Archive for the ‘Travel and Entertainment’ Category

BHP Billiton Becomes The Most Recent Foreign Company To Pay Uncle Sam

Thursday, May 21st, 2015

Uncle Sam3BHP Billiton, a company based in Australia and the United Kingdom, was an official sponsor of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China.  As such, the company received priority access to tickets, hospitality suites, and accommodations for the games.  Not surprisingly, the company invited 650 people (customers, suppliers, etc.) to attend the Olympic Games with three to four day hospitality packages.

But lo and behold, approximately 25% of these people invited were alleged “foreign officials” primarily from Africa and Asia and an even smaller percentage of these invited “foreign officials” actually attended the Olympic Games.

The end result seven years later?

Why of course $25 million to the U.S. Treasury because BHP Billiton had American Depositary Shares that trade on a U.S. exchange.

Yesterday the SEC released this administrative cease and desist order concerning BHP Billiton Ltd. and BHP Billiton Plc.

In summary fashion, the SEC order states:

“This matter concerns BHPB’s failure to devise and maintain sufficient internal controls over a global hospitality program that the company hosted in connection with its sponsorship of the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games. BHPB invited approximately 176 government officials and employees of state-owned enterprises (collectively, “government officials”) to attend the Olympics at BHPB’s expense. The majority of these invitations were extended to government officials from countries in Africa and Asia that had well-known histories of corruption. The three to four day hospitality packages included event tickets, luxury hotel accommodations, meals, other hospitality, and, in many instances, offers of business-class airfare for government officials and their guests. BHPB informed its employees that “[o]ne of the core objectives [of the Olympic sponsorship] is to maximize the commercial investment made in the Games through assisting [BHPB] to strengthen relationships with key local and global stakeholders, e.g.: Government Ministers, Suppliers and Customers,” and that the hospitality program was “a primary vehicle to ensure this goal is achieved.”

BHPB recognized that inviting government officials to the Olympics created a heightened risk of violating anti-corruption laws and the company’s own Guide to Business Conduct, but the internal controls it developed and relied upon in an effort to address this risk were insufficient. As a result, BHPB invited government officials who were directly involved in, or in a position to influence, pending contract negotiations, efforts to obtain access rights, regulatory actions, or business dealings affecting BHPB in multiple countries. In addition, BHPB’s books and records, namely certain internal forms that employees prepared in order to invite a government official to the Olympics, did not, in reasonable detail, accurately and fairly reflect BHPB’s pending negotiations or business dealings with the government official at the time of the invitation.

As a result of this conduct, BHPB violated the internal controls and books and records provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”).”

Under the heading “BHPB’s Hospitality Program for the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games,” the order states:

“In December 2005, BHPB and the Beijing Organizing Committee announced their agreement for BHPB to become an official sponsor of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. Under this agreement, BHPB paid a sponsorship fee and supplied the raw materials used to make the Olympic medals. In exchange, BHPB received the rights to use the Olympic trademark and other intellectual property in public announcements and advertisements, as well as priority access to tickets, hospitality suites, and accommodations in Beijing during the August 2008 Games.

BHPB established an Olympic Sponsorship Steering Committee (“OSSC”) to plan, oversee, and implement its sponsorship program, which involved multiple different branding, promotion, and relationship-building initiatives. The chair of the OSSC, who also was the chair of the Ethics Panel, reported directly to BHPB’s CEO.

One of BHPB’s objectives for the sponsorship was “to reinforce and develop relationships with key stakeholders” in China and in “product and investor markets, and regions where we have or would like to have operations.” BHPB’s strategy for accomplishing its objectives included “[u]tiliz[ing] Olympic hospitality to motivate China-based stakeholders, including customers, suppliers, government and media, to enhance business opportunities for BHP Billiton in China” and “[u]tiliz[ing] Olympic hospitality to build relationships with stakeholders from product and investor markets, and regions where we have or would like to have operations.”

One of the company’s sponsorship-related initiatives was a global hospitality program under which BHPB invited guests from around the world, including foreign government officials and representatives of state-owned enterprises, to attend the Beijing Olympics on three to four day hospitality packages. The hospitality packages included luxury hotel accommodations, meals, event tickets, and sightseeing excursions, at a cost of approximately $12,000 to $16,000 per package. In addition, BHPB executives approved the offer of round trip business class airfare to approximately 51 foreign government officials, as well as the airfares for 35 of these government officials’ spouses or guests. Apart from BHPB’s desire to enhance business opportunities by strengthening relationships with its guests, these trips had no other business purpose.

An internal e-mail to CSG presidents and other senior BHPB business managers emphasized the importance of the hospitality program to the success of BHPB’s sponsorship, stating, “[a]s you know we have made a commitment to support the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008. One of the core objectives is to maximise the commercial investment made in the Games through assisting [BHPB] to strengthen relationships with key local and global stakeholders, e.g.: Government Ministers, Suppliers and Customers. The BHP Billiton Hospitality Program is a primary vehicle to ensure this goal is achieved.”

In early 2007, BHPB employees prepared country-specific Olympic Leverage Plans, which summarized BHPB’s business and Olympic-related objectives. In a number of instances, these plans discussed inviting key stakeholders, including government officials, to help BHPB develop relationships with a view to increasing or maintaining its business opportunities. For example, the Olympic Leverage Plan prepared for one country stated that BHPB’s business objectives in that country included “gaining access to regions that will provide growth for [BHPB’s] business” and “gaining port access.” The plan further stated that the hospitality program would “provide useful relationship building opportunity for . . . stakeholders” and that the invitees would include the country’s Minister of Mines and Minister of Transport. The Olympic Leverage Plan for another country, while not specifically addressing the hospitality program, stated that one of the goals for the sponsorship was “us[ing] Olympics program to strengthen and build the govt’s confidence and relationship with [BHPB], to help facilitate approvals for future projects.”

After Olympic Leverage Plans were prepared for each country, BHPB business managers submitted lists of potential invitees and were instructed to rank them in order of importance, with “Category A” being those “most critical to the business.” Internal BHPB presentations discussed the need to establish “the business benefit” of an Olympic invitation.

Eventually, BHPB invited approximately 650 people to attend the Beijing Olympics, including 176 government officials, 98 of whom were representatives of state-owned enterprises that were BHPB customers or suppliers. BHPB also invited the spouses of 102 of these government officials. Most of the invited government officials were from countries in Africa and Asia where there was a known risk of corruption. Sixty of these government officials ultimately attended, 24 of them with their spouses or guests. A number of other invited government officials accepted their invitations, but then cancelled before the Olympics began.”

Under the heading “BHPB’s Insufficient Internal Controls over the Olympic Hospitality Program,” the order states:

“Early in its planning for the Olympics, BHPB identified the risk that inviting government officials to the Olympics could potentially violate anti-corruption laws and the company’s own Guide to Business Conduct. The company relied on its existing operating model and an Olympic-specific internal approval process to address this risk. However, these internal controls, and BHPB’s implementation of them, were insufficient.

BHPB developed a hospitality application which business managers were required to complete for any individuals, including government officials, whom they wished to invite. These applications included the following questions:

9. What business obligation exists or is expected to develop between the proposed invitee and BHP Billiton?

10. Is BHP Billiton negotiating or considering any contract, license agreement or seeking access rights with a third party where the proposed invitee is in a position to influence the outcome of that negotiation?

11. Do you believe that the offer of the proposed hospitality would be likely to create an impression that there is an improper connection between the provision of the hospitality and the business that is being negotiated, considered or conducted, or in any way might be perceived as breaching the Company’s Guide to Business Conduct?

If yes, please provide details.

12. Are there other matters relating to the relationship between BHP Billiton and the proposed invitee that you believe should be considered in relation to the provision of hospitality having regard to BHP Billiton’s Guide to Business Conduct?

BHPB required each such application to be filled out and signed by an employee with knowledge of the invitee’s relationship with the company, and approved in writing by the president of the relevant CSG or the BHPB country president. A cover sheet that accompanied the blank forms included a short description of anti-bribery provisions in the Guide to Business Conduct and urged employees to re-read the section of the Guide concerning travel, entertainment, and gifts before completing the form. However, the controls did not adequately address the antibribery risks associated with offering expensive travel and entertainment packages to government officials.

First, BHPB did not require independent legal or compliance review of hospitality applications by someone outside the CSG that was submitting the application, and did not clearly communicate to its employees the fact that the Ethics Panel was not reviewing and approving each invitation to a government official. On the one hand, BHPB’s internal website stated that the hospitality applications were subject to “scrutiny by the Ethics Panel [steering committee],” and the hospitality applications themselves stated that, “[r]equests for travel and accompanying spouses will be approved by the Olympic Sponsorship Steering Committee and the Global Ethics Panel Sub-Committee.” E-mails sent to some BHPB business managers by a member of the OSSC staff stated that the Ethics Panel had “approved” their applications.

However, other than reviewing approximately 10 hospitality applications for government officials in mid-2007 in order to assess the invitation process, the OSSC and the Ethics Panel subcommittee did not review the appropriateness of individual hospitality applications or airfare requests. The Ethics Panel’s charter stated that its role simply was to provide advice on ethical and compliance matters, and that “accountability rest[ed] with business leaders.” Members of the Ethics Panel understood that, consistent with their charter, their role with respect to implementation of the hospitality program was purely advisory. As a result, business managers had sole responsibility for reconciling the competing goals of inviting guests – including government officials – who would “maximize [BHPB’s] commercial investment made in the Olympic Games” without violating anti-bribery laws.

Second, some hospitality applications were not accurate or complete. Many applications identified an employee of a state-owned enterprise as a “Customer,” but failed to identify the invitee as a “Representative of Government.” In addition, a number of applications contained “No” responses to Question 10, even when BHPB had pending negotiations, efforts to obtain access rights, regulatory actions, or other business dealings in which the government official was directly involved or in a position to influence. Furthermore, in a number of instances, BHPB business people were provided with examples of language that had been used by other employees when responding to Questions 10 and 11 in order to explain why an invitation was appropriate, even when there was a “Yes” response to Questions 10-12. As a result, many hospitality applications contained the exact same statements in response to Questions 10 and 11, rather than a description of the specific facts and circumstances relating to that government official.

Third, while BHPB had an annual Guide to Business Conduct review and certification process, and generalized training, it did not provide its employees and executives with any specific training on how to fill out the hospitality forms or how to evaluate whether an invitation to a government official complied with the Guide. During the relevant period, this portion of the Guide included a case example concerning a negotiation between BHPB and a Ministry for Planning in a particular country, in which the Minister indicated that it would help his consideration of the company’s application if the Minister and his wife could visit BHPB’s operations in Australia. The example stated that “this kind of situation requires the utmost caution and you must consult senior management. You must not offer to provide anything that could be reasonably regarded as an attempt to unduly influence the Minister’s decision. This means that you must not pay for travel by the Minister’s wife.” However, BHPB did not provide any guidance to its senior managers on how they should apply this portion of the Guide when determining whether to approve invitations and airfares for government officials’ spouses.

Fourth, although the form asked whether any business was “expected to develop” with the invitee, BHPB did not institute a process for updating hospitality applications or reassessing the appropriateness of invitations to government officials if conditions changed. Almost all of the hospitality applications relating to government officials were approved and submitted in mid-2007. However, BHPB did not require hospitality forms to be updated, or invitations to be reconsidered, in those situations when government officials subsequently became involved in negotiations, attempts by BHPB to obtain access rights, or other pending matters.

Fifth, hospitality applications were submitted by individual CSGs, and generally only reflected negotiations between the government official and that CSG. While lists of invitees were circulated among senior BHPB business managers, BHPB had no process in place to determine whether the invited government official also was involved in other CSGs’ negotiations, efforts to obtain access rights, or other business dealings.”

The order next states, under the heading “As a Result of its Insufficient Internal Controls, BHPB Invited Government Officials who were Directly Involved in, or in a Position to Influence, Pending Negotiations, Regulatory Actions, or Business Dealings with BHPB,” as follows:

“As a result of its failure to design and maintain sufficient internal controls over the Olympic global hospitality program, BHPB invited a number of government officials who were directly involved with, or in a position to influence, pending negotiations, efforts by BHPB to obtain access rights, or other pending matters.”

Republic of Burundi

In mid-2007, BHPB’s MinEx group submitted a hospitality application form to invite the as-yet-unidentified Burundi Minister of Mines and spouse to the Olympics, with airfare included. Because BHPB was not currently in negotiations with the Minister of Mines at the time, the hospitality application form contained a “No” response to Question 10. However, BHPB had a joint venture (“JV”) in Burundi with an entity that was in danger of losing a nickel exploration permit unless it made a substantial near-term financial investment in the project or negotiated a renewal or amendment of the permit. Under Burundi law, the Minister of Mines was responsible for reviewing an application to renew or amend a mining permit and presenting the application to the country’s Council of Ministers for final approval.

In late 2007 and early 2008, BHPB began to negotiate directly with the newly appointed Minister of Mines to extend and modify the JV’s nickel exploration permit. However, BHPB employees did not update the hospitality application or take steps to re-review the appropriateness of the invitation after these negotiations began. As noted above, no such re-review was required by the internal controls that BHPB relied upon for the Olympic hospitality program. The Minister of Mines and his wife attended the Olympics as BHPB’s guests for four days.

Republic of the Philippines

In July 2007, BHPB became embroiled in a dispute with a local JV partner concerning a prospective nickel mining operation in the Philippines. The JV partner sued BHPB in local court and filed requests with the country’s Secretary of Department of Environment and Resources (“DENR”), requesting reversion of the mining rights that the JV partner had assigned to the JV.

In October 2007, a BHPB employee from the Stainless Steel Materials CSG submitted a hospitality application to invite the Secretary and his spouse to attend the Olympics, with airfare included. The completed application contained a “Yes” response to Question 10, but only described a technical services agreement that BHPB was considering submitting to the DENR for the Secretary’s approval. Question 10 of the hospitality form did not explicitly require, and the employee’s response did not provide, any information about the Secretary’s role in reviewing the JV partner’s reversion request or the fact that the President of the Philippines had designated the Secretary to mediate the dispute between BHPB and its JV partner. The form included a “No” response to Question 11.

The Secretary accepted BHPB’s invitation in December 2007. In March 2008, he issued a decision denying the JV partner’s reversion request and continued during the ensuing months to mediate the parties’ dispute. In late July, BHPB became concerned that the company’s JV partner had learned about the Olympics invitation. As a result, BHPB withdrew the invitation shortly before the Olympics began.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

In mid-2007, MinEx submitted a hospitality application form to invite the Governor of the Katanga Province in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (the “DRC”) and his spouse, with airfare included. Following its June 2007 review of 10 invitations to government officials, the Ethics Panel subcommittee advised MinEx to provide more detail about whether the invitation involved Gecamines, a state-owned entity with which BHPB was attempting to negotiate a copper exploration deal. In response, MinEx submitted a revised application that contained a “No” response to Question 10, stating, “[t]he issuing and management of mineral titles and negotiations with third parties in DRC have nothing to do with the Governor’s roles and responsibilities. Although [BHPB] are currently engaged in negotiations with State copper company, Gecamines, the Governor of Katanga will have no influence in these dealings.”

Later in 2007, however, BHPB employees held several meetings with the Governor. Internal summaries of these meetings noted that the Governor was “a close ally of [the DRC] President” and that having the Governor as BHPB’s ally “could be the key to unlock a successful entry in a deal with Gecamines.” In spite of obtaining this information after making the initial decision to invite the Governor of Katanga and his wife to the Olympics, BHPB employees did not update the hospitality application form or take steps to re-review the appropriateness of the invitation. No such re-review was required under the internal controls that BHPB relied upon for the Olympic hospitality program. The Governor accepted the invitation, but then cancelled before the Olympics.

Republic of Guinea

In May 2007, MinEx submitted a hospitality application to invite the Guinea Minister of Mines and his spouse to the Olympics, with airfare included. The application contained a “No” response to Question 10, and in response to Question 11 it stated, “No. A sound professional relationship with the Guinea Ministry of Mines is key for the success of the [BHPB] exploration and mining business in this country.” Following its June 2007 review of 10 invitations to government officials, the Ethics Panel subcommittee advised MinEx to provide additional information concerning this invitation. The MinEx employee who had prepared the original form asked BHPB’s Guinea country president to respond to the request for information concerning any pending negotiations with the Minister. The country president replied that “of course” there would be “further negotiations” regarding the upcoming renewal of a bauxite mining concession held by BHPB and the government’s intention to review all existing mining concessions, but that the response to Question 11 was “key in that regard.”

This information was not passed along to the Ethics Panel subcommittee, however, and the form was not updated to accurately reflect the pending negotiations across all of the CSGs operating in Guinea. Because they received no response to the Guinea country president’s email, MinEx officials mistakenly understood that the Ethics Panel had approved the invitation. The Minister accepted the invitation on behalf of himself and his wife in January 2008, but cancelled shortly before the Olympics began.”

Based on the above findings, the order states:

“As a result of the conduct described above, BHPB violated [the FCPA's books and records provisions] because its books and records, namely certain Olympic hospitality applications, did not, in reasonable detail, accurately and fairly reflect pending negotiations or business dealings between BHPB and government officials invited to the Olympics. BHPB violated [the FCPA's internal controls provisions] because it did not devise and maintain internal accounting controls over the Olympic hospitality program that were sufficient to provide reasonable assurances that access to assets and transactions were in executed in accordance with management’s authorization.”

Under the heading “BHPB’s Cooperation and Remedial Efforts,” the order states:

“In response to the Commission’s investigation, BHPB retained outside counsel to assist it with conducting an extensive internal investigation into potential improper conduct in the jurisdictions that were the subject of the staff’s inquiry. BHPB provided significant cooperation with the Commission’s investigation by voluntarily producing large volumes of business, financial, and accounting documents from around the world in response to the staff’s requests, and by voluntarily producing translations of key documents. BHPB’s counsel conducted scores of interviews and provided the staff with regular reports on the findings of its internal investigation.

BHPB also has undertaken significant remedial actions. BHPB has created a compliance group within its legal department that is independent from the business units. This compliance group is responsible for FCPA compliance, among other things, and reports directly to BHPB’s general counsel and Audit Committee. In addition, it has reviewed its existing anticorruption compliance program and implemented other changes. These include embedding independent anti-corruption managers into its businesses and further enhancing its policies and procedures concerning hospitality, gift giving, use of third party agents, business partners, and other high-risk compliance areas. BHPB also has enhanced its financial and auditing controls, including policies to specifically address conducting business in high-risk markets. BHPB has conducted extensive employee training on anti-corruption issues and overhauled its processes for conducting internal investigations of potential violations of anti-corruption laws.”

The order further states:

“During a one-year term …, Respondents [BHP Billiton] shall report to the Commission staff on the operation of BHPB’s FCPA and anti-corruption compliance program. If Respondents discover credible evidence, not already reported to the Commission staff, that: (1) questionable or corrupt payments or questionable or corrupt transfers of property or interests may have been offered, promised, paid, or authorized by Respondents, or any entity or person while working directly for Respondents, to any government official; (2) that related false books and records have been maintained; or (3) that Respondents’ internal controls failed to detect and prevent such conduct, Respondents shall promptly report such conduct to the Commission staff.”

During the one-year period, BHP Billiton shall also report to the SEC “on the operation of [its] FCPA and anti-corruption compliance program” and “shall undertaken one follow-up review.”

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

“BHP Billiton footed the bill for foreign government officials to attend the Olympics while they were in a position to help the company with its business or regulatory endeavors. BHP Billiton recognized that inviting government officials to the Olympics created a heightened risk of violating anti-corruption laws, yet the company failed to implement sufficient internal controls to address that heightened risk.”

Antonia Chion (Associate Director of the SEC’s Enforcement Division) added:

“A ‘check the box’ compliance approach of forms over substance is not enough to comply with the FCPA. Although BHP Billiton put some internal controls in place around its Olympic hospitality program, the company failed to provide adequate training to its employees and did not implement procedures to ensure meaningful preparation, review, and approval of the invitations.”

As noted in the SEC release:

“The SEC’s order finds that BHP Billiton violated [the FCPA's books and records and internal controls provions].  The settlement, in which the company neither admits nor denies the SEC’s findings, reflects BHP Billiton’s remedial efforts and cooperation with the SEC’s investigation and requires the company to report to the SEC on the operation of its FCPA and anti-corruption compliance program for a one-year period.”

BHP Billiton agreed to pay a $25 million penalty to settle the SEC’s charges.

This BHP Billiton release states in full as follows.

  • U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) to take no action
  • U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) investigation that commenced in 2009 resolved on all matters
  • No findings of bribery or corrupt intent
  • DOJ’s ‘no action’ and SEC resolution conclude the U.S. investigations
  • SEC imposes a civil penalty relating to accounting provisions of the FCPA
  • SEC notes BHP Billiton’s “significant cooperation” and “significant remedial actions”
  • SEC findings relate to BHP Billiton’s internal controls and books and records governing its hospitality program at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games

BHP Billiton today announced the resolution of the previously disclosed investigation by the SEC into potential breaches of the United States Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). The DOJ has also completed its investigation into BHP Billiton without taking any action.

The investigations related primarily to previously terminated minerals exploration and development efforts as well as hospitality provided by the Company at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. This concludes the US investigations on all matters.

BHP Billiton will continue to cooperate with the Australian Federal Police investigation, which was announced in 2013.

The matter is being resolved with the SEC pursuant to an administrative order which imposes a US$25 million civil penalty. The SEC Order makes no findings of corrupt intent or bribery by BHP Billiton.

The findings announced today by the SEC relate to a hospitality program hosted by BHP Billiton which supported its sponsorship of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. As part of this program, the Company invited customers, suppliers, business partners, and government officials, along with Company employees, to the Olympic Games. While BHP Billiton made efforts at the time to address the risks related to inviting government officials to the Olympics, the controls it relied upon were insufficient to satisfy the civil books and records and internal accounting controls requirements of the U.S. statute.

The SEC noted the “significant cooperation” BHP Billiton provided during the extensive investigation, which commenced in 2009. It also noted the “significant remedial actions” the Company has taken over the past five years to enhance its compliance program.

At the time of its sponsorship of the 2008 Beijing Olympics and Paralympics, BHP Billiton had no independent compliance function. Instead, accountability for complying with the Company’s anti-corruption policies, which were set out in the Company’s Guide to Business Conduct, was vested in its operating business units. The Company has since created an independent compliance function that reports to the head of the legal function and the Risk & Audit Committee of the BHP Billiton Board. Today this function would be required to approve any offer of hospitality of this kind to a government official. Under the SEC Order, BHP Billiton will self-report on its compliance program for twelve months.

BHP Billiton CEO Andrew Mackenzie said, “We have fully cooperated with the SEC throughout this process. We have taken the appropriate remedial actions and developed a world class compliance program that builds on the strong policies we have had in place. BHP Billiton operates a global resources business and recognises that the highest standards of business conduct are an essential part of our operations. Our Company has learned from this experience and is better and stronger as a result.”

Scott Muller (Davis Polk & Wardwell) represented BHP Billiton.  See here for Davis Polk’s press release. According to the release, 8 attorneys worked on the matter.

SEC Returns To “World Tour” Allegations In Administrative Action Against FLIR Systems

Thursday, April 9th, 2015

World TourAs highlighted in this prior post, in November 2014 the SEC brought an administrative FCPA enforcement action against Stephen Timms and Yasser Ramahi (individuals who worked in sales at FLIR Systems Inc., – an Oregon-based company that produces thermal imaging, night vision, and infrared cameras and sensor systems).

The conduct at issue was alleged expensive travel, entertainment, and personal items for Saudi foreign officials in order to influence the officials to obtain or retain business for FLIR with the Saudi Arabia Ministry of the Interior.

Based on the same conduct, the SEC yesterday announced this administrative action against FLIR Systems.

In summary fashion, the order states:

“This matter concerns violations of the anti-bribery, books and records and internal controls provisions of the FCPA by FLIR. In 2009, employees of FLIR provided unlawful travel, gifts and entertainment to foreign officials in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to obtain or retain business. The travel and gifts included personal travel and expensive watches provided by employees in FLIR’s Dubai office to government officials with the Saudi Arabia Ministry of Interior (the “MOI”). The extent and nature of the travel and the value of the gifts were concealed by certain FLIR employees and, as a result, were falsely recorded in FLIR’s books and records. FLIR lacked sufficient internal controls to detect and prevent the improper travel and gifts. Also, from 2008 through 2010, FLIR provided significant additional travel to the same MOI officials, which was booked as business expenses, but for which there is insufficient supporting documentation to confirm the business purpose. As a result of the unlawful conduct, FLIR earned over $7 million in profits from the sales to the MOI.”

Under the heading “FLIR’s Business with the Saudi Ministry of Interior” the order states:

“Stephen Timms (“Timms”) was the head of FLIR’s Middle East office in Dubai during the relevant time period, and was one of the company executives responsible for obtaining business for FLIR’s Government Systems division from the MOI. Yasser Ramahi (“Ramahi”) reported to Timms and worked in business development in Dubai.2 Both Timms and Ramahi were employees of FLIR.

In November 2008, FLIR entered into a contract with the MOI to sell binoculars using infrared technology for approximately $12.9 million. Ramahi and Timms were the primary sales employees responsible for the contract on behalf of FLIR. In the contract, FLIR agreed to conduct a “Factory Acceptance Test,” attended by MOI officials, prior to delivery of the binoculars to Saudi Arabia. The Factory Acceptance Test was a key condition to the fulfillment of the contract. FLIR anticipated that a successful delivery of the binoculars, along with the creation of a FLIR service center, would lead to an additional order in 2009 or 2010.”

Under the heading “World Tour,” the order states:

“In February 2009, Ramahi and Timms began preparing for the July 2009 Factory Acceptance Test. Ramahi and Timms then made arrangements to send MOI officials on what Timms later referred to as a “world tour” before and after the Factory Acceptance Test. Among the MOI officials for whom Ramahi and Timms provided the “world tour” were the head of the MOI’s technical committee and a senior engineer on the committee, who played a key role in the decision to award FLIR the business.”

The trip proceeded as planned, with stops in Casablanca, Paris, Dubai and Beirut. While in the Boston area, the MOI officials spent a single 5-hour day at FLIR’s Boston facility completing the equipment inspection. The agenda for their remaining seven days in Boston included just three other 1-2 hour visits to FLIR’s Boston facility, some additional meetings with FLIR personnel, at their hotel, and other leisure activities, all at FLIR’s expense. At the suggestion of Timms’ manager, a U.S.-based Vice President responsible for global sales to foreign governments, Ramahi also took the MOI on a weekend trip to New York while they were in Boston. In total, the MOI officials traveled for 20 nights on their “world tour,” with airfare and luxury hotel accommodations paid by FLIR. There was no business purpose for the stops outside of Boston.

Timms forwarded the air travel expenses for the MOI to his manager for approval, attaching a summary reflecting the full extended routing of the travel. The manager approved the travel, directing him to make the expenses appear smaller by “break[ing] it in 2 [submissions.]” Timms also forwarded the travel charges and an itinerary showing the Paris and Beirut stops, to FLIR’s finance department. FLIR’s finance department processed and paid the approved air expenses the next day. Neither Timms’ manager nor anyone in FLIR’s finance department questioned the itinerary or the travel expense, although the itinerary reflected travel to locations other than Boston.

After receiving questions from Timms’ manager, Ramahi and Timms later claimed that the MOI’s “world tour” had been a mistake. They told the FLIR finance department that the MOI had used FLIR’s travel agent in Dubai to book their own travel and that it had been mistakenly charged to FLIR. They then used FLIR’s third-party agent to give the appearance that the MOI paid for their travel. Timms also oversaw the preparation of false and misleading documentation of the MOI travel expenses that was submitted to FLIR finance as the “corrected” travel documentation. FLIR finance then made an additional payment to the Dubai travel agency for the remaining travel costs.

Following the equipment inspection in Boston, the MOI gave its permission for FLIR to ship the binoculars. The MOI later placed an order for additional binoculars for an approximate price of $1.2 million. In total, FLIR earned revenues of over $7 million in profits in connection with its sales of binoculars to the MOI.”

Under the heading “Additional Travel,” the order states:

“From 2008 through 2010, FLIR paid approximately $40,000 for additional travel by MOI officials. For example, Ramahi took the same MOI officials who went on the “world tour” to Dubai over the New Year holiday in December 2008 and again in 2009. FLIR paid for airfare, hotel, and expensive dinners and drinks. FLIR also paid for hotels, meals and first class flights for the MOI officials to travel within Saudi Arabia to help FLIR win business with other Saudi government agencies. Although the trips were booked as business expenses, the supporting documentation is incomplete and it is not possible to determine whether all the trips in fact had a business purpose.

Moreover, in June and July of 2011, a FLIR regional sales manager accompanied nine officials from the Egyptian Ministry of Defense on travel paid for by a FLIR partner. The travel centered on a legitimate Factory Acceptance Test at FLIR’s Stockholm factory. The travel, however, also included a non-essential visit to Paris, during which the officials spent only two days on demonstration and promotion activities relating to FLIR products. In total, the government officials traveled for 14 days and most of the officials only participated in legitimate business activities on four of those days. Three officials engaged in two additional days of training in Sweden. The total travel costs were approximately $43,000. FLIR subsequently reimbursed the partner for the majority of the travel costs, based upon cursory invoices which were submitted without supporting documentation.”

Under the heading “Expensive Watches,” the order states:

“At Timms’ and Ramahi’s instruction, in February 2009, FLIR’s third-party agent purchased five watches in Riyadh, paying approximately 26,000 Saudi Riyal (about U.S. $7,000). Ramahi and Timms gave the watches to MOI officials during a mid-March 2009 trip to Saudi Arabia to discuss several business opportunities with the MOI. The MOI officials who received the watches included two of the MOI officials who subsequently went on the “world tour” travel.

Within weeks of his visit to Saudi Arabia, Timms submitted an expense report to FLIR for reimbursement of the watches. The expense report clearly identified the watches as “EXECUTIVE GIFTS: 5 WATCHES” costing $1,425 each. Shortly thereafter, Timms specified that the watches were given to MOI officials, and identified the specific officials who received the watches.

Despite these red flags, the reimbursement was approved by Timms’ manager and, based on that approval and the submitted invoices, FLIR’s finance department paid the reimbursement to Timms.

In July 2009, in connection with an unrelated review of expenses in the Dubai office, FLIR’s finance department flagged Timms’ reimbursement request for the watches. In response to their questions, Timms claimed that he had made a mistake and falsely stated that the expense report should have reflected a total of 7,000 Saudi Riyal (about $1,900) for the watches, rather than $7,000 as submitted. Ramahi also told FLIR investigators that the watches were each purchased for approximately 1,300-1,400 Saudi Riyal (approximately $377) by FLIR’s third-party agent. In September 2009, at Timms’ direction, FLIR’s agent maintained the false cover story in response to emailed questions from FLIR’s finance department. Timms and Ramahi also obtained a false invoice reflecting that the watches cost 7,000 Saudi Riyal, which Timms submitted to FLIR finance in August 2009. The false, revised invoice was processed by FLIR.”

Under the heading, “FLIR’s FCPA-Related Policies and Training and Internal Controls,” the order states:

“During the relevant time, FLIR had a code of conduct, as well as a specific anti-bribery policy, which prohibited FLIR employees from violating the FCPA. FLIR’s policies required employees to record information “accurately and honestly” in FLIR’s books and records, with “no materiality requirement or threshold for a violation.” FLIR employees, including Timms and Ramahi, received training on their obligations under the FCPA and FLIR’s policy, although the company did not ensure that all employees, including Ramahi, completed the required training.

FLIR had few internal controls over travel in its foreign sales offices at the time. Although FLIR had policies and procedures over travel for its domestic operations, there were no controls or policies in place governing the use of foreign travel agencies. Instead, FLIR foreign sales employees worked directly with FLIR’s foreign travel agencies to arrange travel for themselves and others. Sales managers, such as Timms, were solely responsible for expense approvals for their sales staff. Timms’ manager was responsible for approving travel-related expenses for all non-U.S.-based senior sales employees (such as Timms) and approving the payment of large invoices to the foreign travel agencies.

FLIR also had few controls over the giving of gifts to customers, including foreign government officials. Sales staff and managers were responsible for all expense approvals for gifts and accounts payable was not trained to flag expenses that were potentially problematic. To the contrary, the initial expense submission for the watches was labeled in large English print “EXECUTIVE GIFTS: 5 WATCHES” for a total of $7,123, and was accompanied by email confirmation that the watches were provided to 5 MOI “officers,” when it was approved by Timms’ manager and processed and paid by FLIR accounts payable department.”

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

“In November 2010, FLIR received a complaint letter from FLIR’s thirdparty agent, and began an investigation that lead to the discovery of the improper watches and travel. FLIR subsequently self-reported the conduct to the Commission and cooperated with the Commission’s investigation.

Subsequent to the conduct described herein, FLIR undertook significant remedial efforts including personnel and vendor terminations. FLIR broadened its relevant policies and trainings and implemented a gift policy. FLIR enhanced access by its employees to its anti-bribery policy by providing translations into languages spoken in all countries in which it has offices. FLIR is in the process of enhancing its travel approval system in its foreign offices, including requiring all non-employee travel to be booked through either one large, designated travel agency or a limited number of designated regional travel agencies after receiving advance written approval from senior business personnel and the legal department. All travel agencies will be vetted through FLIR’s full FCPA due diligence framework, be subject to all of FLIR’s current FCPA training obligations, and cannot be reimbursed for travel bookings for non-employees in the absence of appropriate approvals. FLIR added additional FCPA training and procedures for its finance staff, and enhanced its third-party diligence process and contracts. FLIR also engaged outside counsel and forensic accountants to conduct a compliance review of travel and entertainment expenses in its operations outside the U.S.”

Under the heading, “Legal Standards and FCPA Violations,” the order states, in pertinent part:

“FLIR violated [the anti-bribery provisions] by corruptly providing expensive gifts of travel, entertainment, and personal items to the MOI officials to retain and obtain business for FLIR. [FLIR] also violated [the internal control provisions], by failing to devise and maintain a sufficient system of internal accounting controls to prevent the provision and approval of the watches and the travel and the falsification of FLIR’s books and records to conceal the conduct. As a result of this same conduct, FLIR failed to make and keep accurate books and records in violation of [the books and records provisions].”

As noted in the SEC’s release:

“The SEC’s order finds that FLIR violated the anti-bribery provisions of [the FCPA] and the internal controls and books-and-records provisions of [the FCPA].  FLIR self-reported the misconduct to the SEC and cooperated with the SEC’s investigation.  FLIR consented to the order without admitting or denying the findings and agreed to pay disgorgement of $7,534,000, prejudgment interest of $970,584 and a penalty of $1 million for a total of $9,504,584.”

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

“FLIR’s deficient financial controls failed to identify and stop the activities of employees who served as de facto travel agents for influential foreign officials to travel around the world on the company’s dime.”

As a condition of settlement, FLIR is required to report to the SEC ”periodically, at no less than nine-month intervals during a two-year term, the status of its compliance review of its overseas operations and the status of its remediation and implementation of compliance measures.”

FLIR Systems issued this release stating:

“FLIR Systems … announced an agreement with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) resolving previously disclosed violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) committed by two former FLIR employees dating back to 2008.

FLIR discovered the FCPA violations related to approximately $40,000 in excessive travel related to factory acceptance tests and miscellaneous gifts valued at approximately $7,000. FLIR subsequently self-reported the actions to the SEC and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and then terminated the involved employees, who knowingly violated and actively circumvented the Company’s policies and financial controls. As part of its act of self-reporting, FLIR conducted a thorough investigation of its international business activities with the assistance of independent legal specialists. The settlement fully resolves all outstanding issues related to these investigations.

In announcing the settlement, the SEC recognized FLIR for self-reporting the violations.

“FLIR takes compliance very seriously and has policies and procedures in place to prevent such conduct,” said FLIR President and CEO,Andy Teich. “We self-reported the employees’ activities to the relevant authorities upon discovering them and cooperated with the government’s investigation. We have taken action to bolster our training, controls, and policies. The actions of the two former employees involved do not reflect the values of FLIR or the high standards to which we hold ourselves accountable. I am very pleased that we have fully resolved this matter and put it behind us.”

The DOJ declined to pursue any case against FLIR.”

Bruce Yannett (Debevoise & Plimpton) represented FLIR.

Yesterday, FLIR’s stock closed down approximately .9%.

Like A Kid In A Candy Store

Monday, February 2nd, 2015

Kid in Candy StoreLike every year around this time, I feel like a kid in a candy store given the number of FCPA year in reviews hitting my inbox.  This post highlights various FCPA or related publications that caught my eye.

Reading the below publications is recommended and should find their way to your reading stack.  However, be warned.  The divergent enforcement statistics contained in them (a result of various creative counting methods) 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)

Debevoise & Plimpton

The firm’s monthly FCPA Update is consistently a quality read.  The most recent issue is a year in review and the following caught my eye.

“The government’s pressure on companies to assist in investigating and prosecuting individuals raises significant challenges for in-house legal and compliance personnel as they work to navigate the potentially conflicting interests in anti-bribery compliance and internal investigations.  This pressure has produced legitimate concerns that a failure to self-report could, in and of itself, be met with, or be the cause for imposing, monetary penalties.  Although the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines provide for a reduction in fines for a heightened level of cooperation, outside of a narrow range of arenas (such as where duties to self-report are imposed on U.S. government contractors), the government generally lacks any statutory basis for imposing financial penalties against companies for the failure to self-report potential misconduct.  Since there is no legal obligation to self-report, it is our view that the government should exercise caution when discussing bases for monetary penalties and should rely solely on laws passed by Congress and the Sentencing Guidelines provisions that properly draw their authority from a duly-passed statute.  It would be a disturbing trend indeed were the government to begin to impose monetary penalties for failing to self-report where there is no legal obligation to do so.  The actions by U.S. regulators in the coming year will continue to warrant close scrutiny …”.

Gibson Dunn

The firm’s Year-End FCPA Update is a quality read year after year.  It begins as follows.

“Within the last decade, Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) enforcement has become a juggernaut of U.S. enforcement agencies.  Ten years ago, we published our first report on the state-of-play in FCPA enforcement.  Although prosecutions were at the time quite modest–our first update noted only five enforcement actions in 2004–we observed an upward trend in disclosed investigations and advised our readership that enhanced government attention to the then-underutilized statute was likely.  From the elevated plateau of 2015, we stand by our prediction. In addition to the traditional calendar-year observations of our year-end updates, this tenth-anniversary edition looks back and analyzes five trends in FCPA enforcement we have observed over the last decade.”

The update flushes out the following interesting tidbit from the Bio-Rad enforcement action.

“[A noteworthy aspect] of the Bio-Rad settlement is that it is the first DOJ FCPA corporate settlement agreement to require executives to certify, prior to the end of the [post-enforcement action] reporting period, that the company has met its disclosure obligations.  As noted above in the Ten-Year Trend section, post-resolution reporting obligations, including an affirmative obligation to disclose new misconduct, have long been a common feature of FCPA resolutions.  But Bio-Rad’s is the first agreement to insert a provision requiring that prior to the conclusion of the supervisory period, the company CEO and CFO “certify to [DOJ] that the Company has met its disclosure obligations,” subject to penalties under 18 U.S.C. § 1001.”

Gibson Dunn also released (here) its always informative “Year-End Update on Corporate Deferred Prosecution Agreements (DPAs) and Non-Prosecution Agreements (NPAs).”  The update:  ”(1) summarizes highlights from the DPAs and NPAs of 2014; (2) discusses several post settlement considerations, including protections for independent monitor work product and post settlementterm revisions; (3) analyzes a potential trend in the judicial oversight of DPAs; and(4) addresses recent developments in the United Kingdom, where the Deferred ProsecutionAgreements Code of Practice recently took effect.

According to the Update, there were 30 NPAs or DPAs entered into by the DOJ (29) or SEC (1) in 2014. (However, this figure includes two in the Alstom action and two in the HP action.  Thus, there were 27 unique instances of the DOJ using an NPA or DPA in 2014.  Of the 27 unique instances, 5 (19%) were in FCPA enforcement actions and the FCPA was the single largest source of NPAs and DPAs in 2014 in terms of specific statutory allegation.

The Gibson Dunn updates provides a thorough review of two pending cases in which federal court judges are wrestling with the issue of whether to approve of a DPA agreed to be the DOJ and a company.

Shearman & Sterling

The firm’s “Recent Trends and Patterns in Enforcement of the FCPA” is also another quality read year-after-year.

Of note from the publication:

“[W]hat may be the most interesting facet of the SEC’s current enforcement approach is the Commission’s shift in the latter half of 2014 in Timms to settle charges against individuals through administrative proceedings. This may come as no surprise, as the SEC has had difficulty successfully prosecuting individuals for violating the FCPA in previous years. Most recently, in early 2014, the SEC suffered a pair of setbacks in its enforcement actions against executives from Nobel Corp. and Magyar Telekom [...] before the U.S. courts. Other cases, such as SEC v. Sharef (the SEC’s case against the Siemens executives) and SEC v. Clarke (which is currently the subject of a pending stay), have lingered in the S.D.N.Y. for significant periods of time without resolution.”

[...]

Obtain or Retain Business

Following the announcement of the SEC’s settlement with Layne Christensen over improper payments made to foreign officials in various African countries, we noted that the SEC’s approach to the “obtaining or retaining business” test in the FCPA appeared at odds with the Fifth Circuit’s 2007 opinion in United States v. Kay. Specifically, in Kay, the DOJ charged two executives of American Rice, Inc. for engaging in a scheme to pay Haitian customs officials bribes in exchange for accepting false shipping documents that under-reported the amount of rice onboard ocean-going barges. The result of the false shipping documents was to reduce the amount of customs duties and sales taxes that American Rice would have otherwise been forced to pay. While the court in Kay dismissed the defendants’ argument that the FCPA was only intended to cover bribes intended for “the award or renewal of contracts,” holding instead that the payment of bribes in exchange for reduced customs duties and sales taxes, the court added that in order to violate the FCPA, the prosecution must show that the reduced customs duties and sales taxes were in turned used “to assist in obtaining or retaining business” per the language of the FCPA. In short, the court in Kay held that while bribes paid exchange for the reduction of duties or taxes could violate the FCPA, they were not per se violations of the statue, and that the Department would have to show how the benefit derived from the reduced duties and taxes were used to obtain or retain business.

Fast forwarding to 2014 in Layne Christensen, the Houston-based global water management, construction, and drilling company, was forced to pay over $5 million in sanctions despite the fact that the SEC’s cease-and-desist order pleaded facts inconsistent with the Fifth Circuit’s opinion in Kay. In its discussion of Layne Christensen’s alleged violation of the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions, the SEC only alleged that the company paid bribes to foreign officials in multiple African countries “in order to, among other things, obtain favorable tax treatment, customs clearance for its equipment, and a reduction of customs duties.” The SEC’s cease-and-desist made no reference to how these reduced costs were used to obtain or retain business, rendering the SEC’s charges facially deficient.

Layne Christensen is not, however, the first time the DOJ and SEC have brought similar FCPA charges against companies without alleging how reduced taxes and customs duties were used to obtain or retain business. In the Panalpina cases from 2010, a series of enforcement actions against various international oil and gas companies, the DOJ and SEC treated the exchange of bribes for reduced taxes and customs duties as per se violations of the FCPA. Even in the 2012 FCPA Guide the enforcement agencies make clear that “bribe payments made to secure favorable tax treatment, or to reduce or eliminate customs duties . . . satisfy the business purpose test.” Whether the DOJ’s and SEC’s approach to the “obtaining or retaining business” element of the FCPA stems from a misinterpretation of Kay or is an attempt to challenge the Fifth Circuit’s opinion, remains to be seen. Nevertheless, we are troubled by the lack of clarity in the DOJ’s and SEC’s approach as it ultimately disadvantages defendants who may otherwise be pressured to settle charges over conduct which does not necessarily constitute a crime.”

Parent/Subsidiary Liability

As noted in previous Trends & Patterns, over the past several years the SEC has engaged in the disconcerting practice of charging parent companies with anti-bribery violations based on the corrupt payments of their subsidiaries. In short, the SEC has adopted the position that corporate parents are subject to strict criminal liability not only for books & records violations (since it is the parent’s books ultimately at issue) but also for bribery violations by their subsidiaries regardless of whether the parent had any involvement or even knowledge of the subsidiaries’ illegal conduct. The SEC has subsequently continued this approach in Alcoa and Bio-Rad.

According to the charging documents, officials at two Alcoa subsidiaries arranged for various bribe payments to be made to Bahraini officials through the use of a consultant. The SEC acknowledged that there were “no findings that an officer, director or employee of Alcoa knowingly engaged in the bribe scheme” but it still charged the parent company with anti-bribery violations on the grounds that the subsidiary responsible for the bribery scheme was an agent of Alcoa at the time. The Commission’s tact is curious considering that it charged Alcoa with books and records and internal controls violations as well, making anti-bribery charges seemingly unnecessary. Moreover, it is noteworthy that in the parallel criminal action, the DOJ elected to directly charge Alcoa’s subsidiary with violations of the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions instead of Alcoa’s corporate parent.

In Bio-Rad, the SEC’s cease-and-desist order alleged that the corporate parent was liable for violations of the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions committed by the company’s corporate subsidiary in Russia, Vietnam, and Thailand. In order to impute the alleged wrongful conduct upon the corporate parent, the SEC relied heavily upon corporate officials’ willful blindness to a number of red flags arising from the alleged schemes in Russia, Vietnam, and Thailand. Nevertheless, even if certain officials from Bio-Rad’s corporate parent were aware of the bribery scheme, the SEC’s charges ignore the black-letter rule that in order to find a corporate parent liable for the acts of a subsidiary, it must first “pierce the corporate veil,” showing that the parent operated the subsidiary as an alter ego and paid no attention to the corporate form.

It is also interesting that much like the case of Alcoa, the DOJ’s criminal charges against Bio-Rad are notably distinct from the SEC’s. Specifically, while the DOJ charged Bio-Rad’s corporate parent with violating the FCPA, the Department elected to only charge the company with violations of the FCPA’s book-and-records and internal controls provisions, not the anti-bribery provisions like the SEC.

The SEC’s charging decisions in Alcoa and Bio-Rad are even more peculiar given the fact that the SEC took an entirely different approach in HP, Bruker, and Avon, where despite alleging largely analogous fact patterns, the SEC charged the parent companies in HP, Bruker, and Avon with violations of the FCPA’s books-and-records and internal controls provisions only. Much like Alcoa and Bio-Rad, all of the relevant acts of bribery in HP, Bruker, and Avon were committed by the company’s subsidiaries in Mexico, Poland, Russia (HP), and China (Bruker and Avon). The SEC’s decisions in Alcoa, Bio-Rad, HP, Bruker, and Avon to charge parent companies involved in largely analogous fact patterns with different FCPA violations raise ongoing questions as to consistency and predictability of the SEC’s approach to parent-subsidiary liability.”

WilmerHale

The firm’s FCPA alert states regarding the travel and entertainment enforcement actions from 2014.

“While most cases involving travel and entertainment historically have involved other allegedly corrupt conduct, it was notable this year that travel and entertainment was the focus of the conduct in some cases. … [T]his suggests that travel and entertainment should continue to be a focus of corporate compliance programs. Unfortunately, the settled cases give little guidance as to some of the gray areas that challenge compliance officers, such as the appropriate dollar amounts for business meals, or how much ancillary leisure activity is acceptable in the context of a business event. Perhaps most interesting about the recent cases is that the government’s charging papers in some cases seem to lack any direct evidence that the benefits provided were provided as a quid pro quo to obtain a specific favorable decision from the official. The cases seem to simply conclude that if there were benefits provided to a government decision maker, the benefits must have been improper. Whether such allegations would be sufficient to satisfy the FCPA’s “corruptly” standard in litigation remains to be seen.”

Regarding the lack of transparency in FCPA enforcement, the alert states:

“[T]here still remains legitimate debate about whether the amount of credit that companies receive for voluntary disclosures is sufficient, especially when compared to companies that cooperate but do not self-report. One important factor that is often left out of the debate on this topic is the “credit” that is not visible in the public settlement documents but is nonetheless often informally received by companies that voluntarily disclose and/or cooperate. While the discussion above focuses on Sentencing Guidelines calculations and percentages of credit off the Sentencing Guidelines ranges, the discussion does not take into account decisions made by the government in settlement discussions that affect the ranges that are not seen in the settlement documents. For example, in settlement negotiations, the government might determine not to include certain transactions when calculating the gains obtained by the corporate defendant—perhaps because the evidence might have been weaker, or because jurisdiction might have been questionable, or because the settlement may have focused on transactions from a certain time period, or because of other factors. Thus, while the settlement documents might suggest a 20% discount from the bottom of the Sentencing Guidelines range, that range could have been higher had other transactions been included. These determinations are not transparent, but, anecdotally, there is some basis to believe that companies that voluntarily disclose and/or cooperate are more likely to get the benefit of the doubt as the sausage is being made. Given the lack of transparency in this area, the debates on this topic are likely to continue for a long time.”

Covington & Burling

The firm’s “Trends and Developments in Anti-Corruption Enforcement” is here.  Among other things, it states:

“As we have noted in the past, U.S. enforcement authorities have a taken creative and aggressive legal positions in pursuing FCPA cases. This past year saw a continuation of that trend, most notably with the SEC staking out an expansive position on the FCPA’s reach via agency theory.

Aggressive Use of Agency Theory. 2014 saw the SEC make use of a potentially far reaching agency theory to hold a parent company liable for the conduct of subsidiaries. In the Alcoa settlement, the SEC made clear that it had made “no findings that an officer, director or employee of [corporate parent Alcoa Inc.] knowingly engaged in the bribe scheme” at issue. Instead, its theory of liability was that the parent company “violated Section 30A of the Exchange Act by reason of its agents, including subsidiaries [Alcoa World Aluminum and Alcoa of Australia], indirectly paying bribes to foreign officials in Bahrain in order to obtain or retain business.” This agency theory was premised on the parent company’s alleged control over the business segment and subsidiaries where the conduct at issue allegedly occurred. Notably, the SEC did not rely on any evidence that parent-company personnel had direct involvement in or control over the alleged bribery scheme. Instead, the SEC pointed only to general indicia of corporate control that are the normal incidents of majority stock ownership (e.g., that Alcoa appointed the majority of seats on the business unit’s “Strategic Council,” transferred employees between itself and one of the relevant subsidiaries, and “set the business and financial goals” for the business segment). This is notable, in our view, because it is arguably at odds with DOJ and the SEC’s statement in the FCPA Resource Guide that they “evaluate the parent’s control — including the parent’s knowledge and direction of the subsidiary’s actions, both generally and in the context of the specific transaction — when evaluating whether a subsidiary is an agent of the parent.” (Emphasis added.) In the Alcoa matter, the SEC seemed to focus solely on “general” control; it did not allege any facts to support parent-level “knowledge and direction . . . in the context of the specific transaction.” This potentially expansive use of agency theory underscores the need for parent companies who are subject to FCPA jurisdiction to be attentive to corruption issues and compliance in all their corporate subsidiaries, even entities over which they do not exercise day-to-day managerial control.”

Miller & Chevalier

The firm’s FCPA Winter Review 2015 is here.

Among other useful information is a chart comparing the top ten FCPA enforcement actions (in terms of settlement amounts) as of 2007 compared to 2014 and a chart comparing SEC administrative proceedings and court filed complaints since 2005.

Davis Polk

The firm recently hosted a webinar titled “FCPA: 2014 Year-End Review of Trends and Global Enforcement Actions.”  The webcast and presentation slides are available here.

Jones Day

The firm’s FCPA Year in Review 2014 is here.

Other Items for the Reading Stack

From the FCPAmericas Blog – “Top FCPA Enforcement Trends to Expect in 2015.”

From the Corruption, Crime & Compliance Blog – “FCPA Year in Review 2014,” and FCPA Predictions for 2015.”

All About The Alstom Enforcement Action

Monday, December 29th, 2014

AlstomAs mentioned in this previous post, last week the DOJ announced a $772 million FCPA enforcement action against Alstom and related entities.

While the Alstom enforcement action is the largest DOJ FCPA enforcement action of all-time, it is the second largest overall FCPA enforcement action of all-time behind the 2008 Siemens enforcement action ($450 million DOJ component and a $350 million SEC component).  To see the current FCPA top-ten settlement list, click here.

The Alstom resolution documents total approximately 400 pages and this post summarizes these documents.

At its core, the Alstom enforcement action involved alleged conduct in Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the Bahamas, and Taiwan. All of this conduct is alleged in the Alstom S.A. information as the basis for the company’s FCPA books and records and internal controls violations between 1998 and 2004.  The charges were resolved through a plea agreement.  (A future post will explore, among other issues, the irony of Alstom pleading guilty in 2014 to substantive legal provisions that last applied to the company in 2004 when it ceased to be an “issuer.”).  From there the conduct was apportioned to the following Alstom-related entities in related enforcement actions.

  • Alstom Network Schweiz AG (conspiracy to violate the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions based on the Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahamas conduct and resolved through a plea agreement);
  • Alstom Power Inc. (conspiracy to violate the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions based on the Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and Egypt conduct and resolved through a DPA);
  • Alstom Grid Inc. (conspiracy to violate the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions based on the Egypt conduct and resolved through a DPA)

Alstom S.A. Information

According to the information, during the relevant time period, Alstom employed approximately 110,000 employees in over 70 countries.  The information contains specific allegations as to 9 individuals associated with Alstom and 9 consultants associated with Alstom.  As highlighted below, at its core, the Alstom enforcement action involved inadequate controls concerning the engagement, monitoring and supervision of the consultants.

The information alleges that “Alstom had direct and indirect subsidiaries in various countries around the world through which it bid on projects to secure contracts to perform power-related, grid-related, and transportation-related services, including for state-owned entities.”  According to the information, “Alstom’s subsidiaries worked exclusively on behalf of Alstom and for its benefit” and that Alstom “maintained a department called International Network that supported its subsidiaries’ efforts to secure contracts around the world.”  In addition, the information alleges that “within Alstom’s power sector, the company also maintained a department called Global Power Sales (“GPS”), which performed functions similar to International Network, in that GPS assisted Alstom entities or businesses in their efforts to secure contracts.”

The information contains a section titled “Overview of the Unlawful Scheme” that has two substantive sections “False Books and Records” and “Internal Accounting Controls.”

Under the heading “False Books and Records,” the information states.

“Alstom, acting through executives, employees, and others, disguised on its books and records millions of dollars in payments and other things of value given to foreign officials in exchange for those officials’ assistance in securing projects, keeping projects, and otherwise gaining other improper advantages in various countries around the world for Alstom and its subsidiaries.

In a number of instances, Alstom hired consultants to conceal and disguise improper payments to foreign officials. Alstom paid the consultants purportedly for performing legitimate services in connection with bidding on and executing various projects.  In reality, the Alstom personnel knew that the consultants were not performing legitimate services and that all or a portion of the payments were to be used to bribe foreign officials.  Alstom executives and employees falsely recorded these payments in its books and records as “commissions” or “consultancy fees.”

Alstom also created, and caused to be created, false records to further conceal these improper payments.  Alstom created consultancy agreements that provided for legitimate services to be rendered by the consultant, and included a provision prohibiting unlawful payments, even though the Alstom executives and employees involved knew that at times the consultants were using all or a portion of their consultancy fees to bribe foreign officials.  Moreover certain Alstom employees instructed the consultants to submit false invoices and other back-up documentation reflecting purported legitimate services rendered that those employees knew were not actually performed, so that Alstom could justify the payments to the consultants.

In other instances, Alstom paid bribes directly to foreign officials by providing gifts and petty cash, by hiring their family members, and in one instance by paying over two million dollars to a charity associated with a foreign official, all in exchange for those officials’ assistance in obtaining or retaining business in connection with projects for Alstom and its subsidiaries.  As with the consultant payments, Alstom knowingly and falsely recorded these payments in its books and records as consultant expenses, as “donations,” or other purportedly legitimate expenses.

Alstom employees, some of whom were located in Connecticut, knowingly falsified Alstom’s books and records in order to conceal the bribe payments that they knew were illegal and were contrary to Alstom’s written policy.  Alstom also submitted false certifications to USAID and other regulatory entities, falsely asserting that Alstom was not using consultants on particular projects when, in fact, consultants were being used, and asserting that no unlawful payments were being made in connection with projects when, in fact, they were.  Various other acts, including e-mail communications, passed through Connecticut.”

Under the heading “Internal Accounting Controls,” the information states:

 ”Although Alstom had policies in place prohibiting unlawful payments to foreign officials, including through consultants, Alstom knowingly failed to implement and maintain adequate controls to ensure compliance with those policies.

Alstom knowingly failed to implement and maintain adequate controls to ensure meaningful due diligence for the retention of third-party consultants. A number of consultants that Alstom hired raised a number of “red flags” under Alstom’s own internal policies.  Certain consultants proposed for retention had no expertise or experience in the industry sector in which Alstom was attempting to secure or execute the project.  Other consultants were located in a country different than the project country.  At other times, the consultants asked to be paid in a currency or in a bank account located in a country different than where the consultant and the project were located.  In multiple instances, more than one consultant was retained on the same project, ostensibly to perform the very same services.  Despite, these “red flags,” the consultants were nevertheless retained without meaningful scrutiny.  To the contrary, those submitting consultants for possible retention at times did not make explicit the true reason for the consultants’ retention, as well as other relevant facts.  And certain executives who had the ability to ensure appropriate controls surrounding the due diligence process themselves know, or knowingly failed to take action that would have allowed them to discover, that the purpose of hiring the consultant was to conceal payments to foreign officials in connection with securing projects and other favorable treatment in various countries around the world for Alstom and its subsidiaries.

Alstom also knowingly failed to implement and maintain adequate controls for the approval of consultancy agreements.  During the relevant time period, Alstom’s consultancy agreements provided that payments to the consultants would only be made on a pro rata basis tied to project milestones or as Alstom was paid by the customer.  In certain instances, Alstom employees changed the amount and terms of payment for the consultants, in violation of the company’s own internal policies, so that Alstom could pay the consultants more money and make the payment sooner in order to generate cash available to bribe the foreign officials.  The Alstom executives and employees responsible for approving consultancy agreements did not adequately scrutinize these changes, and in certain instances were copied on e-mails in which the true purpose for the change was discussed.  During the relevant time period, Alstom also maintained an unwritten policy to discourage, where possible, consultancy agreements that would subject Alstom to the jurisdiction of the United States. To effectuate this policy, Alstom typically used consultants who were not based in the United States, and intentionally paid consultants in bank accounts outside of the United States and in currencies other than U.S. dollars.  The Alstom executives and employees responsible for approving consultancy agreements attempted to enforce this unwritten policy even when it meant that the consultant had to open an offshore bank account solely for the purpose of receiving payments from Alstom.

Alstom also knowingly failed to implement and maintain adequate controls for payments to consultants. In multiple instances, Alstom paid the consultants without adequate, or timely, documentation of the services they purported to perform.  At times, consultants sought help from Alstom to create false documentation necessary for payment approval.  In other instances, the consultants created false “proofs of service” long after the purported services were rendered.  In certain cases … a consultant sought assistance from an Alstom employee responsible for approving payment because, as the consultant explained to the Alstom employee, he did not want to include on his invoices the fact that his services included making unlawful payments.  During the relevant time period, Alstom did not engage in auditing or testing of consultant invoices or payments.  In many instances, requests for payments to consultants were approved without adequate review by Alstom knowing that the payments were being used, at least in part, to bribe foreign officials to obtain or retain business in connection with projects in various countries around the world for Alstom and its subsidiaries.”

Next, the information contains the following summary allegation.

“Alstom paid approximately $75 million in consultancy fees knowing that this money would be used, in whole or in part, to bribe or provide something of value to foreign officials to secure approximately $4 billion in projects in multiple countries, with a gain to Alstom of approximately $296 million.”

The information next contains specific allegations regarding Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the Bahamas, and Taiwan.

Indonesia

As to Indonesia, the information concerns various power projects in Indonesia through Indonesia’s state-owned and state-controlled electricity company, Perusahann Listrik Negara (“PLN”).  One such project was the Tarahan Project, a project to provide power-related services to the citizens of Indonesia at approximately $118 million and another such project was the Muara Tawar Block 5 Project, a project to expand the existing Muara Tawar power plant and provide additional power-related services to the citizens of Indonesia at approximately $260 million.  According to the information, Alstom subsidiaries bid on but were not awarded contracts related to other expansions of the Muara Tawar power plant.  In summary fashion, the information alleges as follows.

“In connection with these projects, Alstom disguised on its books and records millions of dollars and other things of value provided to Indonesian officials in exchange for those officials’ assistance in securing the power projects for Alstom and its subsidiaries.  Alstom also knowingly failed to implement and maintain adequate controls to ensure that no unlawful payments were being made through consultants to foreign officials in connection with these projects.”

The Indonesia allegations in the Alstom information are substantively similar to the allegations in the prior FCPA enforcement action against various individuals associated with Alstom Power.  (See here for the prior post and summary).

Saudi Arabia

As to Saudi Arabia, the information concerns bids for power projects with Saudi Electric Company (“SEC”), Saudi Arabia’s state-owned and state-controlled electricity company, and its predecessor entities.  According to the information, in connection with one project:

“Alstom disguised on its books and records tens of millions of dollars in payments and other things of value provided to Saudi officials to obtain or retain business in connection with the projects.  Alstom knowingly failed to implement and maintain adequate controls to ensure that no unlawful payments were being made to these officials.  The arrangements for these consulting agreements originated with [a separate international power company with which Alstom operated as a joint venture in 1999 and acquired in 2000]. Subsequently, Alstom honored, continued, and in certain instances renewed these consulting agreements without adequate diligence on what services were ostensibly being provided by these consultants, whether the consultants were capable of providing such services, whether the agreed upon consultancy fees were commensurate with such legitimate services, and despite the lack of documentation regarding what legitimate services were provided.”

In one instance, the information alleges that a consultant “was the brother of a high-level official at the SEC who had the ability to influence the award” of a project, “which certain Alstom employees knew.”  According to the information, this consultant was paid “approximately $5 million, with no documentation of any legitimate services having been performed [by the Consultant] commensurate with a $5 million fee and with no documentation of any technical or other expertise to justify such a fee.”  In another instance, the information alleges that another consultant “was a close relative of another high-level official at SEC who had the ability to influence the aware” of a project” which certain Alstom employees knew.”  According to the information, this consultant was paid at least $4 million under similar circumstances to those referenced above.

The information states as follows.

“In addition to paying consultants as a means of bribing key decision makers at the SEC, Alstom and its subsidiaries paid $2.2 million to a U.S.-based Islamic education foundation associated with [an SEC official believed to have 70% of the decision-making responsibility for SEC matters].  The payments were made in three installments, and internal records at Alstom reflect that these payments were included as expenses related [to the projects] rather than as a separate and independent charitable contribution.”

Egypt

As to Egypt, the information concerns bidding on various projects with the Egyptian Electricity Holding Company (“EEHC”), the state-owned and state-controlled electricity company in Egypt.  According to the information, “EEHC was not itself responsible for conducting the bidding [on projects], and instead relied on Power Generation Engineering & Services Co. (“PGESCo”), which was controlled by an acted on behalf of EEHC.”  According to the information, in connection with various projects, “Alstom disguised on its books and records millions of dollars and other things of value provided to Egyptian officials to obtain or retain business in connection with power projects for Alstom and its subsidiaries.  Alstom also knowingly failed to implement and maintain adequate controls to ensure that no unlawful payments were being made to these officials.  According to the information, Alstom used a consultant whose primary purpose “was not to provide legitimate consulting services to Alstom and its subsidiaries but was instead to make payments to Egyptian officials, including Asem Elgawhary who oversaw the bidding process.”  (See here for the prior post regarding the Elgawhary enforcement action).

The information also contains allegations concerning bidding on various grid projects with EEHC and the Egyptian Electricity Transmission Company (“EETC”), the state-owned and state-controlled electricity transmission company in Egypt.  According to the information, certain of these projects were “funded, at least in part, by the United States Agency for International Development (“USAID”).  According to the information:

“In connection with [these projects], Alstom disguised on its books and records payments and other things of value it provided to Egyptian officials in exchange for those officials’ assistance in securing and executing the transmission and distribution projects for Alstom and its subsidiaries.  Alstom also knowingly failed to implement and maintain adequate controls to ensure that no unlawful payments were being made to these officials.”

According to the information, an Alstom entity “repeatedly submitted false certifications to USAID in connection with these projects, and did not disclose that consultants were being used, that commissions were being paid, or that unlawful payments were being made.”

According to the information, “in addition to falsifying records in connection with the retention of consultants and their commission payments,” Alstom employees also “paid for entertainment and travel for [a high-level official] and other key decision-makers at EETC and EEHC, and provided those officials with envelopes of cash and other gifts during such travel.”

Bahamas

As to the Bahamas, the information concerns power projects with the Bahamas Electricity Corporation (“BEC”), the state-owned and state-controlled power company.  According to the information, “Alstom disguised in its books and records payments to Bahamian officials to obtain or retain business in connection with power projects for Alstom and its subsidiaries.  Alstom also knowingly failed to implement and maintain adequate controls to ensure that no unlawful payments were being made to these officials.

According to the information, Alstom retained a consultant “who, as certain Alstom employees knew, was a close personal friend” of a board member of BEC and that the primary purpose of the consultant was not to provide legitimate consulting services but instead to pay bribes to the official who had the ability to influence the award of the power contracts.  According to the information, Alstom did not perform any due diligence on the consultant even though the consultant had no knowledge about, or experience in, the power industry.  Rather, the information alleges, the consultant “sold furniture and leather products, and exported chemical products and spare parts.”

Taiwan

As to Taiwan, the information alleges that between 2001 and 2008, Alstom and its subsidiaries “began bidding on transport-related projects with various entities responsible for the construction and operation of the metro-rail system in Taipei, Taiwan, including Taipei’s Department of Rapid Transit System, known as “DORTS.”  According to the information, an Alstom entity formally retained a consultant on a DORTS project even thought the consultant did not have the requisite expertise in the transport sector.  According to the information, the consultant’s expertise was as a “wholesaler of cigarettes, wines and pianos.”

According to the information, “Alstom’s system of internal controls was inadequate as they related to the Taiwan projects.  Despite numerous red flags, Alstom personnel knowingly failed to conduct further diligence to ensure that payments to its consultants in Taiwan could not be used to make improper payments to Taiwanese officials after the projects were secured.”

Based on the above allegations, Alstom was charged with one count of violating the FCPA’s books and records provisions from 1998 to 2004 and one count of violating the FCPA’s internal controls provisions from 1998 to 2004.

Alstom S.A. Plea Agreement

In the plea agreement, Alstom admitted that it was an “issuer” during the relevant time period and admitted, agreed, and stipulated that the factual allegations set forth in the information were true and correct.

In the plea agreement, the parties agreed that the gross pecuniary gain resulting from the offense was $296 million.  The plea agreement sets forth an advisory sentencing guidelines range of $532.8 million to $1.065 billion.

Under the heading “failure to self-report,” the plea agreement states:

“The Defendant failed to voluntarily disclose the conduct even though it was aware of related misconduct at Alstom Power, Inc., a U.S. subsidiary, which entered into a resolution for corrupt conduct in connection with a power project in Italy several years prior to the Department reaching out to Alstom regarding its investigation.”

Under the heading “cooperation,” the plea agreement states:

“The Defendant initially failed to cooperate with the Department’s investigation, responding only to the Department’s subpoenas to the Defendant’s subsidiaries.  Approximately one year into the investigation, the Defendant provided limited cooperation, but still did not fully cooperate with the Department’s investigation.  The Defendant’s initial failure to cooperate impeded the Department’s investigation of individuals involved in the bribery scheme.  At a later stage in the investigation, the Defendant began providing thorough cooperation, including assisting in the Department’s investigation and prosecution of individuals and other companies that had partnered with the Defendant on certain projects.  The Defendant’s thorough cooperation did not occur until after the Department had publicly charged multiple Alstom executives and employees.”

Under the heading, “compliance and remediation,” the plea agreement states:

“The Defendant lacked an effective compliance and ethics program at the time of the offense.  Since that time, the Defendant has undertaken substantial efforts to enhance its compliance program and to remediate the prior inadequacies, including complying with undertakings contained in resolutions with the World Bank (including an ongoing monitorship) and the government of Switzerland, substantially increasing its compliance staff, improving its alert procedures, increasing training and auditing/testing, and cease the use of external success fee-based consultants.”

In the plea agreement, Alstom agreed to a so-called “muzzle clause” in which it agreed not, directly or indirectly through others, to make any public statement contradicting the acceptance of responsibility set forth in the plea agreement.

Pursuant to the plea agreement, Alstom agreed to a corporate compliance program with elements typically part of other FCPA settlements.

Pursuant to the plea agreement, Alstom agreed to report to the DOJ, at no less than 12 month intervals, for a three-year term, regarding remediation and implementation of the compliance program and internal controls, policies, and procedures.  The plea agreement references that Alstom is already subject to monitoring requirements pursuant to a February 2012 World Bank Resolution but states that “in the event that the Integrity Compliance Office [of the World Bank] does not certify that the Company has satisfied the monitoring requirements contained in the World Bank Resolution, the Company shall be required to retain an Independent Compliance Monitor.”

Alstom Network Schweiz AG Information

The information against Alstom Network Schweiz AG (formerly known as Alstom Prom AG), a subsidiary of Alstom headquartered in Switzerland and responsible for overseeing compliance as it related to Alstom’s consultancy agreements for many of Alstom’s power sector subsidiaries, is based upon the same Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Bahamas conduct alleged in the Alstom information.

The Alstom entity is charged with conspiracy to violate the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions under the dd-3 prong of the statute. According to the information, the “purpose of the conspiracy was to make corrupt payments to foreign officials in Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the Bahamas in order to obtain and retain business related to power projects in those countries for and on behalf of Alstom and its subsidiaries.”

Alstom Network Schweiz AG Plea Agreement

In the plea agreement, the Alstom entity admitted, agreed, and stipulated that the factual allegations set forth in the information were true and correct.

Pursuant to the plea agreement, “the parties agree[d] that any monetary penalty in this case will be paid pursuant to the plea agreement between the DOJ and Alstom, S.A., the parent company of the Defendant, relating to the same conduct …”.

In the plea agreement, the Alstom entity agreed to a so-called “muzzle clause” in which it agreed not, directly or indirectly through others, to make any public statement contradicting the acceptance of responsibility set forth in the plea agreement.

The plea agreement contains the same corporate compliance program, reporting obligations, and monitor conditions as described in the Alstom plea agreement above.

Alstom Power Inc. Information

The information against Alstom Power Inc., a subsidiary of Alstom headquartered in Connecticut in the business of providing power generation-related services around the world, is based upon the same Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt conduct alleged in the Alstom information.

Alstom Power is charged with conspiracy to violate the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions under the dd-2 prong of the statute. According to the information, the “purpose of the conspiracy was to make corrupt payments to foreign officials in Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt in order to obtain and retain business related to power projects in those countries for and on behalf of Alstom Power and its subsidiaries.”

Alstom Power Inc. DPA

In the DPA, Alstom Power admitted, accepted, and acknowledged that it was responsible for the conduct charged in the information.

The DPA has a term of three years and under the heading “relevant considerations” states as follows.

“The [DOJ] enters into this Agreement based on the individual facts and circumstances presented by this case and the Company.  Among the factors considered were the following:  (a) the company failed to voluntarily disclosed the conduct even though it had previously entered into a resolution for corrupt conduct in connection with a power project in Italy several years prior to the [DOJ] reaching out to Alstom regarding their investigation; (b) the Company and its parent initially failed to cooperate with the Department’s investigation, responding only to the Department’s subpoena.  Approximately one year into the investigation, the Company and its parent provided limited cooperation, but still did not fully cooperate with the Department’s investigation. The Company’s and its parent’s initial failure to cooperate impeded the Department’s investigation of individuals involved in the bribery scheme.  At a later stage in the investigation, the Company and its parent began providing thorough cooperation, including assisting in the Department’s investigation and prosecution of individuals and other companies that had partnered with the Company and its parent on certain projects.  The Company’s and its parent’s thorough cooperation did not occur until after the Department had publicly charged multiple current and former Alstom executives and employees; (c) the Company and its parent have undertaken substantial efforts to enhance its compliance program as part of the significant compliance and remediation improvements to Alstom S.A’s program, and has committed to continue to enhance their compliance program and internal controls, ensuring that its program satisfies the minimum elements set forth [in the DPA]; (d) General Electric Company, which intends to acquire the Company, has represented that it will implement its compliance program and internal controls at the Company within a reasonable time after the acquisition closes; and (e) the Company has agreed to continue to cooperate with the [DOJ] in any ongoing investigation …”.

In the DPA, the DOJ and the Company agreed that no monetary penalty will be paid by the Company because Alstom S.A., the parent company of the Company, has agreed to pay a fine of $772,290,000 related to the same underlying conduct.

In the DPA, Alstom Power agreed to a so-called “muzzle clause” in which it agreed not, directly or indirectly through others, to make any public statement contradicting the acceptance of responsibility set forth in the plea agreement.

The DPA contains the same corporate compliance program, reporting obligations, and monitor conditions as described in the Alstom plea agreement above.

Alstom Grid Inc. Information

The information against Alstom Grid, Inc. (formerly known as Alstom T&D, Inc.), a subsidiary of Alstom headquartered in New Jersey in the business of providing power grid-related services around the world, is based upon the same Egypt conduct alleged in the Alstom information.

Alstom Grid is charged with conspiracy to violate the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions under the dd-2 prong of the statute. According to the information, the “purpose of the conspiracy was to make corrupt payments to foreign officials in Egypt in order to obtain and retain business related to power grid projects for and on behalf of Alstom Grid and Alstom and its subsidiaries.”

Alstom Grid Inc. DPA

In the DPA, Alstom Grid admitted, accepted, and acknowledged that it was responsible for the conduct charged in the information.

The DPA has a term of three years and contains the same relevant considerations described in the Alstom Power DPA above.

In the DPA, the DOJ and the Company agreed that no monetary penalty will be paid by the Company because Alstom S.A., the parent company of the Company, has agreed to pay a fine of $772,290,000 related to the same underlying conduct.

In the DPA, Alstom Power agreed to a so-called “muzzle clause” in which it agreed not, directly or indirectly through others, to make any public statement contradicting the acceptance of responsibility set forth in the plea agreement.

The DPA contains the same corporate compliance program, reporting obligations, and monitor conditions as described in the Alstom plea agreement above.

In this DOJ release, Deputy Attorney General James Cole stated:

“Alstom’s corruption scheme was sustained over more than a decade and across several continents. It was astounding in its breadth, its brazenness and its worldwide consequences. And it is both my expectation – and my intention – that the comprehensive resolution we are announcing today will send an unmistakable message to other companies around the world: that this Department of Justice will be relentless in rooting out and punishing corruption to the fullest extent of the law, no matter how sweeping its scale or how daunting its prosecution.”

Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell stated:

“This case is emblematic of how the Department of Justice will investigate and prosecute FCPA cases – and other corporate crimes. We encourage companies to maintain robust compliance programs, to voluntarily disclose and eradicate misconduct when it is detected, and to cooperate in the government’s investigation. But we will not wait for companies to act responsibly. With cooperation or without it, the department will identify criminal activity at corporations and investigate the conduct ourselves, using all of our resources, employing every law enforcement tool, and considering all possible actions, including charges against both corporations and individuals.”

First Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Gustafson of the District of Connecticut stated:

“Today’s historic resolution is an important reminder that our moral and legal mandate to stamp out corruption does not stop at any border, whether city, state or national. A significant part of this illicit work was unfortunately carried out from Alstom Power’s offices in Windsor, Connecticut. I am hopeful that this resolution, and in particular the deferred prosecution agreement with Alstom Power, will provide the company an opportunity to reshape its culture and restore its place as a respected corporate citizen.”

FBI Executive Assistant Director Robert Anderson Jr. stated:

“This investigation spanned years and crossed continents, as agents from the FBI Washington and New Haven field offices conducted interviews and collected evidence in every corner of the globe. The record dollar amount of the fine is a clear deterrent to companies who would engage in foreign bribery, but an even better deterrent is that we are sending executives who commit these crimes to prison.”

As noted in the DOJ release:

“To date, the department has announced charges against five individuals, including four corporate executives of Alstom and its subsidiaries, for alleged corrupt conduct involving Alstom. Frederic Pierucci, Alstom’s former vice president of global boiler sales, pleaded guilty on July 29, 2013, to conspiring to violate the FCPA and a charge of violating the FCPA for his role in the Indonesia bribery scheme. David Rothschild, Alstom Power’s former vice president of regional sales, pleaded guilty on Nov. 2, 2012, to conspiracy to violate the FCPA. William Pomponi, Alstom Power’s former vice president of regional sales, pleaded guilty on July 17, 2014, to conspiracy to violate the FCPA. Lawrence Hoskins, Alstom’s former senior vice president for the Asia region, was charged in a second superseding indictment on July 30, 2013, and is pending trial in the District of Connecticut in June 2015. The charges against Hoskins are merely allegations, and he is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. The high-ranking member of Indonesian Parliament was also convicted in Indonesia of accepting bribes from Alstom, and is currently serving a three-year term of imprisonment.

In connection with a corrupt scheme in Egypt, Asem Elgawhary, the general manager of an entity working on behalf of the Egyptian Electricity Holding Company, a state-owned electricity company, pleaded guilty on Dec. 4, 2014, in federal court in the District of Maryland to mail fraud, conspiring to launder money, and tax fraud for accepting kickbacks from Alstom and other companies. In his plea agreement, Elgawhary agreed to serve 42 months in prison and forfeit approximately $5.2 million in proceeds.”

In addition to the above DOJ press release, the DOJ also held a press conference, a rare event in connection with an FCPA enforcement action.  In this speech, Cole stated:

“We are here to announce a historic law enforcement action that marks the end of a decade-long transnational bribery scheme – a scheme that was both concocted and concealed by Alstom, a multinational French company, and its subsidiaries in Switzerland, Connecticut, and New Jersey.

Today, those companies admit that, from at least 2000 to 2011, they bribed government officials and falsified accounting records in connection with lucrative power and transportation projects for state-owned entities across the globe.  They used bribes to secure contracts in Indonesia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the Bahamas.  Altogether, Alstom paid tens of millions of dollars in bribes to win $4 billion in projects – and to secure approximately $300 million in profit for themselves.

Such rampant and flagrant wrongdoing demands an appropriately strong law enforcement response.  Today, I can announce that the Justice Department has filed a two-count criminal information in the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut, charging Alstom with violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, or FCPA, by falsifying its books and records and failing to implement adequate internal controls.  Alstom has agreed to plead guilty to these charges, to admit its criminal conduct, and to pay a criminal penalty of more than $772 million.  If approved by the court next year, this will be the largest foreign bribery penalty in the history of the United States Department of Justice.

In addition, I can announce that Alstom’s Swiss subsidiary is pleading guilty to conspiring to violate the FCPA.  And the company’s two American subsidiaries have entered into deferred prosecution agreements and admitted that they conspired to violate the FCPA.

Alstom’s corruption scheme was sustained over more than a decade and across several continents.  It was breathtaking in its breadth, its brazenness, and its worldwide consequences.  And it is both my expectation – and my intention – that the comprehensive resolution we are announcing today will send an unmistakable message to other companies around the world: that this Department of Justice will be relentless in rooting out and punishing corruption to the fullest extent of the law, no matter how sweeping its scale or how daunting its prosecution.  Let me be very clear: corruption has no place in the global marketplace.  And today’s resolution signals that the United States will continue to play a leading role in its eradication.

The investigation and prosecution of Alstom and its subsidiaries have been exceedingly complex – and they have required the utmost skill and tenacity on the part of a wide consortium of law enforcement officials throughout the country and across the globe.  I want to thank the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Office of International Affairs; the U.S. Attorney’s Offices in Connecticut, Maryland, and New Jersey; the FBI’s Washington Field Office and its Resident Agency in Meriden, Connecticut; the Corruption Eradication Commission in Indonesia; the Office of the Attorney General in Switzerland; the Serious Fraud Office in the United Kingdom; as well as authorities in Germany, Italy, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, Cyprus, and Taiwan, for their tireless efforts to advance this matter.  The remarkable cross-border collaboration that these agencies made possible has led directly to today’s historic resolution.  And this outcome demonstrates our unwavering commitment to ending corporate bribery and international corruption.  Our hope is that this announcement will serve as an inspiration – and a model – for future efforts.”

In this speech at the press conference, Caldwell stated:

“Today represents a significant milestone in the global fight against corruption.  It demonstrates the Department of Justice’s strong commitment to fighting foreign bribery and ensuring that both companies and individuals are held accountable when they violate the FCPA.  The guilty pleas and resolutions announced today also highlight what can happen when corporations refuse to disclose wrongdoing and refuse to cooperate with the department’s efforts to identify and prosecute culpable individuals.

Let me first explain how the scheme worked.  To conceal that it was the source of payments to government officials, Alstom funneled the bribes through third-party consultants who did little more than serve as conduits for corruption.  Alstom then dummied up its books and records to cover up the scheme.

Alstom’s corruption spanned the globe, and was its way of winning business.  For example, in Indonesia, Alstom and certain of its subsidiaries used consultants to bribe government officials – including high-ranking members of the Indonesian Parliament and the state-owned and state-controlled electricity company – to win several contracts to provide power-related services.  According to internal documents, when certain officials expressed displeasure that a particular consultant had provided only “pocket money,” Alstom retained a second consultant to ensure that the officials were satisfied.

In Saudi Arabia, Alstom retained at least six consultants, including two close family members of high-ranking government officials, to bribe officials at a state-owned and state-controlled electricity company to win two projects valued at approximately $3 billion.  As evidence that Alstom employees recognized that their conduct was criminal, internal company documents refer to the consultants only by code name.

Alstom similarly used consultants to bribe officials in Egypt and the Bahamas, and again Alstom employees clearly knew that the conduct violated the law.  In connection with a project in Egypt, a member of Alstom’s finance department sent an email questioning an invoice for consultant services and, in response, was advised that her inquiry could have “several people put in jail” and was further instructed to delete all prior emails regarding the consultant.

If approved by the court, Alstom’s criminal penalty of $772 million represents the largest penalty ever assessed by department in a FCPA case.  Through Alstom’s parent-level guilty plea and record-breaking criminal penalty, Alstom is paying a historic price for its criminal conduct — and for its efforts to insulate culpable corporate employees and other corporate entities.  Alstom did not voluntarily disclose the misconduct to law enforcement authorities, and Alstom refused to cooperate in a meaningful way during the first several years of the investigation.  Indeed, it was only after the department publicly charged several Alstom executives – three years after the investigation began – that the company finally cooperated.

One important message of this case is this:  While we hope that companies that find themselves in these situations will cooperate with the Department of Justice, we do not wait for or depend on that cooperation. When Alstom refused to cooperate with the investigation, we persisted with our own investigation.  We built cases against the various corporate entities and against culpable individuals.  To date, the department publicly has charged four Alstom corporate executives in connection with the corrupt scheme in Indonesia, which also chose not to cooperate, and another company’s executive in connection with the scheme in Egypt.  Four of these individuals already have pleaded guilty.  In addition, Marubeni Corporation, a Japanese trading company that partnered with Alstom in Indonesia, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the anti-bribery provisions of the FCPA and substantive violations of the FCPA, and paid an $88 million criminal penalty.

Another important message from this case is that the U.S. increasingly is not alone in the fight against transnational corruption.  Earlier this year, Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission, the KPK, assisted the department in its investigation.  And, in turn, the department shared with the KPK information that federal investigators had obtained, which the KPK used in its prosecution of a former member of the Indonesian Parliament for accepting bribes from Alstom-funded consultants.  This past spring, that Indonesian official was found guilty and sentenced to three years in an Indonesian prison.  Our partnership with Indonesian law enforcement authorities in this case means that both the bribe payors and bribe takers have been prosecuted.  And our investigation is not over yet.

This case is emblematic of how the Department of Justice will investigate and prosecute FCPA cases – and other corporate crimes.  We encourage companies to maintain robust compliance programs, to voluntarily disclose and eradicate misconduct when it is detected, and to cooperate in the government’s investigation.  But we will not wait for companies to act responsibly.  With cooperation or without it, the department will identify criminal activity at corporations and investigate the conduct ourselves, using all of our resources, employing every law enforcement tool, and considering all possible actions, including charges against both corporations and individuals.”

See here for an additional DOJ statement at the press conference.

In this Alstom release, Alstom CEO Patrick Kron stated:

“There were a number of problems in the past and we deeply regret that. However, this resolution with the DOJ allows Alstom to put this issue behind us and to continue our efforts to ensure that business is conducted in a responsible way, consistent with the highest ethical standards.”

The release further states:

“Alstom has made significant progress in the area of compliance over the last several years. The conduct referred to in the agreement mainly arose from the use of external success fee based Sales Consultants hired by Alstom to support its commercial teams. In order to ensure that Alstom strives for the best compliance procedures, Alstom has discontinued the hiring of such Sales Consultants. Further, pursuant to a negotiated resolution agreement with the World Bank, Alstom committed in Feb 2012 to continue to improve its internal compliance programme, including by retaining a monitor to oversee its efforts in this regard. To date, the work of the Monitor has confirmed that Alstom has put in place a Corporate Compliance Programme that reflects the principles embedded in the WBG’s Integrity Compliance Guidelines.”

[...]

“The DOJ has also stipulated that no part of the fine can be passed on to General Electric as part of the projected sale of Alstom’s energy businesses.”

Robert Luskin and Jay Darden of Squire Patton Boggs represented the Alstom entities.

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

Friday, December 19th, 2014

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

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

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

The enforcement action included:

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

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

DOJ

Avon China Information

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

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

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

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

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

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

The information alleges that:

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

According to the information:

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

The information then alleges various categories of payments.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Avon China Plea Agreement

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

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

Avon Products Information

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Avon Products DPA

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

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

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

The DPA also states:

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

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

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

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

In this release, Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell stated:

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

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

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

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

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

SEC

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

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

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

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

As noted in this SEC release:

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

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

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

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

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