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Bio-Rad Laboratories Agrees To Pay $55 Million To Resolve FCPA Enforcement Action

Yesterday the DOJ and SEC announced (here and here) a coordinated FCPA enforcement action against Bio-Rad Laboratories Inc. based on alleged conduct in Russia, Thailand and Vietnam.

The enforcement action involved a DOJ non-prosecution agreement and an SEC administrative order.  Bio-Rad agreed to pay approximately $55 million to resolve the alleged FCPA scrutiny ($14.35 million in the DOJ action; and $40.7 million in the SEC action).

This post summarizes both the DOJ and SEC enforcement actions based on a review of the original source documents.

DOJ Enforcement Action

The enforcement action focused on the conduct of Bio-Rad Laboratorii OOO (“Bio-Rad Russia”) and Bio-Rad SNC as well as the alleged knowledge of certain Bio-Rad managers concerning various Russian business practices.

According to the NPA, Bio-Rad Russia is:

“[A] wholly owned subsidiary of BIO-RAD located in Moscow, Russia. Bio-Rad Russia primarily sold BIO-RAD clinical diagnostic products, such as HIV testing kits. Approximately 90% of its clientele were government customers, most notably the Russian Ministry of Health. In order to obtain certain Russian government contracts, Bio-Rad Russia was required to participate in public tender processes.”

According to the NPA, Bio-Rad SNC is:

“[A]n indirectly wholly-owned subsidiary of Bio-Rad headquartered in Marnes-la-Coquette, France.  Bio-Rad SNC manufactured, sold, and distributed Bio-Rad products worldwide.”

According to the NPA, Agent 1 (described as an agent retained by Bio-Rad SNC with respect to sales in Russia) assisted Bio-Rad Russia in connection with certain governmental sales in Russia and established Intermediary Companies (described as Agent 1 affiliated companies in Panama, the United Kingdom, and Belize) which Bio-Rad SNC retained “purportedly to perform extensive services on its behalf in Russia.”  However, according to the NPA, Intermediary Companies “were located offshore and had no employees aside from Agent 1.”  Moreover, according to the NPA, “Intermediary Companies used a phony address on its invoices that belonged to a Russian government agency.”

According to the NPA, Manager 1 (described as a high-level manager of Bio-Rad’s Emerging Markets sales region, which included Rusia, from 2004 to 2010 and based in Bio-Rad’s corporate offices in California) “authorized Bio-Rad SNC’ agreements with the Intermediary Companies without conducting any due diligence on the Intermediary Companies.”

According to the NPA,

“Bio-Rad SNC paid the Intermediary Companies a commission of 15-30% purportedly in exchange for various services outlined in the agency contracts, including acquiring new business by creating and disseminating promotional materials to prospective  customers, installing Bio-Rad products and related equipment, training customers on the installation and use of Bio-Rad products, and delivering Bio-Rad products.

The Intermediary Companies, however, lacked the capabilities to perform these contractually defined services. In some instances, the Intermediary Companies submitted invoices suggesting that they performed distribution services in connection with certain contracts. The Intermediary Companies did not perform these services, and would have been significantly overpaid even had they performed such services.”

According to the NPA:

“Manager 1, Manager 2 [described as a high-level accounting manager of Bio-Rad’s Emerging Markets sales region, which included Russia, from around 2004 to 2010 and based in Bio-Rad’s corporate offices in California] and Manager 3 [described as a high-level manager of Bio-Rad Russia from 2007 to 2011 and based in Moscow] reviewed and approved commission payments to Intermediary Companies, despite knowing that Intermediary Companies and Agent 1 were not performing the services from which they were being paid.”

The NPA further states that Manager 1, Manager 2, and Manager 3 used the code word “bad debt” when communicating with each other to refer to the Intermediary Companies’ commission payments.  According to the NPA, Manager 2 “instructed lower-level Bio-Rad SNC finance employees to ‘talk with codes’ when communicating about the Intermediary Companies’ invoices and that Manager 3 requested that Intermediary Company invoices be paid in installments of less than $200,000 each so as to avoid additional approvals required by Bio-Rad policy for payment over $200,000.

According to the NPA,

“The payments to the Intermediary Companies were made by Bio-Rad SNC and falsely recorded as “commission payments” in its books. Moreover, Manager 1 and Manager 2, who falsely described the commission payments as “bad debt” in e-mails, knew that Bio-Rad SNC maintained the bogus contracts with the Intermediary Companies, as well as the numerous associated false invoices Bio-Rad SNC had paid, as part of its books and records. Bio-Rad SNC’s books, records, and financial accounts were consolidated into Bio-Rad’s books and records and reported by Bio-Rad in its financial statements. Thus, Manager 1 and Manager 2 knowingly caused BIO-RAD to falsify its books and records.”

The NPA further states:

“Bio-Rad maintained a set of corporate policies, but Bio-Rad’s international offices were given autonomy by the company to implement and maintain adequate controls. However, Manager 1 and Manager 2 failed to implement adequate controls for Bio-Rad’s Emerging Markets sales region, including controls related to its operations in Russia where those managers knew that the failure to implement these controls allowed Agent 1 and the Intermediary Companies to be paid significantly above-market commissions for little or no services that were supported by false contracts and invoices. For example, Manager 1 and Manager 2 did not put in place a system of controls to conduct due diligence on third party agents, such as the Intermediary Companies, to ensure documentation supporting payments to third parties, or to monitor such payments. Nor did the company implement adequate testing of the controls that should have been in place.

Manager 1 and Manager 2’s knowing failure to implement adequate internal accounting controls with respect to Russia was due, at least in part, to their desire to continue to obtain and retain contracts with the Russian government. Bio-Rad Russia won 100% of its government contracts when Agent 1 was involved and lost its first major Russian government  contract after terminating Agent 1 in or around 2010.”

According to the NPA:

“In addition to the knowing failure to implement an adequate system of internal accounting controls, prior to the discovery of the misconduct in Bio-Rad did not maintain an adequate compliance program. The company did not provide any FCPA training to its employees and, although Bio-Rad had a business ethics policy and code of conduct that prohibited bribery and was posted on the company’s intranet site, many employees of Bio-Rad and its subsidiaries were unaware of its existence. Moreover, the code was only available in English despite the fact that a significant number of employees working for Bio-Rad’ss overseas subsidiaries did not speak or understand English well enough to understand the code.”

“Bio-Rad also decentralized its compliance program such that its international offices were responsible for ensuring adequate compliance with its business ethics policy and code of conduct. However, Manager 1 and Manager 2 did not take steps to ensure such compliance in Emerging Markets, and Bio-Rad did not take sufficient steps to monitor its international offices. As a result, Bio-Rad’s international offices did not undertake appropriate risk-based due diligence in connection with the retention of agents and business partners and, further, did not have distribution and agency agreements with appropriate anti-corruption terms. Bio-Rad also did not undertake periodic risk assessments of its compliance program. Bio-Rad’s failure to maintain an adequate compliance program significantly contributed to the company’s inability to prevent the misconduct in Russia, as well as improper payments to government officials in Vietnam and Thailand.”

The NPA states as follows.

“The [DOJ] enters into this Non-Prosecution Agreement based on the individual facts and circumstances presented by this case and the Company. Among the facts considered were the following: (a) following discovery of potential FCPA violations during the course of an internal audit, the Company’s audit committee retained independent counsel to conduct an internal investigation and voluntarily disclosed to the [DOJ] the misconduct described in the Statement of Facts; (b) the Company has fully cooperated with the [DOJ’s] investigation, including conducting an extensive internal investigation in several countries, voluntarily making U.S. and foreign employees available for interviews, voluntarily producing documents from overseas, summarizing its findings, translating numerous documents, and providing timely reports on witness interviews for the [DOJ]; (c) the Company has engaged in significant remedial actions, including enhancing its 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, closing its Vietnam office after learning of improper payments by its Vietnam subsidiary, and conducting extensive anti-corruption training throughout the global organization; (d) the Company has committed to continue to enhance its compliance program and internal controls, including ensuring that its compliance program satisfies the minimum elements set forth in Attachment B to this Agreement; and (e) the Company has agreed to continue to cooperate with the [DOJ] in any ongoing investigation of the conduct of the Company and its officers, directors, employees, agents, and consultants relating to possible violations of the FCPA …”.

Pursuant to the NPA, which has a term of two years, Bio-Rad admitted, accepted and acknowledged that it was responsible for the acts of its employees and agents as set forth in the Statement of Facts.  The NPA also contains a “muzzle clause” in which Bio-Rad expressly agree[d] that it shall not, through present or future attorneys, officers, directors, employees, agents or any other person authorized to speak for the Company make any public statement, in litigation or otherwise, contradicting the acceptance of responsibility by the Company …”.

In the NPA, Bio-Rad also agreed to undertake a host of compliance enhancements and report to the DOJ during the two-year term of the NPA “regarding mediation and implementation of the compliance program and internal controls, policies and procedures” described in the NPA.

In the DOJ release, Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell stated:

“Public companies that cook their books and hide improper payments foster corruption.  The department pursues corruption from all angles, including the falsification of records and failure to implement adequate internal controls.   The department also gives credit to companies, like Bio-Rad, who self-disclose, cooperate and remediate their violations of the FCPA.”

Special Agent in Charge David Johnson of the FBI’s San Francisco Field Office stated:

“The FBI remains committed to identifying and investigating violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. This action demonstrates the benefits of self-disclosure, cooperation, and subsequent remediation by companies.”

The release further states:

“The department entered into a non-prosecution agreement with the company due, in large part, to Bio-Rad’s self-disclosure of the misconduct and full cooperation with the department’s investigation.  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.  In addition, Bio-Rad has engaged in significant remedial actions, including enhancing its anti-corruption policies globally, improving its internal controls and compliance functions, developing and implementing additional due diligence and contracting procedures for intermediaries, and conducting extensive anti-corruption training throughout the organization.”

SEC Enforcement Action

The SEC’s order is based on the same core conduct alleged in the DOJ action as relevant to Russia business and also contains allegations concerning conduct in Vietnam and Thailand.

In summary fashion, the SEC’s order states:

“From approximately 2005 to 2010, subsidiaries of Bio-Rad made unlawful payments in Vietnam and Thailand to obtain or retain business. During the same period, Bio-Rad’s subsidiary paid certain Russian third parties, disregarding the high probability that at least some of the money would be used to make unlawful payments to government officials in Russia. With respect to Russia, one of Bio-Rad’s foreign subsidiaries paid three off-shore agents (the“Russian Agents”) for alleged services in connection with sales of its medical diagnostic and life science equipment to government agencies. These agents were not legitimate businesses, and despite receiving large commissions, they did not provide the contracted-for services. In paying these agents, Bio-Rad’s foreign subsidiary demonstrated a conscious disregard for the high probability that the Russian Agents were using at least a portion of the commissions to pay foreign officials to obtain profitable government contracts. The General Manager (“GM”) of Bio-Rad’s Emerging Markets sub-division and the Emerging Markets Controller, both employees of the parent company (collectively, “the Emerging Markets managers”) ignored red flags, which permitted the scheme to continue for years. In Vietnam and Thailand, Bio-Rad’s foreign subsidiaries used agents and distributors to funnel money to government officials. In total, Bio-Rad made $35.1 million in illicit profits from these improper payments.

In violation of Bio-Rad’s policies, Bio-Rad’s foreign subsidiaries did not record the payments in their own books in a manner that would accurately or fairly reflect the transactions. Instead they booked them as commissions, advertising, and training fees. These subsidiaries’ books were consolidated into the parent company’s books and records. During the relevant period, Bio-Rad also failed to devise and maintain adequate internal accounting controls.”

As to the Vietnam and Thailand conduct, the SEC’s order focuses on Bio-Rad Laboratories (Singapore) Pte. Limited (“Bio-Rad Singapore”) described as a wholly-owned subsidiary located in Singapore and Diamed South East Asia Ltd. (“Diamed Thailand”) described as  a 49%-owned subsidiary of Diamed AG (Switzerland) that was acquired by Bio-Rad in October 2007.  According to the order, local majority owners ran Diamed Thailand’s operations until 2011, when Bio-Rad bought out their interest in the company.

Under the heading “Facts in Vietnam,” the order states:

“From at least 2005 to the end of 2009, Bio-Rad maintained a sales representative office in Vietnam. A country manager supervised the Vietnam Office’s sales activities, and was authorized to approve contracts up to $100,000 and sales commissions up to $20,000. Vietnam’s country manager reported to Bio-Rad Singapore’s Southeast Asia regional sales manager (“RSM”), who in turn reported to the Asia Pacific GM.

From 2005 through 2009, the country manager of the Vietnam office authorized the payment of bribes to government officials to obtain their business. At the direction of the country manager, the sales representatives made cash payments to officials at government-owned hospitals and laboratories in exchange for their agreement to buy Bio-Rad’s products.

In 2006, the RSM first learned of this practice from a finance employee. She raised concerns about it to the Vietnam Office’s country manager, who informed her that paying bribes was a customary practice in Vietnam. On or about May 18, 2006, the Vietnamese country manager wrote in an email to the RSM and the Bio-Rad Singapore finance employee that paying third party fees “[wa]s outlawed in the Bio-Rad Business Ethics Policy,” but that Bio-Rad would lose 80% of its Vietnam sales without continuing the practice. In that same email, the country manager proposed a solution that entailed employing a middleman to pay the bribes to Vietnamese government officials as a means of insulating Bio-Rad from liability. Under the proposed scheme, Bio-Rad Singapore would sell Bio-Rad products to a Vietnamese distributor at a deep discount, which the distributor would then resell to government customers at full price, and pass through a portion of it as bribes.

The RSM and the Asia Pacific GM were aware of and allowed the payments to continue. Between 2005 and the end of 2009, the Vietnam office made improper payments of $2.2 million to agents or distributors, which was funneled to Vietnamese government officials. These bribes, recorded as “commissions,” “advertising fees,” and “training fees,” generated gross sales revenues of $23.7 million to Bio-Rad Singapore. The payment scheme did not involve the use of interstate commerce, and no United States national was involved in the misconduct.”

Under the heading “Facts in Thailand,” the order states:

“Bio-Rad acquired a 49% interest in Diamed Thailand as part of its acquisition of Diamed AG (Switzerland) in October 2007. Bio-Rad performed very little due diligence on Diamed Thailand prior to the acquisition.

Diamed Thailand’s local majority owners managed the subsidiary. Bio-Rad’s Asia Pacific GM was responsible for working and communicating with Diamed Thailand’s majority owners and distributors.

Prior to the October 2007 acquisition, Diamed Thailand had an established bribery scheme, whereby Diamed Thailand used a Thai agent to sell diagnostic products to government customers. The agent received an inflated 13% commission, of which it retained 4%, and paid 9% to Thai government officials in exchange for profitable business contracts.

The scheme continued even after Bio-Rad acquired Diamed Thailand. Diamed Thailand renewed the contract with the distributor in June 2008, but unbeknownst to Bio-Rad, the distributor was partially owned by one of Diamed Thailand’s local Thai owners.

Bio-Rad’s Asia Pacific GM learned of Diamed Thailand’s bribery scheme while attending a distributor’s conference in Bangkok in March 2008. At the conference, Diamed Thailand’s local manager informed him that some of Diamed Thailand’s customers received payments, which the Asia Pacific GM understood to mean kickbacks. The Asia Pacific GM instructed Bio-Rad Singapore’s controller to investigate the matter. The controller confirmed to the Asia Pacific GM that Diamed Thailand was bribing government officials through the distributor. Despite these findings, the Asia Pacific GM did not instruct Diamed Thailand to stop making the improper payments to the distributor.

From 2007 to early 2010, Diamed Thailand improperly paid a total of $708,608 to the distributor, generating gross sales revenues of $5.5 million to Diamed Thailand. These  payments were recorded as sales commissions. The payment scheme did not involve the use of interstate commerce, and no United States national was involved in the misconduct.”

The SEC’s order found that:

“Bio-Rad violated [the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions] because Bio-Rad’s Emerging Markets managers demonstrated a conscious disregard for the high probability that the Russian Agents were using at least a portion of Bio-Rad Russia’s sales commission payments to bribe Russian government officials in exchange for awarding the company profitable government contracts. These managers knew the Russian Agents operated as mere shell entities. They also knew that, among other things, the commissions were large, and that the Russian Agents did not have the resources to perform any of the contracted-for services set forth in their agreements. Nevertheless, the managers approved all of their agreements, and authorized $4.6 million in payments to the Russian Agents’ off-shore accounts even though many of the payment requests and invoices raised substantial questions as to their legitimacy. Finally, the same Emerging Markets managers communicated about the Russian Agents under cover of secrecy, which further calls in question their legitimacy. These red flags surfaced repeatedly over a five year period.”

The SEC’s order also found violations of the books and records and internal controls provisions based on the Russia, Vietnam, and Thailand conduct.  As to internal controls, the order states:

“[A]lthough [Bio-Rad] had an ethics policy prohibiting the payment of bribes and various policies and procedures requiring accurate books and records, its systems of internal controls proved insufficient to provide reasonable assurances that such payments would be detected and prevented.”

Under the heading, “Self-Disclosure, Cooperation and Remedial Efforts,” the order states:

“Bio-Rad made an initial voluntary self-disclosure of potential FCPA violations to the Commission staff and the Department of Justice in May 2010, and immediately thereafter Bio-Rad’s audit committee retained independent counsel to conduct an investigation of the alleged violations. The audit committee conducted a thorough internal investigation, and subsequently expanded it voluntarily to cover a large number of additional potentially high-risk countries. The investigation included over 100 in-person interviews, the collection of millions of documents, the production of tens of thousands of documents, and forensic auditing. Bio-Rad’s cooperation was extensive, including voluntarily producing documents from overseas, summarizing its findings, translating numerous key documents, producing witnesses from foreign jurisdictions, providing timely reports on witness interviews, and making employees available to the Commission staff to interview.

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.”

As noted in the SEC’s release:

“[Bio-Rad] agreed to pay $40.7 million in disgorgement and prejudgment interest to the SEC … The company also must report its FCPA compliance efforts to the SEC for a period of two years.”

In the SEC release, Andrew Ceresney, Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement, stated:

“Bio-Rad Laboratories failed to detect a bribery scheme and did not properly address red flags that such a scheme was underway. “This enforcement action, which reflects credit for Bio-Rad’s cooperation in our investigation, reiterates the importance of all companies ensuring they have the proper internal controls to prevent FCPA violations.”

Bio-Rad was represented by Douglas Greenburg (Latham & Watkins).

In this release, Norman Schwartz (Bio-Rad President and Chief Executive Officer) stated:

“The actions that we discovered were completely contrary to Bio-Rad’s culture and values and ethical standards for conducting business. We took strong, decisive action to end the problematic practices and prevent anything like this from happening in the future, including terminating involved employees and committing substantial resources to strengthening our compliance functions and financial controls. Bio-Rad prides itself on operating with the highest levels of integrity, and I am pleased that this settlement fully resolves the government’s FCPA investigation and puts this matter behind us.”

The release further states:

“Bio-Rad discovered the potential FCPA violations and self-reported them to the DOJ and SEC in May 2010. The Company subsequently conducted a thorough global investigation with the assistance of independent legal and forensic specialists, terminated involved employees and third party agents, and significantly enhanced its internal controls, procedures, training and compliance functions designed to prevent future violations. The settlement fully resolves all outstanding issues related to these investigations.”

On the day the FCPA enforcement action was announced Bio-Rad’s stock closed up .5%.

Friday Roundup

Most admired, from the U.K., one way to avoid judicial scrutiny is to avoid the courts, another DOJ official departs, scrutiny updates, and survey says.  It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Most Admired

Are companies that resolve a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement or are otherwise under FCPA scrutiny bad or unethical companies?  To be sure, certain companies that have resolved FCPA enforcement actions are deserving of this label, yet most are not.  Indeed, as detailed in this prior post several companies have earned designation as “World Most Ethical Companies” during the same general time period relevant to an enforcement action or instance of FCPA scrutiny.

In a similar vein, several FCPA violators or companies under FCPA scrutiny can be found on Fortune’s recent “Most Admired Company” list.  In the top 50, I count 12 such companies including IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Microsoft, Wal-Mart, JPMorgan, and Cisco.

Let’s face it, not all companies that resolve FCPA enforcement actions or are under FCPA scrutiny are bad or unethical companies.  If more people would realize this and accept this fact, perhaps a substantive discussion could take place regarding FCPA reform absent the misinformed rhetoric.

From the U.K.

In this October 2013 post at the beginning of the U.K. trial of former News Corp. executives Rebekah Brooks, the former editor of News of the World, and Andy Coulson, another former News of the World editor, I observed as follows.

“What happens in these trials concerning the bribery offenses will not determine the outcome of any potential News Corp. FCPA enforcement action.  But you can bet that the DOJ and SEC will be interested in the ultimate outcome.  In short, if there is a judicial finding that Brooks and/or Coulson or other high-level executives in London authorized or otherwise knew of the alleged improper payments, this will likely be a factor in how the DOJ and SEC ultimately resolve any potential enforcement action and how News Corp.’s overall culpability score may be calculated under the advisory Sentencing Guidelines.”

Well …, this Wall Street Journal article reports as follows.

“[Rebekah Brooks testified that] she authorized payments to public officials in exchange for information on “half a dozen occasions” during her time as a newspaper editor—but did so only in what she said was the public interest. […]  On the stand, Ms. Brooks, who edited News Corp’s Sun newspaper and its now-closed News of the World sister title, said the payments were made for good reasons, and done so on rare occasions and after careful consideration. “My view at the time was that there had to be an overwhelming public interest to justify payments in the very narrow circumstances of a public official being paid for information directly in line with their jobs,” said Ms. Brooks.”

As noted in this previous post at the beginning of News Corp.’s FCPA scrutiny, any suggestion that the media industry is somehow excluded from the FCPA’s prohibitions is entirely off-base.

One Way to Avoid Judicial Scrutiny is to Avoid the Courts

In recent years, the SEC has had some notable struggles in the FCPA context and otherwise when put to its burden of proof in litigated actions or otherwise having to defend its settlement policies to federal court judges.  For instance, Judge Shira Scheindlin (S.D.N.Y.) dismissed the SEC’s FCPA enforcement against former Siemens executive Herbert Steffen.  In another FCPA enforcement action,  Judge Keith Ellison (S.D.Tex.) granted without prejudice Mark Jackson and James Ruehlen’s motion to dismiss the SEC’s claims that sought monetary damages.  In Gabelli, the Supreme Court unanimously rejected the SEC’s statute of limitations position.  Judge Richard Leon (D.D.C.) expressed concerns regarding the SEC’s settlement of FCPA enforcement actions against Tyco and IBM and approved the settlements only after imposing additional reporting requirements on the companies.  In addition, the SEC’s neither admit nor deny settlement policy has been questioned by several judges (most notably Judge Jed Rakoff) and the merits of this policy is currently before the Second Circuit.

The SEC’s response to this judicial scrutiny has been, as strange as it may sound, to bypass the judicial system altogether  when resolving many of its enforcement actions including in the FCPA context.  As detailed in this previous post concerning SEC FCPA enforcement in 2013, of the 8 corporate enforcement actions from 2013, 3 enforcement actions were administrative actions (Philips Electronics, Total, and Stryker) and 1 action (Ralph Lauren) was a non-prosecution agreement.  In other words, there was no judicial scrutiny of 50% of SEC FCPA enforcement actions from 2013.

Based on recent statements from SEC officials at the “SEC Speaks” conference this trend is going to continue.

According to this Vedder Price bulletin:

“Charlotte Buford, Assistant Chief Counsel, spoke about the SEC’s intention to use the administrative proceeding forum more frequently and in a wider variety of upcoming enforcement actions. Ms. Buford stated that in choosing the forum, the SEC considers factors such as speed and efficiency, the nature of the case, litigation considerations such as the amount of discovery needed, and settlement considerations. Ms. Buford noted that, although certain types of actions such as insider trading cases were historically brought in district court, two insider trading cases were recently brought as administrative actions. She also referenced the SEC’s recent action against Alcoa, Inc. involving FCPA violations, which was filed as a settled administrative proceeding. Ms. Buford indicated that the SEC will continue to increase its use of administrative proceedings in the coming years.”

This Perkins Coie alert adds the following:

“[Kara Brockmeyer – Chief of the SEC’s FCPA Unit] also noted that companies can expect to see more cases resolved in administrative proceedings, and that the FCPA Unit is considering bringing litigated FCPA cases through administrative proceedings as well.”

SEC administrative settlements in the FCPA context were rare prior to 2010 largely because the SEC could not impose monetary penalties in such proceedings absent certain exceptions.  However, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act granted the SEC broad authority to impose civil monetary penalties in administrative proceedings in which the SEC staff seeks a cease-and-desist order.  However, Congress’s grant of such authority to the SEC – no doubt politically popular in the aftermath of the so-called financial crisis – has directly resulted in less judicial scrutiny of SEC enforcement theories including in the FCPA context.

Like so much of what is happening in the FCPA space (and government regulation of corporate conduct generally), this is a troubling development.

In other “SEC Speaks” tidbits, the Vedder Price bulletin also states:

“Kara Brockmeyer, Chief of the FCPA Unit, noted that her unit brought a variety of cases in 2013, which included “old school” bribery cases funneling money, improper travel and entertainment, and improper charitable donations. Ms. Brockmeyer stated that the SEC continues to see issues with third-party intermediaries, as many companies enter into arrangements with third parties without adequately explaining the roles of the third parties. Ms. Brockmeyer lauded companies for “putting more thought” into compliance programs and internal controls, as well as for their decisions to self-report. She also discussed the Cross-border working group, which has brought 21 fraud actions involving 90 individuals or entities and has revoked the registrations of 63 companies since this initiative started three years ago.”

The Perkins Coie alert also states:

“Turning to the area of cooperation credit and non-prosecution agreements (NPAs), Chief Brockmeyer stated that the 2013 Ralph Lauren case is a good example of where such an outcome was warranted.  Several factors that weighed in favor of that favorable NPA settlement resulted from the company: self-reporting the suspected bribery within two weeks of finding violations; discovering the violations on its own through internal monitoring activities; assisting the SEC’s investigation by providing English language translations of foreign documents, and bringing witnesses to the United States for questioning; and undertaking extensive remediation efforts, including a worldwide investigation to determine if there were any systemic issues.  Finally, Chief Brockmeyer added that it was significant that Ralph Lauren’s investigation determined that the bribery issues were confined to one country; if the violations were found to be more widespread, the company would likely still have received cooperation credit, but would not have been a candidate for a NPA.

Chief Brockmeyer stated that the SEC will continue to address Compliance Monitorship requirements on a case-by-case basis.  Recently, the SEC has imposed both “full” monitorships, as well as some “hybrid” monitorships that include 18 months of monitoring, combined with 18 months of self-monitoring by the company.  She noted that some companies might even qualify for just internal monitoring, but all these considerations depend heavily on the state of the company’s compliance program.

Finally, Chief Brockmeyer indicated that whistleblower tips continue to serve as a primary lead for the SEC in identifying potential FCPA actions.  The SEC is using these tips to identify specific sectors or industries that are not paying sufficient attention to corporate compliance or internal controls.  The SEC is also focused on enforcing the anti-retaliation whistleblower provisions in Dodd Frank.  In some instances, the SEC has observed that companies have required employees to sign confidentiality agreements that appear to bar an employee from becoming a whistleblower.  She opined that such agreements would violate Dodd-Frank’s prohibition against regulated entities taking actions to impede employees from making whistleblower complaints.”

Another DOJ Official Departs

When Lanny Breuer departed as DOJ Assistant Attorney Criminal Division in March 2013, Mythili Raman became Acting Assistant Attorney and carried forward much of the same rhetoric Breuer frequently articulated concerning the DOJ’s FCPA enforcement program.  (See here for my article “Lanny Breuer and Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Enforcement).

In speeches (here and here) Raman stated that the DOJ’s “stellar FCPA Unit continues to go gangbusters, bringing case after case,” “our recent string of successful prosecutions of corporate executives is worth highlighting” and “we are not going away … our efforts to fight foreign bribery are more robust than ever.”

Like other DOJ FCPA officials before her, Raman frequently highlighted certain enforcement statistics, yet conveniently ignored the most telling enforcement statistic of all – the DOJ’s dismal record when actually put to its burden of proof in FCPA enforcement actions.  In short, for a long time the DOJ’s FCPA Unit has had a distorted view of success.

Certainly, the DOJ and SEC have had “success” in this new era of FCPA enforcement exercising leverage and securing large corporate FCPA settlements against risk-averse corporations through resolution vehicles often not subjected to any meaningful judicial scrutiny.  However, by focusing on the quantity of FCPA enforcement, the quality of that enforcement is often left unexplored.  The simplistic notion advanced by the enforcement agencies seems to be that more FCPA enforcement is an inherent good regardless of enforcement theories, regardless of resolution vehicles, and regardless of actual outcomes when put to its burden of proof.  This logic is troubling and ought to be rejected.  In a legal system founded on the rule of law, a more meaningful form of government enforcement agency success is prevailing in the context of an adversarial system when put to the burden of proof.  As to this form of success, during this new era of FCPA enforcement, the DOJ and SEC have had far less “success” in enforcing the FCPA.

Recently the DOJ announced that Raman is departing from her position. (See here).  In this related Q&A with the Wall Street Journal Law Blog (LB) Raman confirmed that the DOJ measures success in terms of quantity without regard to quality.

LB: [On enforcement of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which has increased in recent years] do you think you’re winning? Are there fewer bribes being paid now?

MR: We often measure our success by numbers of enforcement actions but actually at the end of the day…. the deterrent effect is what actually matters. I don’t know if fewer bribes are being paid or not. But I do know that there are many more companies who know what their obligations are now.

For additional coverage of Raman’s departure, see here and here.

Scrutiny Alerts

Last summer German healthcare firm Fresenius Medical Care AG disclosed an FCPA internal investigation (see here for the prior post).  In its recently filed annual report, the company stated as follows:

“The Company has received communications alleging certain conduct in certain countries outside the U.S. and Germany that may violate the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) or other anti-bribery laws. The Audit and Corporate Governance Committee of the Company’s Supervisory Board is conducting an internal review with the assistance of independent counsel retained for such purpose. The Company  voluntarily advised the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) and the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) that allegations have been made and of the Company’s internal review. The Company’s review and dialogue with the SEC and DOJ are ongoing.  The review has identified conduct that raises concerns under the FCPA or other anti-bribery laws that may result in monetary penalties or other sanctions. In addition, the Company’s ability to conduct business in certain jurisdictions could be negatively impacted. Given the current status of the internal review, the Company cannot reasonably estimate the possible loss or range of possible loss that may result from the identified matters or from the final outcome of the continuing internal review. Accordingly, no provision with respect to these matters has been made in the accompanying consolidated financial statements.  The Company’s independent counsel, in conjunction with the Company’s Compliance Department, have reviewed the Company’s anti-corruption compliance program, including internal controls related to compliance with international anti-bribery laws, and appropriate enhancements are being implemented. The Company is fully committed to FCPA compliance.”

Bio-Rad Laboratories disclosed as follows yesterday in an earnings release.

“[Fourth quarter] results included an accrued expense of $15 million in connection with the Company’s efforts to resolve the previously disclosed investigation of the Company in connection with the United States Foreign Corrupt Practices Act; this is in addition to an accrued expense of $20 million in the third quarter of 2013.”

Survey Says

The American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai recently released its China Business Report (2013-2014).

Notable findings include the following:

“Generally consistent with previous years, 80 percent of respondents cited bureaucracy as the No. 1 challenge, with 72 percent declaring difficulties from an unclear regulatory environment and 70 percent were concerned over problems with tax administration rounding out the top three leading legal and regulatory challenges that companies said hindered their business.”

As I’ve frequently stated, the root causes of much bribery and corruption are various trade barriers and distortions. These barriers and distortions – whether complex customs procedures, import documentation and inspection requirements, local sponsor or other third-party requirements, arcane licensing and certification requirements, quality standards that require product testing and inspection visits, or other foreign government procurement practices – all serve as breeding grounds for harassment bribes to be requested. Simply put, trade barriers and distortions create bureaucracy. Bureaucracy creates points of contact with foreign officials. Points of contact with foreign officials create discretion. Discretion creates the opportunity for a foreign official to misuse their position by making demand bribes.

The report also stated:

“Efforts by the Chinese government to target companies for corruption investigations have sharply increased companies’ concern over compliance with China’s laws and regulations. In 2013, 46 percent of companies said compliance with domestic laws was more important to their business, up from 31 percent in 2012, compared to international anti-bribery laws such as the FCPA (32 percent).

Twice as many respondents said that China’s more aggressive regulatory enforcement for anti-corruption and anti-competition has greatly increased or increased their own business risk (18 percent) than those who say their business risk has greatly decreased or decreased (8 percent). The issue of corruption and fraud was most strongly felt in the healthcare industry (24 percent), which contended with high profile government investigations of foreign and domestic pharmaceutical companies in 2013.”

The impetus for much of this concern is the result of GSK’s (and other pharma and healthcare related companies) scrutiny by Chinese authorities for alleged improper business practices.  (See here for the prior post).

*****

A good weekend to all.

Friday Roundup

That’s just so fringe, where now?, the pulse of FCPA Inc., scrutiny alerts and updates, for the reading stack, and save the date.  It’s all here in the Friday Roundup.

That’s Just So Fringe

Many in the anti-corruption space have latched onto developments in other countries and carried forward the torch of reform.  Just goggle Anna Hazare’s hunger strike in India or discover the wealth of material written about marches and demonstrations in Brazil prior to Brazil’s bribery laws being amended.

Recently there was a march in Washington D.C., protesting, in part, government corruption.  (See here).  Why has there not been similar coverage in the anti-corruption space?  Where are those who otherwise carried forward the torch of reform?  Apparently the reaction is – when it happens here in the U.S. – well, that’s just so fringe.

Where Now?

As DOJ Deputy Assistant Attorney, John Burretta “oversaw the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section, among others, including the Fraud Section’s FCPA Unit.”  He also “supervised the preparation of the DOJ and SEC’s Resource Guide to the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, issued in November 2012.”

Like most other DOJ policy leaders and FCPA enforcement attorneys with supervisory powers during this new era of FCPA enforcement, Burretta is now in the private sector as he recently joined Cravath as a partner.  (See here).  According to his Cravath bio, “his practice focuses on investigations and white collar criminal defense, including advising and representing clients in matters related to the FCPA” among other things.

The Pulse of FCPA Inc.

Few FCPA Inc. participants are publicy-traded companies.  Thus, it is often difficult to take the pulse of FCPA Inc. other than anecdotal information.

However, one FCPA Inc. participant that is publicly traded is FTI Consulting.  The company recently disclosed that revenues for the quarter in its relevant business segment increased nearly 2% compared to the prior year “due to higher services revenues primarily for investigations involving the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and interest rate setting process concerning the London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”) …”.

It’s only one company, but with few FCPA Inc. datapoints publicly available, it is a relevant datapoint.

Scrutiny Alerts and Updates

Weatherford

Weatherford International recently disclosed as follows concerning its long-running FCPA scrutiny:

“During the quarter ended June 30, 2013, negotiations related to the oil-for-food and FCPA matters progressed to a point where we recognized a liability for a loss contingency that we believe is probable and for which a reasonable estimate can be made.  The Company estimates that the amount of this loss is $153 million and recognized a loss contingency equal to such amount in the quarter ended June 30, 2013.  Since our last 10-Q filing, substantial progress in the negotiations was made, and these negotiations have recently concluded. These negotiations have resulted in agreements with representatives of the DOJ and the SEC enforcement staff relating to terms and total payments to be made to government agencies relating to the oil-for-food and FCPA matters subject in each case to final review and approval by the DOJ and SEC Commission as well as judicial approval.  The agreements would require total payments to government agencies equal to the $153 million loss contingency that the Company recognized in the quarter ended June 30, 2013.  The agreements would also include (1) an agreement under which criminal prosecution for the Company would be deferred for three years and a plea agreement would impose a criminal conviction on one of the Company’s subsidiaries; (2) a requirement to retain, for a period of at least 18 months, an independent monitor responsible to assess the Company’s compliance with the terms of the agreement so as to address and reduce the risk of recurrence of alleged misconduct, after which the Company would continue to evaluate its own compliance program and make periodic reports to the DOJ and SEC; and (3) a requirement to maintain agreed compliance monitoring and reporting systems.  If final settlement terms differ from the agreements we have reached with DOJ and SEC representatives or if necessary approvals are not ultimately obtained, we could become subject to injunctive relief, disgorgement, fines, penalties, sanctions or imposed modifications to business practices that could adversely affect our results of operations.”

A $153 million FCPA settlement amount would be 8th largest of all time based on the current top ten settlement list.

Layne Christensen Co.

Layne Christensen Co. recently disclosed as follows concerning its long-running FCPA scrutiny:

“The Company is engaged in discussions with the DOJ and the SEC regarding a potential negotiated resolution of these matters. The Company believes that it is likely that any settlement will include both the payment of a monetary fine and the disgorgement of any improper benefits. In May 2013, the staff of the SEC orally advised the Company that they calculated the estimated benefits to the Company from allegedly improper payments, plus interest thereon, to be approximately $4.8 million, which amount was accrued by the Company as of April 30, 2013. Based on the results of the Company’s internal investigation, an analysis of the resolution of recent and similar FCPA resolutions, the Company currently estimates a potential settlement range for resolving these matters (including the amount of a monetary penalty and the disgorgement of any improper benefits plus and interest) of $10.4 million to $16.0 million. The Company has increased its reserve for the settlement of these matters from $4.8 million to $10.4 million, representing the low end of this range.  At this time, we can provide no assurances as to whether the Company will be able to settle for an amount equal to its current reserve or within its estimated settlement range or whether the SEC or DOJ will accept voluntary settlement terms that would be acceptable to the Company. Furthermore, the Company cannot currently assess the potential liability that might be incurred if a settlement is not reached and the government was to litigate the matter. As such, based on the information available at this time, any additional liability related to this matter is not reasonably estimable. The Company will continue to evaluate the amount of its liability pending final resolution of the investigation, and any related settlement discussions with the government; the amount of the actual liability for any fines, penalties, disgorgement or interest that may be recorded in connection with a final settlement could be significantly higher than the liability accrued to date.  Other than the indication of the estimated disgorgement amount noted above, the Company has not received any proposed settlement offers from the SEC or DOJ and there can be no assurance that its discussions with the DOJ and SEC will result in a final settlement of any or all of these issues or, if a settlement is reached, the timing of any such settlement or that the terms of any such settlement would not have a material adverse effect on the Company.”

ADM

ADM recently disclosed as follows concerning its long-running FCPA scrutiny.

“The Company has completed its internal review and is engaged in discussions with the DOJ and SEC to resolve this matter. In connection with this review, government agencies could impose civil penalties or criminal fines and/or order that the Company disgorge any profits derived from any contracts involving inappropriate payments. Included in selling, general, and administrative expenses for the nine months ended September 30, 2013 were charges for the Company’s current estimate of potential disgorgement, penalties, and fines that may be paid by the Company in connection with this matter of $54 million. As of September 30, 2013, the estimated loss provision liability of $54 million is included in accrued expenses and other payables in the Company’s consolidated balance sheet. These events have not had, and are not expected to have, a material impact on the Company’s business or financial condition.”

GSK

In my first GSK post over the summer, I posed the question – based on GSK disclosures and public statements – whether GSK is the victim of rogue employee conduct?

According to this U.K. Independent article:

“GlaxoSmithKline, the British drug company at the heart of a bribery investigation in China, is likely to avoid a company-wide charge for  allegedly funneling up to £300m in kickbacks to doctors and government officials.  Instead, police are likely to charge some of its Chinese executives, according to reports citing legal and industry sources.  Such an outcome would see Chinese police drop  claims made in September that corruption was co-ordinated at a company level.  […] The [Chinese] police investigation into GSK is likely to be concluded around the end of November or in December, said a person with direct knowledge of the probe. The sources noted it was difficult to predict what Chinese authorities would ultimately do. But the most likely legal scenario was that they would charge Chinese GSK executives, said the person with direct knowledge of the investigation and two other sources familiar with the matter. The sources declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the case. Indeed, the Ministry of Public Security had tried to find evidence tying GSK   as a legal entity to the alleged wrongdoing, but it was unlikely authorities would be able to prove its involvement at a corporate level, said the person with direct knowledge of the investigation.” (emphasis added).

Bio-Rad Labs

Bio-Rad recently disclosed that it recorded “an accrued expense of $20 million in connection with the Company’s initial efforts to resolve the previously disclosed investigation of the Company in connection with the United States Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.”

For The Reading Stack

The always informative Miller & Chevalier quarterly update is out.  (See here for the Autumn 2012 FCPA Review).

From an article titled “The ‘Mens Rea’ Component Within the Issue of the Over-Federalization of Crime” by John Baker and William Haun in Engage, a Federalist Society publication.

“Designed to prohibit bribery of foreign officials for any business advantage, the [FCPA’s] breadth allows the federal government to hold businesses liable for actions by rogue agents.  As former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey and Jones Day partner James Dunlop note, this “adds unnecessary uncertainty and opens businesses to massive, largely unavoidable, liability, with few offsetting benefits.”  The statute’s broad language can transgress the intent of Congress.  In discussing the example of Wal-Mart, Professor Mike Koehler has shown that Congress had no desire to apply the Act against “grease payments” to clerical employees, but that the backroom nature of FCPA enforcement gives that congressional limitation uncertain relevance. The reluctance of corporations to go to trial minimizes judicial review of the FCPA’s use. As a result, the FCPA investigations have developed a “prosecutorial common law,” allowing the Department of Justice (DOJ) to impose burdensome compliance costs without having to prove in court that criminal activity has actually occurred or is likely to occur.  Companies spend millions to “comply” with requirements possessing an unknown reach.  In remarks on the FCPA, former U.S. Attorney General Mukasey observed that, given how few FCPA cases actually see a court room, “there is a whole body of law being developed” in prosecutor’s offices through negotiated FCPA settlements with major companies. Even if the settlements are reasonable, as General Mukasey noted, they do not provide any clarity or consistency necessary to “demystify” an ordinary person’s responsibilities under the law.  He noted that DOJ and the business community reached an understanding on some aspects of the FCPA.  Such agreements, however, should not serve as the functional equivalent of legislation.  It is the obligation of Congress to establish clear mens rea requirements for the FCPA and other statutes, not the executive via piecemeal prosecution.”

What’s one takeaway point from the recent Diebold enforcement actions?  According to Richard Smith (Norton Rose Fulbright) in this recent Law360 article:

“The Diebold settlements underscore the need for companies to fully evaluate whether voluntary disclosure is in the company’s best interest. Although U.S. authorities may be willing to reward companies for self-disclosing FCPA issues — indeed, the DOJ specifically stated in the DPA that it credited Diebold for making such a disclosure — the positive credit received is not always clear. The ultimate financial and operational burden on a company may, in any given instance, outweigh credit received.  Based on previous enforcement action settlements, some companies may have assumed that voluntary disclosure assists the company in avoiding the imposition of a compliance monitor. In light of the Diebold settlements, however, companies assessing the option of self-disclosure must consider the real possibility that doing so may not shield them from the increased costs and scrutiny associated with the retention of independent compliance monitors.”

Save The Date

On December 4th in Washington, D.C., George Washington University Law School is hosting a full-day symposium titled “The International Fight Against Corruption: Are the OECD and UN Conventions Achieving their Objectives?”  To learn more about the event, see here.

Friday Roundup

Well represented, scrutiny alerts / updates, and a timetable.  It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Well Represented

Companies that have resolved FCPA enforcement actions or have been otherwise the subject of FCPA scrutiny are well represented in Ethisphere’s recent World’s Most Ethical Companies list.

I point this out not to argue that Ethisphere’s methodology if flawed, but to demonstrate, consistent with this prior post, that just because a company resolves an FCPA enforcement action does not therefore mean that the company is a bad or unethical company.  To the contrary, many FCPA enforcement actions involve companies, such as those on World’s Most Ethical Companies list, that have pre-existing FCPA compliance policies and procedures, yet because of respondeat superior, face legal exposure based on the conduct of a small group of individuals.

Companies appearing on the list that have recently resolved FCPA enforcement actions, or have otherwise been the subject of FCPA scrutiny, are: ABB, Deere & Company, Dun & Bradstreet, General Electric, Rockwell Automation, and Sempra Energy.

Scrutiny Alerts / Updates

Optimer Pharmaceuticals

Christopher Matthews (Wall Street Journal – Corruption Currents) reported earlier this week (here) that Optimer Pharmaceuticals is “investigating whether an attempted grant of  stock options to the company’s co-founder violated the FCPA.  According to the company’s recent earnings call transcript, the conduct under investigation relates to an “attempted grant in September of 2011 to Dr. Michael Chang of 1.5 million technical shares of Optimer Biotechnology, Inc. (“OBI”) as well as “a potentially improper $300,000 payment in July 2011 to a research laboratory involving an individual who was also associated with the OBI share grant.”  The company has disclosed the results of its preliminary investigation to the DOJ and SEC.

As noted in this previous post, business interests or equity interests have previously been a basis for FCPA scrutiny and FCPA enforcement actions.

Tesco Corporation

Tesco (a Houston based oil services company) disclosed in a recent SEC filing as follows.

“On December 26, 2012, we received a request by the staff of the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) that the Company take steps to preserve and retain five categories of documents relating to commercial agents who perform services for the corporate group in a foreign jurisdiction, the Company’s general use of commercial agents in that jurisdiction, and compliance with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. This request stated that it “should not be construed as an indication by the Commission, or its staff, that any violations of law have occurred; nor should it be considered an adverse reflection upon any person, entity, or security.” We have, under the advice and through independent external legal counsel, cooperated with and have provided the SEC staff with specific information which it has requested. External legal counsel for the Company has been advised by the SEC staff that no formal order of investigation has been issued. The outcome of the SEC’s review and any future financial impact resulting from this matter are indeterminable at this time.”

Bio-Rad

Bio-Rad Laboratories Inc., a company that previously disclosed FCPA scrutiny, disclosed earlier this week (see here) that it would be unable to file its annual report for the year ended December 31, 2012 prior to the filing deadline.  The SEC filing states, in pertinent part, as follows.

“Bio-Rad is unable to file its Annual Report on Form 10-K for the year ended December 31, 2012 (the “Form 10-K”) prior to the filing deadline because the Company has not finalized its assessment of the effectiveness of its internal control over financial reporting due in part to recently raised issues and has not finalized an accrual for royalties payable by the Company as of December 31, 2012 under certain patent licenses from a third party.   As previously reported, the Company has implemented enhancements to its internal control over financial reporting and is continuing to evaluate and improve its internal controls, including processes and procedures relating to the Company’s compliance with the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”). The Company is currently in the process of finalizing its assessment of the effectiveness of its internal control over financial reporting as of December 31, 2012 and will be unable to file the Form 10-K until the Company completes this assessment. “

Brookfield Asset Management

Prior posts here and here discussed the scrutiny of Brookfield Asset Management for conduct in Brazil.  Today, the Wall Street Journal reported (here) that the “SEC is looking into allegations that a Brazilian unit” of the company “paid bribes to win construction permits.”  According to the article, “a member of the SEC’s enforcement division is scheduled to interview a former executive in the Sao Paulo unit of Brookfield who made the allegations.”  According to the article “the allegations include that Brookfield employee hired an armored truck to deliver cash to two city officials to speed the permits.”

Timetable

Via thebriberyact.com, a timetable for DPAs becoming real in the U.K.  This is unfortunate, as discussed in this prior post.

*****

A good weekend to all.

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