Archive for the ‘Permits / Licenses / Customs / Tax’ Category

Friday Roundup

Friday, August 28th, 2015

Roundup2The latest edition of the double standard, survey says, when the dust settles, and for the reading stack.  It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Double Standard

An individual currently holds political office in one unit of government, yet is also a candidate for a higher unit of government.

Among the contributors to organizations supporting the individual’s campaign for higher office are companies that have secured millions in contracts from the lower unit of government run by the individual.  After all, the individual may not prevail in the higher office race and thus return to the lower unit.

A prudent FCPA practitioner would spot the “red flags” as the contributions could be viewed as a way to curry favor with the individual upon return to the lower unit of government.

However, the individual (more accurately individuals) are not “foreign officials” they are current governors Chris Christie, John Kasich, Bobby Jindal, and Scott Walker who are also running for President.

For the latest edition of the double standard, see this Wall Street Journal article.

Bribery?

Silly you for even mentioning the “b” word.  This is all about “First Amendment rights” according to a source in the article.

Why do business interactions with “foreign officials” seem to be subject to different standards than business interactions with U.S. officials? Why do we reflexively label a “foreign official” who receives “things of value” from private business interests as corrupt, yet generally turn a blind eye when it happens here at home or call it something different such as participation in the political process? Is the FCPA enforced too aggressively or is enforcement of the U.S. domestic bribery statute too lax? Ought not there be some consistently between enforcement of the FCPA and the domestic bribery statute?

For approximately 50 other post highlighting these double standards, see this subject matter tag.

Survey Says

According to this recent ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Business Outlook Survey:

“The risk of pressure to bribe officials for essential licenses and permits varies greatly depending on the country from which executives responded. Less than half of the respondents in Brunei, Malaysia, Myanmar, and Singapore foresee that this risk will hinder their long-term operations, while large percentages of respondents in Cambodia (89%), Laos (85%), and Vietnam (74%) foresee that it will.”

“In contrast, facilitation payments for routine government services are a more common part of international business. (Routine government services may include processing governmental papers, such as visas and work orders, or such services as police protection, power supply, phone service, etc.) In nearly all countries, the risk of pressure to bribe officials to speed up routine government services is slightly higher than the comparable risk for essential licenses and permits.”

In passing the FCPA, Congress recognized the inherent difficulties companies encounter in foreign markets and thus elected not to capture payments in connection with licenses, permits and the like in the anti-bribery provisions.  (To learn more, see “The Story of the FCPA“).  Congress also chose to exempt facilitation payments from the anti-bribery provisions.

When The Dust Settles

FCPA enforcement actions only focus on alleged bribe payers.  However, when an FCPA enforcement action concludes, there is still an alleged “foreign official” who allegedly received the bribe payments.  When the dust settles, what happens to the “foreign official”?

For years, guest contributor Mike Dearington followed the DOJ’s 2011 enforcement action against Juthamas Siriwan, the former government officer of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, and Jittisopa Siriwan, the daughter of the alleged “foreign official” who was also alleged to be an “employee of Thailand Privilege Card Co. Ltd.” an entity controlled by TAT and an alleged “instrumentality of the Thai government.”  The Siriwan’s allegedly received improper payments from Gerald and Patricia Green who were convicted of FCPA and related offenses in 2009 and served time in federal prison. (See prior posts at this subject matter tag).

In short, the federal court judge overseeing the DOJ’s money laundering case against Siriwan stayed the case pending expected legal proceedings in Thailand against Siriwan.

Earlier this week, the Bangkok Post reported:

“The Criminal Court has indicted former Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) governor Juthamas Siriwan and her daughter in a film festival bribery case, the Office of the Attorney-General spokesman said Wednesday.  Prosecutors indicted Mrs Juthamas, 68, and her daugther Jittisopha, 41, in the Criminal Court on Tuesday on charges of taking bribes, corruption and bid-rigging, plus breaching Section 6 of the law dealing with state employees’ offences and Section 12 of the law governing submitting tenders to state agencies, which carries a maximum jail term of 20 years.”

This development is expected to functionally end the U.S. prosecution.

In other news relevant to the above enforcement action, the Hollywood Reporter reports that Gerald Green recently died.  He was 83.

Reading Stack

The most recent edition of the always informative FCPA Update by Debevoise & Plimpton has a nice write-up of the recent BNY Mellon enforcement action (see here and here for prior posts).  In pertinent part, the Update states:

In the SEC’s View, a Thing of Value Can Be Purely Psychological

[T]he government’s investigations in this area face a key threshold legal issue under the FCPA: can providing a job or internship to an official’s relative constitute a thing of value to the official him/herself? Can offering the purely psychological benefit of helping a child or relative land a job give rise to an actionable attempt at bribery? The official does not stand to see any personal financial gain from the internship, except in the arguable circumstance of reducing the official’s financial obligations to a dependent. But the SEC seems to have purposely disclaimed – or at least strained – that theory here, given that one of the internships at issue was unpaid. The SEC addressed this thorny issue in a single sentence in the Order, asserting that “[t]he internships were valuable work experience, and the requesting officials derived significant personal value in being able to confer this benefit on their family members.”

The SEC has previously suggested that an intangible benefit can be a “thing of value” under the FCPA, having faulted Schering-Plough for providing a requested donation to a legitimate charity with which a foreign official and his spouse were closely involved, in an alleged attempt to influence the official. The BNYM Order, however, seems to represent a significant expansion of that thinking. Notably, in Schering-Plough the SEC charged only a “books and records” violation, not a violation of the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions. Moreover, even assuming intangible prestige or listing an internship on a resumé can be a thing of value, Schering-Plough at least involved a transfer of funds at the official’s request, which arguably allowed the official himself to reap the prestige of the donation. Here, the prestigious and valuable work experiences – one of which was entirely unpaid – went not to the official but to the official’s family member, and thus only indirectly benefited the official.

Evidentiary Issues: Quid Pro Quo or Internal Speculation?

The BNYM case and others like it also raise difficult evidentiary issues for FCPA enforcement authorities. How can one draw the line between a genuine quid pro quo – an actual exchange of a personal benefit to an official for a business assignment – from mere internal speculation and anxiety about potentially damaging an important relationship? Here, the BNYM Order is notable for what it does not say: the Order does not place the internship hiring requests in the context of any specific business opportunity, or any review or re-evaluation of whether the Sovereign Wealth Fund should maintain its existing business relationship with BNYM. Rather, the cited internal communications reflect a generalized desire to gather additional business in the future or to a perception that existing business could be diminished relative to competitors.

Here, the lack of any tie to a concrete business opportunity could simply be a function of the asset management business, in which funds for investment are (in general terms) fungible. Time will tell whether, in other contexts, courts or enforcement authorities will focus more on an attempt to win a specific business opportunity rather than simply an effort to create or maintain good relations that may (or may not) bear fruit over time. For now, the SEC appears to have followed the controversial “quid pro quo lite” theory that has garnered some success in DOJ criminal domestic bribery prosecutions; in that sense, the reach of the Order may not be that surprising – although its theoretical underpinnings in the FCPA arena remain largely untested.

The SEC’s justification for the imposition of a disgorgement remedy is also difficult to locate within its factual recitation. The disgorgement amount of $8.3 million cannot be explained by the relatively minor new investment with BNYM (of less than $1 million). It stands to reason, then, that the disgorgement amount is based, at least in part, on BNYM’s retention of its existing business with the Sovereign Wealth Fund. The causation analysis on that point is not transparent, as the facts stated do not suggest any meaningful way to assess the degree to which the intern hires arguably contributed to maintaining the existing relationship. The result may be the product of any number of unstated factors that went into the settlement, highlighting once again, why settlements should not make law.

[...]

Overall, the BNYM Order highlights two areas of frequent criticism of FCPA enforcement. First, the activity under scrutiny bears a strong similarity to what are perceived as common practices in the private sector in which firms seek to accommodate client representative requests in order to maintain good relations with key decision makers. In this way, enforcement authorities risk criticism that they are using the FCPA to excise business practices affecting relationships with foreign officials abroad that are routinely tolerated in the private sector in the United States – and that are not unprecedented or even rare in the context of companies’ relationships with officials employed by the United States federal, state, and local governments.

Second, the SEC’s choice of a consented-to cease-and-desist order to announce a new and expansive interpretation of the FCPA leaves its interpretations of the law entirely untested by judicial scrutiny and adversarial process. Given that BNYM did not admit the allegations in the Order, BNYM had very little incentive to challenge the SEC’s view of the facts and law, yet as with Schering-Plough’s resolution (referenced above), the SEC’s debatable interpretive position may go years (or decades) without judicial scrutiny.

As noted at the outset, the BNYM Order is just the first resolution of a case of this kind. Others may follow, including in DOJ matters, which will likely shed additional light on the landscape in this area.”

*****

A good weekend to all.

Without Admitting Or Denying The SEC’s Findings, Goodyear Resolves SEC Administrative Action

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015

GoodyearAs highlighted in this previous post, in February 2012 Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company disclosed as follows.

“In June 2011, an anonymous source reported, through our confidential ethics hotline, that our majority-owned joint venture in Kenya may have made certain improper payments. In July 2011, an employee of our subsidiary in Angola reported that similar improper payments may have been made in Angola. [...]  Following our internal investigation, we … voluntarily disclosed the results of our investigation to the DOJ and the SEC, and are cooperating with those agencies in their review of these matters.”

As highlighted in this previous post, in October 2014 Goodyear disclosed that it recorded a charge of $16 million in connection with the above FCPA inquiry.

Yesterday, an actual enforcement action dripped from the FCPA pipeline as the SEC announced an administrative action against Goodyear in which the company, without admitting or denying the SEC’s findings, agreed to pay approximately $16 million.

In summary fashion, the SEC Order states:

“This case involves violations of the books, records, and internal control provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) by Goodyear. Goodyear, headquartered in Akron, Ohio, is one of the world’s largest tire companies. From 2007 through 2011, Goodyear subsidiaries in Kenya (Treadsetters Tyres Ltd., or “Treadsetters”) and Angola (Trentyre Angola Lda., or “Trentyre”) routinely paid bribes to employees of government-owned entities and private companies to obtain tire sales. These same subsidiaries also paid bribes to police, tax, and other local authorities. In all, between 2007 and 2011, Goodyear subsidiaries in Kenya and Angola made over $3.2 million in illicit payments.

All of these bribery payments were falsely recorded as legitimate business expenses in the books and records of these subsidiaries which were consolidated into Goodyear’s books and records. Goodyear did not prevent or detect these improper payments because it failed to implement adequate FCPA compliance controls at its subsidiaries in sub-Saharan Africa.”

Under the heading “Improper Payments in Kenya,” the Order states:

“Treadsetters is a retail tire distributor in Kenya. In 2002, Goodyear acquired a minority ownership interest in Treadsetters. By 2006, Goodyear had acquired a majority ownership interest in the company, though the day-to-day operations of Treadsetters continued to be run by Treadsetters’ founders and the local general manager. During the relevant time period, Treadsetters had annual revenues of approximately $20 million.

From 2007 through 2011, Treadsetters’ management regularly authorized and paid bribes to employees of government-owned or affiliated entities, and private companies, to obtain business. The practice was routine and appears to have been in place prior to Goodyear’s acquisition of Treadsetters. The bribes generally were paid in cash and falsely recorded on Treadsetters’ books as expenses for promotional products.

Treadsetters’ general manager and finance director were at the center of the scheme. They approved payments for phony promotional products, and then directed the finance assistant to write-out the checks to cash. Treadsetters’ staff then cashed the checks and used the money to make improper payments to employees of customers, which included both government owned entities and private companies.

Between 2007 and 2011, Treadsetters paid over $1.5 million in bribes in connection with the sale of tires. This included improper payments to employees of government-owned or affiliated entities including the Kenya Ports Authority, the Armed Forces Canteen Organization, the Nzoia Sugar Company, the Kenyan Air Force, the Ministry of Roads, the Ministry of State for Defense, the East African Portland Cement Co., and Telkom Kenya Ltd. During that same time period, Treadsetters also made approximately $14,457 in improper payments to local government officials in Kenya, including city council employees, police, and building inspectors.

Goodyear did not detect or prevent these improper payments because it failed to conduct adequate due diligence when it acquired Treadsetters, and failed to implement adequate FCPA compliance training and controls after the acquisition.”

Under the heading “Improper Payments in Angola,” the Order states:

“Trentyre was incorporated in 2007, and is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Goodyear. Trentyre is primarily engaged in selling new tires for mining equipment. During the relevant time period, Trentyre had annual revenues between $6 million and $20 million.

From 2007 through 2011, Trentyre paid over $1.6 million in bribes to employees of government-owned or affiliated entities, and private companies, to obtain tire sales. Trentyre paid approximately $1.4 million of these bribes to employees of government-owned or affiliated entities in Angola, including the Catoca Diamond Mine, UNICARGAS, Engevia Construction and Public Works, the Electric Company of Luanda, National Service of Alfadega, and Sonangol. A majority of these improper payments were paid to employees of Trentyre’s largest customer at the time, the Catoca Diamond Mine, which is owned by a consortium of mining interests, including Endiama E.P., Angola’s national mining company, and ALROSA, a Russian mining company. During the same time period, Trentyre also made approximately $64,713 in improper payments to local government officials in Angola, including police and tax authorities.

The bribery scheme was put in place by Trentyre’s former general manager. To hide the scheme and generate funds for the improper payments, Trentyre falsely marked-up the costs of its tires by adding to its invoice price phony freight and customs clearing costs. On a monthly basis, as tires were sold, the phony freight and clearing costs were reclassified to a balance sheet account. Trentyre made improper payments to employees of customers both in cash and through wire transfers. As bribes were paid, the amounts were debited from the balance sheet account, and falsely recorded as payments to vendors for freight and clearing costs.

Goodyear did not prevent or detect these improper payments because it failed to implement adequate FCPA compliance training and controls at this subsidiary.”

Under the heading “Legal Standards and Violations,” the Order states:

“Goodyear subsidiaries in Kenya and Angola made improper payments to employees of government-owned entities and private companies to obtain business. These improper payments were falsely recorded as legitimate business expenses in the books and records of these subsidiaries which were consolidated into Goodyear’s books and records. Accordingly, Goodyear violated [the FCPA's books and records provisions]. [...] Goodyear also violated [the internal controls provisions] by failing to devise and maintain sufficient accounting controls to prevent and detect these improper payments.”

Under the heading “Goodyear’s Cooperation and Remedial Efforts,” the Order states:

“In determining to accept the Offer, the Commission considered remedial acts promptly undertaken by Respondent and cooperation afforded the Commission staff. After receiving information about the bribes, Goodyear promptly halted the improper payments and reported the matter to Commission staff. Goodyear also provided significant cooperation with the Commission’s investigation. This included voluntarily producing documents and reports and other information from the company’s internal investigation, and promptly responding to Commission staff’s requests for information and documents. These efforts assisted the Commission in efficiently collecting evidence including information that may not have been otherwise available to the staff.

Goodyear also has undertaken remedial efforts. In Kenya, Goodyear divested its ownership interest in Treadsetters, and ceased all business dealings with the company. In Angola, after Goodyear halted the improper payments its subsidiary lost its largest customer. Goodyear is now in the process of divesting this subsidiary.

Goodyear also undertook disciplinary action against certain employees, including executives of its Europe, Middle East and Africa region who had oversight responsibility, for failing to ensure adequate FCPA compliance training and controls were in place at the company’s subsidiaries in sub-Saharan Africa.

Goodyear also implemented improvements to its compliance program, both specific to its operations in sub-Saharan Africa, and globally. In Africa, the improvements include expanded on-line and in-person anti-corruption training for subsidiary management, sales, and finance personnel; regular audits, by internal audit, specifically focused on corruption risks; quarterly self-assessment questionnaires required of each subsidiary regarding business with government-affiliated customers; quarterly management certifications from every subsidiary that cover among other things controls over financial reporting; and annual testing of internal controls at each subsidiary. To increase oversight, Goodyear also put in place a new regional management structure, and added new compliance, accounting, and audit positions. Goodyear is also making technology improvements, where possible, to electronically link subsidiaries in sub-Saharan Africa to its global network. At the parent company, Goodyear created a new senior position of Vice President of Compliance and Ethics, which further elevated the compliance function within the company. Goodyear has also expanded on-line and in-person anti-corruption and ethics training at its other subsidiaries, and implemented a new Integrity Hotline Web Portal, which enhanced users’ ability to file anonymous online reports to its hotline system. With that system, Goodyear is also implementing a new case management system for legal, compliance and internal audit to document and track complaints, investigations and remediation. Goodyear also has updated its policies governing third-party agents and vendors, and is in the process of implementing a new third-party due diligence software tool.”

Without admitting or denying the SEC’s findings, Goodyear agreed to pay $16,228,065 (disgorgement of $14,122,525 and prejudgment interest of $2,105,540). In addition, Goodyear is required to report to the SEC staff “periodically, at no less than 12-month intervals during a three-year term, [on] the status of its remediation and implementation of compliance measures.”  The Order states that the SEC “is not imposing a civil penalty based upon its cooperation in a Commission investigation and related enforcement action.”

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

“Public companies must keep accurate accounting records, and Goodyear’s lax compliance controls enabled a routine of corrupt payments by African subsidiaries that were hidden in their books. This settlement ensures that Goodyear must forfeit all of the illicit profits from business obtained through bribes to foreign officials as well as employees at commercial companies in Angola and Kenya.”

Joan McKown (Jones Day and a former SEC enforcement division attorney) represented Goodyear.

Yesterday, Goodyear’s stock closed down .09%.

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.

“I Have Such Trouble Understanding The Facilitating Payment Exception”

Tuesday, December 9th, 2014

Southern District of Texas Judge Keith P. Ellison.  HANDOUT.

In the minds of some, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act is a clear statute with no ambiguity whatsoever (see here for a prior post on the same subject).  To such commentators, it’s easy –  just don’t bribe.  (The irony of course is that if it was so easy, then why do many of these same commentators devote their practice to FCPA compliance?).

To suggest that the FCPA is an ambiguous statute has been met by claims that such statements are nothing more than pandering to a particular audience.

Well, federal court judges are apparently pandering to a particular audience because if there is one common thread in many FCPA judicial decisions, it is judges finding various FCPA provisions vague or ambiguous.  (See the above prior post for numerous examples).

The latest example occurred in SEC v. Jackson & Ruehlen (the individual enforcement action the SEC settled on the eve of trial this past summer in what could only credibly be called an SEC defeat – see here and here for prior posts).

As to relevant background, in a pre-trial ruling (see here for the prior post), Judge Keith Ellisson (S.D.Tex.) ruled that the SEC had the burden of negating application of the FCPA’s facilitating payment exception.  As noted in this prior post, the enforcement action focused on alleged payments in connection with temporary importation permits in Nigeria for oil rigs.

Deep within the pre-trial transcript (see here), one will find Judge Ellison engage in the following exchange with SEC counsel.

JUDGE:  I have such trouble understanding the facilitating payment exception.  [...] I mean, it almost swallows the rest of the statute.  And I know it’s in the legislative history that these, I think reference is made to grease payments, somehow to grease the skids.  How do I separate those payments, which do seem to be contemplated, from the payments that [the SEC] alleges were made in this case, which you think are squarely within the FCPA’s prohibition?  [...] And I don’t understand it.  Whether we make the distinction based on size of payments, regularity of payments, purpose of payments, nature of the — of the favorable conduct elicited.  I just really struggle with it.”

SEC:  [...] For the — for the exception to apply, the SEC’s position is that two elements must be met.  There must be a purpose to expedite an act and the act must be a routine government action within the meaning of the statute.

JUDGE:  Both those could apply to the temporary — to the temporary import, though, couldn’t it?

SEC:  Well, in what way, Your Honor?

JUDGE: Well, because it purpose was to expedite an act and it was a routine government action.  These import permits were granted all the time.

Elsewhere in the transcript, one will find Judge Ellison expressing concern about the SEC’s position that the defendants violated the FCPA’s books and records provisions because Noble Corp. booked the alleged bribe payments in a special facilitating payments account based on the good faith belief that they were indeed facilitating payments.  The following exchange occurred.

JUDGE:  You also argue that recording the payments as facilitating payments in the company’s book is essentially duplicative or duplicitous.  Would payments to government officials, just say to that, like so, would that be accessible?

SEC:  Your honor, these payments were recorded as a particular kind of payment, a lawful payment.  A payment that meets a legal exception to liability under the FCPA.  As this Court recognized in the motion to dismiss opinion, calling a payment something that it is not is false.

JUDGE: What would they have needed to call it?  That’s what I am asking?

SEC:  Payments to government official — I can’t speculate all the things that it possibly could have been called, but payments to government officials may have been – may have been adequate.  However, they weren’t designated payments to government officials in this case …

Elsewhere in the transcript, the SEC acknowledged that the facilitating payments exception is “a difficult area to understand, largely because of the wording of the exception and the statute overall.”  The following exchange occurred.

SEC: This is how we conceptualize it.  And I think it’s — and it’s clearly evidenced and its manifest in the words of the statute and the exception.  Now, the facilitating payment exception is exactly that. It’s an exception for government actions that are routinely or ordinarily carried out. And you’ll see in the — in the exception itself, a number of examples that Congress set out as — as possible facilitating payment – facilitating payments and government — routine government actions. [...]

JUDGE: In your mind, does “routine” mean frequent or does “routine” mean automatic or does “routine” mean both?

SEC: I think that’s a fact issue, Your Honor. I think there could be situations where a routine governmental action can be something automatic. I think there can be situations where a — a routine governmental action is something that is issued or granted by a government entity or official routinely, so frequently, or without exception.

JUDGE: Well, I’m trying to identify which of the those things.  I mean, what if it were routine but not consistent; or automatic but not routine, it only happened once every five years?

SEC:  [...] Now, what’s important here is that the SEC posits whether a particular action is a routine governmental action is an objective inquiry.  You just take a look at the Nigerian law that governs this particular action.  If the Nigerian law says that it’s nondiscretionary, that’s the end of the inquiry.

JUDGE: Well, that’s what I trying to identify.  The fact that it’s nondiscretionary.  Do you think — do you agree with that?

SEC: No, Your Honor.

JUDGE:  Tell me what the lynchpin is?

SEC: The lynchpin is, again, it’s a fact-intensive inquiry.  What did the defendants – all right – what did the defendants believe was the action here?  And the action here was in — again, tying to the specific — specific facts of this case, the action was applying for temporary import authorizations that had, prior to the relevant period in this case, had been routinely granted.

JUDGE: Meaning — meaning consistently?

SEC: Consistently, to our — to our knowledge, without exception.

JUDGE:  Consistently and frequently?

SEC:  Yes

JUDGE:  Okay.

SEC:  Every — every time an application was put in, they received the authorization.

JUDGE: And those — to the best of your knowledge were those applications put in without — without any further monetary inducement or were they accompanied by monetary inducement?

SEC:  Accompanied by monetary inducement; hence, the payment itself, the facilitating payment, for a government action that was routinely rendered.

JUDGE: So the government would grant these routinely if it was paid?

SEC:  Well, Your Honor, we don’t know whether — we don’t necessarily know whether they were — whether they would have been granted if — if a payment had — payment had not been made, but what — what matters here is the payments were made –

JUDGE:  Isn’t that a big difference, though?  If it would have been granted anyway, without a payment being made, isn’t that signficant?

SEC:  I don’t think so, Your Honor.

In short, while many FCPA commentators continue to believe that the FCPA is a simple, straight-forward statute (and that claims of vagueness and ambiguity are the stuff of sugar plums and tinkerbells), the above example is just the latest of many (and please do visit this prior post for the numerous other examples) where federal court judges remain confused about various aspects of the FCPA.

Items Of Interest From The Layne Christensen Company Enforcement Action

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

Yesterday’s post dived deep into the Layne Christensen Company SEC FCPA enforcement action.

This post continues the analysis by highlighting various issues associated with the enforcement action.

4 for 4

In 2014, there have been four SEC corporate FCPA enforcement actions (Layne Christensen, Smith & Wesson, Alcoa, and HP).  All have been resolved via the SEC’s administrative process.

My recent article, “A Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Narrative,” (see pgs. 991-995) discusses this trend and how it is troubling as it places the SEC in the role of regulator, prosecutor, judge and jury all at the same time.  As Judge Rakoff recently observed, “from where does the constitutional warrant for such unchecked and unbalanced administrative power derive?”

Another noticeable feature of the Layne Christensen action was that the company resolved the SEC’s action without admitting or denying the SEC’s findings.  Smith & Wesson likewise resolved its FCPA enforcement action in this way.

$4

It is reasonable to assume that the SEC included findings in its order for a specific reason (and not just to practice its typing skills).

It is therefore noteworthy that the SEC’s order includes this finding:

“Layne Christensen made more than $10,000 in small payments to foreign officials through various customs and clearing agents that it used in Tanzania, Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, and the DRC. These payments ranged from $4 to $1,700 and were characterized in invoices submitted by the agents as, among other things, “intervention,” “honoraires,” “commissions,” and “service fees.”

Stay tuned for (I predict) coming law firm client alerts and memos on this $4 payment.

As highlighted in this prior post, if the DOJ and SEC are genuine in their message that they are only “focused on bribes of consequence,” on payments of “real and substantial value” and in companies spending compliance dollars in the “most sensible way,” there is something very easy and practical for the enforcement agencies to do.

Only allege conduct that actually determines the ultimate outcome of the enforcement action.

Same Process, Different Results

Does voluntary disclosure and cooperation result in:

An SEC administrative cease and desist order?  Yes, see Layne Christensen.

An SEC non-prosecution agreement?  Yes, see Ralph Lauren.

An SEC deferred prosecution agreement?  Yes, see Tenaris.

An SEC civil complaint?  Yes, see Archer Daniels Midland Company.

Granted, the facts of each FCPA enforcement action are unique, but what drives FCPA practitioners and their clients crazy about the FCPA enforcement process is a lack of transparency and predictability of outcomes.

What Would Have Happened Had The SEC Been Put To Its Burden Of Proof?

Pardon me for being “that guy,” but what would have happened had the SEC been put to its burden of proof on its finding that Layne Christensen violated the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions?  The SEC’s allegations all concerned payments outside the context of government procurement but rather to allegedly secure favorable tax treatment, customs clearance, work permits, relief from regulatory inspections, etc.

It is a matter of fact, that the SEC has been put to its ultimate burden of proof only once concerning alleged payments outside the context of government procurement and it lost that case.  (See here for the discussion of SEC v. Mattson and Harris). For a broader discussion of this issue, including DOJ actions, see this article.

Moreover, many of the SEC’s findings would seem to potentially implicate the FCPA’s facilitating payments exception.  On that score, in SEC v. Jackson & Ruehlen, a court ruled that the SEC has the burden of negating this statutory exception, something the SEC was unable to do in that case (based on certain similar facts as alleged in the Layne Christensen action) which resulted in a defendant-friendly settlement on the eve of trial.  (See here).

Finally, no doubt Layne Christensen as part of its cooperation likely agreed to toll statute of limitations or waive statute of limitations defenses altogether.  Yet it is worth highlighting that the bulk of the SEC’s findings concern conduct that allegedly occurred between 2005 and July 2009; in other words, beyond the FCPA’s typical 5 year statute of limitations.

Timeline

As highlighted in this 2010 post, Layne Christensen initially disclosed its FCPA scrutiny in Fall 2010.  The company’s first disclosure stated, in pertinent part:

“In connection with the Company updating its Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) policy, questions were raised internally in late September 2010 about, among other things, the legality of certain payments to customs clearing agents in connection with importing equipment into the Democratic Republic of Congo (“DRC”) and other countries in Africa.  [...] Although the Company has had a long-standing published policy requiring compliance with the FCPA and broadly prohibiting any improper payments by the Company to foreign or U.S. officials, the Company has adopted additional policies and procedures to enhance compliance with the FCPA and related books and records requirements. Further measures may be required once the investigation is concluded.”

In short, Layne Christensen’s FCPA scrutiny – from point of first public disclosure to resolution – lasted approximately 4 years.

The “Three Buckets” 

In my article, “Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Ripples,” I coin the term “three buckets” of FCPA financial exposure and demonstrate how settlement amounts in an actual FCPA enforcement action (“bucket #1) are often not the most expensive aspect of FCPA scrutiny and enforcement.

In nearly every case in which a comparison can be made, “bucket #1″ (pre-enforcement action professional fees and expenses) is the most expensive aspect of FCPA scrutiny.

The numbers in Layne Christensen serve as another instructive reminder.

Bucket #1 = in excess of $10 million (based on the company’s disclosures)

Bucket #12 = $5.1 million

Bukcet #3 (post enforcement action professional fees and expenses) are to be determined.  A noticeable aspect of the Layne Christensen action (one based on a voluntary disclosure and cooperation) is that the company has a reporting obligation imposed upon it.  As stated in the SEC’s order, Layne Christensen shall “report to the Commission periodically, at no less than nine-month internals during a two-year term, the status of its FCPA and anti-corruption related remediation and implementation of compliance measures.”

Compliance Enhancements, Etc.

During its period of FCPA scrutiny, Layne Christensen previously disclosed the following compliance enhancements.

  • contracted with a third party forensics accounting team to conduct an in-depth review of the operations in Africa and to make recommendations for improvement to the internal control systems;
  • reviewing existing arrangements with third parties interacting with government officials in international locations in an effort to assure that contracts and agreements include anti-corruption terms and conditions;
  • performing due diligence on third parties interacting with government officials in international locations and implementing a process to assess potential new third parties;
  • terminated certain agency and business relationships;
  •  established a separate position of, and appointed, a chief compliance officer, effective March 30, 2011, under the supervision of our Senior Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary to facilitate implementation and maintenance of compliance policies, procedures, training, reporting and internal reviews, with indirect reporting responsibility to the audit committee;
  • developed new procedures to improve the controls over cash handling and record retention;
  • conducting a company-wide risk assessment, including an employee survey, to ascertain whether similar issues may exist elsewhere in the Company;
  • initiated an enhanced company-wide, comprehensive training of Company personnel in the requirements of the FCPA, including training with respect to those areas of the Company’s operations that are most likely to raise FCPA compliance concerns; and
  • continued to enhance our training of management, including our operations managers, to emphasize further the importance of setting the proper tone within their organization to instill an attitude of integrity and control awareness and the use of a thorough and proper analysis of proposed transactions.