April 10th, 2015

Friday Roundup

Roundup2Making a difference, to FCPA Inc., and scrutiny alert.  It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Making a Difference

In running this website, I sometimes feel like the captain of a small ship on a wide vast ocean.  My metrics tell me that many people are reading, but is the content on FCPA Professor making a difference?  Many people have told me that it is and I could cite several examples such as the most recent one.

On April 2nd, FCPA Professor published this post about the recent decision from the W.D. of Ark. in the Wal-Mart FCPA-related derivative actions.  The post highlighted two errors in the court’s decision.

“In a footnote, Judge Hickey’s order states: “The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act prohibits United States companies from bribing foreign officials to secure improper business advantage.”

This is an inaccurate statement of law.

Rather, the FCPA contains an “obtain or retain business” element that must be proved.  Indeed, the DOJ’s position that the FCPA captures payments to “secure an improper business advantage” wholly apart from the “obtain or retain business” element has been specifically rejected by courts. (See here for the prior post).

The inaccurate statement of law in the order is perhaps not surprising given that the Judge referred to the FCPA as the “Federal Corrupt Practices Act.”

I am happy to see that a day later, on April 3rd, the court issued an amended order to “reflect the correction of minor typographical errors.”

The above referenced footnote (and its substance) no longer appear in the decision and reference to the “Federal” Corrupt Practices Act has been removed.

 To FCPA Inc.

It happens so often it is difficult to keep track of, but I try my best.

Earlier this week, Morrison & Foerster announced:

James Koukios, who served in the Fraud Section of the Criminal Division at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), most recently as Senior Deputy Chief, has joined the firm’s Washington, D.C. office as a partner in the Securities Litigation, Enforcement & White-Collar Criminal Defense Practice Group.

Mr. Koukios is the second high-ranking DOJ prosecutor to join MoFo in the past year, following the 2014 arrival of former Fraud Section Deputy Chief Charles Duross, who served as head of the DOJ’s Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) Unit. In his most recent position, Mr. Koukios oversaw the FCPA, Health Care Fraud, and Securities and Financial Fraud Units. With the addition of Mr. Koukios, who previously served as an Assistant Chief in the FCPA Unit and tried two of the most significant FCPA cases in the past decade, MoFo is the only law firm in the world with two former FCPA Unit managers.

[...]

During his tenure at DOJ, Mr. Koukios worked with domestic and foreign law enforcement authorities around the globe. He tried nearly two dozen jury cases, serving as a lead trial attorney in two landmark FCPA-enforcement trials: Esquenazi and Duperval.”

Not to dissect the MoFo press release too much, but the Duperval case was not an “FCPA-enforcement” trial. Rather, it was a non-FCPA case against the alleged “foreign official” in the Esquenazi case and directly related to the Esquenazi case.

Scrutiny Alert

The Wall Street reports on a bribery probe separate and distinct from the ongoing Petrobras probe.  According to the article:

“Prosecutors said 74 companies and 24 individuals are under investigation. None have been named publicly and no charges have been filed. But a leading investigator on the case said companies under investigation include Ford Motor Brazil, a unit of Ford Motor Co.; JBS, the world’s largest meatpacker, the Brazilian unit of the Spanish bank Banco Santander SA; and Brazil’s second largest private-sector bank, Bradesco SA.

[...]

Brazil’s tax system is among the most onerous and complex in the world. Penalties can be steep. That has fostered an environment where corruption can flourish, experts say.

“Taxes in Brazil are so high and complicated that it is easy for companies to get in trouble with the taxman,” the leading investigator told The Wall Street Journal. The investigator said frequent tax disputes created opportunities for ill-intentioned public servants to profit by helping firms circumvent red tape.”

Speaking of the Petrobras inquiry, the Wall Street Journal goes in-depth here.

*****

A good weekend to all.

Posted by Mike Koehler at 12:03 am. Post Categories: Banco SantanderBrazilFCPA Inc.Ford MotorJBSPetrobrasRoot Causes




April 9th, 2015

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

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%.





April 8th, 2015

Duke’s Season Of Failures

DukeEarlier this week, Duke won the national championship basketball game to cap off a successful season.  By one measure, Duke was thus the most successful team in college basketball this year.

However, it is undisputed that Duke failed many times this year.

For starters, Duke ended the season 35-4 which means that Duke lost 10% of its games.  Duke failed to win the regular season ACC conference championship and also failed to win the ACC tournament conference championship.  The second week of January was a complete failure for Duke as they lost to both unranked North Carolina State and unranked Miami.

Duke’s season statistics also evidence less than perfection in several fundamental categories.  For the year, Duke’s defense ranked 110th in points per game allowed; 53rd in rebounds per game; 134th in blocks per game; and 68th in steals per game.  In short, there were countless teams that performed better than Duke in the above categories.

More generally Duke’s season witnessed several missed easy shots, numerous dumb fouls, and countless unforced turnovers.

So pronounced were Duke’s failures this past season that in January the team dismissed a key player because he ”repeatedly struggled to meet the necessary obligations” expected of players in the program.

Despite Duke’s many failures this past season, the beauty of sports is that success is viewed holistically and not through a narrow segment of time, a discrete statistical category, the specifics of a certain possession, or the actions of just one player.

Yet the point of this post is to contemplate what would have happened to Duke this season if it was a business organization subject to various criminal or civil laws such as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

The short answer is that Duke would have been prosecuted and criticized (by the DOJ and numerous FCPA commentators) for its complete lack of internal controls.  The enforcement theories / comments would have been along the following lines.  That Duke lost 10% of its games is evidence of ineffective internal controls; team that losses twice in one week to unranked teams does not have effective internal controls;  given the key player’s dismissal, Duke surely failed to detect and prevent improper conduct.

After all, FCPA enforcement actions are often based on the enforcement agencies wearing  rose-colored glasses and viewing a multinational business organization with thousands of employees through the prism of just a 1% fail rate, through the prism of just one business transaction, or through the prism of just an incredibly small group of employees.

An interesting clause in most corporate FCPA enforcement actions is that the company conducted a thorough review of its business operations in a number of jurisdictions other than the locus of the alleged FCPA violation.  Yet, in most cases no other improper conduct is alleged in the enforcement action.  This alone is suggestive of effective internal controls regardless of the discrete conduct alleged in the enforcement action.

The holistic view of internal controls is consistent with legal authority, legislative history and enforcement agency guidance.

The FCPA’s internal control provisions are specifically qualified through concepts of reasonableness.

Legislative history instructs that the internal controls provisions standard does not equate to an “unrealistic degree of exactitude or precision.”

The only judicial decision to substantively address the internal controls provisions states:

“It does not appear that either the SEC or Congress, which adopted the SEC’s recommendations, intended that the statute should require that each affected issuer install a fail-safe accounting control system at all costs.”

And even the SEC has stated in internal controls guidance as follows.

“Inherent in this concept [of reasonableness] is a toleration of deviations from the absolute.”

“The test of a company’s internal control system is not whether occasional failings can occur. Those will happen in the most ideally managed company.”

Sports analogies are often useful in other contexts.

The sports analogy in this post demonstrates just how wayward FCPA enforcement has become in many instances.

Posted by Mike Koehler at 12:04 am. Post Categories: Internal ControlsUncategorized




April 7th, 2015

Who’s Attending The FCPA Institute – Houston

FCPA InstituteIf you want to attend an FCPA conference to “see and be seen” in a ballroom full of people, then the FCPA Institute might not be for you.

If you want to hear FCPA enforcement attorneys read from prepared remarks and respond to scripted questions from a friendly moderator, then the FCPA Institute might not be for you.

If you want to read the biographies of 50+ speakers who will deliver FCPA content in a disjointed fashion, then the FCPA Institute might not be for you.

However, if you want to learn about the FCPA and elevate your FCPA knowledge and practical skills in a professional setting focused on learning where content is delivered in an integrated and cohesive manner, then the FCPA Institute is for you.

If you want to participate in active learning through issue-spotting video exercises, skills exercises, small-group discussions and the sharing of real-world practices and experiences, then the FCPA Institute is for you.

The next FCPA Institute is scheduled for May 4th – 5th in Houston.  Registrants thus far include, among others:  compliance counsel at a leading healthcare company; senior attorneys with oil and gas companies; and in-house counsel with a leading Fortune 500 company.

The FCPA Institute presents the FCPA not merely as a legal issue, but also as a business, finance, accounting, and auditing issue. The FCPA Institute is thus ideal for a diverse group of professionals seeking sophisticated knowledge and enhanced skills relevant to the FCPA.  Moreover, the FCPA Institute – Houston provides participants the opportunity to earn CLE credit as well as a value-added professional credential through a graded written assessment tool.

On the FCPA Compliance and Ethics Blog, Tom Fox recently stated:

“[If the FCPA Professor puts on his FCPA Institute you should attend. Not only will you garner a better understanding of the theoretical underpinnings of the law and the plain words of its text; you will also be able to articulate many of the issues which befall companies caught up in a FCPA investigation to your senior management in a way that will help them understand the need for a robust compliance program.”

Click here to see what other FCPA Institute “graduates” have said about their FCPA Institute experience.

Click here to register for the FCPA Institute – Houston.

Posted by Mike Koehler at 12:03 am. Post Categories: Uncategorized




April 6th, 2015

Fittingly Foolish

FoolishLast week – on April Fools’ Day – the SEC announced this administrative action against KBR Inc.

It was fitting because the action was foolish.

In the words of the SEC:

“The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, enacted on July 21, 2010, amended the Exchange Act by adding Section 21F, “Whistleblower Incentives and Protection.” The congressional purpose underlying these provisions was “to encourage whistleblowers to report possible violations of the securities laws by providing financial incentives, prohibiting employment-related retaliation, and providing various confidentiality guarantees.” [...]

To fulfill this congressional purpose, the Commission adopted Rule 21F-17, which provides in relevant part: (a) No person may take any action to impede an individual from communicating directly with the Commission staff about a possible securities law violation, including enforcing, or threatening to enforce, a confidentiality agreement . . . with respect to such communications.”

As to KBR, the SEC stated:

“As part of its compliance program, KBR regularly receives complaints and allegations from its employees of potential illegal or unethical conduct by KBR or its employees, including allegations of potential violations of the federal securities laws. KBR’s practice is to conduct internal investigations of these allegations. KBR investigators typically interview KBR employees (including the employees who originally lodged the complaint or allegation) as part of the internal investigations.

Prior to the promulgation of Rule 21F-17 and continuing into the time that Rule 21F-17 has been in effect, KBR has used a form confidentiality statement as part of these internal investigations. Although use of the form confidentiality statement is not required by KBR policy, the statement is included as an enclosure to the KBR Code of Business Conduct Investigation Procedures manual, and KBR investigators have had witnesses sign the statement at the start of an interview.

The form confidentiality statement that KBR has used before and since the SEC adopted Rule 21F-17 requires witnesses to agree to the following provisions: I understand that in order to protect the integrity of this review, I am prohibited from discussing any particulars regarding this interview and the subject matter discussed during the interview, without the prior authorization of the Law Department. I understand that the unauthorized disclosure of information may be grounds for disciplinary action up to and including termination of employment.”

And now for the foolish part.  The SEC specifically stated:

“Though the Commission is unaware of any instances in which (i) a KBR employee was in fact prevented from communicating directly with Commission Staff about potential securities law violations, or (ii) KBR took action to enforce the form confidentiality agreement or otherwise prevent such communications, the language found in the form confidentiality statement impedes such communications by prohibiting employees from discussing the substance of their interview without clearance from KBR’s law department under penalty of disciplinary action including termination of employment. This language undermines the purpose of Section 21F and Rule 21F-17(a), which is to “encourage[e] individuals to report to the Commission.”

Based on the above, the SEC found that KBR violated Rule 21F-17.

Without admitting or denying the SEC’s findings, KBR agreed to pay a civil monetary penalty of $130,000.

A far more prudent approach would have been for the SEC to issue a Section 21(a) Report of Investigation (see here).

The supreme irony of the SEC’s enforcement action?

While faulting KBR for its non-existent, theoretical muzzling of individuals, the SEC routinely muzzles corporate defendants in SEC enforcement actions.

For instance, the recent PBSJ deferred prosecution agreement with the SEC stated:

“Respondent agrees not to take any action or to make or permit any public statement through present or future attorneys, employees, agents, or other persons authorized to speak for it, except in legal proceedings in which the Commission is not a party in litigation or otherwise, denying, directly or indirectly, any aspect of this Agreement or creating the impression that the statements in [the Statement of Facts” are without factual basis. [...] Prior to issuing a press release concerning this Agreement, the Respondent agrees to have the text of the release approved by the staff of the Division.”

The Ralph Lauren non-prosecution agreement and the Tenaris deferred prosecution agreement contained the same muzzle clauses.

Posted by Mike Koehler at 12:03 am. Post Categories: Muzzle ClauseSECWhistleblowers