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Historically Massive Sting Operation

Back in November, Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer, in a speech (see here) before an FCPA audience said that “[a]lthough many of these cases come to us through voluntary disclosures, which we certainly encourage and will appropriately reward, I want to be clear: the majority of our cases do not come from voluntary disclosures. They are the result of pro-active investigations ….”

Today, the DOJ announced (here) the indictment of 22 (no that is not a typo) “executives and employees of companies in the military and law enforcement products industry” for engaging in a scheme to bribe foreign officials to obtain and retain business.

Per the DOJ release, the 16 unsealed indictments “represent the largest single investigation and prosecution against individuals in the history of DOJ’s enforcement of the FCPA.”

Just how pro-active was this investigation?

According to the release, the “indictments allege that the defendants engaged in a scheme to pay bribes to the minister of defense for a country in Africa.”

However, there was a catch.

There was “no actual involvement from any minister of defense.”

Rather, the defendants “allegedly agreed to pay a 20 percent ‘commission’ to a sales agent who the defendants believed represented the minister of defense for a country in Africa in order to win a portion of a $15 million deal to outfit the country’s presidential guard.”

Just who was the sales agent?

An undercover FBI agent, according to the release.

The names of the indicted individuals as well as the indictments can be found here. Each of the indictments allege substantive FCPA violations, conspiracy to violate the FCPA, and conspiracy to engage in money laundering.

All but one of the individuals was arrested yesterday in Las Vegas. The other was recently arrested in Miami.

In the same November 2009 speech, Breuer noted that the FBI – FCPA specific squad was “growing in size and in expertise” and the release notes that the “investigation is the first large-scale use of undercover law enforcement techniques to uncover FCPA violations…”

Point taken, as the DOJ release notes that “approximately 150 FBI agents executed 14 search warrants” in locations across the country in its investigation.

The DOJ also release suggests that this massive alleged bribery scheme is also being investigated on both sides of the Atlantic as the “United Kingdom’s City of London Police executed seven search warrants in connection with their own investigations into companies involved in the foreign bribery conduct that formed the basis for the indictments.”

Stay tuned for more specifics in this massive case – which I will refer to as “Africa Sting.”

14 Days Later …

A recent post (here) discussed a December 30, 2009 SEC filing by The PBSJ Corporation (a global engineering and architectural firm headquartered in Florida) which disclosed that the company was unable to file its Annual Report due to an FCPA internal investigation “in connection with certain projects undertaken by PBS&J International, Inc., one of the Company’s subsidiaries, in certain foreign countries.”

I noted that while it is increasingly common for a company to disclose such FCPA issues, it is rather unusual for the FCPA disclosure to prevent the company from otherwise meeting its disclosure requirements under the securities laws.

Well, 14 days have passed and PBSJ filed its annual report (here). As to the FCPA internal investigation, here is what the filing says:

“As previously reported on our Form 8-K filed December 30, 2009, an internal investigation is currently being conducted by the Audit Committee of our Board of Directors to determine whether any laws, including the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”), may have been violated in connection with certain projects undertaken by PBS&J International, Inc., one of our subsidiaries with revenue of $4.3 million in fiscal year 2008 and $3.9 million in fiscal year 2009, in certain foreign countries (the “International Operations”). Initial results of the investigation suggest that FCPA violations may have occurred. However, the investigation does not suggest that any violation extends beyond the International Operations or that members of our executive management were involved in illegal conduct. We have voluntarily disclosed the possible violations, the investigation, and the initial findings to the Department of Justice and to the Securities and Exchange Commission, and will cooperate fully with their review. The FCPA (and related statutes and regulations) provides for potential monetary penalties, criminal and civil sanctions, and other remedies. We are unable to estimate the potential penalties that might be assessed for these FCPA violations and accordingly, no provision has been made in the accompanying financial statements.”

The events at PBSJ over the last two weeks are intriguing and its a head-scratching question why so many companies, like PBSJ, voluntarily disclose initial results of a yet to be completed internal investigation which merely suggest that the FCPA may have been violated.

For a recent non-FCPA, yet related, NY Times article on disclosure issues, see here.

“Game-Changing” Day at the SEC

In August 2009, Robert Khuzami, the SEC’s Director of the Division of Enforcement, announced that the SEC will be creating five “national specialized units dedicated to particular highly specialized and complex areas of securities law” – including an FCPA unit. (see here).

Khuzami also announced that the SEC was working on other initiatives of interest to FCPA followers including creation of “a public policy statement that will set forth standards to evaluate cooperation by individuals in enforcement actions” as well as “recommend[ation] to the Commission that the SEC enter into Deferred Prosecution Agreements, in which the [Division of Enforcement] agree[s] in the appropriate case to forego an enforcement action against an individual or entity subject to certain terms, including full cooperation, a waiver of statutes of limitations, and compliance with certain undertakings.”

Yesterday, there were developments on each of these issues.

First, the SEC (see here) announced that Cheryl J. Scarboro will lead the FCPA unit. As indicated in the release, Scarboro is an SEC veteran having served as Associate Director, Assistant Director, Deputy Assistant Director, and Staff Attorney in the Division of Enforcement. For many years, Scarboro has been a primary SEC voice on FCPA issues and an active participant at many FCPA conferences.

Second, the SEC (see here) announced a series of measures “to further strengthen its enforcement program by encouraging greater cooperation from individuals and companies in the agency’s investigations and enforcement actions.”

“New cooperation tools” not previously available to the SEC, will now include, among other things:

* “Cooperation Agreements — Formal written agreements in which the Enforcement Division agrees to recommend to the Commission that a cooperator receive credit for cooperating in investigations or related enforcement actions if the cooperator provides substantial assistance such as full and truthful information and testimony.”

* “Deferred Prosecution Agreements — Formal written agreements in which the Commission agrees to forego an enforcement action against a cooperator if the individual or company agrees, among other things, to cooperate fully and truthfully and to comply with express prohibitions and undertakings during a period of deferred prosecution.”

and

* “Non-prosecution Agreements — Formal written agreements, entered into under limited and appropriate circumstances, in which the Commission agrees not to pursue an enforcement action against a cooperator if the individual or company agrees, among other things, to cooperate fully and truthfully and comply with express undertakings.”

The SEC release notes that “similar cooperation tools have been regularly and successfully used by the Justice Department in its criminal investigations and prosecutions.”

More details about these measures can be found in a revised and newly issued version of the SEC’s enforcement manual beginning at pg. 119 (see here).

The SEC news conference announcing these appointments and initiatives is available on the SEC’s website.

While not FCPA specific, these measures as applied to FCPA enforcement are likely to lead to even less judicial scrutiny (not that there is much judicial scrutiny at present) as to SEC interpretations of the FCPA and as to whether factual evidence actually exists to support each element of an FCPA charge.

In fact, as set forth in the manual (p. 130) “[a]n admission or an agreement not to contest the relevant facts underlying the alleged offenses” is a key factor the SEC will consider in determining whether a company should receive a deferred prosecution agreement.

For those anxious to see FCPA enforcement actions contested in an open, transparent, and adversary proceeding, yesterday’s announcements will be a blow as I expect FCPA enforcement to become even more opaque in the future.

Stay tuned as much is surely to be written about these new measures in the coming weeks and months.

Ready, Set, Go …

The 2010 FCPA enforcement year has begun.

Yesterday, the SEC announced (here) resolution of an FCPA books and records and internal controls action against NATCO Group Inc. – a Houston based “worldwide leader in design, manufacture, and service” of oil and gas process equipment (see here).

The SEC complaint (here) alleges that TEST Automation & Controls, Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of NATCO Group, “created and accepted false documents while paying extorted immigration fines and obtaining immigration visas in the Republic of Kazakhstan.” According to the complaint, “NATCO’s system of internal accounting controls failed to ensure that TEST recorded the true purpose of the payments, and NATCO’s consolidated books and records did not accurately reflect these payments.”

According to the complaint, TEST maintained a branch office in Kazakhstan and in June 2005 it won a contract which required it to hire both expatriates and local Kazakh workers. Pursuant to Kazakh law, TEST needed to obtain immigration documentation before an expatriate worker could enter the country. Thereafter, Kazakh immigration authorities claimed that TEST’s expatriate workers were working without proper documentation and the authorities threatened to fine, jail, or deport the workers if TEST did not pay cash fines.

According to the complaint, TEST employees believed the threats to be genuine and, after consulting with U.S. TEST management who authorized the payments, paid the officials approximately $45,0000 using their personal funds for which the employees were reimbursed by TEST.

The complaint alleges that when reimbursing the employees for these payments, TEST inaccurately described the money as: (i) being an advance on a bonus; and (ii) visa fines.

The complaint further alleges that TEST used consultants in Kazakhstan to assist in obtaining immigration documentation for its expatriate employees and that “one of these consultants did not have a license to perform visa services, but maintained close ties to an employee working at the Kazakh Ministry of Labor, the entity issuing the visas.” According to the complaint, the consultant twice requested cash from TEST to help him obtain the visas and the complaint alleges that the consultant provided TEST with bogus invoices to support the payments.

Based on the above allegations, the SEC charged NATCO with FCPA books and records and internal control violations even though the complaint is completely silent as to any involvement or knowledge by NATCO in the conduct at issue. This action is thus the latest example of an issuer being strictly liable for a subsidiary’s books and records violations (see here for a prior post).

Without admitting or denying the SEC’s allegations, NATCO agreed to pay a $65,000 civil penalty. According to the SEC’s findings in a related cease and desist order (here), during a routine internal audit review, NATCO discovered potential issues involving payments at TEST, conducted an internal investigation, and voluntarily disclosed the results to the SEC. The order also lists several other remedial measures NATCO implemented.

I’ve noted in prior posts that one of the effects of voluntary disclosure is that it sets into motion a whole series of events including, in many cases, a much broader review of the company’s operations so that the company can answer the enforcement agencies’ “where else may this have occurred” question.

On this issue, the SEC order states that NATCO “expanded its investigation to examine TEST’s other worldwide operations, including Nigeria, Angola, and China, geographic locations with historic FCPA concerns.” However, the SEC order notes that “NATCO’s expanded internal investigation of TEST uncovered no wrongdoing.”

According to the complaint, at all times relevant to the complaint, NATCO’s stock was listed on the NYSE, but in November 2009 NATCO became a subsidiary of Cameron International Corporation (here) (an NYSE listed company) and NATCO’s NYSE listing ended.

The NATCO enforcement action is “as garden variety” of an FCPA enforcement action as perhaps one will find. Not only does moving product into and out of a country expose a company to FCPA risk, but so too does moving employees into and out of a country.

The NATCO civil penalty also demonstrates that in certain cases, the smallest “cost” of an alleged FCPA violation are the fines or penalties, figures which are so dwarfed by investigative, remedial and resolution costs.

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