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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.

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.

Transocean – More TIPs and Express Courier Services

Next up in the analysis of CustomsGate enforcement actions is Transocean. This enforcement action involves more Nigerian TIPs and express courier services (yes, you read that right, an FCPA anti-bribery enforcement action involving express courier services).

See 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 Transocean enforcement action involved both a DOJ and SEC component. Total settlement amount was approximately $20.7 million ($13.4 million criminal fine via a DOJ deferred prosecution agreement; $7.2 million in disgorgement and interest via a SEC complaint).

DOJ

The DOJ enforcement action included a criminal information (here) filed against Transocean Inc. (“Transocean”) which “was a Cayman Islands corporation with its principal executive offices in the Cayman Islands and in Houston, Texas.” Transocean’s securities were traded on the New York Stock Exchange. As set forth in the information, “in December 2008, Transocean completed a merger among Transocean Ltd., Transocean Inc., which was the former parent holding company, and Transocean Cayman Ltd. As a result of the merger, Transocean became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Transocean Ltd., a Swiss corporation with principal executive offices in Vernier, Switzerland.” (See here).

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

Criminal Information

Once again, the criminal information concerns Nigeria’s rules and regulations relating to temporarily importing vessels and the “temporary importation permit” (“TIP”). For more on the TIP process see here.

Relevant Transocean entities include Sedco Forex Nigeria Limited (“SFNL”), a Nigerian entity 60% owned by Transocean, and Transocean Support Services Nigeria Ltd. (“TSSNL”), a wholly-owned Nigerian subsidiary of Transocean.

According to the information, between February 2002 and January 2003, “on three occasions when a TIP (and related TIP extensions) expired for a rig Nigeria, Customs Agent 1 [a Nigerian entity that provided freight forwarding, customs clearing, haulage and general logistics services to companies doing business in Nigeria and SFNL’s customs agent in Nigeria between 2002 – July 2007] and Customs Agent 2 [a Nigerian entity that provided, among other things, customs clearing and freight forwarding and support services to oil and gas services companies operating in Nigeria and one of SFNL and TSSNL’s customs agents in Nigeria], with the knowledge of SFNL, engaged in a process of obtaining false paperwork on SFNL’s behalf to avoid the time, cost, and risks associated with exporting the rig and re-importing it into Nigerian waters.” The information alleges that “Customs Agent 1 and Customs Agent 2, with the knowledge of SFNL, obtained false documents that reflected that the rig had been physically exported and re-imported, when, in fact, the rig had remained in Nigeria.”

In addition, the information alleges that between May 2007 and June 2007, “Customs Agent 2, with the knowledge of TSSNL, engaged in a process of obtaining false paperwork on behalf of TSSNL for another rig.” According to the information, “Customs Agent 2, with the knowledge of TSSNL, obtained documents that reflected that the rig had been physically exported and re-imported, when, in fact, the rig had remained in Nigeria.”

The information alleges, that “SFNL and TSSNL’s employees knew or were aware of a high probability that certain bribe payments were made by Customs Agent 1 and Customs Agent 2 to Nigerian Customs Service (“NCS”) officials to resolve these issues.” The information alleges that “to secure reimbursement for the payments made on behalf of SFNL and TSSNL, these Custom Agents provided invoices to SFNL and TSSNL without supporting documentation” and that “Transocean Nigeria, in turn, reimbursed these Customs Agents for the expenses.”

According to the information, payments to Customs Agent 1 and Customs Agent 2 were mischaracterized as “freight and shipping/courier charges” or “crewboat, workboat, tug Hire” (in the case of Agent 1) and “miscellaneous operating expenses” (in the case of Customs Agent 2) in Transocean Nigeria’s books and records which then were incorporated into Transocean’s year-end financial statements filed with the SEC.

According to the information, “by corruptly circumventing the TIP requirements in 2002 and 2007, Transocean, through Transocean Nigeria, was able to continue its drilling operations using [certain rigs] that otherwise should have been temporarily removed from Nigerian waters.” The information states, “as a consequence, Transocean was able to corruptly gain a net profit of approximately $2,129,839 on its rig operations that […] otherwise would have been suspended because of the failure to comply with Nigerian TIP requirements.”

As to express courier services, the information states that “one of the services provided by [Panalpina] was an express door-to-door courier service that expedited the importation of goods and equipment into Nigeria.” According to the information, “the express service involved the payment of bribes by [Panalpina] to NCS officials to avoid the normal customs clearance process and the payment of official duties and taxes.”

The information alleges that various Transocean Nigeria employees were aware that the express courier service in Nigeria was not compliant with local law, but that despite this, “SFNL and TSSNL used the express courier service eleven times between August 2005 and September 23, 2005 when they knew or were aware of a high probability that the express courier service would make bribe payments to Nigerian officials to avoid applicable customs duties.” According to the information, “as a consequence, SFNL and TSSNL corruptly avoided paying $37,781.73 in applicable customs duties for these element shipments.” The information charges that SFNL and TSSNL “falsely recorded the payments to the express courier service as ‘air freight’ in their books and records” and that these transactions were then incorporated into Transocean’s SEC filings.

Based on the above conduct, the DOJ charged Transocean with conspiracy to violate the FCPA’s anti-bribery and books and records provisions, FCPA anti-bribery violations, and knowingly violating the FCPA’s books and records provisions.

According to the criminal information, “Transocean Nigeria employees knew or were aware of a high probability that the [Panalpina] was making bribe payments to Nigerian Customs Service officials on behalf of SFNL and TSSNL to cause such officials to disregard certain customs regulatory requirements relating to importing goods and materials into Nigeria for use on Transocean’s rigs in Nigeria, and sought reimbursement from SFNL and TSSNL for these payments.”

According to the information, certain unnamed co-conspirators committed various overt acts in furtherance of the conspiracy including Employee C [manager of Transocean’s operations in Nigeria from August 2001 to January 2004 and an agent of an “issuer”], Executive B [a French citizen who was responsible for Transocean’s Africa Region, including offshore drilling operations in Nigeria, and an agent of an “issuer”], Senior Executive A [a permanent resident of the U.S. from 2005 until July 2007 and a “domestic concern” as well as agent of an “issuer”].

Deferred Prosecution Agreement

Pursuant to the DPA, Transocean 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 Transocean. Among the factors stated are the following.

“Transocean and Transocean personnel in Nigeria promptly commenced an internal investigation into dealings between Transocean’s Nigeria operations and [Panalpina] after becoming aware of information indicating potential issues with [Panalpina]

“Transocean expanded its internal investigation to numerous operations and areas of the world outside Nigeria where no misconduct had been reported or suspected, and reported all relevant findings to thc Dcpartment;”

“A subsidiary of Transocean Ltd., Transocean Offshore Deepwater
Drilling Inc., hired a new chief compliance officer with substantial experience in corporate ethics and anti-corrption compliance policies. The compliance officer, who is an officer of Transocean Ltd., is responsible for the oversight of compliance for Transocean Ltd. and all of its subsidiaries and affiliates, including Transocean;”

“Transocean Ltd. established a specific internal audit team of well-trained auditors to focus on fraud, FCPA compliance, and anti-bribery issues at Transocean Ltd.’s worldwide operations;”

“Transocean Ltd. issued a revised FCPA compliance policy and revised its code of conduct, instituted a worldwide FCP A training program for its companies’ employees, and implemented a well-defined due diligence process for retaining third party service providers and business partners that interact with government officials;”

“Transocean and Transocean Ltd. cooperated with the Department’s investigation, including sharing all relevant investigation findings and making available numerous current and former employees;”

“Transocean and Transocean Ltd. agreed to undertake further remedial
measures;”

“Transocean and Transocean Ltd. agreed to provide a written report to the Department on their progress and experience in maintaining and, as necessary and appropriate, enhancing their compliance policies and procedures;”

“Transocean and Transocean Ltd. agreed to continue to cooperate with the Department in any ongoing investigation of the conduct of Transocean and its directors, employees, agents, consultants, contractors, subcontractors, subsidiaries, and any affliates it controls relating to violations of the FCPA.”

As stated in the DPA, the fine range for the above describe conduct under the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines was $16.8 million to $33.6 million. Pursuant to the DPA, Transocean and Transocean agreed that Transocean shall pay a monetary penalty of $13.44 million – 20% below the minimum guideline amount.

As is standard in FCPA DPAs, Transocean and Transocean Ltd. agreed not to make any public statement “contradicting the acceptance of responsibility by Transocean and Transocean Ltd. as set forth” in the DPA and Transocean and Transocean Ltd. 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 complaint (here) concerns the same core set of facts as set forth in the DOJ’s DPA, plus a few additional allegations.

In summary fashion, the SEC alleged “from at least 2002 through 2007, Transocean made illicit payments through its customs agents to Nigerian government officials to extend the temporary importation status of its drilling rigs, to obtain false paperwork associated with its drilling rigs, and obtain inward clearance authorizations for its rigs and a bond registration.”

The SEC further alleged as follows. “Transocean made illicit payments through Panalpina World Transport Holding Ltd.’s Pancourier express courier service to Nigerian government officials to expedite the import of various goods, equipment and materials into Nigeria. In most instances, customs duties for these items were not paid by either Panalpina or Transocean. In addition, Transocean made illicit payments through Panalpina to Nigerian government officials to expedite the delivery of medicine and other materials into Nigeria. Transocean’s total gains from the conduct were approximately $5,981,693.”

According to the complaint, Pancourier, is “an express door to door courier service operated by Panalpina” and the complaint alleges that Transocean used Panalpina and Pancourier “to expedite the delivery of goods and to import goods into Nigeria without always paying applicable duties to the Nigerian government.”

As to the TIPs and movement of rigs, the complaint allegess that Transocean’s illicit payments through its customs agents to Nigerian government officials avoided “moving costs of approximately $1,088,985 and gain profits of approximately $3,172,378.”

The SEC complaint also alleges that “Transocean made illicit payments totaling $207,170 to Customs Agent 2 for what were described on invoices as “customs intervention” charges related to six rigs.” According to the complaint, the payments ensured that “Transocean could operate its rigs in Nigerian waters without proper paperwork and without compliance with local law requirements.”

As to Panalpina and Pancourier, the SEC complaint states that “from January 2002 to September 2005, Transocean used Pancourier 404 times to import various goods and materials into Nigeria without paying any customs duties to the Nigerian government.” According to the complaint, “the total customs duties that Transocean avoided through its use of Pancourier for the 404 shipments to Nigeria were approximately $1,480,419.”

Finally, the SEC complaint alleges that “aside from its use of Pancourier, Transocean also used Panalpina to expedite delivery of medicine and other goods into Nigeria.” The complaint states that “Transocean made illict payments through Panalpina to Nigerian government officials for the importation of these goods totaling $32,741.”

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

As to the company’s internal controls, the SEC complaint simply states as follows. “… [A]s evidenced by the extent and duration of the improper payments to Nigerian officials, the improper recording of these payments in Transocean’s books and records, the failure of Transocean’s management to detect these irregularities, and the actual involvement of certain members of senior management, Transocean failed to devise and maintain an effective system ofinternal controls to prevent or detect these violations.”

Without admitting or denying the SEC’s allegations, Transocean agreed to pay disgorgement and prejudgment interest of $7,265,080. .

Former DOJ fraud section attorney Richard Smith (here) (Fulbright & Jaworski LLP) represented Transocean.

Azeri Tax Officials and More On Nigeria TIPs

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

See here for the prior post on the Noble Corporation enforcement action and here for the prior post on the GlobalSantaFe enforcement action.

The Tidewater enforcement action involved both a DOJ and SEC component. Total settlement amount was approximately $15.7 million ($7.35 million criminal fine via a DOJ deferred prosecution agreement; $8.3 million in disgorgement and a civil penalty via a SEC complaint).

DOJ

The DOJ enforcement action included a criminal information (here) filed against Tidewater Marine International Inc. (“TMII), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Tidewater Inc. (“TDW”) and the primary international operating entity for TDW.

TDW (see here) operates offshore service and supply vessels designed to support all phases of offshore energy exploration, development and production throughout the world. TDW is headquartered in New Orleans and has publicly traded shares on the New York Stock Exchange.

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

Criminal Information

According to the criminal information, TMII “had managerial and administrative operations in the United States, and it exercised contractual rights and control over Tidewater’s vessel operations in Nigeria and Azerbaijan, among other areas.”

The criminal information concerns: (1) “bribes paid to Azeri tax inspectors”, and (2) “payment of bribes to Nigerian customs officials through the freight fowarding agent [Panalpina].”

Azerbaijan

According to the information, “in 2001, 2003, and 2005, the Azeri Tax Authority [a government entity responsible for administering and collecting tax assessments and duties for the Republic of Azerbaijan] initiated tax audits of TMII’s business operations in Azerbaijan.”

The information states that TMII employed the “Consulting Firm” [a U.S. consulting company incorporated in Texas and headquartered in Baku, Azerbaijan to provide a broad range of services including accounting services and tax advice and assistance] including the “Azerbaijan Agent” [the Managing Director of the Consulting Firm] to assit with the audits.

The information charges that “in 2001, 2003, and 2005, TMII, through its employees and agents, paid bribes to Azeri tax inspectors to improperly secure favorable tax assessments.”

According to the information, TMII “caused approximately $160,000 to be paid to the Dubai Entity [an entity associated with the Consulting Firm], while knowing that some or all of the money would be paid, with the assistance of the Azerbaijan Agent to Azeri tax inspectors.”

The information states that “the benefit received and the potential tax liability avoided by TMII as a result of the payment of the bribes was approximately $820,000.”

Nigeria

According to the information, between January 2002 through March 2007, Tidex Nigeria Limited (“Tidex”) [a Nigerian company 60% majority owned by Tidewater Marine” that “provided agency and operational support, at the direction of TMII, for all vessels that Tidewater operated in Nigeria during the relevant period”], through its employees, affiliates, and agents, authorized the payment of approximately $1.6 million to [Panalpina] as reimbursements for bribes paid by [Panalpina], made on Tidex’s behalf, to Nigeria Customs Service (“NCS”) employees to induce the officials to disregard certain regulatory requirements in Nigeria relating to the temporary importation of Tidewater vessles into Nigerian waters.” The information charges that by August 2004, “TMII managers and employees were aware of and condoned the payments.”

The regulatory requirements set forth in the information concern Nigeria’s rules and regulations relating to temporarily importing vessels and the “temporary importation permit” (“TIP”). For more on the TIP process see here.

According to the information, between August 2004 and 2007, TMII employees and other Tidewater employees authorized the payment of approximately $1,089,000 to [Panalpina], on Tidex’s behalf, knowing that some or all of the monies had been paid by [Panalpina] to NCS officials to induce them to disregard Nigerian regulations, to not impose fines and penalties, and to allow Tidewater vessels to operate in Nigerian waters without a valid TIP.”

The information states that the “total benefit in avoided costs, duties, and penalties received by TMII in exchange for these payments was approximately $5,800,000.”

Based on the above information, the information charges TMII with conspiracy to violate the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions and to knowingly falsify books and records (in connection with both the Azeri and Nigeria payments) and knowing falsification of books, records, and accounts in connection with “129 payments totaling approximately $1,089,00, as [Panalpina] costs when, in fact, the payments were, in whole or in part, paid to NCS officials.”

According to the information, the following individuals “authorized the payment of bribes” or “know, or were aware of a high probability” that bribes were being paid:

Director of Tax [a U.S. citizen located in New Orleans], the Dubai Area Controller[a U.S. citizen], the Regional Finance Director [a British citizen, but described as a “employee and agent of a domestic concern], the Azerbaijan General Manager A [a U.S. citizen] and the Azerbaijan General Manager B [a U.S. citizen] (as to Azeri payments); and

the Vice President of Operations [an Australian citizen who supervised, at various times, both Azerbaijan and Nigerian operations and described as an employee an agent of a domestic concern] and the Nigeria Area Manager [a British citizen] (as to Nigeria payments).

In addition, the information charges that certain money in furtherance of the bribe payments were wired from accounts located in the U.S.

Deferred Prosecution Agreement

Pursuant to the DPA, TMII 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 TMII. Among the factors stated are the following.

“TMII and TDW promptly commenced an internal investigation into its dealings with [Panalpina] after becoming aware of information indicating potential issues with [Panalpina];”

“promptly after commencing its internal investigation, TMII and TDW voluntarily disclosed the conduct described in the Information to the Deparment;”

“TMII and TDW voluntarily expanded their internal investigation to numerous operations and areas of the world outside Nigeria where no misconduct had been reported or suspected, and reported all relevant findings to the Department;”

“TMII and TDW hired a General Counsel with substantial international compliance experience, appointed him the Chief Compliance Offcer, and established a Corporate Compliance Committee;”

“TMII and TDW issued an enhanced, stand-alone FCPA compliance policy, substantially revised its Code of Conduct, as well as additional relevant policies and procedures, including a vetting and approval process for third part service providers and business parners upon implementation of that policy, and instituted a worldwide training program for employees;”

“TMII and TDW expanded their internal investigation to cover additional countries and business activities;”

“TMII and TDW cooperated with the Department’s investigation, including sharing all relevant investigation findings and making available numerous current and former employees;”

“TMII and TDW exhibited leadership in the oil and gas industry by leading an oil and gas industry initiative, both in the United States and abroad, to address the [Nigeria TIPs conduct];”

“TMII and TDW implemented an enhanced compliance program and have agreed to undertake further remedial measures as contemplated by this Agreement …;”

“TDW, on behalf of TMII, agreed to provide a written report to the Deparment on its progress and experience in maintaining and, as appropriate, enhancing its compliance policies and procedures …;” and

“TMII and TDW agreed to continue to cooperate with the Deparment in any ongoing investigation of the conduct of TMI and its directors, employees, agents, consultants, contractors, subcontractors, subsidiaries, affiliates,
and others relating to violations of the FCPA.”

As stated in the DPA, the fine range for the above describe conduct under the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines was $10.5 million – $21 million. Pursuant to the DPA, TMII and TDW agreed that TMII shall pay a monetary penalty of $7.35 million – 30% below the minimum guideline amount.

As is standard in FCPA DPAs, TMII and TDW agreed not to make any public statement “contradicting the acceptance of responsibility by TMII as set forth” in the DPA and TMII and TDW 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 complaint (here) concerns the same core set of facts as set forth in the DOJ’s DPA.

In summary fashion, the SEC alleges as to Azerbaijan conduct that “between August 2001 and November 2005, Tidewater Inc. […] directly or through its subsidiaries, affiliates, employees and agents, violated [the FCPA’s anti-bribery and books and records and internal control provisions] by paying $160,000 in bribes to foreign government officials in Azerbaijan through a third party disguised as legitimate services to influence acts and decisions by these officials to resolve local Azeri tax audits in a Company subsidiary’s favor.”

According to the SEC, “these improper payments were authorized by senior employees at Tidewater and its subsidiaries while knowing, or ignoring red flags which indicated a high probability, such payments would be passed to government officials, inaccurately recorded in the Company’s or its affiliates’ books and records, and Tidewater failed to maintain sufficient internal controls to prevent such payments.”

The SEC complaint alleges that the payments included: (i) “on or about August 14, 2001, Tidewater authorized and paid $50,000 to a third party that it knew, or was reckless in not knowing, would be passed to government officials in Azerbaijan; (ii) “in July 2003, Tidewater authorized and paid $40,000 to a third party in two installments that it knew, or was reckless in not knowing, would be passed to government officials in Azerbaijan; and (iii) “on or about November 11, 2005, a Tidewater subsidiary authorized and paid $70,000 to a third party that it knew, or was reckless in not knowing, would be passed to government officials in Azerbaijan.”

The SEC’s complaint provides additional detail regarding the Azeri tax audits than the DOJ’s criminal information. The SEC’s allegations seem to suggest that the payments to the Azeri tax officials were the result of extortionate demands communicated to Tidewater entities through the Azerbaijan Agent. For instance, in connection with the 2001 tax audit, the complaint states that “Executive A [Tidewater’s CFO during the relevant period] believed that the 2001 Audit was sort of a ‘shakedown’ that the Azerbaijan Agent created in order to collect a fee.” As to this audit, the complaint further alleges that “Executive A and [another company employee] learned that the Azeri tax auditors threatened to use an accounting method that would result in a higher tax assessment because the tax auditors did not feel ‘respected.'” In connection with the 2002 tax audit, the complaint alleges that the Azerbaijan Agent informed Tidewater personnel “that the Azeri tax auditors had verbally identified a potential figure of up to $600,000 to resolve the 2003 audit” but that this “amount bore no relation to any actual tax assessment or penalty.”

As to Nigeria conduct, the SEC complaint alleges, in summary fashion, that “from in or about January 2002 through March 2007, Tidewater, through its subsidiaries and agents, also authorized the reimbursement of approximately $1.6 million to its customs broker in Nigeria used, in whole or in part, to make improper payments to Nigerian Customs Services (“NCS”) employees to induce them to disregard certain regulatory requirements in Nigeria relating to the temporary importation of the Company’s vessels into Nigerian waters.”

According to the SEC, both the Azeri and Nigerian payments:

“[W]ere improperly recorded as legitimate expenses in the Company’s books and records and all of them, with the exception of the 2003 Azerbaijan payments, were consolidated into Tidewater’s financial statements. Tidewater’s internal controls, including at least two internal audits, failed to detect numerous red flags which should have alerted its management that the Azerbaijan agent and Nigerian customs broker were likely using funds provided by Tidewater, in whole or in part, to make improper payments to government officials.”

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

As to the company’s internal controls, the SEC specifically alleged as follows.

“Tidewater’s controls over the engagement and activities of agents operating in high-risk jurisdictions outside of the marketing and sales area were inadequate. For example, the Company’s compliance program, including training provided to its employees, did not adequately address the applicability of the FCPA to customs, tax, and similar regulatory issues in its foreign subsidiary operations until March 2007. Moreover, employees in Azerbaijan easily circumvented the Company’s internal controls by setting up small cash reserves for contingencies, dividing the improper payments into increments below their discretional financial authority and processing a payment through a Company affiliate. Some of the payments for invoices that the Nigerian Agent submitted to Tidex were authorized, processed and funded without the work order or supporting documentation necessary to verify that the service was requested and rendered. Tidewater also conducted internal audits in 2001 and 2003 of its Nigerian operations that failed to detect the improper payments even though weaknesses with invoices from, and payments to, agents and consultants were identified.”

Without admitting or denying the SEC’s allegations, Tidewater agreed to an injunction and the payment of $8,104,362 in disgorgement and a $217,000 penalty.

Lucinda Low (here) (Steptoe & Johnson) represented Tidewater.

“The Payments … Would Not Constitute Facilitation Payments for Routine Governmental Actions Within the Meaning of the FCPA”

The above words are from the DOJ’s non-prosecution agreement with Noble Corporation (“Noble”). The DOJ used this phrase twice in the NPA and one can reasonably conclude that if the DOJ felt the need to express such a statement twice, that the FCPA’s facilitating payment exception is probably on the minds of many in connection with the CustomsGate enforcement actions.

Next up in the analysis of CustomsGate enforcement actions is Noble Corporation (see here). See this prior post for analysis of the GlobalSantaFe enforcement action.

The Noble enforcement action involved both a DOJ and SEC component. Total settlement amount was approximately $8.2 million ($2.6 million criminal fine via a non-prosecution agreement; $5.6 million in disgorgement and interest via a SEC complaint).

During the time period relevant to the enforcement action, Noble was a Cayman Islands company. In March 2009, a new Swiss parent company, also called Noble Corporation, was created and Noble Corporation, the Cayman Islands company, became a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Swiss parent company.

DOJ

As set forth in the NPA (see here), the DOJ agreed “not to criminally prosecute Noble […] or any of subsidiaries […] related to the making of improper payments by employees and agents of Noble and/or its subsidiaries to officials of the Nigerian Customs Service in connection with Noble’s and/or its subsidiaries’ import and export of goods and items relating to its operations in Nigeria from January 2003 to July 2007, and the accounting and record-keeping associated with these improper payments.”

According to the Statement of Facts in the NPA, a “Nigerian Customs Agent” provided a variety of logistics and customs services for Noble Drilling (Nigeria) Ltd. (“Noble Nigeria”) a wholly-owned subsidiary of Noble and the primary Noble operating company in Nigeria. The Nigerian Customs Agent submitted false documents to Nigerian customs officials on behalf of Noble Nigeria “relating to the temporary importation of rigs owned or operated by Noble Nigeria into Nigerian waters” and the Nigerian Customs Agent invoiced Noble Nigeria and was paid for its services.

The Statement of Facts describes “The Nigerian Temporary Import Process.” As described, if Noble were to “permanently import a rig into Nigerian waters” the customs duties were significant, between 10-20% of the total value of the rig. Alternatively, Noble could import rigs and other items on a temporary basis in which case no customs duties would be assessed. However, as described in the Statement of Facts, “a rig, or other item, could be imported on a temporary basis only if the item: (a) was considered a high valued piece of special equipment, (b) was not available for sale in Nigeria, and (c) was being imported temporarily and was intended to be exported.” If these requirements were met, “a company, through a local customs agent, could apply for a temporary import permit.” (“TIP”).

According to the Statement of Facts, “items imported under a TIP (and TIP extension) could not remain in Nigeria longer than the period allowed for by the TIP and/or TIP extensions. When the TIP (or TIP extension) expired, the owner “could either choose to permanently import the rig … or export the rig and re-import it and obtain a new initial TIP.” According to the Statement of Facts, “the failure to export the rig after the TIP expired could result in the assessment of Nigerian penalties of up to six times its cost.”

The Statement of Facts indicate that Noble Nigeria chose to temporarily import rigs into Nigeria and that Noble Nigeria employed the Nigeria Customs Agent to apply for and secure its TIPs and TIP extension.

According to the Statement of Facts, “whenever a TIP (and related TIP extensions) expired for a rig in Nigeria, the Nigerian Customs Agent, with the knowledge of Noble Nigeria, engaged in a process of submitting false paperwork on Noble Nigeria’s behalf to avoid the time, cost, and risk associated with exporting the rig and reimporting it into Nigerian waters” – the so called “paper process” or a “paper move.” The Statement of Facts further assert that the “Nigeria Customs Agent, with the knowledge of Noble Nigeria, created and caused to be presented to the [Nigeria Customs Service] NCS documents that reflected that the rig had been physically exported and reimported, when, in fact, the rig had remained in Nigeria.”

According to the Statement of Facts, the Nigeria Customs Agent included a line item in its invoices for “special handling charges” and “Noble Nigeria personnel were informed by the Nigerian Customs Agent that all or part of the ‘special handling charges’ would be paid by the Nigeria Customs Agents to NCS officials.” Further, the Statement of Facts assert that “Noble Nigeria personnel approved the payments to the Nigerian Customs Agent with the knowledge that some or all of the payments would be paid to NCS officials.”

The Statement of Facts assert that “certain Noble and Noble Nigeria managers and employees authorized paper moves on five occasions.” In a separate section of the NPA titled, “Corporate Knowledge of the TIP Paper Process” the following statements are made.

“Manager A” (a U.S. citizen and a former manager in Noble’s Internal Audit Department) “interviewed several Noble-Nigeria employees who explained that false paperwork had been created and submitted to NCS officials through the Nigeria Customs Agent in connection with the process of securing TIPs” and that Manager A “also learned that the Nigeria Customs Agent in the past had charged a fee of approximately $75,000 per TIP to secure the TIPS.”

Manager A provided a written summary to Executive A (a U.S. citizen, an officer of Noble, and Head of Internal Audit).

Executive A discussed Manager A’s findings with Executive B (a U.S. citizen, an officer of Noble, and the Vice President-Eastern Hemisphere with management responsibility for Nigerian operations). Executive A then informed the Senior Executive (a U.S. citizen, an officer of Noble, and the former Chief Financial Officer).

The Audit Committee was advised of the “paper process” as was “members of Noble’s senior management.”

Executive B was tasked with “ensuring the Company’s compliance with all applicable rules and regulations related to the importation and exportation of assets in Nigeria…”.

Corrective action was contemplated, such as permanently importing rigs or moving them to a free trade zone, but Manager A and Executive B “decided that due to the time, cost, and risk of permanently importing or moving the rigs, the paper process would be used for three rigs for which TIPs had expired.”

“The Audit Committee was not advised of the decision to resume the paper process.”

Without any elaboration, the Statement of Facts states that the above described payments “would not constitute facilitation payments for routine governmental actions within the meaning of the FCPA.”

The Statement of Facts continue – between May 2005 and March 2006 “a total of five (5) TIPs were obtained through the submission of false documents via the paper process, and each included the payment of ‘special handling fees’ to the Nigeria Customs Agent. The ‘special handling fees’ ranged from approximately $13,800 to $17,000.”

According to the Statement of Facts:

“By their approval of the payments and the process, the Senior Executive, and Executive B caused Noble to inaccurately record in its books, records, and accounts the five (5) “special handling fee” payments paid to the Nigeria Customs Agent in a “facilitation payments” account totaling approximately $74,000, when the Senior Executive, Executive A, and Executive B knew that some or all of these payments would be passed on to NCS officials to obtain TIPs. Thus, such payments could not be facilitation payments for the performance of a “routine governmental action” within the meaning of the FCPA.”

The remainder of the Statement of Facts describes how Executive A failed to advise the Audit Committee and/or concealed from the Audit Committee that the paper process had resumed.

According to the Statement of Facts, “the total benefit received by Noble Nigeria for these payments in avoided costs, duties, and penalties was approximately $2,973,000.”

As noted in the NPA, the DOJ agreed to enter into the NPA based, in part, on the following factors:

“The Department enters into this Non-Prosecution Agreement based, in part, on the following factors: (a) Noble’s discovery of the violations through its own internal investigation; (b) Noble’s timely, voluntary, and complete disclosure of the facts described in [the Statement of Facts]; (c) Noble’s extensive, thorough, real-time cooperation with the Department and the SEC …; (d) Noble’s voluntary investigation of the Company’s business operations throughout the world; (e) the existence of Noble’s pre-existing compliance program and steps taken by Noble’s Audit Committee to detect and prevent improper conduct from occurring; (f) Noble’s remedial efforts to enhance its compliance program and oversight that have already been undertaken; (g) Noble’s agreement to continue to implement enhanced compliance measures …; and (h) Noble’s agreement to provide annual, written reports to the Department on its progress and experience in maintaining and, as appropriate, enhancing its compliance policies and procedures …”.

As is standard process in an NPA, Noble admitted, accepted, and acknowledged its responsibility for the conduct of its employees, agents, and subsidiaries as set forth in a Statement of Facts, and further agreed “not to make any public statement contradicting” the Statement of Facts.

SEC

The SEC’s complaint (here) concerns the same core set of facts as set forth in the DOJ’s NPA.

In summary fashion, the SEC alleges that “through the TIPs obtained using the paper process, Noble obtained profits from continued operations of rigs in Nigeria and avoided the costs of moving rigs out of and back into Nigerian waters.” According to the SEC, “Noble’s total gains from this conduct were at least $4,294,933.”

The SEC charged Noble with violating the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions, as well as the FCPA’s books and records and internal control provisions.

As to the FCPA’s books and records charge, the SEC alleges that “Noble Nigeria recorded the portion of the payments it made to its customs agent that certain Noble personnel believed were being passed on to Nigerian government officials in Noble’s ‘facilitating payment’ account and in some cases to other operating expense accounts…” However, without elaborating the SEC states, “because these payments were not qualifying facilitating payments under the FCPA or otherwise legitimate expenses, Noble created false books and records by recording the payments as such.”

As to the internal controls charges, the SEC alleges that “although Noble had an FCPA policy in place, Noble lacked sufficient FCPA procedures, training, and internal controls to prevent the use of the paper process and making of payments to Nigerian government officials to obtain TIPs and TIP extensions.”

Without admitting or denying the SEC’s allegations, Noble agreed to agreed to an injunction and will pay disgorgement and prejudgment interest of $5,576,998.

Neither the DOJ nor the SEC resolution require the company to engage a compliance monitor.

Both the DOJ’s NPA and the SEC’s complaint specifically mention that Noble conducted a worldwide review of its operations. That no other conduct was mentioned in either the DOJ’s NPA or the SEC’s complaint, suggests that Noble’s Nigerian import/export issues were an isolated incident, not indicative of systemic issues throughout the company’s other operations.

In a press release (here) Noble’s CEO stated that “ethical business conduct and strict compliance with the law remain central to Noble’s operating philosophy,” that the company “is pleased that these investigations have been concluded and a resolution has been reached,” and that the company “is moving forward with a continuing commitment to ethical business practices and a dedication to compliance, ideas that are reflected in our core values, our policies, our training and our expectations for ethical behavior.” The release notes as follows: “In May 2007, the Company self-reported to the DOJ and the SEC possible improper payments by a customs agent in connection with securing temporary import permits and extensions for the operations of Noble’s rigs in Nigeria. An internal investigation was promptly conducted by independent outside counsel, and the Company has cooperated thoroughly with the independent investigator’s review and the government’s investigation.”

In a 10-K filing yesterday, Noble stated as follows:

“We are currently operating three jackup rigs offshore Nigeria. The temporary import permits covering two of these rigs expired in November 2008 and we have pending applications to renew these permits. We have received notice that we will be allowed to obtain a new temporary import permit for one of the two rigs and are in the process of clarifying this approval. However, as of October 31, 2010, the Nigerian customs office had not acted on our application for the second unpermitted rig, but we are discussing undertaking the same process as for the first rig. We did obtain a new temporary import permit for the third rig in 2009 that had previously been operating with an expired temporary import permit, while the application was pending, by exporting and re−importing the rig. We continue to seek to avoid material disruption to our Nigerian operations; however, there can be no assurance that we will be able to obtain new permits or further extensions of permits necessary to continue the operation of our rigs in Nigeria. If we cannot obtain a new permit or an extension necessary to continue operations of any rig, we may need to cease operations under the drilling contract for such rig and relocate such rig from Nigerian waters. In any case, we also could be subject to actions by Nigerian customs for import duties and fines for these two rigs, as well as other drilling rigs that operated in Nigeria in the past. We cannot predict what impact these events may have on any such contract or our business in Nigeria. Furthermore, we cannot predict what changes, if any, relating to temporary import permit policies and procedures may be established or implemented in Nigeria in the future, or how any such changes may impact our business there.

Mary Spearing, a former DOJ attorney (here), represented Noble.

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