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Authorizing Improper Payments … You Can’t Do That Either!

The FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions prohibit one from offering to pay, paying, or promising to pay “anything of value” to a “foreign official” to “obtain or retain business.”

As highlighted by the SEC’s recent settled enforcement action against Oscar Meza (the former Director of Asia-Pacific Sales for Faro Technologies, Inc.), the anti-bribery provisions also prohibit one from “authorizing” such payments or offer of payments as well.

According to an SEC complaint (see here), this is exactly what Meza did when the company’s new China Country Manager requested permission to “do business the Chinese way,” a term, the SEC alleges, Meza understood to mean that the Country Manager was requesting permission to pay kickbacks and other things of value to potential Chinese customers in order to obtain sales contracts.

The SEC’s complaint alleges that Meza’s authorizations resulted in Faro-China’s payment of approximately $450,000 in improper payments to … you guessed it …”employees of Chinese state-owned companies.” (see para. 12). According to the complaint, not only did Meza authorize these payments, but he also instructed Faro-China’s staff to alter account entries to conceal the true nature of the payments. (see paras 15-16). Further, in language sure to make any defense lawyer cringe, Meza allegedly sent an e-mail to the Country Manager lamenting that “someone will notice [the payments] one day and we may all be in trouble.” (para 14).

Based on the above conduct, the SEC charged Meza with violating the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions and books and records and internal control provisions, and aiding and abetting Faro’s violations of these same provisions.

Without admitting or denying the SEC’s allegations, Meza consented to entry of a final judgment enjoining him from violating the FCPA and aiding and abetting such violations. According to the SEC release (see here) Meza was ordered to pay a $30,000 civil penalty as well as approximately $27,000 in disgorgement and pre-judgment interest (a figure no doubt attributed to the fact that Meza received, in addition to a base salary, a sales commission based on the value of sales contracts awarded to Faro-China – including contracts with Chinese government-owned companies).

This is not the first time FCPA followers have heard about Faro Technologies or the above factual scenario. In June 2008, the company (based on the same core set of facts as above) (i) agreed to a DOJ non-prosecution agreement and paid a $1.1 criminal penalty (see here); and (ii) consented to the entry of an SEC cease and desist order and agreed to pay $1.85 million in disgorgement and pre-judgment interest (see here).

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