff to interview.

Bio-Rad also undertook significant and extensive remedial actions including: terminating problematic practices; terminating Bio-Rad employees who were involved in the misconduct; comprehensively re-evaluating and supplementing its anticorruption policies and procedures on a world-wide basis, including its relationship with intermediaries; enhancing its internal controls and compliance functions; developing and implementing FCPA compliance procedures, including the further development and implementation of policies and procedures such as the due diligence and contracting procedure for intermediaries and policies concerning hospitality, entertainment, travel, and other business courtesies; and conducting extensive anticorruption training throughout the organization world-wide.”

As noted in the SEC’s release:

“[Bio-Rad] agreed to pay $40.7 million in disgorgement and prejudgment interest to the SEC … The company also must report its FCPA compliance efforts to the SEC for a period of two years.”

In the SEC release, Andrew Ceresney, Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement, stated:

“Bio-Rad Laboratories failed to detect a bribery scheme and did not properly address red flags that such a scheme was underway. “This enforcement action, which reflects credit for Bio-Rad’s cooperation in our investigation, reiterates the importance of all companies ensuring they have the proper internal controls to prevent FCPA violations.”

Bio-Rad was represented by Douglas Greenburg (Latham & Watkins).

In this release, Norman Schwartz (Bio-Rad President and Chief Executive Officer) stated:

“The actions that we discovered were completely contrary to Bio-Rad’s culture and values and ethical standards for conducting business. We took strong, decisive action to end the problematic practices and prevent anything like this from happening in the future, including terminating involved employees and committing substantial resources to strengthening our compliance functions and financial controls. Bio-Rad prides itself on operating with the highest levels of integrity, and I am pleased that this settlement fully resolves the government’s FCPA investigation and puts this matter behind us.”

The release further states:

“Bio-Rad discovered the potential FCPA violations and self-reported them to the DOJ and SEC in May 2010. The Company subsequently conducted a thorough global investigation with the assistance of independent legal and forensic specialists, terminated involved employees and third party agents, and significantly enhanced its internal controls, procedures, training and compliance functions designed to prevent future violations. The settlement fully resolves all outstanding issues related to these investigations.”

On the day the FCPA enforcement action was announced Bio-Rad’s stock closed up .5%.

An FCPA Enforcement Action With Many Interesting Wrinkles

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

[This post is part of a periodic series regarding "old" FCPA enforcement actions]

The 1998 Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement action against Saybolt Inc., Saybolt North America Inc. and related individuals had many interesting wrinkles:  a unique origin; a rare FCPA trial; a fugitive still living openly in his native land; and case law in a related civil claim.

As to the unique origin, Saybolt Inc. was a U.S. company whose primary business was conducting quantitative and qualitative testing of bulk commodities, such as oil, gasoline, and other petrochemicals, as well as grains, vegetable oils and other commodities.  The Environmental Protection Agency, Criminal Investigation Division (“EPA-CID”) was investigating the company for allegedly submitting false statements to the EPA about the oxygen content of reformulated gasoline blended in accordance with the requirements of the Clean Air Act.  The investigation was initiated by reports of data falsification at Saybolt’s Massachusetts facility.

During the course of the investigation EPA-CID interviewed Steven Dunlop (the general manager for Latin American operations for Saybolt) who provided the following information.

During a trip to Panama in 1994, Dunlop was advised of new business opportunities that were being offered to Saybolt Panama through the Panamanian Ministry of Commerce and Industries.  Specifically, the DOJ’s criminal complaint alleged that Hugo Tovar (the General Director of the Hydrocarbon Directorate, a division of the Ministry of Commerce and Industries) and Audo Escudero (the Sub-Director of the Hydrocarbon Directorate), offered to Saybolt Panama an opportunity to: (1) receive a substantial reduction in Saybolt Panama’s tax payments to the government of Panama; (2) obtain lucrative new contracts from the government of Panama; and (3) secure a more permanent facility for Saybolt Panama’s operations on highly coveted land near the Panama Canal.  According to the criminal complaint, this parcel of land was coveted because Saybolt Panama “only had a tenuous legal claim on its existing facility” and as a result its operations were continually at risk.

The complaint details various communications between Dunlop and David Mead (the President and CEO of Saybolt) in which Dunlop informed Mead of a $50,000 “fee” that would be needed to accomplish the above opportunities.

The complaint details a 1995 board of directors meeting at Saybolt during which discussion concerned the “$50,000 payoff demanded by the Panamanian officials with whom Saybolt was negotiating.  According to the complaint, present at this meeting were Board members Frerik Pluimers and Philippe Schreiber as well as Mead and Saybolt’s Chief Financial Officer Robert Petoia.  According to the complaint, Dunlop received instructions from Mead that he was to “take the necessary steps to ensure that the $50,000 was paid to the Panamanian officials in order to secure the deal” and that Schreiber was to be his primary contact on all issues concerning the Panamanian transaction.

According to the complaint, “in the minutes leading up to the time he was scheduled to leave his house for the airport” to travel to Panama,” Dunlop had a telephone conversation with Schreiber who advised him “that the action [he] was about to take would constitute a violation of the FCPA.”

According to the complaint, while in Panama Dunlop “learned that the Saybolt funds needed to make” the payment had not yet been received and that Dunlop then tried to contact Mead.  According to the complaint, Mead sent Dunlop an e-mail which stated: “Per telecon undersigned and capo grande Holanda the back-up software can be supplied from the Netherlands.  As previously agreed, you to detail directly to NL attn FP.” According to the complaint, “capo grande Holanda” was a reference to Pluimers (the President of the Dutch holding company that controlled Saybolt, Inc.” and the “back-up software” was a reference to the $50,000 payment.”

The complaint alleged that the funds never arrived in Panama and that Dunlop was receiving pressure from the Panamanian officials “to make the $50,000 payment prior to the upcoming Christmas holidays.”  According to the complaint, Mead told Dunlop on a telephone call to make the $50,000 payment using funds that were in the operating account of Saybolt Panama.

According to the complaint, the $50,000 in cash was obtained by laundering a check through a local construction company and that a “sack full of currency” was handed over to Escudero at a bar in Panama City by the individual who was serving as Saybolt Panama’s liaison with Escudero.  Further, according to the complaint, “shortly after this payment was made, the Ministry of Commerce and Industries and other necessary government agencies acted favorably on Saybolt’s proposal.”

In April 1998, the DOJ filed this indictment against Mead (a citizen of the U.K. and resident of the U.S. and Pluimers (a national and resident of the Netherlands) based on the above conduct.  The indictment charged Mead and Pluimers with conspiracy to violate the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions and the Travel Act, two substantive violations of the FCPA, and two substantive violations of the Travel Act.

According to the indictment, the purposes and objectives of the conspiracy were:

  • To obtain contracts for Saybolt de Panama and its affiliates to perform import control and inventory inspections for the Ministry of Hydrocarbons, and the Ministry of Commerce and Industries, both departments of the Government of the Republic of Panama;
  • To obtain and to expedite tax benefits for Saybolt de Panama and its affiliates from the Government of the Republic of Panama, including exemptions from import taxes on materials and equipment and reductions in annual profit taxes;
  • To obtain from an agency of the Government of the Republic of Panama a secure and commercially attractive operating location for an inspection facility in Panama; and
  • To “lock out” Saybolt’s competitors by retaining possession and control of Saybolt de Panama’s existing location in Panama.

In September 1998, the DOJ filed this superseding indictment substantially similar to the first and including the same charges.

Mead moved to strike the indictment of allegations that he violated the FCPA and for dismissal of the indictment for failure to state an offense under the Travel Act, and for a Bill of Particulars.   In a one page order, U.S. District Court Judge Ann Thompson denied the motions. Dunlop was given full immunity as was the American attorney present at the board meeting and involved in several conversations with Pluimers, Mead, and Dunlop concerning the alleged payments.

Mead argued that the FCPA only prohibited payments to assist a domestic concern in obtaining and retaining business” and he used Saybolt’s rather complex corporate structure to argue that the business sought to be obtained or retained was for a different Saybolt entity, not a domestic concern.  In his motion, Mead stated “because the government ignores the corporate legal structure and does violence to the FCPA by attempting to end-run congressional policy, the Court must justifiably refuse.”  Elsewhere, the motion stated:

“Whether the government labels foreign corporations as ‘agents of a domestic concern’ or members of an ‘unincorporated organization,’ the government still may not manipulate the Act’s broad language to end-run this congressional policy (of deliberately excluding both foreign subsidiaries and non-subsidiary foreign corporations from FCPA liability).”

The motion also argued that the indictment was devoid of any allegation that Mead acted “willfully” (i.e. with the specific intent to violate the law) because he followed the legal advice of counsel in making the alleged payments.

In response, the DOJ stated that the indictment “describes in detail how Mead – himself a U.S. resident, and also the President of one U.S. corporation (Saybolt Inc.), Executive Vice-President of a second U.S. corporation (Saybolt North America Inc.), and Chief Executive Officer of an unincorporated association (Saybolt Western Hemisphere) – and others decided to send a Saybolt Inc. employee to Panama City, Panama, to oversee the payment of a $50,000 bride, which they believed would be provided to high level government officials, in exchange for favorable treatment of Saybolt’s business interests in Panama.  The Indictment charges that Mead gave the order to go forward with the bribe and it details the contents of the e-mail message that Mead sent from his office in New Jersey to the Saybolt employee in Panama City.”

At trial, Mead argued that the Government failed to meet its burden of proof and that he acted in good faith belief that the payment to the Panamanian officials was lawful.  The relevant jury instructions stated as follows.

“If the evidence shows you that the defendant actually believed that the transaction was legal, he cannot be convicted.  Nor can he be convicted for being stupid or negligent or mistaken.  More is required than that.  But a defendant’s knowledge of a fact may be inferred from “willful blindness” to the knowledge or information indicating there was a high probability that there was something forbidden or illegal about the contemplated transaction and payment.  It is the jury’s function to determine whether or not the defendant deliberately closed his eyes to the inferences and the conclusions to be drawn from the evidence here.”

According to this docket sheet, Mead’s trial occurred in October 1998 and he was found guilty of all charges.  According to the docket, Mead was sentenced to four months imprisonment, to be followed by four months of home confinement, to be followed by three years of supervised release.  According to the docket, he was also ordered to pay a $20,000 criminal fine. After sentencing, US Attorney Donald Stern of Boston, stated: ”This sentence puts American executives on notice there will be a price to pay, far more than the monetary cost of the birbe, when they buy off foreign officials.”  For additional reading on Mead’s case, see this transcript of an in-depth CNN story about Mead that aired in 1999.

What about Pluimers?

As indicated by this docket sheet, there has been no substantive activity in the case since 1999 and Pluimers remains a fugitive – albeit living openly in his native Netherlands.  According to this 2011 New York Times article citing a Wikileaks cable, “Pluimers simply has too much influence with high-ranking Dutch officials to be handed over to U.S. authorities.”

What about Saybolt?

In August 1998, the DOJ the filed two separate criminal informations against Saybolt Inc. and its parent corporation Saybolt North American Inc. The first information charged Saybolt with conspiracy and wire fraud related to the company’s “two year conspiracy to submit false statements to the EPA about results of lab analyses. The second information charged Saybolt and Saybolt North America with conspiracy to violate the FCPA and one substantive charge of violating the FCPA.

As noted in this plea agreement, Saybolt agreed to plead guilty to all charges in the informations and agreed to pay a total fine of $4.9 million allocated as follows:  $3.4 million for the data falsification violations and $1.5 million for the FCPA violation. Saybolt also agreed to a five year term of probation.

The conduct at issue in the Saybolt and related enforcement actions also spawned a related civil malpractice action alleging erroneous legal advice by counsel regarding the above-described payments to Panamanian officials.  In Stichting v. Schreiber, 327 F.3d 173 (2d Cir. 2003), the Second Circuit analyzed whether a company, in pleading guilty to FCPA anti-bribery violations, acknowledged acting with intent thus undermining its claims that the erroneous legal advice was the basis for its legal exposure.

The court stated:

“Knowledge by a defendant that it is violating the FCPA – that it is committing all the elements of an FCPA violation – is not itself an element of the FCPA crime.  Federal statutes in which the defendant’s knowledge that he or she is violating the statute is an element of the violation are rare; the FCPA is plainly not such a statute.”

The court also stated concerning “corruptly” in the FCPA:

“It signifies, in addition to the element of ‘general intent’ present in most criminal statutes, a bad or wrongful purpose and an intent to influence a foreign official to misuse his official position.  But there is nothing in that word or anything else in the FCPA that indicates that the government must establish that the defendant in fact knew that his conduct violated the FCPA to be guilty of such a violation.”

The First Travel And Entertainment Enforcement Action

Monday, June 16th, 2014

[This post is part of a periodic series regarding "old" FCPA enforcement actions]

In 1999, the DOJ brought this civil complaint for a permanent injunction against Metcalf & Eddy Inc., the successor by merger of Metcalf & Eddy International Inc. (M&E International – a U.S. environmental engineering firm).  It was a notable case – the first Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement action based solely on travel and entertainment issues.

The conduct at issue focused on sewage and wastewater treatment facility projects in Alexandria, Egypt sponsored by the United States Agency for International Development (“USAID”) for the benefit of the Alexandria General Organization for Sanitary Drainage (“AGOSD”), an alleged instrumentality of the Government of Egypt.

The complaint alleged that Metcalf & Eddy and M&E International provided excessive travel and entertainment expenses to the Chairman of AGOSD “to induce the official to use his influence to effect and influence an act of the Government of Egypt” in connection with two contracts (1) an approximate $11 million wastewater treatment facility project and (2) an approximate $25 million architectural and engineering services project.

The complaint alleged:

“Although the [contracts] were awarded by USAID, the prospective contractors and their bids were subject to review by a Technical Review Board comprised of five voting members.  AGOSD held a voting position on each of the boards, which position was shared by two AGOSD representatives.  As members of the Technical Review Boards, the AGOSD representatives participated in the evaluation and scoring of bidders.  Although the AGOSD Chairman himself did not participate in the evaluation and scoring of bidders in the selection process, officials at M&E International knew that we was capable of exerting influence upon his subordinates, including the AGOSD officials who sat on the Technical Review Boards.  [...]  In addition, M&E International officers knew that the Chairman could influence the selection process through direct communications with USAID regarding his preferences and that he could directly or indirectly impede the ability of M&E International to successfully complete its obligations under the contracts.”

The complaint focused on two trips the AGOSD Chairman made to the United States at the invitation of M&E International during time periods in which the awarding of the contracts were under consideration by USAID.  According to the complaint “the Chairman’s wife and two children accompanied him on both trips at M&E International’s expense.”

According to the complaint, the first trip (approximately 20 days) included travel to Boston, Washington, D.C., Chicago and Orlando.  The complaint stated that during this trip “the AGOSD Chairman was invited to a water conference in Chicago.” According to the complaint, the second trip (approximately 13 days) involved travel to Paris, Boston and San Diego.

The complaint alleged that both of the contracts at issue required that travel associated with the contracts be in accord with Federal Travel Regulations (FTRs) and that under the regulations the Chairman was entitled to receive, in advance, a cash per diem payment to cover certain travel-related expenses.  The complaint alleged that the Chairman received 150% of his estimated per diem expenses and that USAID authorized the amount based upon M&E International’s representation that no accommodations were available within the per diem amount.

The complaint alleged:

“In each case, the payment of 150% of per diem was not a necessary expense, and in neither case was the payment of the extra 50% justified or documented by M&E International as required by the FTRs.”

The complaint also alleged that once the Chairman and his family were in the U.S. “M&E International paid for most of the travel and entertainment expenses incurred by and on behalf of the Chairman and his family, despite the fact that the Chairman had already received funds for his own per diem expenses.”  According to the complaint, “under these circumstances, the advance per diem payments were, in effect, unrestricted cash payments to the Chairman.”

The complaint also alleged that M&E International “paid to upgrade the Chairman’s airline tickets to first class for both of his trips to the United States” and that “M&E International’s provision of the first class tickets was a payment of a thing of value to the Chairman.”  The complaint also alleged that M&E International’s payment of the first class tickets for the Chairman’s wife and children were also “a payment of a thing of value to the Chairman.”

The complaint also alleged that during the relevant time period, “M&E International failed to make and keep books, records, and accounts which, in reasonable detail, accurately and fairly reflected the payment of money and things of value to or for the benefit of the Chairman.”  It is interesting to note that the complaint contains these allegations even though Metcalf & Eddy and M&E International were “domestic concerns” under the FCPA and thus the books and records and internal controls provisions did not even apply.

Finally, the complaint stated that M&E International did not “have any training or compliance program that educated its employees concerning the conduct prescribed by the FCPA.”

It is further interesting to note that the “means and instrumentality of interstate commerce” alleged in the complaint was a “commercial aircraft.”

Without admitting or denying the allegations in the DOJ’s civil complaint, in this Consent and Undertaking M&E agreed to “maintain a compliance and ethics program designed to detect and prevent violations of the FCPA and other applicable foreign bribery laws.”  The consent and undertaken set forth the minimum standards of such a program.  In the consent and undertaking M&E also agreed to implement various financial and accounting procedures consistent with the FCPA’s books and records and internal controls provisions.

Finally, in the consent and undertaking, M&E agreed to pay a civil fine in the amount of $400,000 and reimburse the U.S. for the costs of the investigation in the amount of $50,000.