In early January, Maxwell Technologies Inc. (“Maxwell”), announced that the U.S. Department of Defense awarded the company a $1.7 million contract (here), “for the initial phase of a multi-phase program to develop a lighter, longer-lasting, energy source for field radios and other portable electronic equipment carried by military personnel.”

On January 31st, Maxwell became the first company in 2011 to settle an FCPA enforcement action.

The Maxwell enforcement action involved both a DOJ and SEC component. Total settlement amount was approximately $14.4 million ($8 million criminal fine via a DOJ deferred prosecution agreement; $6.4 million in disgorgement and prejudgment interest via a SEC settled complaint).

Maxwell previously disclosed (see here) that “discussions with the SEC and DOJ have resulted in an estimate of potential settlement of up to $20.0 million – representing the combined first offer of settlement put forth by the SEC and DOJ.” Presumably, the company’s disclosure of the government’s settlement offer did not sit well with the DOJ and on July 30, 2009, Maxwell issued this strange press release.

As set forth more fully below, the alleged recipients of the bribe payments at issue were all employees of alleged Chinese state-owned or state-controlled enterprises. Also of note, the SEC’s charges include disclosure violations not often seen in FCPA enforcement actions, based on allegation that Maxwell’s bribe payments allowed the company to offset losses and fund product expansions that are now a source of revenue for the company.

DOJ

The DOJ enforcement action involved a criminal information (here) against Maxwell resolved through a deferred prosecution agreement (here).

Criminal Information

The criminal information, a short eight pages, alleges that “from at least July 2002 through in or about May 2009, Maxwell and its subsidiaries paid approximately $2,789,131 to Agent 1 [a Chinese national, third-party agent responsible for Maxwell S.A.'s (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Maxwell) high voltage capacitor sales to Chinese customers] to be distributed to Chinese foreign officials, in return for securing contracts that profited Maxwell.”

The Chinese foreign officials?

You guessed it, employees of alleged state-owned entities such as:

“Pinggao Group Co. Ltd. [formerly Pingdingshan High Voltage Switchgear Works) ... a state owned manufacturer of electric-utility infrastructure in Henan Province, China" (see here for the company's website)

"New Northeast Electric Shenyang HV Switchgear Co., Ltd. ... a state-owned manufacturer of electric-utility infrastructure in Liaoning Province, China" (see here for company information) and

"Xi-an XD High Voltage Apparatus Co., Ltd., ... a state-owned manufacturer of electric-utility infrastructure in Shaanxi Province, China" (see here for the company's website).

According to the information, "Maxwell and its subsidiaries accomplished [the bribe] payments by using Agent 1 to market and sell Maxwell’s high voltage capacitors to Chinese consumers … substantially all of which were Chinese state-owned entities.” The information alleges that Agent 1 “requested quotes from Maxwell S.A. on behalf of prospective Chinese state-owned entities” and that “upon Agent 1′s instruction, Maxwell S.A. added an extra 20 percent to the quoted amounts to arrive at a higher price for Maxwell S.A.’s high-voltage equipment.” The information alleges that Agent 1 then distributed the extra amount “to officials at the Chinese state-owned entities” including employees of the above referenced companies.

Under the heading, “Knowledge Within Maxwell’s U.S. Management,” the information alleges that “Maxwell’s management within the United States discovered, tactitly approved, concealed and caused to be concealed the bribery scheme.” According to the information, following discovery of the payments by Maxwell senior management in the U.S. including by Executive A, Executive B, and Executive C (all U.S. citizens), under Executive E’s (a Swiss citizen and Maxwell S.A’s Vice President and General Manager) oversight and supervision, the payments at issue to Agent 1 actually increased from approximately $165,000 in 2002 to nearly $1.1 million in 2008.

According to the information, Maxwell’s financial statements and reports described the bribe payments as “sales-commission expenses.”

Based on the above allegations, the information charges Maxwell with FCPA anti-bribery violations and knowingly violating the FCPA’s books and records provisions.

DPA

The DOJ’s charges against Maxwell were resolved via a deferred prosecution agreement.

Pursuant to the DPA, Maxwell admitted, accepted and acknowledged that it was responsible for the acts of its officers, employees, subsidiaries, and agents as set forth above.

The term of the DPA is three years and it states that the DOJ entered into the agreement “based on the individual facts and circumstances” of the case and Maxwell.

Among the factors stated are the following.

(a) Maxwell voluntarily disclosed its FCPA violations to both the DOJ and the SEC;

(b) Maxwell cooperated with the Department’s investigation of Maxwell and others;

(c) Maxwell undertook remedial measures, including the implementation of an enhanced compliance program, and agreed to undertake further remedial measures …;

(d) Maxwell agreed to cooperate with the Department in any ongoing investigation of the conduct of Maxwell and its employees, agents, consultants, contractors, subcontractors, subsidiaries, and others relating to violations of the FCPA; and

(e) the impact on Maxwell, including collateral consequences, of a guilty plea or criminal conviction.

As stated in the DPA, the fine range for the above described conduct under the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines was $10.5 million to $21 million. Pursuant to the DPA, Maxwell agreed to pay a monetary penalty of $8 million (25% below the minimum amount suggested by the guidelines).

Pursuant to the DPA, Maxwell agreed to self-report to the DOJ “periodically, at no less than 12-month intervals” during the term of the DPA “regarding remediation and implementation of the compliance program and internal controls, policies, and procedures” described in the DPA.

As is standard in FCPA DPAs, Maxwell agreed not to make any public statement “contradicting the acceptance of responsibility” by Maxwell as set forth in the DPA and Maxwell further agreed to only issue a press release in connection with the DPA if the DOJ does not object to the release.

As to debarment issues, paragraph 22 of the DPA states as follows:

“The Department agrees to bring to the attention of governmental and other debarment authorities the facts and circumstances relating to the nature of the conduct underlying this Agreement, including the nature and quality of Maxwell’s cooperation and remediation. By agreeing to provide this information to debarment authorities, the Department is not agreeing to advocate on Maxwell’s behalf, but rather is providing facts to be evaluated independently by the debarment authorities.”

See here for the DOJ release.

SEC

The SEC’s civil complaint (here) alleges, in summary, as follows.

“From 2002 through May 2009, Maxwell violated the anti-bribery, books and records and internal control provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) when it repeatedly paid bribes to Chinese officials in order to obtain and retain sales contracts for high voltage capacitors from several Chinese state-owned entities. Maxwell engaged in bribery to maintain its high-voltage capacitor business in China, which accounted for material revenue and profits during the relevant time period.”

According to the complaint, “the illicit payments were made with the knowledge and tacit approval of certain former Maxwell officers and Maxwell failed to accurately record these payments on its books and records, and failed to implement or maintain a system of effective internal accounting controls to detect or prevent the payments.”

The complaint alleges that “the improper payments generated nearly $15.4 million in sales contracts, from which Maxwell realized profits ofover $5.6 million.”

According to the SEC:

“Maxwell violated [the FCPA's anti-bribery provisions] by engaging in widespread bribery of government officials in China in order to sell its high-voltage capacitors to several Chinese state-owned enterprises. Maxwell violated Section 13(a) of the Exchange Act and Rules 12b-20, 13a-l, and 13a13 thereunder by failing to disclose in its annual and periodic filings that the material revenues and profits associated with its long-standing bribery scheme enabled Maxwell to better financially position itself until new products could be commercially developed and sold. Maxwell violated [the FCPA's internal control provisions] by failing to maintain internal controls to prevent or detect the bribes paid to officials at Chinese state owned-entities. Finally, Maxwell violated [the FCPA's books and records provisions] by failing to accurately reflect the nature of the improper payments in Maxwell’s books, records, and accounts.”

The SEC’s complaint contains an allegation not often seen in FCPA enforcement actions about how the company’s alleged bribery scheme helped offset losses in other areas and helped fund future product development.

According to the SEC:

“Maxwell greatly depended on the revenue from Maxwell SA’s high-voltage capacitor sales to China in order to help fund Maxwell’s expansion into new product lines that are now expected to become Maxwell’s future source of revenue. Maxwell engaged in the bribery scheme because it enabled the company to obtain material revenue needed to financially position itself to help fund the very products that today are sustaining Maxwell’s future growth.”

As to “Discovery of the Illicit Payments” the complaint states as follows.

“Potential FCPA and accounting concerns came to the attention of Maxwell’s finance department in September 2008, during an internal review of Maxwell SA’s commission expenses involving the Chinese Agent. Maxwell’s management team asked about these commission payments after learning of the unusually high Chinese Agent commissions, which included the Extra Amounts. During this review, Executive A informed Maxwell’s finance department that the payments made to the Chinese Agent were recorded as sales commissions. Maxwell’s finance department then sought and obtained a signed FCPA certificate from the Chinese Agent in which he represented that he was familiar with the U.S. FCPA and local laws and regulations regarding corrupt payments” and that he had not in the past and will not in the future make any improper payments.

However, according to the SEC, “after obtaining the representations, Maxwell’s finance department took no further corrective action regarding the commissions and Extra Amounts paid to the Chinese Agent …”.

In February 2009, Maxwell’s new CEO, became aware of the issues with the Chinese Agent and he “immediately notified Maxwell’s audit committee and outside counsel.”

According to the SEC:

“During the relevant period, Maxwell’s controls designed to prevent illicit payments to foreign officials were wholly inadequate. At the time, Maxwell’s Code of Conduct contained a brief section on FCPA issues, but there is no evidence that employees received any FCPA training prior to the company’s remedial steps.”

As to Maxwell’s internal controls failures, the complaint states as follows:

“Maxwell (1) failed to question why the contract prices were artificially inflated by 20% above the bid prices; (2) did not request supporting documentation for the invoices or track where the commission payments ultimately were distributed; (3) performed no due diligence on the agent; (4) did not require FCPA training for all relevant employees; and (5) failed to take any action even though it appears that certain former officers and senior managers of Maxwell had knowledge of the bribes paid by Maxwell SA and its agent since at least November 2002.”

Without admitting or denying the SEC’s allegations, Maxwell agreed to an injunction prohibiting future FCPA violations and agreed to $5,654,576 in disgorgement and $696,314 in prejudgment interest.

In the SEC release (here) Cheryl Scarboro (Chief of the SEC’s FCPA Unit) stated as follows: “Maxwell’s bribery allowed the company to obtain revenue and better financially position itself until new products were commercially developed and sold. This enforcement action shows that corruption can constitute disclosure violations as well as violations of other securities laws.”

Jeffrey Higgins (here) of Gunderson Dettmer Stough Villeneuve Franklin & Hachigian LLP and Jerome Roth (here) of Munger Tolles & Olson LLP represented Maxwell.

Since announcement of the January 31st enforcement action, Maxwell’s shares are up approximately 6%.

As I explored in this recent post, 60% of 2010 corporate FCPA enforcement actions involved (in whole or in part) employees of alleged state-owned or state-controlled enterprises (“SOE”). In these cases, the enforcement agencies generally allege that such enterprises are “instrumentalities” of a foreign government and that such employees are therefore “foreign officials” under the FCPA.

So far in 2011, it’s 100%.