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Egypt – A Country Sweep?

As has been widely reported, various countries have frozen (or have been asked to freeze) the assets of former President Hosni Mubarak and other former top officials. See here for Samuel Rubenfeld’s roundup at Wall Street Journal Corruption Currents.

Were any of the billions or millions of Mubarak’s assets, or those of other former top officials, obtained because of Foreign Corrupt Practices Act violations?

That is the question posed by a reader who notes that corruption investigations generally follow regime change.

During Mubarak’s regime, several FCPA enforcement actions alleged conduct involving (in whole or in part) Egypt such as Lockheed, Metcalf & Eddy, Textron, United Industrial Corporation, York, and Daimler.

It is one thing to allege conduct implicating low-ranking “foreign officials” or employees of state-owned or state-controlled entities.

It is quite another to investigate conduct involving top officials of a government generally viewed as an ally in a volatile area of the world. Such barriers would seem to be removed with Mubarak’s ouster and an investigation may now even be viewed as a way to further U.S. relations with a new Egyptian government.

The reader asks, will Mubarak’s removal result in FCPA floodgates being opened in Egypt?

The past few years have witnessed certain “industry sweeps.” Will a “country sweep” be next?

Acquiring a Deferred Prosecution Agreement

In November 2010, Pride International Inc. was one of several companies to resolve a coordinated FCPA enforcement action involving (at least in part) the use of Panalpina services.

As noted in this prior post, the Pride enforcement action included not only Nigeria – Panalpina related conduct, but also conduct relating to contract extensions in Venezuela, bribing an administrative law judge in India, customs duties in Mexico, as well as other improper conduct in other countries.

The enforcement action involved both a DOJ and SEC component. Total settlement amount was approximately $56.2 million ($32.6 million criminal fine via a DOJ plea agreement and deferred prosecution agreement; $23.5 million in disgorgement and prejudgment interest via a SEC settled complaint).

The three year DPA (here) imposed on Pride a host of compliance undertakings including reporting 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.”

On February 7th, Pride announced (here) a definitive merger agreement by which U.K. based Ensco (plc) will acquire Pride in a cash and stock transaction expected to close in the second quarter of 2011. The release states as follows. “The transaction will create the second largest offshore driller in the world with 74 rigs spanning all of the strategic, high-growth markets around the globe.”

So what will happen to Pride’s DPA obligations?

A common clause in DPA’s is a sale or merger clause.

In the Pride DPA, it states as follows.

Sale or Merger of Pride International

“Pride International agrees that in the event it sells, merges, or transfers all or substantially all of its business operations as they exist as of the date of this Agreement, whether such sale is structured as a stock or asset sale, merger or transfer (including the sale, merger, or transfer of unincorporated branches), it shall include in any contract for sale, merger or transfer a provision binding the purchaser, or any successor in interest thereto, to the obligations described in this Agreement.”

Sure enough, Section 5.15 of the “Agreement and Plan of Merger” (here) states as follows.

“Deferred Prosecution Agreement. Effective as of the Effective Time, Parent [Ensco] agrees to be bound, and the Surviving Entity shall continue to be bound, by the obligations of the Company [Pride] set forth in the Deferred Prosecution Agreement, dated November 4, 2010, between the Company and the U.S. Department of Justice, to the extent required thereby.”

Pride’s FCPA compliance obligations and undertakens may not be the only FCPA-related issues on Ensco’s plate.

Ensco has ADR’s traded on the U.S. market and “following disclosures by other offshore service companies announcing internal investigations involving the legality of amounts paid to and by customs brokers in connection with temporary importation of rigs and vessels into Nigeria, the Audit Committee of our Board of Directors and management commenced an internal investigation in July 2007.”

Ensco’s most recent quarterly filing (here) states as follows.

“Our internal investigation has essentially been concluded. Discussions were held with the authorities to review the results of the investigation and discuss associated matters during 2009 and the first half of 2010. On May 24, 2010, we received notification from the SEC Division of Enforcement advising that it does not intend to recommend any enforcement action. We expect to receive a determination by the United States Department of Justice in the near-term. Although we believe the United States Department of Justice will take into account our voluntary disclosure, our cooperation with the agency and the remediation and compliance enhancement activities that are underway, we are unable to predict the ultimate disposition of this matter, whether we will be charged with violation of the anti-bribery, recordkeeping or internal accounting control provisions of the FCPA or whether the scope of the investigation will be extended to other issues in Nigeria or to other countries. We also are unable to predict what potential corrective measures, fines, sanctions or other remedies, if any, the United States Department of Justice may seek against us or any of our employees.”

Heating Up North of the Border

In its July 2010 Progress Report on the Enforcement of the OECD Convention (here), Transparency International (“TI”) called Canada one of its “most disappointing” findings given “little or no enforcement” of Canada’s FCPA like-statute, the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act (“CFPOA”)

Among other things, Canada was found to have an insufficient definition of a foreign bribery offense, jurisdictional limitations as to its statute, inadequacies in its enforcement system, and lack of awareness raising in the country as to foreign corruption issues.

The TI Report quoted Bruce Futterer (a TI Canada expert) as saying – “One is left with the impression that the enforcement of anti-bribery and foreign corruption legislation is not a high enough priority with the Canadian federal government and that more could be done both in terms of strengthening the existing legislation and allocating greater human and financial resources to the education and enforcement of the CFPOA.”

Against this backdrop, TI Canada’s January 31st press release (here) caught my eye. Without providing a source, the release states as follows: “The recent revelation from the RCMP Sensitive Investigations and International Anti- Corruption Unit that 23 CFPOA investigations are underway means that, ‘Canadian companies can no longer hide behind the world’s perception that business is done here in a completely ethical manner.'”

From little to no enforcement to 23 active investigations, that is big news north of the border.

For more see here.

Tyson Foods Settles FCPA Enforcement Action Involving Mexican Veterinarians And Their No-Show Wives

Yet another FCPA enforcement action raises the issue of whether the FCPA’s “obtain or retain business” element means anything anymore or whether the FCPA, contrary to Congressional intent, has morphed into an all-purpose corporate ethics statute and – in a game of chicken – companies opt to settle rather than mount a legal defense.

Yesterday, Tyson Foods, one of the world’s largest processors of chicken and other food items, agreed to resolve an FCPA enforcement action focused on payments to Mexican veterinarians (and their no-show wives) responsible for certifying product for export.

The enforcement action involved both a DOJ and SEC component. Total settlement amount was approximately $5.2 million ($4 million criminal fine via a DOJ deferred prosecution agreement; $1.2 million in disgorgement and prejudgment interest via a SEC settled complaint).

DOJ

The DOJ enforcement action involved a criminal information (here) against Tyson resolved through a deferred prosecution agreement (here).

Criminal Information

The information contains a background section which describes the following.

“The Government of Mexico administers an inspection program, Tipo Inspeccion Federal (“TIF”), for meat-processing facilities. Any company that exports meat products from Mexico must participate in the inspection program, which is supervised by an office in the Mexican Department of Agriculture (“SAGARPA”). The inspection program at each facility is supervised by an on-site veterinarian who is a government employee (“TIF veterinarian”), paid by the state, who ensures that all exports are in conformity with Mexican health and safety laws.” “There are two categories of TIF veterinarians: ‘approved’ and ‘official.’ Although all TIF veterinarians are foreign officials under the FCPA, Mexican law permits approved veteriarians to charge the facility in which they work a fee for their services in addition to their offcial salary. Official veterinarians receive all of their salary from the Mexican government and may not be paid by the facility they supervise.”

The conduct at issue focuses on Tyson de Mexico (“TdM”), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Tyson that produces protein-based and prepared food products for sale in Mexico and foreign countries other than the U.S. TdM is headquartered in Mexico and maintains three meat-processing factories in Mexico.

The information charges that from July 2004 through November 2006, Tyson, TdM, and others were engaged in a conspiracy to “assist Tyson and TdM in the export of meat products from Mexico through the payment and promise of payment of things of value to Mexican government-employed TIF veterinarians, in order to obtain or retain business for TdM by influencing the decisions of veterinarians responsible for certifying TdM products for export under the TIF Program.”

The information does not give any detail as to how the payments sought to influence the veterinarians nor does it suggest that the product at issue was not qualified for export. In fact, as detailed below, Tyson’s press release (a release the DOJ had to approve per the deferred prosecution agreement) states that there were no issues with the safety of the exported products.

Among other things, the information alleges that part of the conspiracy was “to place the wives of the TIF veterinarians on TdM’s payroll, providing them with a salary and benefits, knowing that the wives did not actually perform any services for TdM …”. According to the information, upon “termination of the salaries to the wives of the TIF veterinarians” in November 2006 Tyson “agreed to increase the amount paid to the veterinarians based on false invoices by the same amount as the salaries previously paid to their wives.”

The information alleges that the above payments were falsely recorded on company books and records as “professional fees” and salaries in order to conceal the true nature of the improper payments in the consolidated books and records of Tyson.

In addition to the above described payments, the information also alleges that from the time Tyson acquired TdM in 1994 through 2006, “Tyson made occassional additional improper payments to the TIF veterinarians on an ad-hoc basis.”

Under the heading “Total Improper Payments” the information alleges as follows:

“Tyson, its executives, and its subsidiaries authorized the payment, directly or indirectly, of approximately $90,000 to Mexican government-employed veterinarians, in order to obtain or retain business for TdM by influencing the decisions of veterinarians responsible for certifying TdM products for export under the TIF program, resulting in profits of approximately $880,000.”

In addition, the information alleges that from the time of Tyson’s acquisition of TdM until May 2004, “an additional $260,000 in improper payments were made to the TIF veterinarians, both indirectly and directly, including through payments to wives of TIF veterinarians.”

Based on the above allegations, the information charges Tyson with conspiracy to violate the FCPA and substantive FCPA anti-bribery violations.

DPA

The DOJ’s charges against Tyson were resolved via a deferred prosecution agreement.

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

The term of the DPA is two years and it states that the DOJ entered into the agreement “based on the following factors”:

(a) Tyson voluntarily disclosed the misconduct;

(b) Tyson conducted a thorough internal investigation of the misconduct;

(c) Tyson reported all of its findings to the Department;

(d) Tyson cooperated in the Department’s investigation of the matter;

(e) Tyson has undertaken certain remedial measures;

(f-g) Tyson has agreed to continue to cooperate with the Department and the SEC in any investigation of the conduct of Tyson and its directors, offcers, employees, agents, consultants, subsidiaries, contractors, and subcontractors relating to violations of the FCPA; and

(h) with respect to the corporate compliance reporting obligations, the Department considered the following facts and circumstances: (i) Tyson has already engaged in signficant remediation related to the misconduct and implemented an enhanced compliance program; (ii) approximately 85-90% of Tyson’s sales are domestic; (iii) Tyson operates only six wholly-owned production facilities overseas, three in Mexico and three in Brazil, all of which have been subjected to rigorous FCPA reviews; (iv) Tyson’s only direct government customers are domestic; and (v) the problematic operations in TdM comprised less than one percent of Tyson’s global net sales.

As stated in the DPA, the fine range for the above described conduct under the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines was $5.04 to $10.08 million. Pursuant to the DPA, Tyson agreed to pay a monetary penalty of $4 million (approximately 20% below the minimum amount suggested by the guidelines).

Pursuant to the DPA, Tyson agreed to self-report to the DOJ “periodically, at no less than six-month intervals” during the term of the DPA “regarding remediation and implementation of the compliance activities” described in the DPA. Given the factors the DOJ set forth in (h) above, this reporting obligation is a bit of a surprise.

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

In the DOJ’s release (here) Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer stated as follows: “Tyson Foods used false books and sham jobs to hide bribe payments made to publicly-employed meat processing plant inspectors in Mexico – the penalty and resolution announced today reflect the company’s disclosure of this conduct, its cooperation with the government’s investigation and its commitment to implementing enhanced controls.”

SEC

The SEC’s civil complaint (here) is based on the same core conduct described above.

The complaint alleges that Tyson “authorized” TdM’s illicit activities and that “in connection with these improper payments, Tyson Foods failed to keep accurate books and records and failed to have effective internal controls, as the true nature of the payments were concealed through salary payments to phantom employees and through service invoices submitted by one of the veterinarians.”

According to the SEC, “Tyson Foods realized net profits of more than $880,000 from export sales from [TdM] facilities in fiscal years 2004, 2005 and 2006.

Based on the above conduct, the SEC charged Tyson with FCPA’s anti-bribery violations and FCPA books and records and internal control violations.

Without admitting or denying the SEC’s allegations, Tyson agreed to an injunction prohibiting future FCPA violations and agreed to pay $1.2 million in disgorgement and pre-judgement interest.

In the SEC release (here), Robert Khuzami (Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement) stated: “Tyson and its subsidiary committed core FCPA violations by bribing government officials through no-show jobs and phony invoices, and by having a lax system of internal controls that failed to detect or prevent the misconduct.”

Laurence Urgenson (here) of Kirkland & Ellis represented Tyson.

Tyson’s press release (here) notes, among other things, that its voluntary disclosure occured in early 2007 and that “none of the products exported from Tyson de México during the time period involved were shipped to the U.S., nor were there any issues with the safety of the products.”

David Van Bebber, the company’s Executive Vice President and General Counsel stated as follows: “We’re committed to abiding by the law as well as our company’s Core Values, which call on all of our people to operate with integrity. While we’re disappointed mistakes were made, corrective action has been taken and the improper payments were discontinued. As our international operations have expanded, we continue to strengthen the compliance efforts of our international businesses including improved training and compliance programs, extensive retraining, and anti-corruption focused audits.”

Without Admitting or Denying

It’s not an FCPA specific issue, but it’s certainly an FCPA enforcement issue.

A company is the subject of a SEC FCPA enforcement inquiry.

A civil complaint is generally filed, and then, on the same day, the company “without admitting or denying” the SEC’s allegations agrees to resolve the case.

See here for the recent SEC FCPA enforcement action against Maxwell Technologies.

At PLI’s “SEC Speaks” event last week, SEC Commissioner Luis Aguilar shared (see here) his “wishes for 2011” including “the Enforcement Division must bring cases with obvious deterrent effect.”

Commissioner Aguilar stated as follows:

“As we work to build a pro-active regulator, my second wish is that the SEC Division of Enforcement brings cases that have obvious deterrence value. I know that this is a wish that is shared by our Enforcement staff. This means that when the Commission announces the resolution of a matter we would notice a reaction that we haven’t always witnessed.

I envision a world where when the SEC announces a settlement in a high profile case, its impact is clearly noted — and leaves little doubt that it will make people that are engaged in similar activities think twice. An enforcement action by the SEC should be serious business, and it should cause an organization to seriously review how it has been operating. Moreover, our enforcement actions should have market-wide impact, and there should be sanctions that are significant enough to stop similar conduct in its tracks. The possibility of being sanctioned by the Commission should not be considered part of the cost of doing business.

I envision a world where our remedies are calibrated to be meaningful, not merely routine – and where federal judges can clearly see that the SEC understands its mission and seeks to protect investors and deter wrongdoers by obtaining appropriate sanctions and meaningful deterrence.

An additional wish for 2011 is to see defendants take accountability for their violations and issue mea culpas to the public. I hope that 2011 brings an end to the press release issued by a defendant after a settlement explaining how the conduct was really not that bad or that the regulator over-reacted. I hope that this revisionist history in press releases will be a relic of the past. If not, it may be worth revisiting the Commission’s practice of routinely accepting settlements from defendants who agree to sanctions “without admitting or denying” the misconduct.” (emphasis added).

I agree. It is worth revisiting this central feature of SEC settlements.

The policy was first adopted in 1972 (see here) and states as follows.

“The Commission has adopted the policy that in any civil lawsuit brought by it or in any administrative proceeding of an accusatory nature pending before it, it is important to avoid creating, or permitting to be created, an impression that a decree is being entered or a sanction imposed, when the conduct alleged did not, in fact, occur. Accordingly, it hereby announces its policy not to permit a defendant or respondent to consent to a judgment or order that imposes a sanction while denying the allegations in the complaint or order for proceedings. In this regard, the Commission believes that a refusal to admit the allegations is equivalent to a denial, unless the defendant or respondent states that he neither admits nor denies the allegations.”

The resolution policy can lead to absurd results (see here).

In the FCPA context, I submit this SEC resolution policy contributes to a “facade of enforcement” and results in companies resolving an SEC FCPA enforcement action notwithstanding dubious or untested legal theories and regardless of valid and legitimate defenses.

Why?

It is simply easier and more cost efficient to settle an enforcement action “without admitting or denying” the SEC’s allegations than to engage in long protracted litigation with a primary regulator.

My recent “Facade of FCPA Enforcement” piece (here) contains a discussion of the SEC v. Bank of America case. Although not an FCPA case, the party’s briefs provide valuable insight into the same SEC enforcement procedures used in FCPA enforcement actions and the motivations of settling parties in a government enforcement action. Even the SEC noted in that case that “the terms of a reasonable settlement do not necessarily reflect the triumph of one party’s position over the other.”

Thus, I agree with Commissioner Aguilar that it is worth revisiting the Commission’s practice of routinely accepting settlements from defendants who agree to sanctions “without admitting or denying” the misconduct.

This policy contributes to a “facade of enforcement,” including in the FCPA context, and the starting analysis should be – why did the Commission adopt this policy in the first place?

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