Archive for the ‘Foreign Issuers’ Category

Is The DOJ Picking on Non-U.S. Companies and Individuals?

Wednesday, June 18th, 2014

Today’s post is from David Simon (Foley & Lardner).

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The debate over whether the United States should impose its values on the rest of the world through enforcement of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) is over.

Almost everyone now rejects the cultural relativist argument—that there are different business cultures in different parts of the world, and that the United States should respect those differences and refrain from imposing our standards of doing business on U.S. companies operating abroad.  Rather, the rise of anti-corruption legislation, the proliferation of OECD standards, and increased enforcement—not only by the United States, but by many countries enforcing their own anticorruption laws—all show an emerging consensus that corruption of this nature is objectively bad.  The United States should be commended for leading the way on this.

Yet the recent enforcement activity of the Department of Justice[i] (“DOJ”) raises questions as to whether it is enforcing the FCPA in a manner consistent with the statute’s purpose (and the overarching purpose of domestic criminal law).  According to Deputy Assistant Attorney General James Cole, whose remarks are available here, that purpose is U.S.-centric:

“In enacting the FCPA … Congress recognized that foreign bribery had tarnished the image of U.S. businesses, impaired public confidence in the financial integrity of U.S. companies, and had hampered the functioning of markets, resulting in market inefficiencies, market instability, sub-standard products and services, and an unfair playing field.”

True enough, but it is hard to dispute that the focus of FCPA enforcement has to some extent shifted away from U.S. businesses and citizens.  As noted on FCPA Professor, eight of the top ten corporate FCPA settlements have involved non-U.S. businesses.

Likewise, the number of individual FCPA prosecutions against non-U.S. citizens has been increasing.  In recent years, individual criminal prosecutions have been brought against citizens of the Ukraine, Hungary, Slovakia, Switzerland, Venezuela, and Sri Lanka—and some involve very tenuous connections to the United States.

For example, as previously highlighted on this blog, in December 2011 the DOJ charged, among others, former Siemens executive and German national Stephan Signer under the FCPA based on conduct concerning the Argentine prong of the 2008 Siemens enforcement action.  The jurisdictional allegation against Signer was that he caused Siemens to transfer two wires to bank accounts in the United States in furtherance of a scheme to bribe Argentine government officials.[ii]

I do not argue that the FCPA does not permit the DOJ to charge non-U.S. citizens or companies.  Indeed, the 1998 amendments make it clear that Congress intended to give the DOJ that power, providing it with jurisdiction over several categories of non-U.S. entities and individuals.  It should be noted, however, that the DOJ has adopted a markedly broad interpretation of the FCPA’s territorial jurisdiction provisions, resulting in increasingly attenuated connections between the United States and individual defendants like Mr. Signer.  These connections may include merely “placing a telephone call or sending an e-mail, text message, or fax from, to, or through the United States.”[iii]  The legal significance of these increasingly tenuous jurisdictional justifications, previously referred to on FCPA Professor as “de facto extraterritorial jurisdiction,” remains a contentious, and related, issue.

The question I raise here is not whether the DOJ’s policy of enforcement is legal, but whether such a focus (or, at least, the perception of such a focus) on non-U.S. persons and companies is prudent and appropriate.  In describing the principles underlying the jurisdiction to prescribe, the American Law Institute (“ALI”) notes that the United States has “generally refrained from exercising jurisdiction where it would be unreasonable to do so.”[iv]  But “[a]ttempts by some states—notably the United States, to apply their law on the basis of very broad conceptions of territoriality or nationality [has bred] resentment and brought forth conflicting assertions of the rules of international law.”[v]  Indeed.

The concerns I have about this are not confined to FCPA enforcement.  The same trend is apparent in other areas of the law, such as economic sanctions and export controls.  The pattern of enforcement being concentrated against non-U.S. companies is shown just as sharply under those laws, with the recent economic sanctions against such firms as ING Bank ($619 million against Netherlands financial institution), Royal Bank of Scotland ($100 million against UK financial institution), and Credit Suisse ($536 million against Swiss financial institution).  With the U.S. Government reportedly considering the first $10 billion penalty for violations of U.S. economic sanctions laws against BNP Paribas (a French financial institution), French President Francois Hollande reportedly has personally lobbied against what is perceived as an unfair singling out of an EU financial institution for payment of such a large fine.  To the French Government, at least, the inequity of the U.S. Government assessing a fine that surpasses the entire yearly profits of one of the largest French financial institutions is plain.

The pattern of enforcement described above, should it be allowed to continue, sends a message to the rest of the world that the DOJ is mostly interested in big dollar settlements and soft foreign targets.  Is this the message we wish to send to our foreign allies in the fight against corruption?

Although the DOJ’s application of the FCPA (and other laws governing international business conduct)  to prosecute increasing numbers of foreign persons may be legal, and technically “reasonable” at international law, that does not necessarily make it appropriate or advisable.  Rather, these attempts to apply a broad conception of territoriality in pursuit of greater numbers of prosecutions and larger settlements may be more damaging than DOJ perceives.  This has the potential to undermine the U.S. position that anti-corruption is a global issue, and counteracts the progress the U.S. has made in altering its image from that of an overreaching imperialist power to a competent and moderate leader in the creation and enforcement of global anti-corruption norms.

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This article in today’s New York Times DealBook discusses many of the same issues highlighted in the above post.


[i] I focus here principally on the DOJ, not the SEC.  The DOJ, of course, is a law enforcement agency charged with enforcing criminal laws.  The SEC is a regulatory agency, and the companies and individuals subject to its jurisdiction essentially opt in by taking advantage of the U.S.’s financial markets.

[ii] Indictment at 40, United States v. Uriel Sharef, et. al., 11CR-1-56 (S.D.N.Y 2011), available at http://www.justice.gov/criminal/fraud/fcpa/cases/sharef-uriel/2011-12-12-siemens-ndictment.pdf.

[iii] See U.S. Dep’t of Justice & U.S. Sec. Exch. Comm’n, A Resource Guide to the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, 11 (Nov. 14, 2012), available at http://www.justice.gov/criminal/fraud/fcpa/guide.pdf.

[iv] Restatement (Third) of the Foreign Relations Law of the United States, § 403 cmt. a. (1986).

[v] Id. at Chapter One: Jurisdiction to Prescribe, Subchapter A.: Principles of Jurisdiction to Prescribe, Introductory Note.

The First FCPA Enforcement Action Against A Foreign Issuer, Plus An Interesting Issue

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014

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

In 1996, the SEC brought this civil complaint against Montedison, an Italian corporation with headquarters in Milan that had interests in the agro-industry, chemical, energy and engineering sectors.  The enforcement action was principally a financial fraud case as the SEC alleged that the company committed “financial fraud by falsifying documents to inflate artificially the company’s financial statements.”  (See here for the SEC’s release).

However, the enforcement action also included allegations that Montedison violated the FCPA’s books and records and internal control provisions based on allegations that the company concealed “hundreds of million of dollars of payments that, among other things, were used to bribe politicians in Italy and other persons.”

As described in the SEC’s complaint, Montedison wanted to enter into a joint venture with an Italian state energy agency and “determined to secure political backing” to change the terms of the underlying joint venture agreement as well as overturn a judge’s decision that had the effect of making the proposed transaction more difficult.  According to the complaint, “Montedison determined that to achieve these ends, the company would need to pay extensive bribes.”

The complaint then states:

“In an attempt to do so, Montedison management entered into an arrangement with a Rome real estate developer (the “Developer”), who was developing real estate complexes in Rome for Montedison at that time.  Under their agreement, Montedison, directly or through companies it controlled, effected numerous real estate purchases and sales at artificially high prices.  The artificial prices had the effect of transferring hundreds of million of dollars to the Developer.  On information and belief, the Developer used this money to bribe politicians in Italy and other persons on Montedison’s behalf.”

For example, the complaint alleges that Montedison, through a wholly-owned subsidiary, overpaid the Developer approximately $95 million and agreed to pay an additional $123 million “for properties that were either owned by, or had connections to, various politicians.

As noted in the SEC’s complaint, “despite these efforts, Montedison’s management was ultimately unsuccessful” in its bribery scheme.

According to the complaint:

“The fraudulent conduct … continued undetected for several years because of a seriously deficient internal control environment at Montedison.  In fact, Montedison’s internal controls were so deficient that, according to Montedison, neither the company itself, nor its auditors, have been able to reconstruct previously what occurred and who was responsible.”

The Montedison enforcement action was the first SEC Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement action against a foreign issuer and was based on the company having American Depository Receipts ADRs listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

Montedison did not immediately resolve the SEC’s complaint as is the norm today.  Rather, the 1996 complaint was resolved in 2001.   As noted in the SEC’s release Montedison was ordered to pay a civil penalty of $300,000 and resolved the enforcement action without admitting nor denying liability for the allegations in the complaint.  According to the release, “the fraudulent conduct was disclosed only after new management was appointed when Montedison disclosed it was unable to service its bank debt.  Virtually all of the former senior management at Montedison responsible for the fraud were convicted by Italian criminal authorities and were sued by the company.”

The release notes as follows.

“Montedison was acquired by Compart, S.p.A., in late 2000 and its ADRs were delisted. Compart then changed its name to Montedison. No securities of Compart are listed for sale by U.S. stock exchanges. Compart, which agreed to the settlement on behalf of the former Montedison, was not a defendant in the Commission’s complaint.”

In original source media reports, Paul Gerlach (SEC Associate Enforcement Director at the time) stated:

“The case’s message is if you are a foreign company wanting to trade stock here, you are going to have to adhere to the same reporting, accounting and internal control standards followed by U.S. companies.”

Of interest, a 1996 Washington Post article about the enforcement action noted:

“The commission has been locked in debate with the NYSE for years over whether foreign companies that raise money from U.S. investors should be held to the same reporting standards as U.S. companies. SEC officials have argued that loosening the standards would hurt U.S. investors. The exchange has responded that overly stringent rules will discourage foreign companies from raising capital in the United States and erode the preeminent position of U.S. securities markets.”

Why, despite the SEC’s allegations, was Montedison not charged with FCPA anti-bribery violations?  Jurisdictional issues aside, according to a knowledgeable source at the SEC at the time, there was a belief that there were no “foreign” officials involved because Montedison, an Italian company, allegedly bribed Italian officials.

It’s an interesting question.

Does the “foreign” in official mean as it relates to the specific company at issue or as to the U.S.?

I believe that the legislative history supports the later, but will also add that Congress likely never understood that it was legislating as to foreign issuers when the FCPA was passed in 1977 because there were few foreign issuers.  Today, there are approximately 1,000 foreign issuers.  (See here and here).

In most FCPA enforcement actions against foreign issuers (Siemens, Daimler, Total, Technip, Alcatel-Lucent, etc.) the question is not relevant as, for example, German or French officials were not among the officials allegedly bribed.

Friday Roundup

Friday, March 14th, 2014

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

Cilins Pleads Guilty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SEC Trims a Pending Case

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

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

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

Across the Pond

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

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

As noted in previous posts here and here:

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

Turnabout Is Fair Play

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

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

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

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

Such an inference is naive in the extreme.

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

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

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

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

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

Reading Stack

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

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

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

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A good weekend to all.

Congress Remains Interested In FCPA Issues

Wednesday, February 26th, 2014

Foreign Corrupt Practices reform may not be the hot issue it was circa 2011 (political posturing by the DOJ in connection with the FCPA Guidance as well as certain headlines caused the issue to simmer), but Congress remains interested in FCPA issues.

For instance, in connection with a recent confirmation hearing for Leslie Caldwell to be the DOJ’s Assistant Attorney General of the Criminal Division, Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA), Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, asked Caldwell several FCPA-related questions for the record.

Caldwell punted on every question (perhaps not surprising given that Caldwell is not currently at the DOJ), but the questions posed nevertheless highlight specific FCPA issues on the minds of certain members of Congress.

Set forth in full below are the FCPA-related questions by Senator Grassley and Caldwell’s responses.

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“I recently asked Attorney General Holder these questions and have not yet received response.  As the FCPA falls within the Criminal Division, would you please respond to the following questions.

What are the Department’s current enforcement priorities under the FCPA?

Answer:  I am not in the Department; therefore, I am not in a position to address this question.  If I am confirmed as the Assistant Attorney General of the Criminal Division, I assure you that I will be vigilant in pursuing cases under the FCPA.

What particular industries, markets or practices is the Department focusing on, and why?

Answer:  I am not in the Department; therefore, I am not in a position to address this question.  As noted above, if I am confirmed as the Assistant Attorney General of the Criminal Division, I assure you that I will be vigilant in pursuing cases under the FCPA.

What proportion of the Department’s enforcement activity during 2013 involved non-U.S. companies?

Answer:  I am not in the Department; therefore, I am not in a position to address this question.  If I am confirmed as the Assistant Attorney General of the Criminal Division, I assure you that I will be vigilant in pursuing cases against U.S. and non-U.S. companies that violate the FCPA.

Has the Department seen a recent increase in whistleblower claims of FCPA violations?  If so, to what would you attribute that?  How has the Department responded?

Answer:  I am not in the Department; therefore, I am not in a position to address these questions.

Although the Department does not publicize each particular instance in which it declines prosecution despite evidence of an FCPA violation, what characterized the Department’s declinations during 2013?  Did the number increase from 2012?  What factors were most important in leading the Department to decline prosecution?

Answer:  I am not in the Department; therefore, I am not in a position to address these questions.  While I have not been privy to the internal deliberations surrounding the Department’s declination decisions, if confirmed as the Assistant Attorney General of the Criminal Division, I assure you that declination decisions will be based on the law and the evidence presented.

In November 2012, the Department and SEC issued the FCPA ”Resource Guide,” which reflected guidance from your agencies regarding the interpretation and enforcement of the FCPA.  Does the Department anticipate updating, supplementing or amending the “Resource Guide” in the foreseeable future?

Answer:  I am not in the Department; therefore, I am not in a position to address this question.

In 2013, the Department issued only one Opinion Release concerning the FCPA.  Does the Department consider the “Resource Guide” a substitute for its opinion release program?

Answer:  I am not in the Department; therefore, I am not in a position to address this question.

In Depth On The Weatherford Enforcement Action

Monday, December 2nd, 2013

Last week, the DOJ and SEC announced (here and here) that Switzerland-based oil and gas services company Weatherford International agreed to resolve a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement action based primarily on alleged conduct by its subsidiaries in Angola, the Middle East, and in connection with the Iraq Oil for Food program.  The enforcement action has been expected for some time (as noted in this prior post, in November the company disclosed that it had agreed in principle to the settlement announced last week).

The enforcement action involved a DOJ criminal information against Weatherford Services Ltd. resolved via a plea agreement, a criminal information against Weatherford International Ltd. (“Weatherford”) resolved via a deferred prosecution agreement, and a SEC settled civil complaint against Weatherford.  [Note, the SEC enforcement action also alleged violations of the books and records and internal controls provisions in regards to commercial transactions with various sanctioned countries in violation of U.S. sanction and export controls laws.  The DOJ - or other government entities - also alleged such conduct, but in resolution documents separate and apart from the FCPA resolution documents highlighted below].

Weatherford agreed to pay approximately $153 million to resolve its alleged FCPA scrutiny ($87 million to resolve the DOJ enforcement action and $66 million to resolve the SEC enforcement action).  The Weatherford action is the 8th largest FCPA settlement of all-time (see here for the top ten FCPA settlements).

DOJ

Weatherford Services Ltd.

Weatherford Services (“WSL”), incorporated in Bermuda, is identified as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Weatherford International that “managed most of Weatherford’s activities in Angola.”

The conduct at issue involved “two schemes to bribe Sonangol officials to obtain or retain business.”

Sonangol is alleged to be a “government-owned and controlled corporation” of the Angolan government. The information specifically states:

“Sonangol was the sole concessionaire for exploration of oil and gas in Angola, and was solely responsible for the exploration, production, manufacturing, transportation, and marketing of hydrocarbons in Angola.  Sonangol was run by a board of directors established by governmental decree in 1999.  Each member of the board was also appointed or renewed in their position by governmental decree.  Because Sonangol was wholly owned, controlled, and managed by the Angolan government, it was an ‘agency’ and ‘instrumentality’ of a foreign government and its employees were ‘foreign officials’” under the FCPA.

According to the information, the first bribery scheme “centered around a joint venture which WSL and other Weatherford employees established with two local Angolan entities.”  The information alleges that “Angolan Officials 1, 2, and 3 (described as “high-level, senior officials of Sonangol” with influence over contracts) controlled and represented one of the entities” and that a “relative of Angolan Official 4 (described as a “high-level, senior official of Angola’s Ministry of Petroleum” with influence over contracts entered into by the Angolan government) controlled and represented the other.”

The information alleges that the “joint venture began because WSL sought a way to increase its share of the well screens market in Angola” and states that “WSL learned that Sonangol was encouraging oil services companies to establish a well screens manufacturing operations in Angola with a local partner.”  Thereafter, “a high-level Weatherford executive sent Angolan Official 1 a letter expressing Weatherford’s intent to form a well screens manufacturing operation in Angola with a local partner and requesting Sonangol’s participation in the process.”

The information next alleges that “Angolan Official 1 advised WSL that Sonangol had selected local partners for WSL and that Sonangol would support the joint venture.”  According to the information:

“… the parties agreed that two local Angolan entities (“Angolan Company A” and Angolan Company B”) would be WSL’s joint venture partners.  Angolan Officials 1, 2 and 3 conducted all business with WSL on behalf of Angolan Company A.  Angolan Company B was owned in part by the daughter of Angolan Official 4.”

According to the information, “certain WSL and Weatherford employees knew from the outset of discussions regarding the joint venture that the members of Angolan Company A included a Sonangol employee and Angolan Official 3′s wife, while Angolan Company B’s members included Angolan Official 4′s daughter and son-in-law.”

According to the information, “prior to entering into the joint venture, neither Weatherford nor WSL conducted any meaningful due diligence of either joint venture partner.”  The information specifically alleges that Weatherford Legal Counsel A (a citizen of the U.S. and a Senior Corporate Counsel at Weatherford from 2004 to 2008) reached out to a law firm “to discuss whether partnering with the Angolan companies raised issues under the FCPA,” but that Weatherford Legal Counsel A “did not follow the advice” that had been provided to him.  In addition, the information alleges that Weatherford Legal Counsel A “falsely told [another] outside counsel that the joint venture had been vetted and approved by another outside counsel, when, in fact, no outside law firm ever conducted such vetting or gave such approval.”

The information alleges that WSL signed the final joint venture agreement with Angolan Company A and Angolan Company B in 2005, but that “neither Angolan Company A nor Angolan Company B provided any personnel or expertise to the joint venture, nor did they make any capital contributions.”

According to the information:

“In 2008, Angolan Company A and Angolan Company B received joint venture dividends for 2005 and 2006, including on revenues received in 2005 [before the joint venture agreement was executed].  [...]  In total, the joint venture paid Angolan Company A $689,995 and paid Angolan Company B $136,901.”

The information alleges that “prior to the distribution of joint venture dividends, WSL executives knew that Angolan officials were directing the distribution of those dividends.”

According to the information, “WSL benefitted from the joint venture arrangement” in the following ways: ”Sonangol began taking well screens business away from WSL’s competitors, even when a competitor was supplying non-governmental companies, and awarding it to WSL”  and “WSL received awards of business for which its bids were, by its own admission, not price competitive.”

The second bribery scheme alleged in the information relates to the “Cabinda Region Contract Renewal” in which WSL allegedly “bribed Angolan Official 5 (described as “a Sonangol official with decision-making authority in Angola’s Cabinda region”) so that he would approve the renewal of a contract under which WSL provided oil services to a non-governmental oil company in the Cabinda region of Angola.”  The information alleges that even though the contract was between WSL and a non-governmental company, Angolan law required “that it be approved by Sonangol before being finalized” and that “Angolan Official 5 was the Sonangol official responsible for approving or denying the renewal contract.”

The information alleges that Angolan Official 5 solicited the bribe and that “WSL executives agreed to pay the bribe Angolan Official 5 had demanded” even though a prior WSL Manager had refused to pay it.  According to the information, WSL made the payments to Angolan Official 5 through the Freight Forwarding Agent (described as a Swiss Company who provided freight forwarding and logistics services in Angola) who had previously paid bribes on behalf of WSL.”

As to the Freight Forwarding Agent, the information alleges that WSL retained the agent via a consultancy agreement in which the agent rejected a specific FCPA clause, but that “WSL and Weatherford acquiesced by removing the FCPA clause and inserting a clause requiring the Freight Forwarding Agent to ‘comply with all applicable laws, rules, and regulations issued by any governmental entity in the countries of business involved.”  According to the information, “WSL generated sham purchase orders for consulting services the Freight Forwarding Agent never performed, and the Freight Forwarding Agent, in turn, generated sham invoices for those non-existent services.”  The information alleges that the Freight Forwarding Agent passed money on to Angolan Official 5.

Based on the above, the information charges WSL with one count of violating the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions and specifically invokes the dd-3 prong of the statute applicable to “persons” other than issuers or domestic concerns.

Pursuant to the plea agreement, WSL agreed to pay a criminal fine in the amount of $420,000.

Weatherford International

The Weatherford information largely focuses on the company’s internal accounting controls and alleges as follows.

“Weatherford, which operated in an industry with a substantial corruption risk profile, grew its global footprint in large part by purchasing existing companies, often themselves in countries with high corruption risks.  Despite these manifest corruption risks, Weatherford knowingly failed to establish effective corruption-related internal accounting controls designed to detect and prevent corruption-related violations, including FCPA violations, prior to 2008.

Prior to 2008, Weatherford failed to institute effective internal accounting controls, including corruption-related due diligence on appropriate third parties and business transactions, limits of authority, and documentation requirements.  This failure was particularly acute when it came to third parties, including channel partners, distributors, consultants, and agents.  Weatherford failed to establish effective corruption-related due diligence on third parties with interaction with government officials, such as appropriately understanding a given third party’s ownership and qualifications, evaluating the business justification for the third party’s retention in the first instance, and establishing and implementing adequate screening of third parties for derogatory information.  Moreover, Weatherford failed to implement effective controls for the meaningful approval process of third parties.  Weatherford also did not require, in practice, adequate documentation supporting retention and in support of payments to third parties, such as appropriate invoices and purchase orders.

Prior to 2008, Weatherford did not have adequate internal accounting controls and processes in place that effectively evaluated business transactions, including acquisitions and joint ventures, for corruption risks and to investigate those risks when detected.  Moreover, following the establishment of joint ventures and certain other business transactions, Weatherford did not appropriately implement its policies and procedures to ensure an effective internal accounting control environment through proper integration.

Prior to 2008, Weatherford also did not have an effective internal accounting control system for gifts, travel, and entertainment.  In practice, expenses were not typically adequately vetted to ensure that they were reasonable, bona fide, or properly documented.

These issues were exacerbated by the fact that, prior to 2009, a company as large and complex as Weatherford – with its substantial risk profile – did not have a dedicated compliance officer or compliance personnel.  Although Weatherford promulgated an anti-corruption policy that it made available on its internal website, it did not translate that policy into any language other than English, and it did not conduct anti-corruption training.

Prior to 2008, Weatherford did not have an effective system for investigating employee reporting of ethics and compliance violations.  If an employee’s ethics questionnaire response indicated an awareness of payments or offers of payments to foreign officials or of undisclosed or unallocated funds, Weatherford did not have a protocol in place to perform any further investigation into the alleged corruption.  As a matter of practice, in fact, Weatherford did not conduct additional investigation of such allegations.  Prior to 2004, Weatherford did not require any employee to complete any kind of ethics questionnaire.

Further, Weatherford lack effective mechanisms to control its many foreign subsidiaries’ activities to ensure that they maintained internal accounting controls adequate to detect, investigate, or deter corrupt payments made to government officials.”

Under the heading “corrupt conduct” the information alleges – in summary form – as follows:

“Due to Weatherford’s failure to implement such internal accounting controls, a permissive and uncontrolled environment existed within Weatherford in which employees of certain of its wholly owned subsidiaries in Africa and the Middle East were able to engage in various corrupt conduct over the course of many years, including both bribery of foreign officials and fraudulent misuse of the United Nations’ Oil for Food Program.”

Thereafter, the information contains nine paragraphs of allegations that track the Angola allegations in the WSL information.

In addition, the information contains allegations about another alleged “scheme, in the Middle East, from 2005 through 2011″ in which “employees of another Weatherford subsidiary [Weatherford Oil Tool Middle East Limited (WOTME) - described as a British Virgin Islands corporation headquartered in Dubai that was a wholly-owned subsidiary of Weatherford and responsible for managing most of Weatherford's activities in North Africa and the Middle East] awarded improper ‘volume discounts’ to a distributor who supplied Weatherford products to a government-owned national oil company, believing those discounts were being used to create a slush fund with which to make bribe payments to decision makers at the national oil company.”

According to the information, “officials at the national oil company had directed WOTME to sell goods to the company through this particular distributor” and the information alleges:

“Prior to entering into the contract with the distributor, neither WOTME nor Weatherford conducted any due diligence on the distributor, despite (a) the fact that the Distributor would be furnishing Weatherford goods directly to an instrumentality of a foreign government; (b) the fact that a foreign official had specifically directed WOTME to contract with that particular distributor, and (c) the fact that executives at WOTME knew that a member of the country’s royal family had an ownership interest in the distributor.”

According to the information, “between 2005 and 2011, WOTME paid approximately $15 million in volume discounts to the distributor” that were “recorded in WOTME’s general ledger under a heading titled “Volume Discount Account.”

The information next contains four paragraphs of allegations relevant to the Iraq Oil for Food program and how Weatherford’s “failure to implement effective internal accounting controls also permitted corrupt conduct relating” to the program.

In a summary allegation, under the heading “Profits from the Corrupt Conduct in Africa and the Middle East” the information states:

“Due to Weatherford’s failure to implement internal accounting controls, an environment existed within Weatherford in which employees of certain of its wholly owned subsidiaries in Africa and the Middle East were able to engage in various corrupt business transactions, which conduct earned profits of $54,486,410, which were included in the consolidated financial statements that Weatherford filed with the SEC.”

Based on the above conduct, the information charges Weatherford with violating the FCPA’s internal controls provisions – specifically – that Weatherford knowingly:

“(a) failed to implement, monitor, and impose internal accounting controls and to maintain their effectiveness; (b) failed adequately to train key personnel to implement internal accounting controls to detect and avoid illegal payments and to identify and deter violations of those controls; (c) failed to monitor and control the financial transactions of its subsidiaries, in a manner that provided reasonable assurances that its subsidiaries’ transactions were executed in accordance with management’s general and specific authorization; (d) failed to monitor and control the financial transactions of its subsidiaries, in a manner that provided reasonable assurances that its subsidiaries’ transactions were recorded as necessary to permit preparation of financial statements in conformity with generally accepted accounting principles and any other criteria applicable to such statements; (e) failed to maintain a sufficient system for the selection and approval of, and performance of corruption-related due diligence on, third party business partners and joint venture partners, which, in turn, permitted corrupt conduct to occur at subsidiaries; (f) failed to investigate appropriately and respond to allegations of corrupt payments and discipline employees involved in making corrupt payments; (g) failed to take reasonable steps to ensure the company’s compliance and ethics program was followed, including training employees, and performing monitoring to detect criminal conduct; (h) failed to maintain internal accounting controls sufficient to prevent a subsidiary from entering into a joint venture agreement to funnel improper benefits to, and receive preferential treatment from, foreign government officials; (i) failed to maintain internal accounting controls sufficient to prevent a subsidiary from making payments to a channel partner not authorized by contract knowing there was a substantial likelihood that those payments were used to make corrupt payments; and (j) failed to maintain internal accounting controls sufficient to prevent kickbacks paid to the government of Iraq by a subsidiary.”

The charge against Weatherford was resolved via a DPA in which the company admitted, accepted, and acknowledged that it was responsible for the acts of its officers, directors, employees, and agents as charged in the information.

The DPA has a term of three years and under the heading “relevant considerations” it states:

“The Department enters into this Agreement based on the individual facts and circumstances presented by this case and the Company.  Among the facts considered were the following:  (a) the Company’s cooperation has been, on the whole, strong, including conducting an extensive worldwide internal investigation, voluntarily making U.S. and foreign employees available for interviews, and collecting, analyzing, and organizing voluminous evidence and information for the Department, including the production of more than 3.8 million pages of data; (b) the Company has engaged in extensive remediation, including terminating the employment of officers and employees responsible for the corrupt misconduct of its subsidiaries, establishing a Compliance Officer position that is a member of the Company’s executive board, as well as a compliance office of approximately 38 full-time compliance professionals, including attorneys and accountants, that the Compliance Officer oversees, conducting more than 30 anti-corruption compliance reviews in many of the countries in which it operates, enhancing its anti-corruption due diligence protocol for third-party agents and consultants, and retaining an ethics and compliance professional to conduct an assessment of the Company’s ethics and compliance policies and procedures designed to ensure compliance with the FCPA and other applicable anti-corruption laws; (c) the Company has committed to continue to enhancing its compliance program and internal accounting controls …; (d) the Company has already significantly enhanced, and is committed to continue to enhance, its compliance program and internal controls …; and (e) the Company has agreed to continue to cooperate with the Department in any ongoing investigation …”

Pursuant to the DPA, the advisory Sentencing Guidelines range for the conduct at issue was $87.2 million to $174.4 million.  The DPA states that the monetary penalty of $87.2 million “is appropriate given the facts and circumstances of this case, including the nature and extent of the Company’s criminal conduct, the Company’s extensive cooperation, and its extensive remediation in this matter.”

The DPA specifically states that “any criminal penalties that might be imposed by the Court on WSL in connection with WSL’s guilty plea to a one-count Criminal Information charging WSL with violations of the FCPA, and the plea agreement entered into simultaneously, will be deducted from the $87.2 million penalty agreed to under this Agreement.”

Pursuant to the DPA, Weatherford agreed to review its existing internal controls, policies and procedures regarding compliance with the FCPA and other applicable anti-corruption laws.   The specifics are detailed in Attachment C to the DPA.  The DPA also requires Weatherford to engage a corporate compliance monitor for ”a period of not less than 18 months from the date the monitor is selected.”  The specifics, including the Monitor’s reporting obligations to the DOJ, are detailed in Attachment D to the DPA.

As is common in FCPA corporate enforcement actions, the DPA contains a “muzzle clause” prohibiting Weatherford or anyone on its behalf from “contradicting the acceptance of responsibility by the company” as set forth in the DPA.

In the DOJ’s release, Acting Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman stated:

“Effective internal accounting controls are not only good policy, they are required by law for publicly traded companies – and for good reason.  This case demonstrates how loose controls and an anemic compliance environment can foster foreign bribery and fraud by a company’s subsidiaries around the globe.  Although Weatherford’s extensive remediation and its efforts to improve its compliance functions are positive signs, the corrupt conduct of Weatherford International’s subsidiaries allowed it to earn millions of dollars in illicit profits, for which it is now paying a significant price.”

Valerie Parlave, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office, stated:

“When business executives engage in bribery and pay-offs in order to obtain contracts, an uneven marketplace is created and honest competitor companies are put at a disadvantage.  The FBI is committed to investigating corrupt backroom deals that influence contract procurement and threaten our global commerce.”

SEC

The SEC’s complaint (here) is largely based on the same core set of facts alleged in the above DOJ action.

In summary fashion, the complaint alleges:

“Between at least 2002 and July 2011, Weatherford and its subsidiaries authorized bribes and improper travel and entertainment intended for foreign officials in multiple countries to obtain or retain business or for other benefits. Weatherford and its subsidiaries also authorized illicit payments to obtain commercial business in Congo and authorized kickbacks in Iraq to obtain United Nations Oil for Food contracts.  Weatherford realized over $59.3 million in profits from business obtained through the use of illicit payments.”

As to the additional Congo allegations, the complaint states:

“In addition to bribery schemes involving Angolan government officials, WSL made over $500,000 in commercial bribe payments through the Swiss Agent to employees of a commercial customer, a wholly-owned subsidiary of an Italian energy company, between March 2002 and December 2008.

[...]

WSL mischaracterized the bribe payments as legitimate expenses on its books and records. Bank account records and a U.S. brokerage account statement show that among the recipients were two employees of the commercial customer who were responsible for awarding contracts to WSL. Weatherford obtained profits of$1,304,912 from commercial business in Congo relating to payments made by Swiss Agent.”

The SEC complaint also contains allegations concerning conduct in Algeria and Albania.

Under the heading “Improper Travel and Entertainment in Algeria,” the complaint alleges:

Weatherford also provided improper travel and entertainment to officials of Sonatrach, an Algerian state-owned company, that were not justified by a legitimate business purpose. The improper travel and entertainment to Sonatrach officials include:

• June 2006 trip by two Sonatrach officials to the FIFA World Cup soccer tournament in Hanover, Germany;

• July 2006 honeymoon trip of the daughter of a Sonatrach official; and

• October 2005 trip by a Sonatrach employee and his family to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, for religious reasons that were improperly booked as a donation

In addition, on at least two other occasions, Weatherford provided Sonatrach officials with cash sums while they were visiting Houston. For example, in May 2007, Weatherford paid for four Sonatrach officials, including a tender committee official, to attend a conference in Houston. Prior to the trip, a Weatherford finance executive sent an email to a Weatherford officer requesting $10,000 cash to be advanced to a WOTME employee without providing any explanation tor the cash advance. The request was approved and a portion of the funds was provided to the tender committee official. There is no evidence the cash was used for legitimate business or promotional expenses. In connection with a December 2007 trip by three Sonatrach officials traveling to Houston, a Weatherford finance employee questioned the propriety of a WOTME employee’s request for a $14,000 cash advance in connection with the trip.  The finance employee’s concern was disregarded and the request was ultimately approved at high levels within Weatherford and a portion of the funds was provided to the officials.  In total, Weatherford spent $35,260 on improper travel, entertainment and gifts for Algerian officials from May 2005 through November 2008 that were recorded in the company’s books and records as legitimate expenses.”

Under the heading “Improper Payments to Albanian Tax Authorites,” the complaint alleges:

“From 2001 to 2006, the general manager and financial manager at a Weatherford Italian subsidiary, WEMESP A, misappropriated over $200,000 of company funds, a portion of which was improperly paid to Albanian tax auditors. WEMESPA’s general manager and financial manager misappropriated the funds by taking advantage of Weatherford’s inadequate system of internal accounting controls. They misreported cash advances, diverted payments on previously paid invoices, misappropriated government rebate checks and received reimbursement of expenses that did not relate to business activities, such as golf equipment and perfume. 

[...]

In addition to the cash payments, in 2005, after a regime shift in Albania, the Country Manager provided three laptop computers for the tax director and two members of Albania’s National Petroleum Agency, which the WEMESPA executives approved and misrecorded in the books and records.”

Under the heading “Misconduct During the Investigation and Subsequent Remediation Efforts,” the complaint states:

“Certain conduct by Weatherford and its employees during the course of the Commission staffs investigation compromised the investigation. These activities involved the failure to provide the staff with complete and accurate information, resulting in significant delay. In one instance, the staff sought information concerning the Iraq Country Manager who signed letters agreeing to pay bribes to Iraqi officials during the Oil for Food Program. The staff was informed that the Country Manager was missing or dead when, in fact, he remained employed by Weatherford. In at least two instances, email was deleted by employees prior to the imaging of their computers. On another occasion, Weatherford failed to secure important computers and documents and allowed potentially complicit employees to collect documents subpoenaed by the staff.  Subsequent to the misconduct, Weatherford greatly improved its cooperation and engaged in remediation efforts, including disciplining employees responsible for the misconduct, establishing a high level Compliance Officer position, significantly increasing the size of its compliance department, and conducting numerous anti-corruption reviews in many of the countries in which it operates.”

Under the heading “Anti-Bribery Violations,” the complaint states in pertinent part:

“Weatherford’s conduct in the Middle East and Angola violated [the FCPA's anti-bribery provisions]. From 2005 through 2011, Weatherford authorized $11.8 million in payments to national oil company officials through a distributor intended to wrongfully influence national oil company decision makers to obtain and retain business.  Weatherford also violated [the anti-bribery provisions] when it retained the Swiss Agent to funnel bribes to a Sonangol official to obtain the Cabinda contract. Weatherford similarly violated [the anti-bribery provisions] by bribing other Sonangol officials via the joint venture in return for contracts and preferential treatment.”

Under the heading “Failure to Maintain Books and Records,” the complaint states in pertinent part:

“Weatherford, directly and through its subsidiaries, also violated [the books and records provisions] when it made numerous payments and engaged in many transactions that were incorrectly described in the companys books and records. In the Middle East, for example, the money given to a distributor to be used as bribes was reflected in Weatherfords books and records as legitimate volume discounts. In Angola and Congo, payments to foreign officials and others were described as legitimate consulting fees rather than bribe payments.  Payments to Sonangol executives through the joint venture were misrecorded as legitimate dividend payments.”

Under the heading “Failure to Maintain Adequate Internal Controls,” the complaint states in pertinent part:

“Weatherford violated [the internal controls provisions] by failing to devise and maintain an adequate system of internal accounting controls.  The violations were widespread and involved conduct at Weatherford’s headquarters as well as at numerous subsidiaries. Executives, managers and employees throughout the organization were aware of the conduct, which lasted a decade.  Weatherford paid millions of dollars to consultants, agents and joint venture partners without adequate due diligence. Weatherford approved cash payments to Algerian officials traveling to Houston without any justification for the payments. Employees made payments to agents without regard to grants of authority and, on some occasions, without even receiving an invoice. In Italy, internal accounting controls were ineffective, allowing executives to embezzle and pay bribes for years.

In the Middle East, the company failed on several occasions to perform due diligence on the distributor it used, despite the fact that the agent was imposed upon them by a national oil company official and would be selling to a government entity. The use of large volume discounts was not routinely reviewed.  [...] Weatherford also failed to provide FCPA … training.  While Weatherford did require certain employees to complete a yearly ethics questionnaire seeking instances of alleged misconduct, Weatherford failed to investigate or even review the responses.”

As noted in the SEC’s release, Weatherford agreed to pay approximately $65.6 million to the SEC, including an approximate $1.9 million penalty assessed in part for lack of cooperation early in the investigation.

In the SEC’s release, Andrew Ceresney (Co-Director of the SEC’s enforcement division) stated:

“The nonexistence of internal controls at Weatherford fostered an environment where employees across the globe engaged in bribery and failed to maintain accurate books and records.  They used code names like ‘Dubai across the water’ to conceal references to Iran in internal correspondence, placed key transaction documents in mislabeled binders, and created whatever bogus accounting and inventory records were necessary to hide illegal transactions.”

Kara Brockmeyer (Chief of the SEC’s FCPA Unit) stated:

“Whether the money went to tax auditors in Albania or officials at the state-owned oil company in Angola, bribes and improper payments were an accustomed way for Weatherford to conduct business.  While the profits may have seemed bountiful at the time, the costs far outweigh the benefits in the end as coordinated law enforcement efforts have unraveled the widespread schemes and heavily sanctioned the misconduct.”

Joseph Warin (Gibson Dunn) represented Weatherford.

In this statement, Bernard Duroc-Danner (Weatherford’s Chairman, President and CEO) stated:

“This matter is now behind us. We move forward fully committed to a sustainable culture of compliance.  With the internal policies and controls currently in place, we maintain a best-in-class compliance program and uphold the highest of ethical standards as we provide the industry’s leading products and services to our customers worldwide.”

On the day of the enforcement action, Weatherford’s shares closed up approximately 1.2%.