Archive for the ‘Tobacco Industry’ Category

Friday Roundup

Friday, September 21st, 2012

Strange things tend to happen on Halloween, does your foreign local counsel present FCPA risk, insights from the boardroom, checking in on the Wynn-Okada battle royale, tobacco companies in the Middle East, a hat tip, and unmasked.  It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Halloween Hearing Date

Strange things tend to happen on Halloween.  Thus, it is fitting that U.S. District Court Judge Keith Ellison (S.D. Tex.)  has set October 31st as the hearing date for the motion to dismiss in the SECs FCPA enforcement action against Mark Jackson and James Ruehlen.  See here for a prior post linking to the briefs and arguments.  How strange is this?  It is believed that the last time the SEC stood before a federal court judge to defend its FCPA enforcement theories was in 2002.  As noted in this previous post, the SEC lost that case.

Foreign Counsel Risk

A company engages foreign local counsel to help it accomplish a business objective.  The company pays thousands of dollars in legal bills  to the counsel without probably giving much thought to Foreign Corrupt Practices Act risk. 

In this recent article in the Duquesne Business Law Journal, Zachary Cregar (Liberty Mutual Insurance Group, Senior Litigation Auditor) sets forth the need to include foreign legal counsel due diligence and audits within an FCPA compliance program. 

Cregar concludes the article as follows.  “Foreign outside counsel supervision and legal bill auditing is not only a successful method of detecting corrupt payments, but it pays dividends beyond the realm of FCPA compliance. Cost savings from discovered billing irregularities will likely justify the cost of the program itself. While companies’ bottom lines are impacted by over-billing or fraudulent legal invoices, the financial stakes grow ever higher within the purview of the FCPA. Corporate anti-corruption and due diligence policies may be helpful in reducing hefty FCPA violation penalties after the fact. However, only vigorous, real-time auditing and detection of corrupt payments at the onset will avoid foreign corruption from even occurring.”

Current instances of FCPA scrutiny which involve, at least in part, questions regarding foreign legal counsel include Wal-Mart’s conduct in Mexico and Las Vegas Sands conduct in Macau.

Insights From the Boardroom

PwC’s Annual Corporate Director Survey, “Insights from the Boardroom 2012,” is available for download here.  It contains a few FCPA / bribery / corruption related statistics.

Which of the following has your company done in response to the 2011 SEC whistleblower rules?   43% of respondents indicated that their companies have expanded the role of internal audit for bribery and corruption compliance and 11% of respondents indicated that their companies scheduled more board discussions regarding bribery and corruption.

I argue in “Revisiting a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Compliance Defense” here that, among other reasons, the FCPA should be amended to include a compliance defense because such a defense will better incentivize corporate compliance and thus reduce improper conduct.  I state that organizations with existing FCPA compliance policies and procedures will be incentivized to make existing programs better and that organizations currently without stand-alone FCPA policies and procedures (and statistics indicate there are many) will be incentivized to spend finite resources to implement compliance policies and procedures.

Imagine the FCPA is amended in 2012 to include a compliance defense. What would the numbers in PwC’s 2013 survey look like if respondents asked “which of the following has your company done in response to the FCPA compliance defense amendment.”  I can only speculate as to the exact numbers, but I am confident in saying that more than 43% of respondents would indicate that their companies expanded the role of internal audit for bribery and corruption compliance and that more than 11% of respondents would indicate that their companies scheduled more board discussions regarding bribery and corruption.

Another question in the survey was the following.  Indicate if you would like your board to devote more time in the upcoming year to considering the following matters?  As to bribery and corruption concerns, 2% said yes, much more time and focus than in the past; 20% said yes, but not a great increase from the past; 75% said no, a change is unnecessary; and 3% said no, decrease our time and focus— we spend too much time on this.

The PwC survery occurred this past summer and was based on responses of 860 public company directors (70% of whom serve on the board of companies with more than $1 billion in annual revenue).

Wynn-Okada

As noted in this previous summary post, it is one of the strangest instances of FCPA scrutiny one can imagine.  A corporate board member accuses the company of conduct that could implicate the FCPA, which then causes the SEC to open an inquiry, which then results in the company accusing the board member of separate and distinct conduct that could implicate the FCPA.

Its the Wynn-Okada battle royale.

Earlier this week Kazuo Okada (President of Aruze USA, Inc. – Aruze is the largest stockholder of Wynn Resorts with current ownership of approximately 20% of the outstanding shares) released this letter to Wynn’s shareholders concerning various corporate governance changes.

The letter states, under the heading “Suspicious $135 million donation to the University of Macau Development Foundation” as follows.

“In April 2011, the Board met, discussed, and approved a pledge by Wynn Macau, Limited (“Wynn Macau”), a subsidiary of the Company, to donate HK$1 billion (roughly $135 million) to the University of Macau Development Foundation, at a time when Wynn Macau was seeking local government approval to develop a third casino.  This donation is suspicious for a number of reasons, including its enormous size, the fact that the 10-year term of the pledge matches precisely the length of the casino license Wynn Resorts was seeking, and the fact that the lead trustee of the University of Macau Development Foundation also has a position in the Macau government which enables him to influence the issuance of gaming licenses. Mr. Okada questioned and objected to the donation and was ultimately the sole director to vote against it.  Mr. Okada has noted that “I am at a complete loss as to the business justification for the donation, other than that it was an attempt to curry favor with those that have ultimate authority for issuing gaming licenses.”  Following the April 2011 board meeting, pursuant to his rights as a director of the Company and in furtherance of his fiduciary duties to stockholders of the Company, Mr. Okada, sought to further investigate the Wynn Macau donation and requested additional information from Wynn Resorts concerning the donation and related matters.  When the Company refused to provide the information, Mr. Okada took legal action and was vindicated by a court order requiring Wynn Resorts to comply with Mr. Okada’s reasonable requests.  As Mr. Okada feared, the questionable Wynn Macau donation has already spawned at least four stockholder lawsuits against the Company and investigations by both the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (for possible violations of law including the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act) and the Nevada Gaming Board.  Not only is this enormous financial commitment a drain on the Company’s coffers, but now Wynn Resorts stockholders will be saddled with the added costs associated with responding to the regulatory investigations and lawsuits.  If the results of these investigations and lawsuits include the development of facts regarding legally questionable practices by the Company, stockholders will be at still further risk.”

In response, Wynn Resorts issued this statement which states as follows.  ““Aruze has not been a stockholder of Wynn Resorts, Limited since February 18, 2012 when its shares were redeemed by the Wynn Board after a lengthy, third-party investigation uncovered prima facie evidence of improper conduct under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act by Mr. Okada, Universal Entertainment and Aruze in their dealings with Philippine officials.  This most recent filing is a regrettable attempt to divert attention from the issues facing Mr. Okada and Aruze. Given the fact that Aruze was ejected seven months ago as a Wynn shareholder based on conduct unacceptable for a gaming licensee, it has absolutely no rights as a shareholder to nominate directors and its invalid nominations have been rejected on this basis.”

Tobacco Companies in the Middle East

An interesting article (here) from the Saudi Gazette.

The article states as follows.  “In most countries, public smoking is banned. Taxes on the sale of cigarettes and other tobacco related products are high, and labeling on cigarette packs is often very graphic and clear: Smoking kills!  From the United States to Australia, governments are clamping down on tobacco companies with regulations to throttle consumption and it seems to be working. And so, tobacco companies have to seek other markets. The Middle East is fertile ground as anti-smoking legislation is weak at best, and a fast growing birthrate means a higher number of potential smokers. As a result, big tobacco companies quickly established regional headquarters for the GCC market in the UAE and set to work.”  The article then describes how a source tells of companies reaching out to “area [government] officials to lessen any impact on tobacco sales.”

As noted in this prior post,  in August 2010, U.S. tobacco companies Alliance One International and Universal Corporation resolved FCPA enforcement actions.

Hat Tip

A hat tip to Christopher Matthews, Samuel Rubenfeld and others associated with the Wall Street Journal’s Corruption Currents page on their two-year anniversary.  Corruption Currents (here) is a daily read for me and should be for anyone interested in FCPA and related topics. 

Who is that Masked Man?

A small town Midwesterner who saw the world and became interested in a law is who.  Thanks to Tom Fox (FCPA Compliance and Ethics Blog) for the opportunity to tell my story.  See here for the Q&A.

*****

A good weekend to all.

Hail To The Chief

Monday, February 20th, 2012

Today is Presidents’ Day.

This post highlights the role of Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and William Clinton in enactment and subsequent development of the FCPA.

Ford

After watching Congress investigate and hold hearings on the foreign payments problem for approximately nine months, in March 1976 President Ford issued a  “Memorandum Establishing the Task Force on Questionable Corporate Payments  Abroad” (see here).

The great debate at this time was whether the foreign payments problem should be addressed through a disclosure regime or through a criminalization regime.  The Ford Administration favored the former and in June 1976, Ford released “Remarks Announcing New Initiatives for the Task Force on Questionable Corporate Payments Abroad.” (see here). As noted in the remarks, Ford directed the task force “to prepare legislation that would require corporate disclosure of all payments made with the intention of  influencing foreign government officials.”

Certain bills were introduced in Congress consistent with Ford’s vision and in August 1976 Ford issued “Foreign Payments Disclosure – Message From the President of the United States Urging Enactment of Proposed Legislation to Require the Disclosure of Payments to Foreign Officials.” (see here).

Neither Ford’s proposal, or any other, was enacted by Congress prior to the 1976 elections in which Ford was defeated by Jimmy Carter.

Carter

Unlike the Ford Administration, the Carter administration favored the criminalization regime that was under consideration in the prior Congress and a movement that soon picked up speed when Congress reconvened in January 1977.

Certain members of the Carter administration testified at Congressional hearings throughout 1977 in favor of the criminalization regime and in December 1977, S. 305 (the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977 and the Domestic and
Foreign Investment Improved Disclosure Act of 1977) was presented to President Carter.

On December 20, 1977, President Carter signed S. 305 into law – see here for his signing statement.

Reagan

As noted in this previous post, President Reagan’s administration very soon sought decriminalization of foreign payments subject to the FCPA. During the Reagan administration (1981-1989), numerous efforts were made in Congress to amend the FCPA. Soon after the FCPA was enacted, it was widely recognized that the FCPA had addressed a serious problem, but that the statute created much uncertainty and was, in the minds of many, unworkable.

Among other things, the FCPA antibribery provisions enacted in 1977 contained a broad knowledge standard (“reason to know”) applicable to indirect payments to “foreign officials”; (ii) did not contain any affirmative defenses; and (iii) did not contain an express facilitating payments exception. Beginning in 1980, various bills were introduced – either as stand alone bills or specific titles to omnibus trade and export bills – that sought to amend the FCPA. This legislative process took eight years.

In August 1988, President Reagan signed H.R. 4848 the Omnibus Trade and Competitiveness Act of 1988. Title V, Subtitle A, Part I of the Act was titled “Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Amendments.” President Reagan’s signing statement does not refer to the FCPA amendments buried in the omnibus trade bill. Among the amendments were a revised knowledge standard applicable to indirect payments and the creation of affirmative defenses and an express facilitating payment exception.

Clinton

In November 1998, President Clinton signed S. 2375, the “International Anti-Bribery and Fair Competition Act of 1998.” Among other things, the Act amended the FCPA by (i) creating a new class of persons subject to the FCPA – “any person” not an issuer or domestic concern to the extent such person’s bribery scheme has a U.S. nexus; and (ii) creating a new alternative nationality jurisdiction test for U.S. issuers and domestic concerns.

See here for President Clinton’s signing statement.

An FCPA reform debate has been active for over a year.  Most recently, Chris Matthews (Wall Street Journal Corruption Currents) reports (here) that “big tobacco has waded into the ongoing push to amend the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act” and that “Altria Group, the parent company of Philip Morris USA, has retained a lobbyist to represent the company’s interest in the FCPA.”  In August 2010, tobacco companies Alliance One International and Universal Corporation resolved similar FCPA enforcement actions (see here for the prior post).  Matthews also reports that “several other companies have lobbied on the FCPA, including FedEx Corp. and the Chubb Corp., a property insurer.”

As the FCPA reform debate unfolds, will President Obama play a role in FCPA history?

More On Alliance One and Universal

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

Earlier this month (see here) the DOJ and SEC announced FCPA enforcement actions against tobacco companies – Alliance One International, Inc. and Universal Corporation.

Both the DOJ (here) and the SEC (here) issued a consolidated press release – the first time (to my knowledge) the agencies have consolidated an enforcement action against two unrelated companies in such a fashion. Perhaps the reason was, as explained below, a significant part of the improper conduct at both companies involved the same entity – The Thailand Tobacco Monopoly (“TTM”) – an alleged agency and instrumentality of the Thai government.

This is a long post, but then again, at nearly 300 pages, there was much in the DOJ and SEC resolution documents.

For instance, Alliance One’s entire exposure was based, not on anything it did, but rather successor liability theories.

Both the Alliance One and Universal enforcement actions were the product of voluntary disclosure. In fact, the Universal inquiry began when a former employee contacted the company’s internal compliance hotline. Query whether that individual today would do the same thing given Dodd-Frank’s whistlblower provisions – provisions which, if applicable, would make him / her a millionaire.

The Universal enforcement action is an FCPA first, in that it concerns conduct in Mozambique and Malawi.

There are also many remedial measures / compliance nuggets waiting to be digested from these enforcement actions.

The Alliance One enforcement action has already spawned a related individual enforcement action against Bobby Elkins (see here) and the Universal enforcement action may do the same as the DOJ’s Statement of Facts contains an alphabet soup of employees, including U.S. citizens, allegedly involved in the improper conduct.

This post describes the DOJ and SEC’s enforcement actions against Alliance One as well as the DOJ and SEC’s enforcement actions against Universal Corp.

Alliance One

The Alliance One enforcement action included a non-prosecution agreement between the DOJ and Alliance One, criminal pleas by Alliance One International AG and Alliance One Tobacco OSH, LLC, as well as an SEC enforcement action against Alliance One.

Edward Fuhr, Hunton & Williams LLP (see here), represented Alliance One entities. Colleen Mahoney, Skadden (see here), the former Deputy Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement, represented Alliance One’s Board of Directors and Audit Committee.

DOJ

Pursuant to a non-prosecution agreement (see here), the DOJ agreed not to prosecute Alliance One related to:

1. “improper payments (or agreements to make improper payments) made by employees and agents of its subsidiary or predecessor corporations in the form of:

a. corrupt payments made to foreign officials in Kyrgyzstan including (i) bribes paid to officials of the Kyrgyz Tamekisi; (ii) bribes paid to Akims; and (iii) bribes paid to Kyrgyz tax officials, which payments were made for the purpose of obtaining and retaining business with Kyrgyzstan government entities; and

b. corrupt payments made to foreign officials in Thailand in the form of
kickbacks paid to officials of the Thailand Tobacco Monopoly, which payments were made for the purpose of obtaining and retaining business with Thailand government entities; and

2. The accounting and record-keeping practices associated with these improper
payments.”

Pursuant to the NPA, Alliance One “admitted, accepted, and acknowledged successor corporate responsibility for the conduct of its corporate predecessors” as set forth in a Statement of Facts attached to the NPA.

In summary fashion, the Statement of Facts are as follows:

Prior to 2005, Dimon, Inc. (“Dimon”) was a publicly traded leaf tobacco merchant subject to the FCPA. Dimon also had an obligation to ensure that its wholly owned subsidiaries, including Dimon International Kyrgyzstan, Inc. (“DIK”) and Dimon International AG (“DIAG”), maintained accurate books and records.

Prior to 2005, Standard Commercial Corp. (“Standard”) was a publicly traded leaf tobacco merchant subject to the FCPA. Standard also had an obligation to ensure that its wholly owned subsidiaries, including Standard Brazil Ltd., maintained accurate books and records.

In 2005, Dimon and Standard merged to form Alliance One.

Kyrgyzstan

Dimon maintained a wholly owned subsidiary, DIK, that was organized under Kyrgyzstan law. During the relevant time period, DIK purchased and processed tobacco grown in Kyrgyzstan and shipped processed tobacco to Dimon’s customers throughout the world.

According to the Statement of Facts, “DIK maintained its principal place of business in Osh, Kyrgyzstan and made regular reports of its business operations and financial accounts to officers of Dimon located at its headquarters in Danville, Virginia. DIK regularly sought approval for management decisions from Dimon managemeut and worked with and communicated with individuals acting as DIK’s agents in Danville, Virginia, and Farmville, North Carolina, who undertook certain acts within the territory of the United States such that DIK was a “person” within the meaning ofthe FCPA.

After the merger of Dimon and Standard in 2005, Alliance changed the name of DIK to Alliance One Tobacco Osh, LLC (“Osh”) which continued to operate in Kyrgyzstan as a wholly owned subsidiary of Alliance One.

According to the Statement of Facts, “Osh is the corporate successor to DIK, and is legally accountable for the criminal acts of its predecessor corporation.

Like the DOJ and SEC’s prior enforcement action against Bobby Elkins (see here and here), the Statement of Facts focus on improper payments to “Kyrgyz Official A,” “the Akims” and the “Kyrgyz Tax Inspection Police.”

Kyrgyz Official A served as the “General Director of the Tamekisi” “an agency and instrumentality of the [Kyrgyz] government [established] to manage and control the government-controlled shares of the tobacco processing facilities throughout Kyrgyzstan.” According to the Statement of Facts, the Tamekisi agreed to issue a license to Dimon to process and export tobacco and that from October 1996 through at least February 2004, DIK delivered approximately $2.6 million in cash payments to the official. According to the Statement of Facts, these payments were intended to “influence acts or decisions” of the official in his official capacity and to secure DIK’s “continued access to the tobacco processing facilities controlled by the Tamekisi.”

According to the Statement of Facts, an Akim is a head of Kyrgyz local government with “authority over the sale of tobacco by the growers” within a specific municipality or geographic area. The Statement of Facts indicate that beginning in 1996 “it became necessary for DIK to obtain permission from local Akims to purchase tobacco from the growers in each area” and “several of the Akims demanded payment of a “commission” from DIK “in order to secure the relevant Akim’s approval” for DIK to purchase tobacco from local growers. According to the Statement of Facts, from January 1996 to at least March 2004 DIK made cash payments “to the Akims of five different municipalities totaling approximately $283,762 in order to influence the acts and decisions of the Akims and to secure DIK’s continued ability to purchase tobacco from growers in the muncipalities controlled by the Akims.”

As to the Kyrgyz Tax Inspection Police, the Statement of Facts indicate that “during periodic audits” of DIK, the police assessed penalties and threatened to shut down DIK. According to the Statement of Facts, from March 2000 to March 2003 DIK “made approximately nine cash payments to officers of the Kyrgyz Tax Inspection Police totaling approximately $82,850 in order to influence the acts and decisions” of the police and to secure DIK’s “continued ability to conduct its business in Kyrgyzstan.”

According to the Statement of Facts, DIK maintained a company bank account in Kyrgyzstan, known as the “special account” to make the above described improper payments and when a DIK employee “needed to replenish money in the special account, he sent requests for funds by electronic mail or facsimile transmission to other employees and officers of Dimon or its affiliates in the U.S.” accompanied by a wire transfer request to Dimon’s Financial Accounting Department in Virginia.

According to the Statement of Facts, “the financial reporting on the special account from DIK and all other Dimon subsidiaries went directly to Dimon’s corporate headquarters in the U.S.” and in July 2002 “an internal audit report to Dimon headquarters stated that DIK management continued to be challenged by a ‘cash environment’ and cited corruption in Kyrgyzstan as a financial risk because of the potential control issue with cash payments.”

According to the Statement of Facts, between January 1996 and December 2004, “the Kyrgyzstan business operations of DIK generated profits of approximately $4.8 million for its parent corporation, Dimon.”

Thailand

Prior to 2005, Dimon maintained a wholly owned subsidiary, DIAG, which was organized under Swiss law and conducted business in the U.K., Brazil, Thailand, the U.S. and elsewhere. According to the Statement of Facts, “during the relevant time period, DIAG provided financial, accounting and management services to other Dimon subsidiaries that purchased tobacco grown in Brazil, and sold it to Dimon’s customers including the [TTM].” According to the Statement of Facts, DIAG, which maintained its principal place of business in the U.K., “made regular reports of its business operations and financial accounts to officers of Dimon located at its headquarters in Danville, Virginia” and DIAG “regularly sought approval for management decisions from Dimon management and worked with and communicated with individuals acting as DIAG’s agents” in Virginia and North Carolina “who undertook certain acts while in the territory of the United States such that DIAG was a “person” within the meaning ofthe FCPA.

Prior to 2005, Standard maintained a wholly owned subsidiary, Standard Brazil Ltd (“Standard Brazil”), which was organized under the laws of the Isle of Jersey, Channel Islands, and conducted business in Brazil, Thailand, and elsewhere. During the relevant period, Standard Brazil provided financial, accounting and management services to other Standard subsidiaries that purchased tobacco grown in Brazil, and sold it to Standard’s customers including the TTM. Standard Brazil regularly sought approval for management decisions from Standard management and worked with and communicated with individuals at Standard, acting as Standard Brazil’s agents in the United States and undertaking certain acts within the territory of the United States such that Standard Brazil was a “person” within the meaning of the FCPA.

The Statement of Facts concern improper payments to TTM (see here) “an agency and instrumentality” of the Thai government established to “manage and control the government-owned tobacco industry in Thailand.” According to the Statement of Facts, the TTM “supervised the cultivation of domestic tobacco crops, purchased imported tobacco and manufactured cigarettes and other tobacco products in Thailand.”

According to the Statement of Facts, the TTM was headed by a Managing Director (“Thai Official A”), appointed by the Finance Ministry, who reported through a Board of Directors directly to the Minister of Finance of Thailand and, as such, was a “foreign official” within the meaning of the FCPA. (See here for TTM’s current organizational chart).

According to the Statement of Facts, during the relevant time period, Dimon purchased tobacco from growers in Brazil and sold the Brazilian tobacco to the TTM through DIAG and Standard sold the Brazilian tobacco to the TTM through Standard Brazil. To help facilitate these sales, Dimon and Standard Brazil retained sales agents in Thailand and the companies paid sales commissions to the agents in varying amounts as a percentage of its tobacco sales to the TTM.

According to the Statement of Facts:

“Beginning in or around 2000 and continuing through at least in or around 2004, Dimon and Standard, through their agents, subsidiaries and affiliates, collaborated together and with a competing tobacco merchant, Company A, [presumably Universal Corp.] to apportion tobacco sales to the TTM among themselves and to coordinate their sales prices in order to ensure that each company would share in the Thai tobacco market. Beginning in or around 2000 and continuing through at least in or around 2004, Dimon, Standard and Company A agreed among themselves to pay bribes to officials of the TTM in exchange for their purchase of tobacco. The three companies agreed to pay ‘special expenses,’ calculated at an agreed rate per kilogram of tobacco sold to the TTM, that were paid as kickbacks to Thai Official A and other TTM officials to induce the TTM to purchase tobacco and to secure an improper advantage for Dimon, Standard and Company A.”

According to the Statement of Facts, between 2000 and 2004 “Dimon realized net profits of approximately $4.3 million from the sale of Brazilian tobacco to the TTM” and paid “special expenses totaling approximately $542,950 as kickbacks to Thai Official A and other TTM officials…” According the Statement of Facts, during the same time period, “Standard realized net profits of approximately $2.7 million from the sale of Brazilian tobacco to the TTM” and paid “special expenses totaling approximately $696,160 as kickbacks to Thai Official A and other TTM officials…”

According to the Statement of Facts, the companies and individuals involved “knew and intended that the corrupt special expenses paid to Thai Official A and other TTM officials” would “secure an improper advantage for Dimon and Standard by influencing the TTM’s decision to purchase Brazilian tobacco from Dimono and Standard.”

According to the Statement of Facts:

“After the merger of Dimon and Standard in 2005, Alliance One consolidated the assets, liabilities, and business affairs of Standard Brazil with DIAG and renamed the subsidiary corporation Alliance One International AG” (“Alliance One AG”). According to the Statement of Facts, as the successor corporation, Alliance One AG “is legally accountable for the criminal acts of both DIAG and Standard Brazil” and Alliance One AG “continued to operate in the U.K. and elsewhere as a wholly owned subsidiary” of Alliance One and accordingly is a “person” within the meaning of the FCPA.”

The Statement of Facts then lists several acts in furtherance of the improper payments that had a U.S. nexus such as e-mail messages and wire transfers to or from the U.S.

According to the DOJ, it agreed to enter into the NPA with Alliance One based, in part, on the following factors: “(a) Alliance’s timely, voluntary and complete disclosure of the conduct and events at issue; (b) Alliance’s thorough, real-time cooperation with the Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission, including its voluntary production of documents; (c) the remedial compliance efforts undertaken and to be undertaken by Alliance; and (d) no further criminal conduct has occurred since the merger that created Alliance.”

During the three-year NPA, Alliance One shall, among other things, cooperate in any related DOJ or SEC investigation. Pursuant the NPA, Alliance One must also strenghen its internal controls and retain an independent corporate monitor.

The criminal informations against Alliance One AG (here) and Osh (here) concern the same core conduct described above.

The criminal information against Alliance One AG concerns Thailand conduct and charges: (i) conspiracy to violate the FCPA and to knowingly falsify books, record and accounts of Dimon and Standard; (ii) substantive FCPA anti-bribery violations; and (iii) aiding and abetting FCPA books and records violations.

The Alliance One AG Plea Agreement (here) notes that the benefit received from the improper conduct was approximately $7 million. The company received a “culpability score” credit for “self-reporting, cooperation, acceptance of responsibility.” The fine range, per the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines was $4.2 – $8.4 million. The DOJ and Alliance One AG agreed that the appropriate sentence should be $5.25 million. The plea agreement notes that the plea was “the result of the voluntary disclosure made by [Alliance One AG] and its parent [Alliance One] to the Department beginning in May 2004, and the disclosure of evidence obtained as a result of the extensive investigation subsequently conducted by [Alliance One] into the operations of [Alliance One AG], its parent, affiliates, and subsidiaries.” The agreement states that “at the time of the initial disclosure, the conduct was unknown to the Department.”

The criminal information against Osh concerns Kyrgyzstan conduct and charges: (i) conspiracy to violate the FCPA and to knowingly falsify books, record and accounts of Dimon; (ii) substantive FCPA anti-bribery violations; and (iii) aiding and abetting FCPA books and records violations.

The Osh Plea Agreement (here) notes that the benefit received from the improper conduct was approximately $4.8 million. The company received a “culpability score” credit for “self-reporting, cooperation, acceptance of responsibility.” The fine range, per the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines was $4.2 – $8.4 million. The DOJ and Osh agreed that the appropriate sentence should be $4.2 million. The plea agreement notes that the plea was “the result of the voluntary disclosure made by [Osh] and its parent [Alliance One] to the Department beginning in May 2004, and the disclosure of evidence obtained as a result of the extensive investigation subsequently conducted by [Alliance One] into the operations of [Osh], its parent, affiliates, and subsidiaries.” The agreement states that “at the time of the initial disclosure, the conduct was unknown to the Department.”

In the DOJ’s Consolidated Sentencing Memorandum (here), it notes that the “corporations have executed a tolling agreement that provides that the statute of limitations was tolled on May 24, 2004, the date on which the corporation first notified the Department that they were undertaking an internal investigation.”

As to the ultimate fine amounts, the DOJ states that it “and the defendant corporations have negotiated a fine that is at or above the minimum fine in the range.”

As to Osh’s $4.2 million fine, the DOJ states:

“The Department submits that a fine at the low end of the Guidelines range is
appropriate in this case given the company’s prompt and timely self-disclosure of the potentially corrupt payments as soon as they were discovered, the remedial measures taken and the nature and extent of the company’s cooperation throughout the
government’s investigation. The company retained outside counsel to conduct an extensive internal investigation and voluntarily produced thousands of pages of documents and memoranda of witness interviews. The company’s remedial measures, outlined below, included the termination of all employees found to have authorized or participated in the improper payments.”

As to Alliance One AG’s $5.25 million fine, the DOJ states:

“This fine is above the minimum of the range partly to account for the fact
that two subsidiaries (DIAG and Standard Brazil) participated in the commission of the offense, along with a third unrelated company, although they were subsidiaries of different parent corporations at the time. Further, because DIAG, Standard Brazil and Company A collaborated to fix prices and pay bribes to the Thai officials, the conduct was not limited to a few employees or confined to a single business unit.”

The Government’s Sentencing Memorandum concludes as follows:

“Alliance’s cooperation was both timely and thorough. During the course of the government’s investigation, Alliance and its outside counsel fully cooperated in good faith with the Department, and produced thousands of pages of documents and financial records. Alliance tenninated or sought resignations from all employees who were found to have knowledge of or participated in the improper payments. Alliance voluntarily produced memoranda of employee interviews conducted by counsel. Alliance and their counsel have been available to meet with Department attorneys to brief them on the progress and findings of their internal investigation. The agreed dispositions, described above, reflect the Department’s recognition of Alliance’s timely and thorough cooperation.”

“Alliance took remedial actions including enhancement of its corporate compliance program, replacement of responsible management, and discipline or termination of wrongdoers. Specifically, Alliance took the following remedial actions:

• The Special Account maintained in the name of employees was closed.

• On May 24, 2004, the Audit Committee directed management to deliver a “clear and proactive message” that:

o “Illegal acts will not be tolerated in Dimon;”

o “any potentially illegal act should be brought to the attention of the CLO prior to execution of the transaction;” and

o “any individual that believes that an illegal act may have occurred should contact the CLO immediately.”

• Management issued a directive to regional executives and all accounting personnel that any questionable expenses or payments and expenses without adequate
explanation or documentation must be reported to the Corporate Compliance Officer.

• The Audit Committee implemented a new policy requiring CFO or Controller pre-approval of any material payment in cash.

• Management issued a direction to employees that “[n]o payments to public officials or political parties are to be made in any form without the express advance approval of the Corporate Compliance Officer.”

• Compliance Officer required all personnel to re-take an online training course covering the FCPA provided by Integrity Interactive.

• Responsible personnel, including senior management in Europe and Kyrgyzstan were terminated or left company voluntarily. Other employees were reprimanded.

• Corporate Accounting required supporting information for all payments made in cash from any entity where such payments exceed $2500 annually, and issued a directive to minimize cash payments for anything other than incidental expenses.

• All cash accounts must be maintained in the company’s name.

• All cash transactions are required to be documented by receipts and signed by the recipient and they established a periodic review and approval process for all
non-incidental types of expenses paid in cash to ensure payments would comply with Company policy and the law.

A sentencing hearing is scheduled for October 21, 2010.

SEC

The SEC’s settled civil complaint (see here) alleges the same core Kyrgyzstan and Thailand conduct as the DOJ’s enforcement action.

As to books and records and internal controls, the SEC alleges that “Dimon’s Country Manager authorized, directed, and made” the improper payments in Kyrgyzstan through a DIK bank account held under his name (the above mentioned special account), that “Dimon’s Regional Financial Director authorized all fund transfers from a Dimon subsidiary’s bank account to the Special Account” and that “Dimon’s International Controller formalized the accounting methodology used to record the payments made from the Special Account for purposes of internal reporting by Dimon.”

In summary fashion, the SEC also alleged as follows:

“Despite their extensive international operations, Dimon and Standard lacked sufficient internal controls designed to prevent or detect violations of the FCPA. During the 2000-2004 period, Dimon and Standard each had a policy manual prohibiting bribery, but the training and guidance provided to their employees regarding compliance with the FCPA were not adequate or effective. Dimon and Standard each also failed to establish a program to monitor compliance with the FCPA by its employees, agents, and subsidiaries.”

As I’ve indicated in prior posts, before a company settles an FCPA enforcement action, it usually has to answer the enforcement agencies’ “where else” question – as in, if you engaged in improper conduct or had internal control problems in Kyrgyzstan and Thailand, where else did you engage in improper conduct or have internal control problems. To answer this broad question, the company is forced to conduct a world-wide review of its operations and that is why one sees, as in the SEC’s complaint against Alliance One, a laundry list of other alleged improper conduct.

In summary fashion, the SEC’s complaint also alleges as follows:

“By at least May 2005, Standard provided gifts, travel, and entertainment expenses to foreign government officials in the Asian Region, including China and Thailand.” “For example, in 2002 and 2003, contemporaneous documents show that Standard employees provided watches, cameras, laptop computers, and other gifts to Chinese and Thailand tobacco officials. Standard also paid for dinner and sightseeing expenses during non-business related travel to Alaska, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas for Chinese and Thailand government delegations.”

“In 2004, Standard made a $50,000 payment to a political candidate who was also Standard’s agent for tobacco sales in Thailand.” “The $50,000 payment was falsely recorded in Standard’s books as payment for consulting work.”

“In April 2003, Dimon’s subsidiary in Greece made a payment of $96,000 to a Greek tax official in exchange for the tax official’s agreement not to pursue certain irregularities discovered during an audit, thus significantly reducing Greece’s tax liability. Separately, the controller of Dimon’s subsidiary in Indonesia made a $44,000 cash payment to an Indonesian tax official in exchange for receiving a tax refund.”

The SEC complaint charges Alliance One with violations of the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions, books and records and internal control provisions.

The SEC release (here) notes that Alliance One, without admitting or denying the SEC’s allegations, consented to entry of a permanent injunction enjoining future FCPA violations and agreed to pay a disgorgement penalty of $10 million.

In an Alliance One press release (see here) R. E. Harrison, the Company’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, stated:

“Our Company is committed to the highest standards of conduct in all transactions in all jurisdictions where we do business throughout the world. In these cases, although occurring prior to our merger in May, 2005, the conduct by those predecessor companies did not meet our standards and we believe it to be in the best interest of the Company, our shareholders and our other stakeholders to put these issues behind us by means of these negotiated agreements. As indicated in our agreement with the DOJ, we have cooperated fully throughout the course of this investigation and believe that since our merger we have demonstrated our complete commitment to conducting our business in accordance with the highest standards of legal and ethical conduct.”

Universal

The Universal enforcement action included a non-prosecution agreement between the DOJ and Universal, a criminal plea by Universal Leaf Tabacos Ltda. (“Universal Brazil”), as well as an SEC enforcement action against Univeral.

Patrick Hanes, Williams Mullen (see here) represented Univeral.

DOJ

Pursuant to a non-prosecution agreement (see here) the DOJ agreed not to prosecute Univeral Corp. related to:

“the making of improper payments, by employees and agents of Universal and/or its subsidiaries to officials of the Government of Thailand in connection with Universal Brazil’s efforts to secure business, namely, to secure the improper sale of leaf tobacco to the Thailand Tobacco Monopoly, from 2000 to 2004, and the accounting and record-keeping associated with these improper payments.”

Pursuant to the NPA, Universal Corp. “admitted, accepted, and acknowledged responsibility for the conduct of its subsidiaries” as set forth in a Statement of Facts attached to the NPA.

In summary fashion, the Statement of Facts are as follows:

Universal is a publicly traded company headquartered in Richmond, Virginia which, through its subsidiaries, is a worldwide purchaser and supplier of processed leaf tobacco. As an issuer, Universal was required to make and keep accurate books, records and accounts reflecting its transactions and disposition of assets of Universal and its subsidiaries including Universal Brazil.

Universal Brazil, a wholly owned subsidiary of Universal, was a Brazilian corporation, headquartered in Santa Cruz do Sul, Brazil. Universal Brazil was a “person” under the FCPA, and individuals and entities affiliated with and acting on behalf of Universal Brazil while in the territory of the United States, used and caused the use of the mails and means and instrumentalities of interstate commerce and performed other acts in furtherance of an offer, promise, authorization, or payment of money or anything of value to foreign government officials for the purpose of assisting in obtaining or retaining business.

The Statement of Facts refers to the same general kickback scheme involving TTM officials as alleged in the Alliance One enforcement action. The Statement of Facts indicate that “from in or around March 2000 to in or around July 2004, the TTM awarded Universal Brazil five orders for the sale of Brazilian leaf tobacco. To obtain these orders, between June and December 2004, Universal Brazil paid approximately $697,800 in kickbacks to representatives of the TTM through Agent X (a Thai national).”

The Statement of Facts then details the kickback scheme including the involvement of Employee A (a U.S. citizen who was the President of Universal Brazil); Employee B (a Brazilian citizen who was the Commercial Director for Universal Brazil); Employee C (a Brazilian citizen who was a Sales Manager for Universal Brazil); Employee D (a Zimbabwean citizen who was a Sales Director for Universal Brazil); Employee E (a Brazilian citizen who was the Finance Director for Universal Brazil); Employee F (a Brazilian citizen who was the Export Superintendent for Universal Brazil); Employee G (a Brazilian citizen who was a Sales Manager for Universal Brazil); Employee H (a Zimbabwean citizen who was the Sales Director for Universal Leaf Asia); Employee I (a Brazilian citizen who was an account manager in Brazil); Employee J (a U.S. citizen who was a Vice President of Universal Leaf Tobacco – a wholly owned subsidiary of Universal Corp. – who approved wiring instructions for payments to Agent X); Employee K (a U.S. citizen who was the Controller of Universal who approved wiring instructions for payment to Agent X); and Employee L (a U.S. citizen who was the Director of Financial Accounting for Universal Leaf Tobacco who approved wiring instructions for payments to Agent X).

Given the alleged involvement of others, including U.S. citizens, it will be interesting to see if additional DOJ or SEC enforcement actions against such individuals are forthcoming.

According to the Statement of Facts:

“The scheme ended in or about April 2005 when the TTM switched to an ‘electronic auction’ process to award orders. The electronic auction process increased the transparency of all of the bids received by the TTM, allowed for more open competition, and prevented Universal Brazil [and others] from including additional amounts in the price of their tobacco sales, thereby eliminating the ability of the companies to mask kickback payments used to secure sales orders.”

According to the Statement of Facts – “from in or around 2000 through in or around 2004, Employee E and others falsely characterized Universal Brazil’s kickback payments to TTM representatives in Universal Brazil’s books, records and accounts (which were incorporated into the books, records and acconts of Universal Corp. for purposes of preparing year-end financial statements) as “commission payments” to Agent X.”

As to Universal’s internal controls, the Statement of Facts indicates as follows:

“Universal Brazil’s employees, including Employees E and F, directed that
kickback payments be paid through LATCO, a wholly owned Universal subsidiary. The financial records of LATCO were maintained with insufficient oversight or review by Universal’s legal, finance, or compliance departments and were never audited by Universal during the period from 2000 to 2004. Universal Brazil’s Finance Department and executives and employees from either Universal Corp. or Universal Leaf Tobacco, including Employee J, Employee K, and Employee L approved or directed the transfer of the multiple ‘commission’ payments to Agent X even though: (a) some of the payments were described as ‘special expense’ payments; (b) there was no contractual basis for the payment of the additional commission amounts; (c) the payments were to accounts unassociated with the Agent; (d) the instructions that were provided when wiring the money indicated that Universal Corp. should not identify the agent or that the amounts were for ‘special expenses;’ and (e) the payments were above the standard five (5) percent commission typically paid by Universal Brazil to its agents.

The Statement of Facts also indicate that “Universal Brazil did not conduct sufficient due diligence prior to engaging Agent X.”

According to the DOJ, it agreed to enter into the NPA with Universal based, in part, on the following factors: “(a) Universal’s discovery of the violations through its own internal hotline process; (b) timely, voluntary, and complete disclosure of the facts; (c) Universal’s extensive, thorough, real-time cooperation with the Department and the SEC; and (d) the remedial efforts already undertaken and to be undertaken by Universal.”

During the approximate three-year NPA, Universal Corp. shall, among other things, cooperate in any related DOJ or SEC investigation. Pursuant the NPA, Universal Corp. must also strenghen its internal controls and retain an independent corporate monitor.

The criminal informations against Universal Brazil (see here) concerns the same core conduct described above.

The criminal information against Univeral Brazil charges: (i) conspiracy to violate the FCPA and to knowingly falsify books, record and accounts of Universal; and (ii) substantive FCPA anti-bribery violations.

The Universal Brazil Plea Agreement (here) notes that the benefit received from the improper conduct was between $1 million – $2.5 million. The company received a “culpability score” credit for “self-reporting, cooperation, and acceptance of responsibility.” The fine range, per the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines was $$6.3 million – $12.6 million. The DOJ and Univeral Brazil agreed that the appropriate sentence should be $4.4 million. The plea agreement states that the fine amount (30% below the bottom of the sentencing guidelines range) “was appropriate” based on the following factors:

“Universal Corporation and Universal Brazil’s extensive cooperation
during the course of the investigation, including the provision of relevant documents and information; Universal Corporation and Universal Brazil’s substantial assistance with other related Department investigations regarding the bribery of foreign government officials; and Universal Corporation and Universal Brazil’s remedial efforts, including enhancing the companies’ compliance resources and compliance policies, procedures, and internal controls.”

The plea agreement further states that the investigation was “a result of the voluntary disclosure made by Universal Brazil and its parent corporation Universal Corporation, through their counsel, to the Department and the disclosure of evidence obtained as a result of the investigation subsequently conducted through their counsel and the extraordinary cooperation by Universal Brazil and its parent Universal Corporation throughout the Department’s investigation” and that “at the time of the initial disclosure, the conduct was unknown to the Department.”

The Agreed Sentencing Memorandum (here) sheds light on how the facts at issue were first uncovered. The memo states:

“The government’s investigation began with a self-disclosure by counsel for Universal in 2006. In 2006, a former Univeral Brazil employee with knowledge of the bribery scheme in Brazil reported the conduct to Universal through Universal’s website. Based on the tip provided by the former employee, Universal’s counsel and outside auditors investigated the matter, identified a series of suspicious payments, and reported this information to the Department. Thereafter, Universal and Univeral Brazil cooperated in the Department’s and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s joint investigation of this matter.”

In footnotes, the DOJ states as follows:

“The Department encourages companies to disclose evidence of potential FCPA violations promptly. The agreed disposition with Universal Brazil and its parent Universal partly reflect credit given for Universal’s timely self-disclosure, thorough investigation, and ongoing cooperation.”

“Pursuant to Universal’s internal compliance program, Universal maintained on its website an employee ‘hotline’ that allowed current and former employees to report improper conduct. It is because of this useful compliance initiative that the improper conduct came to light. The agreed upon disposition partly reflects credit given for Universal’s pre-existing compliance program.”

According to the sentencing memo, Universal Brazil realized net profits of approximately $2.3 million on four contracts secured through the $697,800 in kickbacks to TTM officials.

As to the $4.4 million fine amount, the DOJ stated “that a fine below the Guidelines range is appropriate in this case given the company’s prompt and timely self-disclosure of the potentially corrupt payments as soon as they were reported, the nature and extent of the company’s cooperation throughout the government’s investigation, and the remedial measures taken.”

The sentencing memo details timely disclosure and cooperation as follows:

“Universal and Univeral Brazil’s cooperation was both timely and thorough. The company retained outside counsel to conduct an extensive internal investigation. Universal, Universal Brazil, and their counsel were consistently available to meet with Department attorneys to brief them on the progress and findings of their internal investigation. During the course of the government’s investigation, Universal and Univeral Brazil and its outside counsel fully cooperated in good faith with the Department and produced thousands of pages of documents and financial records and made employees available for interviews. Further, Universal and Univeral Brazil terminated or reprimanded employees who were determined to have authorized and facilitated the improper payments.”

As to remedial measures, the sentencing memo states:

“The company’s remedial measures, outlined below, included the implementation of an enhanced compliance program. Further, Universal Brazil, pursuant to the plea agreement, and its parent, Universal, pursuant to an Non-Prosecution Agreement (NPA), have agreed to further strengthen their internal controls, implement a rigorous compliance program and engage an independent corporate monitor (“monitor”) who will conduct a comprehensive review of the Universal and Univeral Brazil’s compliance standards and procedures and its internal controls. The monitor will prepare an initial report and two follow-up reports of his or her findings and make recornmendations for improvements in the companies’ compliance programs over the three-year term. Universal and Univeral Brazil took remedial actions including enhancement of the corporate compliance program, replacement of responsible management, and discipline of wrongdoers.

Specifically, Universal and Univeral Brazil took the following remedial
actions:

• Management established a Compliance Committee comprised of the Chief Financial Officer, the General Counsel, the Head of Internal Audit, the Treasurer, the Controller, and the Principle Sales Director. The Compliance Committee meets on a monthly basis to review and evaluate Universal’s compliance programs and training.

• Management established a Chief Compliance Officer who is responsible for the day-today operations of Universal’s compliance program and Chairs the Compliance Committee.

• Management issued a revised and updated Code of Conduct and translated the Code into fourteen (14) languages.

• Management required sales, finance, and executive-level personnel to attend a day long in-person training session devoted to FCPA and local anti-bribery laws.

• Management revised and enhanced its payment approval policy which now requires an ‘approving officer’ to review all supporting documentation for a payment and to understand the purpose of the payment prior to approval. The ‘approving officer’ must certify that he or she has reviewed the existing documentation and obtained an understanding of the legitimate business purpose of the payment. The policy also requires that employees investigate any questionable payments and determine that they
are legal, legitimate, and appropriate prior to approving the payment.

• Management revised and enhanced its due diligence process for agents. Initially, Universal suspended all commission payments to agents worldwide subject to legal department confirmation that each requested payment was adequately supported. Thereafter, Universal instituted a formal and standardized process for the assessment and approval of existing and proposed sales agents, which is coordinated by Universal’s Legal Department. As part of this policy, an officer of Universal, known as a ‘Relationship Officer,’ must complete a ‘Sales Agent Due Diligence Checklist’ for each prospective sales agent. This detailed checklist includes disclosure of relationships with foreign governments by owners, officers, directors and employees of the third-party agent or their family members, reference checks, and a list of potential red flags.

• Management conducted, and has pledged to continue to conduct, compliance and/or FCPA training at every global conference held for Universal employees.

• Management terminated and reprimanded certain employees involved in the improper
conduct.”

SEC

The SEC’s settled civil complaint (see here) alleges the same core Thailand conduct as the DOJ’s enforcement action.

Further to the “where else” issue discussed above, the SEC’s complaint also alleges conduct related to Mozambique and Malawi business.

In summary fashion, the SEC’s complaint alleges:

“From 2000 through 2007, Universal Corporation violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977 (the “FCPA”) by paying, through its subsidiaries, over $900,000 to govemment officials in Thailand and Mozambique to influence acts and decisions by those foreign officials to obtain or retain business for Universal. Those payments were directed by employees at multiple levels of the company, including management in its corporate offices and at its wholly-or majority-owned and controlled foreign subsidiaries. The Company had inadequate internal controls to prevent or detect any of these improper payments, and improperly recorded the payments in its books and records.”

“Between 2000 and 2004, Universal subsidiaries paid approximately $800,000 to bribe officials of the government-owned Thailand Tobacco Monopoly (“TTM”) in exchange for securing approximately $11.5 million in sales contracts for its subsidiaries in Brazil and Europe. From 2004 through 2007, Universal subsidiaries made a series ofpayments in excess of $165,000 to government officials in Mozambique, through corporate subsidiaries in Belgium and Africa. Among other things, the payments were made to secure an exclusive right to purchase tobacco from regional growers and to procure legislation beneficial to the Company’s business.”

“In addition, between 2002 and 2003, Universal, subsidiaries paid $850,000 to high ranking Malawian government officials. Those payments were authorized by, among others, two successive regional heads for Universal’s African operations. Universal did not accurately. record these payments in its books and records.”

As to the Mozambique payments, the complaint alleges:

(i) that two $10,000 payments were made to the “wife of an official in Mozambique’s Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries” to obtain the official’s “assistance in revising legislation to impose a 20% export tax on unprocessed tobacco” – legislation that would have “benefited Universal over competitors because Universal was building a tobacco processing plant in the country;

(ii) that “Universal Leaf Africa directed that Universal’s Belgian subsidiary pay $50,000 to the brother of an official of in Mozambique’s Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries” to “enable the Company’s Mozambican subsidiary to avoid incurring an export tax that it otherwise would have incurred for shipping unprocessed tobacco out of Mozambique;”

(iii) that “Univeral Leaf Africa made a series of payments totaling $86,830 from its own account and the account of the Mozambican subsidiary to secure a land concession given the subsidiary exclusive rights to purchase tobacco from growers on that land from the 2006 growing season.” According to the complaint Universal Leaf made “cash payments to a Governor in Mozambique; and gave gifts including supplies for a bathroom renovation, and personal travel on a Company jet.” and

(iv) that “Universal Leaf Africa forgave a debt and directed an additional series of payments from its own accounts and the account of the Mozambican subsidiary totaling $19,061″ – according to the complaint the “debt forgiveness and payments were provided to Mozambican government officials and their family members in exchange for continued business favors.”

As to the Malawi payments, the complaint alleges as follows:

“Between approximately October 2002 and November 2003, Universal Leaf Africa made payments totaling $500,000 to one high-ranking Malawian government official; $250,000 to a second high-ranking government official; and $100,000 to a political opposition leader.”

As to Universal’s books and records and internal controls, the SEC alleges in summary fashion that Universal made payments under circumstances in which the Company lacked adequate internal controls to ensure that such payments were not being transmitted to government officials in order to obtain or retain business and that Universal’s books and records falsely characterized the payments.

The SEC complaint charges Universal with violations of the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions, books and records and internal control provisions.

The SEC release (here) notes that Universal, without admitting or denying the SEC’s allegations, consented to entry of a permanent injunction enjoining future FCPA violations and agreed to pay a disgorgement penalty of approximately $4.6 million.

In a Universal press release (see here) George C. Freeman, III, Universal’s Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer, states:

“Universal prides itself on conducting business with honesty and integrity. These past payments were – and are – contrary to the policies and standards of Universal and its subsidiaries. We have absolutely no tolerance for this type of activity. Our Audit Committee conducted a rigorous and thorough investigation, we voluntarily reported this matter to federal authorities, and we have fully cooperated with federal authorities at each step of the investigation. We have since taken steps to strengthen our culture of ethical and legal compliance, and our efforts are supported by our operations around the world. Our regional management is fully committed to our culture.”

Holy Smokes

Friday, August 6th, 2010

It’s a Friday in August, but a busy day for FCPA enforcement.

The DOJ and SEC announced today enforcement actions against two major tobacco companies, Universal Corporation, Inc. and Alliance One International, Inc.

“The DOJ filed criminal actions against a Universal subsidiary and two Alliance One subsidiaries charging each of them with one count of conspiring to violate the FCPA and one count of violating the anti-bribery provisions of the FCPA. Universal and Alliance One entered into non-prosecution agreements with the DOJ and agreed to pay criminal penalties of $4,400,000 and $9,450,000, respectively, and retain independent monitors for a period of three years.”

The SEC charged Universal and Alliance One with violating, among other things, the anti-bribery provisions of the FCPA for their “involvement in a multi-million dollar bribery scheme with government officials in Thailand to obtain nearly $30 million in sales contracts to supply tobacco. The SEC also charged Alliance One with paying bribes in Kyrgyzstan and making improper payments in China, Greece, and Indonesia and Universal with making improper payments in Malawi and Mozambique. Moreover, the SEC’s complaints alleged Universal and Alliance One engaged in books and records and internal control violations.”

More analysis to follow next week.

The Other Leaf Drops

Thursday, August 5th, 2010

The other tobacco leaf dropped for Bobby Jay Elkin Jr. this week.

In April (see here), the SEC charged Elkin, and others, with civil FCPA anti-bribery violations for authorizing, directing and making improper payments to various Kyrgyzstan officials in connection with tobacco business in that country.

This week, Elkin pleaded guilty to a one count criminal information charging him with conspiracy to violate the FCPA. The allegations in the information largely mirror the SEC’s allegations in the April enforcement action. See here for the DOJ release, here for the criminal information, and here for the plea agreement.

Elkin was Country Manager for Dimon International Kyrgyzstan (DIK), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Dimon Inc. Dimon and Standard Commercial Corporation merged to form Alliance One International in 2005. Dimon, Standard Commercial and Alliance One are referred to as Companies A, B, and C in the criminal information and DIK is referred to as the Kyrgyz Subsidiary.

According to the information, Elkin conspired and agreed with Dimon, DIK, and others to pay and authorize payment of bribes to “officials of state-owned enterprises and other public officials in Kyrgyzstan in order to secure business for” Dimon and DIK.

The officials included “Kyrgyz Official A,” “the Akims” and the “Kyrgyz Tax Inspection Police.”

According to the information, Kyrgyz Official A served as the “General Director of the Tamekisi” “an agency and instrumentality of the [Kyrgyz] government [established] to manage and control the government-controlled shares of the tobacco processing facilities throughout Kyrgyzstan.” According to the information, the Tamekisi agreed to issue a license to Dimon to process and export tobacco and that from October 1996 through at least February 2004 Elkin and others personally delivered $2.6 million in cash payments on behalf of Dimon and DIK to the official. The information charges that these payments were intended by Elkin and others to “influence acts or decisions” of the official in his official capacity and to secure Dimon’s “continued access to the tobacco processing facilities controlled by the Tamekisi.”

According to the information, an Akim is a head of Kyrgyz local government with “authority over the sale of tobacco by the growers” within a specific municipality or geographic area. The information charges that beginning in 1996 “it became necessary for [DIK and Elkin] to obtain approval from local Akims to purchase tobacco from the growers in each area. According to the information, several of the Akims demanded payment of a “commission” from Elkin “in order to secure the relevant Akim’s approval” for DIK to purchase tobacco from local growers. The information charges that from January 1996 to at least March 2004 Elkin and others personally delivered “numerous cash payments” on behalf of Dimon and DIK “to the Akims of five different municipalities totaling approximately $254,262.” According to the information, “the payments to the Akims were bribes, intended to influence the acts and decisions of the Akims and to secure [DIK's] continued ability to purchase tobacco from growers in the muncipalities controlled by the Akims.”

As to the Kyrgyz Tax Inspection Police, the information charges that “during periodic audits” of DIK, the police assessed penalties and threatened to shut down DIK. According to the information, from March 2000 to March 2003, Elkin and others “made approximately nine cash payments to officers of the Kyrgyz Tax Inspection Police totaling approximately $82,850 in order to influence the acts and decisions” of the police and to secure DIK’s “continued ability to conduct its business in Kyrgyzstan.”

What about Alliance One?

The company stated in its recent annual report (here) that it has reached an agreement in principle with the DOJ and the SEC and that its estimated “probable loss” in an enforcement action will be $19.45 million in disgorgement, fines and penalties.

The tobacco industry is proving to be fertile ground for FCPA enforcement.

See here for what Universal Corporation, a Richmond, Virgina based tobacco producer, had to say about its discussions with the DOJ and SEC as to its previously disclosed FCPA matters.

*****

As portrayed in the DOJ’s criminal information and the SEC’s prior enforcement action, carrying on a tobacco business in Kyrgyzstan appears to have a wild-west component to it.

Extortionate payments, facilitating payments, and payments made to obtain or retain business. These are all points on the same continuum. The first two do not violate the FCPA, payments made to obtain or retain business do.

What does the FCPA’s “obtain or retain business” element mean?

The only circuit court decision on this key FCPA element is U.S. v. Kay, 359 F.3d 738, 740 (5th Cir. 2004). The Fifth Circuit, like the trial court, concluded that the FCPA’s “obtain or retain business” language was ambiguous and it thus analyzed the FCPA’s legislative history.

After reviewing the legislative history, the Fifth Circuit was convinced that Congress intended to prohibit a range of payments wider than only those that directly influence the acquisition or retention of government contracts. The Fifth Circuit held that making payments to a “foreign official” to lower taxes and custom duties in a foreign country can provide an unfair advantage to the payer over competitors and thereby assist the payer in obtaining and retaining business. The court concluded that there was “little difference” between these type of payments and traditional FCPA violations in which a company makes payments to a “foreign official” to influence or induce the official to award a government contract.

However, the Fifth court emphatically stated that not all such payments to a “foreign official” outside the context of directly securing a foreign government contract violate the FCPA; it merely held that such payments “could” violate the FCPA. The court recognized that “there are bound to be circumstances” in which a custom or tax reduction merely increases the profitability of an existing profitable company and thus, presumably, does not assist the payer in obtaining or retaining business.

The court specifically stated:

“…if the government is correct that anytime operating costs are reduced the beneficiary of such advantage is assisted in getting or keeping business, the FCPA’s language that expresses the necessary element of assisting in obtaining or retaining business would be unnecessary, and thus surplusage – a conclusion that we are forbidden to reach.”

Did the payments at issue in the Elkin enforcement action “merely increase the profitability of an existing profitable company.”?