Top Menu

BAE – The Non-Bribery Bribery Allegations

Back in law school, a professor was fond of the phrase ““if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, looks like a duck, it must be a duck.”

Among other allegations, DOJ’s criminal information (here) against BAE alleges that BAE served as the “prime contractor to the U.K. government following the conclusion of a Formal Understanding between the U.K. and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (“KSA”)” in which BAE sold to the U.K. government, which then in turn sold to the Saudi government several Tornado and Hawk aircraft, “along with other military hardware, training and services.” The information refers to these frequent arrangements as the “KSA Fighter Deals.”

In connection these deals, the information alleges that “BAE provided substantial benefits to one KSA public official, who was in a position of influence regarding the KSA Fighter Deals (the “KSA Official”), and to the KSA Official’s associates.” The indictment alleges that BAE “provided these benefits through various payment mechanisms both in the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S. and elsewhere.”

WALKS LIKE A DUCK!

This allegation is important from an FCPA perspective because the FCPA only applies to a company like BAE (a foreign company with no shares listed on a U.S. exchange) if conduct in furtherance of a bribery scheme has a U.S. nexus. See 78dd-3. [BAE does have a wholly-owned U.S. subsidiary – a “domestic concern” under the FCPA – but the information states that this entity was not involved in the conduct alleged in the information].

In addition, the information contains additional allegations which clearly demonstrate that BAE’s bribery scheme had a U.S. nexus. For instance, the information alleges that BAE “provided support services to [the] KSA Official while in the territory of the U.S.” and that these benefits “included the purchase of travel and accommodations, security services, real estate, automobiles and personal items.” The information alleges that over $5 million in invoices for benefits provided to the KSA Official were submitted by just one BAE employee during a one year period.

QUACKS LIKE A DUCK!

The information also alleges that BAE “used intermediaries and shell entities to conceal payments to certain advisers who were assisting in the solicitation, promotion and otherwise endeavoring to secure the conclusion or maintenance of the KSA Fighter Deals.”

Specifically, the information alleges that “in connection with the KSA Fighter Deals, BAE agreed to transfer sums totaling more than £10,000,00 and more than $9,000,000 to a bank account in Switzerland controlled by an intermediary. BAE was aware that there was a high probability that the intermediary would transfer part of these payments to the KSA Official.”

Such “high probability” language is a direct quote from the FCPA’s so-called third party payment provisions which prohibit making improper payments to any person “while knowing that all or a portion” of the money will be given to a foreign official in order to obtain or retain business. The FCPA specifically provides that “[w]hen knowledge of the existence of a particular circumstance is required for an offense, such knowledge is established if a person is aware of a high probability of the existence of such circumstance, unless the person actually believes that such circumstance does not exist.”

In order words, the “high probability” language used in the BAE criminal information is no mere coincidence. In fact, that language (i.e. a company was aware that there was a high probability that the intermediary would transfer part of its payments to a foreign official) is frequently used by the DOJ in resolving FCPA antibribery actions.

For instance, in the InVision FCPA enforcement action, the “investigations by the DOJ and SEC revealed that InVision, through the conduct of certain employees, was aware of a high probability that its agents or distributors” in Thailand, China and the Philippines “had paid or offered to pay money to foreign officials or political parties in connection with transactions or proposed transactions for the sale by InVision of its airport security screening machines.” (See here). Specifically, the non-prosecution agreement (here) notes that: (i) InVision “was aware of a high probability that part of the source of funds” to an agent was to be used by the agent “to fund an offer to promise to make payments” to Thai officials; (ii) InVision authorized a payment to an agent “with awareness of a high probability” that the agent “intended to use part of that payment to influence” Chinese officials; and (iii) InVision sought authorization for a payment to an agent “with awareness of a high probability that” the agent “intended to use part of that payment to influence officials of the government of the Philippines” – all in an effort to obtain or retain business for InVision.

LOOKS LIKE A DUCK!

Yet, the DOJ’s criminal information merely charges one count of conspiracy and it lacks any FCPA antibribery charges. Moreover, the conspiracy charge relates only to “making certain false, inaccurate and incomplete statements to the U.S. government and failing to honor certain undertakings given to the U.S. government, thereby defrauding the United States” and “caus[ing] to be filed export license applications with [various U.S. government entities] that omitted a material fact” concerning fee and commission payments.” Among the false statements BAE is alleged to have made to the U.S. government is its commitment to not knowingly violate the FCPA.

This is the only mention of the FCPA in the information despite the above allegations concerning the KSA Fighter Deals – facts which clearly implicate the FCPA’s antibribery provisions.

In other words, NO DUCK!

For a prior post on BAE (see here).

BAE

In a joint enforcement action that is sure to generate much discussion and controversy, the U.K. Serious Fraud Office (SFO) and the U.S. DOJ announced today resolution of an enforcement action against BAE Systems.

The SFO announced (here) that it has “reached an agreement with BAE systems that the company will plead guilty” to the offense of “failing to keep reasonably accurate accounting records in relation to its activities in Tanzania.”

BAE’s press release (here) notes that “[i]n connection with the sale of a radar system by the Company to Tanzania in 1999, the Company made commission payments to a marketing adviser and failed to accurately record such payments in its accounting records. The Company failed to scrutinise these records adequately to ensure that they were reasonably accurate and permitted them to remain uncorrected. The Company very much regrets and accepts full responsibility for these past shortcomings.”

The SFO and company release note that BAE will pay a £30 million penalty “comprising a fine to be determined by the Court with the balance paid as a charitable payment for the benefit of Tanzania.”

In a strange turn of events, the SFO also announced (here) that it has withdrawn charges filed last week (see here) against a former agent charged with “conspiracy to corrupt” and for “conspiring with others to give or agree to give corrupt payments […] to unknown officials and other agents of certain Eastern and Central European governments, including the Czech Republic, Hungary and Austria as inducements to secure, or as rewards for having secured, contracts from those governments for the supply of goods to them, namely SAAB/Gripen fighter jets, by BAE Systems Plc.”

The SFO release notes that “[t]his decision brings to an end the SFO’s investigations into BAE’s defence contracts.”

So what happened to the charges and allegations involving certain Eastern and Central European governments, including the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Austria?

Good question.

Much like the wave of magician’s wand, they have simply disappeared.

Closer to home, the DOJ announced that it:

“filed a criminal charge (here) in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against BAE Systems plc charging that the multinational defense contractor conspired to impede the lawful functions of the Departments of Defense and State, made false statements to the Departments of Defense and Justice about establishing an effective anti-corruption compliance program to ensure conformance with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and paid hundreds of millions of dollars in undisclosed commission payments in violation of U.S. export control laws.”

The DOJ and BAE release note that the company “will pay a fine of $400 million and make additional commitments concerning its ongoing compliance.”

According to the DOJ release (which is available through the DOJ Office of Public Affairs, but not yet publicly posted on DOJ’s website) “BAE Systems is charged with intentionally failing to put appropriate, anti-bribery preventative measures in place, contrary to the representations it made to the United States government, and then making hundreds of millions of dollars in payments to third parties, while knowing of a high probability that money would be passed on to foreign government decision makers to favor BAE in the award of defense contracts. BAE Systems allegedly failed to disclose these payments to the State Department, as it was required to do so under U.S. laws and regulations in order to get necessary export licenses.”

The bold language above would expose most companies to an FCPA enforcement action, but BAE is no ordinary company. It is a major defense contractor on both sides of the Atlantic (as noted in the criminal information “in 2008, BAE was the largest defense contractor in Europe and the fifth largest in the U.S. as measured by sales”).

You can bet that these charges were the subject of much negotiation so as to not upset current or future government contracts as well as foreign policy issues and concerns.

The BAE charges and thus similar to those against Siemens in December 2008. In that case, despite the company engaging in bribery “unprecedented in scale and geographic scope” and despite the company being one in which “bribery was nothing less than standard operating procedure” (both direct DOJ quotes), the company avoided FCPA antibribery charges. (See here for prior posts about Siemens).

These two cases seriously raise the issue of whether certain companies in certain industries are simply “above” the FCPA.

Can the enforcement agencies on both sides of the Atlantic say with a straight face that this case was merely about improper record keeping, making false statements to the government, and export licenses?

Transparency, corporate accountability, and indeed a criminal justice system all suffered setbacks today.

The FCPA suffered a black-eye as well and one would be right to ask, “what the heck is going on here!”

Potpourri

A Friday roundup of recent FCPA events.

An FCPA Sentencing Trend?

As noted in yesterday’s DOJ release (here), two former executives of Willbros International Inc. (a subsidiary of Houston-based Willbros Group Inc.) were sentenced for their roles in a conspiracy to make improper payments to “foreign officials” in Nigeria and Ecuador.

Jason Edward Steph was sentenced to 15 months in prison and Jim Bob Brown was sentenced to 366 days in prison.

For more on the Willbros matter, see here and here.

The DOJ’s sentencing recommendations appear to be sealed, but one can assume, given the “light” sentences, that perhaps the DOJ likely sought sentences greater than those issued by District Court Judge Simeon Lake.

If so, this would appear to continue a trend of judges sentencing FCPA defendants to prison sentences less than those recommended by DOJ.

For instance, in Frederic Bourke case, a case which involved a “massive bribery scheme” according to DOJ, Judge Shira Scheindin rejected the 10-year prison sentence proposed by DOJ and sentenced Bourke to 366 days in prison. (see here). In sentencing Bourke, Judge Scheindin is reported to have said “after years of supervising this case, it’s still not entirely clear to me whether Mr. Bourke is a victim or a crok or a little bit of both.”

With several FCPA sentencing dates on the horizon, this apparent trend will be an issue to watch.

See here for local media coverage regarding the sentences.

Kozeny’s Tan Not in Jeopardy

While Bourke (see here) prepares his appeal, Viktor Kozeny, the alleged master-mind of the scheme to bribe officials in Azerbaijan in connection with privatization of the state-owned oil company, will be staying put in The Bahamas as an appellate court again rejected DOJ’s extradition attempts.

As noted in the recent Bahamian Court of Appeals decision (here), Kozeny, a Czech national, has been living in The Bahamas since 1995 and has not departed the country since 1999.

The opinion notes that there is no dispute “that there was a conspiracy to corrupt the Azeri officials and that such officials were paid money, given gifts and provided shares in certain companies under the control of [Kozeny] without payment; and had certain medical procedures paid for them by [Kozeny].

Even so, the court concluded that while The Bahamas did indeed have a bribery/corruption statute, it applied only to bribes within The Bahamas or given to a Bahamian public officer. Thus, because Kozeny’s conduct would not violate Bahamian law, the appellate court upheld the lower court’s denial of the extradition request.

For additional coverage (see here and here and here).

According to these reports, the decision may be appealed to London’s Privy Council pursuant to Bahamian legal procedure. Kozeny’s U.S. lawyer is quoted as saying “enough is enough” and U.S. prosecutors should finally accept the fact that Kozney, a non-U.S. citizen, could not violate the FCPA as it existed in 1998 – the year in which the bribe scheme perhaps ended – although, as noted in the opinion, the U.S. alleges that the bribe scheme continued into 1999.

Why is this relevant?

Because the FCPA was amended in 1998 to include, among other provisions, 78dd-3 which applies the antibribery provisions to “any person” (i.e. foreigners) “while in the territory of the U.S.” from making use of the mails or any other means or instrumentality of interstate commerce in furtherance of an improper payment.

The SFO Continues to “Step-It-Up”

Today, the U.K. Serious Fraud Office (the functional equivalent of the DOJ) issued a release (here) indicating that a former BAE agent has been charged with “conspiracy to corrupt” for “conspiring with others to give or agree to give corrupt payments […] to unknown officials and other agents of certain Eastern and Central European governments, including the Czech Republic, Hungary and Austria as inducements to secure, or as rewards for having secured, contracts from those governments for the supply of goods to them, namely SAAB/Gripen fighter jets, by BAE Systems Plc.”

For local media coverage of the charges (see here).

With a new Bribery Bill expected in the U.K. by years end, the SFO continues to “step-it-up” (see here for more on the SFO).

Disclosing FCPA Compliance

Public companies dislose FCPA issues all the time. Rarely though do the disclosures concern issues other than internal investigations and potential enforcement actions.

Accordingly, two recent SEC filings caught my eye.

China MediaExpress Holdings, Inc. (a Delaware company) recently disclosed (here) that it:

“[e]ntered into a securities purchase agreement with Starr Investments Cayman II, Inc. Under this agreement, Starr will, subject to various terms and conditions, purchase from the Company 1,000,000 shares of Series A Convertible Preferred Stock and warrants to purchase 1,545,455 shares of the Common Stock of the Company for an aggregate purchase price of US$30,000,000.”

One of the conditions was that the company “shall have adopted a program with respect to compliance with the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act” and a post-closing covenant obligates the company to “implement a program regarding compliance with the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act not later than April 30, 2010.”

Cardtronics Inc. (an operator of ATM networks around the world) (here) recently disclosed (here) that:

“On January 25, 2010, the Board of Directors by unanimous vote approved three management proposed modifications to the Company’s Code of Business Conduct and Ethics. The modifications as approved by the Board include: (i) adding a section that addressed compliance with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and International Anti-Bribery and Fair Competition Act of 1998.”

Costa Rica Joins the Club

Last, but certainly not least, Costa Rica recently announced a first … the first time a foreign corporation has paid the government damages for corruption.

As noted here, telecom company Alcatel-Lucent recently disclosed a $10 million payment to settle a corruption case in Costa Rica in which it was accused of paying kicbacks to former Costa Rican President Miguel Angel Rodriguez (and others government officials) in return for a 2001 contract worth $149 million.

There has been FCPA/corruption issues on both sides “of the hyphen” as noted here in this recent Main Justice article.

And with that, have a nice weekend.

Powered by WordPress. Designed by WooThemes