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

DOJ Alleges Wide-Ranging Conspiracy To Bribe Indian Officials To Secure Mining Licenses

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

Yesterday the DOJ announced the unsealing of a criminal indictment charging six individuals “with participating in an alleged international racketeering conspiracy involving bribes of state and central government officials in India to allow the mining of titanium minerals.”

According to the indictment, Dmitry Firtash, a Ukrainian businessman who was arrested in March in Austria (see here for the DOJ’s prior release), was the leader of a criminal enterprise, through his group of companies Group DF, that included:

  • Andras Knopp (a Hungarian businessman)
  • Suren Gevorgyan (of Ukraine)
  • Gajendra Lal (an Indian national and permanent resident of the U.S.)
  • Periyasamy Sunderalingam (of Sri Lanka)
  • K.V.P. Ramachandra Rao (a Member of the Parliament in India who was an official of the state government of Andra Pradesh and a close advisor to the now-deceased chief minister of the State of Andhra Pradesh, Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy)

According to the indictment, the illegal activities of the enterprise included, but were not limited to: “utilizing United States financial institutions to engage in the international transmission of dollars for the purpose of bribing Indian public officials in connection with obtaining approval of the necessary licenses for [a mining project within Andhra Pradesh], which project was forecast to generate more than $500 million in revenues per year …”

According to the indictment:

“Licenses were required for the project before mining could begin.  These licenses required the approval of both the State Government of Andhra Pradesh and the Central Government prior to their issuance.  The approval and issuance of such licenses were discretionary, non-routine governmental actions.”

The indictment charges all defendants with racketeering conspiracy; money laundering conspiracy; and two counts of interstate travel in aid of racketeering.

In addition, all defendants except Rao (the alleged Indian “foreign official”) were charged with conspiracy to violate the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions.

The absence of Rao from this charge is, no doubt, a result of U.S. v. Castle, 925 F.2d 831 (5th Cir. 1991). In that case involving Canadian “foreign officials,” the DOJ acknowledged that it could not charge the officials with direct FCPA violations since the FCPA did not criminalize the receipt of bribes by a foreign official.  However, the DOJ charged the Canadian officials with conspiring to violate the FCPA.  The court dismissed this charge and rejected the DOJ’s position that a “foreign official” could be charged with conspiring to violate the FCPA.  Based on the language and legislative history of the FCPA, the court found a “legislative policy to leave unpunished a well-defined group of persons [i.e., “foreign officials] who were necessary parties to the acts constituting a violation of the substantive law.”

As to the FCPA conspiracy charge, Lal is charged as a domestic concern and the other defendants are charged as “persons” under the 78dd-3 prong of the statute which contains the following jurisdictional element – “while in the territory of the U.S., corruptly … make[s] use of the mails or any means or instrumentality of interstate commerce or to do any act in furtherance” of an improper payment. The indictment contains various allegations relevant to this jurisdictional prong including use of U.S. bank accounts, travel in the U.S., use of e-mail accounts hosted on computer servers located within the U.S., and use of cell phones operating on interstate networks.

Among other things, the indictment seeks forfeiture of approximately $10.6 million from the defendants.

In the DOJ’s release, Acting Assistant Attorney General David O’Neil states:

“Fighting global corruption is part of the fabric of the Department of Justice.  The charges against six foreign nationals announced today send the unmistakable message that we will root out and attack foreign bribery and bring to justice those who improperly influence foreign officials, wherever we find them.”

U.S. Attorney for the N.D. of Illinois Zachary Fardon states:

“Criminal conspiracies that extend beyond our borders are not beyond our reach.  We will use all of the tools and resources available to us to ensure the integrity of global business transactions that involve U.S. commerce.”

Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Chicago Office Robert Holley states:

“This case is another example of the FBI’s willingness to aggressively investigate corrupt conduct around the globe.  With the assistance of our law enforcement partners, both foreign and domestic, we will continue to pursue those who allegedly bribe foreign officials in return for lucrative business contracts.”

As noted in the release, other than Firtash, all other defendants remain at large.  When Firtash was arrested in March, he released this statement through Group DF.  As highlighted here, Firtash paid approximately $172 million to be released on bail.

For more on the enforcement action, see here from the Chicago Tribune, here from Reuters and here from Bloomberg.

As noted in this article, while several FCPA enforcement actions have been brought in connection with foreign license and permitting issues, the government has an overall losing record when put to its burden of proof in FCPA enforcement actions outside the context of foreign government procurement.

Why You Should Be Alarmed By The ADM FCPA Enforcement Action

Friday, January 24th, 2014

I am pleased to share my new article recently published by Bloomberg BNA’s White Collar Crime Report titled “Why You Should Be Alarmed By The ADM FCPA Enforcement Action.”

The abstract is as follows.

“Like all statutes, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act has specific elements that must be met in order for there to be a violation. However, with increasing frequency in this new era of FCPA enforcement, it appears that the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission have transformed FCPA enforcement into a free-for-all in which any conduct the enforcement agencies find objectionable is fair game to extract a multimillion-dollar settlement from a risk-averse corporation. A case in point is the recent $54 million FCPA enforcement action against Archer Daniels Midland Co. (ADM) and related entities.  After discussing the principal features of this enforcement action – namely that ADM and its shareholders were victims of a corrupt Ukraine government – this article highlights why anyone who values the rule of law should be alarmed by the ADM enforcement action.”

In Depth On The ADM Enforcement Action

Monday, December 30th, 2013

On December 20th, the DOJ and SEC announced (here and here) that Archer Daniels Midland Company (“ADM”) agreed to resolve a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act based on the conduct of an indirect subsidiary in Ukraine and a joint venture partner in Venezuela.  The enforcement action had 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).

[Although announced on December 20th, original source documents relevant to the enforcement action did not become publicly available until December 24th and the documents are still not on the DOJ's FCPA website].

The enforcement action involved a DOJ criminal information against Alfred C. Toepfer International Ukraine Ltd. resolved via a plea agreement, a non-prosecution agreement involving ADM, and a SEC settled civil complaint against ADM.

ADM entities agreed to pay approximately $54 million to resolve alleged FCPA scrutiny ($17.7 million in criminal fines to resolve the DOJ enforcement action and $36.5 million to resolve the SEC enforcement action).

This post summarizes both the DOJ and SEC enforcement actions.

DOJ

Alfred C. Toepfer International Ukraine Ltd. (ACTI Ukraine)

The criminal information begins as follows.

“At certain times between in or around 2002 and in or around 2008, the Ukrainian government did not have the money to pay value-added tax (“VAT”) refunds that it owed to companies that sold Ukrainian goods outside of Ukraine.” (emphasis added).

Thereafter, the information alleges, in pertinent part, as follows.

“In order to obtain VAT refunds from the Ukrainian government, ACTI-Ukraine [an indirect 80%-owned subsidiary of ADM], with the help of its affiliate, Alfred C. Toepfer International GmbH (ACTI Hamburg) [an indirect 80%-owned subsidiary of ADM], paid third-party vendors to pass on nearly all of that money as bribes to government officials.”

“In order to disguise the bribes, ACTI Ukraine and ACTI Hamburg devised several schemes involving the use of Vendor 1 [a U.K. export company that used both truck and rail services for the export of goods from Ukraine] and Vendor 2 [a Ukrainian insurance company that provided insurance policies for commodities].  In some instances, ACTI Ukraine and ACTI Hamburg paid Vendor 1, a vendor that provided export-related services for ACTI Ukraine, to pass on nearly all the money they paid it as bribes to Ukrainian government officials in exchange for those officials’ assistance in obtaining VAT refunds for and on behalf of ACTI Ukraine.  In addition, ACTI Ukraine purchased unnecessary insurance policies from Vendor 2 so that Vendor 2 could use nearly all of that money to pay bribes to Ukranian government officials in exchange for those officials’ assistance in obtaining VAT refunds for and on behalf of ACTI Ukraine.”

“In total, ACTI Ukraine, ACTI Hamburg, and their executives, employees, and agents paid roughly $22 million to Vendor 1 and Vendor 2 to pass on nearly all of that money to Ukrainian government officials to obtain over $100 million in VAT refunds.  These VAT refunds gave ACTI Ukraine a business advantage resulting in a benefit to ACTI Ukraine and ACTI Hamburg of roughly $41 million.”

“In furtherance of the bribery scheme, employees from ACTI Ukraine and its co-conspirators, while in the territory of the United States, and specifically in the Central District of Illinois, communicated in-person, via telephone, and via electronic mail with employees of ACTI Ukraine’s and ACTI Hamburg’s parent company, Archer Daniels Midland Company (ADM), which owned an 80% share of the ACTI entities, about the accounting treatment of VAT refunds in Ukraine.  During those communications, the ACTI employees mischaracterized the bribe payments as “charitable donations” and “depreciation.”

Based on the above allegations, the DOJ charged ACTI Ukraine with conspiracy to violate the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions under 78dd-3.  This prong of the FCPA has the following jurisdictional element.

“while in the territory of the United States, corruptly to make use of the mails or any means or instrumentality of interstate commerce or to do any other act in furtherance” of a bribery scheme.

There is no allegation in the criminal information that anyone associated with ACTI Ukraine “while in the territory of the U.S.” made use of the mails or any means or instrumentality of interstate commerce.”

Rather, the information alleges, as to overt acts, as follows.

“[In July 2002 - 11 years prior to the enforcement action] executives from ACTI Hamburg [not the defendant ACTI Ukraine] traveled to ADM’s headquarters in Decatur, Illinois for business meetings.  In one of those meetings, these ACTI executives met with executives from ADM’s tax department and discussed ACTI Ukraine’s ability to recover VAT refunds and the way in which ACTI Ukraine was accounting for the write-down of those refunds.  During this discussion, the ACTI Hamburg executives stated that the way in which ACTI Ukraine was recovering its VAT refunds was by making charitable donations.  ACTI Ukraine was not making such donations in conjunction with VAT recovery.  In fact, ACTI Ukraine was writing down its VAT receivable based upon anticipated payments to Vendor 1.”

The other overt acts alleged in the information all concern e-mail traffic, none of which fits the jurisdictional element of “while in the territory of the U.S.”

The above charge against ACTI Ukraine was resolved via a plea agreement in which the company admitted, agreed, and stipulated that the factual allegations in the information are true and correct and accurately reflects the company’s “criminal conduct.”

As set forth in the plea agreement, the advisory Sentencing Guidelines calculation for the conduct at issue was between $27.3 million and $54.6 million and ACTI Ukraine agreed to a $17,711,613 criminal fine.  The plea agreement states as follows.

“The parties have agreed that a fine of $17,771,613 reflects an approximately thirty-percent reduction off the bottom of the fine range as well as a deduction of $1,338,387 commensurate with the fine imposed by German authorities on ACTI Hamburg.”

The plea agreement further states that this fine amount is the “appropriate disposition based on the following factors”:

“(a) Defendant’s timely, voluntary, and thorough disclosure of the conduct; (b) the Defendant’s extensive cooperation with the Department; and (c) the Defendant’s early, extensive, and unsolicited remedial efforts already undertaken and those still to be undertaken.”

As is common in corporate FCPA enforcement actions, the plea agreement contains a “muzzle clause” prohibiting ACTI Ukraine or anyone on its behalf from making public statements “contradicting the acceptance of responsiblity” of ACTI Ukraine

ADM

The NPA between the DOJ and ADM concerns the above Ukraine conduct as well as alleged conduct in Venezuela.  Only the Venezuela conduct is highlighted below.

The Statement of Facts attached to the NPA states as follows regarding “conduct relating to Venezuela.”

“From at least in or around 2004 to in or around 2009, when customers in Venezuela purchased commodities through ADM Venezuela [a joint venture between ADM Latin America (ADM Latin - a wholly owned subsidiary of ADM) and several individuals in Venezuela], the customers paid for the commodities via payment to ADM Latin.  During this time period, a number of customers overpaid ADM Latin for the commodities by including a brokerage commission in the cost of the commodities.  At the instruction of ADM Venezuela, including Executive A [a high-level executive at ADM Venezuela] and ADM’s Latin’s customers, rather than repaying these excess amounts to the customer directly, ADM Latin made payments to third-party bank account outside of Venezuela, which, in many instances, were used to funnel payments to accounts owned by employees or principles of the customer.  In addition, ADM Venezuela personnel prepared invoices to ADM Latin’s customers that violated Venezuelan laws and regulations regarding foreign currency exchanges.”

The NPA states that in approximately 1998, “ADM identified the customer “commission” practice as a business risk and recognized that customers may attempt to engage in such transactions with ADM Latin through the prospective joint venture, and instituted a policy that prohibited the repayment of excess funds to any account other than that originally used by the customer to make the payment.  However, although this policy was made known to Executive A and some ADM Venezuela employees, it was initially not formalized and from in or around 1999 until in or around 2004 the same practices continued.  The customers submitted excess payments to ADM Latin, claiming that the overpayment was attributable to deferred credit expenses (“DCE”).”

The NPA further states as follows.

“In or around 2004, ADM conducted an audit of ADM Venezuela due to an issue pertaining to Executive A and uncovered the payments to third-party bank accounts being made through DCE.  Although ADM took some remedial measures, including terminating the employment of the credit employee who had signed off on the refunds, conducting limited training on compliance for its joint venture partners, and instituting a written policy prohibiting refund payments of DCE to bank account different than the accounts from which the money came, the policy was narrowly drawn only to cover DCE payments.  ADM did not train ADM Latin employees and did not take adequate steps to monitor ADM Latin and ADM Venezuela to prevent such payments in forms other than DCE.  From in or around 2004 to in or around 2009, various customers, with the help of ADM Venezuela, including Executive A, began classifying these additional expenses as “commissions” or “commissions K,” rather than DCE, which were processed by the accounting department at ADM Latin, rather than the credit department.  Therefore, when the customers instructed that the excess “commissions” be paid to third-party entities at third-party bank accounts, ADM Latin authorized and made the payments.”

The NPA further states that “in or around 2008, Executive A, and others at ADM Venezuela negotiated the sale of soybean oil from ADM Latin to Industrias Diana [an oil company headquartered in Venezuela that was wholly owned by Petroleos de Venezuela, Venezuela's state-owned and controlled national oil company].”  According to the NPA, in connection with this sale, “Broker 1 [a third-party agent that purportedly performed brokerage services for customers of ADM Latin, including Industrias Diana, in connection with the purchase of commodities] submitted an invoice to ADM Latin for the $1,735,157 commission amount, which ADM Latin paid to Broker 1′s bank account.  Broker 1 then transferred this amount, in large part, to an account in the name of an employee of Industrias Diana.”

The NPA states as follows.

“On a number of other occasions, ADM Latin made payments to Broker 1′s bank account in connection with the purchase of commodities by other customers.  Broker 1 then transferred those amounts, in large part, to bank accounts outside of Venezuela in the name of the principals of those customers.  In total, ADM Latin transferred roughly $5 million to Broker 1.”

According to the NPA, certain of Broker 1′s transfers were to “accounts owned and controlled by Executive A, as well as numerous transfers to a company in which Executive A had ownership interests.”

The NPA states that the DOJ will “not criminally prosecute ADM … for any crimes … related to violations of the internal controls provisions of the FCPA arising from or related to improper payments by the Company’s subsidiaries, affiliates or joint ventures in Ukraine and Venezuela … and any other conduct relating to internal controls, books and records, or improper payments disclosed by the Company to the Department prior to the date on which this Agreement is signed.”

The NPA has a term of three years and ADM “agreed to pay a monetary penalty of $9,450,000 provided, however, that any criminal penalties that might be imposed by the Court on ACTI Ukraine in connection with its guilty plea and plea agreement … will be deducted from the $9,450,000 penalty agreed to under this Agreement.”

Pursuant to the NPA, ADM agreed to “report to the Department periodically regarding remediation and implementation of the compliance program and internal controls, policies, and procedures, as described in Attachment C” to the NPA.

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

“As today’s guilty plea shows, paying bribes to reap business benefits corrupts markets and undermines the rule of law.  ADM’s subsidiaries sought to gain a tax benefit by bribing government officials, and then attempted to deliberately conceal their conduct by funneling payments through local vendors.  ADM, in turn, failed to implement sufficient policies and procedures to prevent the bribe payments, although ultimately ADM disclosed the conduct, cooperated with the government, and instituted extensive remedial efforts.  Today’s corporate guilty plea demonstrates that combating bribery is and will remain a mainstay of the Criminal Division’s mission.  We are committed to working closely with our foreign and domestic law enforcement partners to fight global corruption.”

The release further states:

“The agreements acknowledge ADM’s timely, voluntary and thorough disclosure of the conduct; ADM’s extensive cooperation with the department, including conducting a world-wide risk assessment and corresponding global internal investigation, making numerous presentations to the department on the status and findings of the internal investigation, voluntarily making current and former employees available for interviews, and compiling relevant documents by category for the department; and ADM’s early and extensive remedial efforts.”

SEC

The SEC’s complaint (here) is based on the same Ukraine allegations set forth in the above DOJ action.

In summary fashion, the complaint alleges:

“This matter involves violations of the books and records and internal controls provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) by ADM. At certain times between 2002 and 2008, Alfred C. Toepfer, International G.m.b.H. (“ACTI Hamburg”) and its affiliate, Alfred C. Toepfer, International (Ukraine) Ltd. (“ACTI Ukraine”) paid approximately $22 million to two third-party vendors so that they could pass on nearly all of that money as bribes to Ukrainian government officials to obtain over $100 million in accumulated value added tax (“VAT”) refunds. These payments were recorded by ACTI Hamburg and ACTI Ukraine in their books and records as insurance premiums and other business expenses. ADM indirectly owns a majority of ACTI Hamburg and ACTI Ukraine through its 80% interest in Alfred C. Toepfer International B.V. (“ACTI”), and in 2002, ADM began consolidating ACTI’s financial results into its financial statements.

In order to disguise the purpose of these improper payments, ACTI Hamburg and ACTI Ukraine made certain payments for export-related services and insurance premiums to third parties, but, in fact, nearly all of these payments were intended to be passed on through these third parties as bribes to Ukrainian government officials in exchange for obtaining VAT refunds for and on behalf of ACTI Ukraine.

ACTI’s conduct went unchecked by ADM, and ACTI continued to make these improper payments for several years. ADM’s anti-bribery compliance controls in existence at the time were insufficient in that they did not deter and detect these payments. ACTI Hamburg and ACTI Ukraine created inaccurately described reserves in their books and records, manipulated commodities contracts that were kept open for an extended period of time, structured payments to avoid detection, and created fictitious insurance contracts to hide from ADM and others the payments to third-parties to secure VAT refunds in Ukraine.

Due to the consolidation of ACTI’s financial results, which included these inaccurately characterized payments, into ADM’s books and records, ADM violated [the FCPA's books and records provisions]. ADM violated [the FCPA's internal controls provisions] by failing to maintain an adequate system of internal controls to detect and prevent the illicit payments.”

Under the heading “ADM’s Violations,” the complaint states:

“ACTI Hamburg and ACTI Ukraine characterized their improper payments to the Shipping Company and the Insurance Company as insurance premiums and other business expenses even though nearly all of those payments were intended to be used for payment to Ukrainian government officials. Due to the consolidation of ACTI’s financial results into ADM’s, ADM’s financial records also failed to reflect the true nature of the payments.

Between 2002 and 2008, ADM’s anti-corruption policies and procedures relating to ACTI were decentralized and did not prevent improper payments by ACTI to third-party vendors in the Ukraine or ensure that these transactions were properly recorded by ACTI. In this respect, ADM failed to implement sufficient anti-bribery compliance policies and procedures, including oversight of third-party vendor transactions, to prevent these payments at ACTI Hamburg and ACTI Ukraine.

Through its various schemes, ACTI Ukraine and ACTI Hamburg paid roughly $22 million in improper payments to obtain more than $100 million in VAT refunds earlier than they otherwise would have. Getting these VAT refunds earlier—before the Ukraine endured a brief period of hyperinflation—gave ACTI Ukraine a business advantage resulting in a benefit to ADM of roughly $33 million.”

Under the heading “ADM’s Discovery and Subsequent Remedial Measures,” the complaint states:

“In mid-2008, after becoming aware of these insurance expenses, ADM controllers questioned ACTI executives regarding these expenses, particularly the basis for the accounting treatment of these expenses. An ACTI Ukraine employee disclosed to its outside auditors that the insurance payments were, in fact, made to secure VAT refunds. After ADM controllers received this information, ADM’s legal and compliance departments took action, which led to an immediate investigation in which ADM ultimately uncovered ACTI’s various schemes to secure VAT refunds.

Following discovery of these payments, ADM immediately retained outside counsel to conduct an internal investigation. As a result of the investigation, using its authority as majority shareholder through the ACTI supervisory board, ADM terminated certain ACTI executives. ADM then voluntarily conducted a world-wide risk assessment and corresponding global internal investigation, made numerous presentations to the Department of Justice and Securities and Exchange Commission, made current and former employees available for interviews, produced documents without subpoena, and implemented early and extensive remedial measures.”

As noted in the SEC’s release, ADM agreed to pay approximately $36.5 million to resolve the action (disgorgement of $33,342,012 plus prejudgment interest of $3,125,354), consented to the entry of a final judgment permanently enjoining it from future violations of the FCPA books and records and internal control provisions, and to report on its FCPA compliance efforts for a three year period.  The release states:

“The SEC took into account ADM’s cooperation and significant remedial measures, including self-reporting the matter, implementing a comprehensive new compliance program throughout its operations, and terminating employees involved in the misconduct.”

In the release, Gerald Hodgkins (Associated Director in the SEC’s enforcement division) stated:

“ADM’s lackluster anti-bribery controls enabled its subsidiaries to get preferential refund treatment by paying off foreign government officials.  Companies with worldwide operations must ensure their compliance is vigilant across the globe and their transactions are recorded truthfully.”

William Bachman and Jon Fetterolf (Williams Connolly) represented ADM.

Robin Bergen (Clearly Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton) represented ATCI Ukraine.

In this press release, ADM’s Chairman and CEO stated:

“In 2008, soon after we became aware of some questionable transactions by a non-U.S. subsidiary, we engaged an outside law firm and an accounting firm to undertake a comprehensive internal investigation.  In early 2009, we voluntarily disclosed the matter to appropriate U.S. and foreign government agencies and undertook a comprehensive anti-corruption global risk analysis and compliance assessment. We have also implemented internal-control enhancements, and taken disciplinary action, including termination, with a number of employees. The conduct that led to this settlement was regrettable, but I believe we handled our response in the right way, and that the steps we took, including self-reporting, underscore our commitment to conducting business ethically and responsibly.”

The 100th Edition Of The Friday Roundup

Friday, November 15th, 2013

Scrutiny alerts and updates, a first, blunt, and quotable.   It’s all here in this – the 100th edition - of the Friday roundup.

[I hope the Friday roundup is a value added end to your work week.  The Friday roundup alone represents several hours of work by highlighting recent FCPA and related news and developments not otherwise covered Monday - Thursday on FCPA Professor.  Ask yourself:  do you get your FCPA from FCPA Professor? If the answer is yes, you can help support this free website here]

Scrutiny Alerts and Updates

Wal-Mart

During its third quarter earnings call yesterday, Wal-Mart disclosed $69 million in “FCPA and compliance related expenses” in the quarter.  According to the company “approximately $43.0 million of these expenses represented costs incurred for the ongoing inquiries and investigations and approximately $26.0 million is related to our global compliance program and organizational enhancements.”

Doing the math, $69 million in the third quarter is approximately $1.06 million per working day.  As noted here, the figure for Q2 was approximately $1.26 million per working day and as noted here the figure for Q1 was approximately $1.16 million per working day.  For more on Wal-Mart’s pre-enforcement action professional fees and expenses, see this prior post.

For the fourth quarter, Wal-Mart estimated $75 – $80 million in expenses related to FCPA matters.

JPMorgan

The NY Times returns (here) to the JPMorgan story it first reported in August (see here for the prior post).  The article states:

“To promote its standing in China, JPMorgan Chase turned to a seemingly obscure consulting firm [Fullmark Consultants] run by a 32-year-old executive named Lily Chang.  Ms. Chang’s firm, which received a $75,000-a-month contract from JPMorgan, appeared to have only two employees. And on the surface, Ms. Chang lacked the influence and public name recognition needed to unlock business for the bank. But what was known to JPMorgan executives in Hong Kong, and some executives at other major companies, was that “Lily Chang” was not her real name. It was an alias for Wen Ruchun, the only daughter of Wen Jiabao, who at the time was China’s prime minister, with oversight of the economy and its financial institutions.

[...]

Now, United States authorities are scrutinizing JPMorgan’s ties to Ms. Wen, whose alias was government approved, as part of a wider bribery investigation into whether the bank swapped contracts and jobs for business deals with state-owned Chinese companies, according to the documents and interviews. The bank, which is cooperating with the inquiries and conducting its own internal review, has not been accused of any wrongdoing.  The investigation began with an examination of the bank’s decision to hire the daughter of a Chinese railway official and the son of a former banking regulator who is now the chairman of a state-controlled financial conglomerate.

[...]

Executives at JPMorgan’s headquarters in New York did not appear to be involved in retaining Fullmark, a decision that seemed to have fallen to executives in Hong Kong. And the documents reviewed by The Times do not identify a concrete link between the bank’s decision to hire children of Chinese officials and its ability to secure coveted business deals, a connection that authorities would probably need to demonstrate that the bank violated anti-bribery laws.”

Park-Ohio Holdings Corp.

The diversified manufacturing services and products holding company (here) disclosed as follows in a recent quarterly filing:

“In August 2013, the Company received a subpoena from the staff of the SEC in connection with the staff’s investigation of a third party. At that time, the Company also learned that the Department of Justice (DOJ) is conducting a criminal investigation of the third party. In connection with responding to the staff’s subpoena, the Company disclosed to the staff of the SEC that, in November 2007, the third party participated in a payment on behalf of the Company to a foreign tax official that implicates the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). The Board of Directors of the Company has formed a special committee to review the Company’s transactions with the third party and to make any recommendations to the Board of Directors with respect thereto. The Company intends to cooperate fully with the SEC and the DOJ in connection with their investigations of the third party and with the SEC in light of the Company’s disclosure. The Company is unable to predict the outcome or impact of the special committee’s investigation or the length, scope or results of the SEC’s review or the impact, if any, on its results of operations.”

Wynn Resorts

This previous Friday roundup highlighted the company’s disclosure that the SEC has ended its investigation of the company concerning a $135 million donation to the University of Macau.  In this recent filing, Wynn states as follows concerning a related DOJ investigation.

“[The DOJ] has been conducting a criminal investigation into Wynn Resorts’ donation to the University of Macau [...]. Wynn Resorts has not received any target letter or subpoena in connection with such an investigation.  Wynn Resorts intends to cooperate fully with the government in response to any inquiry related to the donation to the University of Macau.”

SEC’s First Individual DPA

When the SEC announced in January 2010 (see here for the prior post) a series of measures, including non-prosecution and deferred prosecution agreements, “to further strengthen its enforcement program by encouraging greater cooperation from individuals and companies in the agency’s investigations and enforcement actions,” I called the development a blow to those who prefer government law enforcement agencies to enforce a law in an open, transparent matter and in the context of an adversary proceeding.  Not that there was much judicial scrutiny of SEC enforcement prior to January 2010 (largely on account of the SEC’s then neither admit nor deny settlement policy), but the new measures, I noted, would lead to even less judicial scrutiny.

Earlier this week, the SEC announced ”a [five year] deferred prosecution agreement with a former hedge fund administrator who helped the agency take action against a hedge fund manager who stole investor assets.”  According to the SEC, the DPA – outside the context of the FCPA – is the SEC’s “first with an individual” and the SEC’s release further states:

“Deferred prosecution agreements (DPAs) encourage individuals and companies to provide the SEC with forthcoming information about misconduct and assist with a subsequent investigation.  In return, the SEC refrains from prosecuting cooperators for their own violations if they comply with certain undertakings.”

Obviously the above statement is an opinion statement, not a factual statement.

As highlighted in this prior post, the FCPA Guidance indicated that the DOJ has in the past used non-public non-prosecution against individuals in the FCPA context.  Despite claims by the DOJ that its FCPA enforcement program is transparent, my attempts to learn more about these secret FCPA NPA’s with individuals was unsuccessful.

Blunt

DOJ FCPA enforcement attorneys have publicly stated that among the many ways they learn of conduct which could implicate the FCPA is by reading the newspaper.

If so, this recent article in the Miami Herald may generate some interest.  In the article concerning the satellite telephone business in Cuba, a “Miami Man” states that ”he installs each system in Cuba for $3,500 to $4,200 — cash paid in South Florida, with part of the mark up going to bribes on the island. The costs are usually paid by U.S. relatives of the recipients.”

Quotable

From a recent poll regarding corruption in Africa: “corruption is a national sport every day at the direction of customs officials” (see here).

An extensive interview with U.K. Serious Fraud Director David Green (“DG”) in Fraud Magazine (“FM”) in which he discusses:  corporate criminal liability, facilitation payments, Bribery Act Inc., voluntary disclosure and DPAs.  Relevant excerpts include:

FM: What current changes, if any, to the legal system and or legislation would make the SFO more efficient?

DG: To our effectiveness and our reach, I would very much like the test for corporate criminal liability to be looked at again. As you know, in this country, it is extremely difficult to convict a company of an offence because the prosecution has to show that the controlling minds of the company — somebody at the board level — were complicit in the criminality you are trying to prove.  I think that bar is too high, and is a very unrealistic test — not least because I think anyone will agree that if you’re looking into allegations of corporate misconduct spookily the e-mail trail tends to dry up at a fairly junior level.  Where it can be shown that the company had really profited from the criminality of its employees then I think there is a sound case for expanding the ambit of section 7 of the U.K. Bribery Act. Section 7 creates the corporate offence of ‘failing to prevent bribery or corruption by an agent or employee’ with a statutory defence that they took all reasonable precautions.  Now why can’t that be extended to cover fraud and offences of dishonesty so the offence would be failing to prevent fraud or offenses of dishonesty by members of your staff? It seems to me absolutely right that a corporation should have criminal liability for that when it has profited from it. Why should a company which has, in the way I’ve explained, been complicit in criminality just throw a few people over the side and sail bravely on? Why shouldn’t it have its ears clipped and marked as a company that has had dishonest employees and benefitted from it?  Another argument is: Well you’d just be punishing a company for negligence. I would say it would be a pretty high degree of negligence when a company acts in that way and benefits from the dishonesty of its employees.

FM: Doesn’t the Bribery Act prejudice British business in that is a bit too harsh in relation to facilitation payments and hospitality payments?

DG: First of all, I don’t buy this argument that complying with the law is going to hold business back. Secondly, facilitation payments have always been illegal. However, it is a question of the public interest as to whether or not they are prosecuted.  What would be a common facilitation payment? A 20-pound note and a bottle of whisky to some [maritime] pilot to take your ship from somewhere to somewhere else in a single payment; the SFO wouldn’t be interested in that. [Maritime pilots will guide ships into ports for hire.] But if it was a course of conduct over a number of years, then, of course, that becomes not just a very small insignificant little bribe but actually a regular payment over time to ensure that you get that business.

FM: What do you say about those medium to small companies who have ignored the preventative measures required by the Bribery Act?

DG: Well, it’s always difficult, isn’t it? On the one hand, I am very conscious that since the enactment of the act there has grown up a Bribery Act industry in London populated by a lot of American and British lawyers, accountants and so-called experts. I even came across a firm the other day that actually offers certificates to companies saying that they are compliant, and I suppose if the company were to land in court they would try to produce this certificate to say, “We can’t be prosecuted because we’ve got a certificate.”  The effect of this is that these so-called experts have scared the pants off of medium and small enterprises. It is really a question of getting some sensible, reasonably priced legal advice to discern their risk areas and put in place basic safeguards. But the idea that the Serious Fraud Office is going after a ticket to Wimbledon or a bottle of Champagne is, and always has been, utter nonsense.  If, on the other hand, we saw a situation in which the entire board and their spouses of a major corporation were put up in London for a week and then given tickets for the men’s finals at Wimbledon with a couple of banquets before, during and afterwards, then that would be very worrying. Throw in first-class airfare and that would become extremely worrying.  But the key to all this in relation to bribery investigations and whether or not we are interested in them has to do with value and importance but also timing, the motive and the effect of it — was it done at a time when some enormously important decision was going down with a view to influencing it? This is fairly common sense; we use a reasonable approach.

FM: Will companies that self-report escape criminal proceedings?

DG: My predecessor had guidance on self-reporting, in which though it did not say it in so many words, was a very clear implication that if you self-reported as a company you would not be prosecuted, and there would be a civil disposal of what you had done. I disagree with that absolutely and fundamentally as a matter of principle because no prosecutor can ever give guarantees in advance. We have no idea what set of facts are going to come in through the door next. So, we have returned to the old guidance, which has always been there; we will apply the Code for the Crown Prosecutors. In other words, in each situation we would see if there’s enough evidence to prosecute. If there is, we consider if it’s in the public interest to prosecute this company. Now if a company were to come in and say, “Look, we have discovered this misconduct. We have conducted a full investigation; here are the results. We are willing for you to investigate it as you wish. We’ve gotten rid of all the people involved in this, we will hand over any illegal profits obtained as a result of this crime.” In such circumstances, one does struggle to think how it would be in the public interest to prosecute such a company. But it is a question of principle here. If you start — and I feel very strongly about this — if you start blurring the boundaries between what people involved in the criminal justice system do then it’s a dangerous path to follow. Prosecutors shouldn’t be doing deals or making offers in advance and defenders shouldn’t be too familiar with prosecutors. We need to stay where we are and within our own divisions. That’s my view.

FM: Could the deferred prosecution arrangement (DPA) be seen as a type of deal?

DG: Well, I think if you looked at the American model of DPAs you might think it could be described as a deal. We’ve adapted it for use in this country to have judicial involvement and scrutiny from the very beginning. The reason for that is to preserve the principle we have in this country, which they don’t have in the States, that sentencing is a matter for the judge. It’s not a matter for some cozy deal between prosecutor and defence.  If we believe a case is appropriate for a DPA we would go before a judge and say, “Judge, these are the charges which we would be minded to bring against these people. However, we think for these reasons it’s an appropriate case for a DPA. Do you agree?”  Now if the judge says, “No, I don’t I think this is a suitable case for a DPA,” we’ll carry on prosecuting. So, it is a transparent process. Ultimately, if a DPA did go ahead there would be a statement of facts read in court. Nothing would be hushed up.  You can’t really go wrong if you’re transparent. Things go wrong in the criminal justice system if anything appears to be opaque. You lose public confidence and you lose the confidence of the people involved.

Professor Ellen Podgor states, in pertinent part, in this New York Times opinion piece:

“If we intend to punish people, shouldn’t we reasonably expect that they knew their actions were crimes?  [...]  The accumulation of laws and rules has made it harder to assure that individuals who are punished understood that they were breaking the law.  When the law is clear, and an individual deliberately transgresses the law, punishment serves an important purpose.  Attributing criminality to business-related activities is not always so easy. The line between criminal activities and acceptable business judgments can be fuzzy. The conduct may not have a long biblical history of being offensive, and there may be no posted signs. [...]  In the corporate or financial world, multiple individuals may have a finger in a business decision — and some may be unaware that one has breached the law.  Add to this ambiguity in both the law and the corporate world that business-related decisions are often made by individuals who find themselves placed in a forest of regulations and criminal statutes with varying interpretations that even legal scholars can’t agree upon.  Overcriminalization presents unique issues in the white collar and business arena.  There are thousands of criminal statutes scattered throughout the federal code, and there are thousands of regulations with accompanying criminal penalties. The prosecutor’s toolbox also includes overly broad statutes like RICO, mail fraud, wire fraud and offenses like making false statements.   The bottom line is that the government’s power to indict has few restrictions, and overcriminalization provides federal prosecutors with super powers that they can easily abuse.  Congress’s continuous and haphazard adding of criminal statutes and regulations is making it more difficult to assure that individuals who are punished truly understand that they are breaking the law.”

*****

A good weekend to all.

Secretary Of State Kerry Gets It Right

Monday, November 11th, 2013

Secretary of State John Kerry got it right recently when he linked trade barriers and other distortions to – among other things – corruption.

Speaking to American Chamber of Commerce participants in Poland, Secretary of State Kerry focused his remarks “about the possibilities of the TTIP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership” and stated:

“And a market of that size [envisioned by the TTIP] can have a profound impact on the choices that other countries must begin to make with respect to transparency, accountability, corruption, all of the things that are really the key to attracting investment with the kind of confidence that money seeks, as it has many choices around this planet as to where to go and where to invest. TTIP will improve the rules that govern trade and it will level the playing field.

And by strengthening the rules-based trading and promoting greater transparency and regulations and standards that become more compatible, we will break some of the resistance to trade that exists and encourage this very, very important standardization, which is, in the end, I think, in the interest of everybody. If you know what the rules of the road are and you know the rules of the road are top level, you are much more prone to invest and locate and do business than you are at a place where you know you can’t get a decision from the government because they don’t have those rules or getting that decision from the government may require all kinds of hoops you have to jump through. And for our companies that adhere to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, that can be a particular challenge against countries where they don’t.”

When looking for the root causes of bribery and corruption, there are several, but trade barriers and distortions are at the top of the list.

These barriers and distortions – whether complex customs procedures, import documentation and inspection requirements, local sponsor or other third-party requirements, arcane licensing and certification requirements, quality standards that require product testing and inspection visits, or other foreign government procurement practices – all serve as breeding grounds for harassment bribes to be requested.

Simply put, trade barriers and distortions create bureaucracy.

Bureaucracy creates points of contact with foreign officials.

Points of contact with foreign officials create discretion.

Discretion creates the opportunity for a foreign official to misuse their position by making demand bribes.

Several FCPA enforcement actions demonstrate this point (see my article “Revisiting a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Compliance Defense” pgs. 619-625).  In addition, as highlighted in this prior post, there is a positive correlation between regulatory burdens when doing business in a foreign country and corruption in that foreign country.

In short, removal of trade barrier and distortions can help reduce bribe demands.

The focus of the anti-corruption community should be less narrowly focused on pounding the pavement for more enforcement of FCPA-like laws (see prior posts here and here).  Among other things, enforcement of FCPA-like laws only addresses the supply of bribes, not the demand of bribes.

More energy should be spent on encouraging nations to eliminate trade barriers and distortions.

On this score, Secretary of State Kerry got it right.