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Kyrgyzstan, Thailand, Tobacco, and Piranha Fishing

The SEC announced today (see here) an FCPA enforcement action involving “multiple payments of bribes to foreign officials in Kyrgyzstan and Thailand by senior executives and employees of Dimon, Inc. (“Dimon”) and Standard Commercial Corporation (“Standard”), predecessor companies of Alliance One International, Inc. (“Alliance One”), during the period from 1996 through 2004 in violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act…”

In 2005, Dimon and Standard merged to form Alliance One (see here) and its stock is listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

Kyrgyzstan

According to the SEC complaint (see here), “from 1996 through 2004, Dimon International Kyrgyzstan (“DIK”), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Dimon, paid more than $3 million in bribes to Kyrgyzstan government officials in order to purchase Kyrgyz tobacco for resale to Dimon’s largest customers.”

The complaint alleges that “these payments were made to various government officials, including officials of the JSC GAK Kyrgyztamekisi (“Tamekisi”) [an entity established by the Kyrgyz government that had authority to issue and control licenses for the fermentation and export of tobacco] and local public official (“Akims”)” and “DIK also made improper payments to Kyrgyzstan tax officials.”

According to the compliant: (i) defendant Bobby Elkin Jr., Dimon’s country manager, “authorized, directed, and made these bribes in Kyrgyzstan through a DIK bank account under his name (the “Special Account);” (ii) defendant Baxter Myers, Dimon’s Regional Financial Director, “authorized all fund transfers from a Dimon subsidiary’s bank account to the Special Account;” and (iii) defendant Thomas Reynolds, Dimon’s International Controller, “formalized the accounting methodology used to record the payments made from the Special Account for purposes of internal reporting by Dimon.”

The complaint alleges that in September 1996 “the Kyrgyzstan government imposed a requirement that all exporters of fermented tobacco have an export license,” and that “Tamekisi acted as the issuing authorize and controlled the issuance of export licenses, thus effectively controlling all tobacco purchases in Kyrgyzstan.”

According to the complaint, Elkin “periodically delivered bags filled with $100 bills to a high-ranking Tamekisi official” and that from 1996 to 2004, Elkin, on behalf of Dimon, “paid more than $2.6 million to a high-ranking Tamekisi official…” The complaint also alleges that Elkin “also paid bribes to local government officials in Kyrgyzstan known as the Akims, who controlled the tobacco regions.” The complaint says that “DIK needed the support and consent from each local Akim in order to continue to purchase tobacco from local growers or agricultural collectives” and that “as governors, Akims had the power and influence to prevent the purchase of tobacco in the region, even if a company had an export license.” The complaint also states that “Akims could also send the police to block the entrance to buying stations or install a lock box to prevent the transfer of tobacco.” According to the complaint, “Elkin authorized and paid more than $260,000 to the Akims…”

Finally (at least as to Kyrgyzstan), the complaint details how DIK was “frequently subjected to audits by Kyrgyz tax officials” and that “during one audit, the tax officials determined that DIK failed to submit two reports to the tax office.” Accordingly, the complaint states that the tax officials imposed an approximate $172,000 fine against DIK and the “tax authorities also threatened to seize DIK’s bank accounts and tobacco inventory for tax violations.” However, according to the complaint, “the tax authorities later offered to reduce the tax penalties levied against DIK in exchange for a cash payment.” The complaint then alleges that Elkin “made a cash payment to the tax authorities” and that from 1996 through 2004 Elkin, on behalf of Dimon, “paid approximately $82,850 to Kyrgyz tax officials.”

According to the complaint, although the Special Account used to make the above-described payments “was funded by a Dimon subsidiary in the United Kingdom, the financial reporting on the Special Account by that subsidiary, and all other consolidated subsidiaries, went directly to Dimon’s corporate headquarters in the United States…”

Thailand

The complaint also alleges that “from 2000 to 2003, Dimon paid bribes of approximately $542,590 to government officials of the Thailand Tobacco Monopoly (“TPM”) in exchange for obtaining approximately $9.4 million in sales contracts.” According to the complaint, defendant Tommy Williams, Dimon’s Senior Vice President of Sales, “directed the sales of tobacco from Brazil and Malawi to the TTM through Dimon’s agent in Thailand” and that he “authorized the payment of bribes to TTM officials and characterized the payments as commissions paid to Dimon’s agent in Thailand.”

The complaint alleges that a “portion of Dimon’s selling price to the TTM” included “kickbacks paid as commissions through Dimon’s agent to certain members of the TTM in exchange for the sales contracts.” The complaint alleges that these bribes to the TTM were authorized “by Dimon’s U.S. and Brazilian personnel,” in particular Williams.

The complaint also alleges that “Williams also knew about a purported business trip to Brazil that actually was a sightseeing trip arranged by Dimon and others for TTM officials.” According to the complaint, the “sightseeing trip occurred in May 2000 and included, among other things, trekking in the Amazon jungle, piranha fishing, and visits to Argentina and various Brazilian waterfalls.” The complaint also alleges that in 2002 Williams arranged a trip for a TTM delegation to travel from Bangkok to Brazil “purportedly to look at tobacco blends and samples.” According to the complaint, “the return portion of the TTM delegation’s trip included a one-week stay in Madrid and Rome that was unrelated to the inspection and purchase of tobacco by the TTM.”

Based on the above conduct, the SEC charged Elkin, Myers, Reynolds, and Williams for violating the SEC’s antibribery provisions and for aiding and abetting violations of the FCPA’s internal controls and books and records provisions.

According to the SEC release, “without admitting or denying the allegations” in the complaint, Elkin, Myers, Reynolds, and Williams consented to the entry of final judgments permanently enjoining violations of the FCPA. Myers and Reynolds also agreed to pay a civil monetary penalty of $40,000 each.

The SEC release notes that the settlement with Elkin “takes into account his cooperation” with the SEC’s investigation and “acknowledges of the assistance” of the DOJ and the FBI.

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This is the second SEC FCPA enforcement action of the year which seems, according to the facts, to be based, in whole or in part, on extortion or something close to it. For a previous post on the NATCO enforcement action (see here). In addition, earlier this week I had a post “Facilitating Payments or Bribes” (see here). The Kyrgyzstan facts would seem relevant to that issue.

The FCPA, as part of the securities laws, has a statute of limitations of five years. The conduct at issue occured between 1996 and 2004. Perhaps there was a tolling agreement in place or perhaps this is another example where it is difficult to square black-letter law concepts with an FCPA enforcement action.

Daimler Under Investigation in Russia

Earlier this month, Damiler AG and certain of its subsidiaries resolved DOJ and SEC FCPA enforcement actions (see here for prior posts).

While Daimler escaped FCPA antibribery charges and did not have to plead guilty to anything (it was offered a deferred prosecution agreement), DaimlerChrysler Automotive Russia SAO (“DCAR”)(now known as Mercedes-Benz Russia SAO) pleaded guilty to a criminal information charging conspiracy and FCPA antibribery violations.

The charged conduct focused on Daimler’s and DCAR’s relationships with: “the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs (“MVD”) a department and agency of the Russian government principally responsible for police, militia, immigration and other functions” including supervising the “Russian traffic police; “the Special Purpose Garage (“SPG”) an ‘instrumenality’ of the Russian government”; “Machinoimport a Russian government-owned and controlled purchasing agent for the City of Moscow,” an “instrumentality of the Russian government”; and “Dorinvest a Russian government-owned and controlled purchasing agent for the City of Moscow,” an “instrumentality of the Russian government.”

It used to be that companies could largely put the issues to bed after resolving DOJ and/or SEC enforcement actions. However, “tag-a-long” FCPA-like enforcement actions or inquiries in other countries are becoming a new norm.

Case in point – Daimler.

And we’re not talking Germany here.

We’re talking Russia.

Earlier this month, The Moscow Times (here) noted that the Daimler case, because of the Russia conduct at issue, presented a test for President Dmitry Medvedev to see “just how determined he is to fight corruption.”

Yesterday, The Moscow Times (here) reported that Russia’s Interior Ministry opened an internal investigation “after a personal order” from President Medvedev. According to the article, Russia’s Prosecutor General has “sent a request to the U.S. Justice Department for information on bribes given by carmaker Daimler.” For additional information (see here).

Daimler is not the only company under scrutiny in Russia.

As previously posted (here) H-P’s Moscow headquarters were recently raided by Russian authorities in connection with a bribery investigation.

Hiring a “Foreign Official”

Hiring a “foreign official” can be risky. Particularly when the “foreign official” is recommended by a foreign government. These are certain FCPA “red flags.”

However, “red flags” don’t always turn out red and in this case the “red flags” turn a pleasant shade of pink because the “foreign official” recommended by a foreign government is being hired in connection with a U.S. government contract.

That at least appears to be one take-away from FCPA Opinion Procedure Release No. 10-01 (see here).

According to the Release, a U.S. company (the “Requestor”) “entered into a contract with an agency of the U.S. government to perform work in a foreign country.” “Pursuant to that contract, the Requestor is obligated to hire and compensate individuals in connection with that work” and “at least one individual to be hired, and perhaps more, is a foreign official within the meaning of the FCPA.”

Among other things, the Requestor represented that: (i) the foreign country selected the “foreign official” to be hired based upon the individual’s qualifications for the position; (ii) the U.S. government directed the Requestor to hire the “foreign official”; (iii) the “foreign official” will be compensated $5,000 per month to provide services as directed by the foreign country; (iv) the foreign official currently serves as a paid officer for an agency of the foreign country, but the individual’s position does not relate to the work at issue and the services that the individual will perform are separate and apart from those performed by the individual as a “foreign official”; and (v) the “foreign official” will not perform any services on behalf of, or make any decision affecting the Requestor including any procurement or contracting decisions.

Based on this information, the DOJ stated that it “does not presently intend to take any enforcement action with respect to the proposed service contract described in this request.”

According to the DOJ, “[w]hile the Individual is a “foreign official” within the meaning of the FCPA, and will receive compensation as Facility Director, through a subcontractor, from the Requestor, the Individual is being hired pursuant to an agreement between the U.S. Government Agency and the Foreign Country, and will not be in a position to influence any act or decision affecting the Requestor.”

The DOJ further stated:

“The Requestor is contractually bound to hire and compensate the Individual as directed by the U.S. Government Agency. The Requestor did not play any role in selecting the Individual, who was appointed by the Foreign Country based upon the Individual’s qualifications. Moreover, the Individual’s position is separate and apart from the Individual’s position as a Foreign Officer. In neither position will the Individual perform any services on behalf of, or receive any direction from, the Requestor. Accordingly, the Individual will have no decision-making authority over matters affecting the Requestor, including procurement and contracting decisions.”

To read more about the detailed requirements of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Opinion Procedure process (see here and here).

For additional FCPA Opinion Procedure Releases on the topic of hiring a “foreign official” or otherwise doing business with a “foreign official” see 80-4 (here), 82-03 (here), 86-01 (here), 93-01 (here), 93-02 (here), 94-01 (here), 96-02 (here), 00-01 (here), 01-02 (here), 08-01 (here)

Facilitating Payments or Bribes?

In Greece, it’s the “little envelopes” that affect everyone from “hospital patients to fishmongers.” (see here for the Wall Street Journal story).

In India, it’s needing to “string up some wire and get licenses from the government” to start a “tiny business delivering telephone and Internet service” but “getting those things done without hassles require[s] a bribe.” (see here for the story from National Public Radio).

In July 2009, Nature’s Sunshine Products found out that it’s about payments to Brazilian customs agents to import certain unregistered products into Brazil (see here).

Also in July 2009, Helmerich & Payne found out that it’s about payments to various officials and representatives of the Argentine and Venezuelan customs services in connection with importation and exportation of goods and equipment (see here).

Numerous other examples abound.

Facilitating payments or bribes?

The FCPA has a specific exception for “facilitating or expediting payment[s] to a foreign official … the purpose of which is to expedite or to secure the performance of a routine governmental action by a foreign official.”

Where a facilitating payment ends and where a payment to “obtain or retain business” begins is a difficult question.

U.S. v. Kay, 359 F.3d 738 (5th Cir. 2004) is commonly viewed as answering that question.

However, Kay merely holds that Congress intended for the FCPA to apply broadly to payments intended to assist the payor, directly or indirectly, in obtaining or retaining business and that payments to a “foreign official” to reduce custom and tax liabilities can, under appropriate circumstances, fall within the statute. The Kay court empathically stated that not all such payments to a “foreign official” outside the context of directly securing a foreign government contract violate the FCPA; it merely held that such payments “could” violate the FCPA. The key question, according to Kay, is whether the payments at issue were intended to lower the company’s costs of doing business enough to assist the company in obtaining or retaining business. The Kay court recognized that “there are bound to be circumstances” in which such attenuated payments merely increase the profitability of an existing profitable company and thus, presumably, do not assist the payer in obtaining or retaining business. In fact, the court specifically stated: “…if the government is correct that anytime operating costs are reduced the beneficiary of such advantage is assisted in getting or keeping business, the FCPA’s language that expresses the necessary element of assisting in obtaining or retaining business would be unnecessary, and thus surplusage – a conclusion that we are forbidden to reach.”

Post-Kay none of the above seems to matter much.

Because the Nature’s Sunshine Products and Helmerich & Payne enforcement actions (as well as numerous other similar enforcement actions) were not challenged, it remains an open question whether the payments at issue in these cases, if subjected to judicial scrutiny, would satisfy the “obtain or retain business” element as interpreted in Kay or would be excepted as facilitating payments.

Many of these payments would appear attenuated to any specific cause-and-effect business nexus or otherwise would appear to have merely increased the profitability of an existing profitable business and, per the Kay holding, would presumably not satisfy this key FCPA antibribery element.

While some find facilitating payments to be a corrupt payment under a different name, the fact remains that the FCPA passed by Congress and signed by the President contains an express exception for facilitating payments.

It is this statute that the enforcement agencies are obligated to enforce and this express exception would certainly appear relevant to the above-described actions. Because these enforcement actions were not challenged, this obviously relevant defense was not explored in these cases and these post-Kay cases stand as de facto FCPA case law, notwithstanding the fact that the alleged conduct in these cases may have been excused because of the FCPA’s facilitating payment exception.

It’s a complex world.

Congress recognized that when it passed the FCPA, including the facilitating payment exception.

The Kay court recognized that when concluding that not all such attenuated payments violate the FCPA.

Bourke’s Appeal

As previously noted (here), the Frederic Bourke case is arguably the most complex and convoluted case in the history of the FCPA.

The trial court portion of the case ended in November 2009 when Judge Scheindin sentenced Bourke to 366 days for, among other things, conspiracy to violate the FCPA. At sentencing Judge Scheindin stated – “After years of supervising this case, it’s still not entirely clear to me whether Mr. Bourke is a victim or a crook or a little bit of both.”

Bourke has appealed his conviction to the Second Circuit.

An FCPA trial like Bourke’s is rare. An FCPA appeal is even more rare. An FCPA appeal to the influential Second Circuit is even more rare.

Thus, with good reason, this case is of great interest to those who follow the FCPA in that it is hoped to shed some light on the FCPA’s knowledge element, and perhaps other issues as well.

First step in the appeal is Bourke’s brief (see here) filed April 1st. The brief principally focuses on the FCPA’s knowledge element, including the trial court’s conscious avoidance jury instruction (a portion of the brief is redacted and a portion deals with Bourke’s false statement conviction).

This post summarizes the FCPA related issues in Bourke’s brief.

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According to the brief, the “trial focused on two related issues: whether Bourke knew that Kozeny was bribing the Azeris, and whether he willfully and corruptly joined the bribery conspiracy.”

The brief argues that the district court “committed a series of errors that crippled Bourke’s mens rea defense.”

The brief then discusses three such errors.

First, the court instructed on conscious avoidance, despite the absence of evidence that Bourke deliberately avoided knowledge of Kozeny’s bribes.” According to the brief, this instruction was error “because there was no evidence that Bourke deliberately avoided learning about Kozeny’s bribery.” The brief states that the conscious avoidance instruction “was particularly damaging because the government presented evidence and argued that Bourke failed to exercise adequate due diligence, thus exacerbating the risk inherent in the conscious avoidance instruction that the jury would convict for negligence or recklessness.” The brief cites Second Circuit case law which emphasizes that “essential to the concept of conscious avoidance is the requirement that the defendant be shown to have decided not to learn the key fact, not merely to have failed to learn it through negligence” and argues that “the trial record contains no evidence that Bourke decided not to learn about Kozeny’s bribery.”

Bourke also argues that the court erred in admitting testimony about the due diligence performed by Texas Pacific Group (“TPG”), an investment fund that did not make the same investment as Bourke, because its lawyers advised of the FCPA risk. The brief states, “[b]ecause Bourke knew nothing about their work, their testimony was irrelevant to his state of mind” particularly since the results were never shared or communicated with Bourke. According to the brief, “the government offered the testimony […] solely as a contrast with the comparatively skimpy inquiry that Bourke and his lawyers performed.” “That testimony” according to the brief, “increased the risk, created by the conscious avoidance instruction and heightened by the government’s closing, that the jury would convict Bourke based on his negligence or recklessness — what he should have known, rather than what he actually knew.” The brief argues that the “government’s tactic had its intended effect on the jury” and it cites the foreman of the of jury telling the press, “It was Kozeny, it was Azerbaijan, it was a foreign country …. We thought he knew and definitely could have known. He’s an investor. It’s his job to know.”

The brief further argues that, having admitted the above testimony relating to TPG, “the district court should at least have permitted Bourke to present the contrasting testimony” of the head of investments for Columbia University that would have established that “Columbia invested $15 million with Kozeny in Azeri privatization after due diligence comparable to Bourke’s.” According to the brief, this excluded testimony “would have rebutted the government’s claim that Bourke’s lack of due diligence compared to TPG established his culpability.” The brief argues that “once the district court permitted the government to present TPG’s due diligence as a benchmark for measuring Bourke’s inquiry, fairness demanded that Bourke be allowed to present the contrasting picture of Columbia’s due diligence, which resembled his own.”

Second, the brief states – “the court refused to instruct that conviction for conspiracy requires the same mens rea as the underlying FCPA offense — meaning (among other things) a bad purpose to disobey or disregard the law.” According to the brief, “the district court compounded its error in giving the conscious avoidance instruction by rejecting Bourke’s requested instruction [as to the conspiracy charge] that the government had to prove that he acted corruptly and willfully.” The brief argues that “when the district court turned to the mens rea required for the conspiracy offense, rather than for a substantive FCPA offense, it omitted the requirement that the defendant act corruptly” and that this “watering-down of the mens rea requirement for the conspiracy charged […] undermined Bourke’s defense, which rested on his state of mind.”

Third, the court rejected Bourke’s proposed good faith instructions, even though Bourke produced ample evidence to warrant the instructions and no other instruction covered the point.” The brief argues that Bourke’s proposed instruction “accurately reflected the principle that a defendant’s good faith belief that he acted lawfully negates the mens rea for specific intent offenses.” While the brief concedes that Bourke’s efforts to investigate the investment “were not as extensive” as others, his efforts “suffice for a good faith instruction.” Because the case turned on Bourke’s state of mind, the brief states “there is no doubt that the good faith defense, if accepted by the jury, would have produced an acquittal.”

The brief argues that “any one of the errors concerning Bourke’s knowledge of Kozeny’s bribes and his specific criminal intent, standing alone, warrants reversal” and if any one error is harmless in isolation, then their “cumulative effect profoundly damaged Bourke’s defense.”

Next up … the DOJ which has until July 29th to file its response brief.

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