The Nigerian customs services has a reputation for being notoriously corrupt. According to this recent report (jointly commissioned by the European Union, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, and the National Bureau of Statistics) “in the case of clearance of goods through customs [in Nigeria], the percentage of business who were requested to pay a bribe is considerable.”
So, what happens when ….
A Nigerian company uses two United Kingdom contractors in connection with a Nigerian project. The U.K. contractors utilize a Swiss company that provides freight forwarding and logistics services. The Swiss company makes payments to Nigerian customs officials to “expedite the delivery of goods and equipment into Nigeria.” The U.K. contractors seek reimbursement from the Nigerian company. The Nigerian company records the payments as “local processing fees” and “administrative / transport charges” on its books and records. The Nigerian company is wholly-owned by a U.K. company based in the Netherlands. The U.K. company based in the Netherlands has ADRs traded on a U.S. exchange. A few low-ranking employees or contract employees located in the U.S. of another subsidiary of the U.K. company based in the Netherlands receive letters or e-mails regarding the payments.
Why of course, $48 million into the U.S. treasury via an FCPA enforcement action even though the FCPA specifically states that the anti-bribery provisions “shall not apply to any facilitating or expediting payment to a foreign official … the purpose of which is to expedite or to secure the performance of a routine governmental action …”
Next up in the analysis of CustomsGate enforcement actions is Shell.
See here for the prior post on the Transocean enforcement action, here for the prior post on the Tidewater enforcement action here for the prior post on the Noble enforcement action and here for the prior post on the GlobalSantaFe enforcement action.
The Shell enforcement action involved both a DOJ and SEC component. Total settlement amount was approximately $48.1 million ($30 million criminal fine via a DOJ deferred prosecution agreement; $18.1 million in disgorgement and prejudgment interest via a SEC administrative order).
The DOJ enforcement action included a criminal information (here) filed against Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company Ltd. (“SNEPCO”), a Nigerian wholly-owned subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell (“RDS”) with headquarters in Nigeria. RDS is a U.K. company based in The Hague, The Netherlands, with ADRs traded on the New York Stock Exchange.
The information alleges that “SNEPCO’s agents, including employees of its U.S. affiliates, while in the territory of the United States, used and caused the use of the mails and means and instrumentalities of interstate commerce and performed other acts for SNEPCO’s benefit in furtherance of the payment of bribes to foreign government officials for the purpose of assisting in obtaining or retaining business for, or directing business, to SNEPCO and others.”
The criminal information relates to “an express door-to-door courier service” called “Pancourier” provided by Panalpina “that expedited the delivery of goods and equipment into Nigeria.” [The Transocean enforcement action here also involved, in part, Pancourier services]. According to the information, “the Pancourier service involved the payment of bribes by [Panalpina] to [Nigerian Customs Service] officials to expedite the delivery of materials by inducing the officials to circumvent the official Nigerian customs clearance process and to provide an improper advantage with respect to the importation of certain tools and materials that were imported into Nigeria.” The information states: “as a result of the payment of bribes, SNEPCO employees knew that official Nigerian duties, taxes, and penalties would not [be] paid when the items were imported.”
According to the information, Panalpina invoiced the “Subsea EPIC Contractor” (a U.K. corporation and SNEPCO’s engineering, procurement, installation and commissioning contractor for subsea services) and the “Topsides EPIC Contractor (a U.K. corporation that provided project management, engineering design, and fabrication services) “for the bribes that it paid to the NCS officials and characterized the payments as, among other things, ‘local processing fees’ or ‘administrative/transport charges.’” The contractors, in turn sought reimbursement from SNEPCO for these charges.
According to the information:
(i) in approximately March 2004 “SNEPCO and SIEP [Shell International Exploration and Production Inc. - a wholly-owned subsidiary of RDS based in Houston] employees … knew, or were substantially certain, that all or a portion of the money paid by the Subsea EPIC Contractor and the Topsides EPIC Contractor to [Panalpina] for the Pancourier service was being paid as bribes to NCS officials to secure an improper advantage with respects to the importation of certain tools and materials that were imported into Nigeria. SNEPCO and SIEP employees were aware that as a result of the payment of bribes, official Nigerian duties, taxes, and penalties were not paid when the items were imported;
(ii) in approximately March 2004 to approximately March 2006 “certain other SNEPCO employees repeatedly authorized the Subsea EPIC Contractor and the Topsides EPIC Contractor to use the Pancourier service. This resulted in the payment of over $2 million to reimburse the subcontractors for charges submitted by [Panalpina]. SNEPCO intended that some or all of this money was to reimburse the subcontractors for the bribes made to NCS officials. The benefit to SNEPCO resulting from the bribes exceeded $7 million.”
(iii) “throughout the relevant time period, SNEPCO recorded the reimbursements for the improper payments to the NCS officials in its books, records, and accounts as ‘local processing fees’ and ‘administrative/transport charges’ among other terms.”
(iv) “at the end of SNEPCO’s fiscal years 2004 through 2006, the books and accounts of SNEPCO containing the false characterizations of the payments to the NCS officials, were incorporated into the books, records and accounts of RDS for purposes of preparing RDS’s consolidated year-end financial statements filed with the SEC.”
Based on the above conduct, the DOJ charged SNEPCO with conspiracy to violate the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions and to knowingly falsify books and records; and aiding and abetting false books and records violation.
In terms of a U.S. nexus, the information charges as follows:
(i) “the Subsea Contract Manager [a U.S. citizen and employee of SIEP] located in Houston, Texas, sent an email to SNEPCO employees in Nigeria authorizing the Subsea EPIC Contractor to use Pancourier to transport electrical equipment, with knowledge of facts indicating that a bribe would be paid through [Panalpina] to the NCS officials to expedite the delivery of materials by inducing the officials to circumvent the Nigerian customs clearance process and which resulted in the non-payment of official Nigerian duties, taxes, and penalties.”
(ii) “the Subsea Contract Engineer [a SIEP contract employee] located in Houston, Texas sent an e-mail to SNEPCO employees in Nigeria authorizing the Subsea EPIC Contractor to use Pancourier to transport miscellaneous parts, with knowledge of facts indicating that a bribe would be paid through [Panalpina] to the NCS officials to expedite the delivery of materials by inducing the officials to circumvent the Nigerian customs clearance process and which resulted in the non-payment of official Nigerian duties, taxes, and penalties.”
(iii) “a Subsea EPIC Contractor employee drafted and sent an e-mail from Nigeria to … the Subsea Contract Manager and Subsea Contract Engineer, in Houston, Texas advising that Pancourier was ‘illegal.’”.
The criminal charges against SNEPCO were resolved via a deferred prosecution agreement (here) between the DOJ, SNEPCO and RDS “on behalf of its wholly-owned subsidiary SNEPCO.”
Deferred Prosecution Agreement
Pursuant to the DPA, SNEPCO admitted, accepted and acknowledged that it was responsible for the acts of its officers, employees, subsidiaries, and agents as set forth above.
The term of the DPA is three years and seven months and it states that the DOJ entered into the agreement “based on the individual facts and circumstances” of the case and SNEPCO. Among the factors stated are the following.
(a) SNEPCO and RDS cooperated with the Department’s investigation of SNEPCO and RDS entities; (b) SNEPCO and RDS undertook remedial measures, including the implementation of an enhanced compliance program, and agreed to undertake further remedial measures …; (c) SNEPCO and RDS agreed to continue to cooperate with the Department in any ongoing investigation …; and (d) the impact on SNEPCO and other RDS entities, including collateral consequences, of a guilty plea or criminal conviction.”
As stated in the DPA, the fine range for the above describe conduct under the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines was $34.2 million to $68.4 million. Pursuant to the DPA, SNEPCO and RDS agreed that SNEPCO shall pay a monetary penalty of $30 million – approximately 15% below the minimum guideline amount.
Pursuant to the DPA, SNEPCO and RDS agreed to a host of compliance undertakings and to report to the DOJ on an annual basis (during the term of the DPA) “on its progress and experience in maintaining and, as appropriate, enhancing its compliance policies and procedures.”
As is standard in FCPA DPAs, SNEPCO and RDS agreed not to make any public statement “contradicting the acceptance of responsibility by SNEPCO as set forth” in the DPA and SNEPCO and RDS further agreed to only issue a press release in connection with the DPA if the DOJ does not object to the release.
The SEC’s administrative order against RDS and SIEP (here) concerns “violations of the anti-bribery provisions of the FCPA” by SIEP and “the record keeping and internal controls provisions of the FCPA” by RDS.
Both violations concern the same core set of facts as set forth in the DOJ’s DPA. The SEC order states as follows.
“From September 2002 through November 2005, SIEP, on behalf of Shell, authorized the reimbursement or continued use of services provided by a company acting as a customs broker that involved suspicious payments of approximately $3.5 million to officials of the Nigerian Customs Service in order to obtain preferential treatment during the customs process for the purpose of assisting Shell in obtaining or retaining business in Nigeria on Shell’s Bonga Project. As a result of these payments, Shell profited in the amount of approximately $14 million. None of the improper payments was accurately reflected in Shell’s books and records, nor was Shell’s system of internal accounting controls adequate at the time to detect and prevent these suspicious payments.”
According to the SEC, “the Nigerian customs clearance process was routinely delayed, often taking weeks or even months to clear equipment through customs.” Use of the Pancourier service “expedited shipments into Nigeria by about 20 to 39 days.” “A shipment that would take 30 days to clear Nigerian customs using regular air freight could clear customs in as quickly as 10 days using” the Pancourier service.
In summary fashion, the SEC’s order states as follows:
“Shell benefitted through these payments by bypassing the normal customs process and importing equipment into Nigeria faster than Shell would have had the payments not been made. Ultimately, this accelerated Shell’s ability to reach First Oil and provided Shell with the value of its oil production profits sooner than it would have had it not made the payments. By avoiding the payment of certain customs duties through these payments, Shell also benefited by having the use of those funds when Shell would have otherwise had to wait to be reimbursed from the proceeds of oil production. As a result of these payments, Shell profited in the amount of $14,153,536.”
The SEC’s administrative order requires, among other things, the payment of $14,153,536 in disgorgment and $3,995,923 in prejudgment interest.
Ralph Ferrara (here) and Christopher Clark, a former DOJ attorney, (here), both at Dewey & LeBoeuf, represented Shell.