Archive for the ‘SEC Enforcement Action’ Category

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.

 

Layne Christensen Company Resolves SEC Enforcement Action

Tuesday, October 28th, 2014

In August, Layne Christensen Company said that it hoped to resolve its long-standing FCPA scrutiny by resolving an SEC enforcement action in the near future.

Yesterday, the company did just that as the SEC announced in this release that Layne Christensen agreed to pay approximately $5.1 million via an SEC administrative cease and desist order.

In summary fashion, the order states:

“These proceedings arise out of violations of the anti-bribery, recordkeeping,  and internal controls provisions of the FCPA by Layne  Christensen. Between 2005 and 2010, Layne Christensen, through its wholly-owned subsidiaries in Africa and Australia, made a total of more than $1,000,000 in improper payments to foreign  government officials in the Republic of Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Tanzania, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. With the knowledge and  approval of one of its officers, Layne Christensen made these improper payments in order to obtain favorable tax treatment, customs clearance for drilling equipment, work permits for expatriates, and  relief from inspection by immigration and labor officials, as well as, to avoid penalties for the delinquent payment of taxes and customs duties and the failure to register immigrant workers. Layne Christensen funded some of these payments through cash transfers from its U.S. bank  accounts to its Australian and African subsidiaries.

Layne Christensen falsely recorded these improper payments as legitimate expenses and failed to maintain a system of internal accounting controls sufficient to provide  reasonable assurances over its operations.

As a result of making improper payments to foreign officials in Africa, Layne Christensen (1) realized improper tax benefits; (2) secured customs clearance of a drilling rig and other equipment; (3) avoided assessed customs duties and associated penalties; and (4) secured work permits for its employees and avoided the possible deportation of its undocumented workers  and penalties for the failure to register these workers. Overall, Layne Christensen realized benefits  of approximately $3.9 million by making improper payments to foreign officials in Africa between  2005 and 2010.”

Under the heading “knowledge of improper payments,” the order states:

“The Mineral Exploration Division (“MinEx”) is Layne Christensen’s  second-largest business division and is primarily responsible for the Company’s mineral exploration drilling operations worldwide. Between 2005 and 2010, the president of MinEx (the “MinEx President”) was a corporate officer of Layne Christensen and reported directly to Layne Christensen’s Chief Executive Officer. Based in Salt Lake City, UT, the MinEx President supervised all of Layne Christensen’s mineral exploration drilling operations, including  operations in Australia and Africa.

The MinEx President had knowledge of and, in some instances, authorized the direct and indirect payment of bribes to foreign officials in Africa to obtain or retain business. Specifically, he was aware of payments made to third-party agents retained by Layne  Christensen’s African subsidiaries in order to obtain favorable tax treatment and to customs  officials to obtain clearance for equipment and reduced customs duties.”

[This 2011 Wall Street Journal article references the name of the apparent MinEx President]

Under the heading, “payments to achieve favorable tax treatment,” the order states:

“Between 2005 and 2009, Layne Christensen paid approximately $768,000 in bribes to foreign officials in Mali, Guinea, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, through its wholly-owned subsidiaries WADS and Layne Drilling, in order to reduce its tax liability and to avoid associated penalties for delinquent payment. By making these improper payments, Layne Christensen realized more than $3.2 million in improper tax savings.”

WADS (West African Drilling Services Sarl in Mauritania and Guinea) is described as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Stanley Mining Services (“SMS”) and Layne Christensen is described as holding a 100% interest in SMS through Layne Christiensen Australia Pty Limited, an Australian corporation and wholly-owned subsidiary of Layne Christensen.  Layne Drilling is described as a wholly-owned subsidiary of SMS.  According to the SEC’s order:

“Layne Australia provides management and financial accounting services to Layne Christensen’s companies operating in these African countries. Layne Christensen exercised direct operational control over these wholly-owned subsidiaries and consolidated their results in its financial statements.”

In terms of Mali, the order states:

“In connection with a 2005 tax audit, the WADS subsidiary made two improper payments totaling $93,000 to Malian tax officials through its local agent. The purpose of these payments was to reduce its liability for unpaid taxes and associated penalties. The payments were made on September 5, 2005 and October 19, 2005. WADS falsely recorded the payments, respectively, as an “Advance of Audit” in its prepaid taxes account and as the “take up cost” of the agent’s freight invoice (no freight services were provided).

The MinEx President was aware that WADS had engaged the agent in order to reduce its tax liability, and that as a result WADS had reduced its tax liability to less than half the original assessment. The MinEx President did not question how these tax savings were achieved.

In order to fund the payments, the chief financial officer of MinEx (the “MinEx CFO”) directed another Layne Christensen subsidiary to transfer funds to WADS and WADS’s financial controller to execute a cash call to Layne Christensen’s corporate office. Layne Christensen wired funds from one of its U.S. banks accounts to WADS on the same day.

In 2007, WADS again made two improper payments to Malian tax officials through the same agent that it used in 2005. As a result of the payments, Layne avoided taxes and penalties of more than $1.2 million.

The check requisition used to make a payment to the agent listed the purpose of this payment as “Fret fees for container” and it was accompanied by an invoice from an unrelated company. The payment of $168,000 was falsely recorded as freight fees in Layne’s books and records.

Following this payment, WADS received an official notice reflecting a substantial reduction in its tax assessment and indicating that WADS was entitled to a credit of approximately $280,000 that could be used to offset its tax liability. Internal emails show that the Malian tax inspectors had requested a payment of about $67,000 to ensure that WADS would receive this tax credit. WADS’s financial controller wrote, “We have already paid the equivalent of $US$168K to [tax agent]. I was under the impression that this took care of all of ‘their’ payments.” Nevertheless, one day later, WADS issued another check to the tax agent in the amount of approximately $68,000. The accompanying check requisition identified the payment as related to “Fiscal Audit 2005/2006” and WADS falsely recorded it as “Property Rates and Taxes” in its books and records.

The MinEx CFO provided the MinEx President with a memo summarizing the history of the tax assessments and the subsequent reductions. As in 2005, the MinEx President did not question how the tax savings were achieved.”

In terms of Guinea, the order states:

“In 2006, WADS reduced its tax liability by paying bribes through two lawyers retained at the suggestion of the tax authorities but who provided no services.

WADS received an official tax assessment for the tax years 2002-2004 on February 15, 2006. However, prior to this date, WADS’s Finance Manager and tax consultants from a local affiliate of a large multinational accounting firm (“International Tax Consultants”) had been negotiating the amount of the assessment with Guinean tax officials. The WADS Finance Manager told the MinEx CFO that the official assessment was substantially lower than the amount that the Guinean tax authority had initially proposed but acceptance of this lower amount was conditioned on WADS making the payment within two days of the assessment. Without providing any supporting documentation, the MinEx CFO sent an email to Layne Christensen’s corporate office seeking an urgent transfer of funds. Despite the lack of documentation or a justification for the transfer, Layne Christensen wired more than $200,000 from a U.S. bank account to WADS’s local bank account on the same day.

On February 17, 2006, WADS made a single payment of approximately $97,648 to the tax authority and payments of $24,000 and $101,000 to the two lawyers, respectively. In comparison, WADS paid the International Tax Consultants only $8,400 for their services.

WADS falsely recorded the payments made to the lawyers as legal expense although internal communications show that the lawyers provided no services. In a March 14, 2006 memorandum to the MinEx CFO, the MinEx Tax Manager acknowledged that “The [C]ompany has never engaged any lawyers or other accountants in Guinea and [is] never likely to.” However, he reasoned that although the payments to the lawyers could not be considered legal expense because although the lawyers did not perform any work and were “merely a conduit for the money,” WADS could record them as tax expense because WADS would have faced a larger tax assessment if it had not made these payments.

In 2008, WADS obtained over a 90% reduction in its assessed taxes and penalties by funneling an improper payment of $273,000 to Guinean tax officials through the same lawyers that it used in connection with the 2006 audit.

On June 26 and 27, 2008, the lawyers submitted invoices to WADS totaling approximately $273,000 purportedly for rendering assistance with the tax audit. Neither lawyer participated in negotiating the settlement of the tax audit. WADS paid the lawyers’ invoices on July 22, 2008.

Layne Christensen funded the payments to the lawyers through wire transfers from a U.S. bank account. On July 2, 2008, the MinEx CFO sought a cash call from Layne Christensen’s corporate office. The stated purpose of the request was to pay WADS’s outstanding taxes but the amount requested exceeded the assessed tax amount. Without supporting documentation or further justification, Layne Christensen wired the funds on July 2 and 21, 2008, and falsely recorded the payments as tax expense.

In an internal memorandum dated July 23, 2008 that was provided to officers of Layne Christensen, the MinEx Tax Manager explained that on June 17, 2008,following the issuance of the original tax assessment in May, the tax authorities suggested WADS retain the same lawyers that it had used in 2006 to represent it in negotiating the tax assessment. Shortly thereafter, without engagement letters or the approval of Layne Christensen’s management, WADS retained both lawyers on a success-fee basis that tied their compensation to the amount by which the assessment was reduced.

The MinEx Tax Manager also noted that a portion of the fees paid to the lawyers could have been used to fund illegal payments to tax officials and that the lawyers and the International Tax Consultants pressured WADS to make the payments to the lawyers in order to obtain a settlement of the audit.

A few days later, the MinEx President learned that WADS had achieved a substantial reduction in its tax assessment. On July 25, 2008, the Vice President of Operations for Africa and Australia informed the MinEx President that the amount of the settled tax assessment was materially different from the MinEx Division’s forecasted amount, could have a material impact on Layne Christensen’s reported earnings, and could be scrutinized by Layne Christensen’s auditors. The MinEx President also learned that WADS had retained the lawyers without engagement letters. As with the Malian tax audits in 2005 and 2007, the MinEx President did not question how the tax savings were achieved.”

In terms of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the order states:

“In July 2009, Layne Drilling DRC made an improper payment of more than $50,000 to tax officials in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (“DRC”) through an agent in order to reduce its liability for unpaid taxes and penalties.

After receiving a multi-million dollar tax assessment in June 2009, Layne Drilling DRC’s local tax agent recommended that it engage a specialized lawyer to negotiate a reduction in the assessment. On June 19, 2009, the MinEx CFO sought the approval of the MinEx President to retain the lawyer as Layne Drilling DRC’s agent. Emphasizing that there was “a lot at stake, potentially $millions,” the MinEx CFO explained that he had spoken to the country manager and knew “more than can be written down.” However, he wrote that the transaction would entail paying $30,000 in taxes and $50,000 in legal commissions in an arrangement similar to the arrangement made with the lawyers in Guinea the previous year. The MinEx CFO also stated that all payments to the tax authorities would be made through the lawyer. Without questioning either the need to retain an agent or the suspicious proposed arrangement, the MinEx President approved Layne Drilling DRC’s retention of the lawyer.

On July 9, 2009, Layne Drilling DRC paid the lawyer $57,200 and falsely recorded the payment as legal expense.

The next day, the DRC tax authority issued a revised final tax assessment to Layne Drilling DRC. The amount of the revised tax assessment was substantially lower than the assessment issued to Layne Drilling DRC in June 2009.”

Under the heading “Payments to Reduce Customs Duties and Obtain Customs Clearance,” the order states:

“Layne Christensen made multiple improper payments to customs officials in Burkina Faso and the DRC between 2007 and 2010 in order to avoid paying customs duties and to obtain clearance for the import and export of its equipment in these countries. LayneChristensen made these improper payments through its customs clearing agents and falsely recorded the payments as legal fees and agent commissions in its books and records.”

Specifically as to Burkina Faso, the order states:

“Burkina Faso’s customs authority conducted an audit of WADS in June 2010. The auditors found that WADS had failed to comply with customs regulations relating to the importation of certain goods and to pay sufficient customs duties on these items. As a result, the customs authority assessed WADS nearly $2 million in unpaid duties and penalties.

Although WADS had retained a new customs clearing agent prior to receiving this assessment, it engaged its former customs agent purportedly to negotiate a reduction in the assessment. The former agent had cleared the disputed items but WADS terminated it in or about May 2009 due, in part, to poor performance. Nevertheless, WADS reengaged its former agent in June 2010 because the agent’s owner was well-connected with customs authorities in Burkina Faso. In an email to the MinEx CFO, the WADS Finance Manager described the agent as someone who is “well known in the game.” In addition, he informed the MinEx CFO that WADS retained the agent on a success fee basis and would pay the agent 10% of the difference between the original assessment and the final assessment.

On August 1, 2009, the MinEx CFO also told the MinEx President and another senior employee that WADS had retained a third-party agent to negotiate a settlement of the customs audit and the assessed customs duties were reduced from nearly $2 million to less than $300,000. The MinEx CFO recommended that WADS accept this settlement and he sought the approval of the MinEx President to send $300,000 to pay the customs fees and penalties as well as $100,000 for the agent’s commission. Without questioning the identity of the agent, the nature of the services provided, or the size of the commission, the MinEx President approved the payments.

The MinEx CFO initiated cash calls to fund the payments and Layne transferred funds from a U.S. bank account to WADS on August 4 and August 28, 2010. Between August 4 and 20, 2010, WADS paid the agent a total of approximately $138,000, including one cash payment. WADS falsely recorded the payments to the agent as legitimate consultant fees in its books and records.”

As to the Democratic Republic of Congo, the order concerns payments in connection with importation of drilling rigs and equipment, customs clearance for exports, and exportation of equipment.

In terms of importation of drilling rigs, the order states:

“In 2007, Layne Drilling DRC made improper payments to customs officials to obtain the initial importation of its drilling rigs and other equipment into the DRC.

In 2006 and 2007, Layne Drilling DRC encountered significant delays in obtaining customs clearance for the importation of its equipment, which resulted in the WADS Finance Manager terminating Layne Drilling DRC’s then-customs clearing agent and hiring a new agent (“Customs Clearance Agent”) in March 2007. The new Customs Clearance Agent was managed by the brother of a national government official in the DRC (“DRC Official”). In an email to the MinEx President, the WADS Finance Manager said that he had found someone who is “more connected” and “can get things moving for us.” As an example, he noted that the Customs Clearance Agent had obtained clearance for two trucks in only two days whereas the former agent had been unable to clear three trucks through customs for more than five weeks.

Between March and September 2007, Layne Drilling DRC paid a total of approximately $124,000 to the Customs Clearance Agent for irregular expenses, described as things such as “per diem,” “intervention expenses,” and “honoraires,” that were not related to specific invoices. Layne Drilling DRC paid the Customs Clearance Agent upon request and in amounts dictated by the agent. In addition, on two occasions, Layne Drilling DRC made payments to an unrelated third party in the U.S. at the direction of the Customs Clearance Agent.

As a result of these payments, Layne Christensen was able to import equipment necessary to perform on its existing contracts and derived more than $300,000 in benefits in 2007.

Layne Drilling DRC inaccurately recorded these payments as legitimate expenses relating to customs and clearance in its books and records.”

In terms of customs clearance for exports, the order states:

“Soon after beginning operations in the DRC in 2007, Layne Drilling DRC hired the nephew of the DRC Official as an office manager. Internal documents describe the DRC Official as Layne Drilling DRC’s “protector” and show that Layne Drilling DRC hired the DRC Official’s nephew in order to facilitate a good relationship.

Between November 2007 and August 2008, the office manager approved and made $18,000 in cash payments from Layne Drilling DRC’s account. These payments were purportedly made based on invoices submitted by a local firm that had allegedly provided customs clearance services but with whom Layne Drilling DRC had no written contract. Many of the payments were made outside of Layne Drilling DRC’s vendor system. In addition, the firm’s invoices were undated and included undefined “per diem” and “honoraire” expenses, similar to the invoices submitted by the Customs Clearance Agent. Layne improperly recorded these payments as legitimate customs and clearance expenses.”

In terms of exportation of equipment, the order states:

“In 2009 and 2010, Layne Drilling DRC made payments through its agents to customs officials in order to secure the exportation of goods and equipment from the DRC to Zambia.

In June 2009, Layne Drilling DRC retained a customs clearing agent to facilitate the export of a drilling rig to Zambia on an expedited basis. However, when thecustoms clearing agent indicated that the exportation would be delayed due to the lack of  documentation relating to the original importation of the drilling rig Layne Drilling DRC replaced the agent.

Between July 10 and July 17, 2009, Layne Drilling DRC paid $7,186 to the second agent who, in turn, made payments to customs officials and on July 20, 2009, the drilling rig was successfully exported to Zambia and placed it into operations. Layne Drilling DRC inaccurately recorded payments made to the agent as “governor office release rig” and “release documents for rig44.”

By making improper payments to customs officials to secure the export of this drilling rig, Layne Drilling DRC realized benefits of approximately $145,000.

Similarly, between April and November 2010, Layne Drilling DRC made nearly $15,000 in improper payments, through its agent, to DRC officials in order to again obtain clearance of goods for export to Zambia that lacked the proper import documentation. As before, the agent provided invoices that included “honoraires” and “per diems” and the payments were falsely recorded as legitimate customs and clearance expenses in Layne’s books and records.”

Under the heading, “other payments,” the order states:

“Between 2007 and 2010, 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.”

Between 2006 and 2010, Layne Christensen made more than $23,000 in cash payments, through its subsidiaries, to police, border patrol, immigration officials, and labor inspectors in Burkina Faso, Guinea, Tanzania, and the DRC to obtain border entry for its equipment and employees, to secure work permits for its expatriate employees, and to avoid penalties for noncompliance with local immigration and labor regulations.”

Based on the above conduct, the order finds that Layne Christensen violated the FCPA’s anti-bribery, books and records, and internal controls provisions.

Under the heading “remedial measures and cooperation,” the order states:

“Since 2010, Layne Christensen has implemented a number of remedial measures designed to identify and mitigate bribery risks and to prevent FCPA violations in the future. Upon learning of possible improper payments made to foreign officials by its staff in Africa, Layne Christensen’s senior management and Audit Committee responded quickly by initiating an investigation conducted by an outside law firm and forensic accounting experts, self-reporting its preliminary findings to the Commission, and publicly disclosing its potential FCPA violations. During the course of the investigation, Layne Christensen terminated four employees, including the MinEx President, the MinEx CFO, and the WADS Finance Manager for their roles in the misconduct, and reduced the compensation of the MinEx President for failing to establish a strong compliance tone at the top. In addition, the Company conducted a comprehensive risk assessment of its worldwide operations and implemented measures to address its most significant corruption risks.

Layne Christensen also took affirmative steps to strengthen its internal compliance policies, procedures, and controls. Layne Christensen issued a standalone anti-bribery policy and procedures, improved its accounting policies relating to cash disbursements, implemented an integrated accounting system worldwide, revamped its anti-corruption training, and conducted extensive due diligence of third parties with which it does business. In addition, Layne Christensen hired a dedicated chief compliance officer and three full-time compliance personnel and retained a consulting firm to conduct an assessment of its anti corruption program and make recommendations.

Layne Christensen exhibited a high level of cooperation throughout the Commission’s investigation. In addition to self-reporting to the Commission shortly after it discovered potential FCPA violations, Layne Christensen voluntarily provided the Commission with real-time reports of its investigative findings, produced English language translations of documents, made foreign witnesses available for interviews in the United States, shared summaries of witness interviews and reports prepared by forensic consultants retained in connection with the Company’s internal investigation, and responded to the Commission’s requests for documents and information in a timely manner. These actions assisted the Commission in efficiently collecting valuable evidence, including information that may not have been otherwise available to the staff.”

As stated in the SEC release:

“The SEC’s order finds that Layne violated the anti-bribery, books and records, and internal controls provisions of the [FCPA].  Layne agreed to pay $3,893,472.42 in disgorgement plus $858,720 in prejudgment interest as well as a $375,000 penalty amount that reflects Layne’s self-reporting, remediation, and significant cooperation with the SEC’s investigation.  For a period of two years, the settlement requires the company to report to the SEC on the status of its remediation and implementation of measures to comply with the FCPA.  Layne consented to the order without admitting or denying the SEC’s findings.”

As relevant to the $375,000 penalty amount, the order states:  [Layne Christensen] acknowledges that the Commission is not imposing a civil penalty in excess of $375,000 based upon its cooperation in a Commission investigation and related enforcement action.”

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

“Layne’s lack of internal controls allowed improper payments to government officials in multiple countries to continue unabated for five years. However, Layne self-reported its violations, cooperated fully with our investigation, and revamped its FCPA compliance program.  Those measures were credited in determining the appropriate remedy.”

On the day the SEC’s enforcement action was announced, Layne Christensen’s stock price closed up 14.7%.

Stung By The Sting – Smith & Wesson Resolves FCPA Scrutiny That Originated With The Africa Sting

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014

In January 2010 when highlighting the manufactured Africa Sting enforcement action, I predicted that the public company employing one of the defendants was likely going to be the subject of Foreign Corrupt Practices Act scrutiny not only based on the alleged conduct in the Africa Sting case, but also other conduct as well because the indicted individual was the “Vice President−Sales, International & U.S. Law Enforcement” for the company.  That company, it soon was learned, was Smith & Wesson and indeed in July 2010 Smith & Wesson disclosed its FCPA scrutiny (see here).

In an instructive example of a dynamic I highlight in my recent article “Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Ripples” (that is every instance of FCPA scrutiny has a point of entry – in other words, a set of facts that give rise to the scrutiny in the first place – and this point of entry is often the beginning of a long and expensive journey for the company under scrutiny as the company – to answer the frequently asked “where else” question and to demonstrate its cooperation – will conduct a world-wide review of its operations), yesterday the SEC announced this administrative FCPA enforcement action against Smith & Wesson.

The conduct has nothing to do with the manufactured (and failed) Africa Sting case, but does involve Smith & Wesson’s former Vice President of International Sales and another individual referred to as the Regional Director of International Sales.  The SEC states in summary fashion as follows.

“This matter concerns violations of the anti-bribery,books and records and internal controls provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) by Smith & Wesson. The violations took place from 2007 through early 2010, when a senior employee and other employees and representatives of Smith & Wesson made, authorized, and offered to make improper payments  and/or to provide gifts to foreign officials in an attempt to win contracts to sell firearm products to foreign military and law enforcement departments. During this period, Smith & Wesson’s international business was in its developing stages and accounted for approximately 10% of the company’s revenues. Smith & Wesson’s employees and representatives engaged in a systemic pattern of making, authorizing and offering bribes while seeking to expand the company’s overseas business.

The bribe payments were inaccurately recorded in Smith & Wesson’s books and records as legitimate sales commissions or other business expenses. Despite its push to make sales in new and high risk markets overseas, Smith & Wesson failed to establish an appropriate compliance program or devise and maintain an adequate system of internal accounting controls, which allowed the repeated improper offers and payments to continue undetected for years.”

According to the SEC:

“Smith & Wesson does not have any international subsidiaries and conducts its international business directly and through brokering agents. Much of Smith & Wesson’s international business involves the sale of firearms to foreign law enforcement and  military departments.  [...] From 2007 through early 2010, as Smith & Wesson sought to break into international markets and increase sales, certain of the company’s employees and representatives engaged in a pervasive practice of making, authorizing and offering improper payments to foreign government officials as a means of obtaining or retaining international business. Although only one of the contracts was fulfilled before the unlawful activity was identified, company employees made or authorized the making of improper payments in connection with multiple ongoing or contemplated international sales.”

The SEC’s order contains factual allegations regarding the following countries: Pakistan, Indonesia, Turkey, Nepal and Bangladesh.

As to Pakistan, the SEC order states:

“In 2008, for example, Smith & Wesson retained a third-party agent in Pakistan to assist the company in obtaining a deal to sell firearms to a Pakistani police department. Even after the agent notified the company that he would be providing guns valued in excess of $11,000 to Pakistani police officials in order to obtain the deal, and that he would be making additional cash payments to the officials, the company authorized the agent to proceed with the deal. Smith & Wesson’s Vice President of International Sales and its Regional Director of International Sales authorized the sale of the guns to the agent to be used as improper gifts and authorized payment of the commissions to the agent, while knowing or consciously disregarding the fact that the agent would be providing the guns and part of his commissions to Pakistani officials as an inducement for them to award the tender to the company. Smith & Wesson ultimately sold 548 pistols to the Pakistani police for $210,980 and profited from the corrupt deal in the amount of $107,852.”

As to Indonesia, the SEC order states:

“In 2009, Smith & Wesson attempted to win a contract to sell firearms to a Indonesian police department by making improper payments to its third party agent in Indonesia, who indicated that part of the payment would be provided to the Indonesian police officials under the guise of legitimate firearm lab testing costs. On several occasions, Smith & Wesson’s third-party agent indicated that the Indonesian police expected Smith & Wesson to pay them additional amounts above the actual cost of testing the guns as an inducement to enter the contract. The agent later notified Smith & Wesson’s Regional Director of International Sales that the price of “testing” the guns had risen further. Smith & Wesson’s Vice President of International Sales and its Regional Director of International Sales authorized and made the inflated payment, but a deal was never consummated.”

As to Turkey, Nepal and Bangladesh, the SEC order states:

Similarly, Smith &Wesson made improper payments in 2009 to its third party agent in Turkey, who indicated that part of the payments would be provided to Turkish officials in an attempt to secure two deals in Turkey for sale of handcuffs to Turkish police and firearms to the Turkish military. Neither of these interactions resulted in the shipment of products, as Smith & Wesson was unsuccessful bidding for the first deal, while the latter deal was ultimately canceled. Similarly, Smith & Wesson authorized improper payments to third party agents who indicated that parts of these payments would be provided to foreign officials in Nepal and Bangladesh in unsuccessful attempts to secure sales contracts in those countries. Although these contemplated deals in Nepal and Bangladesh were never consummated in each case, the company had obtained or attempted to obtain the contract by using third party agents as a conduit for improper payments to government officials.”

The SEC’s order then states:

“Despite making it a high priority to grow sales in new and high risk markets overseas, the company failed to design and implement a system of internal controls or an appropriate FCPA compliance program reasonably designed to address the increased risks of its new business model. The company did not perform any anti-corruption risk assessment and conducted virtually no due diligence of its third-party agents regardless of the perceived level of corruption in the country in which Smith & Wesson was seeking to do business. Smith & Wesson  failed to devise adequate policies and procedures for commission payments, the use of samples for test and evaluation, gifts, and commission advances. The Vice President of International Sales had almost complete authority to conduct the company’s international business, including the sole ability to approve most commissions. Smith & Wesson’s FCPA policies and procedures, and its FCPA-related training and supervision also were inadequate. As a result of these compliance and internal controls failures, Smith & Wesson’s Vice President of International Sales and the Regional Director of International Sales were able to cause the company to pay and/or authorize improper payments in numerous countries around the globe for a period of several years.”

Under the headline “Remedial Measures,” the SEC order states:

“Smith & Wesson took prompt action to remediate its immediate FCPA issues, including: conducting an internal investigation, terminating its entire international sales staff; terminating pending international sales transactions; and re-evaluating the markets in which it sought international sales. In addition, Smith & Wesson implemented a series of significant measures to improve its internal controls and compliance processes, including: implementing new internal audit procedures to identify FCPA issues; creating more robust controls on payments, gifts, and other transactions in connection with international business activity; enhancing its FCPA compliance policies and procedures; and creating a Business Ethics and Compliance Committee.”

Based on the above findings, the SEC found that Smith & Wesson violated the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions, books and records provisions and internal controls provisions.  As to the later, the SEC order states:

“Smith & Wesson failed to devise and maintain sufficient internal controls with respect to its international sales operations. While the company had a basic corporate policy prohibiting the payment of bribes, it failed to implement a reasonable system of controls to effectuate that policy. For example, Smith & Wesson failed to devise adequate policies and procedures with regard to commission payments, the use of samples for test and evaluation, gifts, and commission advances. Further, Smith & Wesson’s FCPA policies and procedures, and its FCPA-related training and supervision were inadequate.”

As highlighted in the SEC’s order, Smith & Wesson agreed to “report to the Commission staff on the status of [its] remediation and implementation of compliance measures at six-month to twelve-month intervals during a two-year term.” In addition, Smith & Wesson agreed to conduct an initial review – and two follow-up reviews – “setting forth a complete description of its remediation efforts to date, its proposals reasonably designed to improve the policies and procedures of Respondent for ensuring compliance with the FCPA and other applicable anticorruption laws, and the parameters of the subsequent reviews.”

In the SEC order, Smith & Wesson was ordered to cease and desist from future FCPA violations and agreed to pay $2,034,892 …  including $107,852 in disgorgement, $21,040 in prejudgment interest, and a civil monetary penalty of $1,906,000.”  In resolving its FCPA scrutiny, Smith & Wesson did not admit nor deny the SEC’s findings.

In this SEC release, Kara Brockmeyer (Chief of the SEC’s FCPA Unit) stated:

“This is a wake-up call for small and medium-size businesses that want to enter into high-risk markets and expand their international sales. When a company makes the strategic decision to sell its products overseas, it must ensure that the right internal controls are in place and operating.”

In this release, Smith & Wesson President and CEO James Debney stated:

“We are pleased to have concluded this matter with the SECand believe that the settlement we have agreed upon is in the best interests of Smith & Wesson and its shareholders.  Today’s announcement brings to conclusion a legacy issue for our company that commenced more than four years ago, and we are pleased to now finally put this matter behind us.”

John Pappalardo (Greenberg Traurig) represented Smith & Wesson.

Smith & Wesson’s stock price was down approximately .7% on the day of the SEC’s announcement of the enforcement action.

What If Triton Energy Were Resolved Today?

Thursday, May 29th, 2014

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

Certain of the “old” Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement actions reviewed thus far in this periodic series were dubious (see here for instance).

Other “old” FCPA enforcement actions contain egregious allegations concerning high-level executive knowledge, acquiescence and cover-up of bribery yet were resolved  in what can only be called – a light fashion.  Case in point is the 1997 enforcement actions against Triton Energy and several executives.   The Triton enforcement action makes reporting of Wal-Mart’s supposed corporate governance failures and oversight look garden-variety.

Learning of the Triton enforcement action causes one  to ponder – what if the enforcement action were resolved today?

*****

In February 1997, the SEC announced the filing of this settled civil complaint against Triton Energy Corporation and Richard McAdoo and Philip Keever (former officers of Triton Indonesia Inc. – a wholly owned subsidiary of Triton).  In summary fashion, the complaint alleged:

“This action concerns the activities in Indonesia of Triton Indonesia …  During the years 1989 and 1990 defendants McAdoo and Keever, then officers of Triton Indonesia, authorized numerous improper payments to Roland Siouffi, knowing or recklessly disregarding the high probability that Siouffi either had or would pass such payments along to Indonesian government employees for the purpose of influencing their decisions affecting the business of Triton Indonesia.  McAdoo and Keever, together with other Triton Indonesia employees, concealed these payments by falsely documenting and recording the transactions as routine business expenditures.  Triton Indonesia also recorded other false entries in its books and records.  During the relevant time period, Triton failed to devise and maintain an adequate system of internal accounting controls to detect and prevent improper payments by Triton Indonesia to government officials and to provide reasonable assurance that transactions were recorded as necessary to permit preparation of financial statements in conformity with generally accepted accounting principles.  Triton Energy did not expressly authorize or direct these improper payments and misbookings.”

The complaint charged Triton Energy with violating the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions and books and records and internal controls provisions.  Keever and McAdoo were charged with violating the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions and knowingly circumventing a system of internal controls and knowingly falsifying books and records.

The complaint noted that Keever retired from Triton in 1996 and that McAdoo was terminated by Triton in 1989.

The conduct at issue focused on Triton Indonesia being a party to a joint venture agreement which resulted in Triton Indonesia being a party to a Rehabilitation and Secondary Recovery Contract (“RSRC Contract”) with Pertamina, a national oil company owned by the Republic of Indonesia.  As alleged in the complaint, the project Triton Indonesia was working on “was subject to taxation by the Indonesian Ministry of Finance and tax liability was determined by auditors from the Ministry of Finance’s audit branch (“BPKP”).

According to the complaint:

“During the Pertamina/BPKP audits, after the auditors completed their review of the books and records, they had an exit meeting with representatives of Triton Indonesia during which they provided their preliminary written findings, including problems with the books and records that might lead to reductions in cost recovery.  Following the auditors’ presentation, Triton Indonesia prepared a written response to the audit exceptions.  Triton Indonesia and Pertamina/BPKP auditors then entered into negotiations concerning the content of the final audit report.  The Pertamina/BPKP auditors had discretion to make a determination as to whether audit exceptions would be included in their audit report or withdrawn.  [...]  These ‘negotiations’ culminated in numerous improper payments to Indonesian auditors.”

The complaint stated that “at the beginning of Triton’s Indonesia’s tenure as operator of the joint venture … the poor books and records and internal controls made it difficult for Triton Indonesia to calculate and document project costs, and threatened the company’s ability to obtain recovery of [project] costs incurred prior to Triton Indonesia’s tenure as operator.”  The complaint noted that “from the outset, Triton Indonesia and Triton Energy management anticipated that the deficient state of the books and records of the [project] would adversely impact Triton Indonesia’s ability to obtain certification of the unrecovered costs pool for [two] fiscal years.”

According to the complaint, Triton agreed with its joint venture partner to “retain Roland Siouffi as its business agent for the purpose of acting as an intermediary between Triton Indonesia and Indonesian government agencies, including Pertamina and the Ministry of Finance.”

According to the complaint, “when Keever went to Indonesia … to become Commercial Manager, Triton Energy’s controller at the time told Keever that his performance would be measured by the extent to which [project] expenditures were found to be costs recoverable in the annual Pertamina/BPKP audits.”

The complaint alleged:

“During 1989 and 1990, McAdoo and Keever authorized a number of improper payments to Siouffi entities for the purpose of influencing specific actions by various Indonesian government agencies.  To conceal the true purpose of the payments, Triton Indonesia employees created false documents that indicated that the funds were expended for transactions with Siouffi entities for legitimate purposes, such as the purchase of seismic data or repair of equipment used for oil exploration.  The expenditures were then recorded on Triton Indonesia’s books and records as having been made for the purpose reflected in the false documentation.  These false entries were made in the books and records of Triton Indonesia with the knowing participation of certain Triton Indoensia employees, including McAdoo and Keever.”

The SEC complaint contains separate allegations regarding improper payments: “in connection with a tax audit;” “Pertamina/BPKP Audits;” a corporate tax refund;” the refund of value added tax;” and “relating to a pipeline tariff.”  The complaint also references payments of cash totaling $13,500 to Indonesian auditors for the purpose of developing general good will” and “cash payments totalling $1,000 per month to Pertamina clerical employees made for the purpose of expediting payment of monthly crude oil invoices.”

Under the heading “Triton Energy Management Received Information Concerning Improper Payments and False Books and Records” the complaint alleges, in pertinent part:

“From the start of Triton Indonesia’s role as operator [of the joint venture], some Triton Energy officers and managers had concerns about the relationship with Siouffi, including concerns about the vagueness of his contractual duties, the large amounts of money he was receiving, how he might be using that money, and his honesty. Despite these concerns, Triton Energy’s former management did not establish any policies or procedures concerning the circumstances under which Triton Indonesia could make payments to Siouffi for the purpose of influencing a government decision or what activities Siouffi could engage in on Triton Indonesia’s behalf.  In addition, at the outset of Triton Energy’s involvement in Indonesia, Triton Energy’s former management became aware of additional information that should have led to a heightened degree of vigilance about the possibility of FCPA violations. Instead, Triton Energy management ignored danger signs and took no precautions.”

Among the facts alleged is that a finance manager (who acted as a liaison to Pertamina/BPKP auditors in connection with annual audits) who was terminated was reinstated in response to “pressure from Pertamina.”  In addition, the complaint alleged that “Keever informed certain members of Triton Energy’s former management about certain of the payments being made to Siouffi in order to obtain favorable government decisions” and “although the Triton Energy officers expressed concern, none ordered Triton Indonesia to discontinue these practices.”  The complaint further alleged that Triton’s new Internal Auditor, after visiting Indonesia, wrote a confidential memo to Triton Energy’s former management describing his concerns about, among other things, improper payments by Triton Indonesia to Indonesian government officials.”  According to the complaint, “the former President of Triton Energy, after reading the Internal Auditors Memorandum in the internal auditor’s presence, ordered the internal auditor to collect all copies of the memorandum and destroy them.”

According to the complaint:

“Triton Energy’s former management made no meaningful effort to determine whether the allegations in the Internal Auditor’s Memorandum were supported by facts.  Instead, after learning that the source of the information in the memorandum came from conversations with Triton Indonesia officers and personnel, Triton Energy’s former management dismissed the allegations in the Internal Auditor’s Memorandum.  No investigation was conducted and no policies and procedures were revised as a consequence of the conduct described in the Internal Auditor’s Memorandum.”

According to the complaint, “when Triton Energy’s outside auditors raised concerns about possible unlawful activities by Triton Indonesia,” Triton Energy management made a partial disclosure, omitting most of the improper payments and most of the false books and records.  At the meeting with the auditors, Triton Energy’s then senior management represented that there was no evidence that money was paid to Indonesian auditors.”

According to the complaint, the payments totaled approximately $450,000.

Without admitting or denying the SEC allegations, Triton Energy consented to entry of a final judgment that permanently enjoined the company from violating the FCPA’s books and records and internal controls provisions and ordered the company to pay a $300,000 civil penalty.  The SEC’s release states:

“In accepting the settlement, the Commission has considered the fact that the violations occurred under former management and that certain remedial actions have been implemented by the current board of directors and senior management.”

Without admitting or denying the SEC’s allegations, Keever also consented to entry of a final judgment that permanently enjoined him from violating the FCPA’s books and records and internal control provisions and ordered him to pay a $50,000 penalty.

As noted in this SEC release, approximately four months later , McAdoo also consented to entry of a final judgment that permanently enjoined him from violating the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions as well as the books and records and internal controls provisions.  McAdoo was also ordered to pay a $35,000 civil penalty.  This original source article indicates that McAdoo originally asserted his innocence and planned to contest the charges.

Simultaneous with the filing of the above civil complaint against Triton Energy, Keever and McAdoo, the SEC also instituted this administrative action against David Gore (a Director and President of Triton Energy from 1988 until his resignation in 1992), Robert Puetz (Triton Energy’s Vice President of Finance and Chief Financial Officer / Senior Vice President of Finance until his resignation in 1993), William McClure (a contract auditor with Triton Indonesia and thereafter Commercial Manager of Triton Indonesia in 1990 until he left the country) and Robert Murphy (CPA / Controller of Triton Indonesia until 1990) based on the same core conduct alleged in the SEC civil complaint.

The SEC found:

“As Commercial Manager, McClure assumed direct supervisory authority over the accounting function at Triton Indonesia.  McClure was required to review and initial documents to authorize certain expenditures.  These documents contained the descriptions of expenditures that determined how expenses were recorded in Triton Indonesia’s books and records.  As Controller, Murphy had direct responsibility for preparing entries in Triton Indonesia’s books and records.  McClure supervised Murphy’s preparation of entries for the books and records of Triton Indonesia.  Murphy was responsible for determining that all underlying documentation was present when a bank voucher was issued and initialling the voucher to signify that all required documents were present.”

Consistent with the SEC’s allegations in the civil complaint, the SEC order found that Gore and Puetz “were well aware that Triton Indonesia has entered into contracts with Siouffi entities” and had concerns with various aspects of the relationship.    The order further found that “Keever briefed Gore and Puetz about certain of the payments and false books and records” and then states that the “Triton Energy officers expressed concern about such practices which they had neither director nor authorized, but failed to require Triton Indonesia to discontinue these practices.”

As to the Internal Auditor Memorandum referenced in the civil complaint, the SEC’s order found that it was distributed to “Gore and Puetz, among others.”  The SEC’s order found:

“Gore, after reading the Internal Auditor’s Memorandum in the internal auditor’s presence, ordered the internal auditor to collect all copies of the memorandum and destroy them.  Gore and Puetz made no effort to determine whether the allegations in the Internal Auditor’s Memorandum were supported by facts.  Instead, after learning that the source of the information in the memorandum came from conversations with Triton Indonesia officers and personnel, Triton Energy’s former management dismissed the allegations in the Internal Auditor’s Memorandum.  As a result, they did not conduct an investigation or revise any policies or procedures relating to the various issues raised in the Internal Auditor’s Memorandum.”

The SEC order also found:

“… [S]hortly before Gore received the Internal Auditor’s Memorandum, Keever informed Gore that Triton Indonesia was making payments to Siouffi in connection with decisions by the Indonesian government and told Gore that money may have been paid to Indonesian auditors, including payments in connection with the predecessor’s tax audit, and the corporate tax refund. Keever also told Gore that the payments were recorded inaccurately in Triton Indonesia’s books and records.  Gore responded that he had worked in another foreign country and understood that such things had to be done in certain environments.”

The SEC’s order concluded as follows regarding McClure and Murphy.

“As Triton Indonesia’s Controller, Murphy knowingly participated in creating and recording false entries in Triton Indonesia’s books and records.  As Triton Indonesia’s Commercial Manager, McClure failed to assure that the entries prepared by Murphy accurately reflected the underlying transactions.  Keever informed both McClure and Murphy that the payments were for a purpose other than what was indicated in documents presented for their signatures.  Nevertheless, Murphy signed documents authorizing the expenditures and mischaracterizing them as legitimate business expenses.  In addition, Keever informed Murphy about the false characterization of payments which Murphy did not have any role in authorizing. Thereafter, Murphy participated in making false entries in Triton Indonesia’s books and records characterizing the payments as expenses incurred for the purpose indicated in fabricated documentation. By engaging in this conduct, McClure and Murphy violated [the FCPA's books and records provisions].”

The SEC’s order concluded as follows regarding Gore and Puetz.

“As members of Triton Energy senior management, Gore and Puetz each received information indicating that Triton Indonesia was engaged in conduct that was potentially unlawful.  Gore and Puetz received the Internal Auditor’s Memorandum … but took no action to initiate an investigation of the serious issues raised by the internal auditor.  Indeed, Gore ordered the internal auditor to collect and destroy all copies of the Internal Auditor’s Memorandum.  In addition, as described above, Keever described for Gore and Puetz certain payments made to Siouffi to obtain favorable Indonesian government decisions.  After receiving such information, Gore and Puetz failed to investigate the potentially unlawful conduct.  Instead, as the senior management of Triton Energy, Gore and Puetz simply acknowledged the existence of such practices and treated them as a cost of doing business in a foreign jurisdiction.  The toleration of such practices is inimical to a fair business environment and undermines public confidence in the integrity of public corporations.  Accordingly, Gore and Puetz caused Triton Energy to violate [the FCPA's anti-bribery provisions and books and records provisions].”

In the SEC’s order, McClure, Murphy, Gore and Puetz were ordered to cease and desist from committing or causing any future FCPA violations.


This original source New York Times article noted that the SEC’s complaint was “unusual” and that “it has been more than 10 years since the commission brought this kind of case against a United States company, but William McLucas, director for enforcement of the S.E.C., said the agency has ”a number of investigations under way” relating to improper foreign payments.”

According to media reports, Triton sold its Indonesian operations in 1996.

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

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014

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

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

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

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

The complaint then states:

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

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

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

According to the complaint:

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

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

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

The release notes as follows.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s an interesting question.

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

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

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