A Netherlands-based company with shares listed on the New York Stock Exchange is the parent of a group of companies including a Polish subsidiary that sells medical equipment to Polish healthcare facilities. Between six and fourteen years ago “in at least 30 transactions” employees of the Polish subsidiary, without any mention of parent company knowledge or approval, ”made improper payments to public officials of Polish healthcare facilities to increase the likelihood that public tenders for the sale of medical equipment would be awarded” to the subsidiary.
The end result?
Why of course $4,515,178 to the U.S. treasury.
Recently the SEC issued (here) an administrative cease and desist order against Koninklijke Philips Electronics N.V. (“Philips”). The action is the first corporate FCPA enforcement action of 2013.
The SEC Order states, in pertinent part, as follows.
“This matter concerns violations of the books and records and internal controls provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) by Philips. The violations took place through Philips’s operations in Poland from at least 1999 through 2007. The violations relate to improper payments made by employees of Philips’s Polish subsidiary, Philips Polska sp. z o.o. (“Philips Poland”) to healthcare officials in Poland regarding public tenders proffered by Polish healthcare facilities to purchase medical equipment.”
“Since at least 1999, Philips has participated in public tenders to sell medical equipment to Polish healthcare facilities. From 1999 through 2007, in at least 30 transactions, employees of Philips Poland made improper payments to public officials of Polish healthcare facilities to increase the likelihood that public tenders for the sale of medical equipment would be awarded to Philips.”
“Representatives of Philips Poland entered into arrangements with officials of various Polish healthcare facilities whereby Philips submitted the technical specifications of its medical equipment to officials drafting the tenders who incorporated the specifications of Philips’ equipment into the contracts. Incorporating the specifications of Philips’ equipment in the tenders’ requirements greatly increased the likelihood that Philips would be awarded the bids.”
“Certain of the healthcare officials involved in the arrangements with Philips also decided whom to award the tenders, and when Philips was awarded the contracts, the officials were paid the improper payments by employees of Philips Poland.”
“The improper payments made by employees of Philips Poland to the Polish healthcare officials usually amounted to 3% to 8% of the contracts’ net value.”
“At times, Philips Poland employees also kept a portion of the improper payments as a “commission.” The Philips Poland employees involved in the improper payments often utilized a third party agent to assist with the improper arrangements and payments to Polish healthcare officials.”
“The improper payments made by employees of Philips Poland to Polish healthcare officials were falsely characterized and accounted for in Philips’s books and records as legitimate expenses. At times those expenses were supported by false documentation created by Philips Poland employees and/or third parties. Philips Poland’s financial statements are consolidated into Philips’ books and records.”
Under the heading “Discovery, Internal Investigation and Self Report,” the Order states as follows.
“Philips became aware of misconduct by Philips Poland employees in August 2007, when Polish officials conducted searches of three of Philips’ offices in Poland and arrested two Philips Poland employees.”
“In response to the search of Philips’ offices and arrests of its employees, Philips conducted an internal audit in 2007. Philips failed to discover the improper payments to Polish healthcare officials in its internal audit, but terminated and disciplined several Philips Poland employees and made substantial changes to Philips Poland’s management and significant revisions to the company’s internal controls.”
“In December 2009, the Prosecutor’s Office in Poznan, Poland, indicted 23 individuals, including three former Philips Poland employees and 16 healthcare officials, for violating laws related to public tenders for the purchase of medical equipment. That indictment described the improper payments discussed in this Order.”
“In response to the Polish authorities’ indictment, Philips conducted an internal investigation. The findings of the investigation supported the allegations of the 2009 indictment and revealed that Philips Poland employees had made unlawful payments to Polish healthcare officials, that its books, records and accounts failed to accurately account for the improper payments and that its internal controls failed to ensure that transactions were properly recorded by Philips in its books and records.”
“In early 2010, Philips self-reported its internal investigation to the staff of the Commission and to the Department of Justice. As the internal investigation progressed, Philips shared the results of the investigation with the staff and undertook significant remedial measures.”
Under the heading “Remedial Measures,” the Order states as follows.
“In response to its internal audit and investigation, Philips terminated and disciplined several Philips Poland employees and installed new management at Philips Poland, as stated above. Philips also retained three law firms and two auditing firms to conduct the investigation and design remedial measures to address weaknesses in its internal controls. Included in changes to internal controls, Philips established strict due diligence procedures related to the retention of third parties, formalized and centralized its contract administration system and enhanced its contract review process, and established a broad-based verification process related to contract payments. In addition, Philips has made significant revisions to its Global Business Principles policies and continually revises the policies to keep them current and relevant. Philips also established and enhanced an anti-corruption training program that includes a certification process and a variety of training applications to ensure broad-based reach and effectiveness.”
Based on the above conduct, the SEC found that Philips violated the FCPA’s books and records and internal control provisions. The Order states as follows.
“Employees of Philips Poland made improper payments to healthcare officials in Poland to increase the likelihood that Philips would be awarded public tenders to sell medical equipment to Polish healthcare facilities. The payments were improperly recorded in Philip’s books and records as legitimate expenses. Philips Poland employees also utilized falsified records to support the false accounting entries. Accordingly, as a result of its misconduct, Philips failed to make and keep books, records, and accounts which, in reasonable detail, accurately and fairly reflected its transactions and the disposition of its assets …”
“Philips Poland’s improper payments to healthcare officials in Poland related to at least 30 public tenders over a period of eight years. Philips’s internal controls failed to detect or prevent the improper payments and false recordings of those transactions during that time. As a result, Philips failed to devise and maintain a system of internal accounting controls sufficient to provide reasonable assurances that transactions were properly recorded by Philips in its books and records. Philips also failed to implement an FCPA compliance and training program commensurate with the extent of its international operations. Accordingly, Philips violated [the internal control provisions].”
Without admitting or denying the SEC’s findings, Philips consented to entry of the Order prohibiting future FCPA violations and agreed to pay disgorgement of $3,120,597 and prejudgment interest of $1,394,581. The Order further states that Philips “acknowledges that the Commission is not imposing a civil penalty based upon its cooperation in a Commission investigation and related enforcement action.”
A few random comments regarding the Philips FCPA enforcement action.
As noted in the SEC Order, Philips retained “three law firms and two auditing firms to conduct the investigation and design remedial measures.” Wow. There is a reason I call it FCPA Inc. and the business of bribery.
Just what does the SEC mean when it says that Philips failed to implement an FCPA compliance and training program “commensurate with the extent of its international operations.” As noted in this prior post discussing how the November 2012 FCPA Guidance can be used as a useful measuring stick for future enforcement activity, I highlighted the following statements from the Guidance.
“The ‘in reasonable detail’ qualification [of the FCPA’s books and records provisions] was adopted by Congress ‘in light of the concern that such a standard, if unqualified, might connote a degree of exactitude and precision which is unrealistic.’ [...] The term ‘reasonable detail’ is defined in the statute as the level of detail that would ‘satisfy prudent officials in the conduct of their own affairs.’ Thus, as Congress noted when it adopted this definition, ‘[t]he concept of reasonableness of necessity contemplates the weighing of a number of relevant factors, including the costs of compliance.’” (Pg. 39)
“Like the ‘reasonable detail’ requirement in the books and records provision, the [FCPA’s internal control provisions] defines ‘reasonable assurances’ as ‘such level of detail and degree of assurance as would satisfy prudent officials in the conduct of their own affairs.’ The Act does not specify a particular set of controls that companies are required to implement. Rather, the internal controls provisions gives companies the flexibility to develop and maintain a system of controls that is appropriate to their particular needs and circumstances.” (Pg. 40)
The Philips enforcement action involved Polish healthcare officials. As noted in this prior post, in 2012, 50% of corporate FCPA enforcement actions involved, in whole or in part, foreign health care providers.
The Philips enforcement action is similar to prior SEC administrative actions against foreign issuers Allianz and Diageo (see here and here for prior posts). As noted in the previous posts, contrary to popular misperception, the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions apply to foreign issuers only to the extent “mails or any means or instrumentality of interstate commerce” are used in connection with the improper payments. The SEC’s Order in the Philips action does not contain any findings concerning any U.S. nexus in regards to the payments at issue.
Despite the absence of FCPA anti-bribery charges or findings, the SEC still sought a disgorgement remedy. The Philips enforcement action is thus another example of “no-charged bribery disgorgement.” See here for criticism of such actions by various Debevoise & Plimpton attorneys, including Paul Berger (here) a former Associate Director of the SEC Division of Enforcement. The article concluded that “settlements invoking disgorgement but charging no primary anti-bribery violations push the law’s boundaries, as disgorgement is predicated on the common-sense notion that an actual, jurisdictionally-cognizable bribe was paid to procure the revenue identified by the SEC in its complaint.” The article noted that such “no-charged bribery disgorgement settlements appear designed to inflict punishment rather than achieve the goals of equity.”
Because the conduct at issue in the Philips enforcement action occurred between six to fourteen years ago, you may be wondering about statute of limitations issues given the Supreme Court’s recent Gabelli decision. As noted in this prior post, from the perspective of SEC FCPA enforcement against corporations, the Gabelli case is, unfortunately, unlikely to have much impact. Cooperation will continue to be the name of the game and corporations facing FCPA scrutiny will likely continue to waive statute of limitations arguments or otherwise toll statute of limitations as evidence of their cooperation.