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Its All About Pancourier Services in Shell

The Nigerian customs services has a reputation for being notoriously corrupt. According to this recent report (jointly commissioned by the European Union, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, and the National Bureau of Statistics) “in the case of clearance of goods through customs [in Nigeria], the percentage of business who were requested to pay a bribe is considerable.”

So, what happens when ….

A Nigerian company uses two United Kingdom contractors in connection with a Nigerian project. The U.K. contractors utilize a Swiss company that provides freight forwarding and logistics services. The Swiss company makes payments to Nigerian customs officials to “expedite the delivery of goods and equipment into Nigeria.” The U.K. contractors seek reimbursement from the Nigerian company. The Nigerian company records the payments as “local processing fees” and “administrative / transport charges” on its books and records. The Nigerian company is wholly-owned by a U.K. company based in the Netherlands. The U.K. company based in the Netherlands has ADRs traded on a U.S. exchange. A few low-ranking employees or contract employees located in the U.S. of another subsidiary of the U.K. company based in the Netherlands receive letters or e-mails regarding the payments.

Why of course, $48 million into the U.S. treasury via an FCPA enforcement action even though the FCPA specifically states that the anti-bribery provisions “shall not apply to any facilitating or expediting payment to a foreign official … the purpose of which is to expedite or to secure the performance of a routine governmental action …”

Next up in the analysis of CustomsGate enforcement actions is Shell.

See here for the prior post on the Transocean enforcement action, here for the prior post on the Tidewater enforcement action here for the prior post on the Noble enforcement action and here for the prior post on the GlobalSantaFe enforcement action.

The Shell enforcement action involved both a DOJ and SEC component. Total settlement amount was approximately $48.1 million ($30 million criminal fine via a DOJ deferred prosecution agreement; $18.1 million in disgorgement and prejudgment interest via a SEC administrative order).

DOJ

Criminal Information

The DOJ enforcement action included a criminal information (here) filed against Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company Ltd. (“SNEPCO”), a Nigerian wholly-owned subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell (“RDS”) with headquarters in Nigeria. RDS is a U.K. company based in The Hague, The Netherlands, with ADRs traded on the New York Stock Exchange.

The information alleges that “SNEPCO’s agents, including employees of its U.S. affiliates, while in the territory of the United States, used and caused the use of the mails and means and instrumentalities of interstate commerce and performed other acts for SNEPCO’s benefit in furtherance of the payment of bribes to foreign government officials for the purpose of assisting in obtaining or retaining business for, or directing business, to SNEPCO and others.”

The criminal information relates to “an express door-to-door courier service” called “Pancourier” provided by Panalpina “that expedited the delivery of goods and equipment into Nigeria.” [The Transocean enforcement action here also involved, in part, Pancourier services]. According to the information, “the Pancourier service involved the payment of bribes by [Panalpina] to [Nigerian Customs Service] officials to expedite the delivery of materials by inducing the officials to circumvent the official Nigerian customs clearance process and to provide an improper advantage with respect to the importation of certain tools and materials that were imported into Nigeria.” The information states: “as a result of the payment of bribes, SNEPCO employees knew that official Nigerian duties, taxes, and penalties would not [be] paid when the items were imported.”

According to the information, Panalpina invoiced the “Subsea EPIC Contractor” (a U.K. corporation and SNEPCO’s engineering, procurement, installation and commissioning contractor for subsea services) and the “Topsides EPIC Contractor (a U.K. corporation that provided project management, engineering design, and fabrication services) “for the bribes that it paid to the NCS officials and characterized the payments as, among other things, ‘local processing fees’ or ‘administrative/transport charges.'” The contractors, in turn sought reimbursement from SNEPCO for these charges.

According to the information:

(i) in approximately March 2004 “SNEPCO and SIEP [Shell International Exploration and Production Inc. – a wholly-owned subsidiary of RDS based in Houston] employees … knew, or were substantially certain, that all or a portion of the money paid by the Subsea EPIC Contractor and the Topsides EPIC Contractor to [Panalpina] for the Pancourier service was being paid as bribes to NCS officials to secure an improper advantage with respects to the importation of certain tools and materials that were imported into Nigeria. SNEPCO and SIEP employees were aware that as a result of the payment of bribes, official Nigerian duties, taxes, and penalties were not paid when the items were imported;

(ii) in approximately March 2004 to approximately March 2006 “certain other SNEPCO employees repeatedly authorized the Subsea EPIC Contractor and the Topsides EPIC Contractor to use the Pancourier service. This resulted in the payment of over $2 million to reimburse the subcontractors for charges submitted by [Panalpina]. SNEPCO intended that some or all of this money was to reimburse the subcontractors for the bribes made to NCS officials. The benefit to SNEPCO resulting from the bribes exceeded $7 million.”

(iii) “throughout the relevant time period, SNEPCO recorded the reimbursements for the improper payments to the NCS officials in its books, records, and accounts as ‘local processing fees’ and ‘administrative/transport charges’ among other terms.”

(iv) “at the end of SNEPCO’s fiscal years 2004 through 2006, the books and accounts of SNEPCO containing the false characterizations of the payments to the NCS officials, were incorporated into the books, records and accounts of RDS for purposes of preparing RDS’s consolidated year-end financial statements filed with the SEC.”

Based on the above conduct, the DOJ charged SNEPCO with conspiracy to violate the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions and to knowingly falsify books and records; and aiding and abetting false books and records violation.

In terms of a U.S. nexus, the information charges as follows:

(i) “the Subsea Contract Manager [a U.S. citizen and employee of SIEP] located in Houston, Texas, sent an email to SNEPCO employees in Nigeria authorizing the Subsea EPIC Contractor to use Pancourier to transport electrical equipment, with knowledge of facts indicating that a bribe would be paid through [Panalpina] to the NCS officials to expedite the delivery of materials by inducing the officials to circumvent the Nigerian customs clearance process and which resulted in the non-payment of official Nigerian duties, taxes, and penalties.”

(ii) “the Subsea Contract Engineer [a SIEP contract employee] located in Houston, Texas sent an e-mail to SNEPCO employees in Nigeria authorizing the Subsea EPIC Contractor to use Pancourier to transport miscellaneous parts, with knowledge of facts indicating that a bribe would be paid through [Panalpina] to the NCS officials to expedite the delivery of materials by inducing the officials to circumvent the Nigerian customs clearance process and which resulted in the non-payment of official Nigerian duties, taxes, and penalties.”

(iii) “a Subsea EPIC Contractor employee drafted and sent an e-mail from Nigeria to … the Subsea Contract Manager and Subsea Contract Engineer, in Houston, Texas advising that Pancourier was ‘illegal.'”.

The criminal charges against SNEPCO were resolved via a deferred prosecution agreement (here) between the DOJ, SNEPCO and RDS “on behalf of its wholly-owned subsidiary SNEPCO.”

Deferred Prosecution Agreement

Pursuant to the DPA, SNEPCO admitted, accepted and acknowledged that it was responsible for the acts of its officers, employees, subsidiaries, and agents as set forth above.

The term of the DPA is three years and seven months and it states that the DOJ entered into the agreement “based on the individual facts and circumstances” of the case and SNEPCO. Among the factors stated are the following.

(a) SNEPCO and RDS cooperated with the Department’s investigation of SNEPCO and RDS entities; (b) SNEPCO and RDS undertook remedial measures, including the implementation of an enhanced compliance program, and agreed to undertake further remedial measures …; (c) SNEPCO and RDS agreed to continue to cooperate with the Department in any ongoing investigation …; and (d) the impact on SNEPCO and other RDS entities, including collateral consequences, of a guilty plea or criminal conviction.”

As stated in the DPA, the fine range for the above describe conduct under the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines was $34.2 million to $68.4 million. Pursuant to the DPA, SNEPCO and RDS agreed that SNEPCO shall pay a monetary penalty of $30 million – approximately 15% below the minimum guideline amount.

Pursuant to the DPA, SNEPCO and RDS agreed to a host of compliance undertakings and to report to the DOJ on an annual basis (during the term of the DPA) “on its progress and experience in maintaining and, as appropriate, enhancing its compliance policies and procedures.”

As is standard in FCPA DPAs, SNEPCO and RDS agreed not to make any public statement “contradicting the acceptance of responsibility by SNEPCO as set forth” in the DPA and SNEPCO and RDS further agreed to only issue a press release in connection with the DPA if the DOJ does not object to the release.

SEC

The SEC’s administrative order against RDS and SIEP (here) concerns “violations of the anti-bribery provisions of the FCPA” by SIEP and “the record keeping and internal controls provisions of the FCPA” by RDS.

Both violations concern the same core set of facts as set forth in the DOJ’s DPA. The SEC order states as follows.

“From September 2002 through November 2005, SIEP, on behalf of Shell, authorized the reimbursement or continued use of services provided by a company acting as a customs broker that involved suspicious payments of approximately $3.5 million to officials of the Nigerian Customs Service in order to obtain preferential treatment during the customs process for the purpose of assisting Shell in obtaining or retaining business in Nigeria on Shell’s Bonga Project. As a result of these payments, Shell profited in the amount of approximately $14 million. None of the improper payments was accurately reflected in Shell’s books and records, nor was Shell’s system of internal accounting controls adequate at the time to detect and prevent these suspicious payments.”

According to the SEC, “the Nigerian customs clearance process was routinely delayed, often taking weeks or even months to clear equipment through customs.” Use of the Pancourier service “expedited shipments into Nigeria by about 20 to 39 days.” “A shipment that would take 30 days to clear Nigerian customs using regular air freight could clear customs in as quickly as 10 days using” the Pancourier service.

In summary fashion, the SEC’s order states as follows:

“Shell benefitted through these payments by bypassing the normal customs process and importing equipment into Nigeria faster than Shell would have had the payments not been made. Ultimately, this accelerated Shell’s ability to reach First Oil and provided Shell with the value of its oil production profits sooner than it would have had it not made the payments. By avoiding the payment of certain customs duties through these payments, Shell also benefited by having the use of those funds when Shell would have otherwise had to wait to be reimbursed from the proceeds of oil production. As a result of these payments, Shell profited in the amount of $14,153,536.”

The SEC’s administrative order requires, among other things, the payment of $14,153,536 in disgorgment and $3,995,923 in prejudgment interest.

Ralph Ferrara (here) and Christopher Clark, a former DOJ attorney, (here), both at Dewey & LeBoeuf, represented Shell.

Siemens Related News

Today is the two year anniversary of the Siemens FCPA enforcement action, the largest ever in terms of fines and penalties – $800 million in the U.S. For last year’s post on the one year anniversary see here.

This post discusses recent Siemens related news.

First, a recent Spiegel Online article about continued U.S. interest in individual prosecutions.

Second, and on a much different topic, Siemens’ recent funding of various anti-corruption programs and initiatives pursuant to its World Bank settlement.

Individual Prosecutions

It probably is not the best time to be a former Siemens employee or executive somehow connected with the conduct at issue in 2008 FCPA enforcement action – the largest ever in terms of fines and penalties. Among other things, a November 30th Congressional hearing (here) was devoted (at least in part) to the issue of why no Siemens employees or executives have been charged in connection with the FCPA enforcement action (see here and here),

On this issue, Spiegel Online (here) is reporting that “US authorities are now investigating” former Siemens CEO Heinrich von Pierer, and “other top managers” in connection with the bribery scandal.

The December 9th article states that “a few weeks ago, officials with the U.S. Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission questioned the current supervisory board chairman, Gerhard Cromme, as well as former auditors from the era of large-scale corruption.” According to the article, U.S. investigators “were due to return to Germany this week.”

Spiegel reports that U.S. investigators are specifically interested in “Pierer and Uriel Sharef, the former head of the power plant division, who was also in charge of the company’s South American business” and “Siemens projects in Argentina, Venezuela and Colombia.”

The Siemens enforcement action did include related enforcement actions against Siemens S.A. (Argentina) and Siemens S.A. (Venezuela).

In the Argentina matter (here), the DOJ alleged that Siemens entities made over $31 million in corrupt payments in exchange for favorable business treatment in connection with various government infrastructure projects, including a national identity card project, in Argentina.

In the Venezuela matter (here), the DOJ alleged that Siemens entities made over $18 million in corrupt payments in exchange for favorable business treatment in connection with two major mass transit projects in Venezuela.

The Spiegel article documents Senator Arlen Specter’s May 2010 exchange with Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer about the Siemens matter (see here), but does not mention the above referenced Congressional chaired by Senator Specter.

Doing Good, After Doing Bad

In July 2009, after resolution of the U.S. FCPA enforcement action, Siemens and the World Bank agreed to a settlement (see here) in connection with “corruption in a project in Russia involving a Siemens subsidiary.” The settlement included “a commitment by Siemens to pay $100 million over the next 15 years to support anti-corruption work.”

Last week, Siemens announced (here) the first wave of funding. As noted in the release, $40 million will be distributed to more than 30 initiatives in over 20 countries. (For a list of projects see here).

The release states as follows:

“Projects that will be supported by this initial tranche include assisting the Brazilian organization Instituto Ethos in ensuring the transparent award of the infrastructure contracts for the Football World Cup 2014 and the Olympic Games 2016 in Brazil. In Europe, the newly founded International Anti-Corruption Academy is receiving funding for research and teaching. This Vienna-based international organization was set up to train anti-corruption experts from all over the world.

Other initiatives will be supported in the following countries: Angola, Brazil, China, Egypt, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Italy, Mexico, Nigeria, the Philippines, Russia, the Slovak Republic, South Africa, the Czech Republic, the U.S. and Vietnam and various Middle Eastern states.”

Baker Hughes – Behind the Scenes

In April, 2007, Baker Hughes entities settled related DOJ and SEC FCPA enforcement actions principally related to conduct in Kazakhstan. (See here, here, and here).

As noted in the DOJ release (here), Baker Hughes Services International Inc. (“BHSI”) – a wholly owned subsidiary of Baker Hughes Incorporated – pleaded guilty to violations of the anti-bribery provisions of the FCPA, conspiracy to violate the FCPA, and aiding and abetting the falsification of books and records of its parent company Baker Hughes. The conduct at issue involved “approximately $4.1 million in bribes over approximately a two-year period to an intermediary whom the company understood and believed would transfer all or part of the corrupt payments to an official of Kazakoil, the state-owned oil company.” BHSI agreed to pay a $11 million criminal fine. Baker Hughes entered into a deferred prosecution agreement regarding the same underlying conduct and accepted responsibility for conduct of its employees. As noted in the SEC release (here), Baker Hughes also agreed to pay more than $23 million in disgorgement and prejudgment interest and to pay a civil penalty of $10 million for violating a 2001 Commission cease-and-desist Order prohibiting violations of the books and records and internal controls provisions of the FCPA.

The combined $44 million in fines and penalties was (at the time) the largest monetary sanction ever imposed in an FCPA case.

An April 11, 2007 diplomatic dispatch released by WikiLeaks and published by the U.K. Guardian (here) provides some interesting behind the scenes action that took place prior to the public announcement of the enforcement action.

The cable states, other other things, as follows.

“A Foreign Corrupt Practices Act case involving malfeasance by U.S. oil technology and services firm Baker Hughes in Kazakhstan will soon be settled, revealing details of bribes paid by the firm’s local representatives. Baker Hughes representatives are in Astana to brief Prime Minister Masimov on the case before it becomes public, in hopes of limiting the negative impact on the firm’s ability to work in Kazakhstan. In order to minimize the damage from the case to U.S. investors and the bilateral relationship, post believes it would be helpful to inform the Kazakhstani government that the U.S. government authorized Baker Hughes’ representatives to brief them in advance of the settlement, and to share the text of the decision once it is issued.”

“The Ambassador met with Alan R. Crain, Senior Vice President and General Counsel of Baker Hughes Incorporated, and Amb. Beth Jones, Executive Vice President of APCO Worldwide, on April 10 in Astana to discuss a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) case involving Baker Hughes’ work in Kazakhstan. Crain and Jones informed the Ambassador that they would meet with Prime Minister Masimov later that day to brief him on the upcoming U.S. court decision in the case. They had met with Masimov on January 9 to inform him that legal proceedings were underway in the U.S., and now planned to share the details. They stated that the Department of Justice and the SEC had authorized both meetings.”

“Jones and Crain said that their goal in briefing PM Masimov was to demonstrate the respect that Baker Hughes as an investor has for Kazakhstan and its laws, and thereby ensure that the firm will still be able to operate here and that its employees will not face harassment. They will also emphasize the fact that the investigation centered on commercial malfeasance and did not reveal the involvement of any high-ranking Kazakhstani government officials. After the Masimov meeting took place, Jones contacted the Ambassador to relay Masimov’s request that the Embassy convey the court decision as soon as it is released.”

The cable also states as follows.

“Crain told the Ambassador that a former employee of Baker Hughes filed a report with the SEC in August 2003 detailing alleged malfeasance in several overseas subsidiaries, including Kazakhstan.” “Four separate incidents were discovered during the internal investigation, the second of which is the basis of the legal proceedings currently underway in the U.S.”

The DOJ enforcement action relates only to Kazakhstan. The SEC’s enforcement action also relates to conduct in Indonesia, Nigeria, and Angola as well.

As to the agent at the center of the Kazakhstan payments, see this related story from the U.K. Guardian.

RAE Systems Held Liable For The Acts Of Its Subsidiaries’ Joint Venture Partners

If every company voluntarily disclosed that its distant subsidiaries and/or its distant subsidiaries’ joint venture partners provided minor things of value (such as a notebook computer, kitchen appliances, and business suits) to someone deemed a “foreign official” by the enforcement agencies, then instead of 15 to 20 core FCPA enforcement actions per year, there would probably be something like 150 to 200 FCPA enforcement actions per year.

If every issuer voluntarily disclosed that its internal controls were imperfect as to distant subsidiaries or its distant subsidiaries’ joint venture partners, and that such distant entities failed to follow issuer instructions or issuer provided training and guidance, then instead of 15 to 20 core FCPA enforcement actions per year, there would probably be something like 1,500 to 2,000 FCPA enforcement actions per year (recognizing that the FCPA’s books and records and internal control provisions equally apply to domestic operations).

So why did RAE Systems voluntarily disclose such conduct to the DOJ and the SEC? Would it not have been more efficient and cost-effective for the company to effectively remedy these issues internally?

Do the high professional expenses connected with voluntary disclosures (compared to effectively remedying issues internally) have anything to do with the increase in voluntary disclosures? (See here for a prior post on the issue). In RAE Systems annual report for the year ended December 31, 2009 (see here), filed in March 2010, the company disclosed that it had (at that point) incurred $4 million in professional fees in connection with the FCPA investigation.

From an enforcement standpoint, is the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act becoming an all-purpose corporate governance instrument? Should it?

These are some of the questions raised by the odd RAE Systems enforcement action.

Last Friday, the DOJ and SEC announced (see here and here) a joint enforcement against RAE System (a San-Jose, California based company with shares on the New York Stock Exchange) “a leading global provider of rapidly deployable connected, intelligent gas detection systems that enable real-time safety and security threat detection.” (See here for the company website). In September, RAE Systems signed a definitive agreement to be acquired by Battery Ventures. The transaction is expected to close by the end of the first quarter of 2011.

This post summarizes the DOJ and SEC enforcement actions in which RAE Systems agreed to pay approximately $2.95 million in fines and disgorgement.

DOJ

Pursuant to a three-year non-prosecution agreement, RAE Systems acknowledged its “knowing violations of the internal controls and books and records provisions” of the FCPA “arising from and related to improper benefits corruptly paid by employees of two joint ventures majority owned and controlled by RAE Systems to foreign officials of departments, agencies, and instrumentalities” of the Chinese government.” Pursuant to the NPA, RAE Systems agreed to pay a $1.7 million penalty.

According to the NPA, RAE Systems “had significant operations” in China organized “under a holding company called RAE Asia, headquartered in Hong Kong.” RAE Systems “sold products and services in mainland [China] primarily through second-tier subsidiaries organized as joint ventures with local Chinese entities.

One of the joint ventures is RAE-KLH (Beijing) Co., Limited (“RAE-KLH”). RAE Systems acquired a 64% stake in RAE-KLH in 2004 and upped the stake to approximately 96% in 2006. The other joint venture is RAE Coal Mine Safety Instruments (Fushun) Co., Ltd. (“RAE-Fushun”). In 2006, RAE Systems acquired a 70% interest in RAE Fushan.

Both RAE-KLH’s and RAE Fushun’s financial results were included in the consolidated financial statements that RAE Systems filed with the SEC.

According to the NPA, “a significant number of RAE-KLH’s and RAE Fushun’s customers” in China were “government departments and bureaus and large state-owned agencies and instrumentalties.” The NPA states as follows. “The Lanzhous City Honggu Mining Safety Bureau, for example, was a government customer. Other government clients included regional fire departments, emergency response departments, and entities under the supervision of the provincial environmental agency, among others. Accordingly, officers and employees of a significant number of RAE-KLH’s and RAE Fushun’s customers were ‘foreign officials’ within the meaning of the FCPA …”.

The NPA then contains a heading that states, “RAE System’s Knowing Failure to Implement Systems of Effective Internal Controls at RAE-KLH and RAE Fushun Post Closing.”

The NPA then cites various company documents that suggest RAE was aware that KLH sales personnel were making kickbacks or otherwise engaging in questionable sales tactics with its customers. The NPA cites a document from a RAE Systems employee from the United States who met with KLH personnel that stated “we knew this risk all along and have accepted it upon entering the JV deal.”

Following the acquisition, the NPA states that “RAE Systems did provide some FCPA training to RAE-KLH personnel and did tell RAE-KLH personnel to stop paying bribes and providing other improper benefits, but such steps were half-measures.” The NPA states that “RAE Systems did not impose sufficient internal controls or make sufficient changes to high-risk practices.”

As to RAE-Fushun, the NPA states that “RAE Systems did not conduct pre-acquisition corruption due diligence of RAE Fushun” but that “given RAE’s System’s experience with KLH described above, the high-risk nature of the location, and the existence of numerous government customers, pre-acquisition corruption-focused due diligence was merited. The NPA further states “as was later confirmed, improper business practices had occurred at RAE Fushun before the acquisition and continued post-acquisition, as RAE Systems failed to implement an effective system of internal controls at RAE Fushun.”

Based on the above facts, the NPA states that “RAE Systems knowingly failed to implement a system of effective internal accounting controls at RAE-KLH and RAE Fushun…”.

According to the NPA, the “lack of effective internal accounting controls permitted improper payments to continue at RAE-KLH and RAE-Fushun after acquisition.”

As to RAE-KLH, the NPA states that certain sales representatives at RAE-KLH “used cash advances and reimbursements for improper purposes, including the corrupt giving of gifts and paying for entertainment, as well as direct or indirect payments to customers.” According to the NPA, “the gifts included, among other things, a notebook computer for the son of the deputy director of a state-owned chemical plant as part of efforts to obtain business from that entity.” The NPA also states that RAE-KLH made payments under contracts with a purported consultant and that some or all of the payments were funneled to officials of a state-owned enterprise and government departments.

As to RAE Fushun, the NPA likewise statements that certain sales representatives at RAE Fushun “used cash advances and reimbursements for improper purposes including the corrupt giving of gifts and paying for entertainment, as well as making direct or indirect payments, to officers and employees of customers.” According to the NPA, “these gifts to certain officials of state-owned enterprises and government departments included, among other things, a variety of luxury items, such as jade, fur coats, kitchen appliances, business suits, and high-priced liquor.”

The NPA then states that the “lack of effective internal controls and continued improper payments led to inaccurate books and records.”

During the three-year term of the NPA, RAE Systems agreed to undertake a host of compliance reforms and to report to the DOJ on an annual basis.

The DOJ agreed to enter into the NPA “based in part, on the following factors: (a) RAE System’s timely, voluntary, and complete disclosure …; (b) RAE System’s thorough, real-time cooperation with the DOJ and SEC; (c) the extensive remedial efforts already undertaken and to be undertaken by RAE Systems; and (d) RAE System’s commitment to submit periodic monitoring reports to the DOJ.”

SEC

The SEC’s complaint (here) is based on the same core set of facts described above. It charges RAE Systems, not only with FCPA books and records and internal control violations, but anti-bribery violations as well.

The complaint begins by alleging that “from 2004 through 2008” RAE Systems violated the FCPA “by paying, through two of its joint venture entities in China, approximately $400,000 to third party agents and government officials in China to influence acts or decisions by foreign officials to obtain or retain business for RAE Systems.” According to the complaint, the payments “were made primarily by the direct sales force utilized by RAE Systems” at its two Chinese joint-venture entities: RAE-KLH and RAE-Fushun.

According to the SEC, RAE System’s “illicit payments to government officials and third-party agents generated revenues worth over $3 million and gross margin of $1,147,800.”

The complaint states: “While the payments were made exclusively in China and were conducted by Chinese employees of RAE-KLH and RAE-Fushun, RAE Systems was aware of significant indications of ongoing bribery at RAE-KLH. At the time, RAE Systems failed to effectively investigate these indications, or red flags, and to stop the bribery from continuing. RAE System’s failure to act on these significant red flags allowed, at least in part, bribery to continue at RAE-KLH.”

RAE Systems was held liable for RAE-KLH’s improper payments even though the SEC complaint states that “RAE Systems Instruct[ed] KLH Personnel to Stop Bribery Practices.” According to the SEC, “while RAE Systems communicated these instructions to RAE-KLH personnel, RAE Systems did not impose sufficient internal controls or make any changes to the practice of sales personnel obtaining cash advances.” According to the SEC, RAE System’s CFO visited RAE-KLH’s Chinese facilities and observed that certain cash advances may be used for “grease payments, to supplement sales employees’ incomes and as bribes.” In response, RAE Systems, “implemented FCPA compliance training and required each RAE-KLH employee to certify that he or she did not engage in bribery practices.” However, the SEC alleged “again, however, [RAE Systems] did not impose sufficient internal controls or make changes to the practice of sales personnel obtaining cash advances.”

Without admitting or denying the SEC’s allegations, RAE Systems agreed to pay $1,147,800 in disgorgement (plus $109,212 in prejudgment interest) and to undertake a host of FCPA compliance measures.

Cheryl Scarboro (Chief of the SEC’s FCPA Unit) stated as follows. “RAE Systems develops products to detect harmful emissions, yet it did not have adequate measures in place to detect and root out internal wrongdoing. Companies that fail to respond to red flags can be held liable for the acts of their joint venture partners.”

Carlos Ortiz (a former DOJ attorney now at LeClair Ryan – here) and Roy McDonald (DLA Piper – here) represented RAE Systems.

Lots Of Talk … But What Is It?

With the International Corruption Hunters Alliance meetings in Washington, D.C. and with International Anti-Corruption Day, there has been lots of talk this week about “bribery” and “corruption” and seeking ways to eliminate it.

Sounds good.

The problem is – how to eliminate something on which there is little agreement – just what is meant by “bribery” and “corruption.”

All would agree that providing a suitcase full of cash to government leaders to get government contracts is “bribery” and “corruption” – yet, perhaps at the risk of oversimplification, that is where the consensus seems to stop.

Are expediting or facilitating payments (so-called grease payments) to get things done that should be done anyway “bribery” and “corruption”?

The FCPA says no (whether the DOJ and SEC agree with that is subject to dispute). The U.K. Bribery Act says yes.

A company does business in Kyrgyzstan. Pursuant to local law, the “Tax Inspection Police” conduct periodic audits. During such an audit, a corrupt tax official threatens to assess penalties and shut down the company’s office unless it makes cash payments to the official. The company acquiesces and makes a payment so that it can continue to do business in the foreign jurisdiction. Has the company engaged in “corruption” and “bribery”? Apparently so (see here) – do you agree?

A company seeking business with a state-owned enterprise in China arranges and pays for employees of the enterprise to travel to popular tourist destinations in the U.S., including Hawaii, Las Vegas, and New York City. Did the company engage in “corruption” and “bribery”? Apparently so (see here). However, if the same company was seeking business with a private enterprise, not an alleged state-owned enterprise, some would call this effective sales and marketing. Can the same payment be legal if given to person x, yet “corruption” and “bribery” if given to person y?

A company does business in Venezuela with a government owned entity pursuant to a bona fide contract. The company provided legitimate, value added services to the government entity pursuant to the contract, but is having difficulty collecting outstanding receivables. A mid-level employee at the government entity is holding up payment, but indicates that for a cash payment, he will release funds due. The company makes the payment. Did the company engage in “corruption” and “bribery”? Apparently so (see here).

Talking about “corruption” and “bribery” is easy.

Addressing it, tackling it, hunting it down is the difficult part, particularly since reasonable minds reasonably differ on what “corruption” and “bribery” even means.

One of the best quotes I’ve seen on this topic is from the late Theodore Sorensen (see here for the prior post). He noted that “there will be countless situations in which a fair-minded investigator or judge will be hard-put to determine whether a particular payment or practice is a legitimate and permissible business activity or a means of improper influence.” He then listed numerous examples, and concluded as follows: “reasonable men and even angels will differ on the answers to these and similar questions – at the very least such distinctions should make us less sweeping in our judgments and less confident of our solutions.”

For a sampling of this week’s speeches about “bribery” and “corruption” see the following.

Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer (here) at International Anti-Corruption Day. Speaking to the private sector, Breuer stated as follows. “To lead the world’s anti-corruption efforts by example. I have been told that some companies complain that they do not understand what it means to violate the FCPA. This may be an acceptable legal argument to make or litigation position to advance. But I am asking you, my friends, to do more than try and test the edges of the law. I am asking you to conduct business responsibly across the globe, and to fulfill your commitment to work against corruption in all its forms. Indeed, you are on the front lines of this fight.”

Acting Deputy Attorney General Gary Grindler (here) at the International Corruption Hunters Alliance meeting. (In case you have not yet heard that: (i) the DOJ has recently charged more than 50 individuals and collected nearly $2 billion in fines and penalties; (ii) the DOJ is using every available investigative technique to pursue FCPA cases; and (iii) the DOJ rewards self-disclosure and cooperation).

Senator Patrick Leahy (here) at the International Corruption Hunters Alliance meeting. Among other things, Senator Leahy notes that the U.S. is not immune from “corruption” and that the U.S. has “not always” lead by example.

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