Archive for the ‘Third Parties’ Category

Bio-Rad Laboratories Agrees To Pay $55 Million To Resolve FCPA Enforcement Action

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014

Yesterday the DOJ and SEC announced (here and here) a coordinated FCPA enforcement action against Bio-Rad Laboratories Inc. based on alleged conduct in Russia, Thailand and Vietnam.

The enforcement action involved a DOJ non-prosecution agreement and an SEC administrative order.  Bio-Rad agreed to pay approximately $55 million to resolve the alleged FCPA scrutiny ($14.35 million in the DOJ action; and $40.7 million in the SEC action).

This post summarizes both the DOJ and SEC enforcement actions based on a review of the original source documents.

DOJ Enforcement Action

The enforcement action focused on the conduct of Bio-Rad Laboratorii OOO (“Bio-Rad Russia”) and Bio-Rad SNC as well as the alleged knowledge of certain Bio-Rad managers concerning various Russian business practices.

According to the NPA, Bio-Rad Russia is:

“[A] wholly owned subsidiary of BIO-RAD located in Moscow, Russia. Bio-Rad Russia primarily sold BIO-RAD clinical diagnostic products, such as HIV testing kits. Approximately 90% of its clientele were government customers, most notably the Russian Ministry of Health. In order to obtain certain Russian government contracts, Bio-Rad Russia was required to participate in public tender processes.”

According to the NPA, Bio-Rad SNC is:

“[A]n indirectly wholly-owned subsidiary of Bio-Rad headquartered in Marnes-la-Coquette, France.  Bio-Rad SNC manufactured, sold, and distributed Bio-Rad products worldwide.”

According to the NPA, Agent 1 (described as an agent retained by Bio-Rad SNC with respect to sales in Russia) assisted Bio-Rad Russia in connection with certain governmental sales in Russia and established Intermediary Companies (described as Agent 1 affiliated companies in Panama, the United Kingdom, and Belize) which Bio-Rad SNC retained “purportedly to perform extensive services on its behalf in Russia.”  However, according to the NPA, Intermediary Companies “were located offshore and had no employees aside from Agent 1.”  Moreover, according to the NPA, “Intermediary Companies used a phony address on its invoices that belonged to a Russian government agency.”

According to the NPA, Manager 1 (described as a high-level manager of Bio-Rad’s Emerging Markets sales region, which included Rusia, from 2004 to 2010 and based in Bio-Rad’s corporate offices in California) “authorized Bio-Rad SNC’ agreements with the Intermediary Companies without conducting any due diligence on the Intermediary Companies.”

According to the NPA,

“Bio-Rad SNC paid the Intermediary Companies a commission of 15-30% purportedly in exchange for various services outlined in the agency contracts, including acquiring new business by creating and disseminating promotional materials to prospective  customers, installing Bio-Rad products and related equipment, training customers on the installation and use of Bio-Rad products, and delivering Bio-Rad products.

The Intermediary Companies, however, lacked the capabilities to perform these contractually defined services. In some instances, the Intermediary Companies submitted invoices suggesting that they performed distribution services in connection with certain contracts. The Intermediary Companies did not perform these services, and would have been significantly overpaid even had they performed such services.”

According to the NPA:

“Manager 1, Manager 2 [described as a high-level accounting manager of Bio-Rad's Emerging Markets sales region, which included Russia, from around 2004 to 2010 and based in Bio-Rad's corporate offices in California] and Manager 3 [described as a high-level manager of Bio-Rad Russia from 2007 to 2011 and based in Moscow] reviewed and approved commission payments to Intermediary Companies, despite knowing that Intermediary Companies and Agent 1 were not performing the services from which they were being paid.”

The NPA further states that Manager 1, Manager 2, and Manager 3 used the code word “bad debt” when communicating with each other to refer to the Intermediary Companies’ commission payments.  According to the NPA, Manager 2 “instructed lower-level Bio-Rad SNC finance employees to ‘talk with codes’ when communicating about the Intermediary Companies’ invoices and that Manager 3 requested that Intermediary Company invoices be paid in installments of less than $200,000 each so as to avoid additional approvals required by Bio-Rad policy for payment over $200,000.

According to the NPA,

“The payments to the Intermediary Companies were made by Bio-Rad SNC and falsely recorded as “commission payments” in its books. Moreover, Manager 1 and Manager 2, who falsely described the commission payments as “bad debt” in e-mails, knew that Bio-Rad SNC maintained the bogus contracts with the Intermediary Companies, as well as the numerous associated false invoices Bio-Rad SNC had paid, as part of its books and records. Bio-Rad SNC’s books, records, and financial accounts were consolidated into Bio-Rad’s books and records and reported by Bio-Rad in its financial statements. Thus, Manager 1 and Manager 2 knowingly caused BIO-RAD to falsify its books and records.”

The NPA further states:

“Bio-Rad maintained a set of corporate policies, but Bio-Rad’s international offices were given autonomy by the company to implement and maintain adequate controls. However, Manager 1 and Manager 2 failed to implement adequate controls for Bio-Rad’s Emerging Markets sales region, including controls related to its operations in Russia where those managers knew that the failure to implement these controls allowed Agent 1 and the Intermediary Companies to be paid significantly above-market commissions for little or no services that were supported by false contracts and invoices. For example, Manager 1 and Manager 2 did not put in place a system of controls to conduct due diligence on third party agents, such as the Intermediary Companies, to ensure documentation supporting payments to third parties, or to monitor such payments. Nor did the company implement adequate testing of the controls that should have been in place.

Manager 1 and Manager 2′s knowing failure to implement adequate internal accounting controls with respect to Russia was due, at least in part, to their desire to continue to obtain and retain contracts with the Russian government. Bio-Rad Russia won 100% of its government contracts when Agent 1 was involved and lost its first major Russian government  contract after terminating Agent 1 in or around 2010.”

According to the NPA:

“In addition to the knowing failure to implement an adequate system of internal accounting controls, prior to the discovery of the misconduct in Bio-Rad did not maintain an adequate compliance program. The company did not provide any FCPA training to its employees and, although Bio-Rad had a business ethics policy and code of conduct that prohibited bribery and was posted on the company’s intranet site, many employees of Bio-Rad and its subsidiaries were unaware of its existence. Moreover, the code was only available in English despite the fact that a significant number of employees working for Bio-Rad’ss overseas subsidiaries did not speak or understand English well enough to understand the code.”

“Bio-Rad also decentralized its compliance program such that its international offices were responsible for ensuring adequate compliance with its business ethics policy and code of conduct. However, Manager 1 and Manager 2 did not take steps to ensure such compliance in Emerging Markets, and Bio-Rad did not take sufficient steps to monitor its international offices. As a result, Bio-Rad’s international offices did not undertake appropriate risk-based due diligence in connection with the retention of agents and business partners and, further, did not have distribution and agency agreements with appropriate anti-corruption terms. Bio-Rad also did not undertake periodic risk assessments of its compliance program. Bio-Rad’s failure to maintain an adequate compliance program significantly contributed to the company’s inability to prevent the misconduct in Russia, as well as improper payments to government officials in Vietnam and Thailand.”

The NPA states as follows.

“The [DOJ] enters into this Non-Prosecution Agreement based on the individual facts and circumstances presented by this case and the Company. Among the facts considered were the following: (a) following discovery of potential FCPA violations during the course of an internal audit, the Company’s audit committee retained independent counsel to conduct an internal investigation and voluntarily disclosed to the [DOJ] the misconduct described in the Statement of Facts; (b) the Company has fully cooperated with the [DOJ's] investigation, including conducting an extensive internal investigation in several countries, voluntarily making U.S. and foreign employees available for interviews, voluntarily producing documents from overseas, summarizing its findings, translating numerous documents, and providing timely reports on witness interviews for the [DOJ]; (c) the Company has engaged in significant remedial actions, including enhancing its anti-corruption policies globally, improving its internal controls and compliance functions, developing and implementing additional FCPA compliance procedures, including due diligence and contracting procedures for intermediaries, instituting heightened review of proposals and other transactional documents for all Company contracts, closing its Vietnam office after learning of improper payments by its Vietnam subsidiary, and conducting extensive anti-corruption training throughout the global organization; (d) the Company has committed to continue to enhance its compliance program and internal controls, including ensuring that its compliance program satisfies the minimum elements set forth in Attachment B to this Agreement; and (e) the Company has agreed to continue to cooperate with the [DOJ] in any ongoing investigation of the conduct of the Company and its officers, directors, employees, agents, and consultants relating to possible violations of the FCPA …”.

Pursuant to the NPA, which has a term of two years, Bio-Rad admitted, accepted and acknowledged that it was responsible for the acts of its employees and agents as set forth in the Statement of Facts.  The NPA also contains a “muzzle clause” in which Bio-Rad expressly agree[d] that it shall not, through present or future attorneys, officers, directors, employees, agents or any other person authorized to speak for the Company make any public statement, in litigation or otherwise, contradicting the acceptance of responsibility by the Company …”.

In the NPA, Bio-Rad also agreed to undertake a host of compliance enhancements and report to the DOJ during the two-year term of the NPA “regarding mediation and implementation of the compliance program and internal controls, policies and procedures” described in the NPA.

In the DOJ release, Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell stated:

“Public companies that cook their books and hide improper payments foster corruption.  The department pursues corruption from all angles, including the falsification of records and failure to implement adequate internal controls.   The department also gives credit to companies, like Bio-Rad, who self-disclose, cooperate and remediate their violations of the FCPA.”

Special Agent in Charge David Johnson of the FBI’s San Francisco Field Office stated:

“The FBI remains committed to identifying and investigating violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. This action demonstrates the benefits of self-disclosure, cooperation, and subsequent remediation by companies.”

The release further states:

“The department entered into a non-prosecution agreement with the company due, in large part, to Bio-Rad’s self-disclosure of the misconduct and full cooperation with the department’s investigation.  That cooperation included voluntarily making U.S. and foreign employees available for interviews, voluntarily producing documents from overseas, and summarizing the findings of its internal investigation.  In addition, Bio-Rad has engaged in significant remedial actions, including enhancing its anti-corruption policies globally, improving its internal controls and compliance functions, developing and implementing additional due diligence and contracting procedures for intermediaries, and conducting extensive anti-corruption training throughout the organization.”

SEC Enforcement Action

The SEC’s order is based on the same core conduct alleged in the DOJ action as relevant to Russia business and also contains allegations concerning conduct in Vietnam and Thailand.

In summary fashion, the SEC’s order states:

“From approximately 2005 to 2010, subsidiaries of Bio-Rad made unlawful payments in Vietnam and Thailand to obtain or retain business. During the same period, Bio-Rad’s subsidiary paid certain Russian third parties, disregarding the high probability that at least some of the money would be used to make unlawful payments to government officials in Russia. With respect to Russia, one of Bio-Rad’s foreign subsidiaries paid three off-shore agents (the“Russian Agents”) for alleged services in connection with sales of its medical diagnostic and life science equipment to government agencies. These agents were not legitimate businesses, and despite receiving large commissions, they did not provide the contracted-for services. In paying these agents, Bio-Rad’s foreign subsidiary demonstrated a conscious disregard for the high probability that the Russian Agents were using at least a portion of the commissions to pay foreign officials to obtain profitable government contracts. The General Manager (“GM”) of Bio-Rad’s Emerging Markets sub-division and the Emerging Markets Controller, both employees of the parent company (collectively, “the Emerging Markets managers”) ignored red flags, which permitted the scheme to continue for years. In Vietnam and Thailand, Bio-Rad’s foreign subsidiaries used agents and distributors to funnel money to government officials. In total, Bio-Rad made $35.1 million in illicit profits from these improper payments.

In violation of Bio-Rad’s policies, Bio-Rad’s foreign subsidiaries did not record the payments in their own books in a manner that would accurately or fairly reflect the transactions. Instead they booked them as commissions, advertising, and training fees. These subsidiaries’ books were consolidated into the parent company’s books and records. During the relevant period, Bio-Rad also failed to devise and maintain adequate internal accounting controls.”

As to the Vietnam and Thailand conduct, the SEC’s order focuses on Bio-Rad Laboratories (Singapore) Pte. Limited (“Bio-Rad Singapore”) described as a wholly-owned subsidiary located in Singapore and Diamed South East Asia Ltd. (“Diamed Thailand”) described as  a 49%-owned subsidiary of Diamed AG (Switzerland) that was acquired by Bio-Rad in October 2007.  According to the order, local majority owners ran Diamed Thailand’s operations until 2011, when Bio-Rad bought out their interest in the company.

Under the heading “Facts in Vietnam,” the order states:

“From at least 2005 to the end of 2009, Bio-Rad maintained a sales representative office in Vietnam. A country manager supervised the Vietnam Office’s sales activities, and was authorized to approve contracts up to $100,000 and sales commissions up to $20,000. Vietnam’s country manager reported to Bio-Rad Singapore’s Southeast Asia regional sales manager (“RSM”), who in turn reported to the Asia Pacific GM.

From 2005 through 2009, the country manager of the Vietnam office authorized the payment of bribes to government officials to obtain their business. At the direction of the country manager, the sales representatives made cash payments to officials at government-owned hospitals and laboratories in exchange for their agreement to buy Bio-Rad’s products.

In 2006, the RSM first learned of this practice from a finance employee. She raised concerns about it to the Vietnam Office’s country manager, who informed her that paying bribes was a customary practice in Vietnam. On or about May 18, 2006, the Vietnamese country manager wrote in an email to the RSM and the Bio-Rad Singapore finance employee that paying third party fees “[wa]s outlawed in the Bio-Rad Business Ethics Policy,” but that Bio-Rad would lose 80% of its Vietnam sales without continuing the practice. In that same email, the country manager proposed a solution that entailed employing a middleman to pay the bribes to Vietnamese government officials as a means of insulating Bio-Rad from liability. Under the proposed scheme, Bio-Rad Singapore would sell Bio-Rad products to a Vietnamese distributor at a deep discount, which the distributor would then resell to government customers at full price, and pass through a portion of it as bribes.

The RSM and the Asia Pacific GM were aware of and allowed the payments to continue. Between 2005 and the end of 2009, the Vietnam office made improper payments of $2.2 million to agents or distributors, which was funneled to Vietnamese government officials. These bribes, recorded as “commissions,” “advertising fees,” and “training fees,” generated gross sales revenues of $23.7 million to Bio-Rad Singapore. The payment scheme did not involve the use of interstate commerce, and no United States national was involved in the misconduct.”

Under the heading “Facts in Thailand,” the order states:

“Bio-Rad acquired a 49% interest in Diamed Thailand as part of its acquisition of Diamed AG (Switzerland) in October 2007. Bio-Rad performed very little due diligence on Diamed Thailand prior to the acquisition.

Diamed Thailand’s local majority owners managed the subsidiary. Bio-Rad’s Asia Pacific GM was responsible for working and communicating with Diamed Thailand’s majority owners and distributors.

Prior to the October 2007 acquisition, Diamed Thailand had an established bribery scheme, whereby Diamed Thailand used a Thai agent to sell diagnostic products to government customers. The agent received an inflated 13% commission, of which it retained 4%, and paid 9% to Thai government officials in exchange for profitable business contracts.

The scheme continued even after Bio-Rad acquired Diamed Thailand. Diamed Thailand renewed the contract with the distributor in June 2008, but unbeknownst to Bio-Rad, the distributor was partially owned by one of Diamed Thailand’s local Thai owners.

Bio-Rad’s Asia Pacific GM learned of Diamed Thailand’s bribery scheme while attending a distributor’s conference in Bangkok in March 2008. At the conference, Diamed Thailand’s local manager informed him that some of Diamed Thailand’s customers received payments, which the Asia Pacific GM understood to mean kickbacks. The Asia Pacific GM instructed Bio-Rad Singapore’s controller to investigate the matter. The controller confirmed to the Asia Pacific GM that Diamed Thailand was bribing government officials through the distributor. Despite these findings, the Asia Pacific GM did not instruct Diamed Thailand to stop making the improper payments to the distributor.

From 2007 to early 2010, Diamed Thailand improperly paid a total of $708,608 to the distributor, generating gross sales revenues of $5.5 million to Diamed Thailand. These  payments were recorded as sales commissions. The payment scheme did not involve the use of interstate commerce, and no United States national was involved in the misconduct.”

The SEC’s order found that:

“Bio-Rad violated [the FCPA's anti-bribery provisions] because Bio-Rad’s Emerging Markets managers demonstrated a conscious disregard for the high probability that the Russian Agents were using at least a portion of Bio-Rad Russia’s sales commission payments to bribe Russian government officials in exchange for awarding the company profitable government contracts. These managers knew the Russian Agents operated as mere shell entities. They also knew that, among other things, the commissions were large, and that the Russian Agents did not have the resources to perform any of the contracted-for services set forth in their agreements. Nevertheless, the managers approved all of their agreements, and authorized $4.6 million in payments to the Russian Agents’ off-shore accounts even though many of the payment requests and invoices raised substantial questions as to their legitimacy. Finally, the same Emerging Markets managers communicated about the Russian Agents under cover of secrecy, which further calls in question their legitimacy. These red flags surfaced repeatedly over a five year period.”

The SEC’s order also found violations of the books and records and internal controls provisions based on the Russia, Vietnam, and Thailand conduct.  As to internal controls, the order states:

“[A]lthough [Bio-Rad] had an ethics policy prohibiting the payment of bribes and various policies and procedures requiring accurate books and records, its systems of internal controls proved insufficient to provide reasonable assurances that such payments would be detected and prevented.”

Under the heading, “Self-Disclosure, Cooperation and Remedial Efforts,” the order states:

“Bio-Rad made an initial voluntary self-disclosure of potential FCPA violations to the Commission staff and the Department of Justice in May 2010, and immediately thereafter Bio-Rad’s audit committee retained independent counsel to conduct an investigation of the alleged violations. The audit committee conducted a thorough internal investigation, and subsequently expanded it voluntarily to cover a large number of additional potentially high-risk countries. The investigation included over 100 in-person interviews, the collection of millions of documents, the production of tens of thousands of documents, and forensic auditing. Bio-Rad’s cooperation was extensive, including voluntarily producing documents from overseas, summarizing its findings, translating numerous key documents, producing witnesses from foreign jurisdictions, providing timely reports on witness interviews, and making employees available to the Commission staff to interview.

Bio-Rad also undertook significant and extensive remedial actions including: terminating problematic practices; terminating Bio-Rad employees who were involved in the misconduct; comprehensively re-evaluating and supplementing its anticorruption policies and procedures on a world-wide basis, including its relationship with intermediaries; enhancing its internal controls and compliance functions; developing and implementing FCPA compliance procedures, including the further development and implementation of policies and procedures such as the due diligence and contracting procedure for intermediaries and policies concerning hospitality, entertainment, travel, and other business courtesies; and conducting extensive anticorruption training throughout the organization world-wide.”

As noted in the SEC’s release:

“[Bio-Rad] agreed to pay $40.7 million in disgorgement and prejudgment interest to the SEC … The company also must report its FCPA compliance efforts to the SEC for a period of two years.”

In the SEC release, Andrew Ceresney, Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement, stated:

“Bio-Rad Laboratories failed to detect a bribery scheme and did not properly address red flags that such a scheme was underway. “This enforcement action, which reflects credit for Bio-Rad’s cooperation in our investigation, reiterates the importance of all companies ensuring they have the proper internal controls to prevent FCPA violations.”

Bio-Rad was represented by Douglas Greenburg (Latham & Watkins).

In this release, Norman Schwartz (Bio-Rad President and Chief Executive Officer) stated:

“The actions that we discovered were completely contrary to Bio-Rad’s culture and values and ethical standards for conducting business. We took strong, decisive action to end the problematic practices and prevent anything like this from happening in the future, including terminating involved employees and committing substantial resources to strengthening our compliance functions and financial controls. Bio-Rad prides itself on operating with the highest levels of integrity, and I am pleased that this settlement fully resolves the government’s FCPA investigation and puts this matter behind us.”

The release further states:

“Bio-Rad discovered the potential FCPA violations and self-reported them to the DOJ and SEC in May 2010. The Company subsequently conducted a thorough global investigation with the assistance of independent legal and forensic specialists, terminated involved employees and third party agents, and significantly enhanced its internal controls, procedures, training and compliance functions designed to prevent future violations. The settlement fully resolves all outstanding issues related to these investigations.”

On the day the FCPA enforcement action was announced Bio-Rad’s stock closed up .5%.

Survey Results Should Cause Concern

Monday, June 2nd, 2014

Senator Frank Church, Senator William Proxmire and Representative Robert Eckhardt were the main Congressional leaders when it came to passage of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.  None are with us today, but if they were, it would be interesting to hear their reaction to the plethora of FCPA related survey information in the public domain 37 years after passage of the FCPA.

My hunch is that these Congressional leaders would be flabbergasted.

For instance, Kroll and Compliance Week recently released a joint “2014 Anti-Bribery and Corruption Benchmarking Report” (see here to download).  The self-reported survey produced 197 responses from a range of industries and respondents were employed by companies with a median worldwide employee headcount of approximately 9.600.

The survey result that most caught my eye is the following:  81% of respondents anticipate the bribery and corruption risks to their company over the next 2-3 years to increase (51%) or remain the same (30%).

This response ought to prompt questions whether the current approach to enforcement – as well as enforcement policy – are effective.

I’ve long maintained that while ad hoc enforcement of alleged bribe payers is an important aspect of reducing bribery and corruption, the singular focus on actual enforcement statistics and the “pound the pavement” for more enforcement mantra of many does little to address the root causes of bribery and corruption in many instances.  Foreign trade barriers and distortions are often the root causes of bribery and a reduction in bribery will not be achieved without a reduction in trade barriers and distortions.

Moreover, enforcement policy ought to be focused on creating the best positive incentives.  The DOJ and SEC recognized this basic point in the FCPA Guidance, yet recent survey responses also ought to prompt many questions whether current enforcement policy is indeed creating the best positive incentives.

The vast majority of FCPA enforcement actions are based, in whole or in part, on the conduct of various third parties.  Yet, the Kroll / Compliance Week survey reports that 58% of respondents said they never train third parties on anti-corruption efforts. (Survey respondents reported an average of 3,868 third parties).

This Grant Thorton General Counsel survey also contained survey results that should cause concern as to the effectiveness of current enforcement policy.  According to the survey:

“Even with the movement towards the codification of compliance plans by the DOJ and the SEC over a year ago, only 29% of survey respondents state that they have implemented all of the guidelines, while 47% are “not sufficiently familiar” with the guidelines to reply. Among organizations that have not fully implemented the DOJ and SEC guidelines, 65% responded that a “lack of compliance staff and budgets” was the primary reason.”

Ditto for the recent LRN “2014 Ethics & Compliance Program Effectiveness Report” which found:

“Fewer than half of all programs average at least substantial progress on the critical hallmarks identified in the DOJ/SEC guidance on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.”

So what would the best positive incentive be to achieve greater adoption of best practices and thus FCPA compliance?

I have long submitted that an FCPA compliance defense (along the lines outlined in my article “Revisiting a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Compliance Defense“) is an appropriate answer. So have several former high-ranking DOJ enforcement officials (see here among other posts).

I am not suggesting that an FCPA compliance defense is a panacea, but what I am suggesting and what I hoped to demonstrate in this post is that a compliance defense is the best positive incentive to achieve greater FCPA compliance.

While I can only speculate what various survey responses would be if there was an FCPA compliance defense, I am confident in predicting that more than 42% of companies would train third-parties on anti-corruption efforts, more than 29% of companies would be acting fully consistent with widely accepted best practices, and that more compliance staff and budgets would result.

And I further submit that these would all be good developments as an FCPA compliance defense is not a race to the bottom (as has been suggested) but rather a race to the top.

Friday Roundup

Friday, May 9th, 2014

Is trust “reasonable,” Sigelman formally indicted, scrutiny alerts and updates, and for the reading stack.  It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Is Trust “Reasonable”

This prior post asked:

Would FCPA compliance be better achieved if companies had fewer formal internal controls and instead devoted greater effort to fostering trust within a business organization?  Would such an approach even satisfy an issuer’s obligations under the FCPA’s internal controls provisions which require that issuers devise and maintain a system of internal accounting controls sufficient to provide reasonable assurances that transactions are properly authorized, recorded, and accounted for by the issuer?

The questions are posed once again after reading this New York Times article titled “Berkshire’s Radical Strategy: Trust.”  In the article, Charlie Munger, vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway (arguably one of the most well-respected companies in America) “ruminates on the state of corporate governance, offering a counternarrative to the distrustful culture of most businesses: instead of filling your ranks with lawyers and compliance people, he argued, hire people that you actually trust and let them do their job.”

As highlighted in the article:

“Here’s a little-known fact: Berkshire Hathaway, the fifth-largest company in the United States, with some $162.5 billion in revenue and 300,000 employees worldwide, has no general counsel that oversees the holding company’s dozens of units. There is no human resources department, either.

If that sounds like a corporate utopia, that’s probably because it is. To some people in this day and age — given the daily onslaught of headlines about scandal and fraud in corporate America — that also may sound almost like corporate negligence.”

Sigelman Formally Indicted

In January 2014, the DOJ announced FCPA and related charges against former executives of PetroTiger Ltd., a British Virgin Islands oil and gas company with operations in Colombia and offices in New Jersey, “for their alleged participation in a scheme to pay bribes to foreign government officials in violation of the FCPA, to defraud PetroTiger, and to launder proceeds of those crimes.”  The individuals charged were former co-CEOs of PetroTiger Joseph Sigelman and Knut Hammarskjold and former general counsel Gregory Weisman.  (See this prior post for additional details).

In this criminal complaint, Sigelman was charged with conspiracy to violate the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions as well as three substantive FCPA charges.  The FCPA charges were based on allegations that Sigelman and others made at least four transfers of money in the approximate amount of $333,500 to an account in Colombia of a “foreign government official in Colombia.”

In this release, the DOJ announced today that Sigelman was formally criminally indicted for the same conduct.  The release states that Sigelman “charged with conspiracy to violate the FCPA and to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to launder money, and substantive FCPA and money laundering violations.”

The DOJ release further states:  ”The case was brought to the attention of the department through a voluntary disclosure by PetroTiger, which cooperated with the department’s investigation.”

As previously noted, both Hammarskjold and Weisman have pleaded guilty.

Scrutiny Alerts

Key Energy Services

Key Energy Services disclosed in its recent SEC filing:

“The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has advised us that it is investigating possible violations of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act involving business activities of Key’s operations in Russia. We take any such allegations very seriously and are conducting an investigation into the allegations. We are fully cooperating with and sharing the results of our investigation with the Commission. While the outcome of our investigation is currently not determinable, we do not expect that it will have a material adverse effect on our consolidated financial position, results of operations, or cash flows.”

Quanta Services

Quanta Services (an engineering, procurement and construction services company) disclosed in its recent SEC filing:

“On March 10, 2014, the SEC notified Quanta of an inquiry into certain aspects of Quanta’s activities in certain foreign jurisdictions, including South Africa and the United Arab Emirates. The SEC also requested that Quanta take necessary steps to preserve and retain categories of relevant documents, including those pertaining to Quanta’s U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act compliance program. The SEC has not alleged any violations of law by Quanta or its employees. Quanta has complied with the preservation request and is cooperating with the SEC.”

PTC Inc.

PTC Inc. (formerly known as Parametric Technology) first disclosed its FCPA scrutiny in August 2011 and recently disclosed in this  SEC filing:

China Investigation
We have been cooperating to provide information to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the Department of Justice concerning payments and expenses by certain of our business partners in China and/or by employees of our Chinese subsidiary that raise questions concerning compliance with laws, including the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Our internal review is ongoing and now includes periods earlier than those previously examined. We continue to respond to requests for information from these agencies, including a subpoena issued to the company by the SEC. We cannot predict when or how this matter may be resolved. Resolution of this matter could include fines and penalties; however we are unable to estimate an amount that could be associated with any resolution and, accordingly, we have not recorded a liability for this matter. If resolution of this matter includes substantial fines or penalties, this could materially impact our results for the period in which the associated liability is recorded or such amounts are paid. Further, any settlement or other resolution of this matter could have collateral effects on our business in China, the United States and elsewhere.”
Fresenius Medical Care
Germany-based Fresenius Medical Care first disclosed FCPA scrutiny in August 2012 and stated as follows in its recent SEC filing:
“[The previously disclosed internal] review has identified conduct that raises concerns under the FCPA or other anti-bribery laws that may result in monetary penalties or other sanctions.  In addition, the Company’s ability to conduct business in certain jurisdictions could be negatively impacted.  The Company has recorded a non-material accrual for an identified matter.  Given the current status of the internal review, the Company cannot reasonably estimate the range of possible loss that may result from additional identified matters or from the final outcome of the continuing internal review.”
Financial Services Industry

In case you had not heard that numerous financial services companies were under FCPA scrutiny for alleged hiring practices, the Wall Street Journal reports:

“U.S. regulators have expanded their investigation into large banks’ hiring practices in Asia, seeking more information from at least five U.S. and European firms, according to people close to the probe.  The Securities and Exchange Commission in early March sent letters to a group of companies including Credit Suisse Group AG, Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Morgan Stanley, Citigroup Inc. and UBS AG seeking more information about their hiring in Asia, according to people.  [...]  The SEC late last year issued a round of letter to at least six banks, seeking information on their hiring practices, such as whether the firms had special programs dedicated to relatives of influential officials, according to people close to the inquiry.  The second round of requests reflects a deepening of the probe.  The agency is seeking more data on the banks’ recruiting in Asia, including lists of employees hired as a result of referrals from foreign officials and clients, added the people familiar with the investigation.”

As to the above, Goldman disclosed in its most recent SEC filing:

“Regulatory Investigations and Reviews and Related Litigation.

[The company] and certain of its affiliates are subject to a number of other investigations and reviews by, and in some cases have received subpoenas and requests for documents and information from, various governmental and regulatory bodies and self-regulatory organizations and litigation relating to various matters relating to the firm’s businesses and operations, including:

compliance with the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, including with respect to the firm’s hiring practices …”

Reading Stack

No surprise that an individual who paid $174 million to post bail has hired an A-list legal team in defense of DOJ allegations that he violated, among other laws, the FCPA.  (See here for a recent New York Times article regarding Dmitry Firtash).

Sound advice from former DOJ FCPA Unit Chief Chuck Duross in this MoFo Tech article concerning FCPA risk and the technology industry:

“[T]echnology companies are also at risk from the distribution model that’s often used in the industry. Many companies sell their products to channel partners, which add some value to the product or service—such as other hardware, software, an installation, or a service plan—and then resell it at a higher price. That’s an entirely appropriate business model. But as with any third party, companies need to appreciate the potential risk if, for example, the distributor is simply reselling at a higher price without adding any legitimate value and using that profit as a slush fund to funnel bribes to government officials. It may seem to the company that it is not violating the FCPA. It has simply sold its product to another company. But if a company’s employees are aware that the distributor is paying (or just offering) bribes to government officials to help sell the product, the company and its employees could be criminally liable as conspirators and aiders and abettors.

What should tech companies be doing to avoid these issues?

One thing is to know the third parties they’re doing business with. It is also fundamental to understand the business reason for working with third parties. One of the first questions asked during a DOJ or SEC investigation will often be, “What was the business purpose behind working with X?” Having a clear answer will earn credibility with regulators and underscore the company’s commitment to compliance. Also, making sure employees—and third parties—understand company policies, are properly trained, execute FCPA certifications, and are subject to appropriate ongoing reviews can prevent violations and mitigate (or avoid altogether) penalties if a problem does occur. That is just good business. Corruption tends to occur at companies with loose control environments. While I was at DOJ, we routinely saw loose control environments leading to embezzlement, self-dealing, fraud, and even antitrust violations. When a company doesn’t know where its money is going, that’s bad business and negatively impacts shareholder value. When companies invest in a compliance program, they are investing in the health of the business.”

This Kyiv Post article notes:

“Some of Ukraine’s underpaid cadre of civil servants might get bonuses from international finance institutions to reduce the temptation of taking bribes. According to Ukrainian Tax Service chief Ihor Bilous, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development is exploring the idea of setting up a fund that would provide officials with additional pay. ‘Last week I had a meeting with EBRD representatives and they proposed to create a fund to pay money for people who serve the state in high positions,’ Bilous told the Kyiv Post. This idea was successfully implemented in Georgia, he adds, “we need to change the system, state salaries are very low and this situation creates some kind of temptation.”

*****

A good weekend to all, and to all mothers, Happy Mother’s Day!

Friday Roundup

Friday, February 28th, 2014

Most admired, from the U.K., one way to avoid judicial scrutiny is to avoid the courts, another DOJ official departs, scrutiny updates, and survey says.  It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Most Admired

Are companies that resolve a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement or are otherwise under FCPA scrutiny bad or unethical companies?  To be sure, certain companies that have resolved FCPA enforcement actions are deserving of this label, yet most are not.  Indeed, as detailed in this prior post several companies have earned designation as “World Most Ethical Companies” during the same general time period relevant to an enforcement action or instance of FCPA scrutiny.

In a similar vein, several FCPA violators or companies under FCPA scrutiny can be found on Fortune’s recent “Most Admired Company” list.  In the top 50, I count 12 such companies including IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Microsoft, Wal-Mart, JPMorgan, and Cisco.

Let’s face it, not all companies that resolve FCPA enforcement actions or are under FCPA scrutiny are bad or unethical companies.  If more people would realize this and accept this fact, perhaps a substantive discussion could take place regarding FCPA reform absent the misinformed rhetoric.

From the U.K.

In this October 2013 post at the beginning of the U.K. trial of former News Corp. executives Rebekah Brooks, the former editor of News of the World, and Andy Coulson, another former News of the World editor, I observed as follows.

“What happens in these trials concerning the bribery offenses will not determine the outcome of any potential News Corp. FCPA enforcement action.  But you can bet that the DOJ and SEC will be interested in the ultimate outcome.  In short, if there is a judicial finding that Brooks and/or Coulson or other high-level executives in London authorized or otherwise knew of the alleged improper payments, this will likely be a factor in how the DOJ and SEC ultimately resolve any potential enforcement action and how News Corp.’s overall culpability score may be calculated under the advisory Sentencing Guidelines.”

Well …, this Wall Street Journal article reports as follows.

“[Rebekah Brooks testified that] she authorized payments to public officials in exchange for information on “half a dozen occasions” during her time as a newspaper editor—but did so only in what she said was the public interest. [...]  On the stand, Ms. Brooks, who edited News Corp’s Sun newspaper and its now-closed News of the World sister title, said the payments were made for good reasons, and done so on rare occasions and after careful consideration. “My view at the time was that there had to be an overwhelming public interest to justify payments in the very narrow circumstances of a public official being paid for information directly in line with their jobs,” said Ms. Brooks.”

As noted in this previous post at the beginning of News Corp.’s FCPA scrutiny, any suggestion that the media industry is somehow excluded from the FCPA’s prohibitions is entirely off-base.

One Way to Avoid Judicial Scrutiny is to Avoid the Courts

In recent years, the SEC has had some notable struggles in the FCPA context and otherwise when put to its burden of proof in litigated actions or otherwise having to defend its settlement policies to federal court judges.  For instance, Judge Shira Scheindlin (S.D.N.Y.) dismissed the SEC’s FCPA enforcement against former Siemens executive Herbert Steffen.  In another FCPA enforcement action,  Judge Keith Ellison (S.D.Tex.) granted without prejudice Mark Jackson and James Ruehlen’s motion to dismiss the SEC’s claims that sought monetary damages.  In Gabelli, the Supreme Court unanimously rejected the SEC’s statute of limitations position.  Judge Richard Leon (D.D.C.) expressed concerns regarding the SEC’s settlement of FCPA enforcement actions against Tyco and IBM and approved the settlements only after imposing additional reporting requirements on the companies.  In addition, the SEC’s neither admit nor deny settlement policy has been questioned by several judges (most notably Judge Jed Rakoff) and the merits of this policy is currently before the Second Circuit.

The SEC’s response to this judicial scrutiny has been, as strange as it may sound, to bypass the judicial system altogether  when resolving many of its enforcement actions including in the FCPA context.  As detailed in this previous post concerning SEC FCPA enforcement in 2013, of the 8 corporate enforcement actions from 2013, 3 enforcement actions were administrative actions (Philips Electronics, Total, and Stryker) and 1 action (Ralph Lauren) was a non-prosecution agreement.  In other words, there was no judicial scrutiny of 50% of SEC FCPA enforcement actions from 2013.

Based on recent statements from SEC officials at the “SEC Speaks” conference this trend is going to continue.

According to this Vedder Price bulletin:

“Charlotte Buford, Assistant Chief Counsel, spoke about the SEC’s intention to use the administrative proceeding forum more frequently and in a wider variety of upcoming enforcement actions. Ms. Buford stated that in choosing the forum, the SEC considers factors such as speed and efficiency, the nature of the case, litigation considerations such as the amount of discovery needed, and settlement considerations. Ms. Buford noted that, although certain types of actions such as insider trading cases were historically brought in district court, two insider trading cases were recently brought as administrative actions. She also referenced the SEC’s recent action against Alcoa, Inc. involving FCPA violations, which was filed as a settled administrative proceeding. Ms. Buford indicated that the SEC will continue to increase its use of administrative proceedings in the coming years.”

This Perkins Coie alert adds the following:

“[Kara Brockmeyer - Chief of the SEC's FCPA Unit] also noted that companies can expect to see more cases resolved in administrative proceedings, and that the FCPA Unit is considering bringing litigated FCPA cases through administrative proceedings as well.”

SEC administrative settlements in the FCPA context were rare prior to 2010 largely because the SEC could not impose monetary penalties in such proceedings absent certain exceptions.  However, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act granted the SEC broad authority to impose civil monetary penalties in administrative proceedings in which the SEC staff seeks a cease-and-desist order.  However, Congress’s grant of such authority to the SEC – no doubt politically popular in the aftermath of the so-called financial crisis – has directly resulted in less judicial scrutiny of SEC enforcement theories including in the FCPA context.

Like so much of what is happening in the FCPA space (and government regulation of corporate conduct generally), this is a troubling development.

In other “SEC Speaks” tidbits, the Vedder Price bulletin also states:

“Kara Brockmeyer, Chief of the FCPA Unit, noted that her unit brought a variety of cases in 2013, which included “old school” bribery cases funneling money, improper travel and entertainment, and improper charitable donations. Ms. Brockmeyer stated that the SEC continues to see issues with third-party intermediaries, as many companies enter into arrangements with third parties without adequately explaining the roles of the third parties. Ms. Brockmeyer lauded companies for “putting more thought” into compliance programs and internal controls, as well as for their decisions to self-report. She also discussed the Cross-border working group, which has brought 21 fraud actions involving 90 individuals or entities and has revoked the registrations of 63 companies since this initiative started three years ago.”

The Perkins Coie alert also states:

“Turning to the area of cooperation credit and non-prosecution agreements (NPAs), Chief Brockmeyer stated that the 2013 Ralph Lauren case is a good example of where such an outcome was warranted.  Several factors that weighed in favor of that favorable NPA settlement resulted from the company: self-reporting the suspected bribery within two weeks of finding violations; discovering the violations on its own through internal monitoring activities; assisting the SEC’s investigation by providing English language translations of foreign documents, and bringing witnesses to the United States for questioning; and undertaking extensive remediation efforts, including a worldwide investigation to determine if there were any systemic issues.  Finally, Chief Brockmeyer added that it was significant that Ralph Lauren’s investigation determined that the bribery issues were confined to one country; if the violations were found to be more widespread, the company would likely still have received cooperation credit, but would not have been a candidate for a NPA.

Chief Brockmeyer stated that the SEC will continue to address Compliance Monitorship requirements on a case-by-case basis.  Recently, the SEC has imposed both “full” monitorships, as well as some “hybrid” monitorships that include 18 months of monitoring, combined with 18 months of self-monitoring by the company.  She noted that some companies might even qualify for just internal monitoring, but all these considerations depend heavily on the state of the company’s compliance program.

Finally, Chief Brockmeyer indicated that whistleblower tips continue to serve as a primary lead for the SEC in identifying potential FCPA actions.  The SEC is using these tips to identify specific sectors or industries that are not paying sufficient attention to corporate compliance or internal controls.  The SEC is also focused on enforcing the anti-retaliation whistleblower provisions in Dodd Frank.  In some instances, the SEC has observed that companies have required employees to sign confidentiality agreements that appear to bar an employee from becoming a whistleblower.  She opined that such agreements would violate Dodd-Frank’s prohibition against regulated entities taking actions to impede employees from making whistleblower complaints.”

Another DOJ Official Departs

When Lanny Breuer departed as DOJ Assistant Attorney Criminal Division in March 2013, Mythili Raman became Acting Assistant Attorney and carried forward much of the same rhetoric Breuer frequently articulated concerning the DOJ’s FCPA enforcement program.  (See here for my article “Lanny Breuer and Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Enforcement).

In speeches (here and here) Raman stated that the DOJ’s “stellar FCPA Unit continues to go gangbusters, bringing case after case,” “our recent string of successful prosecutions of corporate executives is worth highlighting” and “we are not going away … our efforts to fight foreign bribery are more robust than ever.”

Like other DOJ FCPA officials before her, Raman frequently highlighted certain enforcement statistics, yet conveniently ignored the most telling enforcement statistic of all – the DOJ’s dismal record when actually put to its burden of proof in FCPA enforcement actions.  In short, for a long time the DOJ’s FCPA Unit has had a distorted view of success.

Certainly, the DOJ and SEC have had “success” in this new era of FCPA enforcement exercising leverage and securing large corporate FCPA settlements against risk-averse corporations through resolution vehicles often not subjected to any meaningful judicial scrutiny.  However, by focusing on the quantity of FCPA enforcement, the quality of that enforcement is often left unexplored.  The simplistic notion advanced by the enforcement agencies seems to be that more FCPA enforcement is an inherent good regardless of enforcement theories, regardless of resolution vehicles, and regardless of actual outcomes when put to its burden of proof.  This logic is troubling and ought to be rejected.  In a legal system founded on the rule of law, a more meaningful form of government enforcement agency success is prevailing in the context of an adversarial system when put to the burden of proof.  As to this form of success, during this new era of FCPA enforcement, the DOJ and SEC have had far less “success” in enforcing the FCPA.

Recently the DOJ announced that Raman is departing from her position. (See here).  In this related Q&A with the Wall Street Journal Law Blog (LB) Raman confirmed that the DOJ measures success in terms of quantity without regard to quality.

LB: [On enforcement of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which has increased in recent years] do you think you’re winning? Are there fewer bribes being paid now?

MR: We often measure our success by numbers of enforcement actions but actually at the end of the day…. the deterrent effect is what actually matters. I don’t know if fewer bribes are being paid or not. But I do know that there are many more companies who know what their obligations are now.

For additional coverage of Raman’s departure, see here and here.

Scrutiny Alerts

Last summer German healthcare firm Fresenius Medical Care AG disclosed an FCPA internal investigation (see here for the prior post).  In its recently filed annual report, the company stated as follows:

“The Company has received communications alleging certain conduct in certain countries outside the U.S. and Germany that may violate the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) or other anti-bribery laws. The Audit and Corporate Governance Committee of the Company’s Supervisory Board is conducting an internal review with the assistance of independent counsel retained for such purpose. The Company  voluntarily advised the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) and the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) that allegations have been made and of the Company’s internal review. The Company’s review and dialogue with the SEC and DOJ are ongoing.  The review has identified conduct that raises concerns under the FCPA or other anti-bribery laws that may result in monetary penalties or other sanctions. In addition, the Company’s ability to conduct business in certain jurisdictions could be negatively impacted. Given the current status of the internal review, the Company cannot reasonably estimate the possible loss or range of possible loss that may result from the identified matters or from the final outcome of the continuing internal review. Accordingly, no provision with respect to these matters has been made in the accompanying consolidated financial statements.  The Company’s independent counsel, in conjunction with the Company’s Compliance Department, have reviewed the Company’s anti-corruption compliance program, including internal controls related to compliance with international anti-bribery laws, and appropriate enhancements are being implemented. The Company is fully committed to FCPA compliance.”

Bio-Rad Laboratories disclosed as follows yesterday in an earnings release.

“[Fourth quarter] results included an accrued expense of $15 million in connection with the Company’s efforts to resolve the previously disclosed investigation of the Company in connection with the United States Foreign Corrupt Practices Act; this is in addition to an accrued expense of $20 million in the third quarter of 2013.”

Survey Says

The American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai recently released its China Business Report (2013-2014).

Notable findings include the following:

“Generally consistent with previous years, 80 percent of respondents cited bureaucracy as the No. 1 challenge, with 72 percent declaring difficulties from an unclear regulatory environment and 70 percent were concerned over problems with tax administration rounding out the top three leading legal and regulatory challenges that companies said hindered their business.”

As I’ve frequently stated, the root causes of much bribery and corruption are various trade barriers and distortions. These barriers and distortions – whether complex customs procedures, import documentation and inspection requirements, local sponsor or other third-party requirements, arcane licensing and certification requirements, quality standards that require product testing and inspection visits, or other foreign government procurement practices – all serve as breeding grounds for harassment bribes to be requested. Simply put, trade barriers and distortions create bureaucracy. Bureaucracy creates points of contact with foreign officials. Points of contact with foreign officials create discretion. Discretion creates the opportunity for a foreign official to misuse their position by making demand bribes.

The report also stated:

“Efforts by the Chinese government to target companies for corruption investigations have sharply increased companies’ concern over compliance with China’s laws and regulations. In 2013, 46 percent of companies said compliance with domestic laws was more important to their business, up from 31 percent in 2012, compared to international anti-bribery laws such as the FCPA (32 percent).

Twice as many respondents said that China’s more aggressive regulatory enforcement for anti-corruption and anti-competition has greatly increased or increased their own business risk (18 percent) than those who say their business risk has greatly decreased or decreased (8 percent). The issue of corruption and fraud was most strongly felt in the healthcare industry (24 percent), which contended with high profile government investigations of foreign and domestic pharmaceutical companies in 2013.”

The impetus for much of this concern is the result of GSK’s (and other pharma and healthcare related companies) scrutiny by Chinese authorities for alleged improper business practices.  (See here for the prior post).

*****

A good weekend to all.

Friday Roundup

Friday, February 14th, 2014

Cisco’s discreet blog post, McDonald’s receives the “princeling” treatment, Avon update, further to the free-for-all, more candy, and for the reading stack.  It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Cisco’s Discreet Disclosure

There is not much that slips through the cracks when it comes to the FCPA space.

However, this December 23, 2013 Cisco blog post by a Vice President for Compliance Services under the discreet heading “The Importance of Ethics in Global Business” has not otherwise been reported.  The post states, after noting that “for the sixth time in as many years, the Ethisphere Institute honored Cisco by naming us to its list of the “World’s Most Ethical Companies,” as follows:

“Recently, at the request of the Securities and Exchange Commission and the US Department of Justice, Cisco began an investigation into our business activities and discounting practices in Russia and other Commonwealth of Independent States in response to a communication those agencies had received. We are cooperating with the agencies and will fully share the results of our investigation with them. Despite the extensive investigation that we have undertaken thus far, we have found no basis to believe that Cisco’s activities are in violation of any law, and indeed the information we were provided does not allege wrongdoing by any of Cisco’s executive management. While this investigation is ongoing, we do not expect the outcome to have any material adverse effect on our business or operations.”

For a prior post concerning companies that have resolved FCPA enforcement actions or have otherwise been under FCPA scrutiny while at the same general time earning “world’s most ethical” company status see here.

McDonald’s

The word of the last six months would seem to be “princeling.”  In “princeling” updates:

This Wall Street Journal article “Vietnam Gets Its First McDonald’s” states:

“McDonald’s chose Henry Nguyen, a Vietnamese-American investor and the son-in-law of Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, as its main franchise partner in the country.”

This Quartz article “McDonald’s Partnered with a Vietnamese Princeling”  notes:

“Partnering up with a well-connected member of one of Vietnam’s most prominent political families has raised remarkably few eyebrows for McDonald’s—especially given the growing scandal in China over investment banks that have done much the same thing.”

Among other things, the article notes:

“Nguyen, who also heads Vietnam’s Pizza Hut franchise business, worked hard for a decade to convince McDonald’s he was the right person for the partnership, he told Reuters last year. A McDonald’s spokeswoman said then, “His marriage did not preclude him for participating in what was a very competitive selection process.”

As noted in this prior post “Regarding Princelings and Family Members” there is nothing inherently illegal about hiring family members of alleged “foreign officials” and various DOJ FCPA Opinion Procedure Releases have blessed such arrangements.  Even so, several FCPA enforcement actions have been based, at least in part, on the hiring of family members of alleged “foreign officials” – see here.
Speaking of princelings, this Bloomberg article asks “If JPMorgan Has to Shun China’s Princelings, Shouldn’t Harvard?”

Avon

Avon has been under FCPA scrutiny since 2008 and disclosed yesterday as follows.

“The Company recorded an aggregate accrual related to the previously disclosed government Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) investigations of $89 million, or $0.20 per diluted share, within operating profit, of which $12 million was recorded in the second quarter. Based on the status of the Company’s current settlement negotiations with the DOJ and the staff of the SEC, including the level of monetary penalties being discussed, an additional $77 million was recorded in the fourth quarter, and the Company estimates the aggregate amount of any potential settlements with the government could exceed this accrual by up to approximately $43 million. There can be no assurance that the Company’s efforts to reach settlements with the government will be successful or, if they are, what the timing or terms of such settlements will be.”
During yesterday’s earnings conference call, Avon’s CEO stated:
“As you saw in our press release this morning, we’ve continued our discussions with that SEC and DOJ and we’ve made significant progress. Based on the status of our recent discussions, we believe that a reasonable range for settlement with both agencies would be $89 million to $132 million. Our discussions with the government are ongoing and differences remain, but the team is working hard in an effort to bring these matters to a close.”

Free-For-All

In my recent article “Why You Should Be Alarmed by the ADM FCPA Enforcement Action,” I noted that with increasing frequency in this new era of FCPA enforcement, it appears that the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission have
transformed FCPA enforcement into a free-for-all in which any conduct the enforcement agencies find objectionable is fair game to extract a multimillion-dollar settlement from a risk-averse corporation.  In this post regarding the recent Alcoa enforcement action I noted that it was hard to square the enforcement action (the fourth largest FCPA enforcement action of all-time in terms of a settlement amount) when the alleged consultant at the center of the alleged bribery scheme was criminally charged by another law enforcement agency, put the law enforcement agency to its burden of proof at trial, and the law enforcement agency dismissed
the case because there was no ”realistic prospect of conviction.”

Further to the free-for-all, Wiley Rein attorneys Gregory Williams, Ralph Caccia and Richard Smith write here as follows.

“[I]t is remarkable that such a large monetary sanction was imposed when the criminal charges brought by the U.K. Serious Fraud Office against the consultant central to the alleged bribery scheme were dismissed on the grounds that there was no “realistic prospect of conviction.” Perhaps most striking, however, is the theory of parent corporate liability that the settlement reflects. Although there is no allegation that an Alcoa official participated in, or knew of, the improper payments made by its subsidiaries, the government held the parent corporation liable for FCPA anti-bribery violations under purported “agency” principles. Alcoa serves as an important marker in what appears to be a steady progression toward a strict liability FCPA regime.

[...]

Such an enforcement approach appears to abrogate basic tenets of corporate liability. A parent company is not liable for the acts of its subsidiary except when the companies disregard corporate formalities (alter ego theory) or when the subsidiary acts as the agent of the parent for a specific purpose.  For the latter, the parent is required to control the particular activity in question. The government’s new agency theory of enforcement represents an aggressive expansion of corporate liability, with significant the implications for parent companies both in terms of the compliance and potentially liability.”

For additional reading, see this recent post (“Dig into certain corporate Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement actions and it would appear that legal liability seems to hop, skip, and jump around a multinational company.  This of course would be inconceivable in other areas, such as contract liability, tort liability, etc. absent an “alter ego” / “piercing the veil” analysis for the simple reason that is what the black letter law commands”).

More Candy

Previous posts here and here have dispensed FCPA candy (that is year in reviews).  You can be tardy for the party, but still be included in the fun and set forth below are three additional worthwhile reads.

BakerHostetler 2013 Year-End Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Update

“This [recent] decrease [in corporate FCPA enforcement actions] appears to be the result of proactive internal investigations and remediation by U.S. companies that recognize the importance of retaining external resources to investigate FCPA issues in light of the substantial fines levied by the government over recent years.”

That’s a nice way to spin it, but the better answer by far is to have a proper perspective on FCPA statistics and to realize that 35% of all corporate FCPA enforcement actions in recent years and 55% of the settlement amounts were the direct result of just three unique events.

WilmerHale Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Alert

Kudos for the following statement regarding so-called “declinations.”

“[W]hile these corporate disclosures are frequently referred to generically as “declinations,” that term seems to encompass not only genuine declinations where the government exercises discretion to decline prosecution of an otherwise chargeable offense, but also cases where the government decides not to prosecute because it has found insufficient evidence of FCPA violations or faces insurmountable legal hurdles in bringing a case.”

For more on so-called “declinations” see prior posts here, here and here.

Miller & Chevalier FCPA Winter Review 2014 

Once again, be warned – the divergent enforcement statistics are likely to make you dizzy at times and as to certain issues.  [Given the increase in FCPA Inc. statistical information and the growing interest in empirical FCPA-related research, I again highlight the need for an FCPA lingua franca (see here for the prior post), including adoption of the “core” approach to FCPA enforcement statistics (see here for the prior post), an approach endorsed by even the DOJ (see here), as well as commonly used by others outside the FCPA context (see here)]

For the Reading Stack

From the Washington Post, a look at New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and the rise and controversy of non-prosecution and deferred prosecution agreements.

In this recent NY Times Dealbook article, “S.E.C.’s Losing Streak in Court Puts Agency in Spotlight,” Professor Peter Henning (a former SEC enforcement official) begins as follows.

“Every litigator says that trials are messy affairs because no one can predict how they will play out.  After a string of recent unfavorable verdicts in fraud cases, the Securities and Exchange Commission may, too, be concerned with that trend. The S.E.C. is a bit like the New York Yankees, because every defeat is magnified, so we should be careful not to read too much into the anecdotal evidence as garnered by the results of a few recent trials.  Most cases filed by the agency are settled, garnering only modest publicity, so the effectiveness of its enforcement program is not tied solely to its wins in the courtroom.”

For more on the SEC’s recent losses, see here from Marc Fagel and Mary Kay Dunning (Gibson Dunn).

“One likely consequence [of the SEC's recent losses] may be an increase in the number of enforcement matters filed as administrative cease-and-desist proceedings rather than as federal district court actions.”

Spot-on observation, but again a sorry state of affairs in that a way for the SEC to avoid litigated losses when put to its burden of proof is to avoid the judicial system altogether.

A recent survey from AlixPartners conducted in November 2013.  (The survey group consisted of executives at companies based in North America, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia that have annual revenues of $150 million or more).  “The survey also found that although some companies have expanded the scope of their reviews of their foreign subsidiaries, one-third said they have not done that. Less than half (43%) of respondents said they regularly conduct due diligence on third-party agents.”  (See here for the prior post “It’s More Like Bronze Dust.”).