Archive for the ‘Voluntary Disclosure’ Category

Friday Roundup

Friday, January 16th, 2015

Roundup2Hollywood film studios, more FBI agents, asset recovery, quotable, and for the reading stack.  It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Hollywood Film Studios

A recent Wall Street Journal article went in-depth regarding the FCPA scrutiny of Hollywood film studios doing business in China. According to the article, Sony received a subpoena from the SEC in June 2013 regarding possible violations of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.  The article states:

“The SEC’s questions to Sony dealt primarily with potential bribery related to the release of “Resident Evil: Afterlife” in China in 2010, according to email communication between Sony’s in-house and outside legal counsel. A Sony-led investigation that followed the SEC subpoena examined the company’s distribution efforts more broadly, the emails show. The subpoena indicates an escalation of an inquiry that began in 2012 when the SEC requested that every major studio voluntarily provide information about their movie-distribution practices in China, a request that was publicly reported at the time. However the SEC’s specific concerns weren’t disclosed nor was it previously known that the agency had stepped up its probe with a subpoena. Sony documents show that the SEC refers to its probe as “In the Matter of Lions Gate Entertainment Corp,” indicating that the rival Hollywood studio behind “The Hunger Games” has been asked questions as well.”

Many FCPA enforcement actions have, as a root cause, a foreign trade barrier or distortion.  This appears to be true in the case of the Hollywood film studios.  As stated in the article, the companies ran into “China’s quota and censorship systems to secure distribution for their films in that country.”  According to the article:

“Hollywood studios are barred from distributing films on their own in China, but instead work with the state-owned China Film Group to secure one of the 34 highly coveted spots offered each year for imported movies. [Third party distribution firms] help studios navigate the bureaucracy.”

More FBI Agents

The Wall Street Journal reports:

“The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s foreign corruption program will more than triple the number of agents focused on overseas bribery this year to more than 30 from around 10, according to bureau officials. The agents will focus on both sides of corruption, hunting down executives that pay off foreign officials, while also helping other nations recoup funds stolen by corrupt leaders. The FBI usually can’t directly arrest corrupt foreign leaders, but at the request of foreign law enforcement the bureau can help locate funds stolen by kleptocrats. [...]  “With the growing global economy and the growing nature of international commerce with globalization of more companies and economies, it’s creating more opportunities for the potential of FCPA and corruption,” said Joseph Campbell, assistant director of the bureau’s criminal division, in an interview. The newly assigned agents will work out of field offices in New York, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Los Angeles, Miami and Boston, with backup from forensic analysts and other specialists in headquarters, which is also located in the capital. Currently, the bureau’s foreign anti-corruption field agents are managed out of a field office in Washington, D.C. and split their time while pursuing other white collar crimes, bureau officials said.”

Asset Recovery

As part of its Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative, the DOJ recently announced the filing of a “civil forfeiture complaint seeking the forfeiture of nine properties worth approximately $1,528,000 that were allegedly purchased with funds traceable to a $2 million bribe paid by a Honduran information-technology company to the former Executive Director of the Honduran Institute of Social Security.”

According to the DOJ:

“From 2010 to 2014, Dr. Mario Roberto Zelaya Rojas, 46, of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, served as the Executive Director of the Honduran Institute of Social Security (HISS), a Honduran Government agency that provides social security services, including workers’ compensation, retirement, maternity, and death benefits.  According to allegations in the forfeiture complaint, Zelaya solicited and accepted $2.08 million in bribes from Compania De Servicios Multiples, S. de R. L. (COSEM) in exchange for prioritizing and expediting payments owed to COSEM under a $19 million contract with HISS.  Zelaya also allegedly instructed COSEM to make bribe payments to two members of the Board of Directors of HISS charged with overseeing the COSEM contract.  To conceal the illicit payments, COSEM allegedly sent the bribes through its affiliate company, CA Technologies.  As further alleged in the complaint, the bribe proceeds were then laundered into the United States and used by Zelaya and his brother, Carlos Alberto Zelaya Rojas, to acquire real estate in the New Orleans area.  Certain properties were titled in the name of companies nominally controlled by Zelaya’s brother in an effort to conceal the illicit source of the funds as well as the beneficial owner.  The current action seeks forfeiture of nine properties acquired with the proceeds of Zelaya’s alleged bribery scheme.”

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

“Our action today highlights how the Criminal Division’s Kleptocracy Initiative, with our network of law enforcement partners around the globe, will trace and recover the ill-gotten gains of corrupt officials.  Criminals should make no mistake:  the United States is not a safe haven for the proceeds of your crimes.  If you hide or invest your stolen money here, we will use all the legal tools we have to find it and seize it.”

Quotable

In this Global Investigations Review article, Timothy Dickinson (Paul Hastings and a veteran of the FCPA bar) states:

“Ten years ago, I would have been happy to bet anyone a doughnut that I could accurately define what a foreign official is. Now, with various court definitions and a lack of clarity from the DoJ, I fear I might actually lose my doughnut.”

In this piece about the SEC’s internal controls enforcement theories, Michael Shepard (Hogan Lovells) states:

“Beneath the surface of these developments [the increased use of the internal controls provisions] is a disconnect about what the internal controls provisions actually require. The government — and especially the SEC — has settled on an interpretation of the internal controls provision that is at odds with the understanding of many in-house finance professionals about what internal controls are intended to address. Ask corporate finance professionals about internal controls at their companies and you will likely get an answer about processes designed to protect the company’s assets at a level that would materially impact the company’s financial statements. Ask your friendly neighborhood SEC investigator about internal controls and you will instead get inquiries about the exponentially smaller level of amounts of money that would be enough to influence a low-paid public official in a poor third-world country. Not only is the SEC looking at controls on a more microscopic level, but its predilection to pursue internal controls charges sometimes seems based on an interpretation of the FCPA that borders on strict liability. Circumstantial evidence of a bribery violation — such as evidence that some money may have left the company without proper authorization or accounting records — translates for the SEC into proof that the company’s controls were inadequate. Statutory elements of reasonableness and scienter get short shrift in a world in which the SEC aggressively pushes internal controls charges, and the vast majority of companies remain predisposed to settle.”

Reading Stack

Paul Barrett at Bloomberg BusinessWeek goes in-depth about the FCPA charges pending against Joseph Sigelman in an article titled “Does This Man Look Like a Felon to You?”

From the New Yorker, “Can Corruption Be Erradicated?”

“[C]orruption has always permeated so many fields of human endeavor that it may be not a corruption of anything—but, rather, a regrettable feature of our natural condition. Accountable government is an ideal, to be sure. It may also be an aberration.”

[O]ur conceptual vocabulary for understanding [corruption], let alone combatting it, remains conspicuously meagre. The very term “corruption” is so inclusive as to be almost meaningless, encompassing bribery, nepotism, bid-rigging, embezzlement, extortion, vote-buying, price-fixing, protection rackets, and a hundred other varieties of fraud.”

From Bloomberg BNA “As FCPA Complexity Increase, Corporate Interest in Self-Disclosure Wanes.”

*****

A good weekend to all.

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.

Here’s What Would Get More Companies To Self-Disclose Bribery

Thursday, December 11th, 2014

This recent Wall Street Journal Risk & Compliance post asks “what would get more companies to self-disclose bribery?”  The article discusses several  answers (publicize declinations, start a leniency program, lower the amount of fines), but the best answer  is depicted in the below picture (with an FCPA compliance defense being the red arrow).

Compliance Defense As A Gap

There currently exists an informational gap between those with evidence of FCPA violations (i.e. companies and their counsel who conduct FCPA internal investigations) and the government agencies (DOJ and SEC) who enforce the FCPA.

Although – as highlighted in this recent post – approximately 60% of recent FCPA enforcement actions are the result of corporate voluntary disclosures, it should be an uncontroversial observation that many more FCPA violations (at least based on current enforcement theories) are happening in the global marketplace on a daily basis.

This observation is based on my nearly ten years of FCPA practice experience (and will be recognized as a self-evident truth by other FCPA practitioners) as well as my frequent conversations with FCPA practitioners.  While I am not suggesting the following is empirical evidence, the general thrust of comments I hear from FCPA practitioners is that approximately only 50% of FCPA issues in public companies are disclosed to the DOJ/SEC and that very, very few FCPA issues in private companies are disclosed to the DOJ.  The follow-up question I then ask is – in the situations in which the company has not voluntarily disclosed, has the DOJ/SEC ever found out about the problematic conduct at issue.  The universal response I have received is no.

Put this all together and the resulting landscape is that there are many FCPA violations occurring (at least based on current enforcement theories) that are not disclosed to the enforcement agencies.  Because the violations are not disclosed to the enforcement agencies, there is no enforcement action. Because there is no enforcement action, the individual engaging in the problematic conduct are not being held accountable.  Because the individual engaging in the problematic conduct is not being held accountable, FCPA enforcement is not as effective as it could be.

The DOJ (and SEC) clearly recognize the gap that exists and in recent months enforcement officials have tried to articulate policies that can help close this gap (see here, here, and here for summaries of recent speeches).

As highlighted in this prior post,  the policies articulated by DOJ officials are sensible (voluntarily disclose, cooperate, and identify culpable individuals).

Problem is, this is the same policy the enforcement agencies have been talking about for nearly a decade and its seems not to be closing the gap that exists between evidence of FCPA violations and prosecution of FCPA violations, including individuals.  Indeed, as highlighted by this prior post, 82% of corporate SEC FCPA enforcement actions since 2008 have not resulted in any related enforcement action against a company employee and 75% of corporate DOJ FCPA enforcement actions since 2008 have not resulted in any related enforcement action against a company employee.

An FCPA compliance defense will not close this gap completely, but it will help bridge the gap.

As stated in my 2012 article “Revisiting a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Compliance Defense.”

“An FCPA compliance defense will better facilitate the DOJ’s prosecution of culpable individuals and advance the objectives of its FCPA enforcement program. At present, business organizations that learn through internal reporting mechanisms of rogue employee conduct implicating the FCPA are often hesitant to report such conduct to the enforcement authorities. In such situations, business organizations are rightfully diffident to submit to the DOJ’s opaque, inconsistent, and unpredictable decision-making process and are rightfully concerned that its pre-existing FCPA compliance policies and procedures and its good faith compliance efforts will not be properly recognized. The end result is that the DOJ often does not become aware of individuals who make improper payments in violation of the FCPA and the individuals are thus not held legally accountable for their actions. An FCPA compliance defense surely will not cause every business organization that learns of rogue employee conduct to disclose such conduct to the enforcement agencies. However, it is reasonable to conclude that an FCPA compliance defense will cause more organizations with robust FCPA compliance policies and procedures to disclose rogue employee conduct to the enforcement agencies. Thus, an FCPA compliance defense can better facilitate DOJ prosecution of culpable individuals and increase the deterrent effect of FCPA enforcement actions.”

Are the enforcement agencies capable of viewing an FCPA compliance defense, not as a race to the bottom, but a race to the top? Are the enforcement agencies capable of viewing an FCPA compliance defense as helping them better achieve their FCPA policy objectives?

Let’s hope so, because the gap is problematic.

Might a compliance defense result in 1 or 2 fewer corporate enforcement actions per year?  Perhaps, but against this slight drop in “hard” enforcement would be an increase in “soft” enforcement of the FCPA (see here and here), and indeed because the gap would be narrowed there would be more “hard” enforcement of culpable individual actors.

See here and here for prior posts on the same topic.

Voluntary Disclosure Statistics

Wednesday, December 10th, 2014

Recently, the Wall Street Journal published this article titled “Why Companies Might Opt to Self-Report Potential Bribery Issues.” The article contained several observations from FCPA lawyers typically seen in voluntary disclosure articles.

“A lot of companies are self-reporting. And a lot of companies are not self-reporting,” said F. Joseph Warin, chairman of the Washington litigation department at Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP. Companies devote “an enormous effort” analyzing whether to self-report, he said.

“Voluntary disclosure is a business decision,” said Laurence Urgenson, a partner at law firm Mayer Brown LLP. “What are the costs and the benefits? Right now it’s a guessing game.”

For foreign corporations, the Justice Department’s nuanced message about the benefits of self-reporting “is lost in translation,” said Robert Luskin, a partner at Squire Patton Boggs who represents foreign companies in FCPA probes. “They see settlements in the hundreds of millions of dollars.…The view is that it’s better to just keep [the Justice Department] as far away as possible.”

What caught my eye though from the article is the following.

“About a third of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s FCPA cases in recent years have come from companies that self-report, an agency spokeswoman said. A Justice Department spokesman said the department doesn’t track the figure.”

I track voluntary disclosure statistics and the SEC’s claimed one-third statistic is not accurate.

Since 2011, there have been 34 corporate SEC FCPA enforcement actions.  20 of the enforcement actions (59%) have been based on voluntary disclosures per the SEC’s own resolution documents.  This 59% figure actually under-represents the impact of voluntary disclosures on the SEC’s FCPA enforcement program because several other FCPA enforcement actions (for instance against pharmaceutical companies Eli Lilly, Smith & Nephew, and Biomet) are generally viewed as “fruits” of a prior voluntary disclosure (Johnson & Johnson).

What about DOJ FCPA enforcement, given that the agency apparently doesn’t track voluntary disclosure figures?

Since 2011, there have been 31 core corporate DOJ FCPA enforcement actions.  17 of the enforcement actions (55%) have been based on voluntary disclosures per the DOJ’s own resolution documents.  Here again, this 55% figure actually under-represents the impact of voluntary disclosures on the DOJ’s FCPA enforcement program because several other FCPA enforcement actions (for instance against Smith & Nephew and Biomet) are generally viewed as “fruits” of a prior voluntary disclosure (Johnson & Johnson). Moreover, the Bilfinger enforcement action was the direct result of the prior Willbros enforcement action (an enforcement action based on a voluntary disclosure).

Items Of Interest From The Recent Dutch Enforcement Action Against SBM Offshore

Monday, December 1st, 2014

Dutch-based SBM Offshore recently resolved an enforcement action in the Netherlands.  With a settlement amount of $240 million, the SBM Offshore enforcement action is believed to be the third largest bribery enforcement action of 2014 with China’s $490 million enforcement action against GlaxoSmithKline and the U.S.’s $384 million enforcement action against Alcoa consisting of the top two.

The enforcement action was pursuant to Article 74 of the Dutch Penal Code, a provision of Dutch law that has been criticized by the OECD.

As stated by the OECD, Article 74 of the Dutch Penal Code “essentially involves the payment of a sum of money by the defendant to avoid criminal proceedings.”  Regarding such out-of-court settlements, the OECD has further noted that “out-of-court settlements in the Netherlands do not require an admission of guilt.”

In its December 2012 Phase 3 review of the Netherlands, one of the follow-up items listed was: “the use of out-of-court transactions for foreign bribery offences, as governed by article 74 of the  Dutch Penal Code, to ensure that they result in the imposition of effective, proportionate and dissuasive sanctions (Convention, Article 3.1).”

Regarding the SBM Offshore action, the Dutch Prosecutor’s Service announced:

“SBM Offshore has accepted an offer from the Dutch Public Prosecutor’s Service to enter into an out-of-court settlement. The settlement consists of a payment by SBM Offshore … of US$ 240,000,000 in total. This amount consists of a US$ 40,000,000 fine and US$ 200,000,000 disgorgement. This settlement relates to improper payments to sales agents and foreign government officials in Equatorial Guinea, Angola and Brazil in the period from 2007 through 2011 [...]. According to the [Dutch prosecutors] those payments constitute the indictable offences of bribery in the public and the private sector as well as forgery.”

According to the release, the reasons for the out-of-court settlement include:

  • SBM Offshore itself brought the facts to the attention of the authorities …SBM Offshore itself investigated the matter and agreed to fully cooperate with subsequent criminal investigations …;
  • there has been a new Management Board since 2012;
  • after it became aware of the facts, the newly established Management Board of SBM Offshore, at its own initiative, has taken significant measures to improve the company’s compliance; and
  • as noted in SBM Offshore’s press release, the current Management Board and Supervisory Board regret the failure of control mechanisms in place in the past.

According to the release, “from 2007 to 2011, SBM Offshore paid approximately US$ 200 million in commissions to foreign sales agents for services.  The largest part of these commissions totaling US $180.6 million, relate to Equatorial Guinea, Angola and Brazil.”

As to Equatorial Guinea, the release states:

“In early 2012, it came to SBM Offshore’s attention that one of its former sales agents might have given certain items of value to government officials in Equatorial Guinea. This reportedly involved one or more cars and a building. In the opinion of the Openbaar Ministerie and the FIOD, SBM Offshore’s former sales agent paid a significant portion of the commissions paid to him by SBM Offshore on to third parties, who in turn would have forwarded parts of these payments to one or more government officials in Equatorial Guinea. There also are other payments, such as education and health insurance costs. In the opinion of the [Dutch authorities], such (forwarded) payments took place with the knowledge of people who at the time were SBM Offshore employees, including someone who at the time was a member of the Management Board. From 2007 through 2011, SBM Offshore paid that particular sales agent USD 18.8 million in total in relation to Equatorial Guinea.”

As to Angola, the release states:

“In the period from 2007 through 2011, SBM Offshore also used several sales agents in Angola. These sales agents received commissions for services regarding certain projects in Angola. In the opinion of the [Dutch authorities], Angolan government officials, or persons associated with Angolan government officials, who are associated with at least one of these sales agents, received funds. In addition, there are payments for travel and study costs to one or more Angolan government officials or their relatives. Also with respect to Angola, the [Dutch authorities] are of the opinion that such payments took place with the knowledge of people who at the time were SBM Offshore employees. In the period from 2007 through 2011, SBM Offshore paid USD 22.7 million in commissions to its sales agents in connection with Angola.”

As to Brazil, the release states:

“With regard to Brazil, certain “red flags” relating to the main sales agent used in Brazil were found during the internal investigation commissioned by SBM Offshore. These red flags included:

  • the high amounts (in absolute terms) of commission that were paid to the sales agent and its companies;
  • a split between commissions paid to the sales agent between its Brazilian and its offshore entities; and
  • documents indicating the sales agent had knowledge of confidential information about a Brazilian client.

The internal investigation conducted by SBM Offshore did not yield any concrete evidence that payments may have been made to one or more government officials in Brazil. In the period from 2007 through 2011, SBM Offshore paid USD 139.1 million in commissions to its sales agents in connection with Brazil.

A mutual legal assistance request in the context of the investigation conducted by the [Dutch authorities] established that payments were made from the Brazilian sales agent’s offshore entities to Brazilian government officials. These findings resulted from means of investigation inaccessible to SBM Offshore.”

The release states, under the heading “Further Investigation” as follows.

“It appears from the criminal investigation that certain natural persons have been involved in the criminal offences committed in the opinion of the [Dutch authorities]. In a case like the one at hand, the [Dutch authorities] has jurisdiction if criminal acts are committed in the Netherlands, or when criminal acts are committed abroad by persons with the Dutch nationality. From the current state of affairs of the investigation, this does not appear to be the case. The [Dutch authorities] will cooperate fully with the countries that have jurisdiction to prosecute the natural persons involved.”

In this release, SBM Offshore stated that “the United States Department of Justice has informed SBM Offshore that it is not prosecuting the Company and has closed its inquiry into the matter.”

The SBM Offshore release further states:

Self-Reporting

The settlement with the [Dutch authorities] is a result of the discussions between the [Dutch authorities] and SBM Offshore, which started after SBM Offshore voluntarily informed the [Dutch authorities] and the United States Department of Justice of its self-initiated internal investigation in the spring of 2012. The findings of the internal investigation were communicated in SBM Offshore’s press release of April 2, 2014. SBM Offshore fully cooperated with the [Dutch authorities] and the United States Department of Justice.

Remedial Measures

With its voluntary reporting of the internal investigation to the [Dutch authorities], the United States Department of Justice and the market in April 2012, SBM Offshore made it clear that it wants to conduct its business transparently. The Supervisory Board appointed a new Management Board that took office in the first half of 2012. The new Management Board has repeatedly stressed the importance of compliance inside and outside the organisation. The Company, with the assistance of its advisors, enhanced its anti-corruption compliance program and related internal controls. The Company shared these measures with the [Dutch authorities] and the United States Department of Justice. The measures include:

  • the appointment of [a] Chief Governance and Compliance Officer, a newly created Management Board position;
  • the appointment of a seasoned compliance professional as Compliance Director, another newly created position;
  • the enhancement of anti-corruption related policies and procedures designed to ensure compliance by Company employees as well as third parties;
  • at the inception of the internal investigation, a review of all sales agents who were active at that time;
  • a decision to no longer use sales agents in those countries where the Company itself has a substantial presence;
  • the enhancement of compliance procedures related to the retention of sales agents, other intermediaries and joint venture partners;
  • the launch of a significant training effort for employees in compliance-sensitive positions;
  • the enhancement of mechanisms to report potential wrongdoing;
  • the enhancement of the Company’s internal financial controls related to anti-corruption compliance and internal audit processes; and
  • disciplinary actions against employees who were involved in or had knowledge of possible improper payments, including termination of employment agreements.

Although the current Management Board and the Supervisory Board regret that in the past, SBM Offshore’s processes relating to the monitoring of its sales agents appeared to not have been of a standard that allowed SBM Offshore to ensure the integrity of the actions taken by its sales agents, SBM Offshore believes that with these measures it offers a transparent and open Company to its clients and other stakeholders.

In the release Bruno Chabas (CEO of SBM Offshore) stated:

“SBM welcomes the conclusion of all discussions with the Dutch and U.S. authorities. We have been open, transparent and accountable throughout this difficult process which has addressed issues from a past era. We can now focus on the future, secure in the knowledge that we have put in place an enhanced compliance culture which embeds our core values.”

To some, the lack of a DOJ enforcement action against SBM Offshore was a declination.  However, such a conclusion implies that there was actually an FCPA enforcement action to bring against SBM Offshore.

Two points are relevant to this issue.  First, as noted in this Global Investigations Review article, SBM Offshore’s outside counsel comments that the company disclosed to the Dutch authorities an the DOJ “before we had done much of the internal investigation.” Second, SBM Offshore could only be prosecuted for FCPA anti-bribery violations to the extent the conduct at issue had a U.S. nexus.