Earlier this week, $12.3 million flowed into the U.S. treasury.
Because a German company used to have shares and bonds registered with the SEC. The German company had a German subsidiary that invested in an Indonesian joint venture. The Indonesian joint venture made, without any apparent knowledge or approval of the German company, alleged improper payments to employees of state-owned entities in Indonesia between seven to eleven years ago. When the German company learned of suspicious account activity at the Indonesian joint venture seven years ago, it directed the joint venture to close the suspicious account. The joint venture agreed to close the account and stop making the payments, even though it continued to make the payments through 2008.
The above paragraph pretty much explains the SEC’s Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement action earlier this week against Allianz SE , a German company engaged in property and casualty insurance, life and health insurance, and asset management businesses around the world.
From November 2000 to October 2009, Allianz’s American Depositary Shares and bonds were registered with the SEC and it was thus an “issuer” under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
In 1989 PT Asuransi Allianz Utama Indonesia (“Utama”) was formed as a joint venture. JV members included Allianz of Asia-Pacific and Africa GmbH (AZAP – a German company and a wholly-owned subsidiary of Allianz), PT Asuransi Jasa Indonesia (“Jasindo”) (“an Indonesian state-owned entity) and PT Asuransi Wuwungan. According to the SEC, during the relevant time period, AZAP owned 75% of Utama.
In the administrative cease and desist order (here) announced (here) earlier this week, the SEC found improper payments by Utama to employees of state-owned entities in Indonesia in order to obtain or retain business. The order also found that the payments were improperly recorded and that Allianz failed to devise and maintain a sufficient system of internal controls.
The SEC order states, in summary, as follows.
“These proceedings arise out of violations of the books and records and internal controls provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) by Allianz SE (“Allianz” or the “Company”), through its Indonesian majority-owned subsidiary, PT Asuransi Allianz Utama (“Utama”). Between 2001 and 2008, Utama managers made improper payments to employees of state-owned entities in Indonesia in order to obtain and retain business. Allianz learned of the improper payments from two complaints made several years apart. The first complaint was submitted in 2005 alleging significant misconduct, including unsupported payments to agents. A subsequent audit of Utama’s accounting records uncovered that managers at Utama were using “special purpose accounts” to make illicit payments, many to government officials, in order to secure business in Indonesia. Despite the audit, the conduct continued. The second complaint was lodged in 2009 to Allianz’s external auditors and alleged that Allianz created illicit off-the-books accounts. In response, Allianz began an internal investigation. The Commission staff opened an investigation in April 2010 after receiving an anonymous complaint of possible FCPA violations. The investigation determined that from at least 2001 through December 2008, the Utama managers, with the assistance of others in the Indonesian office, made payments to employees of state-owned entities in Indonesia to procure or retain insurance contracts related to large government projects in Indonesia. As a result of improper payments of approximately $650,626 to agents and employees of state-owned entities and others, Allianz realized $5,315,649 in profits. The payments were improperly recorded as legitimate transaction costs, thereby causing Allianz’s books and records to be inaccurate. Allianz failed to devise and maintain a system of internal controls sufficient to provide reasonable assurances to detect and prevent such payments.”
The order contains the following additional facts.
“In 1989, Allianz established Utama and continued the practice of using special purpose accounts for paying commissions to agents that generated business for Allianz. However, in February 2001, Indonesian Agent, an agent for Utama, Utama CEO 1 [a German citizen who was the Utama CEO from 1998 to 2001] and Utama’s Chief Financial Officer opened a separate, off-the-books account in the Indonesian Agent’s name (the “Agent special purpose account”). The Agent special purpose account was used to make improper payments to employees of Indonesian state-owned entities and others for the purpose of obtaining and retaining insurance contracts. In February 2001, Indonesian Agent and Utama CEO 1 executed a “Paying Agency Agreement” that set up the scheme to make the payments to employees of state-owned entities. This agreement established the off-the-books account that served as a slush fund to make bribe payments to foreign officials and others as instructed by Utama.”
Under the heading “Utama’s 2001-2005 Improper Payments” the order states, in pertinent part, as follows.
“During the period 2001 to 2005, Utama Marketing Manager [an Indonesian citizen] made payments from the Agent special purpose account to account introducers employed by state-owned entities to secure insurance contracts on large government projects in Indonesia. Utama Marketing Manager received approval from Utama management to use the Agent special purpose account for improper purposes. Utama CEO 2, the CEO from 2003-2006, was aware of the Agent special purpose account and the improper payments to foreign officials. […] The improper payments made to foreign officials were disguised in the Utama insurance contracts as “overriding commissions.” Despite the fact that Allianz has a majority share of Utama and consolidated the subsidiary’s accounts into its own books and records, Utama’s accounting system was maintained in Indonesia and Allianz did not have effective controls over the accounting. Allianz did not have the ability to access Utama’s accounting system and, therefore, did not detect the movement of funds to the Agent special purpose account. In addition, the Agent special purpose account was maintained in the name of the Indonesian Agent to make it appear that all movement of funds to this account was for legitimate commission payments. Likewise, Allianz did not have effective controls over the commission payment request process, which allowed payments to go to the Agent special purpose account without supporting documentation. […] On December 1, 2005, a whistleblower complaint concerning the special purpose account was submitted to both the Allianz whistleblower hotline and Utama’s joint venture partner Jasindo, and then forwarded to the head of AZAP. The complaint itemized a number of control weaknesses, most notably, the existence of the Agent special purpose account and its lack of transparency. On December 8, 2005, Allianz Group Audit initiated an audit of the Indonesian office; however, the review was limited to embezzlement from the Company. […] However, no additional steps were taken to determine the nature and purpose of the accounts or to identify the recipients of payments from the accounts. On December 12, 2005, based on the audit findings Allianz directed the Utama management to close the Agent special purpose account. Although the Utama management agreed to close the account and to stop making the payments, it continued making improper payments to secure business for Allianz through 2008.”
Under the heading “Utama’s Post-2005 Improper Payments” the order states, in pertinent part, as follows.
“Despite the directive to close the account and to stop making payments, Utama Marketing Manager continued to use the Agent special purpose account to make improper payments to foreign officials from 2005 to 2008. […] Utama CEO 2 approved the continued use of the Agent special purpose account to make payments on the two government insurance contracts at issue. Later, Utama Marketing Manager and his staff expanded the improper payments to numerous other foreign officials on government insurance contracts. From 2005 to 2008, Utama Marketing Manager employed various methods to make payments to foreign officials. In addition to booking payments through the Agent special purpose account, Utama Marketing Manager made payments by either: 1) booking commissions to an agent that was not associated with the account for the government insurance contract and then withdrawing the funds booked to the agent’s account as cash to pay the foreign official; or 2) overstating the amount of a client’s insurance premium, booking the excess amount to an unallocated account and then “reimbursing” the excess funds to the foreign officials, who were responsible for procuring the government insurance contracts. Similar to the Agent special purpose account, Allianz did not have effective controls over the Utama accounting system or the commission payment process, which allowed payments to be made to an agent’s account without supporting documentation. Allianz did not have any controls over the use of the unallocated account that was maintained at Utama. As a result, Utama Marketing Manager was able to take funds from Utama to pay foreign officials without detection. In March 2009, Allianz’s outside auditor received an anonymous complaint alleging that an Allianz executive created or initiated slush funds during his tenure with AZAP. Between December 2005, when the Allianz Executive Vice-President of the Asia-Pacific Division directed Utama to close the Agent special purpose account and the March 2009 Whistleblower complaint, Allianz took no steps to ensure that the Agent special purpose account was closed and that similar improper payments were not being made.”
Under the heading “Investigation and Remediation” the order states, in full, as follows.
“In response to the March 2009 Whistleblower complaint, Allianz convened a Whistleblower Committee to do an internal investigation and retained counsel to conduct an internal investigation of Utama’s payment practices in Indonesia. Allianz did not report the conduct to the Commission staff. In April 2010, the staff opened an investigation after receiving an anonymous complaint of possible FCPA violations. The staff contacted Allianz concerning the allegations. Allianz’s cooperation in the staff’s investigation and the timeliness of its response to the Commission’s requests for documents and information improved over time. Allianz hired new counsel and took steps to further its cooperation and remedial efforts. The staff’s investigation uncovered 295 government insurance contracts that were obtained or retained by improper payments of approximately $650,626 to Indonesian government officials and others from 2001 through 2008. As stated above, in some instances the nature of the improper payments was disguised in invoices as an “overriding commission” or as a commission for an agent that was not associated with the government insurance contract. In other instances the improper payments were structured as an overpayment by the government insurance contract holder, who was later “reimbursed” for the overpayment. The excess funds were then paid to foreign officials, who were responsible for procuring the government insurance contracts. Allianz took various remedial measures, including employment action against several individuals who were involved in the conduct or failed to stop the conduct. Allianz issued new or enhanced FCPA compliance and internal accounting control policies and procedures, including mandating strict scrutiny of payments to third party intermediaries. Allianz also updated the anti-corruption clause in its third-party contracts to specifically refer to the FCPA. Allianz provided enhanced FCPA compliance training to its employees and improved its current global anti-corruption compliance program.”
Under the heading, “FCPA Violations” the order states, in pertinent part, as follows.
“Utama, a majority-owned subsidiary of Allianz, made improper payments to foreign officials to obtain or retain government insurance contracts. Utama improperly recorded the payments as legitimate transaction costs. Utama’s financial statements were consolidated into Allianz’s financial statements. As a result of the conduct described above, Allianz violated Section 13(b)(2)(A) of the Exchange Act, which requires issuers to keep accurate books, records and accounts. Further, as evidenced by the extent and duration of Utama’s improper payments and their improper recordation, and the fact that Allianz was not aware that Utama’s commission payment request process allowed funds to be diverted for improper payments, Allianz failed to recognize the compliance risks posed by Utama. Allianz also failed to devise and maintain an effective system of internal controls sufficient to provide reasonable assurances that improper payments were not being made by its subsidiary. As a result of the conduct described above, Allianz violated Section 13(b)(2)(B) of the Exchange Act, which requires issuers to devise and maintain a sufficient system of internal accounting controls. […] Section 13(b)(2)(A) of the Exchange Act does not require that the amounts involved be “material,” nor is it necessary to prove “scienter” under its provisions. SEC v. World-Wide Coin Invs. Ltd., 567 F. Supp. 724, 749-51 (N.D. Ga. 1983). Similarly, there is no scienter requirement for establishing a violation of Section 13(b)(2)(B).
According to the SEC release, “without admitting or denying the findings, Allianz agreed to cease and desist from further violations and pay disgorgement of $5,315,649, prejudgment interest of $1,765,125, and a penalty of $5,315,649 for a total of $12,396,423.”
See here for a prior guest post discussing the Dodd-Frank provision granting the SEC authority to impose civil monetary penalties in administrative proceedings such as the Allianz matter.
There is much to analyze in the nine-page cease and desist order.
For starters, the SEC required disgorgement even though no FCPA anti-bribery violations were alleged or asserted. This prior post highlighted an article concerning “no-charged bribery disgorgement” by various Debevoise & Plimpton attorneys, including Paul Berger (here) a former Associate Director of the SEC Division of Enforcement. The article concluded that “settlements invoking disgorgement but charging no primary anti-bribery violations push the law’s boundaries, as disgorgement is predicated on the common-sense notion that an actual, jurisdictionally-cognizable bribe was paid to procure the revenue identified by the SEC in its complaint.” The article noted that such “no-charged bribery disgorgement settlements appear designed to inflict punishment rather than achieve the goals of equity.”
Your first reaction might be – the SEC could have charged Allianz with FCPA anti-bribery violations given the findings of the cease and desist order, but choose not to. If that is your reaction, based on the information in the cease and desist order, you are wrong.
Contrary to popular misperception, the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions apply to foreign issuers only to the extent “mails or any means or instrumentality of interstate commerce” are used in connection with the improper payments. The SEC’s order does not contain any findings concerning any U.S. nexus in regards to the payments at issue.
The above paragraph, in addition to the notion that the SEC’s order does not contain any findings to suggest willful violations of the FCPA’s books and records or internal control provisions, helps explain the lack of DOJ involvement in the matter. Nevertheless, some (see here) used the “d” word (as in declination) in describing the DOJ’s decision not to bring charges against Allianz. However, for the reasons explained above, there appears to have been no criminal charges to bring against Allianz. This is not a declination.
In this regard, the Allianz enforcement action is similar to the 2011 enforcement action against Diageo (see here for the prior post).
According to this Wall Street Journal Corruption Currents post, “Claudius Sokenu of Arnold & Porter LLP conducted the company’s internal investigation and Joel Cohen of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP was brought in subsequently to assist as the company neared a resolution.”