Yesterday the DOJ and SEC announced (here and here) a coordinated FCPA enforcement action against Bio-Rad Laboratories Inc. based on alleged conduct in Russia, Thailand and Vietnam.
The enforcement action involved a DOJ non-prosecution agreement and an SEC administrative order. Bio-Rad agreed to pay approximately $55 million to resolve the alleged FCPA scrutiny ($14.35 million in the DOJ action; and $40.7 million in the SEC action).
This post summarizes both the DOJ and SEC enforcement actions based on a review of the original source documents.
DOJ Enforcement Action
The enforcement action focused on the conduct of Bio-Rad Laboratorii OOO (“Bio-Rad Russia”) and Bio-Rad SNC as well as the alleged knowledge of certain Bio-Rad managers concerning various Russian business practices.
According to the NPA, Bio-Rad Russia is:
“[A] wholly owned subsidiary of BIO-RAD located in Moscow, Russia. Bio-Rad Russia primarily sold BIO-RAD clinical diagnostic products, such as HIV testing kits. Approximately 90% of its clientele were government customers, most notably the Russian Ministry of Health. In order to obtain certain Russian government contracts, Bio-Rad Russia was required to participate in public tender processes.”
According to the NPA, Bio-Rad SNC is:
“[A]n indirectly wholly-owned subsidiary of Bio-Rad headquartered in Marnes-la-Coquette, France. Bio-Rad SNC manufactured, sold, and distributed Bio-Rad products worldwide.”
According to the NPA, Agent 1 (described as an agent retained by Bio-Rad SNC with respect to sales in Russia) assisted Bio-Rad Russia in connection with certain governmental sales in Russia and established Intermediary Companies (described as Agent 1 affiliated companies in Panama, the United Kingdom, and Belize) which Bio-Rad SNC retained “purportedly to perform extensive services on its behalf in Russia.” However, according to the NPA, Intermediary Companies “were located offshore and had no employees aside from Agent 1.” Moreover, according to the NPA, “Intermediary Companies used a phony address on its invoices that belonged to a Russian government agency.”
According to the NPA, Manager 1 (described as a high-level manager of Bio-Rad’s Emerging Markets sales region, which included Rusia, from 2004 to 2010 and based in Bio-Rad’s corporate offices in California) “authorized Bio-Rad SNC’ agreements with the Intermediary Companies without conducting any due diligence on the Intermediary Companies.”
According to the NPA,
“Bio-Rad SNC paid the Intermediary Companies a commission of 15-30% purportedly in exchange for various services outlined in the agency contracts, including acquiring new business by creating and disseminating promotional materials to prospective customers, installing Bio-Rad products and related equipment, training customers on the installation and use of Bio-Rad products, and delivering Bio-Rad products.
The Intermediary Companies, however, lacked the capabilities to perform these contractually defined services. In some instances, the Intermediary Companies submitted invoices suggesting that they performed distribution services in connection with certain contracts. The Intermediary Companies did not perform these services, and would have been significantly overpaid even had they performed such services.”
According to the NPA:
“Manager 1, Manager 2 [described as a high-level accounting manager of Bio-Rad's Emerging Markets sales region, which included Russia, from around 2004 to 2010 and based in Bio-Rad's corporate offices in California] and Manager 3 [described as a high-level manager of Bio-Rad Russia from 2007 to 2011 and based in Moscow] reviewed and approved commission payments to Intermediary Companies, despite knowing that Intermediary Companies and Agent 1 were not performing the services from which they were being paid.”
The NPA further states that Manager 1, Manager 2, and Manager 3 used the code word “bad debt” when communicating with each other to refer to the Intermediary Companies’ commission payments. According to the NPA, Manager 2 “instructed lower-level Bio-Rad SNC finance employees to ‘talk with codes’ when communicating about the Intermediary Companies’ invoices and that Manager 3 requested that Intermediary Company invoices be paid in installments of less than $200,000 each so as to avoid additional approvals required by Bio-Rad policy for payment over $200,000.
According to the NPA,
“The payments to the Intermediary Companies were made by Bio-Rad SNC and falsely recorded as “commission payments” in its books. Moreover, Manager 1 and Manager 2, who falsely described the commission payments as “bad debt” in e-mails, knew that Bio-Rad SNC maintained the bogus contracts with the Intermediary Companies, as well as the numerous associated false invoices Bio-Rad SNC had paid, as part of its books and records. Bio-Rad SNC’s books, records, and financial accounts were consolidated into Bio-Rad’s books and records and reported by Bio-Rad in its financial statements. Thus, Manager 1 and Manager 2 knowingly caused BIO-RAD to falsify its books and records.”
The NPA further states:
“Bio-Rad maintained a set of corporate policies, but Bio-Rad’s international offices were given autonomy by the company to implement and maintain adequate controls. However, Manager 1 and Manager 2 failed to implement adequate controls for Bio-Rad’s Emerging Markets sales region, including controls related to its operations in Russia where those managers knew that the failure to implement these controls allowed Agent 1 and the Intermediary Companies to be paid significantly above-market commissions for little or no services that were supported by false contracts and invoices. For example, Manager 1 and Manager 2 did not put in place a system of controls to conduct due diligence on third party agents, such as the Intermediary Companies, to ensure documentation supporting payments to third parties, or to monitor such payments. Nor did the company implement adequate testing of the controls that should have been in place.
Manager 1 and Manager 2′s knowing failure to implement adequate internal accounting controls with respect to Russia was due, at least in part, to their desire to continue to obtain and retain contracts with the Russian government. Bio-Rad Russia won 100% of its government contracts when Agent 1 was involved and lost its first major Russian government contract after terminating Agent 1 in or around 2010.”
According to the NPA:
“In addition to the knowing failure to implement an adequate system of internal accounting controls, prior to the discovery of the misconduct in Bio-Rad did not maintain an adequate compliance program. The company did not provide any FCPA training to its employees and, although Bio-Rad had a business ethics policy and code of conduct that prohibited bribery and was posted on the company’s intranet site, many employees of Bio-Rad and its subsidiaries were unaware of its existence. Moreover, the code was only available in English despite the fact that a significant number of employees working for Bio-Rad’ss overseas subsidiaries did not speak or understand English well enough to understand the code.”
“Bio-Rad also decentralized its compliance program such that its international offices were responsible for ensuring adequate compliance with its business ethics policy and code of conduct. However, Manager 1 and Manager 2 did not take steps to ensure such compliance in Emerging Markets, and Bio-Rad did not take sufficient steps to monitor its international offices. As a result, Bio-Rad’s international offices did not undertake appropriate risk-based due diligence in connection with the retention of agents and business partners and, further, did not have distribution and agency agreements with appropriate anti-corruption terms. Bio-Rad also did not undertake periodic risk assessments of its compliance program. Bio-Rad’s failure to maintain an adequate compliance program significantly contributed to the company’s inability to prevent the misconduct in Russia, as well as improper payments to government officials in Vietnam and Thailand.”
The NPA states as follows.
“The [DOJ] enters into this Non-Prosecution Agreement based on the individual facts and circumstances presented by this case and the Company. Among the facts considered were the following: (a) following discovery of potential FCPA violations during the course of an internal audit, the Company’s audit committee retained independent counsel to conduct an internal investigation and voluntarily disclosed to the [DOJ] the misconduct described in the Statement of Facts; (b) the Company has fully cooperated with the [DOJ's] investigation, including conducting an extensive internal investigation in several countries, voluntarily making U.S. and foreign employees available for interviews, voluntarily producing documents from overseas, summarizing its findings, translating numerous documents, and providing timely reports on witness interviews for the [DOJ]; (c) the Company has engaged in significant remedial actions, including enhancing its anti-corruption policies globally, improving its internal controls and compliance functions, developing and implementing additional FCPA compliance procedures, including due diligence and contracting procedures for intermediaries, instituting heightened review of proposals and other transactional documents for all Company contracts, closing its Vietnam office after learning of improper payments by its Vietnam subsidiary, and conducting extensive anti-corruption training throughout the global organization; (d) the Company has committed to continue to enhance its compliance program and internal controls, including ensuring that its compliance program satisfies the minimum elements set forth in Attachment B to this Agreement; and (e) the Company has agreed to continue to cooperate with the [DOJ] in any ongoing investigation of the conduct of the Company and its officers, directors, employees, agents, and consultants relating to possible violations of the FCPA …”.
Pursuant to the NPA, which has a term of two years, Bio-Rad admitted, accepted and acknowledged that it was responsible for the acts of its employees and agents as set forth in the Statement of Facts. The NPA also contains a “muzzle clause” in which Bio-Rad expressly agree[d] that it shall not, through present or future attorneys, officers, directors, employees, agents or any other person authorized to speak for the Company make any public statement, in litigation or otherwise, contradicting the acceptance of responsibility by the Company …”.
In the NPA, Bio-Rad also agreed to undertake a host of compliance enhancements and report to the DOJ during the two-year term of the NPA “regarding mediation and implementation of the compliance program and internal controls, policies and procedures” described in the NPA.
In the DOJ release, Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell stated:
“Public companies that cook their books and hide improper payments foster corruption. The department pursues corruption from all angles, including the falsification of records and failure to implement adequate internal controls. The department also gives credit to companies, like Bio-Rad, who self-disclose, cooperate and remediate their violations of the FCPA.”
Special Agent in Charge David Johnson of the FBI’s San Francisco Field Office stated:
“The FBI remains committed to identifying and investigating violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. This action demonstrates the benefits of self-disclosure, cooperation, and subsequent remediation by companies.”
The release further states:
“The department entered into a non-prosecution agreement with the company due, in large part, to Bio-Rad’s self-disclosure of the misconduct and full cooperation with the department’s investigation. That cooperation included voluntarily making U.S. and foreign employees available for interviews, voluntarily producing documents from overseas, and summarizing the findings of its internal investigation. In addition, Bio-Rad has engaged in significant remedial actions, including enhancing its anti-corruption policies globally, improving its internal controls and compliance functions, developing and implementing additional due diligence and contracting procedures for intermediaries, and conducting extensive anti-corruption training throughout the organization.”
SEC Enforcement Action
The SEC’s order is based on the same core conduct alleged in the DOJ action as relevant to Russia business and also contains allegations concerning conduct in Vietnam and Thailand.
In summary fashion, the SEC’s order states:
“From approximately 2005 to 2010, subsidiaries of Bio-Rad made unlawful payments in Vietnam and Thailand to obtain or retain business. During the same period, Bio-Rad’s subsidiary paid certain Russian third parties, disregarding the high probability that at least some of the money would be used to make unlawful payments to government officials in Russia. With respect to Russia, one of Bio-Rad’s foreign subsidiaries paid three off-shore agents (the“Russian Agents”) for alleged services in connection with sales of its medical diagnostic and life science equipment to government agencies. These agents were not legitimate businesses, and despite receiving large commissions, they did not provide the contracted-for services. In paying these agents, Bio-Rad’s foreign subsidiary demonstrated a conscious disregard for the high probability that the Russian Agents were using at least a portion of the commissions to pay foreign officials to obtain profitable government contracts. The General Manager (“GM”) of Bio-Rad’s Emerging Markets sub-division and the Emerging Markets Controller, both employees of the parent company (collectively, “the Emerging Markets managers”) ignored red flags, which permitted the scheme to continue for years. In Vietnam and Thailand, Bio-Rad’s foreign subsidiaries used agents and distributors to funnel money to government officials. In total, Bio-Rad made $35.1 million in illicit profits from these improper payments.
In violation of Bio-Rad’s policies, Bio-Rad’s foreign subsidiaries did not record the payments in their own books in a manner that would accurately or fairly reflect the transactions. Instead they booked them as commissions, advertising, and training fees. These subsidiaries’ books were consolidated into the parent company’s books and records. During the relevant period, Bio-Rad also failed to devise and maintain adequate internal accounting controls.”
As to the Vietnam and Thailand conduct, the SEC’s order focuses on Bio-Rad Laboratories (Singapore) Pte. Limited (“Bio-Rad Singapore”) described as a wholly-owned subsidiary located in Singapore and Diamed South East Asia Ltd. (“Diamed Thailand”) described as a 49%-owned subsidiary of Diamed AG (Switzerland) that was acquired by Bio-Rad in October 2007. According to the order, local majority owners ran Diamed Thailand’s operations until 2011, when Bio-Rad bought out their interest in the company.
Under the heading “Facts in Vietnam,” the order states:
“From at least 2005 to the end of 2009, Bio-Rad maintained a sales representative office in Vietnam. A country manager supervised the Vietnam Office’s sales activities, and was authorized to approve contracts up to $100,000 and sales commissions up to $20,000. Vietnam’s country manager reported to Bio-Rad Singapore’s Southeast Asia regional sales manager (“RSM”), who in turn reported to the Asia Pacific GM.
From 2005 through 2009, the country manager of the Vietnam office authorized the payment of bribes to government officials to obtain their business. At the direction of the country manager, the sales representatives made cash payments to officials at government-owned hospitals and laboratories in exchange for their agreement to buy Bio-Rad’s products.
In 2006, the RSM first learned of this practice from a finance employee. She raised concerns about it to the Vietnam Office’s country manager, who informed her that paying bribes was a customary practice in Vietnam. On or about May 18, 2006, the Vietnamese country manager wrote in an email to the RSM and the Bio-Rad Singapore finance employee that paying third party fees “[wa]s outlawed in the Bio-Rad Business Ethics Policy,” but that Bio-Rad would lose 80% of its Vietnam sales without continuing the practice. In that same email, the country manager proposed a solution that entailed employing a middleman to pay the bribes to Vietnamese government officials as a means of insulating Bio-Rad from liability. Under the proposed scheme, Bio-Rad Singapore would sell Bio-Rad products to a Vietnamese distributor at a deep discount, which the distributor would then resell to government customers at full price, and pass through a portion of it as bribes.
The RSM and the Asia Pacific GM were aware of and allowed the payments to continue. Between 2005 and the end of 2009, the Vietnam office made improper payments of $2.2 million to agents or distributors, which was funneled to Vietnamese government officials. These bribes, recorded as “commissions,” “advertising fees,” and “training fees,” generated gross sales revenues of $23.7 million to Bio-Rad Singapore. The payment scheme did not involve the use of interstate commerce, and no United States national was involved in the misconduct.”
Under the heading “Facts in Thailand,” the order states:
“Bio-Rad acquired a 49% interest in Diamed Thailand as part of its acquisition of Diamed AG (Switzerland) in October 2007. Bio-Rad performed very little due diligence on Diamed Thailand prior to the acquisition.
Diamed Thailand’s local majority owners managed the subsidiary. Bio-Rad’s Asia Pacific GM was responsible for working and communicating with Diamed Thailand’s majority owners and distributors.
Prior to the October 2007 acquisition, Diamed Thailand had an established bribery scheme, whereby Diamed Thailand used a Thai agent to sell diagnostic products to government customers. The agent received an inflated 13% commission, of which it retained 4%, and paid 9% to Thai government officials in exchange for profitable business contracts.
The scheme continued even after Bio-Rad acquired Diamed Thailand. Diamed Thailand renewed the contract with the distributor in June 2008, but unbeknownst to Bio-Rad, the distributor was partially owned by one of Diamed Thailand’s local Thai owners.
Bio-Rad’s Asia Pacific GM learned of Diamed Thailand’s bribery scheme while attending a distributor’s conference in Bangkok in March 2008. At the conference, Diamed Thailand’s local manager informed him that some of Diamed Thailand’s customers received payments, which the Asia Pacific GM understood to mean kickbacks. The Asia Pacific GM instructed Bio-Rad Singapore’s controller to investigate the matter. The controller confirmed to the Asia Pacific GM that Diamed Thailand was bribing government officials through the distributor. Despite these findings, the Asia Pacific GM did not instruct Diamed Thailand to stop making the improper payments to the distributor.
From 2007 to early 2010, Diamed Thailand improperly paid a total of $708,608 to the distributor, generating gross sales revenues of $5.5 million to Diamed Thailand. These payments were recorded as sales commissions. The payment scheme did not involve the use of interstate commerce, and no United States national was involved in the misconduct.”
The SEC’s order found that:
“Bio-Rad violated [the FCPA's anti-bribery provisions] because Bio-Rad’s Emerging Markets managers demonstrated a conscious disregard for the high probability that the Russian Agents were using at least a portion of Bio-Rad Russia’s sales commission payments to bribe Russian government officials in exchange for awarding the company profitable government contracts. These managers knew the Russian Agents operated as mere shell entities. They also knew that, among other things, the commissions were large, and that the Russian Agents did not have the resources to perform any of the contracted-for services set forth in their agreements. Nevertheless, the managers approved all of their agreements, and authorized $4.6 million in payments to the Russian Agents’ off-shore accounts even though many of the payment requests and invoices raised substantial questions as to their legitimacy. Finally, the same Emerging Markets managers communicated about the Russian Agents under cover of secrecy, which further calls in question their legitimacy. These red flags surfaced repeatedly over a five year period.”
The SEC’s order also found violations of the books and records and internal controls provisions based on the Russia, Vietnam, and Thailand conduct. As to internal controls, the order states:
“[A]lthough [Bio-Rad] had an ethics policy prohibiting the payment of bribes and various policies and procedures requiring accurate books and records, its systems of internal controls proved insufficient to provide reasonable assurances that such payments would be detected and prevented.”
Under the heading, “Self-Disclosure, Cooperation and Remedial Efforts,” the order states:
“Bio-Rad made an initial voluntary self-disclosure of potential FCPA violations to the Commission staff and the Department of Justice in May 2010, and immediately thereafter Bio-Rad’s audit committee retained independent counsel to conduct an investigation of the alleged violations. The audit committee conducted a thorough internal investigation, and subsequently expanded it voluntarily to cover a large number of additional potentially high-risk countries. The investigation included over 100 in-person interviews, the collection of millions of documents, the production of tens of thousands of documents, and forensic auditing. Bio-Rad’s cooperation was extensive, including voluntarily producing documents from overseas, summarizing its findings, translating numerous key documents, producing witnesses from foreign jurisdictions, providing timely reports on witness interviews, and making employees available to the Commission staff to interview.
Bio-Rad also undertook significant and extensive remedial actions including: terminating problematic practices; terminating Bio-Rad employees who were involved in the misconduct; comprehensively re-evaluating and supplementing its anticorruption policies and procedures on a world-wide basis, including its relationship with intermediaries; enhancing its internal controls and compliance functions; developing and implementing FCPA compliance procedures, including the further development and implementation of policies and procedures such as the due diligence and contracting procedure for intermediaries and policies concerning hospitality, entertainment, travel, and other business courtesies; and conducting extensive anticorruption training throughout the organization world-wide.”
As noted in the SEC’s release:
“[Bio-Rad] agreed to pay $40.7 million in disgorgement and prejudgment interest to the SEC … The company also must report its FCPA compliance efforts to the SEC for a period of two years.”
In the SEC release, Andrew Ceresney, Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement, stated:
“Bio-Rad Laboratories failed to detect a bribery scheme and did not properly address red flags that such a scheme was underway. “This enforcement action, which reflects credit for Bio-Rad’s cooperation in our investigation, reiterates the importance of all companies ensuring they have the proper internal controls to prevent FCPA violations.”
Bio-Rad was represented by Douglas Greenburg (Latham & Watkins).
In this release, Norman Schwartz (Bio-Rad President and Chief Executive Officer) stated:
“The actions that we discovered were completely contrary to Bio-Rad’s culture and values and ethical standards for conducting business. We took strong, decisive action to end the problematic practices and prevent anything like this from happening in the future, including terminating involved employees and committing substantial resources to strengthening our compliance functions and financial controls. Bio-Rad prides itself on operating with the highest levels of integrity, and I am pleased that this settlement fully resolves the government’s FCPA investigation and puts this matter behind us.”
The release further states:
“Bio-Rad discovered the potential FCPA violations and self-reported them to the DOJ and SEC in May 2010. The Company subsequently conducted a thorough global investigation with the assistance of independent legal and forensic specialists, terminated involved employees and third party agents, and significantly enhanced its internal controls, procedures, training and compliance functions designed to prevent future violations. The settlement fully resolves all outstanding issues related to these investigations.”
On the day the FCPA enforcement action was announced Bio-Rad’s stock closed up .5%.