Archive for the ‘SEC Enforcement Action’ Category

A Focus On SEC FCPA Individual Actions

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015

SECThis previous post provided various facts and figures from 2014 SEC FCPA enforcement.

This post focuses on SEC FCPA individual actions historically.

Like the DOJ, the SEC frequently speaks in lofty rhetoric concerning its focus on holding individuals accountable under the FCPA. For instance, in connection with the 2012 Garth Peterson enforcement action, the SEC’s Director of Enforcement stated (here) that the case “illustrates the SEC’s commitment to holding individuals accountable for FCPA violations.”

Speaking generally, SEC Chairman Mary Jo White has stated that a “core principle of any strong enforcement program is to pursue responsible individuals wherever possible … [and that] is something our enforcement division has always done and will continue to do.”

Most recently in November 2014, the SEC’s Director of Enforcement stated as follows.

“I always have said that actions against individuals have the largest deterrent impact. Individual accountability is a powerful deterrent because people pay attention and alter their conduct when they personally face potential punishment. And so in the FCPA arena as well as all other areas of our enforcement efforts, we are very focused on attempting to bring cases against individuals.  [...] [I]ndividual accountability is critical to FCPA enforcement — and imposing personal consequences on bad actors, including through bars and monetary sanctions, will continue to be a high priority for us.”

Since 2000, the SEC has charged 61 individuals with FCPA civil offenses.  The breakdown is as follows.

  • 2000 – 0 individuals
  • 2001 – 3 individuals
  • 2002 – 3 individuals
  • 2003 – 4 individuals
  • 2004 - 0 individuals
  • 2005 – 1 individual
  • 2006 – 8 individuals
  • 2007 – 7 individuals
  • 2008 – 5 individuals
  • 2009 – 5 individuals
  • 2010 – 7 individuals
  • 2011 – 12 individuals
  • 2012 – 4 individuals
  • 2013 – 0 individuals
  • 2014 – 2 individuals

As highlighted by the above statistics, most of the individuals charged – 35 (or  57%) were charged since 2008.  Thus, on one level the SEC is correct when it states that individual prosecutions are a focus of its FCPA enforcement program at least as measured against the historical average given that between 1977 and 1999 the SEC charged 22 individuals with FCPA civil offenses.

Yet on another level, a more meaningful level given that there was much less overall enforcement of the FCPA between 1977 and 1999, the SEC’s statements represent hollow rhetoric as demonstrated by the below figures.

Of the 35 individuals charged with civil FCPA offenses by the SEC since 2008:

  • 7 individuals were in the Siemens case;
  • 4 individuals were in the Willbros Group case;
  • 4 individuals were in the Alliance One case;
  • 3 individuals were in the Maygar Telekom case; and
  • 3 individuals were in the Noble Corp. case.

In other words, 60% of the individuals charged by the SEC with FCPA civil offenses since 2008 have been in just five cases.

Considering that there has been 72 corporate SEC FCPA enforcement actions since 2008, this is a rather remarkable statistic.  Of the 72 corporate SEC FCPA enforcement actions, 60 (or 83%) have not (at least yet) resulted in any SEC charges against company employees.  This figure is thus higher than the 75% figure recently highlighted regarding the DOJ.  This is notable given that the SEC, as a civil law enforcement agency, has a lower burden of proof in an enforcement action.

Compare the fact that since 2008 83% of corporate SEC enforcement actions have NOT (at least yet) resulted in any SEC charges against company employees to the following statistic. Between 1977 and 2004, 61% of SEC corporate FCPA enforcement actions RESULTED in related charges against company employees.

Like the prior DOJ post on the same topic, although certain historical comparisons of FCPA enforcement lack meaningful value, other comparisons are noteworthy.

For instance, while one can question how the SEC held individuals accountable (i.e whether the civil penalties were too lenient) for most of the FCPA’s history, the SEC did frequently hold individuals accountable when a company resolved an FCPA enforcement action.

With the exception of last week’s creative SEC enforcement action against PBSJ and Walid Hatoum ,the last SEC FCPA enforcement action against a company employee related to a corporate FCPA enforcement action occurred approximately three years ago in connection with the Noble Corporation matter (see here for the SEC’s enforcement action against Thomas O’Rourke, Mark Jackson and James Ruehlen - current or former employees of Noble Corporation).  Of note from this enforcement action is that when Jackson and Ruehlen put the SEC to its burden of proof, the SEC agreed to settle on the eve of trial in what can only be called a win for the defense.  (See here, here and here for prior posts).  Indeed, as highlighted in this post, the SEC has never prevailed in an FCPA enforcement action when put to its ultimate burden of proof.

Once again, like with the DOJ figures, one can ask the “but nobody was charged” question given the gap between corporate SEC FCPA enforcement and related individual enforcement actions.

Yet, like with the DOJ figures and as highlighted in this recent post, there is an equally plausible reason why so few individuals have been charged in connection with many corporate SEC FCPA enforcement actions.  The reason has to do with the quality and legitimacy of the corporate enforcement action in the first place.

With the SEC, the issue is not so much NPAs or DPAs (although the SEC has used such vehicles three times to resolve an FCPA enforcement action – DPAs with Tenaris in 2011 and PBSJ Corp. in 2015 and a NPA with Ralph Lauren in 2013). Rather, the issue seems to be more the SEC’s neither admit nor deny settlement policy (notwithstanding its minor tweaks in 2013) as well as the SEC’s increased use of administrative actions.

For more on the SEC’s neither admit nor deny settlement policy and its impact of SEC enforcement actions, see pgs. 946-955 of my article “The Facade of FCPA Enforcement.”  In the article, I discuss the affidavit of Professor Joseph Grundfest (Stanford Law School and a former SEC Commissioner) in SEC v. Bank of America and how SEC enforcement actions “typically omit mention of valid defenses and of countervailing facts or mitigating circumstances that, if proven at trial, could cause the Commission to lose it case.”  In the article, I also discuss the SEC’s frank admission in the Bank of America case that a settled SEC enforcement action “does not necessarily reflect the triumph of one party’s position over the other.”

Indeed, a notable development from 2014 (see here) was the Second Circuit concluding that SEC settlements are not about the truth, but pragmatism.

Individuals in an SEC FCPA enforcement, even if only a civil action, and even if frequently allowed to settle on similar neither admit nor deny terms, have their personal reputation at stake and are thus more likely than corporate entities to challenge the SEC and force it satisfy its burden of proof at trial as to all FCPA elements.

More recently, the SEC has been keen on resolving corporate FCPA enforcement actions in the absence of any judicial scrutiny.  As highlighted in this 2013 SEC Year in Review post, a notable statistic from 2013 is that 50% of SEC corporate enforcement actions were not subjected to one ounce of judicial scrutiny either because the action was resolved via a NPA or through an administrative order.  In 2014, as highlighted in this prior year in review post, of the 7 corporate enforcement actions from 2014, 6 enforcement actions (86%) were administrative actions.  In other words, there was no judicial scrutiny of 86% of SEC FCPA enforcement actions from 2014.

It is interesting to note that the SEC has used administrative actions to resolve 9 corporate enforcement actions since 2013 and in none of these actions have there been related SEC enforcement actions against company employees.

In other words, and like in the DOJ context, perhaps the more appropriate question is not “but nobody was charged,” in connection with SEC corporate FCPA enforcement actions, but rather – do SEC corporate FCPA settlements necessarily represent provable FCPA violations?

It is also interesting to analyze the 13 instances since 2008 where an SEC corporate FCPA enforcement action resulted in related charges against company employees.   With the exception of Siemens, KBR/Halliburton and Magyar Telekom, the corporate SEC FCPA enforcement actions resulting in related charges against company employees occurred in what can only be described as relatively minor (at least from a settlement amount perspective) corporate enforcement actions.  These actions are:  Faro Technologies, Willbros Group, Nature’s Sunshine Products, United Industrial Corp., Pride Int’l., Noble Corp., Alliance One, Innospec, Watts Water, and PBSJ.

[Note – the above data was assembled using the “core” approach as well as the definition of an FCPA enforcement action described in this prior post]

The SEC Gets Creative In Bringing Its First FCPA Enforcement Action Of 2015

Monday, January 26th, 2015

CreativityIn its first Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement action of 2015, the SEC got creative by agreeing to a deferred prosecution agreement with a legal entity that has not existed since April 2011 and bringing a related administrative action against an individual who agreed to resolve the action without admitting or denying the SEC’s findings.  Never before has FCPA enforcement seen such a combination.

While the DOJ frequently uses NPA and DPAs to resolve corporate FCPA enforcement actions, last week’s enforcement action is only the third time the SEC has used an NPA or DPA to resolve an FCPA enforcement action.  The other two instances are Tenaris (DPA in 2011) and Ralph Lauren (NPA in 2013).

The enforcement action was against PBSJ Corporation (PBSJ), an entity acquired in October 1, 2010 by WS Atkins plc (“Atkins”) as well as Walid Hatoum, a former executive of PBS&J International, Inc. (“PBS&J Int’l, a wholly-owned subsidiary of PBSJ) concerning a relationship with an alleged Qatari official in connection with projects in Qatar and Morocco.

As highlighted in this prior post, PBSJ voluntarily disclosed its FCPA scrutiny in December 2009.

Post-acquisition, PBSJ became an indirect wholly-owned subsidiary of Atkins and in April 2011, PBSJ changed its name to The Atkins North America Holdings Corporation.

In summary fashion, the two-year DPA “alleges” that:

“The PBSJ Corporation … on or about 2009, violated [the FCPA's anti-bribery provisions, books and records and internal controls provisions] by making offers and promises of payment and other benefits to certain Qatari government officials in order to secure two multi-million dollar development contracts in Qatar and Morocco and by failing to keep accurate books and records relating to those transactions, and by failing to maintain internal accounting controls to ensure the transactions were recorded accurately and that financial statements were prepared in conformity with generally accepted accounting principles.”

According to the DPA:

“PBS&J International, Inc. (“PBS&J Int’l”) was a wholly-owned subsidiary of PBSJ headquartered and incorporated in Florida. PBS&J Int’l was a provider of engineering, architectural and planning services in international markets, including the Middle East. PBS&J Int’l currently is a subsidiary of Atkins.

The former President of PBS&J lnt’l, Walid Hatoum (“Hatoum”), is a United States citizen who initially worked for PBSJ as an engineer from 1986 until 1990. In February 2009, Hatoum was rehired to join PBS&J Int’l as its Director of lnternational Marketing, even though his prior employment file at PBSJ had been marked “Ineligible for Rehire .” Although Hatoum did not formally join PBS&J Int’l until April 2009, he assisted PBS&J lnt’l with identifying projects as early as November 2008. Hatoum was promoted to President ofPBS&J Int’l in mid-June 2009, and became an officer of PBSJ at the same time.

During 2009, PBS&J Int’l won two multi-million dollar development contracts. One contract was for work in Qatar and the other was for work in Morocco. Both were competitively solicited and approved by the Qatari Diar Real Estate Investment Company (“Qatari Diar”). Qatari Diar was established by the Qatari government to coordinate the country’s real estate development.

PBSJ and PBS&J Int’l, through Hatoum, offered bribes to the then-Director of International Projects at Qatari Diar (“Foreign Official”), to secure Qatari government contracts by planning to funnel funds to a local company the Foreign Official owned and, controlled (“Local Partner”). Foreign Official, a former business colleague of Hatoum’s at another U.S. engineering firm, worked for Qatari Diar throughout 2009, until his resignation from Qatari Diar on December 21, 2009. Prior to joining PBSJ, Hatoum and Foreign Official discussed directing business in the Middle East to Local Partner.

In return, Foreign Official provided PBS&J Int’l with access to confidential sealed-bid information and pricing information on the two government contracts that helped PBS&J Int’l tender bids that had a greater likelihood of being awarded, including a government contract for which the Foreign Official was the project manager.”

Under the heading “Offers and Promises Made to Foreign Officials,” the DPA contains two subsections: “LRT Project in Qatar” and “Design Contract in Morocco.”

As to Qatar, the DPA states:

“In November and December 2008, Hatoum began discussing potential employment with PBSJ. Even before he received a formal employment contract, Hatoum met with PBS&J Int’l to discuss opportunities to grow PBS&J Int’l business in the Middle East. Hatoum discussed projects involving Qatari Diar, including a light rail transit project in Qatar (“the LRT Project”).

In January 2009, Hatoum arranged for Foreign Official’s brother, through Local Partner, to introduce PBS&J Int’l to Qatari Diar senior executives involved in the LRT Project. Soon after that meeting, PBS&J Int’l decided to bid on the LRT Project. PBS&J Int’l added Foreign Official’s company, Local Partner, on its proposal team as a subcontractor to handle local operations such as hiring local labor, as well as complying with bonding and insurance requirements. In return, Hatoum and PBS&J Int’l agreed to pay the Foreign Official, through Local Partner, 40% of the profits realized from any LRT Project contract as well as reimburse its direct costs. The remaining profits were to be split between PBS&J Int’l (40%) and another U.S.-based subcontractor (20%), which
would perform all of the planning and engineering services for the LRT project.

At that time, Hatoum was the only person at PBS&J Int’l who had any knowledge about Foreign Official’s ownership interest in Local Partner. Had PBSJ conducted meaningful due diligence at that time, it would have discovered Foreign Official’s dual role as both government official and third-party owner/operator of Local Partner.

During the bidding process, Foreign Official gave confidential sealed bid information to PBS&J Int’l to assist it in winning the LRT Project in return for promised payments. Foreign Official also made strategic and technical decisions on many aspects of the LRT Project that favored PBS&J Int’l with Hatoum’s knowledge.

Foreign Official used a Local Partner alias to communicate that information to Hatoum and other PBSJ and PBS&J Int’l employees while disguising his involvement on multiple conference calls and in dozens of emails to the United States. Hatoum was aware that Foreign Official was using the alias in communications with PBSJ employees, officers, and directors and with Qatari Diar. Hatoum flew to the Middle East to meet with Qatari Diar officials, including Foreign Official, to discuss PBS&J Int’l’ s qualifications for the LRT Project. At the meeting, neither Foreign Official nor Hatoum informed Qatari Diar that Foreign Official was working for Local Partner and providing confidential information and other assistance to help PBS&J Int’l win the contracts.

Following its initial submission, PBS&J Int’l revised its bid, based on information and guidance provided by the Foreign Official, to best position itself to win the LRT Project and to withstand possible challenges from competitors. On or about August 3, 2009, Qatari Diar awarded the LRT Project contract worth approximately $35.6 million to PBS&J Int’l.

After the award, PBS&J Int’l opened a joint account with Local Partner that was accessible to Foreign Official’s wife. PBS&J Int’l also authorized a four-year letter of credit relating to a bank guarantee in Qatar. The letter of credit was a precondition for receipt of the first contract payment by Qatari Diar to PBS&J Int’l, an up front, 10% (approximately $3.6 million) payment, which was deposited into the joint account.

Once the award was received, Hatoum offered Foreign Official an “agency fee” to Local Partner for 1.8% of the LRT Project contract amount (equivalent to approximately $640,000). Additionally, PBS&J Int’l agreed to pay half of the salary of Foreign Official’s wife, who worked for Local Partner.”

Under the sub-heading “Design Contract in Morocco” the DPA states:

“In addition to the LRT Project, Qatari Diar opened a Morocco hotel resort development (“Morocco Project”) for competitive bid. On August 7, 2009, PBS&J Int’l emailed its Statement of Qualifications for the design contract to Foreign Official, the Qatari Diar project manager for the Morocco Project.

In October 2009, Hatoum offered payment to Foreign Official in the form of an agency fee to Local Partner to secure the Morocco Project. The Morocco Project was worth approximately $25 million to PBS&J Int’l, of which the Foreign Official was offered an agency fee of 3% of the contract amount, which equates to approximately $750,000. Hatoum instructed a PBS&J Int’l employee to hide the agency fee within the company’s bid proposal by inflating other components of the offer for the Morocco Project.

Foreign Official attended meetings with PBS&J Int’l employees to discuss the project but neither Foreign Official nor Hatoum told the employees that he was working for Local Partner. At the same time, Foreign Official, using his Local Partner alias, reviewed and made changes to PBS&J Int’l’ s original bid offer via email and phone. He also made key technical and strategic proposal decisions throughout the bidding process and instructed PBS&J Int’ l to lower its offer to a specific dollar amount. By doing so, he ensured PBS&J Int’l's final bid had a greater likelihood of being approved by Qatari Diar. On or around October 19, 2009, Qatari Diar informed PBS&J Int’l that it was awarded the Morocco Project.”

Under the heading “Red Flags,” the DPA states:

“PBSJ and PBS&J Int’l officers and employees ignored multiple red flags that should have led them to uncover the payment scheme. For example, PBS&J Int’l and PBSJ employees knew that Local Partner was providing them with confidential sealed bid information. Hatoum also informed the employees that he was obtaining information from someone that Hatoum described as a “good friend” and “top executive” at Qatari Diar. Before PBS&J Int’l submitted its bid for the Morocco Project, a PBS&J Int’l officer learned that the husband of one of the Local Partner employees was a government official working on the Morocco Project. The PBSJ Int’l officer learned of Foreign Official’s role while attending dinner with Hatoum, Foreign Official and the Foreign Official’s wife. In addition, a PBSJ employee knew that “agency fees” to Local Partner were disguised as legitimate costs within the Morocco Project bid.”

Under the heading “Discovery of the Payment Scheme,” the DPA states:

“Shortly after PBSJ Int’l was awarded the Morocco Project contract, PBSJ’ s former Chief Operating Officer commented to PBSJ’s then-general counsel that PBS&J Int’l was successful in winning two contracts in the Middle East within a fairly short period of time. PBSJ’s then-general counsel asked Hatoum how he was able to win the LRT and Morocco Project contracts over companies with far more international experience. Hatoum told PBSJ’s then-general counsel PBSJ offered “agency fees” in order to win the projects and, when asked, admitted there “would be a problem” if the agency fees were not paid. PBSJ’ s then-general counsel immediately launched an investigation of this issue.

Three weeks later, in November 2009, a Qatari government official informed Hatoum and the then-President of PBSJ that Qatari Diar had discovered Foreign Official’s involvement in Local Partner and was rescinding PBS&J Int’l's contract for the Morocco Project. Hatoum then secretly made an offer of employment to a second Qatari foreign official in return for influencing Qatari Diar to reinstate the contract. However, Qatari Diar refused to reinstate the contract and did not provide PBS&J Int’l any proceeds for the project. PBSJ suspended Hatoum in December 2009. Hatoum also began deleting emails and other records.

PBS&J Int’l and Qatari Diar negotiated a termination of the LRT Project contract effective December 31,2009. In January 2010, Qatari Diar entered into a bridge contract with PBS&J Int’l to continue work on the LRT Project (the “Bridge Contract”) until a replacement company could be found. Ultimately, the period of performance on the Bridge Contract was 16  months . PBS&J Int’l earned $2,892,504 in profits on the Bridge Contract.

PBSJ and Qatari Diar caught Hatoum’s scheme before any of the offered and authorized amounts were paid.”

Under the heading “Failure to Maintain Adequate Internal Controls,” the DPA states:

“PBSJ failed to devise and maintain an adequate system of internal accounting controls. The violations involved conduct orchestrated by a high level manager at PBS&J Int’l and numerous red flags were overlooked by PBSJ and PBS&J Int’l managers and employees. Employees were aware that they were receiving confidential information in a sealed-bid process from a foreign official and that their bids were inflated to conceal payments to Local Partner. Over a million dollars in payments were offered and authorized to Foreign Official through Local Partner without a system of internal accounting controls to identify and detect the improper transactions. PBS&J Int’l agreed to pay Local Partner 40% of the LRT Project profits without subjecting Local Partner or its employees to any meaningful due diligence. PBS&J Int’l did not request a due diligence questionnaire from Local Partner before it initiated its investigation into the matter, and asked no questions about Local Partner’s purported financial statements, work experience, ability to perform the work it was supposed to do under the contract, external auditors, or owners, despite knowing that a Local Partner employee was married to a government official at Qatari Diar. In fact, during the period, PBSJ considered but declined adopting due diligence controls over its contractors and joint venture partners.

As a result, PBS&J Int’l, through Hatoum, offered and authorized bribes to Foreign Official through Local Partner totaling approximately $1,390,000 to secure the LRT and Morocco Projects, plus a portion of any profits Local Partner realized from the LRT Project and partial salary to Foreign Official ‘s wife.

Although PBSJ offered FCPA training at PBSJ and PBS&J Int’l, the company did not ensure that its employees take the training prior to working on international matters. As a result, key PBS&J Int’l personnel on the LRT and Morocco Projects received little, if any, FCPA training during the relevant period. Hatoum received annual FCPA training from his previous employer. Hatoum was offered FCPA training by PBSJ on his first day of official employment in April 2009, but did not take it. Hatoum did not receive training from PBSJ until after Qatari Diar cancelled the Morocco Project in November 2009.”

Under the heading “Failure to Maintain Books and Records,” the DPA states:

“PBSJ, directly and through PBS&J Int’l, failed to make and keep books, records, and accounts which accurately and fairly reflected PBS&J Int’l's transactions with Local Partner intended for Foreign Official. Some of the payments offered and authorized to Foreign Official were concealed within other, legitimate categories of costs within bids, while others were improperly described in the books and records as legitimate transaction costs. PBSJ failed to accurately disclose in its books and records that the joint account entered into with Local Partner would benefit Foreign Official.”

Under the heading “Self-Report, Remediation, and Cooperation,” the DPA states:

“PBSJ conducted an internal investigation. PBSJ self-reported its preliminary findings of the conduct to staff of the Division of Enforcement (“Division”) and the Department of Justice (“DOJ”).

PBSJ also took immediate steps to end the misconduct. PBSJ suspended Hatoum in December 2009 and later reprimanded four other employees that missed red flags that should have alerted them to the illegal activity. PBSJ also withdrew all proposals in the Middle East initiated during Hatoum’s tenure with PBS&J Int’l. PBSJ reviewed its preexisting compliance program and revised and enhanced its compliance program, including, in part, adoption of: (1) a detailed due diligence questionnaire for contractors, sponsors, and agents; (2) an enhanced FCP A compliance program with mandatory annual training for employees and third-party agents; (3) an international compliance oversight committee at the corporate level; and (4) an annual FCPA compliance audit.

PBSJ ultimately provided substantial cooperation to the staff of the Division, including: voluntarily producing documents and disclosing information to the staff; voluntarily making witnesses available for interviews; and allowing its then-general counsel to interview with staff; and providing factual chronologies, timelines, internal interview summaries, and full forensic images of data.”

The DPA contains a so-called muzzle clause in which PBSJ and Atkins is prohibited from “denying, directly or indirectly, any aspect of [DPA] or creating the impression that the statements [in the DPA] are without factual basis.

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

“Hatoum offered and authorized nearly $1.4 million in bribes disguised as ‘agency fees’ intended for a foreign official who used an alias to communicate confidential information that assisted PBSJ. PBSJ ignored multiple red flags that should have enabled other officers and employees to uncover the bribery scheme at an earlier stage.  But once discovered, the company self-reported the potential FCPA violations and cooperated substantially.”

As noted in the release:

“Under the DPA, PBSJ agreed to pay disgorgement and interest of $3,032,875 and a penalty of $375,000.  PBSJ took quick steps to end the misconduct after self-reporting to the SEC, and the company voluntarily made witnesses available for interviews and provided factual chronologies, timelines, internal summaries, and full forensic images to cooperate with the SEC’s investigation.”

Based on the same core conduct “alleged” in the DPA, the SEC also brought an administrative action against Hatoum.

In summary, the Administrative Order states under the heading “Hatoum Caused PBSJ’s Inaccurate Books and Records” as follows.

“Hatoum authorized illicit payments to Foreign Official that were not accurately and fairly reflected on PBSJ’s books and records. Hatoum directed subordinates to conceal some of the payments he offered and authorized to Foreign Official within bids. Other offers and promises to pay authorized by Hatoum to Foreign Official were improperly described in the books and records as legitimate transaction costs with his knowledge.”

Under the heading “Hatoum Caused PBSJ’s Internal Accounting Control Failure,” the order states:

“On April 22, 2009, Hatoum signed a “Business Conduct Standards” agreement for PBSJ employees in which he agreed that “I will neither accept nor give bribes or kickbacks of any value for services or favorable treatment for contracts.” As a high level manager at PBS&J Int’l and later as an officer of PBSJ, Hatoum was responsible for maintaining and ensuring compliance with PBSJ’s internal accounting controls at PBS&J Int’l. Hatoum, however, repeatedly exploited the company’s internal accounting control deficiencies to offer and authorize payments to Foreign Official through Local Partner totaling approximately $1,390,000 to secure the LRT and Morocco Projects, plus 40% of any profits realized from the LRT Project and partial salary to Foreign Official’s wife. Hatoum instructed subordinates to inflate PBS&J Int’l bids by concealing payments to Local Partner intended for Foreign Official. Hatoum took advantage of PBSJ’s accounting controls system by introducing Local Partner as a “legitimate” potential partner for the LRT Project and authorized a subordinate to execute an agreement to pay Local Partner 40% of the LRT Project profits without subjecting Local Partner or its employees to any meaningful due diligence. Hatoum also knowingly executed – and caused a PBS&J Int’l employee to send a questionnaire requesting advocacy assistance from the United States Department of Commerce that included false representations about Local Partner and PBS&J Int’l. Although Hatoum did not participate in PBSJ’s FCPA training until after the scheme was uncovered, Hatoum was aware of the prohibitions of the FCPA from annual FCPA training that he received from his former employer.”

As noted in the SEC’s release:

“The SEC’s order against Hatoum finds that he violated the anti-bribery, internal accounting controls, books and records, and false records provisions of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934.  Without admitting or denying the findings, Hatoum agreed to pay a penalty of $50,000.”

PBSJ and Atkins were represented by Mark Schnapp (Greenberg Traurig).  Hatoum was represented by Michael Lamont of Wiand Guerra King.

SEC Enforcement Of The FCPA – Year In Review

Tuesday, January 6th, 2015

SECForeign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement, it is not just about the DOJ.  Granted, as a civil enforcement agency its sticks are less sharp than the DOJ’s, but the SEC also claims a significant piece of the FCPA enforcement pie (query whether it should – but that is a subject for another day – for instance as discussed in “The Story of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act” the SEC wanted no part in enforcing the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions).

Today’s post is a year in review of SEC FCPA Enforcement.  (See here for a similar post for 2013; here for a similar post for 2012; here for a similar post for 2011; and here for a similar post for 2010).

Stay tuned for a similar post on DOJ FCPA enforcement in 2014.

Settlement Amounts and Specifics

In 2014, the SEC collected approximately $327 million in 7 corporate FCPA enforcement actions.

By comparison, in 2013 the SEC collected approximately $300 million in 8 corporate enforcement actions; in 2012 the SEC collected approximately $118 million in 8 corporate FCPA enforcement actions; in 2011 the SEC collected approximately $148 million in 13 corporate FCPA enforcement actions; and in 2010, the SEC collected approximately $530 million in 19 corporate FCPA enforcement actions.

The range of SEC FCPA enforcement actions in 2014 was, on the high end, $175 million (Alcoa), and on the low end, $2 million (Smith & Wesson). Of the $327 million the SEC collected in 2014 corporate FCPA enforcement actions, approximately 54% was in just one enforcement action (Alcoa) and two enforcement actions (Alcoa and Avon) comprised approximately 75% of the amount.

Three corporate FCPA enforcement actions from 2014 were SEC only (Bruker, Layne Christensen and Smith & Wesson).

Of the 7 corporate enforcement actions from 2014, 6 enforcement actions (all but the Avon action) were administrative actions.  In other words, there was no judicial scrutiny of 86% of SEC FCPA enforcement actions from 2014.  The settlement amounts in these actions comprised approximately 80% of the SEC’s $326 million collected in 2014 corporate FCPA enforcement actions.  By comparison, in 2013 there was no judicial scrutiny of 50% of SEC FCPA enforcement actions and settlement amounts in these actions comprised approximately 57% of the SEC’s $300 million collected.

In 2014, the SEC collected approximately $104 million in disgorgement and prejudgment interest in enforcement actions that did not charge anti-bribery violations. This is noteworthy because many question, and rightfully so, whether disgorgement is an appropriate remedy in cases that do not charge FCPA anti-bribery violations.  See here for a prior post on so-called “no-charged bribery disgorgement” cases. In 2013, the SEC collected approximately $208 million in disgorgement and prejudgment interest in no-charged bribery disgorgement cases; in 2012, the SEC collected approximately $57.4 million in disgorgement and prejudgment interest in no-charged bribery disgorgement cases; and in 2011 the SEC collected approximately $51 million in disgorgement and prejudgment interest in n0-charged bribery disgorgement cases.

The $327 million the SEC collected in 2014 FCPA enforcement actions breaks down as follows:

$2.7 million in a civil penalties (Bruker, Layne Christensen and Smith & Wesson); and

$324.3 million in disgorgement and prejudgment interest.

Thus, 99% of SEC FCPA settlement amounts in 2014 consisted of disgorgement and prejudgment interest.  By way of comparison, in 2013 98% of SEC FCPA settlement amounts consisted of disgorgement and prejudgment interest; in 2012 86% of SEC FCPA settlement amounts consisted of disgorgement and prejudgment interest; in 2011, disgorgement and prejudgment interest comprised 94% of SEC FCPA enforcement settlement amounts; and in 2010, disgorgement and prejudgment interest comprised 96% of SEC FCPA enforcement settlement amounts.

If one tries to analyze why some SEC FCPA enforcement actions in 2014 included a civil penalty, disgorgement and prejudgment interest (Bruker, Layne Christensen, and Smith & Wesson), whereas other enforcement actions included only disgorgement and prejudgment interest (Avon, Bio-Rad and HP), whereas other enforcement actions included only disgorgement (Alcoa), good luck and please enlighten us all with your insight.

Corporate vs. Individual Actions

Of the 7 corporate SEC FCPA enforcement actions from 2014, 0 (0%) have involved, at present, related SEC charges against company employees.  By way of comparison, of the 8 SEC corporate FCPA enforcement actions from 2013, 0 (0%) have involved, at present, related SEC charges against company employees; in 2012, 0 of the 8 corporate (0%) FCPA actions involved related SEC charges against company employees; in 2011, 2 of the 13 (15%) corporate SEC FCPA enforcement actions involved related SEC charges against company employees; in 2010, 3 of the 19 (15%) corporate SEC FCPA enforcement actions involved related SEC charges against company employees.

Voluntary Disclosures

Of the 7 corporate SEC FCPA enforcement actions from 2014, 4 enforcement actions (57%) (Avon, Bruker, Bio-Rad and Layne Christensen) were the result of corporate voluntary disclosures. 1 enforcement action (Smith & Wesson) originated from the manufactured Africa Sting enforcement action, 1 enforcement action (HP) was the result of a previous foreign law enforcement action and 1 enforcement action (Alcoa) was the result of a previous civil lawsuit. By way of comparison, of the 8 corporate SEC FCPA enforcement actions in 2013, 3 enforcement actions (38%) were the result of corporate voluntary disclosures; in 2012 of the 8 corporate SEC FCPA enforcement actions 4 (50%) were the result of corporate voluntary disclosures; and in 2011 of the 13 corporate SEC FCPA enforcement actions 11 (85%) were the result of corporate voluntary disclosures.

This remainder of this post provides an overview of SEC FCPA enforcement in 2014.

Avon (December 17th)

See here and here for prior posts

Charges:   Violation of the FCPA’s books and records and internal controls provisions

Settlement:  Approximately $67.4 million ($52,850,000 in disgorgement plus prejudgment interest of $14,515,013.13)

Disclosure:   Voluntary Disclosure

Individuals Charged:  No

Related DOJ Enforcement Action:  Yes

Bruker Corp. (December 15th)

See here for the prior post.

Charges: None.  Administrative cease and desist order finding violations of the FCPA’s books and records and internal control provisions.

Settlement:  Approximately $2.4 million ($1,714,852 in disgorgement, $310,117 in prejudgment interest, and a $375,000 penalty)

Disclosure:   Voluntary Disclosure

Individuals Charged:  No

Related DOJ Enforcement Action:  No

Bio-Rad (November 3rd)

See here and here for prior posts

Charges: None.  Administrative cease and desist order finding violations of the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions and books and records and internal control provisions.

Settlement:  Approximately $40.7 million in disgorgement

Disclosure:   Voluntary Disclosure

Individuals Charged:  No

Related DOJ Enforcement Action:  Yes

Layne Christensen (November 3rd)

See here and here for prior posts

Charges: None.  Administrative cease and desist order finding violations of the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions and books and records and internal control provisions.

Settlement:  Approximately $5.1 million ($3,893,472.42 in disgorgement plus $858,720 in prejudgment interest as well as a $375,000 penalty amount)

Disclosure:   Voluntary Disclosure

Individuals Charged:  No

Related DOJ Enforcement Action:  No

Smith & Wesson (July 28th)

See here and here for prior posts.

Charges:   None.  Administrative cease and desist order finding violations of the FCPA’s anti-bribery, books and records and internal control provisions.

Settlement:  Approximately $2 million ($107,852 in disgorgement, $21,040 in prejudgment interest, and a civil monetary penalty of $1,906,000

Disclosure:   The enforcement action originated after a Smith & Wesson employee was criminally charged in the DOJ’s manufactured Africa Sting enforcement action.

Individuals Charged:  No (as to the conduct alleged in the corporate enforcement action).

Related DOJ Enforcement Action:  No.

HP (April 9th)

See here for the prior post.

Charges:   None.  Administrative cease and desist order finding violations of the FCPA’s books and records and internal control provisions.

Settlement:  $34 million in disgorgement and prejudgment interest (approximately $2.5 million of the disgorgement amount was satisfied by payment of $2.5 million in connection with the HP Mexico DOJ action).

Disclosure:   The enforcement action appears to have been the result of a previous German and Russian law enforcement investigation (see here for the prior post).

Individuals Charged:  No

Related DOJ Enforcement Action:  Yes

Alcoa (January 9th)

See here for the prior post.

Charges:   None.  Administrative cease and desist order finding violations of the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions and books and records and internal control provisions.

Settlement:  $175 million in disgorgement (of which $14 million will be satisfied by the payment of the forfeiture in the criminal action).

Disclosure:   A 2008 civil lawsuit between Alba and Alcoa.

Individuals Charged:  No

Related DOJ Enforcement Action:  Yes

SEC Enforcement (Individual)

For the first time since April 2012, the SEC brought an FCPA enforcement action against an individual.  This enforcement action is summarized below.

Stephen Timms and Yasser Ramahi (November 17th)

See here for the prior post

Charges: None.  Administrative cease and desist order finding violations of the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions, causing violations of the FCPA’s books and records provisions

Settlement:  Timms and Ramahi consented to the entry of the order and agreed to pay financial penalties of $50,000 and $20,000 respectively.

Employer Charged:  The individuals were associated with FLIR System, Inc. but at present the company has not been charged

Related DOJ Enforcement Action:  No

Avon Resolves Long-Standing FCPA Scrutiny By Agreeing To $135 Million Settlement

Friday, December 19th, 2014

AvonEarlier this week, the DOJ and SEC announced resolution of Avon’s long-standing FCPA scrutiny in China.  The conduct at issue took place between 2004 and 2008 and Avon disclosed the conduct to the enforcement agencies in 2008.

In short, the DOJ and SEC alleged that Avon’s indirect subsidiary (Avon China) provided approximately $8 million in things of value, including gifts, cash, and non-business travel, meals and entertainment, which it gave to Chinese officials in order to obtain and retain business benefits for Avon China.  Avon resolved FCPA books and records and internal controls charges related to this conduct.

Consistent with Avon’s prior disclosure, the aggregate settlement amount was $135 million.  While not a top-ten Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement action, the settlement is the third-largest ever against a U.S. company.

The enforcement action included:

  • a DOJ component (a criminal information against Avon China resolved via a plea agreement and a criminal information against Avon Products resolved via a deferred prosecution agreement with an aggregate fine amount of $67.6 million); and
  • an SEC component (a civil complaint against Avon Products which it agreed to resolve without admitting or denying the allegations through payment of $67.4 million).

This post summarizes the approximately 175 pages of resolution documents.  Because all of the resolution documents have substantial overlap, the core allegations are highlighted in connection with the Avon China criminal information, yet repeated in the other resolution documents as well.

DOJ

Avon China Information

Avon Products (China) Co. Ltd. (“Avon China”) is described as an indirect subsidiary of Avon incorporated in China.  According to the information, Avon China and its affiliates manufactured and sold beauty and healthcare products through direct sales, as well as through “beauty boutiques” that were independently owned and operated.  The information states that in addition to independent sales representatives, Avon China had between 1,000 and 2,000 employees.  According to the information, Avon China’s books, records and accounts were consolidated into Avon’s books and records and reported by Avon in its financial statements.

Under the heading “The Chinese Regulatory Regime for Direct Selling” the information states:

“In or around 1998, the Chinese government outlawed direct selling in China for all companies.  In or around 2001, as a condition of its entry into the World Trade Organization, China agreed to lift its ban on direct selling.  In or around 2005, in order to test its planned regulations for direct selling, the Chinese government decided to issue one company a temporary license to conduct direct sales (the ‘test license.’). In or around March 2005, the Chinese government awarded the test license to Avon China, the defendant.  In or around late 2005, China lifted its ban on direct selling and allowed companies to apply for licenses to conduct direct sales.  Under China’s newly promulgated direct selling regulations, to conduct direct sales, a company was required to obtain a national direct selling license and approvals from each province and municipality in which it sought to conduct direct sales.  In order to obtain a license, a company was required to satisfy a number of conditions, including, in pertinent part, having a ‘good business reputation’ and a record that demonstrated no material violations of Chinese law for the preceding five years.  In or around February 2006, Avon China, the defendant, obtained its national direct selling license.  Between in or around February 2006 and in or around July 2006, Avon China, the defendant, obtained all of its provincial and municipal approvals to conduct direct selling.”

According to the information, Avon China created and maintained a Corporate Affairs Group whose duties included maintaining “guanxi (good relationships) with government officials and lobbying those officials on behalf of Avon China.”

Under the heading, “Overview of the Scheme to Falsify Books and Records,” the information states that from 2004 to 2008, Avon China, and Avon, acting through certain executives and employees, together with others, conspired to falsify Avon China’s and, thereby ultimately, Avon’s books and records in order to disguise the things of value Avon China executives and employees provided to government officials in China.

Specifically, the information alleges that from 2004 to 2008 Avon China “acting through certain executives and employees, disguised on its books and records over $8 million in things of value, including gifts, cash, and non-business travel, meals and entertainment, which it gave to Chinese officials in order to obtain and retain business benefits for Avon China.

The information alleges that:

Avon China “falsely and misleadingly described the nature and purpose of certain transactions on Avon China’s books and records, in part, because they believed that Chinese government officials did not want a paper trail reflecting their acceptance of money, gifts, travel, entertainment and other things of value from Avon China executives and employees.  The executives and employees also knew that, contrary to how the expenses were being described in Avon China’s books and records, the expenses were not incurred for legitimate business purposes.”

According to the information:

“Avon executives and employees, including high-level executives, attorneys, and internal auditors, learned that executives and employees of Avon China, the defendant, had in the past routinely provided things of value to Chinese government officials and failed to properly document it.  Instead of ensuring the practice was halted, disciplining the culpable individuals, and implementing appropriate controls at Avon and Avon China to address the problem, the Avon executives and employees, in conjunction with Avon China executives and employees, took steps to conceal the significant concerns raised about the accuracy of Avon China’s books and records and its practice of giving things of value to government officials.  These Avon and Avon China executives and employees, knowing that Avon China’s books and records would continue to be inaccurate if steps were not taken to correct Avon China’s executives and employees’ conduct, failed to take steps to correct such actions, despite knowing that Avon China’s books and records were consolidated into Avon’s books and records.”

The information then alleges various categories of payments.

Under the heading “gifts for government officials,” the information details designer wallets, bags, or watches “to obtain benefits from government officials, such as obtaining and retaining the direct selling license and requisite provincial and local approvals, avoiding fines, avoiding negative media reports, obtaining favorable judicial treatment, and obtaining government approval to sell nutritional supplements and healthcare apparel products, via direct selling, that did not meet or had yet to meet government standards.  According to the information, Avon China executives and employees, at various times, falsely or misleadingly described the gifts, including describing them as employee travel and entertainment, samples or public relations business entertainment.” Specific gifts mentioned include a $890 gift or entertainment expense, a $960 gift purchased from Louis Vuitton, a $800 Gucci Bag, and a $460 gift from Louis Vuitton.

Regarding avoiding negative media reports, the information alleges that a leading government-owned newspaper intended to run a story about Avon China improperly recruiting sales associates and that this article could cause Avon China to lose its direct selling license.  According to the information, “in order to convince the newspaper not to run the article … an Avon China employee caused Avon China to pay approximately $77,500 to become a “sponsor” of the paper at the request of a government official at the paper who was in charge of determining whether the potential article would run and who may have received a commission on monies received from sponsors.”

Under the heading “meals and entertainment,” the information alleges that Avon China “routinely entertained government officials in order to obtain the same business benefits highlighted above.  According to the information, executives and employees of Avon China, “intentionally concealed these improper meal and entertainment expenses in Avon China’s books and records by (1) intentionally omitting reference to the participation of government officials in order to conceal their participation, using descriptions like business entertainment, public relation entertainment, or no description at all; or (2) revealing the participation of government officials but intentionally describing the event inaccurately by omitting the identity or number of officials, the cost of the event, or the true purpose of the event.”

Under the heading “travel for government officials,” the information alleges that executives and employees of Avon China caused Avon China to “pay for travel expenses for government officials, and sometimes their families” in order to obtain the same improper business benefits highlighted above.  According to the information, “to conceal the true nature of these expenses, these executives and employees intentionally omitted from or concealed in Avon China’s records the name of the government officials, the fact that the travelers were government officials or relatives of government officials, and, at times, the number of travelers.”  The information also alleges that executives and employees of Avon China “intentionally falsified in Avon China’s books and records the purpose of the travel, which often was for personal, not legitimate business, purposes.  For example, the information alleges that certain personal trips for government officials (and occasionally their spouses and children) were described as “study trips” or “site visits” when the officials were instead sightseeing or taking a beach vacation.”  Specifically, the information alleges, among other trips, that Avon China paid for six officials from the Guandong Food and Drug Administration to travel to Avon’s headquarters in New York City and its research and development facility in upstate New York for a “site visit/study visit.” According to the information, the “officials never visited Avon’s headquarters, only spent one morning at Avon’s research and development facility, and spent the rest of the 18-day trip sightseeing and being entertained by an Avon China employee in New York, Vancouver, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Philadelphia, Seattle, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Hawaii, and Washington D.C.

Under the heading “cash for government officials,” the information alleges that “executives and employees of Avon China, gave cash to government officials in order to obtain benefits for Avon China and falsified Avon China’s records to conceal the true recipient of and purpose for the money.”  According to the information, “these employees accomplished this by submitting for reimbursement meal or entertainment receipts given to them by government officials and falsely claiming that the receipts reflected employee business expenses.  In truth, the employees had no such expenses, and the receipts were used to obtain cash to make payments to government officials.  The information also alleges other instances in which executives and employees of Avon China “gave cash to government officials in order to obtain business benefits for Avon China and falsely reported the payments as fine payments.”  In other instances, the information alleges that Avon China executives and employees “made payments to organizations designated by government officials.”

The information also contains a separate section regarding payments to Consulting Company A that was retained by Avon China “purportedly” to provide various services to Avon China.  The information alleges that these services “were memorialized in a scant two-page contract” and that Avon China “did not conduct any due diligence of Consulting Company A, nor did they require Consulting Company A to comply with Avon’s Code of Conduct (in particular, the provisions related to payments to government officials), even though Consulting Company A was retained specifically to interact with government officials on behalf of Avon China.”  The information alleges that executives and employees of Avon China caused Avon China to pay Consulting Company A additional monies for purportedly legitimate, though ambiguously described, services even though an Avon China executive knew Consulting Company A’s invoices were often false, and no Avon China executives or employees knew of any legitimate services being provided by Consulting Company A.

Based on the above conduct, Avon China was charged with one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA’s books and records provisions.

The information also contains a separate section titled “Discovery of the Falsification and Cover-Up.”  In pertinent part, the information alleges:

  • In 2005, a senior audit manager in Avon’s internal audit group reported to Avon’s Compliance Committee, that executives and employees of Avon China were not maintaining proper records of entertainment for government officials and that an Avon China executive had explained that the practice was intentional because information regarding that entertainment was “quite sensitive.”
  • In 2005, Avon’s internal auditors audited the Corporate Affairs Group’s travel and entertainment and discretionary expenses and issued a draft report.
  • The Draft Audit Report, which was reviewed by various Avon executives and Avon attorneys, contained conclusions regarding the Corporate Affairs Group’s expenses including: (1) high value gifts and meals were offered to government officials on an ongoing basis; (2) the majority of the expenses related to gifts, meals, sponsorships, and travel of substantial monetary value for Chinese government officials to maintain relationships with the officials; (3) a third party consultant was paid a substantial sum of money to interact with the government but was not contractually required to follow the FCPA, was not actively monitored by Avon China, and was paid for vague and unknown services; and (4) the payments, and the lack of accurate, detailed records, may violate the FCPA and other anti-corruption laws.
  • The management team of Avon China “insisted that the internal audit team remove the discussion of providing things of value to government officials and potential FCPA violations from the Draft Audit Report.
  • Certain Avon executives agreed with executives of Avon China to delete the discussion of the Corporate Affairs Group’s conduct from the Draft Audit Report.  An Avon Executive then directed the internal audit team to either (1) retrieve every copy of the Draft Audit Report and destroy them or (2) instruct the individuals who possessed copies of the Draft Audit Report to destroy them.
  • Avon executives did not instruct any executives or employees of Avon China to stop the conduct identified in the Draft Audit Report, put in place controls to prevent the conduct or ensure the accuracy of Avon China’s books and records.
  • In 2006, Avon’s internal auditors again reviewed the Corporate Affairs Group’s travel and entertainment and discretionary expenses and found that Corporate Affairs Group executive and employees were continuing their practice of giving things of value to government officials.  Notwithstanding learning that the conduct was continuing and that the books and records of Avon China were still being falsified, no Avon or Avon China executives or employees took steps to stop or prevent the conduct from recurring, and Avon China executives and employees continued operating in the same improper manner.
  • In 2007, an Avon executive reported to the Avon Compliance Committee that the matter reported in 2005 regarding potential FCPA violations by executives and employees of Avon China had been closed as “unsubstantiated” even though the executive and others knew of Avon China’s previous – and continuing – practice of giving things of value to government officials and the ongoing failure of Avon China’s books and records to reflect accurately and fairly the nature and purpose of the transactions.
  • From 2004 to 2008, Avon China executives signed false management representation letters to Avon China’s external auditor stating that Avon China’s books and records were fair and accurate.

Avon China Plea Agreement

According to the plea agreement, the advisory Sentencing Guidelines fine range was $73.9 million to $147.9 million.  Pursuant to the plea agreement, Avon China agreed to pay a criminal fine in the amount of $67.6 million.

In the plea agreement, Avon China waived all defenses based on the statute of limitations.

Avon Products Information

The information is based on the same core conduct alleged in the Avon China information.

Under the heading “Avon’s Internal Controls,” the information alleges, in pertinent part, as follows.

“Although Avon … and certain of its subsidiaries had policies in place relating to the review and approval of employee expenses, it lacked adequate controls to ensure compliance with those policies and thus, in practice, employee expenses were not adequately vetted to ensure that they were reasonable, bona fide, or properly documented.

Avon … lacked sufficient controls to ensure the integrity of its internal audit process, particularly with regard to its review of allegations of and testing for improper payments made to foreign government officials.  Avon’s internal audit group also failed to devote adequate funding, staffing, and resources to Avon China.

Avon … did not have adequate internal accounting and financial controls designed to detect and prevent, among other things, corruption-related violations, including FCPA violations.  In particular, after senior Avon executives … learned of specific corruption issues in China related to the provision of cash, meals, gifts, travel, and entertainment to government officials, Avon failed to take the necessary steps to implement appropriate controls to address such issues and prevent such risks in the future.

Avon … had an inadequate compliance program.  In fact, Avon did not have a dedicated compliance officer or compliance personnel.  Avon’s compliance program was particularly weak with regard to risks associated with foreign bribery.  For example, even though Avon operated in over 100 countries, including many countries with high corruption risks, Avon did not have a specific anti-corruption policy, nor did it provide any stand alone FCPA-related training.  Moreover, although Avon had a code of conduct that covered all of its employees and its subsidiaries’ employees, which, among other things, prohibited paying bribes, many employees of Avon and its subsidiaries were unaware of its existence.

Avon .. did not conduct corruption-related due diligence on appropriate third parties or have effective controls for the meaningful approval of third parties.  Avon also did not require adequate documentation supporting the retention of payments to third parties.

Avon … did not undertake periodic risk assessments of its compliance program and lacked proper oversight of gifts, travel, and entertainment expenditures.  Avon’s failure to maintain an adequate compliance program significantly contributed to the company’s failure to prevent the misconduct in China.”

Based on the core conduct and the specific allegations detailed above, Avon was charged with one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA’s books and records provisions as well as one count of violating the FCPA’s internal controls provisions for knowingly failing to implement a system of internal accounting controls sufficient to provide reasonable assurance of various aspects of its business as required by the provisions.

Avon Products DPA

Pursuant to the three year DPA, Avon admitted, accepted and acknowledged that it was responsible for the conduct alleged in the information.

Under the heading “Relevant Considerations,” the factors the DOJ considered in resolving the action were:

“(a) the Company’s cooperation, which included conducting an extensive internal investigation in China and other relevant countries; voluntarily making U.S. and foreign employees available for interviews; collecting, analyzing, translating, and organizing voluminous evidence and information for the Department; (b) the Company’s voluntary disclosure of its employees’ and its subsidiary’s employees’ misconduct to the Department, which came relatively soon after the Company received a whistleblower letter alleging misconduct but years after certain senior executives of the Company had learned of and sought to hide the misconduct in China; (c) the Company’s extensive remediation, including terminating the employment of individuals responsible for the misconduct, enhancing its compliance program and internal controls, and significantly increasing the resources available for compliance and internal audit; (d) the Company’s commitment to continue to enhance its compliance program and internal controls, including ensuring that its compliance program satisfies the minimum elements [set forth in the DPA]; and (e) the Company’s agreement to continue to cooperate with the Department …”

The DPA also states:

“The Department also considered that the Company, taking into account its own business interests, expended considerable resources on a company wide review of and enhancements to its compliance program and internal controls.  While the Company’s efforts in this regard were taken without Department request or guidance, and at times caused unintended delays in the progress of the Department’s narrower investigations, the Department recognizes that the Company’s efforts resulted in important compliance and internal controls improvements.”

Based on the conduct at issue, the DPA sets forth an advisory Sentencing Guidelines range of $84.6 million to $169.1 million.  The DPA sets forth a criminal fine amount of $67.6 million and the above-mentioned Avon China criminal fine was deducted from this amount.

Pursuant to the DPA, Avon agreed to retain an independent compliance monitor for an 18 month term and agreed to various periodic reporting obligations to the DOJ.

The DPA contains a standard “muzzle clause” in which it (or those associated with it) agreed not to make any public statements contradicting its acceptance of responsibility under the DPA.

In this release, Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell stated:

“Companies that cook their books to hide improper payments will face criminal penalties, as Avon China’s guilty plea demonstrates. Public companies that discover bribes paid to foreign officials, fail to stop them, and cover them up do so at their own peril.”

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara of the Southern District of New York stated:

“For years in China it was ‘Avon calling,’ as Avon bestowed millions of dollars in gifts and other things on Chinese government officials in return for business benefits. Avon China was in the door-to-door influence-peddling business, and for years its corporate parent, rather than putting an end to the practice, conspired to cover it up.  Avon has now agreed to adopt rigorous internal controls and to the appointment of a monitor to ensure that reforms are instituted and maintained.”

Assistant Director in Charge Andrew G. McCabe of the FBI’s Washington Field Office stated:

“When corporations knowingly engage in bribery in order to obtain and retain contracts, it disrupts the level playing field to which all businesses are entitled. Companies who attempt to advance their businesses through foreign bribery should be on notice.  The FBI, with our law enforcement partners, is continuing to push this unacceptable practice out of the business playbook by investigating companies who ignore the law.”

SEC

Based on the same core conduct alleged in the DOJ actions, in this civil complaint the SEC charged Avon with violating the FCPA’s books and records and internal controls provisions.  In summary, the SEC’s complaint states:

“This matter concerns violations by A von Products, Inc. (“A von”) of the corporate record keeping and internal controls provisions of the federal securities laws. [...] . From 2004 through the third quarter of 2008, Avon’s books and records failed to accurately and fairly reflect payments by Avon Products (China) Co., Ltd. (“Avon Products China”) to Chinese government officials. Avon Products China provided cash and things of value, including gifts, travel, and entertainment, to various Chinese government officials, including government officials responsible for awarding a test license, and subsequently a direct sales business license, that would allow a company to utilize direct door-to-door selling in China. Avon Products China  was, in fact, awarded a test license and, then, the first official direct selling business license in China. Avon Products China also adopted an internal “no penalty policy” and provided cash and things of value to Chinese government officials to avoid fines and other penalties in order to maintain an ostensibly pristine corporate image. Avon Products China also paid a third-party consultant for purportedly legitimate interactions with government officials, even though Avon Products China management knew the consultant’s invoices were often false and could not point to legitimate services provided by the consultant. At times , payments were made to suppress negative news in state-owned media and to obtain competitor information. In addition, Avon Products China provided cash to government officials on behalf of other Avon subsidiaries in China. Avon Products China falsified its books and records so as to conceal the cash and things of value provided to government officials.  Near the end of 2005, an Avon internal audit team reported potential issues concerning things of value provided to Chinese government officials. Nevertheless, remedial measures sufficient to address the issues were not implemented at Avon Products China. Similar issues related to Avon Products China were raised at the end of 2006. Again, responsive remedial measures were not implemented. The books and records at A von Products China were consolidated into the books and records of Avon. Avon thus violated [the books and records provisions] by failing to make and keep books, records , and accounts, which, in reasonable detail , accurately and fairly reflected the transactions and disposition of assets of the issuer. By failing to ensure that it maintained adequate internal controls sufficient to record the nature and purpose of payments, or to prevent improper payments, to government  officials, Avon failed to devise and maintain a system of internal accounting controls sufficient to provide reasonable assurances that its transactions and the disposition of its assets were recorded correctly, accurately, and in accordance with authorization of management. Avon thereby violated [the internal controls provisions]. Finally, in May 2008, Avon began a review of its compliance with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”), the U.S . legislation that, among other things, prohibits payments to foreign government officials to obtain or retain business. As a result of its review, the company instituted extensive, related reforms.”

In certain respects, the SEC’s complaint contains additional details regarding certain of the alleged conduct such as:

  • Certain of the Chinese “foreign officials” are alleged to be individuals associated with the Ministry of Commerce (“MOFCOM”) and the State Administration for Industry and Commerce (“AIC”).
  • Regarding the Draft Audit Report, “Avon’s Legal Department took the position that conclusions about potential FCPA violations fell within the purview of Legal, and not Internal Audit.”
  • Regarding Avon’s initial investigation of the matter, Avon engaged a “major law firm” but “in mid-December 2005, sent the law firm a short e-mail stating that the company had ”moved on” from the issues and asking for an estimate of the fees incurred.”
  • “In May 2008 , the Avon Products China Corporate Affairs executive who had been terminated wrote to Avon’ s Chief Executive Officer alleging improper payments to Chinese government officials over several years in the form of meals, entertainment, travel, sponsorship of cultural events, gifts of art, and cash. The letter was forwarded to A von’s Legal Department and, in tum, to the audit committee of Avon’s board of directors. The audit committee commenced an internal investigation into the allegations and, in October 2008, Avon informed the Commission and the Department of Justice.”
  • As to various things of value: (i) “The majority of these payments were for meals and entertainment expenses under $200 per occurrence, without indication as to who attended the meal/entertainment or the business purpose of the expense.” (ii) a “Pearl River cruise for 200 State and Regional AIC officials during a conference of officials with responsibility for the oversight of Avon Products China’s direct selling business license.”; (iii) “corporate boxes at the China Open tennis tournament, given to AIC and other government officials in 2004 and 2005 “to thank them for their support.” During these years, Avon Products China was a corporate sponsor of the tournament and received the tickets as part of that sponsorship . Avon Products China also provided government officials with gifts that included Louis Vuitton merchandise, Gucci bags, and Tiffany pens.” (iv) “$23,000 for travel and expenses for government journalists to attend the ceremony at which Avon Products China launched its direct selling test;” (v) “Avon Products China’s employees also made payments to government officials for conferences, and related meals, gifts, and entertainment, in 150 instances aggregating $143,000. Records for these expenses do not indicate who attended the conferences, or the business purpose of the expenses. Approximately $15,000 of this amount was for expenses related to government journalists’ attendance at an Avon Products China media event.”

As noted in this SEC release:

“Avon, which neither admitted nor denied the allegations, agreed to pay disgorgement of $52,850,000 in benefits resulting from the alleged misconduct plus prejudgment interest of $14,515,013.13 for a total of more than $67.36 million.  In the parallel criminal matter, Avon entities agreed to pay $67,648,000 in penalties.  Avon also is required to retain an independent compliance monitor to review its FCPA compliance program for a period of 18 months, followed by an 18-month period of self-reporting on its compliance efforts.  Avon would be permanently enjoined from violating the books and records and internal controls provisions of the federal securities laws.  In reaching the proposed settlement, which is subject to court approval, the SEC considered Avon’s cooperation and significant remedial measures.”

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

“Avon’s subsidiary in China paid millions of dollars to government officials to obtain a direct selling license and gain an edge over their competitors, and the company reaped substantial financial benefits as a result. Avon missed an opportunity to correct potential FCPA problems at its subsidiary, resulting in years of additional misconduct that could have been avoided.”

In this release, Sheri McCoy (CEO of Avon Products, Inc.) stated: ”We are pleased to have reached agreements with the DOJ and the SEC.”

Avon was represented by Evan Chesler and Benjamin Gruenstein of Cravath, Swaine & Moore.

SEC Brings Another Travel And Entertainment FCPA Enforcement Action

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014

World TourYesterday, the SEC brought its 7th Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement action of 2014.  Like the previous 6 enforcement actions (5 against companies and 1 against individuals), the enforcement action was resolved via the SEC’s administrative process.

Yesterday’s enforcement action against life-sciences company Bruker Corporation was primarily based on excessive travel and entertainment benefits provided to alleged Chinese “foreign officials.”  The same core conduct was the basis of the SEC’s other most recent FCPA enforcement (see here).

In summary fashion, the SEC’s order sates:

“This matter concerns violations of the books and records and internal controls provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) by Bruker. The violations took place from at least 2005 through 2011 and occurred throughout Bruker’s China operations. Employees of the China offices of four Bruker subsidiaries (collectively, the “Bruker China Offices”) made unlawful payments of approximately $230,938 to government officials (“Chinese government officials”) who were employed by state owned entities (“SOEs”) in China that were Bruker customers. These payments were made to obtain or retain business from the SOEs for the Bruker China Offices. Specifically, all of the Bruker China Offices provided non-business related travel to Chinese government officials, and one Bruker China Office also paid Chinese government officials under “research cooperation” ventures and “collaboration” agreements (collectively, the “Collaboration Agreements”) for which there was no legitimate business purpose. Bruker realized approximately $1.7 million in profits from sales contracts with SOEs whose officials received the improper payments.

The payments to the Chinese government officials were recorded as legitimate business and marketing expenses in the Bruker China Offices’ books and records, when in fact they were improper payments designed to personally benefit the officials. The Bruker China Offices’ books and records were consolidated into Bruker’s books and records, thereby causing Bruker’s books and records to be inaccurate. Bruker failed to devise and maintain an adequate system of internal accounting controls sufficient to prevent and detect the improper payments that occurred over several years.”

According to the SEC order:

‘Bruker manages its China operations through the Shanghai and Beijing representative offices of the Asia-based subsidiaries of four Bruker divisions: Bruker Optics, Bruker BioSpin, Bruker Daltonics, and Bruker Materials (formerly Bruker AXS).”

Under the heading “The Bruker China Offices Improperly Funded Leisure Travel for Chinese Government Officials,” the Order states:

“The Bruker China Offices funded leisure travel for Chinese government officials to visit the United States, the Czech Republic, Norway, Sweden, France, Germany, Switzerland and Italy. These leisure trips typically followed business-related travel funded by the Bruker China Offices. The Chinese government officials who went on the trips often authorized the purchase of products from the Bruker China Offices. For example, during 2006, as part of a sales contract with an SOE, a Bruker China Office paid for purported training expenses for a Chinese government official (who signed the sales contract on behalf of the SOE). In fact, the payment included reimbursement for sightseeing, tour tickets, shopping and other leisure activities in Frankfurt and Paris. Also, in 2007, a Bruker China Office paid for three Chinese government officials to visit Sweden for a conference, but included as part of the travel, several days of sightseeing in Sweden, Finland, and Norway.

The Bruker China Offices also funded certain trips for Chinese government officials that had no legitimate business component. For example, during 2009, a Bruker China Office paid for two Chinese government officials to travel to New York, despite the lack of any Bruker facilities there, and to Los Angeles, where they engaged in sightseeing activities. Also during 2009, a Bruker China Office paid for three Chinese government officials to visit destinations in Europe for sightseeing. In another instance, during 2010, a Bruker China Office paid for three Chinese government officials to visit Frankfurt, Heidelberg, Stuttgart, and Munich, in Germany, as well as Salzburg, Liz, Innsbruck, Graz, and Vienna, in Austria. And in 2011, a Bruker China Office paid for Chinese government officials from seven SOEs to go on sightseeing visits to Europe, including Austria, France, Switzerland, Italy, and the Czech Republic. In certain cases, the Chinese government officials who went on these trips were involved in purchasing products from the Bruker China Offices.

Overall, from 2005 through 2011, the Bruker China Offices paid approximately $119,710 to fund 17 trips for Chinese government officials that were for the most part not related to any legitimate business purpose. These trips were recorded in Bruker’s books and records as business expenses, without any indication that they were primarily for sightseeing and other nonbusiness related activities. Bruker improperly profited by $1,131,740 from contracts obtained from the SOEs whose officials participated on these trips.”

Under the heading, “A Bruker China Office Improperly Funneled Payments to Officials of SOEs Under the Guise of Collaboration and Research Agreements,” the Order states:

“From 2008 through 2011, a Bruker China Office paid $111,228 to Chinese government officials pursuant to 12 suspect Collaboration Agreements. Generally, under these Collaboration Agreements, the SOEs had to provide research on Bruker products, or had to use Bruker products in demonstration laboratories. However, the Collaboration Agreements did not specify the work product that the SOEs had to provide to be paid, and no work product was in fact provided to the Bruker China Office by the SOEs. Also, certain Collaboration Agreements were executed directly with a Chinese government official, rather than the SOE itself; in some cases, the Bruker China Office paid the Chinese government official directly. And at times, the Chinese government officials who signed the Collaboration Agreements or obtained payments under the Agreements were involved in purchasing products from the Bruker China Office. Bruker profited by approximately $583,112 from contracts improperly obtained from the SOEs whose officials received payments under the Collaboration Agreements.”

Under the heading, “Bruker Failed to Implement an Adequate Internal Controls System,” the Order states:

“From at least 2005 through 2011, Bruker failed to implement an adequate internal controls system to address the potential FCPA problems posed by its ownership of the Bruker China Offices, which sold their products primarily to SOEs. For example, Bruker did not translate its training presentations on FCPA, ethics, or compliance issues into local languages, including Mandarin. And although Bruker implemented an FCPA policy in 2006, it failed to translate that policy into Mandarin and relied mainly on its China-based managers to ensure that employees understood the potential FCPA implications of doing business with SOEs. Also, while Bruker periodically distributed its Code of Conduct (containing its gifts and entertainment policies) and employee handbook to employees worldwide, it again failed to translate these documents into local languages, including Chinese. Likewise, Bruker’s toll free employee hotline, which employees were to use to report complaints anonymously, was not provided in Mandarin, limiting its efficacy.

Bruker also failed to adequately monitor and supervise the senior executives at the Bruker China Offices to ensure that they enforced anti-corruption policies or kept accurate records concerning payments to Chinese government officials. The Bruker China Offices had no independent compliance staff or an internal audit function that had authority to intervene into management decisions and, if appropriate, take remedial actions. Bruker also failed to tailor its preapproval processes for conditions in China, instead allowing the Bruker China Offices approval over items such as nonemployee travel and changes to contracts. As a result, senior employees of the Bruker China Offices had unsupervised control over the compliance process; these employees in turn abused their privileges, approving suspect payments to Chinese government officials for non-business related travel and for purported Collaboration Agreements.”

Based on the above findings, the SEC’s Order finds that Bruker violated the FCPA’s books and records and internal controls provisions.

Under the heading, “Discovery, Internal Investigation, and Self-Reporting,” the Order states:

“Bruker discovered the improper payments to Chinese government officials during 2011 while investigating the misappropriation of company funds by certain employees of a Bruker China Office. Upon learning about these payments, Bruker’s board of directors promptly initiated an investigation, with the assistance of independent outside counsel and an independent forensic consulting firm. Bruker self-reported the preliminary results of its internal investigation to both the staff of the Commission and to the Department of Justice. Thereafter, Bruker, on its own initiative, undertook a broad review of the China operations of its other divisions. To the extent this internal review identified additional issues of concern, Bruker fully shared its findings with the staff.

As part of its internal review and investigation, Bruker promptly undertook significant remedial measures including terminating the senior staff at each of the Bruker China Offices. Bruker also revised its pre-existing compliance program, updated and enhanced its financial accounting controls and its compliance protocols and policies, and implemented those enhancements in China, and thereafter around the world. These steps included: (1) instituting preapproval processes for nonemployee travel and significant changes to contracts; (2) establishing a new internal audit function and hiring a new director of internal audit who is charged with oversight over Bruker’s global compliance program, including FCPA compliance; (3) adopting an amended FCPA policy translated into local languages; (4) implementing an enhanced FCPA training program, which includes training programs in local languages as well as mandatory online employee training programs regarding ethics and FCPA compliance; (5) enhancing due diligence procedures for third-parties; and (6) implementing a new global whistleblower hotline.

Throughout the process, Bruker provided extensive, thorough, and real-time cooperation with the Commission. In addition to self-reporting to the Commission shortly after discovering the FCPA violations, Bruker voluntarily provided the Commission with real-time reports of its investigative findings; shared its analysis of important documents and summaries of witness interviews; expanded the scope of the investigation at the Commission’s request; 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.”

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

“Bruker’s lax internal controls allowed employees in its China offices to enter into sham ‘collaboration agreements’ to direct money to foreign officials and send officials on sightseeing trips around the world. The company has since taken significant remedial steps to revise its compliance program and enhance internal controls over travel and contract approvals.”

As noted in the release:

“The SEC’s order finds that Bruker violated the internal controls and books and records provisions of the [FCPA].  The company agreed to pay $1,714,852 in disgorgement, $310,117 in prejudgment interest, and a $375,000 penalty.  Bruker consented to the order without admitting or denying the findings, and the SEC considered the company’s significant remedial acts as well as its self-reporting and cooperation with the investigation when determining a settlement.”

Todd Cronan (Goodwin Procter) represented Bruker.

According to Bruker’s public disclosures, the company has spent approximately $22 million in pre-enforcement action professional fees and expenses.  For more on this dynamic, and how settlement amounts in an FCPA enforcement action are often only a relatively minor component of the overall financial consequences of FCPA scrutiny, see “Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Ripples.”

Yesterday, Bruker’s stock price fell 1.8%.