First it was Johnson & Johnson (see here – $70 million in combined fines and penalties in April 2011).  Then it was Smith & Nephew (see here - $22 million in combined fines and penalties in February 2012).  Then it was Biomet (see here – $22.8 million in combined fines and penalties in March 2012). Then it was Pfizer / Wyeth (see here  – $60 million in combined fines and penalties in August 2012).  Then it was Eli Lilly (see here – $29 million in combined fines and penalties in December 2012).

Next up, in the recent sweep of pharmaceutical / healthcare and medical device companies is Stryker Corporation.

Yesterday, the SEC announced that Stryker agreed to pay $13.2 million to resolve an SEC Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement action via an administrative cease and desist order in which the company neither admitted or denied the SEC’s allegations.

The conduct at issue focused on various Stryker subsidiaries.  There is no allegation in the SEC’s order concerning Stryker Corp. itself other than the following.

“The financial results of all of the Stryker subsidiaries discussed herein were consolidated into Stryker’s financial statements.  Stryker’s foreign subsidiaries were organized in a decentralized, country-based structure, wherein a manager of a particular country’s operations had primary responsibility for all business within a given country. During the relevant period, each of Stryker’s foreign subsidiaries operated pursuant to individual policies and directives implemented by country or regional management. Stryker had corporate policies addressing anti-corruption, but these policies were inadequate and insufficiently implemented on the regional and country level. Accordingly, Stryker failed to devise and maintain an adequate system of internal accounting controls sufficient to provide reasonable assurance that the company maintained accountability for its assets and that transactions were executed in accordance with management’s authorization.”

In summary fashion, the SEC order states:

“From approximately August 2003 to February 2008 (the “relevant period”), Stryker made approximately $2.2 million in unlawful payments to various government employees including public health care professionals (collectively, the “foreign officials”) in Mexico, Poland, Romania, Argentina, and Greece. Stryker incorrectly described these expenses in the company’s books and records as legitimate consulting and service contracts, travel expenses, charitable donations, or commissions, when in fact the payments were improperly made by Stryker to obtain or retain business. Stryker earned approximately $7.5 million in illicit profits as a result of these payments.  During the relevant period, Stryker incorrectly described unlawful payments to foreign officials in its accounting books and records in violation of [the FCPA's books and records provisions] and failed to devise and maintain an adequate system of internal accounting controls in violation [of the FCPA's internal controls provisions.]“

Under the heading “Unlawful Payments In Mexico,” the order states:

Between March 2004 and January 2007, Stryker’s wholly-owned subsidiary in Mexico (“Stryker Mexico) made three payments totaling more than $76,000 to foreign officials employed by a Mexican governmental agency (the “Mexican Agency”) responsible for providing social security for government employees. Stryker made these payments to win bids to sell its medical products to certain public hospitals in Mexico. Stryker Mexico earned more than $2.1 million in profits as a result of these illicit payments.  These payments were made at the direction of Stryker Mexico employees, including country level management, and paid to the foreign officials through third party agents. For example, in January 2006, Stryker Mexico learned that the Mexican Agency was threatening to revoke a contract that Stryker Mexico had won to provide knee and hip products to certain public hospitals unless Stryker Mexico paid an employee of the Mexican Agency.  As a result of the demand by the employee of the Mexican Agency, Stryker Mexico directed its outside counsel in Mexico (the “Mexican Law Firm”) to make payment to the employee, on Stryker Mexico’s behalf, in order for Stryker to keep the winning bid.  At Stryker Mexico’s direction, the Mexican Law Firm paid the foreign official approximately $46,000 on behalf of Stryker Mexico and, as a result of this payment, the Mexican Agency did not revoke Stryker Mexico’s status as the winning bidder. The Mexican Law Firm then invoiced Stryker Mexico for $46,000 for purported legal services rendered, even though no such services were provided. Stryker Mexico recorded these improper payments as legitimate legal expenses in its books and records.  Stryker Mexico earned over $1.1 million in illicit profits on this contract alone. Stryker Mexico made two additional payments through intermediaries during the relevant period in much the same fashion, with the purpose of retaining or obtaining business from public hospitals. The additional payments were in excess of $34,000 and earned Stryker illicit profits of nearly $1 million.”

Under the heading “Improper Payments in Poland,” the order states:

“Between August 2003 and November 2006, Stryker’s wholly-owned subsidiary in Poland (“Stryker Poland”) made 32 improper payments to foreign officials in Poland for the purpose of obtaining or retaining business at public hospitals. In total, Stryker Poland made approximately $460,000 in unlawful payments resulting in more than $2.4 million of illicit profits. These improper payments were recorded in Stryker’s books and records as legitimate expenses, including reimbursement for business travel, consulting and service contract payments, and charitable donations.  For example, in May 2004, Stryker Poland paid for a foreign official then employed as the director of a public hospital in Poland, and her husband, to travel to New York City and Aruba. Although the official purpose of the trip was for the foreign official to attend a single-day tour of Stryker’s manufacturing and research facility in Mahwah, New Jersey, Stryker paid for the couple’s six-night stay at a hotel in New York City, attendance at two Broadway shows, and a five-day trip to Aruba before their return flight to Poland.  According to Stryker Poland’s records, expenses for the trip, including airfare, accommodations, and entertainment, totaled approximately $7,000, all of which Stryker Poland recorded as legitimate travel expenses.  Stryker Poland’s internal documents confirm a quid pro quo arrangement between Stryker Poland and the foreign official. For example, the form containing the schedule for the foreign official’s facility tour states that the purpose of the visit was to “strengthen [the public doctor’s] conviction that Stryker products are the best solution for her hospital,” and notes that “we won a big tender for [one product] (about $350,000) and in this year they are going to buy our products for $500,000.”  Stryker Poland also made additional improper travel payments, payments under purported consulting agreements totaling approximately $47,000, and gifts and donations of nearly $400,000, each of which was made to a state-employed healthcare professional for the purpose of Stryker Poland’s obtaining or retaining the business of public hospitals.”

Under the heading “Improper Payments in Romania,” the order states:

“From at least 2003 through July 2007, Stryker’s wholly-owned subsidiary in Romania (“Stryker Romania”) made 192 improper payments to foreign officials totaling approximately $500,000 in order to obtain or retain business with affiliated public hospitals.  Stryker Romania recorded these payments as legitimate sponsorships of foreign officials’ attendance, travel and lodging at conferences, and medical events, when in reality they were illicit payments made to obtain or retain business.  As a result of these payments, Stryker Romania earned more than $1.7 million in illicit profits.  For example, in April 2004, a Stryker Romania salesperson submitted a form to sponsor a foreign official’s lodging abroad to attend a conference. The form stated that a “business benefit[]” from the sponsorship was that, in return, Stryker Romania would receive a contract for the sale of a particular medical device. In addition, Stryker Romania internally discussed that the foreign official in question was “waiting to be confirmed as chief physician” at a public hospital, “thus becoming important” for an upcoming bid for a contract. Stryker Romania recorded the payment as a legitimate business travel expense even though its own internal documents demonstrated that the payment was made with the purpose of obtaining future business.”

Under the heading “Unlawful Payments in Argentina,” the order states:

“Between 2005 and 2008, Stryker’s wholly-owned subsidiary in Argentina (“Stryker Argentina”) made 392 commission payments, or “honoraria,” to physicians employed in the public healthcare system in order to obtain or retain business with affiliated public hospitals. Unlike traditional honorarium payments that are made in exchange for the provision of a service (such as making a speech), these honoraria were commissions that were calculated as a percentage of a total sale to a particular hospital and then paid to the public doctor associated with the sale. Stryker Argentina routinely made these payments by check to doctors at rates between 20% and 25% of the related sale. In total, Stryker Argentina made more than $966,500 in improper honoraria payments during the relevant period, causing Stryker Argentina to earn more than $1.04 million in profits from the public hospitals with which the doctors were associated. Stryker Argentina booked these payments as commission expenses in an account entitled “Honorarios Medicos,” when in fact they were unlawful payments made to compensate doctors for purchasing Stryker products.”

Under the heading “Unlawful Payments in Greece,” the order states:

“In 2007, Stryker’s wholly-owned subsidiary in Greece (“Stryker Greece”) made a sizeable and atypical donation of $197,055 to a public university (the “Greek University”) to fund a laboratory that was then being established by a foreign official who served as a prominent professor at the Greek University, and was the director of medical clinics at two public hospitals affiliated with the Greek University.  As a result of this donation, Stryker Greece earned a total of $183,000 in illicit profits.  The donation was made pursuant to a quid pro quo arrangement with the foreign official, pursuant to which Stryker Greece understood it would obtain and retain business from the public hospitals with which the foreign official was affiliated, in exchange for making the donation to the foreign official’s pet project. In an email from the country manager of Stryker Greece to the regional manager, the country manager emphasized that she believed the donation to the Greek University was necessary to secure future sales for Stryker Greece. The country manager wrote: “I think that anything below 30K will leave [the foreign official] disappointed. He did promise that he would direct his young assistants into using our trauma and sports medicine products. [The foreign official] is . . . difficult to get as a ‘friend’ and really tough to have as a disappointed customer.”  The regional manager asked,  “What do we get for the sponsorship – or is it just a gift?” The country manager confirmed the quid pro quo, stating, “For the sponsorship we get the Spine business and a promise for more products in his Department. . .”  At a later date, another country manager stated, “I am willing to support what [the foreign official] is asking for in order to secure the sales he is bringing in.” The regional manager then approved the request. Soon thereafter, the country manager said of his meeting with the foreign official: “Things went well (how couldn’t they—I offered him the amount he is asking for . . .). . . . My impression is that we will sta rt business again.”  Stryker Greece made the donation to the Greek University in three installments, each of which was improperly booked as a legitimate marketing expense in an account entitled “Donations and Grants.”

Based on the above allegations, the SEC found that Stryker violated the FCPA’s books and records and internal controls provisions.

In the SEC release, Andrew Calamari (Director of the SEC’s New York Regional Office) stated:

“Stryker’s misconduct involved hundreds of improper payments over a number of years during which the company’s internal controls were fatally flawed.  Companies that allow corruption to occur by failing to implement robust compliance programs will not be allowed to profit from their misconduct.”

As noted in the SEC’s release, the administrative order “requires Stryker to pay disgorgement of $7,502,635, prejudgment interest of $2,280,888, and a penalty of $3.5 million.  Without admitting or denying the allegations, Stryker agreed to cease and desist from committing or causing any violations and any future violations of the FCPA’s books and records and internal controls provisions.

The Stryker action is yet another example of the SEC obtaining a disgorgement remedy without finding or charging violations of the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions.  (See here for a prior post on no-charged bribery disgorgement).

The SEC order also contains a separate section titled “Stryker’s Remedial Efforts” and states:

“In response to the Commission’s investigation, Stryker retained outside counsel to assist Stryker in conducting an internal investigation into Stryker’s compliance with the FCPA in the jurisdictions that were the subject of the staff’s inquiry, as well as in jurisdictions where issues arose through Stryker’s audit and hotline processes. Stryker voluntarily produced reports and other materials to the Commission staff summarizing the findings of its internal investigation. In total, Stryker produced over 800,000 pages of documents at Stryker’s expense, including courtesy translations of numerous key documents.  Since the time of the conduct detailed above, Stryker implemented a company wide anti-corruption compliance program, which includes: (a) enhanced corporate policies and standard operating procedures setting forth specific due diligence and documentation requirements for relationships with foreign officials, health care professionals, consultants, and distributors; (b) compliance monitoring and corporate auditing specifically tailored to anticorruption, including the hiring of a chief compliance officer and a sizeable full-time dedicated staff in both its internal audit and compliance functions to ensure FCPA compliance and the implementation of periodic self-assessments; (c) enhanced financial controls and governance; (d) expanded anti-corruption training to all Stryker employees; and (e) the maintenance of an Ethics Hotline which serves as a mechanism for employees to report any actual or suspected illegal or unethical behavior.  In addition to its internal anti-corruption enhancements, from 2007 through the present, Stryker engaged a third-party consultant to perform FCPA compliance assessments and compile written reports for Stryker’s operations in dozens of foreign jurisdictions across the world at least annually. Stryker voluntarily produced documents that permitted the Commission staff to assess how Stryker’s internal audit and compliance functions used the results of each of the assessments to implement additional enhancements to its infrastructure, to target jurisdictions for future assessments, and to create management action plans in collaboration with local management.  Based on the improvements described above, Stryker has demonstrated a commitment to designing and funding a meaningful compliance program in order to prevent and detect violations of the FCPA and other applicable anti-bribery laws.”

In this Wall Street Journal Risk and Compliance post, a Stryker spokesperson stated that the company “was advised that the Justice Department closed its investigation.”

Matthew Kipp (Skadden) represented Stryker.

Stryker’s November 2007 quarterly filing stated:

“In October 2007, the Company disclosed that the United States Securities and Exchange Commission has made an informal inquiry of the Company regarding possible violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in connection with the sale of medical devices in certain foreign countries.”

Thus, the time period from first instance of public disclosure of FCPA scrutiny to actual settlement was 6 years.

Yesterday Stryker’s stock was up approximately .07%.

*****

A few upcoming events that may be of interest to East Coast readers.

On Wednesday, October 30th, Brooklyn Law School will host a panel discussion of practitioners, in-house counsel, and professors titled “New Developments in FCPA Enforcement” (see here for more information).

On Saturday, Nov. 10th, I will be participating in a panel titled “Anti-Corruption Initiatives in the Arab World” as part of Harvard’s Arab Weekend.  (To learn more about the event and the other panelists, see here).