Archive for the ‘SEC Enforcement Action’ Category

Current CEO Of LAN Airlines Resolves SEC FCPA Enforcement Action Based On A Payment He Authorized 10 Years Ago In Connection With A Labor Dispute

Monday, February 8th, 2016

PlazaLast week was busy for SEC Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement.

First, there was the $3.9 million enforcement action against SAP (see here).

Then, there was the $12.8 million enforcement action against SciClone Pharmaceuticals (see here).

And then, as highlighted in this post, there was an individual action against Ignacio Cueto Plaza, the current CEO of LAN Airlines (pictured at left).

The Cueto enforcement action was noteworthy in at least five respects.

  • First, it was a rare SEC individual FCPA enforcement action (the Cueto action represents only the fourth core individual action since April 2012).
  • Second, it was an FCPA enforcement action against a CEO (rarely do individual FCPA enforcement actions involve an executive officer).
  • Third, it was an FCPA enforcement action against an existing CEO (most individual FCPA enforcement involve former employees because the company, as part of its remedial measures, terminates the employee found to be in violation of the FCPA).
  • Fourth, even though most FCPA enforcement actions are based on “old” conduct, a 2016 enforcement action based on 2006 conduct stretches the credibility of the SEC’s enforcement program to a new level, coupled with the fact that a U.S. law enforcement agency brought an enforcement action against a Chilean citizen based on alleged improper conduct in Argentina.
  • Fifth, most FCPA enforcement actions, even those that “only” charge or find FCPA books and records and internal controls violations, are still based on the alleged “foreign officials.” In this regard, the Cueto enforcement action is vague whether the SEC viewed the Argentine “union officials” to be “foreign officials” under the FCPA. If the SEC did view the “union officials” as such, it stretches the definition of “foreign official” even further. If the SEC did not view the “union officials” as foreign officials, the Cueto action represents a rare enforcement action concerning improper booking and insufficient internal controls concerning an instance of commercial bribery.

In this administrative action, the SEC found as follows.

“In 2006 and 2007, Ignacio Cueto Plaza (“Cueto”), the CEO of LAN Airlines S.A. (“LAN”), authorized $1.15 million in improper payments to a third party consultant in Argentina in connection with LAN’s attempts to settle disputes on wages and other work conditions between LAN Argentina S.A. (“LAN Argentina”), a subsidiary of LAN, and its employees. At the time, Cueto understood that it was possible the consultant would pass some portion of the $1.15 million to union officials in Argentina. The payments were made pursuant to an unsigned consulting agreement that purported to provide services that Cueto understood would not occur. Cueto authorized subordinates to make the payments that were improperly booked in the Company’s books and records, which circumvented LAN’s internal accounting controls.”

Cueto is described as follows.

” [A] Chilean citizen and, since 2012, has been CEO of LAN. From 1995 to 1998, Cueto served as President of LAN Cargo, a LAN subsidiary located in Miami, Florida. He served on the Board of Directors of LAN from 1995 to 1997. From 1999 to 2005, Cueto was CEO of LAN’s passenger airline business. In 2005, Cueto became President and COO of LAN Airlines S.A. He remained in that position until June of 2012, when LAN merged with Brazilian Airline TAM, S.A. (“TAM”) and became LATAM Airlines Group S.A. (“LATAM”). Cueto remains CEO of LAN, which is now part of LATAM.”

The enforcement action focuses the “obstacles that LAN might face in trying to enter the Argentine airline market.” Under the heading “LAN Faces Major Issues Upon Entering the Argentine Market,” the order states:

“Upon entering the Argentine passenger airline market LAN immediately faced several major issues impacting its viability and began losing money. First, it needed to meet demands from labor unions representing the employees acquired from LAFSA and Southern Winds. Second, LAN needed majority ownership of its Argentine subsidiary, and therefore had to persuade the Argentine government to change its existing law on foreign ownership of domestic airlines and to increase caps on airfares. Third, LAN needed regulatory authorization to operate various flight routes, both domestically and internationally, in Argentina. Since the Argentine passenger airline market was heavily regulated by the government, particularly officials within the Department of Transportation who had close ties to the unions, LAN sought help from the government officials with each of these issues.

In early 2006, the consultant again contacted the Vice President of Business Development and offered to assist LAN in Argentina. By this time, the consultant was a government official in the Ministry of Federal Planning, Public Investment and Services, Department of Transportation. On January 31, 2005, the Secretary of Transportation appointed the consultant as a Cabinet Advisor “ad-honorem.”

LAN executives, including Cueto, knew that for LAN Argentina to become profitable it would need an infusion of cash. LAN asked Argentine government officials to liberalize the laws on foreign ownership so that LAN could own a majority share of LAN Argentina and sought government authorization to raise regulated airfares. On or about August 8, 2006, the President of Argentina signed a Decree that enabled LAN to become a majority owner of LAN Argentina and allowed LAN to raise airfares by 20%. LAN Argentina was also awarded critical additional flight routes by the Transportation Secretary.”

Under the heading “LAN Encounters Problems with the Unions in Argentina,” the order states:

“As part of the deal that LAN reached with the Argentine government in March 2005, LAN was required to hire between six and eight hundred employees from the defunct LAFSA and Southern Winds airlines. LAN was bound by the existing bargaining agreements between LAFSA, Southern Winds and the labor unions.

There were five unions representing airline employees in Argentina. They included the grounds crew union, the Asociación del Personal Aeronáutico (APA), the pilots’ union, the Asociación de Pilotos de Lineas Aereas (APLA), the mechanics’ union, Asociacion del Personal Técnico Aeronáutico (APTA), the flight attendants’ union, Asociación de Tripulantes de Cabina de Pasajeros de Empresas Aerocomerciales (ATCPEA), and the supervisors’ union, Unión del Personal Superior y Profesional de Empresas Aerocomerciales (UPSA).

All of the unions were powerful and unafraid to make demands on LAN. They sought wage increases and additional benefits, and used the terms of their respective Collective Bargaining Agreements (“CBAs”) as leverage. These labor agreements contained provisions that LAN believed were unfavorable, such as restrictions on the hours employees could work and their work locations.

The mechanics’ union, the flight attendants’ union and the supervisors’ union each had a single-function rule contained in their CBAs. The single-function rule was a provision that limited workers from performing more than one work function at a time for LAN. The single-function rule was loosely interpreted and for the most part not enforced by the unions. Had it been enforced, the single-function rule would have required LAN to double its work force and would have seriously imperiled LAN’s ability to continue its operations in Argentina.

Around 2006 the unions began campaigning for wage increases. The unions threatened to enforce the single-function rule unless LAN Argentina agreed to a substantial wage increase. LAN’s management, including Cueto, attempted to negotiate on the wage issues but made no progress and things worsened over time. Eventually there were work stoppages and slowdowns on the part of the workforce, including strikes involving the pilots’ and the mechanics’ unions.”

Under the heading “Cueto Approves Improper Payments,” the order states:

“Beginning in the summer of 2006, the consultant supplied LAN executives with information on how to deal with specific union members and the unions in general. Eventually, the consultant offered to negotiate directly with the unions on LAN’s behalf, making it clear that he would expect compensation for such negotiations, and that payments would be made to third parties who had influence over the unions. After his staff informed Cueto that the consultant was well connected with the unions and could effectively negotiate an agreement with union officials, Cueto approved the retention of the consultant.

During the summer of 2006, Cueto approved payments totaling $1,150,000 to the consultant in connection with LAN’s attempts to settle disputes on wages and other work conditions with the unions. At the time, Cueto understood that it was possible the consultant would pass some portion of the $1.15 million to union officials in Argentina. Cueto approved the payments to get the unions to abandon their threats to enforce the single-function rule and to get them to accept a wage increase lower than the amount asked for in negotiations. LAN and the consultant agreed that LAN would make the payment to a company controlled by the consultant in Argentina. In 2006, LAN did not have a policy requiring that due diligence be performed on consultants, and neither Cueto nor LAN conducted any due diligence on the consultant or any of his related entities.

Around August 2006, Cueto’s staff informed him that the consultant had reached an oral agreement to settle the wage dispute with the mechanics’ union on LAN’s behalf. Although the existing Collective Bargaining Agreement with the mechanics’ union would remain unchanged, Cueto understood that the union would orally agree not to seek enforcement of the single-function rule for a period of four years in exchange for a wage increase of approximately 6 15% of salary. The wage increase of approximately 15% was lower than the amount originally sought by the mechanics’ union.

Around August 2006, the flight attendants’ and supervisors’ unions both agreed to accept wage increases of approximately 15% and 10% respectively of salaries. The amounts were lower than the amounts originally sought by each union.”

Under the heading, “Cueto Authorized Improper Payments That Were Not Accurately and Fairly Feflected on LAN’s Books and Records,” the order states:

“Cueto directed subordinates to make the improper payments. The improper payments authorized by Cueto were improperly described in the books and records as “other debtors” costs in a LAN subsidiary that had no role in LAN’s argentine business.”

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

“As President and Chief Operating Officer of LAN, Cueto, along with others, was responsible for devising and maintaining compliance with internal accounting controls at LAN. Cueto did not follow the company’s existing internal accounting controls when he authorized the payment of $1,150,000 to the consultant’s company and failed to prevent the payment of $58,000 to another company owned by consultant’s son and wife. Cueto received and approved the sham contract for the consultant’s company to provide consulting services to LAN, knowing that such services would never be provided. Cueto also authorized payment of invoices from the consultant’s company that contained a description of services listed on the invoices that was false.”

Based on the above findings, the order finds that Cueto caused books and records and internal controls violations by LAN and that Cueto also knowingly circumvented or knowingly failed to implement a system of internal accounting controls or knowingly falsified book, record or account and that Cueto also violated falsified or cause to be falsified, a book, record, or account.

Under the heading “Remedial Actions and Undertakings,” the order states:

“As the CEO of LAN, which is now a division of LATAM, Cueto is subject to LATAM’s enhanced compliance structure and internal accounting controls. Cueto is required to certify compliance with LATAM’s new Code of Conduct that was adopted in 2013, as well as other internal corporate policies, including an Anti-Corruption Guide, a Gifts, Travel, Hospitality and Entertainment Policy, an Escalation Policy, and Procurement and Payment policies.

Cueto has attended the Corporate Governance Training provided by the LATAM Chief Compliance Officer and has provided a certification confirming acknowledgement of the Code of Conduct, the relevant applicable regulations, as well as the Company policies. Cueto has also executed an amendment to his employment agreement whereby Respondent acknowledges having been informed regarding the LATAM Manual for the Prevention of Corruption, among other matters, and his responsibilities to perform his duties with the highest ethical standards, in compliance with all Company Policies and Procedures.

[...]

Cueto also undertakes to attend all anti-corruption training sessions required for senior executives at LAN. These sessions will include, but are not limited to, both live and online anti-corruption trainings to be completed on at least an annual basis and according to LAN’s Compliance Department’s training schedule. These sessions will include, in addition to anticorruption laws and regulations, such as the FCPA, training on anti-trust laws, the Company’s Code of Conduct and all other applicable policies that each LAN employee must follow. After the conclusion of each session Cueto will sign the appropriate documentation that acknowledges his attendance and understanding of the topics presented. Should LAN modify the schedule of such  training sessions for any reason, Cueto will, so long as he is a senior executive of LAN, attend a comparable anti-corruption session on an annual basis and complete appropriate documentation attesting to his attendance and the session’s contents.”

Without admitting or denying the SEC’s findings, Cueto agreed to cease and desist from future legal violations and agreed to pay a $75,000 civil penalty.

Cueto was represented by Richard Grime (Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher –  a former Assistant Director of Enforcement at the SEC heavily involved in FCPA enforcement). Commenting generally on the SEC’s evolving and expansive FCPA enforcement theories, Grime recently stated:

“It’s not that you couldn’t intellectually [conceive of] the violation. It’s that the government is sort of probing every area where there is an interaction with government officials and then working backwards from there to see if there is a violation, as opposed to starting out with the statute … and what it prohibits.”

“Golf In The Morning And Beer-Drinking In the Evening” – SciClone Pharmaceuticals Resolves $12.8 Million FCPA Enforcement Action For Subsidiary’s Marketing And Promotional Activities

Friday, February 5th, 2016

Golf and BeerYesterday, the SEC released this administrative action finding that SciClone Pharmaceuticals (a California pharmaceutical company with a China-focused business) violated the FCPA’s anti-bribery, books and records and internal controls provisions.

The conduct at issue related to the marketing and promotional activities of SciClone Pharmaceuticals International Ltd., a wholly-owned subsidiary of SciClone incorporated in the Cayman Islands with an affiliate in Hong Kong.

Among other things of value provided to healthcare professionals employed by state-owned hospitals in China were weekend trips, foreign language classes, “golf in the morning and beer drinking in the evening,” and travel to the Grand Canyon and Disneyland.

In summary fashion, the SEC’s order states:

“From at least 2007 to 2012, employees of SciClone subsidiaries, who acted as agents of SciClone in conducting business in China, gave money, gifts and other things of value to foreign officials, including healthcare professionals (“HCPs”) who were employed by state-owned hospitals in China, in order to obtain sales of SciClone pharmaceutical products. Various means were employed, and these schemes were known to and condoned by various managers within SciClone’s China-based corporate structure. The related transactions were falsely recorded in SciClone’s books and records as legitimate business expenses, such as sponsorships, travel and entertainment, conferences, honoraria, and promotion expenses. During this period, SciClone also failed to devise and maintain a sufficient system of internal accounting controls and lacked an effective anti-corruption compliance program.”

The conduct at issue largely focused on SciClone Pharmaceuticals International Ltd. (“SPIL”) which is described as a wholly-owned subsidiary of SciClone that is incorporated in the Cayman Islands with an affiliate in Hong Kong. According to the order:

“SciClone operates internationally primarily through subsidiaries, including SPIL and SPIL’s wholly-owned subsidiaries that sell and promote SciClone’s products in China. SciClone directs the relevant operations of SPIL and its subsidiaries and oversees SPIL’s operations through various means including through the appointment of directors and officers of SPIL, review and approval of its annual budget, business and financial goals, and oversight of its legal, audit, and compliance functions. SciClone also reviews and approves annual marketing and promotion budgets of SPIL and its subsidiaries. During relevant periods, some SciClone officers also served as officers and/or directors of SPIL, traveled frequently to China to participate in the management of SPIL, and were responsible for negotiating its contracts with its Chinese distributors. SPIL’s books and records are consolidated by SciClone and reported in its financial statements.”

Under the heading “Facts,” the order states:

“Although SciClone has local distributor relationships in China, its sales and marketing activities there are conducted through SPIL. Sales representatives in China regularly reported to senior management of SPIL on their efforts to increase sales. In these reports, sales representatives openly referred to instances in which they provided weekend trips, vacations, gifts, expensive meals, foreign language classes, and entertainment to HCPs in order to obtain an increase in prescriptions from those HCPs. As described by one sales manager, this was “luring them with the promise of profit.”

Some sales representatives referred to those HCPs with the greatest impact on their sales volume as VIP clients, and provided details on their volume of prescriptions when reporting to SPIL. This practice was known and encouraged by certain former SPIL managers at the time SPIL and SciClone had overlapping officers and/or directors. These reports included such things as:

  • In August 2005, numerous surgical VIP clients including several hospital presidents attended the annual Qingdao Beer Festival consisting of golf in the morning and beer-drinking in the evening. In later years, SPIL continued to sponsor VIPs to the annual festival.
  • In February 2007, VIP clients were provided with vacations to Anji, China.
  • In November 2007, a sales representative recounted the experience of recruiting a VIP client by paying for family vacations and regular family dinners through an employee expense account. The sales representative attributed a nearly four-fold sales increase to that VIP as a result.

In 2007, SciClone submitted a license application to the State Food and Drug Administration for a new medical device product and had a renewal pending for its largest product. SciClone hired a well-connected regulatory affairs specialist (“Specialist”) to facilitate that licensing.

The Specialist arranged trips for two foreign officials to attend an academic conference in Greece at SciClone’s expense. The conference was solely related to the new medical device. One of the foreign officials had oversight over new product approvals, and the other foreign official had oversight over renewals for existing licensed products. At the time the trip was arranged, both SciClone’s renewal application and its application for a new license were pending.

As the foreign officials were unable to obtain travel visas in time to attend the conference in Greece, the Specialist instead provided them at least $8,600 in lavish gifts. The Specialist submitted two expense reimbursements for the gifts, the first of which was approved by the senior vice president of SPIL.

After learning of the gifts, SciClone terminated the Specialist and conducted an internal investigation related to the Specialist’s conduct and practices in China. The review did not look more broadly at sales and marketing practices in China. No further action or remedial measures were taken by SciClone or SPIL after the conclusion of the internal investigation in 2008.

Local Chinese travel companies were routinely hired to provide services (such as arranging transportation, accommodations, and meals for HCPs) in connection with what were ostensibly legitimate conferences, seminars, and other events. In addition to a lack of due diligence for these third party vendors, prior to 2012, there was a lack of controls over the events to ensure they had an appropriate business purpose and that the events actually occurred. Many events did not include a legitimate educational purpose or the educational activities were minimal in comparison to the sightseeing or recreational activities. For example:

  • Between at least 2008 and 2010, SciClone sponsored dozens of Chinese HCPs to attend liver and oncology conferences in the United States. While a portion of the travel was devoted to educational purposes, it also consisted of significant sightseeing that involved, for example, travel to Las Vegas and Los Angeles with tours of the Grand Canyon or Disneyland.
  • In April 2010, SPIL sponsored Chinese HCPs to attend a seminar in Japan regarding Zadaxin, its principle product. While a portion of the meeting appeared to involve half a day of educational activities, the remaining six days involved sightseeing and tourist locations such as Mt. Fuji.
  • In March 2010, SPIL held its annual sales meeting in China on the island of Hainan, a resort destination. The sales meeting was attended by the sales representatives and senior management from SPIL. The weekend before the sales meeting, SPIL hosted VIP clients to a weekend stay on Hainan. There was no educational component to the VIP clients’ stay.

As part of its remedial efforts, SciClone conducted a detailed, comprehensive internal review of promotion expenses of employees from 2011 to early 2013. This review found high exception rates indicating violations of corporate policy that ranged from fake fapiao, inconsistent amounts or dates with fapiao, excessive gift or meal amounts, unverified events, doctored honoraria agreements, and duplicative meetings. A portion of the funds generated through the reimbursements were used as part of the sales practices described above that continued through at least 2012.”

Based on the above, the SEC found as follows:

“SciClone through SPIL violated [the anti-bribery provisions] by providing things of value to foreign officials, including healthcare professionals (“HCPs”) who were employed by state-owned hospitals in China, in order to obtain sales of SciClone pharmaceutical products. SciClone violated [the books and records provisions] by improperly recording the payments to health care providers as sales, marketing, and promotion expenses. The false entries were initially recorded by SPIL which were then consolidated and reported by SciClone in its consolidated financial statements. SciClone violated [the internal controls provisions] by failing to devise and maintain a sufficient system of internal accounting controls to detect and prevent the making of improper payments to foreign officials.”

Without admitting or denying the SEC’s findings, SciClone is required to cease and desist from committing future FCPA violations and agreed to pay approximately $12.8 million ($9,426,000 in disgorgement and prejudgment interest of $900,000 as well as a $2.5 million civil penalty).

In resolving the action, SciClone agreed to “report to the Commission staff periodically, at no less than nine-month intervals during a three-year term, the status of its remediation and implementation of compliance measures.” Specifically, SciClone is required to “submit to the Commission staff a written report within 180 calendar days of the entry of this Order setting forth a complete description of its Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) and anti-corruption related 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 addition, SciClone is required to ”undertake at least three follow-up reviews, incorporating any comments provided by the Commission staff on the previous report, to further monitor and assess whether the policies and procedures of Respondent are reasonably designed to detect and prevent violations of the FCPA and other applicable anti-corruption laws.”

Under the heading “Remedial Efforts,” the order states:

“SciClone has taken steps to improve its internal accounting controls and to create a dedicated compliance function. These include the following: (1) hiring a compliance officer for its China operations; (2) undertaking an extensive review of the policies and procedures surrounding employee travel and entertainment reimbursements; (3) substantially reducing the number of suppliers providing third-party travel and event planning services; (4) improving its policies and procedures around third-party due diligence and payments; (5) incorporating anticorruption provisions in its third-party contracts; (6) providing anti-corruption training to its third-party travel and event planning vendors; (7) disciplining employees (and their managers) who violate SciClone’s policies; and (8) creating an internal audit department and compliance department.”

In this release, SciClone’s Chief Executive Officer (Friedhelm Blobel) commented: “We are very pleased to have reached a final settlement with the SEC and DOJ that is in line with our previous expectations and brings this matter to conclusion. We believe that we have established an industry-leading compliance program, including a commitment to constant improvement, which is a key business asset. We look forward to continuing to focus on providing high quality medicines to patients, growing our business and creating value for our shareholders.”

John Dwyer and Jessica Valenzuela Santamaria (Cooley) represented SciClone.

2016 FCPA Enforcement Begins With SEC Action Against SAP

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2016

SAPWhen Vicente Garcia (a former head of Latin American sales for SAP) resolved a parallel DOJ / SEC FCPA enforcement action in August 2015 (see here for the prior post), the question remained: would there also be a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement action against SAP?

Yesterday, the SEC answered that question in the affirmative by announcing an enforcement action against SAP (a German company with American Depository Shares registered with the SEC).

The SAP action is the first FCPA enforcement action of 2016.

Based on the same core conduct alleged in the prior Garcia action, SAP, without admitting or denying the SEC’s finding’s in an administrative order, agreed to pay approximately $3.9 million.

In summary fashion, the order states:

“This matter concerns violations of the books and records and internal controls provisions of the FCPA by SAP SE (“SAP”), a European Union corporation headquartered in Waldorf, Germany. The violations occurred due to deficient internal controls, which allowed SAP’s former Vice-President of Global and Strategic Accounts, Vicente E. Garcia, to discount the software price to a former SAP local partner at a level sufficient to permit Garcia and the local partner to pay $145,000 in bribes to one senior Panamanian government official, and offer bribes to two others. Through these bribes, Garcia secured government sales contracts of approximately $3.7 million for SAP, and also self-profited through kickbacks. By excessively discounting the SAP software, Garcia created a slush fund that the partner used to pay the bribes and kickbacks. Garcia concealed his scheme from others at SAP, circumvented SAP’s internal controls, and justified the excessive discounts by falsifying SAP’s internal approval forms.”

“The deep discounts that Garcia used to create the slush fund were falsely recorded as legitimate discounts on the books of SAP’s Mexican subsidiary, which were subsequently consolidated into SAP’s financial statements. In addition, SAP failed to devise and maintain an adequate system of internal accounting controls sufficient to provide reasonable assurances that these improper payments to government officials did not occur.”

According to the order:

“Garcia, as a senior vice-president of SAP responsible for sales in Latin America, used his knowledge of the availability of discounts to push through large discounts in order to create a slush fund from which the local partner was able to pay the bribes. SAP routinely provides large discounts to local partners for legitimate reasons that Garcia used to justify the illegitimate discounts. Once Garcia obtained approval of the discounts based on his falsified justification forms, the bribes were then paid from the local partner.”

[...]

As a result of Garcia’s conduct in the bribery scheme, SAP, with its local partner, was able to sell software to the Panamanian government through four contracts from 2010 to 2013. These contracts generated revenues of approximately $3.7 million to SAP.

The deep discounts that Garcia used to create the slush fund were falsely recorded as legitimate discounts on the books of SAP Mexico, which were subsequently consolidated into SAP’s financial statements.”

Under the heading “SAP’s Insufficient Internal Controls,” the order states:

“SAP lacked adequate internal controls to ensure that discounts to local partners were not improperly used. SAP’s system required employees to electronically submit requests within SAP to obtain approval of discounts to local partners. SAP employees, however, had wide latitude in seeking and approving discounts to local partners, and employees’ explanations for the discounts were accepted without verification. There were also no requirements for heightened anti-corruption scrutiny for large discounts. Garcia was therefore able to evade the basic approval procedures by taking advantage of his position and his knowledge of how discounts were approved. Furthermore, the nature of Garcia’s reporting structure made it easy for him to implement the bribery scheme. Although Garcia was located in Miami and employed by SAPI, he variously reported to supervisors employed by other regional subsidiaries and used employees from other subsidiaries such as SAP Mexico to execute the sales to the Panamanian government. This indirect reporting structure at SAP created gaps in supervising Garcia that provided him the opportunity to use the large discounts for creating a slush fund for bribes. Because of the deficient controls, Garcia was able to provide the partner with deep enough discounts to enable him to implement the bribery scheme, which continued unabated for over four years.”

Based on the above findings, the order finds that SAP violated the FCPA’s books and records and internal controls provisions.

Without admitting or denying the SEC’s findings, SAP agreed to pay disgorgement of $3.7 million “representing ill-gotten gains received in connection with the bribery scheme” and prejudgment interest of $188,896.

Under the heading “SAP’s Cooperation and Remediation,” the order states:

“When SAP learned of the conduct as a result of the SEC’s inquiry, SAP conducted a thorough internal investigation and extensively cooperated with the SEC’s investigation by, among other things: (i) conducting an internal investigation; (ii) voluntarily producing approximately 500,000 pages of documents and other information quickly, identifying significant documents and translating documents from Spanish; (iii) conducting witness interviews, sharing Power-Point presentations and timelines; (iv) facilitating an interview of Garcia at work at SAPI offices in Miami without alerting him to the investigation into his conduct; and (v) initiating a third party audit of the local partner.

After being alerted to Garcia’s misconduct, SAP terminated Garcia and undertook remediation efforts to uncover any other possible misconduct and to improve its FCPA compliance. Specifically, SAP audited all recent public sector Latin American transactions, regardless of Garcia’s involvement, to analyze partner profit margin data especially in comparison to discounts so that any trends could be spotted and high profit margin transactions could be identified for further investigation and audit. SAP also implemented new policies and procedures to detect and prevent similar issues from recurring in the future. For example, SAP elevated the status of its Chief Compliance Officer (“CCO”) by having that person now report directly to the CFO, who is a member of the Executive Board, and gave the CCO authority to independently terminate employees and partner contracts. SAP conducted, and continues to conduct, regular anti-corruption training, as well as anti-corruption audits through its internal audit function.

In determining to accept the Offer, the Commission considered remedial acts undertaken by Respondent and cooperation afforded the Commission staff.”

In this release, Kara Brockmeyer (Chief of the SEC’s FCPA Unit) stated: “SAP’s internal controls failed to flag Garcia’s misconduct as he easily falsified internal approval forms and disguised his bribes as discounts.”

According to reports, SAP was represented by Patrick Robbins (Shearman & Sterling).

A Focus On SEC Individual Actions

Monday, January 11th, 2016

SECThis previous post highlighted various facts and figures from 2015 SEC FCPA enforcement (both corporate and individual).

As highlighted in the prior post, of the 9 corporate SEC FCPA enforcement actions from 2015, 2 (22%) (PBSJ and FLIR Systems) have involved, at present, related SEC charges against company employees.

As further highlighted in the prior post, the SEC brought two individual enforcement actions in 2015 (Vicente Garcia – associated with SAP and Walid Hatoum – associated with PBSJ).

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.

In November 2014, the SEC’s Director of Enforcement stated:

“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.”

Most recently in November 2015, the SEC’s Director of Enforcement stated:

“Holding individuals accountable for their wrongdoing is critical to effective deterrence and, therefore, the Division considers individual liability in every case. [...] The Commission is committed to holding individuals accountable and I expect you will continue to see more FCPA cases against individuals.”

Since 2000, the SEC has charged 63 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
  • 2015 –  2 individuals

As highlighted by the above statistics, most of the individuals charged – 37 (or  59%) 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 37 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, 57% of the individuals charged by the SEC with FCPA civil offenses since 2008 have been in just five cases.

Considering that there has been 81 corporate SEC FCPA enforcement actions since 2008, this is a rather remarkable statistic.  Of the 81 corporate SEC FCPA enforcement actions, 67 (or 83%) have not (at least yet) resulted in any SEC charges against company employees.

This is an interesting figure given that between 1977 and 2004 61% of SEC corporate FCPA enforcement actions did indeed result in related charges against company employees.  In other words, for most of the FCPA’s history the majority of corporate SEC FCPA enforcement resulted in related individual accountability, but in the SEC’s modern FCPA enforcement program, the vast majority of corporate SEC FCPA enforcement actions have not resulted in related individual accountability despite the SEC’s rhetoric.

It is also interesting to analyze the 14 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, PBSJ and FLIR Systems.

Set forth below is a complete list of SEC corporate FCPA enforcement actions since 2008 and whether the corporate enforcement action resulted in any related individual charges. Beginning in October 2014, I publicly invited (see here) the SEC to refute these numbers to support its individual accountability rhetoric. The SEC has not responded and the invitation still stands.

Year

 

Corporate Action

Related Action Against Any Employee 

2008

Fiat

No

2008

Siemens

Yes

2008

Con-Way

No

2008

Faro

Yes

2008

Willbros

Yes

2008

AB Volvo

No

2008

Flowserve

No

2008

Westinghouse Air Brake

No

2009

UTStarcom

No

2009

AGCO

No

2009

Nature’s Sunshine

Yes

2009

Helmerich & Payne

No

2009

Avery Dennison

No

2009

United Industrial Corp.

Yes

2009

Novo Nordisk

No

2009

ITT Corp.

No

2009

KBR/Halliburton

Yes

2010

Alcatel-Lucent

No

2010

RAE Systems

No

2010

Panalpina

No

2010

Pride Int’l

Yes

2010

Tidewater

No

2010

Transocean

No

2010

GlobalSantaFe

No

2010

Noble Corp.

Yes

2010

Royal Dutch Shell

No

2010

ABB

No

2010

Alliance One

Yes

2010

Universal

No

2010

GE/Ionics

No

2010

Eni/Snamprogetti

No

2010

Veraz Networks

No

2010

Technip

No

2010

Daimler

No

2010

Innospec

Yes

2010

Natco

No

2011

Magyar Telekom

Yes

2011

Aon

No

2011

Watts Water

Yes

2011

Diageo

No

2011

Armor Holdings

No

2011

Tenaris

No

2011

Rockwell

No

2011

Johnson & Johnson

No

2011

Comverse

No

2011

Ball Corp.

No

2011

IBM

No

2011

Tyson

No

2011

Maxwell Tech.

No

2012

Eli Lilly

No

2012

Allianz

No

2012

Tyco

No

2012

Oracle

No

2012

Pfizer

No

2012

Orthofix

No

2012

Biomet

No

2012

Smith & Nephew

No

2013

Philips

No

2013

Parker Drilling

No

2013

Ralph Lauren

No

2013

Total

No

2013

Diebold

No

2013

Stryker

No

2013

Weatherford Int’l

No

2013

ADM

No

2014

Alcoa

No

2014

HP

No

2014

Smith & Wesson

No

2014

Layne Christensen

No

2014

Bio-Rad

No

2014

Bruker

No

2014

Avon

No

2015

PBSJ

Yes

2015

Goodyear

No

2015

FLIR Systems

Yes

2015

BHP Billiton

No

2015

Mead Johnson

No

2015

BNY Mellon

No

2015

Hitachi

No

2015

Hyperdynamics

No

2015

Bristol-Myers Squibb

No

The SEC Gets Creative In Also Bringing An Enforcement Action Against Standard Bank

Wednesday, December 9th, 2015

CreativityPrevious posts here, here, and here have highlighted and analyzed the U.K. enforcement action against Standard Bank (SB) based on allegations that a former “sister company” inserted a local partner into a private placement bond offering on behalf of the Government of Tanzania that was used to facilitate improper payments to government officials.

The end result of this was that SB’s fee in the $600 million offering was not 1.4% but 2.4% (with the additional 1% being paid to the local partner).

The Judge in the U.K. matter concluded that there was insufficient evidence to suggest that any SB employees committed a bribery offense and that were was no evidence “that anyone within Standard Bank knew that two senior executives [at the former sister company] intended the payment to constitute a bribe, or so intended it themselves.”

Elsewhere the Judge repeated: “the evidence does not reveal that executives or employees of Standard Bank intended or knew of an intention to bribe.”

Nevertheless, SB was charged with a Sec. 7 violation of the Bribery Act for failing to prevent bribery (a first in the U.K. in connection with foreign bribery) and agreed to pay approximately $33 million to resolve the matter via a deferred prosecution agreement (also a first in the U.K.).

The SEC also got in on the action by announcing a $4.2 million enforcement action (via an administrative action) against Standard Bank for violating Section 17(a)(2) of the Securities Act of 1933 (’33 Act) based on the same core conduct alleged in the U.K. action.

The SEC’s release states:  ”The SEC did not have jurisdiction to bring charges under the FCPA because Standard was not an “issuer” as defined by that Act.”

Not to suggest that an FCPA enforcement action against SB was warranted, but truth be told the SEC has previously brought Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement actions against non-issuers.

For instance, in 2010 the SEC brought a $11.3 million FCPA enforcement action against Panalpina Inc. even though the SEC acknowledged in its complaint that the company was not “an issuer for purposes of the FCPA.” Rather, the enforcement action was premised on allegations that Panalpina “while acting as an agent of its issuer customers” violated the FCPA and that Panalpina “also aided and abetted its issuer customers’ violations.” Similarly, in a $125 million FCPA enforcement action in 2010 in connection with Bribery Island, Nigeria conduct the SEC included as a defendant Snamprogetti Netherlands B.V.

Back to the SEC’s enforcement action against SB.

Unlike the FCPA which is part of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as indicated above, Section 17(a)(2) is the part of the ’33 Act, a statutory scheme that broadly governs the offering of securities.

Specifically, Section 17(a)(2) states, under the heading “Fraudulent Interstate Transactions,” as follows.

“It shall be unlawful for any person in the offer or sale of any securities (including security-based swaps) or any security-based swap agreement … by the use of any means or instruments of transportation or communication in interstate commerce or by use of the mails, directly or indirectly—

(2) to obtain money or property by means of any untrue statement of a material fact or any omission to state a material fact necessary in order to make the statements made, in light of the circumstances under which they were made, not misleading.”

Key elements of a Section 17(a)(2) violation are thus materiality and use of U.S. interstate commerce or mail. (For an informative article about Section 17(a)(2) see here).

As mentioned above, the SEC’s administrative order was based on the same core conduct alleged in the U.K. action. In summary fashion, the order states:

“This case involves Standard Bank Plc’s (“Standard”) failure to disclose payments made by Standard’s affiliate, Stanbic Bank Tanzania, Limited (“Stanbic”), in connection with $600 million of sovereign debt securities issued by the Government of Tanzania (“GoT”) in 2013. Standard (an international investment bank located in London) was aware that its affiliate, Stanbic, paid $6 million of the proceeds of the offering to an entity called Enterprise Growth Markets Advisors Limited (“EGMA”). Standard failed to disclose the existence of EGMA and the fees it was to receive. At all relevant times, EGMA’s chairman and one of its three shareholders and directors was a representative of the GoT. Several red flags indicated the risk that the portion of the offering proceeds paid to EGMA by Stanbic was intended to induce the GoT to grant the mandate for the transaction to Standard and Stanbic. Standard acted as joint Lead Manager in the offering of Tanzanian sovereign debt securities without disclosing that EGMA was involved in the transaction and would receive a substantial fee in connection with the transaction.”

Under the heading “Standard’s Failure to Disclose,” the order states:

“Standard was negligent in not taking any steps to understand what role EGMA would be playing in the transaction in return for its $6 million fee and there are no records of contemporaneous communications among Standard and Stanbic personnel concerning the ownership of EGMA, its relationship to the GoT, or why it was being made part of the transaction.

[...]

The investor representation letter failed to include material facts about the transactions namely any mention of EGMA, its shareholders’ ties to the GoT, its lack of a substantive role in the transaction, and that it was to receive a $6 million fee.

[...]

Standard did not disclose the involvement of EGMA and the fee EGMA was to receive.”

As to the jurisdictional nexus in Section 17(a)(2), the order states:

“On February 27, 2013, the GoT issued its floating-rate amortizing, unrated, unlisted, sovereign bonds through a Regulation S private placement. As set forth in the transaction documents, the gross proceeds of $600 million were transferred by the facility agent to the GoT’s account in New York, on March 8, the GoT then transferred the total 2.4% fee of $14.4 million to Stanbic in Tanzania. Stanbic deposited EGMA’s 1% fee, or $6 million, into an account EGMA had previously opened at Stanbic. After EGMA made payments of the legal costs related to the transaction, approximately $5.2 million of its $6 million was withdrawn in cash between March 18 and 27, 2013. Standard did not become aware of those cash withdrawals until after they were made, and does not have knowledge as to the ultimate disposition of those withdrawn funds.”

In conclusion, the SEC order states:

“By offering the Tanzanian sovereign bonds, Standard had a duty to disclose to investors material facts that it knew or should have known concerning the transaction.

As a result of the conduct in failing to disclose the material facts described above, Respondent committed violations of Sections 17(a)(2) of the Securities Act.”

Other than mentioning the conclusory legal term “material” three times, the SEC’s order contains no specifics regarding this required legal element. The standard definition of material is whether there is a substantial likelihood that the information would be viewed by the reasonable investor as having significantly altered the total mix of information made available concerning the security.

It is a highly dubious proposition that the 116 sophisticated, institutional investors that participated in the $600 million private placement offering would have viewed the participation of EGMA and its 1% fee as being material.

As noted in the SEC’s release:

“The SEC’s order requires Standard to cease and desist from committing or causing any violations and any future violations of Section 17(a)(2) of the Securities Act of 1933 that prohibits obtaining money by any materially untrue statement or omission, and to pay a $4.2 million civil penalty.  The order also requires Standard to pay disgorgement of $8.4 million, which the Commission has deemed satisfied by a payment of equal amount in the U.K. matter.”

In the SEC release, Gerald Hodgkins (Associate Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement) states:

“Standard failed to disclose EGMA’s involvement in the bond offering to investors despite red flags suggesting some of the proceeds of the offering were going to EGMA for the purpose of influencing the Tanzanian Government’s selection of bankers for the transaction. This action against Standard demonstrates that when suspicious payments made anywhere in the world result in tainted securities offerings in the United States, the SEC is fully committed to taking action against the responsible parties.”