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Former Bio-Rad General Counsel Brings Employment Claims Against Company And Executives In The Aftermath Of An FCPA Enforcement Action

Bio-Rad

In recent years several terminated corporate employees have alleged unfair employment practices in connection with some aspect of FCPA scrutiny or enforcement.

Indeed, in 2010 FCPA Professor coined the term “noisy exit” to describe this dynamic.

Last week, Sanford Wadler, the former General Counsel and Secretary of Bio-Lab Laboratories, filed this civil complaint in federal court (N.D. Cal.) against the company and certain executive officers and board members alleging various unfair employment practices.  In summary fashion, the complaint alleges:

“This matter presents the classic case of whistleblower retaliation. After learning of his employer Bio-Rad’s involvement in extensive bribery occurring in Russia, Thailand, and Vietnam, Wadler investigated evidence of similar violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) in China, where corruption is notoriously endemic. Key Bio-Rad officers and directors wanted Wadler to turn a blind eye to this misconduct or sweep it under the rug, but he refused. Instead, and following his mandatory duties under federal securities laws as the Company’s chief legal officer, Wadler investigated this potential criminal activity and reported it up the ladder. When Wadler reasonably began to believe that the conspiracy to violate the FCPA went all the way to the top of the corporate hierarchy, he reported his concerns to the Company’s audit committee. Then, just shortly before Bio-Rad was scheduled to present to the SEC and DOJ regarding the Company’s investigation into potential FCPA violations, the Company fired Wadler precisely because he refused to be complicit in its wrongdoing. A company is not allowed to attempt to silence whistleblowers in this manner.”

Wadler’s complaint asserts various federal and state law claims.

As highlighted in this previous post, in November 2014 Bio-Rad agreed to pay approximately $55 million to resolve DOJ and SEC FCPA enforcement actions.

Wadler’s complaint contains interesting allegations as to the inner-workers of how FCPA allegations were handled at Bio-Rad as well as critical allegations concerning the law firms hired by Bio-Rad to conduct the FCPA internal investigation.

Wadler is represented by Michael Von Loewenfeldt of Kerr & Wagstaffe LLP

Friday Roundup

Roundup2

The anti-bribery business, quotable, scrutiny alerts and updates, and for the reading stack.  It’s all here in the Friday Roundup.

“The Anti-Bribery Business”

Several articles have been written about FCPA Inc., a term I coined in April 2010 (see here), as well as the “facade of FCPA enforcement” (see here for my 2010 article of the same name).

The articles have included: “Cashing in on Corruption” (Washington Post); “The Bribery Racket” (Forbes); and “FCPA Inc. and the Business of Bribery” (Wall Street Journal).

I talked at length with The Economist about the above topics and certain of my comments are included in this recent article “The Anti-Bribery Business.”

“The huge amount of work generated for internal and external lawyers and for compliance staff is the result of firms bending over backwards to be co-operative, in the hope of negotiating reduced penalties. Some are even prepared to waive the statute of limitations for the conclusion of their cases. They want to be sure they have answered the “Where else?” question: where in the world might the firm have been engaging in similar practices?

In doing so, businesses are egged on by what Mr Koehler calls “FCPA Inc”. This is “a very aggressively marketed area of the law,” he says, “with no shortage of advisers financially incentivised to tell you the sky is falling in.” Convinced that it is, the bosses of accused companies will then agree to any measure, however excessive, to demonstrate that they have comprehensively answered the “Where else?” question. So much so that even some law enforcers have started telling them to calm down. Last year Leslie Caldwell, head of the DOJ’s criminal division, said internal investigations were sometimes needlessly broad and costly, delaying resolution of matters. “We do not expect companies to aimlessly boil the ocean,” she said.

Her words have provided scant comfort: defence lawyers say that their clients feel that if they investigate problems less exhaustively, they risk giving the impression that they are withholding information. Some say the DOJ is maddeningly ambiguous, encouraging firms to overreact when allegations surface.”

Quotable

Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell is spot-on in this recent Q&A in Fraud Magazine as to the importance of uniquely tailored compliance.

“I think companies have to tailor their compliance programs and their investigative mechanisms to their businesses. There’s no one-size-fits-all compliance program. Different businesses have different risks. And a company needs to do an assessment that’s very tailored to their risks and game out what could go wrong and figure out how to prevent that from happening.”

She is less than clear though when describing when the DOJ would like companies to voluntarily disclose:

“We don’t want a company to wait until they’ve completed their own investigation before they come to us. We’ll give them room to do that, but there may be investigative steps that we want to take that maybe the company is not even capable of taking. We definitely don’t want to send a message that the company should complete its own investigation and then come to us. However, we obviously don’t expect a company to report to us as soon as it receives a hotline report that it hasn’t even checked into yet.”

For your viewing pleasure, here is the video of a recent speech by Caldwell (previously highlighted here) along with Q&A.

Scrutiny Alerts and Updates

Bilfinger

Reuters reports:

“German engineering firm Bilfinger has become the first international company to disclose to Brazil that it may have paid bribes as it seeks leniency under a new anti-corruption law, Comptroller General Valdir Simão said on Thursday. By reporting potential graft to the comptroller, known by the acronym CGU, Bilfinger hopes to continue operating in Brazil, Simão said, though it may still pay damages. “The company knows it will be punished in Brazil; it is not exempt from fines,” Simao said at a conference in Sao Paulo adding that in exchange the company could be guaranteed the right to keep operating in Brazil. Companies that are convicted for bribery could be banned from future contracts in Brazilunder the law, which took effect in January 2014. Bilfinger said in March that it may have paid 1 million euros to public officials in Brazil in connection with orders for large screens for security control centers during the 2014 soccer World Cup. It is conducting an internal investigation and collaborating with Brazilian authorities, Bilfinger said in a statement at the time. Five companies are pursuing leniency deals with the CGU, Simao said, adding that such deals are “quite new” for the country. Four are tied to a scandal at Brazil’s state-run oil firm Petroleo Brasileiro SA, he said.”

As highlighted in this previous post, in December 2013 German-based Bilfinger paid approximately $32 million to resolve an FCPA enforcement action concerning alleged conduct in Nigeria.  The enforcement action was resolved via a three-year deferred prosecution agreement.

Siemens

Reuters reports:

“A Chinese regulator investigated Siemens AG last year over whether the German group’s healthcare unit and its dealers bribed hospitals to buy expensive disposable products used in some of its medical devices, three people with knowledge of the probe told Reuters. The investigation, which has not previously been reported, follows a wide-reaching probe into the pharmaceutical industry in China that last year saw GlaxoSmithKline Plc fined nearly $500 million for bribing officials to push its medicine sales. China’s State Administration for Industry and Commerce (SAIC) accused Siemens and its dealers of having violated competition law by donating medical devices in return for agreements to exclusively buy the chemical reagents needed to run the machines from Siemens, the people said.”

In 2008, Siemens paid $800 million to resolve DOJ and SEC FCPA enforcement actions that were widespread in scope.  The enforcement action remains the largest of all-time in terms of overall settlement amount.

Dun & Bradstreet

The company recently disclosed the following update regarding its FCPA scrutiny.

“On March 18, 2012, we announced we had temporarily suspended our Shanghai Roadway D&B Marketing Services Co. Ltd. (“Roadway”) operations in China, pending an investigation into allegations that its data collection practices may have violated local Chinese consumer data privacy laws. Thereafter, the Company decided to permanently cease the operations of Roadway. In addition, we have been reviewing certain allegations that we may have violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and certain other laws in our China operations. As previously reported, we have voluntarily contacted the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) and the United States Department of Justice (“DOJ”) to advise both agencies of our investigation, and we are continuing to meet with representatives of both the SEC and DOJ in connection therewith. Our investigation remains ongoing and is being conducted at the direction of the Audit Committee.

During the three months ended March 31, 2015 , we incurred $0.4 million of legal and other professional fees related to matters in China, as compared to $0.3 million of legal and other professional fees related to matters in China for the three months ended March 31, 2014.

As our investigation and our discussions with both the SEC and DOJ are ongoing, we cannot yet predict the ultimate outcome of the matter or its impact on our business, financial condition or results of operations. Based on our discussions with the SEC and DOJ, including an indication from the SEC in February and March 2015 of its initial estimate of the amount of net benefit potentially earned by the Company as a result of the challenged activities, we continue to believe that it is probable that the Company will incur a loss related to the government’s investigation. We will be meeting with the Staff of the SEC to obtain and to further understand the assumptions and methodologies underlying their current estimate of net benefit and will subsequently provide a responsive position. The DOJ also advised the Company in February 2015 that they will be proposing terms of a potential settlement, but we are unable to predict the timing or terms of any such proposal. Accordingly, we are unable at this time to reasonably estimate the amount or range of any loss, although it is possible that the amount of such loss could be material.”

Bio-Rad

The company disclosed as follows concerning civil litigation filed in the aftermath of its November 2014 FCPA enforcement action (see here for the prior post).

“On January 23, 2015, the City of Riviera Beach General Employees’ Retirement System filed a new shareholder derivative lawsuit in the Superior Court of Contra Costa County against three of our current directors and one former director. We are also named as a nominal defendant. In the complaint, the plaintiff alleges that our directors breached their fiduciary duty of loyalty by failing to ensure that we had sufficient internal controls and systems for compliance with the FCPA; that we failed to provide adequate training on the FCPA; and that based on these actions, the directors have been unjustly enriched. Purportedly seeking relief on our behalf, the plaintiff seeks an award of restitution and unspecified damages, costs and expenses (including attorneys’ fees). We and the individual defendants have filed a demurrer requesting dismissal of the complaint in this case.

On January 30, 2015, we received a demand pursuant to Section 220 of the Delaware General Corporation Law from the law firm of Scott + Scott LLP on behalf of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 38 Pension Fund to inspect certain of our books and records. The alleged purpose of the demand is to investigate potential wrongdoing, mismanagement, and breach of fiduciary duties by our directors and executive officers in connection with the matters relating to our FCPA settlement with the SEC and DOJ, and alleged lack of internal controls. We objected to the demand on procedural grounds by letter. On May 1, 2015, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 38 Pension Fund filed an action against us in the Delaware Court of Chancery to compel the inspection of the requested books and records.

On March 13, 2015, we received a demand pursuant to Section 220 of the Delaware General Corporation Law from the law firm of Kirby McInerney LLP on behalf of Wayne County Employees’ Retirement System to inspect certain of our books and records. The alleged purpose of the demand is to investigate potential wrongdoing, mismanagement, and breach of fiduciary duties by our directors and executive officers in connection with the matters relating to our FCPA settlement with the SEC and DOJ, and alleged lack of internal controls. We objected to the demand on procedural grounds by letter. On April 21, 2015, Wayne County Employees’ Retirement System filed an action against us in the Delaware Court of Chancery to compel the inspection of the requested books and records.”

Nortek

The company disclosed its FCPA scrutiny earlier this year and stated as follows in its recent quarterly filing:

“For the first quarter of 2015 approximately $1 million was recorded for legal and other professional services incurred related to the internal investigation of this matter. The Company expects to incur additional costs relating to the investigation of this matter throughout 2015.”

For the Reading Stack

From Global Compliance News by Baker & McKenzie titled “When a DPA is DOA:  What The Increasing Judicial Disapproval of Corporate DPAs Means for Corporate Resolutions With the U.S. Government.”

“The legal setting in which corporations are negotiating with U.S. regulators is always evolving. Federal judges’ increasing willingness to second-guess negotiated settlements between the government and corporations is likely to encourage government attorneys to seek even more onerous settlements to ensure that judges do not reject them or criticize the agency in open court. Companies and their counsel should be ready to push back, using the judicial scrutiny to their advantage where possible.”

*****

A good weekend to all.

Like A Kid In A Candy Store

Kid in Candy Store

Like every year around this time, I feel like a kid in a candy store given the number of FCPA year in reviews hitting my inbox.  This post highlights various FCPA or related publications that caught my eye.

Reading the below publications is recommended and should find their way to your reading stack.  However, be warned.  The divergent enforcement statistics contained in them (a result of various creative counting methods) are likely to make you dizzy at times and as to certain issues.

Given the increase in FCPA Inc. statistical information and the growing interest in empirical FCPA-related research, I again highlight the need for an FCPA lingua franca (see here for the prior post), including adoption of the “core” approach to FCPA enforcement statistics (see here for the prior post), an approach endorsed by even the DOJ (see here), as well as commonly used by others outside the FCPA context (see here)

Debevoise & Plimpton

The firm’s monthly FCPA Update is consistently a quality read.  The most recent issue is a year in review and the following caught my eye.

“The government’s pressure on companies to assist in investigating and prosecuting individuals raises significant challenges for in-house legal and compliance personnel as they work to navigate the potentially conflicting interests in anti-bribery compliance and internal investigations.  This pressure has produced legitimate concerns that a failure to self-report could, in and of itself, be met with, or be the cause for imposing, monetary penalties.  Although the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines provide for a reduction in fines for a heightened level of cooperation, outside of a narrow range of arenas (such as where duties to self-report are imposed on U.S. government contractors), the government generally lacks any statutory basis for imposing financial penalties against companies for the failure to self-report potential misconduct.  Since there is no legal obligation to self-report, it is our view that the government should exercise caution when discussing bases for monetary penalties and should rely solely on laws passed by Congress and the Sentencing Guidelines provisions that properly draw their authority from a duly-passed statute.  It would be a disturbing trend indeed were the government to begin to impose monetary penalties for failing to self-report where there is no legal obligation to do so.  The actions by U.S. regulators in the coming year will continue to warrant close scrutiny …”.

Gibson Dunn

The firm’s Year-End FCPA Update is a quality read year after year.  It begins as follows.

“Within the last decade, Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) enforcement has become a juggernaut of U.S. enforcement agencies.  Ten years ago, we published our first report on the state-of-play in FCPA enforcement.  Although prosecutions were at the time quite modest–our first update noted only five enforcement actions in 2004–we observed an upward trend in disclosed investigations and advised our readership that enhanced government attention to the then-underutilized statute was likely.  From the elevated plateau of 2015, we stand by our prediction. In addition to the traditional calendar-year observations of our year-end updates, this tenth-anniversary edition looks back and analyzes five trends in FCPA enforcement we have observed over the last decade.”

The update flushes out the following interesting tidbit from the Bio-Rad enforcement action.

“[A noteworthy aspect] of the Bio-Rad settlement is that it is the first DOJ FCPA corporate settlement agreement to require executives to certify, prior to the end of the [post-enforcement action] reporting period, that the company has met its disclosure obligations.  As noted above in the Ten-Year Trend section, post-resolution reporting obligations, including an affirmative obligation to disclose new misconduct, have long been a common feature of FCPA resolutions.  But Bio-Rad’s is the first agreement to insert a provision requiring that prior to the conclusion of the supervisory period, the company CEO and CFO “certify to [DOJ] that the Company has met its disclosure obligations,” subject to penalties under 18 U.S.C. § 1001.”

Gibson Dunn also released (here) its always informative “Year-End Update on Corporate Deferred Prosecution Agreements (DPAs) and Non-Prosecution Agreements (NPAs).”  The update:  “(1) summarizes highlights from the DPAs and NPAs of 2014; (2) discusses several post settlement considerations, including protections for independent monitor work product and post settlementterm revisions; (3) analyzes a potential trend in the judicial oversight of DPAs; and(4) addresses recent developments in the United Kingdom, where the Deferred ProsecutionAgreements Code of Practice recently took effect.

According to the Update, there were 30 NPAs or DPAs entered into by the DOJ (29) or SEC (1) in 2014. (However, this figure includes two in the Alstom action and two in the HP action.  Thus, there were 27 unique instances of the DOJ using an NPA or DPA in 2014.  Of the 27 unique instances, 5 (19%) were in FCPA enforcement actions and the FCPA was the single largest source of NPAs and DPAs in 2014 in terms of specific statutory allegation.

The Gibson Dunn updates provides a thorough review of two pending cases in which federal court judges are wrestling with the issue of whether to approve of a DPA agreed to be the DOJ and a company.

Shearman & Sterling

The firm’s “Recent Trends and Patterns in Enforcement of the FCPA” is also another quality read year-after-year.

Of note from the publication:

“[W]hat may be the most interesting facet of the SEC’s current enforcement approach is the Commission’s shift in the latter half of 2014 in Timms to settle charges against individuals through administrative proceedings. This may come as no surprise, as the SEC has had difficulty successfully prosecuting individuals for violating the FCPA in previous years. Most recently, in early 2014, the SEC suffered a pair of setbacks in its enforcement actions against executives from Nobel Corp. and Magyar Telekom […] before the U.S. courts. Other cases, such as SEC v. Sharef (the SEC’s case against the Siemens executives) and SEC v. Clarke (which is currently the subject of a pending stay), have lingered in the S.D.N.Y. for significant periods of time without resolution.”

[…]

Obtain or Retain Business

Following the announcement of the SEC’s settlement with Layne Christensen over improper payments made to foreign officials in various African countries, we noted that the SEC’s approach to the “obtaining or retaining business” test in the FCPA appeared at odds with the Fifth Circuit’s 2007 opinion in United States v. Kay. Specifically, in Kay, the DOJ charged two executives of American Rice, Inc. for engaging in a scheme to pay Haitian customs officials bribes in exchange for accepting false shipping documents that under-reported the amount of rice onboard ocean-going barges. The result of the false shipping documents was to reduce the amount of customs duties and sales taxes that American Rice would have otherwise been forced to pay. While the court in Kay dismissed the defendants’ argument that the FCPA was only intended to cover bribes intended for “the award or renewal of contracts,” holding instead that the payment of bribes in exchange for reduced customs duties and sales taxes, the court added that in order to violate the FCPA, the prosecution must show that the reduced customs duties and sales taxes were in turned used “to assist in obtaining or retaining business” per the language of the FCPA. In short, the court in Kay held that while bribes paid exchange for the reduction of duties or taxes could violate the FCPA, they were not per se violations of the statue, and that the Department would have to show how the benefit derived from the reduced duties and taxes were used to obtain or retain business.

Fast forwarding to 2014 in Layne Christensen, the Houston-based global water management, construction, and drilling company, was forced to pay over $5 million in sanctions despite the fact that the SEC’s cease-and-desist order pleaded facts inconsistent with the Fifth Circuit’s opinion in Kay. In its discussion of Layne Christensen’s alleged violation of the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions, the SEC only alleged that the company paid bribes to foreign officials in multiple African countries “in order to, among other things, obtain favorable tax treatment, customs clearance for its equipment, and a reduction of customs duties.” The SEC’s cease-and-desist made no reference to how these reduced costs were used to obtain or retain business, rendering the SEC’s charges facially deficient.

Layne Christensen is not, however, the first time the DOJ and SEC have brought similar FCPA charges against companies without alleging how reduced taxes and customs duties were used to obtain or retain business. In the Panalpina cases from 2010, a series of enforcement actions against various international oil and gas companies, the DOJ and SEC treated the exchange of bribes for reduced taxes and customs duties as per se violations of the FCPA. Even in the 2012 FCPA Guide the enforcement agencies make clear that “bribe payments made to secure favorable tax treatment, or to reduce or eliminate customs duties . . . satisfy the business purpose test.” Whether the DOJ’s and SEC’s approach to the “obtaining or retaining business” element of the FCPA stems from a misinterpretation of Kay or is an attempt to challenge the Fifth Circuit’s opinion, remains to be seen. Nevertheless, we are troubled by the lack of clarity in the DOJ’s and SEC’s approach as it ultimately disadvantages defendants who may otherwise be pressured to settle charges over conduct which does not necessarily constitute a crime.”

Parent/Subsidiary Liability

As noted in previous Trends & Patterns, over the past several years the SEC has engaged in the disconcerting practice of charging parent companies with anti-bribery violations based on the corrupt payments of their subsidiaries. In short, the SEC has adopted the position that corporate parents are subject to strict criminal liability not only for books & records violations (since it is the parent’s books ultimately at issue) but also for bribery violations by their subsidiaries regardless of whether the parent had any involvement or even knowledge of the subsidiaries’ illegal conduct. The SEC has subsequently continued this approach in Alcoa and Bio-Rad.

According to the charging documents, officials at two Alcoa subsidiaries arranged for various bribe payments to be made to Bahraini officials through the use of a consultant. The SEC acknowledged that there were “no findings that an officer, director or employee of Alcoa knowingly engaged in the bribe scheme” but it still charged the parent company with anti-bribery violations on the grounds that the subsidiary responsible for the bribery scheme was an agent of Alcoa at the time. The Commission’s tact is curious considering that it charged Alcoa with books and records and internal controls violations as well, making anti-bribery charges seemingly unnecessary. Moreover, it is noteworthy that in the parallel criminal action, the DOJ elected to directly charge Alcoa’s subsidiary with violations of the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions instead of Alcoa’s corporate parent.

In Bio-Rad, the SEC’s cease-and-desist order alleged that the corporate parent was liable for violations of the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions committed by the company’s corporate subsidiary in Russia, Vietnam, and Thailand. In order to impute the alleged wrongful conduct upon the corporate parent, the SEC relied heavily upon corporate officials’ willful blindness to a number of red flags arising from the alleged schemes in Russia, Vietnam, and Thailand. Nevertheless, even if certain officials from Bio-Rad’s corporate parent were aware of the bribery scheme, the SEC’s charges ignore the black-letter rule that in order to find a corporate parent liable for the acts of a subsidiary, it must first “pierce the corporate veil,” showing that the parent operated the subsidiary as an alter ego and paid no attention to the corporate form.

It is also interesting that much like the case of Alcoa, the DOJ’s criminal charges against Bio-Rad are notably distinct from the SEC’s. Specifically, while the DOJ charged Bio-Rad’s corporate parent with violating the FCPA, the Department elected to only charge the company with violations of the FCPA’s book-and-records and internal controls provisions, not the anti-bribery provisions like the SEC.

The SEC’s charging decisions in Alcoa and Bio-Rad are even more peculiar given the fact that the SEC took an entirely different approach in HP, Bruker, and Avon, where despite alleging largely analogous fact patterns, the SEC charged the parent companies in HP, Bruker, and Avon with violations of the FCPA’s books-and-records and internal controls provisions only. Much like Alcoa and Bio-Rad, all of the relevant acts of bribery in HP, Bruker, and Avon were committed by the company’s subsidiaries in Mexico, Poland, Russia (HP), and China (Bruker and Avon). The SEC’s decisions in Alcoa, Bio-Rad, HP, Bruker, and Avon to charge parent companies involved in largely analogous fact patterns with different FCPA violations raise ongoing questions as to consistency and predictability of the SEC’s approach to parent-subsidiary liability.”

WilmerHale

The firm’s FCPA alert states regarding the travel and entertainment enforcement actions from 2014.

“While most cases involving travel and entertainment historically have involved other allegedly corrupt conduct, it was notable this year that travel and entertainment was the focus of the conduct in some cases. … [T]his suggests that travel and entertainment should continue to be a focus of corporate compliance programs. Unfortunately, the settled cases give little guidance as to some of the gray areas that challenge compliance officers, such as the appropriate dollar amounts for business meals, or how much ancillary leisure activity is acceptable in the context of a business event. Perhaps most interesting about the recent cases is that the government’s charging papers in some cases seem to lack any direct evidence that the benefits provided were provided as a quid pro quo to obtain a specific favorable decision from the official. The cases seem to simply conclude that if there were benefits provided to a government decision maker, the benefits must have been improper. Whether such allegations would be sufficient to satisfy the FCPA’s “corruptly” standard in litigation remains to be seen.”

Regarding the lack of transparency in FCPA enforcement, the alert states:

“[T]here still remains legitimate debate about whether the amount of credit that companies receive for voluntary disclosures is sufficient, especially when compared to companies that cooperate but do not self-report. One important factor that is often left out of the debate on this topic is the “credit” that is not visible in the public settlement documents but is nonetheless often informally received by companies that voluntarily disclose and/or cooperate. While the discussion above focuses on Sentencing Guidelines calculations and percentages of credit off the Sentencing Guidelines ranges, the discussion does not take into account decisions made by the government in settlement discussions that affect the ranges that are not seen in the settlement documents. For example, in settlement negotiations, the government might determine not to include certain transactions when calculating the gains obtained by the corporate defendant—perhaps because the evidence might have been weaker, or because jurisdiction might have been questionable, or because the settlement may have focused on transactions from a certain time period, or because of other factors. Thus, while the settlement documents might suggest a 20% discount from the bottom of the Sentencing Guidelines range, that range could have been higher had other transactions been included. These determinations are not transparent, but, anecdotally, there is some basis to believe that companies that voluntarily disclose and/or cooperate are more likely to get the benefit of the doubt as the sausage is being made. Given the lack of transparency in this area, the debates on this topic are likely to continue for a long time.”

Covington & Burling

The firm’s “Trends and Developments in Anti-Corruption Enforcement” is here.  Among other things, it states:

“As we have noted in the past, U.S. enforcement authorities have a taken creative and aggressive legal positions in pursuing FCPA cases. This past year saw a continuation of that trend, most notably with the SEC staking out an expansive position on the FCPA’s reach via agency theory.

Aggressive Use of Agency Theory. 2014 saw the SEC make use of a potentially far reaching agency theory to hold a parent company liable for the conduct of subsidiaries. In the Alcoa settlement, the SEC made clear that it had made “no findings that an officer, director or employee of [corporate parent Alcoa Inc.] knowingly engaged in the bribe scheme” at issue. Instead, its theory of liability was that the parent company “violated Section 30A of the Exchange Act by reason of its agents, including subsidiaries [Alcoa World Aluminum and Alcoa of Australia], indirectly paying bribes to foreign officials in Bahrain in order to obtain or retain business.” This agency theory was premised on the parent company’s alleged control over the business segment and subsidiaries where the conduct at issue allegedly occurred. Notably, the SEC did not rely on any evidence that parent-company personnel had direct involvement in or control over the alleged bribery scheme. Instead, the SEC pointed only to general indicia of corporate control that are the normal incidents of majority stock ownership (e.g., that Alcoa appointed the majority of seats on the business unit’s “Strategic Council,” transferred employees between itself and one of the relevant subsidiaries, and “set the business and financial goals” for the business segment). This is notable, in our view, because it is arguably at odds with DOJ and the SEC’s statement in the FCPA Resource Guide that they “evaluate the parent’s control — including the parent’s knowledge and direction of the subsidiary’s actions, both generally and in the context of the specific transaction — when evaluating whether a subsidiary is an agent of the parent.” (Emphasis added.) In the Alcoa matter, the SEC seemed to focus solely on “general” control; it did not allege any facts to support parent-level “knowledge and direction . . . in the context of the specific transaction.” This potentially expansive use of agency theory underscores the need for parent companies who are subject to FCPA jurisdiction to be attentive to corruption issues and compliance in all their corporate subsidiaries, even entities over which they do not exercise day-to-day managerial control.”

Miller & Chevalier

The firm’s FCPA Winter Review 2015 is here.

Among other useful information is a chart comparing the top ten FCPA enforcement actions (in terms of settlement amounts) as of 2007 compared to 2014 and a chart comparing SEC administrative proceedings and court filed complaints since 2005.

Davis Polk

The firm recently hosted a webinar titled “FCPA: 2014 Year-End Review of Trends and Global Enforcement Actions.”  The webcast and presentation slides are available here.

Jones Day

The firm’s FCPA Year in Review 2014 is here.

Other Items for the Reading Stack

From the FCPAmericas Blog – “Top FCPA Enforcement Trends to Expect in 2015.”

From the Corruption, Crime & Compliance Blog – “FCPA Year in Review 2014,” and FCPA Predictions for 2015.”

Friday Roundup

Roundup2

A double standard dandy, scrutiny alerts, when the dust settles, quotable, asset recovery, protection money, and for the reading stack.  It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Double Standard Dandy

Numerous prior posts have highlighted the double standard between enforcement (or lack thereof) of the U.S. domestic bribery statute (18 USC 201) and the FCPA.  (See here for the double standard tag with approximately 40 posts).

A leading FCPA practitioner sent me the following lead paragraphs in reaction to this recent New York Times article about alleged corruption in connection with state attorney generals offices.

“Media reports this week exposed widespread practices in which U.S.-based issuers have allegedly retained paid lobbyists to wine, dine, and make huge campaign contributions to the chief prosecutors in numerous foreign countries in hopes of obtaining favorable prosecutorial decisions in those countries, often with apparent success.  The DOJ and SEC have immediately launched one of the largest investigations in history to determine whether these activities violated the FCPA, which forbids U.S. companies from giving or promising anything of value to a foreign official in order to gain an improper advantage.  If found guilty, these companies could face multi-million-dollar fines and any implicated executives could face years of incarceration.

Oh wait.  Never mind.  It turns out the chief prosecutors work only for domestic U.S. state governments rather than foreign governments, and thus any tainted decisions would betray U.S. citizens rather than non-citizens living in foreign locations.  Nothing to worry about here after all – just keep moving along, citizens.”

Well said.

Scrutiny Alerts

Qualcomm

Qualcomm’s FCPA scrutiny has been interesting to follow as it represents a rare instance of a company receiving a Wells Notice from the SEC.  In its annual report, the company disclosed:

“Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Formal Order of Private Investigation and Department of Justice Investigation : On September 8, 2010, we were notified by the SEC’s Los Angeles Regional office of a formal order of private investigation. We understand that the investigation arose from a “whistleblower’s” allegations made in December 2009 to the audit committee of our Board of Directors and to the SEC. In 2010, the audit committee completed an internal review of the allegations with the assistance of independent counsel and independent forensic accountants. This internal review into the whistleblower’s allegations and related accounting practices did not identify any errors in our financial statements. On January 27, 2012, we learned that the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California/Department of Justice (collectively, DOJ) had begun an investigation regarding our compliance with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). The audit committee conducted an internal review of our compliance with the FCPA and its related policies and procedures with the assistance of independent counsel and independent forensic accountants. The audit committee has completed this comprehensive review, made findings consistent with our findings described below and suggested enhancements to our overall FCPA compliance program. In part as a result of the audit committee’s review, we have made and continue to make enhancements to our FCPA compliance program, including implementation of the audit committee’s recommendations.

As previously disclosed, we discovered, and as a part of our cooperation with these investigations informed the SEC and the DOJ of, instances in which special hiring consideration, gifts or other benefits (collectively, benefits) were provided to several individuals associated with Chinese state-owned companies or agencies. Based on the facts currently known, we believe the aggregate monetary value of the benefits in question to be less than $250,000, excluding employment compensation.

On March 13, 2014, we received a Wells Notice from the SEC’s Los Angeles Regional Office indicating that the staff has made a preliminary determination to recommend that the SEC file an enforcement action against us for violations of the anti-bribery, books and records and internal control provisions of the FCPA. The bribery allegations relate to benefits offered or provided to individuals associated with Chinese state-owned companies or agencies. The Wells Notice indicated that the recommendation could involve a civil injunctive action and could seek remedies that include disgorgement of profits, the retention of an independent compliance monitor to review our FCPA policies and procedures, an injunction, civil monetary penalties and prejudgment interest.

A Wells Notice is not a formal allegation or finding by the SEC of wrongdoing or violation of law. Rather, the purpose of a Wells Notice is to give the recipient an opportunity to make a “Wells submission” setting forth reasons why the proposed enforcement action should not be filed and/or bringing additional facts to the SEC’s attention before any decision is made by the SEC as to whether to commence a proceeding. On April 4, 2014 and May 29, 2014, we made Wells submissions to the staff of the Los Angeles Regional Office explaining why we believe we have not violated the FCPA and therefore enforcement action is not warranted.

We are continuing to cooperate with the SEC and the DOJ, but are unable to predict the outcome of their investigations or any action that the SEC may decide to file.”

Cobalt International

The other instance of FCPA scrutiny involving an SEC Wells Notice is Cobalt International.  Earlier this week, the company disclosed:

“As previously disclosed, the Company is currently subject to a formal order of investigation issued in 2011 by the SEC related to its operations in Angola. On August 4, 2014, the Company received a Wells Notice from the Staff of the SEC with respect to such investigation. On September 24, 2014, the Company responded to the Wells Notice in the form of a Wells Submission. The Company is unable to predict the outcome of the SEC’s investigation or any action that the SEC may decide to pursue.”

When the Dust Settles

It is always interesting to see what happens when the dust settles from an FCPA enforcement action (see here for the prior post). The recent Bio-Rad enforcement action concerned conduct in, among other places, Vietnam.

According to this source:

“The [Vietnam] Ministry of Health has called on police to investigate an American medical equipment manufacturer that has admitted to bribing Vietnamese officials. Health Minister Nguyen Thi Kim Tien filed a formal request on Wednesday with the Ministry of Public Security that asked investigators to determine whether anyone had accepted kickbacks from Bio-Rad Laboratories, Inc. On the same day, the ministry’s inspectors instructed government hospitals to review any purchases from from Bio-Rad since 2005 and submit a report on the issue by November 15.”

Quotable

Earlier this week, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in Yates v. United States, the case involving a fisherman who was criminally charged with violating the anti-shredding provisions of Sarbanes-Oxley (i.e. “altered, destroyed, mutilated, concealed, covered up, falsified, or made a false entry in a record, document, or tangible object with the intent to impede or obstruct an investigation”) for disposing of some fish.

In this Wall Street Journal op-ed, Bill Shepherd, a partner in Holland & Knight LLP and lead counsel for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers which filed an amicus brief in the Yates case, states:

“[C]reativity in law enforcement should be confined to new strategies for undercover operations, not new, tortured interpretations of laws on the books. […]  Congress is often criticized for overregulating and overcriminalizing. But the Yates case is a dramatic example of executive branch overreaching. Just because a prosecutor can file a charge doesn’t mean it is the right thing to do. Prosecutors everywhere struggle with the burden of teaching new prosecutors how to recognize the appropriate use of their authority. Professional groups like the American Bar Association Criminal Justice Section work to help foster that dialogue. Success among colleagues in prosecutors’ offices is measured, as it should be, by the number of convictions and the length of sentences handed down. But the other part of success—more difficult to measure—is the courage to close unfounded investigations or dismiss cases because they are not supported by the evidence, or don’t match an American sense of justice. The ultimate measure of success is the ability to live, work and raise a family in a safe environment—secure in the knowledge that government will not abuse that power with which we entrust it. This must be our universal goal.”

For coverage of oral argument in the Yates case, see here from the New York Times.

Asset Recovery

Deputy Attorney General James Cole recently delivered this speech at the Third Annual Arab Forum on Asset Recovery.

“Corruption undermines and weakens that which is the basis of modern society – the rule of law.  Corrupt officials who put their personal enrichment before the benefit of their citizenry create unstable countries.  Corruption siphons precious resources away from those in need at a time when such resources could hardly be more scarce and when the world economy could hardly be more vulnerable.  The repercussions of corruption – the hospitals left unbuilt, the roads still unpaved, the medicine undelivered – undermine the integrity of democratic institutions, creating gaps in government structures that organized criminal groups exploit.  And as we have seen time and again, countries plagued with corruption become breeding grounds and havens for other criminals and terrorist groups who threaten global security.”

[…]

“To underscore the U.S.’s commitment to asset recovery, Attorney General Holder established a Kleptocracy Initiative in the Department of Justice.  The Kleptocracy Team includes dedicated prosecutors working to forfeit corruption proceeds and, whenever we can, return those proceeds to benefit the people harmed by the corruption.  The Kleptocracy prosecutors are soon to be paired with a dedicated Kleptocracy squad of FBI agents and analysts, and this squad will enhance the capacity of the United States to respond rapidly in investigating and locating corruption proceeds.

The Kleptocracy Initiative seeks to deliver on our responsibility to protect the integrity of the U.S. financial system and its institutions from the destructive influence of corruption proceeds and to deny kleptocrats safe haven to hide and enjoy their ill-gotten gains.”

Speaking of asset recovery, the DOJ announced that it filed a civil forfeiture complaint seeking the forfeiture of $106,488.31 in allegedly laundered funds traceable to a $2 million bribe payment made by a Canadian energy company to Chad’s former Ambassador to the United States and Canada and his wife.

According to the release:

“From 2004 to 2012, Mahamoud Adam Bechir, 49, served as Chad’s Ambassador to the United States and Canada.  According to the forfeiture complaint, Bechir agreed to use his position to influence the award of oil development rights in Chad in exchange for $2 million and other valuable interests from Griffiths Energy International Inc., a Canadian company.  In order to conceal the bribe, Bechir and his wife, Nouracham Niam, 44, allegedly entered into a series of agreements with Griffiths Energy that provided for the payment of a $2 million “consulting fee” if the company secured the oil rights in Chad.  After securing these oil rights in February 2011, Griffiths Energy allegedly transferred $2 million to an account located in Washington, D.C. held by a shell company created by Niam.  In 2013, Griffiths Energy pleaded guilty in Canadian court to bribing Bechir. The complaint further alleges that, after commingling the bribe payment with other funds and laundering these funds through U.S. bank accounts and real property, Bechir transferred $1,474,517 of the criminal proceeds traceable to the bribe payment to his account in South Africa, where he is now serving Chad’s Ambassador to South Africa.  The current action seeks forfeiture of $106,488.31, which is the current balance of Bechir’s accounts in South Africa.  Those funds have been seized pursuant to the complaint unsealed today.  The Department of Justice is also seeking additional assets from Bechir and Niam.”

See here for the prior post highlighting the Canadian enforcement action against Griffiths Energy and pondering whether there would be a U.S. enforcement action.

Protection Money
Is paying “protection money” to tribal leaders in Egypt an FCPA issue?  (See here from National Geographic).
“No US firm will speak publicly of the measures they take to avoid open appeasement of Bedouin claims, but in private conversations, employees of American and European oil giants have spoken of hiring tribesmen for non-existent or unnecessary jobs. Usually they’re listed as security guards or dump truck drivers ferrying sand and gravel, but they seldom turn up to except to collect their monthly salaries. This arrangement has afforded most energy firms a largely hassle-free hand to work in the vast, poorly policed expanses that flank the Nile river.”
Reading Stack
Professor Brandon Garrett’s – “Too Big to Jail: How Prosecutors Compromise with Corporations.”
*****
A good weekend to all.

Items Of Interest From The Bio-Rad Enforcement Action

This previous post dived deep into the Bio-Rad Laboratories FCPA enforcement action.

This post continues the analysis by highlighting various issues from the enforcement action.

Play On Words

The enforcement action was the result of Bio-Rad’s voluntary disclosure and both the DOJ and SEC were complimentary of the company’s cooperation.

In the words of the DOJ, “that cooperation included voluntarily making U.S. and foreign employees available for interviews, voluntarily producing documents from overseas, and summarizing the findings of its internal investigation. ”  Elsewhere the DOJ stated that Bio-Rad translated numerous documents and provided timely reports on witness interviews to the DOJ.

Likewise, the SEC noted that Bio-Rad’s investigation “included over 100 in-person interviews, the collection of millions of documents, the production of tens of thousands of documents, and forensic auditing.”

Against this backdrop, the DOJ’s press release contained a most interesting play of words.

“The department pursues corruption from all angles …” (emphasis added).

“The FBI remains committed to identifying and investigating violations of the FCPA.”  (emphasis added).

Bio-Rad’s press release also contained an interesting play on words as well.

As highlighted in several previous posts (see here for instance), the term “declination” is already one of the more amorphous term in the “FCPA vocabulary.”

In a further twist, the company’s press release stated:

“The DOJ declined to prosecute Bio-Rad, and the parties entered into a Non-Prosecution Agreement under which Bio-Rad has agreed to pay a penalty of $14.35 million.” (emphasis added).

A Government Required Transfer of Shareholder Wealth to FCPA Inc?

Bio-Rad was the second FCPA enforcement in the past two weeks – Layne Christensen being the other (see here and here for prior posts).

Both enforcement actions were the result of voluntary disclosures in which the DOJ and/or SEC were complimentary of the company’s internal investigation, remedial actions, and compliance enhancements.

For instance, the DOJ noted that Bio-Rad conducted “an extensive internal investigation in several countries” and noted, among other things, as follows.

“the Company has engaged in significant remedial actions, including enhancing it anti-corruption policies globally, improving its internal controls and compliance functions, developing and implementing additional FCPA compliance procedures, including due diligence and contracting procedures for intermediaries, instituting heightened review of proposals and other transactional documents for all Company contracts … and conducting extensive anti-corruption training throughout the global organization.”

Likewise, the SEC stated, among other things, as follows.

“Bio-Rad also undertook significant and extensive remedial actions including: terminating problematic practices; terminating Bio-Rad employees who were involved in the misconduct; comprehensively re-evaluating and supplementing its anticorruption policies and procedures on a world-wide basis, including its relationship with intermediaries; enhancing its internal controls and compliance functions; developing and implementing FCPA compliance procedures, including the further development and implementation of policies and procedures such as the due diligence and contracting procedure for intermediaries and policies concerning hospitality, entertainment, travel, and other business courtesies; and conducting extensive anticorruption training throughout the organization world-wide.”

In the Layne Christensen action, the SEC likewise stated, as other things, as follows.

“Layne Christensen also took affirmative steps to strengthen its internal compliance policies, procedures, and controls. Layne Christensen issued a standalone anti-bribery policy and procedures, improved its accounting policies relating to cash disbursements, implemented an integrated accounting system worldwide, revamped its anti-corruption training, and conducted extensive due diligence of third parties with which it does business. In addition, Layne Christensen hired a dedicated chief compliance officer and three full-time compliance personnel and retained a consulting firm to conduct an assessment of its anti corruption program and make recommendations.”

Nevertheless, both Bio-Rad and Layne Christensen have two-year reporting obligations to the government after the enforcement action.

The following observation is the same as in this prior post.

In situations involving voluntary disclosures where the enforcement agencies are complimentary of the company’s remedial actions and compliance enhancements, such post-enforcement action reporting obligations seem to be little more than a government required transfer of shareholder wealth to FCPA Inc.

Sure, such post-enforcement action reporting obligations give enforcement agency officials something to do and provide even more work for FCPA Inc., but in the situations discussed above, are such post-enforcement action reporting obligations necessary?

Both Bio-Rad’s (see below) and Layne Christensen’s FCPA scrutiny lasted approximately four years from beginning to enforcement action.  Tack on two more years of reporting obligations and the result is that these two instances of FCPA scrutiny will have provided FCPA Inc. participants an engagement lasting over six years.

This recent Wall Street Journal article asks “what would get more companies to self-disclose bribery” (a more detailed answer to this question will be explored in a future post).

One answer is to ditch the post-enforcement action reporting obligations in cases where there is a voluntary disclosure and the enforcement agencies are complimentary of the company’s remedial actions and compliance enhancements.

Or perhaps the post-enforcement action reporting requirements do indeed lead to more voluntary disclosures when one considers the important gatekeeper role FCPA counsel often play in such corporate decisions.  (See here).

Timeline

As indicated in the resolution documents, Bio-Rad’s initial self-disclosure of potential FCPA violations occurred in May 2010. The length of the company’s FCPA scrutiny – from point of first public disclosure to resolution – thus lasted approximately 4.5 years. (See here for the prior post “The Gray Cloud of FCPA Scrutiny Simply Lasts Too Long”).

5 for 5

In 2014, there have been five SEC corporate FCPA enforcement actions (Bio-Rad, Layne Christensen, Smith & Wesson, Alcoa, and HP).  All have been resolved via the SEC’s administrative process.

My recent article, “A Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Narrative,” (see pgs. 991-995) discusses this trend and how it is troubling as it places the SEC in the role of regulator, prosecutor, judge and jury all at the same time.  As Judge Rakoff recently observed, “from where does the constitutional warrant for such unchecked and unbalanced administrative power derive?”

Here Come the Plaintiffs’ Lawyers

It is as predictable as the sun rising in the east.

No less than 24 hours after release of the Bio-Rad enforcement action documents, plaintiffs’ lawyers began salivating and announcing investigations to determine whether officers and directors of the company breached fiduciary duties owed to shareholders.  (See here, here, here, here, here, and here for releases).

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