November 7th, 2014

Friday Roundup

Roundup2A double standard dandy, scrutiny alerts, when the dust settles, quotable, asset recovery, protection money, and for the reading stack.  It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Double Standard Dandy

Numerous prior posts have highlighted the double standard between enforcement (or lack thereof) of the U.S. domestic bribery statute (18 USC 201) and the FCPA.  (See here for the double standard tag with approximately 40 posts).

A leading FCPA practitioner sent me the following lead paragraphs in reaction to this recent New York Times article about alleged corruption in connection with state attorney generals offices.

“Media reports this week exposed widespread practices in which U.S.-based issuers have allegedly retained paid lobbyists to wine, dine, and make huge campaign contributions to the chief prosecutors in numerous foreign countries in hopes of obtaining favorable prosecutorial decisions in those countries, often with apparent success.  The DOJ and SEC have immediately launched one of the largest investigations in history to determine whether these activities violated the FCPA, which forbids U.S. companies from giving or promising anything of value to a foreign official in order to gain an improper advantage.  If found guilty, these companies could face multi-million-dollar fines and any implicated executives could face years of incarceration.

Oh wait.  Never mind.  It turns out the chief prosecutors work only for domestic U.S. state governments rather than foreign governments, and thus any tainted decisions would betray U.S. citizens rather than non-citizens living in foreign locations.  Nothing to worry about here after all – just keep moving along, citizens.”

Well said.

Scrutiny Alerts

Qualcomm

Qualcomm’s FCPA scrutiny has been interesting to follow as it represents a rare instance of a company receiving a Wells Notice from the SEC.  In its annual report, the company disclosed:

“Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Formal Order of Private Investigation and Department of Justice Investigation : On September 8, 2010, we were notified by the SEC’s Los Angeles Regional office of a formal order of private investigation. We understand that the investigation arose from a “whistleblower’s” allegations made in December 2009 to the audit committee of our Board of Directors and to the SEC. In 2010, the audit committee completed an internal review of the allegations with the assistance of independent counsel and independent forensic accountants. This internal review into the whistleblower’s allegations and related accounting practices did not identify any errors in our financial statements. On January 27, 2012, we learned that the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California/Department of Justice (collectively, DOJ) had begun an investigation regarding our compliance with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). The audit committee conducted an internal review of our compliance with the FCPA and its related policies and procedures with the assistance of independent counsel and independent forensic accountants. The audit committee has completed this comprehensive review, made findings consistent with our findings described below and suggested enhancements to our overall FCPA compliance program. In part as a result of the audit committee’s review, we have made and continue to make enhancements to our FCPA compliance program, including implementation of the audit committee’s recommendations.

As previously disclosed, we discovered, and as a part of our cooperation with these investigations informed the SEC and the DOJ of, instances in which special hiring consideration, gifts or other benefits (collectively, benefits) were provided to several individuals associated with Chinese state-owned companies or agencies. Based on the facts currently known, we believe the aggregate monetary value of the benefits in question to be less than $250,000, excluding employment compensation.

On March 13, 2014, we received a Wells Notice from the SEC’s Los Angeles Regional Office indicating that the staff has made a preliminary determination to recommend that the SEC file an enforcement action against us for violations of the anti-bribery, books and records and internal control provisions of the FCPA. The bribery allegations relate to benefits offered or provided to individuals associated with Chinese state-owned companies or agencies. The Wells Notice indicated that the recommendation could involve a civil injunctive action and could seek remedies that include disgorgement of profits, the retention of an independent compliance monitor to review our FCPA policies and procedures, an injunction, civil monetary penalties and prejudgment interest.

A Wells Notice is not a formal allegation or finding by the SEC of wrongdoing or violation of law. Rather, the purpose of a Wells Notice is to give the recipient an opportunity to make a “Wells submission” setting forth reasons why the proposed enforcement action should not be filed and/or bringing additional facts to the SEC’s attention before any decision is made by the SEC as to whether to commence a proceeding. On April 4, 2014 and May 29, 2014, we made Wells submissions to the staff of the Los Angeles Regional Office explaining why we believe we have not violated the FCPA and therefore enforcement action is not warranted.

We are continuing to cooperate with the SEC and the DOJ, but are unable to predict the outcome of their investigations or any action that the SEC may decide to file.”

Cobalt International

The other instance of FCPA scrutiny involving an SEC Wells Notice is Cobalt International.  Earlier this week, the company disclosed:

“As previously disclosed, the Company is currently subject to a formal order of investigation issued in 2011 by the SEC related to its operations in Angola. On August 4, 2014, the Company received a Wells Notice from the Staff of the SEC with respect to such investigation. On September 24, 2014, the Company responded to the Wells Notice in the form of a Wells Submission. The Company is unable to predict the outcome of the SEC’s investigation or any action that the SEC may decide to pursue.”

When the Dust Settles

It is always interesting to see what happens when the dust settles from an FCPA enforcement action (see here for the prior post). The recent Bio-Rad enforcement action concerned conduct in, among other places, Vietnam.

According to this source:

“The [Vietnam] Ministry of Health has called on police to investigate an American medical equipment manufacturer that has admitted to bribing Vietnamese officials. Health Minister Nguyen Thi Kim Tien filed a formal request on Wednesday with the Ministry of Public Security that asked investigators to determine whether anyone had accepted kickbacks from Bio-Rad Laboratories, Inc. On the same day, the ministry’s inspectors instructed government hospitals to review any purchases from from Bio-Rad since 2005 and submit a report on the issue by November 15.”

Quotable

Earlier this week, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in Yates v. United States, the case involving a fisherman who was criminally charged with violating the anti-shredding provisions of Sarbanes-Oxley (i.e. “altered, destroyed, mutilated, concealed, covered up, falsified, or made a false entry in a record, document, or tangible object with the intent to impede or obstruct an investigation”) for disposing of some fish.

In this Wall Street Journal op-ed, Bill Shepherd, a partner in Holland & Knight LLP and lead counsel for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers which filed an amicus brief in the Yates case, states:

“[C]reativity in law enforcement should be confined to new strategies for undercover operations, not new, tortured interpretations of laws on the books. [...]  Congress is often criticized for overregulating and overcriminalizing. But the Yates case is a dramatic example of executive branch overreaching. Just because a prosecutor can file a charge doesn’t mean it is the right thing to do. Prosecutors everywhere struggle with the burden of teaching new prosecutors how to recognize the appropriate use of their authority. Professional groups like the American Bar Association Criminal Justice Section work to help foster that dialogue. Success among colleagues in prosecutors’ offices is measured, as it should be, by the number of convictions and the length of sentences handed down. But the other part of success—more difficult to measure—is the courage to close unfounded investigations or dismiss cases because they are not supported by the evidence, or don’t match an American sense of justice. The ultimate measure of success is the ability to live, work and raise a family in a safe environment—secure in the knowledge that government will not abuse that power with which we entrust it. This must be our universal goal.”

For coverage of oral argument in the Yates case, see here from the New York Times.

Asset Recovery

Deputy Attorney General James Cole recently delivered this speech at the Third Annual Arab Forum on Asset Recovery.

“Corruption undermines and weakens that which is the basis of modern society – the rule of law.  Corrupt officials who put their personal enrichment before the benefit of their citizenry create unstable countries.  Corruption siphons precious resources away from those in need at a time when such resources could hardly be more scarce and when the world economy could hardly be more vulnerable.  The repercussions of corruption – the hospitals left unbuilt, the roads still unpaved, the medicine undelivered – undermine the integrity of democratic institutions, creating gaps in government structures that organized criminal groups exploit.  And as we have seen time and again, countries plagued with corruption become breeding grounds and havens for other criminals and terrorist groups who threaten global security.”

[...]

“To underscore the U.S.’s commitment to asset recovery, Attorney General Holder established a Kleptocracy Initiative in the Department of Justice.  The Kleptocracy Team includes dedicated prosecutors working to forfeit corruption proceeds and, whenever we can, return those proceeds to benefit the people harmed by the corruption.  The Kleptocracy prosecutors are soon to be paired with a dedicated Kleptocracy squad of FBI agents and analysts, and this squad will enhance the capacity of the United States to respond rapidly in investigating and locating corruption proceeds.

The Kleptocracy Initiative seeks to deliver on our responsibility to protect the integrity of the U.S. financial system and its institutions from the destructive influence of corruption proceeds and to deny kleptocrats safe haven to hide and enjoy their ill-gotten gains.”

Speaking of asset recovery, the DOJ announced that it filed a civil forfeiture complaint seeking the forfeiture of $106,488.31 in allegedly laundered funds traceable to a $2 million bribe payment made by a Canadian energy company to Chad’s former Ambassador to the United States and Canada and his wife.

According to the release:

“From 2004 to 2012, Mahamoud Adam Bechir, 49, served as Chad’s Ambassador to the United States and Canada.  According to the forfeiture complaint, Bechir agreed to use his position to influence the award of oil development rights in Chad in exchange for $2 million and other valuable interests from Griffiths Energy International Inc., a Canadian company.  In order to conceal the bribe, Bechir and his wife, Nouracham Niam, 44, allegedly entered into a series of agreements with Griffiths Energy that provided for the payment of a $2 million “consulting fee” if the company secured the oil rights in Chad.  After securing these oil rights in February 2011, Griffiths Energy allegedly transferred $2 million to an account located in Washington, D.C. held by a shell company created by Niam.  In 2013, Griffiths Energy pleaded guilty in Canadian court to bribing Bechir. The complaint further alleges that, after commingling the bribe payment with other funds and laundering these funds through U.S. bank accounts and real property, Bechir transferred $1,474,517 of the criminal proceeds traceable to the bribe payment to his account in South Africa, where he is now serving Chad’s Ambassador to South Africa.  The current action seeks forfeiture of $106,488.31, which is the current balance of Bechir’s accounts in South Africa.  Those funds have been seized pursuant to the complaint unsealed today.  The Department of Justice is also seeking additional assets from Bechir and Niam.”

See here for the prior post highlighting the Canadian enforcement action against Griffiths Energy and pondering whether there would be a U.S. enforcement action.

Protection Money
Is paying “protection money” to tribal leaders in Egypt an FCPA issue?  (See here from National Geographic).
“No US firm will speak publicly of the measures they take to avoid open appeasement of Bedouin claims, but in private conversations, employees of American and European oil giants have spoken of hiring tribesmen for non-existent or unnecessary jobs. Usually they’re listed as security guards or dump truck drivers ferrying sand and gravel, but they seldom turn up to except to collect their monthly salaries. This arrangement has afforded most energy firms a largely hassle-free hand to work in the vast, poorly policed expanses that flank the Nile river.”
Reading Stack
Professor Brandon Garrett’s – “Too Big to Jail: How Prosecutors Compromise with Corporations.”
*****
A good weekend to all.
Posted by Mike Koehler at 12:03 am. Post Categories: Asset RecoveryBio-RadCobalt International EnergyDouble StandardGriffiths EnergyProtection MoneyQualcommRelated Foreign Investigations




November 6th, 2014

Items Of Interest From The Bio-Rad Enforcement Action

This previous post dived deep into the Bio-Rad Laboratories FCPA enforcement action.

This post continues the analysis by highlighting various issues from the enforcement action.

Play On Words

The enforcement action was the result of Bio-Rad’s voluntary disclosure and both the DOJ and SEC were complimentary of the company’s cooperation.

In the words of the DOJ, “that cooperation included voluntarily making U.S. and foreign employees available for interviews, voluntarily producing documents from overseas, and summarizing the findings of its internal investigation. ”  Elsewhere the DOJ stated that Bio-Rad translated numerous documents and provided timely reports on witness interviews to the DOJ.

Likewise, the SEC noted that Bio-Rad’s investigation “included over 100 in-person interviews, the collection of millions of documents, the production of tens of thousands of documents, and forensic auditing.”

Against this backdrop, the DOJ’s press release contained a most interesting play of words.

“The department pursues corruption from all angles …” (emphasis added).

“The FBI remains committed to identifying and investigating violations of the FCPA.”  (emphasis added).

Bio-Rad’s press release also contained an interesting play on words as well.

As highlighted in several previous posts (see here for instance), the term “declination” is already one of the more amorphous term in the “FCPA vocabulary.”

In a further twist, the company’s press release stated:

“The DOJ declined to prosecute Bio-Rad, and the parties entered into a Non-Prosecution Agreement under which Bio-Rad has agreed to pay a penalty of $14.35 million.” (emphasis added).

A Government Required Transfer of Shareholder Wealth to FCPA Inc?

Bio-Rad was the second FCPA enforcement in the past two weeks – Layne Christensen being the other (see here and here for prior posts).

Both enforcement actions were the result of voluntary disclosures in which the DOJ and/or SEC were complimentary of the company’s internal investigation, remedial actions, and compliance enhancements.

For instance, the DOJ noted that Bio-Rad conducted “an extensive internal investigation in several countries” and noted, among other things, as follows.

“the Company has engaged in significant remedial actions, including enhancing it anti-corruption policies globally, improving its internal controls and compliance functions, developing and implementing additional FCPA compliance procedures, including due diligence and contracting procedures for intermediaries, instituting heightened review of proposals and other transactional documents for all Company contracts … and conducting extensive anti-corruption training throughout the global organization.”

Likewise, the SEC stated, among other things, as follows.

“Bio-Rad also undertook significant and extensive remedial actions including: terminating problematic practices; terminating Bio-Rad employees who were involved in the misconduct; comprehensively re-evaluating and supplementing its anticorruption policies and procedures on a world-wide basis, including its relationship with intermediaries; enhancing its internal controls and compliance functions; developing and implementing FCPA compliance procedures, including the further development and implementation of policies and procedures such as the due diligence and contracting procedure for intermediaries and policies concerning hospitality, entertainment, travel, and other business courtesies; and conducting extensive anticorruption training throughout the organization world-wide.”

In the Layne Christensen action, the SEC likewise stated, as other things, as follows.

“Layne Christensen also took affirmative steps to strengthen its internal compliance policies, procedures, and controls. Layne Christensen issued a standalone anti-bribery policy and procedures, improved its accounting policies relating to cash disbursements, implemented an integrated accounting system worldwide, revamped its anti-corruption training, and conducted extensive due diligence of third parties with which it does business. In addition, Layne Christensen hired a dedicated chief compliance officer and three full-time compliance personnel and retained a consulting firm to conduct an assessment of its anti corruption program and make recommendations.”

Nevertheless, both Bio-Rad and Layne Christensen have two-year reporting obligations to the government after the enforcement action.

The following observation is the same as in this prior post.

In situations involving voluntary disclosures where the enforcement agencies are complimentary of the company’s remedial actions and compliance enhancements, such post-enforcement action reporting obligations seem to be little more than a government required transfer of shareholder wealth to FCPA Inc.

Sure, such post-enforcement action reporting obligations give enforcement agency officials something to do and provide even more work for FCPA Inc., but in the situations discussed above, are such post-enforcement action reporting obligations necessary?

Both Bio-Rad’s (see below) and Layne Christensen’s FCPA scrutiny lasted approximately four years from beginning to enforcement action.  Tack on two more years of reporting obligations and the result is that these two instances of FCPA scrutiny will have provided FCPA Inc. participants an engagement lasting over six years.

This recent Wall Street Journal article asks “what would get more companies to self-disclose bribery” (a more detailed answer to this question will be explored in a future post).

One answer is to ditch the post-enforcement action reporting obligations in cases where there is a voluntary disclosure and the enforcement agencies are complimentary of the company’s remedial actions and compliance enhancements.

Or perhaps the post-enforcement action reporting requirements do indeed lead to more voluntary disclosures when one considers the important gatekeeper role FCPA counsel often play in such corporate decisions.  (See here).

Timeline

As indicated in the resolution documents, Bio-Rad’s initial self-disclosure of potential FCPA violations occurred in May 2010. The length of the company’s FCPA scrutiny – from point of first public disclosure to resolution – thus lasted approximately 4.5 years. (See here for the prior post “The Gray Cloud of FCPA Scrutiny Simply Lasts Too Long”).

5 for 5

In 2014, there have been five SEC corporate FCPA enforcement actions (Bio-Rad, Layne Christensen, Smith & Wesson, Alcoa, and HP).  All have been resolved via the SEC’s administrative process.

My recent article, “A Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Narrative,” (see pgs. 991-995) discusses this trend and how it is troubling as it places the SEC in the role of regulator, prosecutor, judge and jury all at the same time.  As Judge Rakoff recently observed, “from where does the constitutional warrant for such unchecked and unbalanced administrative power derive?”

Here Come the Plaintiffs’ Lawyers

It is as predictable as the sun rising in the east.

No less than 24 hours after release of the Bio-Rad enforcement action documents, plaintiffs’ lawyers began salivating and announcing investigations to determine whether officers and directors of the company breached fiduciary duties owed to shareholders.  (See here, here, here, here, here, and here for releases).

Posted by Mike Koehler at 12:04 am. Post Categories: Bio-RadDeclination DecisionsLayne ChristensenRelated Civil LitigationVoluntary Disclosure




November 5th, 2014

A Comprehensive FCPA Resource

The question was recently asked: ”will there ever be a classic treatise on the FCPA?”New Era

According to Webster’s, a treatise is a book, article, etc., that discusses a subject carefully and thoroughly.

With that definition in mind, I invite you to consider my new book “The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in a New Era.”  Inside you will find:

  • A thorough telling of the story of the FCPA told largely through original voices of actual participants who shaped the pioneering law;
  • Foundational knowledge (such as DOJ and SEC policy and resolution vehicles and the realities of the global marketplace) that best enhance understanding and comprehension of specific FCPA topics;
  • A comprehensive analysis of the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions and for each element, exception or affirmative defense discussion of all legal sources of authority (including all relevant substantive FCPA judicial decisions) as well as non-legal sources of information (including discussion of over 70 FCPA enforcement actions);
  • Discussion of other legal issues also relevant to FCPA enforcement;
  • A comprehensive analysis of the FCPA’s books and records and internal controls provisions including legal authority as well as non-legal sources of information;
  • Analysis of the typical origins of FCPA scrutiny and enforcement;
  • Discussion of FCPA settlement amounts, how they are calculated, and analysis of legal and policy issues relevant to settlement amounts;
  • Discussion of FCPA sentencing issues, how sentences are calculated, and an analysis of legal and policy issues relevant to sentencing decisions;
  • An extended discussion and analysis of an often overlooked topics, “FCPA Ripples,” and how settlement amounts in an actual FCPA enforcement action are often only a relatively minor component of the overall financial consequences that can result from FCPA scrutiny or enforcement;
  • An exploration of practical and provocative reasons for the general increase in FCPA enforcement during this new era including a discussion of FCPA Inc. and the business of bribery;
  • Identification and discussion of FCPA compliance best practices and benchmarking metrics; and
  • An in-depth discussion and analysis of FCPA reform designed to ensure that the FCPA is best achieving the original goals of the law and that FCPA enforcement is transparent and consistent with rule of law principles.

Whether the above topics highlighted and explored in “The FCPA in a New Era” make it a classic treatise, well, I invite you to come to your own conclusion.  At the very least, you will have to agree that the cover of the book is more inviting than a typical treatise.

While I am certainly not going to ascribe labels to my own work, I am pleased to share what others have said about “The FCPA In a New Era.”

Michael Mukasey, former U.S. Attorney General

“Professor Koehler has brought to this volume the clear-eyed perspective that has made his FCPA Professor website the most authoritative source for those seeking to understand and apply the FCPA. This is a uniquely useful book, laying out systematically the history and rationale of the FCPA, as well as its evolution into a structure governed as much by lore as by law. It will be valuable both to those who counsel international corporations, whether in connection with immediate crises or long-term strategies; and to those who contemplate what the FCPA has become, and how it can be improved.”

Professor Daniel Chow, The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law

“This is the single most comprehensive academic treatment of the Foreign Corrupt Practices available. Professor Koehler’s book will become the authoritative standard for the field. The book not only treats the history of the FCPA, but analyzes the statute’s elements in detail, discusses current cases, and makes proposals for reforms where the current law is deficient. The book is written in a clear, accessible style and I will use it often as a resource for my own scholarly work.”

 Richard Alderman, former Director of the UK Serious Fraud Office

“An excellent and thought-provoking book by a great expert. Backed up by rigorous analysis of cases, Professor Koehler constantly challenges those involved in anti-corruption work by asking the question ‘why?’ He puts forward many constructive and well-argued suggestions for improvements that need to be considered. I have learned a lot from Professor Koehler over the years and I can thoroughly recommend this book.”

Thomas Fox, FCPA Compliance and Ethics Blog and FCPA Practitioner

“The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in a New Era” should become one of the standard texts for any FCPA compliance practitioner, law student studying the FCPA or anyone else interested in anti-bribery and anti-corruption. It should be on your FCPA library bookshelf.”

Barry Vitou, thebriberyact.com and Compliance Practitioner

“If you only read one book on the US FCPA, read this one. [...] Mike Koehler’s new book is probably the best book we’ve read about the FCPA. [...] For those wanting a pair of ‘FCPA goggles’ no book is, in our opinion, better.”

To order a hard copy of the book, see here and here; to order an e-copy of the book, see here and here.

For media coverage of the book including Q&A’s, see here from Corporate Counsel, here from Global Investigations Review, and here from Corporate Counsel Weekly.

*****

Looking for even more information and analysis of the FCPA and FCPA enforcement?

I invite you to all also consider the following year in review articles.  Granted the below articles are not found between two covers, but you will find approximately 500 pages of FCPA statistics, trends and analysis over time.

For 2013, see here.

For 2012, see here.

For 2011, see here.

For 2010, see here.

For 2009, see here.

Posted by Mike Koehler at 12:04 am. Post Categories: ComplianceFCPA AppealsFCPA Inc.FCPA JurisprudenceFCPA ReformFCPA ScholarshipFCPA SentencesFCPA StatisticsFCPA Trials




November 4th, 2014

Bio-Rad Laboratories Agrees To Pay $55 Million To Resolve FCPA Enforcement Action

Yesterday the DOJ and SEC announced (here and here) a coordinated FCPA enforcement action against Bio-Rad Laboratories Inc. based on alleged conduct in Russia, Thailand and Vietnam.

The enforcement action involved a DOJ non-prosecution agreement and an SEC administrative order.  Bio-Rad agreed to pay approximately $55 million to resolve the alleged FCPA scrutiny ($14.35 million in the DOJ action; and $40.7 million in the SEC action).

This post summarizes both the DOJ and SEC enforcement actions based on a review of the original source documents.

DOJ Enforcement Action

The enforcement action focused on the conduct of Bio-Rad Laboratorii OOO (“Bio-Rad Russia”) and Bio-Rad SNC as well as the alleged knowledge of certain Bio-Rad managers concerning various Russian business practices.

According to the NPA, Bio-Rad Russia is:

“[A] wholly owned subsidiary of BIO-RAD located in Moscow, Russia. Bio-Rad Russia primarily sold BIO-RAD clinical diagnostic products, such as HIV testing kits. Approximately 90% of its clientele were government customers, most notably the Russian Ministry of Health. In order to obtain certain Russian government contracts, Bio-Rad Russia was required to participate in public tender processes.”

According to the NPA, Bio-Rad SNC is:

“[A]n indirectly wholly-owned subsidiary of Bio-Rad headquartered in Marnes-la-Coquette, France.  Bio-Rad SNC manufactured, sold, and distributed Bio-Rad products worldwide.”

According to the NPA, Agent 1 (described as an agent retained by Bio-Rad SNC with respect to sales in Russia) assisted Bio-Rad Russia in connection with certain governmental sales in Russia and established Intermediary Companies (described as Agent 1 affiliated companies in Panama, the United Kingdom, and Belize) which Bio-Rad SNC retained “purportedly to perform extensive services on its behalf in Russia.”  However, according to the NPA, Intermediary Companies “were located offshore and had no employees aside from Agent 1.”  Moreover, according to the NPA, “Intermediary Companies used a phony address on its invoices that belonged to a Russian government agency.”

According to the NPA, Manager 1 (described as a high-level manager of Bio-Rad’s Emerging Markets sales region, which included Rusia, from 2004 to 2010 and based in Bio-Rad’s corporate offices in California) “authorized Bio-Rad SNC’ agreements with the Intermediary Companies without conducting any due diligence on the Intermediary Companies.”

According to the NPA,

“Bio-Rad SNC paid the Intermediary Companies a commission of 15-30% purportedly in exchange for various services outlined in the agency contracts, including acquiring new business by creating and disseminating promotional materials to prospective  customers, installing Bio-Rad products and related equipment, training customers on the installation and use of Bio-Rad products, and delivering Bio-Rad products.

The Intermediary Companies, however, lacked the capabilities to perform these contractually defined services. In some instances, the Intermediary Companies submitted invoices suggesting that they performed distribution services in connection with certain contracts. The Intermediary Companies did not perform these services, and would have been significantly overpaid even had they performed such services.”

According to the NPA:

“Manager 1, Manager 2 [described as a high-level accounting manager of Bio-Rad's Emerging Markets sales region, which included Russia, from around 2004 to 2010 and based in Bio-Rad's corporate offices in California] and Manager 3 [described as a high-level manager of Bio-Rad Russia from 2007 to 2011 and based in Moscow] reviewed and approved commission payments to Intermediary Companies, despite knowing that Intermediary Companies and Agent 1 were not performing the services from which they were being paid.”

The NPA further states that Manager 1, Manager 2, and Manager 3 used the code word “bad debt” when communicating with each other to refer to the Intermediary Companies’ commission payments.  According to the NPA, Manager 2 “instructed lower-level Bio-Rad SNC finance employees to ‘talk with codes’ when communicating about the Intermediary Companies’ invoices and that Manager 3 requested that Intermediary Company invoices be paid in installments of less than $200,000 each so as to avoid additional approvals required by Bio-Rad policy for payment over $200,000.

According to the NPA,

“The payments to the Intermediary Companies were made by Bio-Rad SNC and falsely recorded as “commission payments” in its books. Moreover, Manager 1 and Manager 2, who falsely described the commission payments as “bad debt” in e-mails, knew that Bio-Rad SNC maintained the bogus contracts with the Intermediary Companies, as well as the numerous associated false invoices Bio-Rad SNC had paid, as part of its books and records. Bio-Rad SNC’s books, records, and financial accounts were consolidated into Bio-Rad’s books and records and reported by Bio-Rad in its financial statements. Thus, Manager 1 and Manager 2 knowingly caused BIO-RAD to falsify its books and records.”

The NPA further states:

“Bio-Rad maintained a set of corporate policies, but Bio-Rad’s international offices were given autonomy by the company to implement and maintain adequate controls. However, Manager 1 and Manager 2 failed to implement adequate controls for Bio-Rad’s Emerging Markets sales region, including controls related to its operations in Russia where those managers knew that the failure to implement these controls allowed Agent 1 and the Intermediary Companies to be paid significantly above-market commissions for little or no services that were supported by false contracts and invoices. For example, Manager 1 and Manager 2 did not put in place a system of controls to conduct due diligence on third party agents, such as the Intermediary Companies, to ensure documentation supporting payments to third parties, or to monitor such payments. Nor did the company implement adequate testing of the controls that should have been in place.

Manager 1 and Manager 2′s knowing failure to implement adequate internal accounting controls with respect to Russia was due, at least in part, to their desire to continue to obtain and retain contracts with the Russian government. Bio-Rad Russia won 100% of its government contracts when Agent 1 was involved and lost its first major Russian government  contract after terminating Agent 1 in or around 2010.”

According to the NPA:

“In addition to the knowing failure to implement an adequate system of internal accounting controls, prior to the discovery of the misconduct in Bio-Rad did not maintain an adequate compliance program. The company did not provide any FCPA training to its employees and, although Bio-Rad had a business ethics policy and code of conduct that prohibited bribery and was posted on the company’s intranet site, many employees of Bio-Rad and its subsidiaries were unaware of its existence. Moreover, the code was only available in English despite the fact that a significant number of employees working for Bio-Rad’ss overseas subsidiaries did not speak or understand English well enough to understand the code.”

“Bio-Rad also decentralized its compliance program such that its international offices were responsible for ensuring adequate compliance with its business ethics policy and code of conduct. However, Manager 1 and Manager 2 did not take steps to ensure such compliance in Emerging Markets, and Bio-Rad did not take sufficient steps to monitor its international offices. As a result, Bio-Rad’s international offices did not undertake appropriate risk-based due diligence in connection with the retention of agents and business partners and, further, did not have distribution and agency agreements with appropriate anti-corruption terms. Bio-Rad also did not undertake periodic risk assessments of its compliance program. Bio-Rad’s failure to maintain an adequate compliance program significantly contributed to the company’s inability to prevent the misconduct in Russia, as well as improper payments to government officials in Vietnam and Thailand.”

The NPA states as follows.

“The [DOJ] enters into this Non-Prosecution Agreement based on the individual facts and circumstances presented by this case and the Company. Among the facts considered were the following: (a) following discovery of potential FCPA violations during the course of an internal audit, the Company’s audit committee retained independent counsel to conduct an internal investigation and voluntarily disclosed to the [DOJ] the misconduct described in the Statement of Facts; (b) the Company has fully cooperated with the [DOJ's] investigation, including conducting an extensive internal investigation in several countries, voluntarily making U.S. and foreign employees available for interviews, voluntarily producing documents from overseas, summarizing its findings, translating numerous documents, and providing timely reports on witness interviews for the [DOJ]; (c) the Company has engaged in significant remedial actions, including enhancing its anti-corruption policies globally, improving its internal controls and compliance functions, developing and implementing additional FCPA compliance procedures, including due diligence and contracting procedures for intermediaries, instituting heightened review of proposals and other transactional documents for all Company contracts, closing its Vietnam office after learning of improper payments by its Vietnam subsidiary, and conducting extensive anti-corruption training throughout the global organization; (d) the Company has committed to continue to enhance its compliance program and internal controls, including ensuring that its compliance program satisfies the minimum elements set forth in Attachment B to this Agreement; and (e) the Company has agreed to continue to cooperate with the [DOJ] in any ongoing investigation of the conduct of the Company and its officers, directors, employees, agents, and consultants relating to possible violations of the FCPA …”.

Pursuant to the NPA, which has a term of two years, Bio-Rad admitted, accepted and acknowledged that it was responsible for the acts of its employees and agents as set forth in the Statement of Facts.  The NPA also contains a “muzzle clause” in which Bio-Rad expressly agree[d] that it shall not, through present or future attorneys, officers, directors, employees, agents or any other person authorized to speak for the Company make any public statement, in litigation or otherwise, contradicting the acceptance of responsibility by the Company …”.

In the NPA, Bio-Rad also agreed to undertake a host of compliance enhancements and report to the DOJ during the two-year term of the NPA “regarding mediation and implementation of the compliance program and internal controls, policies and procedures” described in the NPA.

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

“Public companies that cook their books and hide improper payments foster corruption.  The department pursues corruption from all angles, including the falsification of records and failure to implement adequate internal controls.   The department also gives credit to companies, like Bio-Rad, who self-disclose, cooperate and remediate their violations of the FCPA.”

Special Agent in Charge David Johnson of the FBI’s San Francisco Field Office stated:

“The FBI remains committed to identifying and investigating violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. This action demonstrates the benefits of self-disclosure, cooperation, and subsequent remediation by companies.”

The release further states:

“The department entered into a non-prosecution agreement with the company due, in large part, to Bio-Rad’s self-disclosure of the misconduct and full cooperation with the department’s investigation.  That cooperation included voluntarily making U.S. and foreign employees available for interviews, voluntarily producing documents from overseas, and summarizing the findings of its internal investigation.  In addition, Bio-Rad has engaged in significant remedial actions, including enhancing its anti-corruption policies globally, improving its internal controls and compliance functions, developing and implementing additional due diligence and contracting procedures for intermediaries, and conducting extensive anti-corruption training throughout the organization.”

SEC Enforcement Action

The SEC’s order is based on the same core conduct alleged in the DOJ action as relevant to Russia business and also contains allegations concerning conduct in Vietnam and Thailand.

In summary fashion, the SEC’s order states:

“From approximately 2005 to 2010, subsidiaries of Bio-Rad made unlawful payments in Vietnam and Thailand to obtain or retain business. During the same period, Bio-Rad’s subsidiary paid certain Russian third parties, disregarding the high probability that at least some of the money would be used to make unlawful payments to government officials in Russia. With respect to Russia, one of Bio-Rad’s foreign subsidiaries paid three off-shore agents (the“Russian Agents”) for alleged services in connection with sales of its medical diagnostic and life science equipment to government agencies. These agents were not legitimate businesses, and despite receiving large commissions, they did not provide the contracted-for services. In paying these agents, Bio-Rad’s foreign subsidiary demonstrated a conscious disregard for the high probability that the Russian Agents were using at least a portion of the commissions to pay foreign officials to obtain profitable government contracts. The General Manager (“GM”) of Bio-Rad’s Emerging Markets sub-division and the Emerging Markets Controller, both employees of the parent company (collectively, “the Emerging Markets managers”) ignored red flags, which permitted the scheme to continue for years. In Vietnam and Thailand, Bio-Rad’s foreign subsidiaries used agents and distributors to funnel money to government officials. In total, Bio-Rad made $35.1 million in illicit profits from these improper payments.

In violation of Bio-Rad’s policies, Bio-Rad’s foreign subsidiaries did not record the payments in their own books in a manner that would accurately or fairly reflect the transactions. Instead they booked them as commissions, advertising, and training fees. These subsidiaries’ books were consolidated into the parent company’s books and records. During the relevant period, Bio-Rad also failed to devise and maintain adequate internal accounting controls.”

As to the Vietnam and Thailand conduct, the SEC’s order focuses on Bio-Rad Laboratories (Singapore) Pte. Limited (“Bio-Rad Singapore”) described as a wholly-owned subsidiary located in Singapore and Diamed South East Asia Ltd. (“Diamed Thailand”) described as  a 49%-owned subsidiary of Diamed AG (Switzerland) that was acquired by Bio-Rad in October 2007.  According to the order, local majority owners ran Diamed Thailand’s operations until 2011, when Bio-Rad bought out their interest in the company.

Under the heading “Facts in Vietnam,” the order states:

“From at least 2005 to the end of 2009, Bio-Rad maintained a sales representative office in Vietnam. A country manager supervised the Vietnam Office’s sales activities, and was authorized to approve contracts up to $100,000 and sales commissions up to $20,000. Vietnam’s country manager reported to Bio-Rad Singapore’s Southeast Asia regional sales manager (“RSM”), who in turn reported to the Asia Pacific GM.

From 2005 through 2009, the country manager of the Vietnam office authorized the payment of bribes to government officials to obtain their business. At the direction of the country manager, the sales representatives made cash payments to officials at government-owned hospitals and laboratories in exchange for their agreement to buy Bio-Rad’s products.

In 2006, the RSM first learned of this practice from a finance employee. She raised concerns about it to the Vietnam Office’s country manager, who informed her that paying bribes was a customary practice in Vietnam. On or about May 18, 2006, the Vietnamese country manager wrote in an email to the RSM and the Bio-Rad Singapore finance employee that paying third party fees “[wa]s outlawed in the Bio-Rad Business Ethics Policy,” but that Bio-Rad would lose 80% of its Vietnam sales without continuing the practice. In that same email, the country manager proposed a solution that entailed employing a middleman to pay the bribes to Vietnamese government officials as a means of insulating Bio-Rad from liability. Under the proposed scheme, Bio-Rad Singapore would sell Bio-Rad products to a Vietnamese distributor at a deep discount, which the distributor would then resell to government customers at full price, and pass through a portion of it as bribes.

The RSM and the Asia Pacific GM were aware of and allowed the payments to continue. Between 2005 and the end of 2009, the Vietnam office made improper payments of $2.2 million to agents or distributors, which was funneled to Vietnamese government officials. These bribes, recorded as “commissions,” “advertising fees,” and “training fees,” generated gross sales revenues of $23.7 million to Bio-Rad Singapore. The payment scheme did not involve the use of interstate commerce, and no United States national was involved in the misconduct.”

Under the heading “Facts in Thailand,” the order states:

“Bio-Rad acquired a 49% interest in Diamed Thailand as part of its acquisition of Diamed AG (Switzerland) in October 2007. Bio-Rad performed very little due diligence on Diamed Thailand prior to the acquisition.

Diamed Thailand’s local majority owners managed the subsidiary. Bio-Rad’s Asia Pacific GM was responsible for working and communicating with Diamed Thailand’s majority owners and distributors.

Prior to the October 2007 acquisition, Diamed Thailand had an established bribery scheme, whereby Diamed Thailand used a Thai agent to sell diagnostic products to government customers. The agent received an inflated 13% commission, of which it retained 4%, and paid 9% to Thai government officials in exchange for profitable business contracts.

The scheme continued even after Bio-Rad acquired Diamed Thailand. Diamed Thailand renewed the contract with the distributor in June 2008, but unbeknownst to Bio-Rad, the distributor was partially owned by one of Diamed Thailand’s local Thai owners.

Bio-Rad’s Asia Pacific GM learned of Diamed Thailand’s bribery scheme while attending a distributor’s conference in Bangkok in March 2008. At the conference, Diamed Thailand’s local manager informed him that some of Diamed Thailand’s customers received payments, which the Asia Pacific GM understood to mean kickbacks. The Asia Pacific GM instructed Bio-Rad Singapore’s controller to investigate the matter. The controller confirmed to the Asia Pacific GM that Diamed Thailand was bribing government officials through the distributor. Despite these findings, the Asia Pacific GM did not instruct Diamed Thailand to stop making the improper payments to the distributor.

From 2007 to early 2010, Diamed Thailand improperly paid a total of $708,608 to the distributor, generating gross sales revenues of $5.5 million to Diamed Thailand. These  payments were recorded as sales commissions. The payment scheme did not involve the use of interstate commerce, and no United States national was involved in the misconduct.”

The SEC’s order found that:

“Bio-Rad violated [the FCPA's anti-bribery provisions] because Bio-Rad’s Emerging Markets managers demonstrated a conscious disregard for the high probability that the Russian Agents were using at least a portion of Bio-Rad Russia’s sales commission payments to bribe Russian government officials in exchange for awarding the company profitable government contracts. These managers knew the Russian Agents operated as mere shell entities. They also knew that, among other things, the commissions were large, and that the Russian Agents did not have the resources to perform any of the contracted-for services set forth in their agreements. Nevertheless, the managers approved all of their agreements, and authorized $4.6 million in payments to the Russian Agents’ off-shore accounts even though many of the payment requests and invoices raised substantial questions as to their legitimacy. Finally, the same Emerging Markets managers communicated about the Russian Agents under cover of secrecy, which further calls in question their legitimacy. These red flags surfaced repeatedly over a five year period.”

The SEC’s order also found violations of the books and records and internal controls provisions based on the Russia, Vietnam, and Thailand conduct.  As to internal controls, the order states:

“[A]lthough [Bio-Rad] had an ethics policy prohibiting the payment of bribes and various policies and procedures requiring accurate books and records, its systems of internal controls proved insufficient to provide reasonable assurances that such payments would be detected and prevented.”

Under the heading, “Self-Disclosure, Cooperation and Remedial Efforts,” the order states:

“Bio-Rad made an initial voluntary self-disclosure of potential FCPA violations to the Commission staff and the Department of Justice in May 2010, and immediately thereafter Bio-Rad’s audit committee retained independent counsel to conduct an investigation of the alleged violations. The audit committee conducted a thorough internal investigation, and subsequently expanded it voluntarily to cover a large number of additional potentially high-risk countries. The investigation included over 100 in-person interviews, the collection of millions of documents, the production of tens of thousands of documents, and forensic auditing. Bio-Rad’s cooperation was extensive, including voluntarily producing documents from overseas, summarizing its findings, translating numerous key documents, producing witnesses from foreign jurisdictions, providing timely reports on witness interviews, and making employees available to the Commission staff to interview.

Bio-Rad also undertook significant and extensive remedial actions including: terminating problematic practices; terminating Bio-Rad employees who were involved in the misconduct; comprehensively re-evaluating and supplementing its anticorruption policies and procedures on a world-wide basis, including its relationship with intermediaries; enhancing its internal controls and compliance functions; developing and implementing FCPA compliance procedures, including the further development and implementation of policies and procedures such as the due diligence and contracting procedure for intermediaries and policies concerning hospitality, entertainment, travel, and other business courtesies; and conducting extensive anticorruption training throughout the organization world-wide.”

As noted in the SEC’s release:

“[Bio-Rad] agreed to pay $40.7 million in disgorgement and prejudgment interest to the SEC … The company also must report its FCPA compliance efforts to the SEC for a period of two years.”

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

“Bio-Rad Laboratories failed to detect a bribery scheme and did not properly address red flags that such a scheme was underway. “This enforcement action, which reflects credit for Bio-Rad’s cooperation in our investigation, reiterates the importance of all companies ensuring they have the proper internal controls to prevent FCPA violations.”

Bio-Rad was represented by Douglas Greenburg (Latham & Watkins).

In this release, Norman Schwartz (Bio-Rad President and Chief Executive Officer) stated:

“The actions that we discovered were completely contrary to Bio-Rad’s culture and values and ethical standards for conducting business. We took strong, decisive action to end the problematic practices and prevent anything like this from happening in the future, including terminating involved employees and committing substantial resources to strengthening our compliance functions and financial controls. Bio-Rad prides itself on operating with the highest levels of integrity, and I am pleased that this settlement fully resolves the government’s FCPA investigation and puts this matter behind us.”

The release further states:

“Bio-Rad discovered the potential FCPA violations and self-reported them to the DOJ and SEC in May 2010. The Company subsequently conducted a thorough global investigation with the assistance of independent legal and forensic specialists, terminated involved employees and third party agents, and significantly enhanced its internal controls, procedures, training and compliance functions designed to prevent future violations. The settlement fully resolves all outstanding issues related to these investigations.”

On the day the FCPA enforcement action was announced Bio-Rad’s stock closed up .5%.





November 3rd, 2014

Supreme Court Asked To Review Crime-Fraud Exception To The Attorney-Client Privilege In The Context Of An FCPA Inquiry

This previous post highlighted a Third Circuit decision that Foreign Corrupt Practices Act practitioners should have reviewed regarding the crime-fraud exception to the attorney client privilege.  The litigant in the case has petitioned the Supreme Court to review the decision and in this post Mara Senn (Arnold Porter) highlights the amicus brief she filed in the case on behalf of the National Association of Defense Lawyers (NACDL).

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The issue the Supreme Court is being asked to address is a fascinating, and frightening, crime-fraud issue coming out of the Third Circuit.  Basically, a client approaches a lawyer stating that he is planning to give a bonus to someone at a multilateral bank for helping him get financing and to help speed up a transaction and wants to know whether there is any issue with the payment.  The lawyer comes across something called the FCPA.  He goes back to the client, hands him a copy of the statute, and asks the client whether the banker is a foreign official.  The lawyer says that he is not sure whether the payment is illegal but thinks that the client shouldn’t make it.  The client says that the payment would not violate the FCPA and that he is thinks he is going to make the payment.  The client proceeds to make the payment to the banker’s sister a month later.

The district court ruled that the government could subpoena the attorney to testify because the crime-fraud exception applied and used a “a reasonable basis to suspect” standard of proof.  The district court found that the client had the intent to commit the crime at the time he sought the advice and that he used the legal advice in furtherance of the crime.  The Third Circuit affirmed.  The company is now trying to appeal to the Supreme Court.  In the amicus, we argued that the Supreme Court should take the case because there is a circuit split about the standard of proof to use for the determination of the crime-fraud exception, that the standard of proof needs to be at least probable cause, and that the Third Circuit case sets a dangerous precedent.

Takeaway: As I am sure that most of you would agree, this sounds like a typical situation we all face with our clients.  Our clients are not sure what to do, but may be leaning in one direction or another.  They come to ask us our advice.  We provide some sort of legal advice.  Considering the advice, our clients make a decision about what to do.  This sort of interaction falls within the core of the attorney-client privilege.  However, under the reasoning of the Third Circuit, if there is some suspicion that a client committed a crime after receiving advice, there appears to be a retroactive inference that the client intended to commit the crime at the time he sought the advice, and therefore the government may question the attorney about previous conversations with his client under the theory of the crime-fraud exception.  This of course undermines the purpose of the attorney-client privilege.  The general rule would become that merely having the government suspect you of committing a crime is enough of a justification to allow them to talk to your lawyer about what you said.

Timing:  This case is set for conference at the Supreme Court on November 7, where they will decide whether to hear the case.  Given the corrosive influence this could have on the attorney-client privilege, let’s hope the Court takes the case.

Posted by Mike Koehler at 12:02 am. Post Categories: Attorney Client IssuesGuest Posts