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DOJ Announces Guilty Pleas By Former Unaoil Executives

unaoil

Yesterday, the DOJ announced that Cyrus Ahsani and Saman Ahsani (the former CEO and Chief Operations Officer of Monaco-based Unaoil) pleaded guilty in March 2019 to one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA for their roles in a scheme to corruptly facilitate millions of dollars in bribe payments to officials in multiple countries. The DOJ also announced that Steven Hunter (a former business development manager at Unaoil) pleaded guilty in August 2018 to one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA.

Prior Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement actions against Rolls-Royce and SBM Offshore (see here and here) involved, in whole or in part, Unaoil and the Ahsani information refers to approximately 25 other companies including approximately ten U.S. based issuers. Thus, it is likely that additional FCPA enforcement actions involving, in whole or in part, Unaoil will be forthcoming.

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In Depth Into The Och-Ziff FCPA Enforcement Action

och ziff

Last week, the DOJ and SEC announced (here and here) a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement action against Och-Ziff Capital Management Group (and a related entity) for improper business practices in various African countries. The aggregate settlement amount was $412 million (a $213 million DOJ criminal penalty and a $199 million SEC resolution consisting of disgorgement and prejudgment interest), the 4th largest FCPA settlement amount of all-time.

As highlighted in this previous post, the SEC also found Daniel Och (CEO) and Joel Frank (CFO) culpable for certain of the improper conduct. As indicated in the post, this represents what is believed to be the first time in FCPA history that the SEC also found the current CEO and CFO of the issuer company liable, to some extent, for company FCPA violations. Moreover, the $2.2 million Och agreed to pay, without admitting or denying the SEC’s findings, is the largest settlement amount in FCPA history by an individual in an SEC action.

Whether the Och-Ziff enforcement action is the “first time a hedge fund has been held to account for violating the FCPA” (as the DOJ stated in its release) is a debatable point. (See here for the 2007 FCPA enforcement action on the DOJ’s FCPA website against hedge fund Omega Advisors).

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BHP Billiton Becomes The Most Recent Foreign Company To Pay Uncle Sam

Uncle Sam3

BHP Billiton, a company based in Australia and the United Kingdom, was an official sponsor of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China.  As such, the company received priority access to tickets, hospitality suites, and accommodations for the games.  Not surprisingly, the company invited 650 people (customers, suppliers, etc.) to attend the Olympic Games with three to four day hospitality packages.

But lo and behold, approximately 25% of these people invited were alleged “foreign officials” primarily from Africa and Asia and an even smaller percentage of these invited “foreign officials” actually attended the Olympic Games.

The end result seven years later?

Why of course $25 million to the U.S. Treasury because BHP Billiton had American Depositary Shares that trade on a U.S. exchange.

Yesterday the SEC released this administrative cease and desist order concerning BHP Billiton Ltd. and BHP Billiton Plc.

In summary fashion, the SEC order states:

“This matter concerns BHPB’s failure to devise and maintain sufficient internal controls over a global hospitality program that the company hosted in connection with its sponsorship of the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games. BHPB invited approximately 176 government officials and employees of state-owned enterprises (collectively, “government officials”) to attend the Olympics at BHPB’s expense. The majority of these invitations were extended to government officials from countries in Africa and Asia that had well-known histories of corruption. The three to four day hospitality packages included event tickets, luxury hotel accommodations, meals, other hospitality, and, in many instances, offers of business-class airfare for government officials and their guests. BHPB informed its employees that “[o]ne of the core objectives [of the Olympic sponsorship] is to maximize the commercial investment made in the Games through assisting [BHPB] to strengthen relationships with key local and global stakeholders, e.g.: Government Ministers, Suppliers and Customers,” and that the hospitality program was “a primary vehicle to ensure this goal is achieved.”

BHPB recognized that inviting government officials to the Olympics created a heightened risk of violating anti-corruption laws and the company’s own Guide to Business Conduct, but the internal controls it developed and relied upon in an effort to address this risk were insufficient. As a result, BHPB invited government officials who were directly involved in, or in a position to influence, pending contract negotiations, efforts to obtain access rights, regulatory actions, or business dealings affecting BHPB in multiple countries. In addition, BHPB’s books and records, namely certain internal forms that employees prepared in order to invite a government official to the Olympics, did not, in reasonable detail, accurately and fairly reflect BHPB’s pending negotiations or business dealings with the government official at the time of the invitation.

As a result of this conduct, BHPB violated the internal controls and books and records provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”).”

Under the heading “BHPB’s Hospitality Program for the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games,” the order states:

“In December 2005, BHPB and the Beijing Organizing Committee announced their agreement for BHPB to become an official sponsor of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. Under this agreement, BHPB paid a sponsorship fee and supplied the raw materials used to make the Olympic medals. In exchange, BHPB received the rights to use the Olympic trademark and other intellectual property in public announcements and advertisements, as well as priority access to tickets, hospitality suites, and accommodations in Beijing during the August 2008 Games.

BHPB established an Olympic Sponsorship Steering Committee (“OSSC”) to plan, oversee, and implement its sponsorship program, which involved multiple different branding, promotion, and relationship-building initiatives. The chair of the OSSC, who also was the chair of the Ethics Panel, reported directly to BHPB’s CEO.

One of BHPB’s objectives for the sponsorship was “to reinforce and develop relationships with key stakeholders” in China and in “product and investor markets, and regions where we have or would like to have operations.” BHPB’s strategy for accomplishing its objectives included “[u]tiliz[ing] Olympic hospitality to motivate China-based stakeholders, including customers, suppliers, government and media, to enhance business opportunities for BHP Billiton in China” and “[u]tiliz[ing] Olympic hospitality to build relationships with stakeholders from product and investor markets, and regions where we have or would like to have operations.”

One of the company’s sponsorship-related initiatives was a global hospitality program under which BHPB invited guests from around the world, including foreign government officials and representatives of state-owned enterprises, to attend the Beijing Olympics on three to four day hospitality packages. The hospitality packages included luxury hotel accommodations, meals, event tickets, and sightseeing excursions, at a cost of approximately $12,000 to $16,000 per package. In addition, BHPB executives approved the offer of round trip business class airfare to approximately 51 foreign government officials, as well as the airfares for 35 of these government officials’ spouses or guests. Apart from BHPB’s desire to enhance business opportunities by strengthening relationships with its guests, these trips had no other business purpose.

An internal e-mail to CSG presidents and other senior BHPB business managers emphasized the importance of the hospitality program to the success of BHPB’s sponsorship, stating, “[a]s you know we have made a commitment to support the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008. One of the core objectives is to maximise the commercial investment made in the Games through assisting [BHPB] to strengthen relationships with key local and global stakeholders, e.g.: Government Ministers, Suppliers and Customers. The BHP Billiton Hospitality Program is a primary vehicle to ensure this goal is achieved.”

In early 2007, BHPB employees prepared country-specific Olympic Leverage Plans, which summarized BHPB’s business and Olympic-related objectives. In a number of instances, these plans discussed inviting key stakeholders, including government officials, to help BHPB develop relationships with a view to increasing or maintaining its business opportunities. For example, the Olympic Leverage Plan prepared for one country stated that BHPB’s business objectives in that country included “gaining access to regions that will provide growth for [BHPB’s] business” and “gaining port access.” The plan further stated that the hospitality program would “provide useful relationship building opportunity for . . . stakeholders” and that the invitees would include the country’s Minister of Mines and Minister of Transport. The Olympic Leverage Plan for another country, while not specifically addressing the hospitality program, stated that one of the goals for the sponsorship was “us[ing] Olympics program to strengthen and build the govt’s confidence and relationship with [BHPB], to help facilitate approvals for future projects.”

After Olympic Leverage Plans were prepared for each country, BHPB business managers submitted lists of potential invitees and were instructed to rank them in order of importance, with “Category A” being those “most critical to the business.” Internal BHPB presentations discussed the need to establish “the business benefit” of an Olympic invitation.

Eventually, BHPB invited approximately 650 people to attend the Beijing Olympics, including 176 government officials, 98 of whom were representatives of state-owned enterprises that were BHPB customers or suppliers. BHPB also invited the spouses of 102 of these government officials. Most of the invited government officials were from countries in Africa and Asia where there was a known risk of corruption. Sixty of these government officials ultimately attended, 24 of them with their spouses or guests. A number of other invited government officials accepted their invitations, but then cancelled before the Olympics began.”

Under the heading “BHPB’s Insufficient Internal Controls over the Olympic Hospitality Program,” the order states:

“Early in its planning for the Olympics, BHPB identified the risk that inviting government officials to the Olympics could potentially violate anti-corruption laws and the company’s own Guide to Business Conduct. The company relied on its existing operating model and an Olympic-specific internal approval process to address this risk. However, these internal controls, and BHPB’s implementation of them, were insufficient.

BHPB developed a hospitality application which business managers were required to complete for any individuals, including government officials, whom they wished to invite. These applications included the following questions:

9. What business obligation exists or is expected to develop between the proposed invitee and BHP Billiton?

10. Is BHP Billiton negotiating or considering any contract, license agreement or seeking access rights with a third party where the proposed invitee is in a position to influence the outcome of that negotiation?

11. Do you believe that the offer of the proposed hospitality would be likely to create an impression that there is an improper connection between the provision of the hospitality and the business that is being negotiated, considered or conducted, or in any way might be perceived as breaching the Company’s Guide to Business Conduct?

If yes, please provide details.

12. Are there other matters relating to the relationship between BHP Billiton and the proposed invitee that you believe should be considered in relation to the provision of hospitality having regard to BHP Billiton’s Guide to Business Conduct?

BHPB required each such application to be filled out and signed by an employee with knowledge of the invitee’s relationship with the company, and approved in writing by the president of the relevant CSG or the BHPB country president. A cover sheet that accompanied the blank forms included a short description of anti-bribery provisions in the Guide to Business Conduct and urged employees to re-read the section of the Guide concerning travel, entertainment, and gifts before completing the form. However, the controls did not adequately address the antibribery risks associated with offering expensive travel and entertainment packages to government officials.

First, BHPB did not require independent legal or compliance review of hospitality applications by someone outside the CSG that was submitting the application, and did not clearly communicate to its employees the fact that the Ethics Panel was not reviewing and approving each invitation to a government official. On the one hand, BHPB’s internal website stated that the hospitality applications were subject to “scrutiny by the Ethics Panel [steering committee],” and the hospitality applications themselves stated that, “[r]equests for travel and accompanying spouses will be approved by the Olympic Sponsorship Steering Committee and the Global Ethics Panel Sub-Committee.” E-mails sent to some BHPB business managers by a member of the OSSC staff stated that the Ethics Panel had “approved” their applications.

However, other than reviewing approximately 10 hospitality applications for government officials in mid-2007 in order to assess the invitation process, the OSSC and the Ethics Panel subcommittee did not review the appropriateness of individual hospitality applications or airfare requests. The Ethics Panel’s charter stated that its role simply was to provide advice on ethical and compliance matters, and that “accountability rest[ed] with business leaders.” Members of the Ethics Panel understood that, consistent with their charter, their role with respect to implementation of the hospitality program was purely advisory. As a result, business managers had sole responsibility for reconciling the competing goals of inviting guests – including government officials – who would “maximize [BHPB’s] commercial investment made in the Olympic Games” without violating anti-bribery laws.

Second, some hospitality applications were not accurate or complete. Many applications identified an employee of a state-owned enterprise as a “Customer,” but failed to identify the invitee as a “Representative of Government.” In addition, a number of applications contained “No” responses to Question 10, even when BHPB had pending negotiations, efforts to obtain access rights, regulatory actions, or other business dealings in which the government official was directly involved or in a position to influence. Furthermore, in a number of instances, BHPB business people were provided with examples of language that had been used by other employees when responding to Questions 10 and 11 in order to explain why an invitation was appropriate, even when there was a “Yes” response to Questions 10-12. As a result, many hospitality applications contained the exact same statements in response to Questions 10 and 11, rather than a description of the specific facts and circumstances relating to that government official.

Third, while BHPB had an annual Guide to Business Conduct review and certification process, and generalized training, it did not provide its employees and executives with any specific training on how to fill out the hospitality forms or how to evaluate whether an invitation to a government official complied with the Guide. During the relevant period, this portion of the Guide included a case example concerning a negotiation between BHPB and a Ministry for Planning in a particular country, in which the Minister indicated that it would help his consideration of the company’s application if the Minister and his wife could visit BHPB’s operations in Australia. The example stated that “this kind of situation requires the utmost caution and you must consult senior management. You must not offer to provide anything that could be reasonably regarded as an attempt to unduly influence the Minister’s decision. This means that you must not pay for travel by the Minister’s wife.” However, BHPB did not provide any guidance to its senior managers on how they should apply this portion of the Guide when determining whether to approve invitations and airfares for government officials’ spouses.

Fourth, although the form asked whether any business was “expected to develop” with the invitee, BHPB did not institute a process for updating hospitality applications or reassessing the appropriateness of invitations to government officials if conditions changed. Almost all of the hospitality applications relating to government officials were approved and submitted in mid-2007. However, BHPB did not require hospitality forms to be updated, or invitations to be reconsidered, in those situations when government officials subsequently became involved in negotiations, attempts by BHPB to obtain access rights, or other pending matters.

Fifth, hospitality applications were submitted by individual CSGs, and generally only reflected negotiations between the government official and that CSG. While lists of invitees were circulated among senior BHPB business managers, BHPB had no process in place to determine whether the invited government official also was involved in other CSGs’ negotiations, efforts to obtain access rights, or other business dealings.”

The order next states, under the heading “As a Result of its Insufficient Internal Controls, BHPB Invited Government Officials who were Directly Involved in, or in a Position to Influence, Pending Negotiations, Regulatory Actions, or Business Dealings with BHPB,” as follows:

“As a result of its failure to design and maintain sufficient internal controls over the Olympic global hospitality program, BHPB invited a number of government officials who were directly involved with, or in a position to influence, pending negotiations, efforts by BHPB to obtain access rights, or other pending matters.”

Republic of Burundi

In mid-2007, BHPB’s MinEx group submitted a hospitality application form to invite the as-yet-unidentified Burundi Minister of Mines and spouse to the Olympics, with airfare included. Because BHPB was not currently in negotiations with the Minister of Mines at the time, the hospitality application form contained a “No” response to Question 10. However, BHPB had a joint venture (“JV”) in Burundi with an entity that was in danger of losing a nickel exploration permit unless it made a substantial near-term financial investment in the project or negotiated a renewal or amendment of the permit. Under Burundi law, the Minister of Mines was responsible for reviewing an application to renew or amend a mining permit and presenting the application to the country’s Council of Ministers for final approval.

In late 2007 and early 2008, BHPB began to negotiate directly with the newly appointed Minister of Mines to extend and modify the JV’s nickel exploration permit. However, BHPB employees did not update the hospitality application or take steps to re-review the appropriateness of the invitation after these negotiations began. As noted above, no such re-review was required by the internal controls that BHPB relied upon for the Olympic hospitality program. The Minister of Mines and his wife attended the Olympics as BHPB’s guests for four days.

Republic of the Philippines

In July 2007, BHPB became embroiled in a dispute with a local JV partner concerning a prospective nickel mining operation in the Philippines. The JV partner sued BHPB in local court and filed requests with the country’s Secretary of Department of Environment and Resources (“DENR”), requesting reversion of the mining rights that the JV partner had assigned to the JV.

In October 2007, a BHPB employee from the Stainless Steel Materials CSG submitted a hospitality application to invite the Secretary and his spouse to attend the Olympics, with airfare included. The completed application contained a “Yes” response to Question 10, but only described a technical services agreement that BHPB was considering submitting to the DENR for the Secretary’s approval. Question 10 of the hospitality form did not explicitly require, and the employee’s response did not provide, any information about the Secretary’s role in reviewing the JV partner’s reversion request or the fact that the President of the Philippines had designated the Secretary to mediate the dispute between BHPB and its JV partner. The form included a “No” response to Question 11.

The Secretary accepted BHPB’s invitation in December 2007. In March 2008, he issued a decision denying the JV partner’s reversion request and continued during the ensuing months to mediate the parties’ dispute. In late July, BHPB became concerned that the company’s JV partner had learned about the Olympics invitation. As a result, BHPB withdrew the invitation shortly before the Olympics began.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

In mid-2007, MinEx submitted a hospitality application form to invite the Governor of the Katanga Province in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (the “DRC”) and his spouse, with airfare included. Following its June 2007 review of 10 invitations to government officials, the Ethics Panel subcommittee advised MinEx to provide more detail about whether the invitation involved Gecamines, a state-owned entity with which BHPB was attempting to negotiate a copper exploration deal. In response, MinEx submitted a revised application that contained a “No” response to Question 10, stating, “[t]he issuing and management of mineral titles and negotiations with third parties in DRC have nothing to do with the Governor’s roles and responsibilities. Although [BHPB] are currently engaged in negotiations with State copper company, Gecamines, the Governor of Katanga will have no influence in these dealings.”

Later in 2007, however, BHPB employees held several meetings with the Governor. Internal summaries of these meetings noted that the Governor was “a close ally of [the DRC] President” and that having the Governor as BHPB’s ally “could be the key to unlock a successful entry in a deal with Gecamines.” In spite of obtaining this information after making the initial decision to invite the Governor of Katanga and his wife to the Olympics, BHPB employees did not update the hospitality application form or take steps to re-review the appropriateness of the invitation. No such re-review was required under the internal controls that BHPB relied upon for the Olympic hospitality program. The Governor accepted the invitation, but then cancelled before the Olympics.

Republic of Guinea

In May 2007, MinEx submitted a hospitality application to invite the Guinea Minister of Mines and his spouse to the Olympics, with airfare included. The application contained a “No” response to Question 10, and in response to Question 11 it stated, “No. A sound professional relationship with the Guinea Ministry of Mines is key for the success of the [BHPB] exploration and mining business in this country.” Following its June 2007 review of 10 invitations to government officials, the Ethics Panel subcommittee advised MinEx to provide additional information concerning this invitation. The MinEx employee who had prepared the original form asked BHPB’s Guinea country president to respond to the request for information concerning any pending negotiations with the Minister. The country president replied that “of course” there would be “further negotiations” regarding the upcoming renewal of a bauxite mining concession held by BHPB and the government’s intention to review all existing mining concessions, but that the response to Question 11 was “key in that regard.”

This information was not passed along to the Ethics Panel subcommittee, however, and the form was not updated to accurately reflect the pending negotiations across all of the CSGs operating in Guinea. Because they received no response to the Guinea country president’s email, MinEx officials mistakenly understood that the Ethics Panel had approved the invitation. The Minister accepted the invitation on behalf of himself and his wife in January 2008, but cancelled shortly before the Olympics began.”

Based on the above findings, the order states:

“As a result of the conduct described above, BHPB violated [the FCPA’s books and records provisions] because its books and records, namely certain Olympic hospitality applications, did not, in reasonable detail, accurately and fairly reflect pending negotiations or business dealings between BHPB and government officials invited to the Olympics. BHPB violated [the FCPA’s internal controls provisions] because it did not devise and maintain internal accounting controls over the Olympic hospitality program that were sufficient to provide reasonable assurances that access to assets and transactions were in executed in accordance with management’s authorization.”

Under the heading “BHPB’s Cooperation and Remedial Efforts,” the order states:

“In response to the Commission’s investigation, BHPB retained outside counsel to assist it with conducting an extensive internal investigation into potential improper conduct in the jurisdictions that were the subject of the staff’s inquiry. BHPB provided significant cooperation with the Commission’s investigation by voluntarily producing large volumes of business, financial, and accounting documents from around the world in response to the staff’s requests, and by voluntarily producing translations of key documents. BHPB’s counsel conducted scores of interviews and provided the staff with regular reports on the findings of its internal investigation.

BHPB also has undertaken significant remedial actions. BHPB has created a compliance group within its legal department that is independent from the business units. This compliance group is responsible for FCPA compliance, among other things, and reports directly to BHPB’s general counsel and Audit Committee. In addition, it has reviewed its existing anticorruption compliance program and implemented other changes. These include embedding independent anti-corruption managers into its businesses and further enhancing its policies and procedures concerning hospitality, gift giving, use of third party agents, business partners, and other high-risk compliance areas. BHPB also has enhanced its financial and auditing controls, including policies to specifically address conducting business in high-risk markets. BHPB has conducted extensive employee training on anti-corruption issues and overhauled its processes for conducting internal investigations of potential violations of anti-corruption laws.”

The order further states:

“During a one-year term …, Respondents [BHP Billiton] shall report to the Commission staff on the operation of BHPB’s FCPA and anti-corruption compliance program. If Respondents discover credible evidence, not already reported to the Commission staff, that: (1) questionable or corrupt payments or questionable or corrupt transfers of property or interests may have been offered, promised, paid, or authorized by Respondents, or any entity or person while working directly for Respondents, to any government official; (2) that related false books and records have been maintained; or (3) that Respondents’ internal controls failed to detect and prevent such conduct, Respondents shall promptly report such conduct to the Commission staff.”

During the one-year period, BHP Billiton shall also report to the SEC “on the operation of [its] FCPA and anti-corruption compliance program” and “shall undertaken one follow-up review.”

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

“BHP Billiton footed the bill for foreign government officials to attend the Olympics while they were in a position to help the company with its business or regulatory endeavors. BHP Billiton recognized that inviting government officials to the Olympics created a heightened risk of violating anti-corruption laws, yet the company failed to implement sufficient internal controls to address that heightened risk.”

Antonia Chion (Associate Director of the SEC’s Enforcement Division) added:

“A ‘check the box’ compliance approach of forms over substance is not enough to comply with the FCPA. Although BHP Billiton put some internal controls in place around its Olympic hospitality program, the company failed to provide adequate training to its employees and did not implement procedures to ensure meaningful preparation, review, and approval of the invitations.”

As noted in the SEC release:

“The SEC’s order finds that BHP Billiton violated [the FCPA’s books and records and internal controls provions].  The settlement, in which the company neither admits nor denies the SEC’s findings, reflects BHP Billiton’s remedial efforts and cooperation with the SEC’s investigation and requires the company to report to the SEC on the operation of its FCPA and anti-corruption compliance program for a one-year period.”

BHP Billiton agreed to pay a $25 million penalty to settle the SEC’s charges.

This BHP Billiton release states in full as follows.

  • U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) to take no action
  • U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) investigation that commenced in 2009 resolved on all matters
  • No findings of bribery or corrupt intent
  • DOJ’s ‘no action’ and SEC resolution conclude the U.S. investigations
  • SEC imposes a civil penalty relating to accounting provisions of the FCPA
  • SEC notes BHP Billiton’s “significant cooperation” and “significant remedial actions”
  • SEC findings relate to BHP Billiton’s internal controls and books and records governing its hospitality program at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games

BHP Billiton today announced the resolution of the previously disclosed investigation by the SEC into potential breaches of the United States Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). The DOJ has also completed its investigation into BHP Billiton without taking any action.

The investigations related primarily to previously terminated minerals exploration and development efforts as well as hospitality provided by the Company at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. This concludes the US investigations on all matters.

BHP Billiton will continue to cooperate with the Australian Federal Police investigation, which was announced in 2013.

The matter is being resolved with the SEC pursuant to an administrative order which imposes a US$25 million civil penalty. The SEC Order makes no findings of corrupt intent or bribery by BHP Billiton.

The findings announced today by the SEC relate to a hospitality program hosted by BHP Billiton which supported its sponsorship of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. As part of this program, the Company invited customers, suppliers, business partners, and government officials, along with Company employees, to the Olympic Games. While BHP Billiton made efforts at the time to address the risks related to inviting government officials to the Olympics, the controls it relied upon were insufficient to satisfy the civil books and records and internal accounting controls requirements of the U.S. statute.

The SEC noted the “significant cooperation” BHP Billiton provided during the extensive investigation, which commenced in 2009. It also noted the “significant remedial actions” the Company has taken over the past five years to enhance its compliance program.

At the time of its sponsorship of the 2008 Beijing Olympics and Paralympics, BHP Billiton had no independent compliance function. Instead, accountability for complying with the Company’s anti-corruption policies, which were set out in the Company’s Guide to Business Conduct, was vested in its operating business units. The Company has since created an independent compliance function that reports to the head of the legal function and the Risk & Audit Committee of the BHP Billiton Board. Today this function would be required to approve any offer of hospitality of this kind to a government official. Under the SEC Order, BHP Billiton will self-report on its compliance program for twelve months.

BHP Billiton CEO Andrew Mackenzie said, “We have fully cooperated with the SEC throughout this process. We have taken the appropriate remedial actions and developed a world class compliance program that builds on the strong policies we have had in place. BHP Billiton operates a global resources business and recognises that the highest standards of business conduct are an essential part of our operations. Our Company has learned from this experience and is better and stronger as a result.”

Scott Muller (Davis Polk & Wardwell) represented BHP Billiton.  See here for Davis Polk’s press release. According to the release, 8 attorneys worked on the matter.

Layne Christensen Company Resolves SEC Enforcement Action

In August, Layne Christensen Company said that it hoped to resolve its long-standing FCPA scrutiny by resolving an SEC enforcement action in the near future.

Yesterday, the company did just that as the SEC announced in this release that Layne Christensen agreed to pay approximately $5.1 million via an SEC administrative cease and desist order.

In summary fashion, the order states:

“These proceedings arise out of violations of the anti-bribery, recordkeeping,  and internal controls provisions of the FCPA by Layne  Christensen. Between 2005 and 2010, Layne Christensen, through its wholly-owned subsidiaries in Africa and Australia, made a total of more than $1,000,000 in improper payments to foreign  government officials in the Republic of Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Tanzania, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. With the knowledge and  approval of one of its officers, Layne Christensen made these improper payments in order to obtain favorable tax treatment, customs clearance for drilling equipment, work permits for expatriates, and  relief from inspection by immigration and labor officials, as well as, to avoid penalties for the delinquent payment of taxes and customs duties and the failure to register immigrant workers. Layne Christensen funded some of these payments through cash transfers from its U.S. bank  accounts to its Australian and African subsidiaries.

Layne Christensen falsely recorded these improper payments as legitimate expenses and failed to maintain a system of internal accounting controls sufficient to provide  reasonable assurances over its operations.

As a result of making improper payments to foreign officials in Africa, Layne Christensen (1) realized improper tax benefits; (2) secured customs clearance of a drilling rig and other equipment; (3) avoided assessed customs duties and associated penalties; and (4) secured work permits for its employees and avoided the possible deportation of its undocumented workers  and penalties for the failure to register these workers. Overall, Layne Christensen realized benefits  of approximately $3.9 million by making improper payments to foreign officials in Africa between  2005 and 2010.”

Under the heading “knowledge of improper payments,” the order states:

“The Mineral Exploration Division (“MinEx”) is Layne Christensen’s  second-largest business division and is primarily responsible for the Company’s mineral exploration drilling operations worldwide. Between 2005 and 2010, the president of MinEx (the “MinEx President”) was a corporate officer of Layne Christensen and reported directly to Layne Christensen’s Chief Executive Officer. Based in Salt Lake City, UT, the MinEx President supervised all of Layne Christensen’s mineral exploration drilling operations, including  operations in Australia and Africa.

The MinEx President had knowledge of and, in some instances, authorized the direct and indirect payment of bribes to foreign officials in Africa to obtain or retain business. Specifically, he was aware of payments made to third-party agents retained by Layne  Christensen’s African subsidiaries in order to obtain favorable tax treatment and to customs  officials to obtain clearance for equipment and reduced customs duties.”

[This 2011 Wall Street Journal article references the name of the apparent MinEx President]

Under the heading, “payments to achieve favorable tax treatment,” the order states:

“Between 2005 and 2009, Layne Christensen paid approximately $768,000 in bribes to foreign officials in Mali, Guinea, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, through its wholly-owned subsidiaries WADS and Layne Drilling, in order to reduce its tax liability and to avoid associated penalties for delinquent payment. By making these improper payments, Layne Christensen realized more than $3.2 million in improper tax savings.”

WADS (West African Drilling Services Sarl in Mauritania and Guinea) is described as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Stanley Mining Services (“SMS”) and Layne Christensen is described as holding a 100% interest in SMS through Layne Christiensen Australia Pty Limited, an Australian corporation and wholly-owned subsidiary of Layne Christensen.  Layne Drilling is described as a wholly-owned subsidiary of SMS.  According to the SEC’s order:

“Layne Australia provides management and financial accounting services to Layne Christensen’s companies operating in these African countries. Layne Christensen exercised direct operational control over these wholly-owned subsidiaries and consolidated their results in its financial statements.”

In terms of Mali, the order states:

“In connection with a 2005 tax audit, the WADS subsidiary made two improper payments totaling $93,000 to Malian tax officials through its local agent. The purpose of these payments was to reduce its liability for unpaid taxes and associated penalties. The payments were made on September 5, 2005 and October 19, 2005. WADS falsely recorded the payments, respectively, as an “Advance of Audit” in its prepaid taxes account and as the “take up cost” of the agent’s freight invoice (no freight services were provided).

The MinEx President was aware that WADS had engaged the agent in order to reduce its tax liability, and that as a result WADS had reduced its tax liability to less than half the original assessment. The MinEx President did not question how these tax savings were achieved.

In order to fund the payments, the chief financial officer of MinEx (the “MinEx CFO”) directed another Layne Christensen subsidiary to transfer funds to WADS and WADS’s financial controller to execute a cash call to Layne Christensen’s corporate office. Layne Christensen wired funds from one of its U.S. banks accounts to WADS on the same day.

In 2007, WADS again made two improper payments to Malian tax officials through the same agent that it used in 2005. As a result of the payments, Layne avoided taxes and penalties of more than $1.2 million.

The check requisition used to make a payment to the agent listed the purpose of this payment as “Fret fees for container” and it was accompanied by an invoice from an unrelated company. The payment of $168,000 was falsely recorded as freight fees in Layne’s books and records.

Following this payment, WADS received an official notice reflecting a substantial reduction in its tax assessment and indicating that WADS was entitled to a credit of approximately $280,000 that could be used to offset its tax liability. Internal emails show that the Malian tax inspectors had requested a payment of about $67,000 to ensure that WADS would receive this tax credit. WADS’s financial controller wrote, “We have already paid the equivalent of $US$168K to [tax agent]. I was under the impression that this took care of all of ‘their’ payments.” Nevertheless, one day later, WADS issued another check to the tax agent in the amount of approximately $68,000. The accompanying check requisition identified the payment as related to “Fiscal Audit 2005/2006” and WADS falsely recorded it as “Property Rates and Taxes” in its books and records.

The MinEx CFO provided the MinEx President with a memo summarizing the history of the tax assessments and the subsequent reductions. As in 2005, the MinEx President did not question how the tax savings were achieved.”

In terms of Guinea, the order states:

“In 2006, WADS reduced its tax liability by paying bribes through two lawyers retained at the suggestion of the tax authorities but who provided no services.

WADS received an official tax assessment for the tax years 2002-2004 on February 15, 2006. However, prior to this date, WADS’s Finance Manager and tax consultants from a local affiliate of a large multinational accounting firm (“International Tax Consultants”) had been negotiating the amount of the assessment with Guinean tax officials. The WADS Finance Manager told the MinEx CFO that the official assessment was substantially lower than the amount that the Guinean tax authority had initially proposed but acceptance of this lower amount was conditioned on WADS making the payment within two days of the assessment. Without providing any supporting documentation, the MinEx CFO sent an email to Layne Christensen’s corporate office seeking an urgent transfer of funds. Despite the lack of documentation or a justification for the transfer, Layne Christensen wired more than $200,000 from a U.S. bank account to WADS’s local bank account on the same day.

On February 17, 2006, WADS made a single payment of approximately $97,648 to the tax authority and payments of $24,000 and $101,000 to the two lawyers, respectively. In comparison, WADS paid the International Tax Consultants only $8,400 for their services.

WADS falsely recorded the payments made to the lawyers as legal expense although internal communications show that the lawyers provided no services. In a March 14, 2006 memorandum to the MinEx CFO, the MinEx Tax Manager acknowledged that “The [C]ompany has never engaged any lawyers or other accountants in Guinea and [is] never likely to.” However, he reasoned that although the payments to the lawyers could not be considered legal expense because although the lawyers did not perform any work and were “merely a conduit for the money,” WADS could record them as tax expense because WADS would have faced a larger tax assessment if it had not made these payments.

In 2008, WADS obtained over a 90% reduction in its assessed taxes and penalties by funneling an improper payment of $273,000 to Guinean tax officials through the same lawyers that it used in connection with the 2006 audit.

On June 26 and 27, 2008, the lawyers submitted invoices to WADS totaling approximately $273,000 purportedly for rendering assistance with the tax audit. Neither lawyer participated in negotiating the settlement of the tax audit. WADS paid the lawyers’ invoices on July 22, 2008.

Layne Christensen funded the payments to the lawyers through wire transfers from a U.S. bank account. On July 2, 2008, the MinEx CFO sought a cash call from Layne Christensen’s corporate office. The stated purpose of the request was to pay WADS’s outstanding taxes but the amount requested exceeded the assessed tax amount. Without supporting documentation or further justification, Layne Christensen wired the funds on July 2 and 21, 2008, and falsely recorded the payments as tax expense.

In an internal memorandum dated July 23, 2008 that was provided to officers of Layne Christensen, the MinEx Tax Manager explained that on June 17, 2008,following the issuance of the original tax assessment in May, the tax authorities suggested WADS retain the same lawyers that it had used in 2006 to represent it in negotiating the tax assessment. Shortly thereafter, without engagement letters or the approval of Layne Christensen’s management, WADS retained both lawyers on a success-fee basis that tied their compensation to the amount by which the assessment was reduced.

The MinEx Tax Manager also noted that a portion of the fees paid to the lawyers could have been used to fund illegal payments to tax officials and that the lawyers and the International Tax Consultants pressured WADS to make the payments to the lawyers in order to obtain a settlement of the audit.

A few days later, the MinEx President learned that WADS had achieved a substantial reduction in its tax assessment. On July 25, 2008, the Vice President of Operations for Africa and Australia informed the MinEx President that the amount of the settled tax assessment was materially different from the MinEx Division’s forecasted amount, could have a material impact on Layne Christensen’s reported earnings, and could be scrutinized by Layne Christensen’s auditors. The MinEx President also learned that WADS had retained the lawyers without engagement letters. As with the Malian tax audits in 2005 and 2007, the MinEx President did not question how the tax savings were achieved.”

In terms of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the order states:

“In July 2009, Layne Drilling DRC made an improper payment of more than $50,000 to tax officials in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (“DRC”) through an agent in order to reduce its liability for unpaid taxes and penalties.

After receiving a multi-million dollar tax assessment in June 2009, Layne Drilling DRC’s local tax agent recommended that it engage a specialized lawyer to negotiate a reduction in the assessment. On June 19, 2009, the MinEx CFO sought the approval of the MinEx President to retain the lawyer as Layne Drilling DRC’s agent. Emphasizing that there was “a lot at stake, potentially $millions,” the MinEx CFO explained that he had spoken to the country manager and knew “more than can be written down.” However, he wrote that the transaction would entail paying $30,000 in taxes and $50,000 in legal commissions in an arrangement similar to the arrangement made with the lawyers in Guinea the previous year. The MinEx CFO also stated that all payments to the tax authorities would be made through the lawyer. Without questioning either the need to retain an agent or the suspicious proposed arrangement, the MinEx President approved Layne Drilling DRC’s retention of the lawyer.

On July 9, 2009, Layne Drilling DRC paid the lawyer $57,200 and falsely recorded the payment as legal expense.

The next day, the DRC tax authority issued a revised final tax assessment to Layne Drilling DRC. The amount of the revised tax assessment was substantially lower than the assessment issued to Layne Drilling DRC in June 2009.”

Under the heading “Payments to Reduce Customs Duties and Obtain Customs Clearance,” the order states:

“Layne Christensen made multiple improper payments to customs officials in Burkina Faso and the DRC between 2007 and 2010 in order to avoid paying customs duties and to obtain clearance for the import and export of its equipment in these countries. LayneChristensen made these improper payments through its customs clearing agents and falsely recorded the payments as legal fees and agent commissions in its books and records.”

Specifically as to Burkina Faso, the order states:

“Burkina Faso’s customs authority conducted an audit of WADS in June 2010. The auditors found that WADS had failed to comply with customs regulations relating to the importation of certain goods and to pay sufficient customs duties on these items. As a result, the customs authority assessed WADS nearly $2 million in unpaid duties and penalties.

Although WADS had retained a new customs clearing agent prior to receiving this assessment, it engaged its former customs agent purportedly to negotiate a reduction in the assessment. The former agent had cleared the disputed items but WADS terminated it in or about May 2009 due, in part, to poor performance. Nevertheless, WADS reengaged its former agent in June 2010 because the agent’s owner was well-connected with customs authorities in Burkina Faso. In an email to the MinEx CFO, the WADS Finance Manager described the agent as someone who is “well known in the game.” In addition, he informed the MinEx CFO that WADS retained the agent on a success fee basis and would pay the agent 10% of the difference between the original assessment and the final assessment.

On August 1, 2009, the MinEx CFO also told the MinEx President and another senior employee that WADS had retained a third-party agent to negotiate a settlement of the customs audit and the assessed customs duties were reduced from nearly $2 million to less than $300,000. The MinEx CFO recommended that WADS accept this settlement and he sought the approval of the MinEx President to send $300,000 to pay the customs fees and penalties as well as $100,000 for the agent’s commission. Without questioning the identity of the agent, the nature of the services provided, or the size of the commission, the MinEx President approved the payments.

The MinEx CFO initiated cash calls to fund the payments and Layne transferred funds from a U.S. bank account to WADS on August 4 and August 28, 2010. Between August 4 and 20, 2010, WADS paid the agent a total of approximately $138,000, including one cash payment. WADS falsely recorded the payments to the agent as legitimate consultant fees in its books and records.”

As to the Democratic Republic of Congo, the order concerns payments in connection with importation of drilling rigs and equipment, customs clearance for exports, and exportation of equipment.

In terms of importation of drilling rigs, the order states:

“In 2007, Layne Drilling DRC made improper payments to customs officials to obtain the initial importation of its drilling rigs and other equipment into the DRC.

In 2006 and 2007, Layne Drilling DRC encountered significant delays in obtaining customs clearance for the importation of its equipment, which resulted in the WADS Finance Manager terminating Layne Drilling DRC’s then-customs clearing agent and hiring a new agent (“Customs Clearance Agent”) in March 2007. The new Customs Clearance Agent was managed by the brother of a national government official in the DRC (“DRC Official”). In an email to the MinEx President, the WADS Finance Manager said that he had found someone who is “more connected” and “can get things moving for us.” As an example, he noted that the Customs Clearance Agent had obtained clearance for two trucks in only two days whereas the former agent had been unable to clear three trucks through customs for more than five weeks.

Between March and September 2007, Layne Drilling DRC paid a total of approximately $124,000 to the Customs Clearance Agent for irregular expenses, described as things such as “per diem,” “intervention expenses,” and “honoraires,” that were not related to specific invoices. Layne Drilling DRC paid the Customs Clearance Agent upon request and in amounts dictated by the agent. In addition, on two occasions, Layne Drilling DRC made payments to an unrelated third party in the U.S. at the direction of the Customs Clearance Agent.

As a result of these payments, Layne Christensen was able to import equipment necessary to perform on its existing contracts and derived more than $300,000 in benefits in 2007.

Layne Drilling DRC inaccurately recorded these payments as legitimate expenses relating to customs and clearance in its books and records.”

In terms of customs clearance for exports, the order states:

“Soon after beginning operations in the DRC in 2007, Layne Drilling DRC hired the nephew of the DRC Official as an office manager. Internal documents describe the DRC Official as Layne Drilling DRC’s “protector” and show that Layne Drilling DRC hired the DRC Official’s nephew in order to facilitate a good relationship.

Between November 2007 and August 2008, the office manager approved and made $18,000 in cash payments from Layne Drilling DRC’s account. These payments were purportedly made based on invoices submitted by a local firm that had allegedly provided customs clearance services but with whom Layne Drilling DRC had no written contract. Many of the payments were made outside of Layne Drilling DRC’s vendor system. In addition, the firm’s invoices were undated and included undefined “per diem” and “honoraire” expenses, similar to the invoices submitted by the Customs Clearance Agent. Layne improperly recorded these payments as legitimate customs and clearance expenses.”

In terms of exportation of equipment, the order states:

“In 2009 and 2010, Layne Drilling DRC made payments through its agents to customs officials in order to secure the exportation of goods and equipment from the DRC to Zambia.

In June 2009, Layne Drilling DRC retained a customs clearing agent to facilitate the export of a drilling rig to Zambia on an expedited basis. However, when thecustoms clearing agent indicated that the exportation would be delayed due to the lack of  documentation relating to the original importation of the drilling rig Layne Drilling DRC replaced the agent.

Between July 10 and July 17, 2009, Layne Drilling DRC paid $7,186 to the second agent who, in turn, made payments to customs officials and on July 20, 2009, the drilling rig was successfully exported to Zambia and placed it into operations. Layne Drilling DRC inaccurately recorded payments made to the agent as “governor office release rig” and “release documents for rig44.”

By making improper payments to customs officials to secure the export of this drilling rig, Layne Drilling DRC realized benefits of approximately $145,000.

Similarly, between April and November 2010, Layne Drilling DRC made nearly $15,000 in improper payments, through its agent, to DRC officials in order to again obtain clearance of goods for export to Zambia that lacked the proper import documentation. As before, the agent provided invoices that included “honoraires” and “per diems” and the payments were falsely recorded as legitimate customs and clearance expenses in Layne’s books and records.”

Under the heading, “other payments,” the order states:

“Between 2007 and 2010, Layne Christensen made more than $10,000 in small payments to foreign officials through various customs and clearing agents that it used in Tanzania, Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, and the DRC. These payments ranged from $4 to $1,700 and were characterized in invoices submitted by the agents as, among other things, “intervention,” “honoraires,” “commissions,” and “service fees.”

Between 2006 and 2010, Layne Christensen made more than $23,000 in cash payments, through its subsidiaries, to police, border patrol, immigration officials, and labor inspectors in Burkina Faso, Guinea, Tanzania, and the DRC to obtain border entry for its equipment and employees, to secure work permits for its expatriate employees, and to avoid penalties for noncompliance with local immigration and labor regulations.”

Based on the above conduct, the order finds that Layne Christensen violated the FCPA’s anti-bribery, books and records, and internal controls provisions.

Under the heading “remedial measures and cooperation,” the order states:

“Since 2010, Layne Christensen has implemented a number of remedial measures designed to identify and mitigate bribery risks and to prevent FCPA violations in the future. Upon learning of possible improper payments made to foreign officials by its staff in Africa, Layne Christensen’s senior management and Audit Committee responded quickly by initiating an investigation conducted by an outside law firm and forensic accounting experts, self-reporting its preliminary findings to the Commission, and publicly disclosing its potential FCPA violations. During the course of the investigation, Layne Christensen terminated four employees, including the MinEx President, the MinEx CFO, and the WADS Finance Manager for their roles in the misconduct, and reduced the compensation of the MinEx President for failing to establish a strong compliance tone at the top. In addition, the Company conducted a comprehensive risk assessment of its worldwide operations and implemented measures to address its most significant corruption risks.

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.

Layne Christensen exhibited a high level of cooperation throughout the Commission’s investigation. In addition to self-reporting to the Commission shortly after it discovered potential FCPA violations, Layne Christensen voluntarily provided the Commission with real-time reports of its investigative findings, produced English language translations of documents, made foreign witnesses available for interviews in the United States, shared summaries of witness interviews and reports prepared by forensic consultants retained in connection with the Company’s internal investigation, and responded to the Commission’s requests for documents and information in a timely manner. These actions assisted the Commission in efficiently collecting valuable evidence, including information that may not have been otherwise available to the staff.”

As stated in the SEC release:

“The SEC’s order finds that Layne violated the anti-bribery, books and records, and internal controls provisions of the [FCPA].  Layne agreed to pay $3,893,472.42 in disgorgement plus $858,720 in prejudgment interest as well as a $375,000 penalty amount that reflects Layne’s self-reporting, remediation, and significant cooperation with the SEC’s investigation.  For a period of two years, the settlement requires the company to report to the SEC on the status of its remediation and implementation of measures to comply with the FCPA.  Layne consented to the order without admitting or denying the SEC’s findings.”

As relevant to the $375,000 penalty amount, the order states:  [Layne Christensen] acknowledges that the Commission is not imposing a civil penalty in excess of $375,000 based upon its cooperation in a Commission investigation and related enforcement action.”

In the release, Kara Brockmeyer (Chief of the SEC’s FCPA Unit) stated:

“Layne’s lack of internal controls allowed improper payments to government officials in multiple countries to continue unabated for five years. However, Layne self-reported its violations, cooperated fully with our investigation, and revamped its FCPA compliance program.  Those measures were credited in determining the appropriate remedy.”

On the day the SEC’s enforcement action was announced, Layne Christensen’s stock price closed up 14.7%.

In Depth On The Weatherford Enforcement Action

Last week, the DOJ and SEC announced (here and here) that Switzerland-based oil and gas services company Weatherford International agreed to resolve a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement action based primarily on alleged conduct by its subsidiaries in Angola, the Middle East, and in connection with the Iraq Oil for Food program.  The enforcement action has been expected for some time (as noted in this prior post, in November the company disclosed that it had agreed in principle to the settlement announced last week).

The enforcement action involved a DOJ criminal information against Weatherford Services Ltd. resolved via a plea agreement, a criminal information against Weatherford International Ltd. (“Weatherford”) resolved via a deferred prosecution agreement, and a SEC settled civil complaint against Weatherford.  [Note, the SEC enforcement action also alleged violations of the books and records and internal controls provisions in regards to commercial transactions with various sanctioned countries in violation of U.S. sanction and export controls laws.  The DOJ – or other government entities – also alleged such conduct, but in resolution documents separate and apart from the FCPA resolution documents highlighted below].

Weatherford agreed to pay approximately $153 million to resolve its alleged FCPA scrutiny ($87 million to resolve the DOJ enforcement action and $66 million to resolve the SEC enforcement action).  The Weatherford action is the 8th largest FCPA settlement of all-time (see here for the top ten FCPA settlements).

DOJ

Weatherford Services Ltd.

Weatherford Services (“WSL”), incorporated in Bermuda, is identified as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Weatherford International that “managed most of Weatherford’s activities in Angola.”

The conduct at issue involved “two schemes to bribe Sonangol officials to obtain or retain business.”

Sonangol is alleged to be a “government-owned and controlled corporation” of the Angolan government. The information specifically states:

“Sonangol was the sole concessionaire for exploration of oil and gas in Angola, and was solely responsible for the exploration, production, manufacturing, transportation, and marketing of hydrocarbons in Angola.  Sonangol was run by a board of directors established by governmental decree in 1999.  Each member of the board was also appointed or renewed in their position by governmental decree.  Because Sonangol was wholly owned, controlled, and managed by the Angolan government, it was an ‘agency’ and ‘instrumentality’ of a foreign government and its employees were ‘foreign officials'” under the FCPA.

According to the information, the first bribery scheme “centered around a joint venture which WSL and other Weatherford employees established with two local Angolan entities.”  The information alleges that “Angolan Officials 1, 2, and 3 (described as “high-level, senior officials of Sonangol” with influence over contracts) controlled and represented one of the entities” and that a “relative of Angolan Official 4 (described as a “high-level, senior official of Angola’s Ministry of Petroleum” with influence over contracts entered into by the Angolan government) controlled and represented the other.”

The information alleges that the “joint venture began because WSL sought a way to increase its share of the well screens market in Angola” and states that “WSL learned that Sonangol was encouraging oil services companies to establish a well screens manufacturing operations in Angola with a local partner.”  Thereafter, “a high-level Weatherford executive sent Angolan Official 1 a letter expressing Weatherford’s intent to form a well screens manufacturing operation in Angola with a local partner and requesting Sonangol’s participation in the process.”

The information next alleges that “Angolan Official 1 advised WSL that Sonangol had selected local partners for WSL and that Sonangol would support the joint venture.”  According to the information:

“… the parties agreed that two local Angolan entities (“Angolan Company A” and Angolan Company B”) would be WSL’s joint venture partners.  Angolan Officials 1, 2 and 3 conducted all business with WSL on behalf of Angolan Company A.  Angolan Company B was owned in part by the daughter of Angolan Official 4.”

According to the information, “certain WSL and Weatherford employees knew from the outset of discussions regarding the joint venture that the members of Angolan Company A included a Sonangol employee and Angolan Official 3’s wife, while Angolan Company B’s members included Angolan Official 4’s daughter and son-in-law.”

According to the information, “prior to entering into the joint venture, neither Weatherford nor WSL conducted any meaningful due diligence of either joint venture partner.”  The information specifically alleges that Weatherford Legal Counsel A (a citizen of the U.S. and a Senior Corporate Counsel at Weatherford from 2004 to 2008) reached out to a law firm “to discuss whether partnering with the Angolan companies raised issues under the FCPA,” but that Weatherford Legal Counsel A “did not follow the advice” that had been provided to him.  In addition, the information alleges that Weatherford Legal Counsel A “falsely told [another] outside counsel that the joint venture had been vetted and approved by another outside counsel, when, in fact, no outside law firm ever conducted such vetting or gave such approval.”

The information alleges that WSL signed the final joint venture agreement with Angolan Company A and Angolan Company B in 2005, but that “neither Angolan Company A nor Angolan Company B provided any personnel or expertise to the joint venture, nor did they make any capital contributions.”

According to the information:

“In 2008, Angolan Company A and Angolan Company B received joint venture dividends for 2005 and 2006, including on revenues received in 2005 [before the joint venture agreement was executed].  […]  In total, the joint venture paid Angolan Company A $689,995 and paid Angolan Company B $136,901.”

The information alleges that “prior to the distribution of joint venture dividends, WSL executives knew that Angolan officials were directing the distribution of those dividends.”

According to the information, “WSL benefitted from the joint venture arrangement” in the following ways: “Sonangol began taking well screens business away from WSL’s competitors, even when a competitor was supplying non-governmental companies, and awarding it to WSL”  and “WSL received awards of business for which its bids were, by its own admission, not price competitive.”

The second bribery scheme alleged in the information relates to the “Cabinda Region Contract Renewal” in which WSL allegedly “bribed Angolan Official 5 (described as “a Sonangol official with decision-making authority in Angola’s Cabinda region”) so that he would approve the renewal of a contract under which WSL provided oil services to a non-governmental oil company in the Cabinda region of Angola.”  The information alleges that even though the contract was between WSL and a non-governmental company, Angolan law required “that it be approved by Sonangol before being finalized” and that “Angolan Official 5 was the Sonangol official responsible for approving or denying the renewal contract.”

The information alleges that Angolan Official 5 solicited the bribe and that “WSL executives agreed to pay the bribe Angolan Official 5 had demanded” even though a prior WSL Manager had refused to pay it.  According to the information, WSL made the payments to Angolan Official 5 through the Freight Forwarding Agent (described as a Swiss Company who provided freight forwarding and logistics services in Angola) who had previously paid bribes on behalf of WSL.”

As to the Freight Forwarding Agent, the information alleges that WSL retained the agent via a consultancy agreement in which the agent rejected a specific FCPA clause, but that “WSL and Weatherford acquiesced by removing the FCPA clause and inserting a clause requiring the Freight Forwarding Agent to ‘comply with all applicable laws, rules, and regulations issued by any governmental entity in the countries of business involved.”  According to the information, “WSL generated sham purchase orders for consulting services the Freight Forwarding Agent never performed, and the Freight Forwarding Agent, in turn, generated sham invoices for those non-existent services.”  The information alleges that the Freight Forwarding Agent passed money on to Angolan Official 5.

Based on the above, the information charges WSL with one count of violating the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions and specifically invokes the dd-3 prong of the statute applicable to “persons” other than issuers or domestic concerns.

Pursuant to the plea agreement, WSL agreed to pay a criminal fine in the amount of $420,000.

Weatherford International

The Weatherford information largely focuses on the company’s internal accounting controls and alleges as follows.

“Weatherford, which operated in an industry with a substantial corruption risk profile, grew its global footprint in large part by purchasing existing companies, often themselves in countries with high corruption risks.  Despite these manifest corruption risks, Weatherford knowingly failed to establish effective corruption-related internal accounting controls designed to detect and prevent corruption-related violations, including FCPA violations, prior to 2008.

Prior to 2008, Weatherford failed to institute effective internal accounting controls, including corruption-related due diligence on appropriate third parties and business transactions, limits of authority, and documentation requirements.  This failure was particularly acute when it came to third parties, including channel partners, distributors, consultants, and agents.  Weatherford failed to establish effective corruption-related due diligence on third parties with interaction with government officials, such as appropriately understanding a given third party’s ownership and qualifications, evaluating the business justification for the third party’s retention in the first instance, and establishing and implementing adequate screening of third parties for derogatory information.  Moreover, Weatherford failed to implement effective controls for the meaningful approval process of third parties.  Weatherford also did not require, in practice, adequate documentation supporting retention and in support of payments to third parties, such as appropriate invoices and purchase orders.

Prior to 2008, Weatherford did not have adequate internal accounting controls and processes in place that effectively evaluated business transactions, including acquisitions and joint ventures, for corruption risks and to investigate those risks when detected.  Moreover, following the establishment of joint ventures and certain other business transactions, Weatherford did not appropriately implement its policies and procedures to ensure an effective internal accounting control environment through proper integration.

Prior to 2008, Weatherford also did not have an effective internal accounting control system for gifts, travel, and entertainment.  In practice, expenses were not typically adequately vetted to ensure that they were reasonable, bona fide, or properly documented.

These issues were exacerbated by the fact that, prior to 2009, a company as large and complex as Weatherford – with its substantial risk profile – did not have a dedicated compliance officer or compliance personnel.  Although Weatherford promulgated an anti-corruption policy that it made available on its internal website, it did not translate that policy into any language other than English, and it did not conduct anti-corruption training.

Prior to 2008, Weatherford did not have an effective system for investigating employee reporting of ethics and compliance violations.  If an employee’s ethics questionnaire response indicated an awareness of payments or offers of payments to foreign officials or of undisclosed or unallocated funds, Weatherford did not have a protocol in place to perform any further investigation into the alleged corruption.  As a matter of practice, in fact, Weatherford did not conduct additional investigation of such allegations.  Prior to 2004, Weatherford did not require any employee to complete any kind of ethics questionnaire.

Further, Weatherford lack effective mechanisms to control its many foreign subsidiaries’ activities to ensure that they maintained internal accounting controls adequate to detect, investigate, or deter corrupt payments made to government officials.”

Under the heading “corrupt conduct” the information alleges – in summary form – as follows:

“Due to Weatherford’s failure to implement such internal accounting controls, a permissive and uncontrolled environment existed within Weatherford in which employees of certain of its wholly owned subsidiaries in Africa and the Middle East were able to engage in various corrupt conduct over the course of many years, including both bribery of foreign officials and fraudulent misuse of the United Nations’ Oil for Food Program.”

Thereafter, the information contains nine paragraphs of allegations that track the Angola allegations in the WSL information.

In addition, the information contains allegations about another alleged “scheme, in the Middle East, from 2005 through 2011” in which “employees of another Weatherford subsidiary [Weatherford Oil Tool Middle East Limited (WOTME) – described as a British Virgin Islands corporation headquartered in Dubai that was a wholly-owned subsidiary of Weatherford and responsible for managing most of Weatherford’s activities in North Africa and the Middle East] awarded improper ‘volume discounts’ to a distributor who supplied Weatherford products to a government-owned national oil company, believing those discounts were being used to create a slush fund with which to make bribe payments to decision makers at the national oil company.”

According to the information, “officials at the national oil company had directed WOTME to sell goods to the company through this particular distributor” and the information alleges:

“Prior to entering into the contract with the distributor, neither WOTME nor Weatherford conducted any due diligence on the distributor, despite (a) the fact that the Distributor would be furnishing Weatherford goods directly to an instrumentality of a foreign government; (b) the fact that a foreign official had specifically directed WOTME to contract with that particular distributor, and (c) the fact that executives at WOTME knew that a member of the country’s royal family had an ownership interest in the distributor.”

According to the information, “between 2005 and 2011, WOTME paid approximately $15 million in volume discounts to the distributor” that were “recorded in WOTME’s general ledger under a heading titled “Volume Discount Account.”

The information next contains four paragraphs of allegations relevant to the Iraq Oil for Food program and how Weatherford’s “failure to implement effective internal accounting controls also permitted corrupt conduct relating” to the program.

In a summary allegation, under the heading “Profits from the Corrupt Conduct in Africa and the Middle East” the information states:

“Due to Weatherford’s failure to implement internal accounting controls, an environment existed within Weatherford in which employees of certain of its wholly owned subsidiaries in Africa and the Middle East were able to engage in various corrupt business transactions, which conduct earned profits of $54,486,410, which were included in the consolidated financial statements that Weatherford filed with the SEC.”

Based on the above conduct, the information charges Weatherford with violating the FCPA’s internal controls provisions – specifically – that Weatherford knowingly:

“(a) failed to implement, monitor, and impose internal accounting controls and to maintain their effectiveness; (b) failed adequately to train key personnel to implement internal accounting controls to detect and avoid illegal payments and to identify and deter violations of those controls; (c) failed to monitor and control the financial transactions of its subsidiaries, in a manner that provided reasonable assurances that its subsidiaries’ transactions were executed in accordance with management’s general and specific authorization; (d) failed to monitor and control the financial transactions of its subsidiaries, in a manner that provided reasonable assurances that its subsidiaries’ transactions were recorded as necessary to permit preparation of financial statements in conformity with generally accepted accounting principles and any other criteria applicable to such statements; (e) failed to maintain a sufficient system for the selection and approval of, and performance of corruption-related due diligence on, third party business partners and joint venture partners, which, in turn, permitted corrupt conduct to occur at subsidiaries; (f) failed to investigate appropriately and respond to allegations of corrupt payments and discipline employees involved in making corrupt payments; (g) failed to take reasonable steps to ensure the company’s compliance and ethics program was followed, including training employees, and performing monitoring to detect criminal conduct; (h) failed to maintain internal accounting controls sufficient to prevent a subsidiary from entering into a joint venture agreement to funnel improper benefits to, and receive preferential treatment from, foreign government officials; (i) failed to maintain internal accounting controls sufficient to prevent a subsidiary from making payments to a channel partner not authorized by contract knowing there was a substantial likelihood that those payments were used to make corrupt payments; and (j) failed to maintain internal accounting controls sufficient to prevent kickbacks paid to the government of Iraq by a subsidiary.”

The charge against Weatherford was resolved via a DPA in which the company admitted, accepted, and acknowledged that it was responsible for the acts of its officers, directors, employees, and agents as charged in the information.

The DPA has a term of three years and under the heading “relevant considerations” it states:

“The Department enters into this Agreement based on the individual facts and circumstances presented by this case and the Company.  Among the facts considered were the following:  (a) the Company’s cooperation has been, on the whole, strong, including conducting an extensive worldwide internal investigation, voluntarily making U.S. and foreign employees available for interviews, and collecting, analyzing, and organizing voluminous evidence and information for the Department, including the production of more than 3.8 million pages of data; (b) the Company has engaged in extensive remediation, including terminating the employment of officers and employees responsible for the corrupt misconduct of its subsidiaries, establishing a Compliance Officer position that is a member of the Company’s executive board, as well as a compliance office of approximately 38 full-time compliance professionals, including attorneys and accountants, that the Compliance Officer oversees, conducting more than 30 anti-corruption compliance reviews in many of the countries in which it operates, enhancing its anti-corruption due diligence protocol for third-party agents and consultants, and retaining an ethics and compliance professional to conduct an assessment of the Company’s ethics and compliance policies and procedures designed to ensure compliance with the FCPA and other applicable anti-corruption laws; (c) the Company has committed to continue to enhancing its compliance program and internal accounting controls …; (d) the Company has already significantly enhanced, and is committed to continue to enhance, its compliance program and internal controls …; and (e) the Company has agreed to continue to cooperate with the Department in any ongoing investigation …”

Pursuant to the DPA, the advisory Sentencing Guidelines range for the conduct at issue was $87.2 million to $174.4 million.  The DPA states that the monetary penalty of $87.2 million “is appropriate given the facts and circumstances of this case, including the nature and extent of the Company’s criminal conduct, the Company’s extensive cooperation, and its extensive remediation in this matter.”

The DPA specifically states that “any criminal penalties that might be imposed by the Court on WSL in connection with WSL’s guilty plea to a one-count Criminal Information charging WSL with violations of the FCPA, and the plea agreement entered into simultaneously, will be deducted from the $87.2 million penalty agreed to under this Agreement.”

Pursuant to the DPA, Weatherford agreed to review its existing internal controls, policies and procedures regarding compliance with the FCPA and other applicable anti-corruption laws.   The specifics are detailed in Attachment C to the DPA.  The DPA also requires Weatherford to engage a corporate compliance monitor for ”a period of not less than 18 months from the date the monitor is selected.”  The specifics, including the Monitor’s reporting obligations to the DOJ, are detailed in Attachment D to the DPA.

As is common in FCPA corporate enforcement actions, the DPA contains a “muzzle clause” prohibiting Weatherford or anyone on its behalf from “contradicting the acceptance of responsibility by the company” as set forth in the DPA.

In the DOJ’s release, Acting Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman stated:

“Effective internal accounting controls are not only good policy, they are required by law for publicly traded companies – and for good reason.  This case demonstrates how loose controls and an anemic compliance environment can foster foreign bribery and fraud by a company’s subsidiaries around the globe.  Although Weatherford’s extensive remediation and its efforts to improve its compliance functions are positive signs, the corrupt conduct of Weatherford International’s subsidiaries allowed it to earn millions of dollars in illicit profits, for which it is now paying a significant price.”

Valerie Parlave, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office, stated:

“When business executives engage in bribery and pay-offs in order to obtain contracts, an uneven marketplace is created and honest competitor companies are put at a disadvantage.  The FBI is committed to investigating corrupt backroom deals that influence contract procurement and threaten our global commerce.”

SEC

The SEC’s complaint (here) is largely based on the same core set of facts alleged in the above DOJ action.

In summary fashion, the complaint alleges:

“Between at least 2002 and July 2011, Weatherford and its subsidiaries authorized bribes and improper travel and entertainment intended for foreign officials in multiple countries to obtain or retain business or for other benefits. Weatherford and its subsidiaries also authorized illicit payments to obtain commercial business in Congo and authorized kickbacks in Iraq to obtain United Nations Oil for Food contracts.  Weatherford realized over $59.3 million in profits from business obtained through the use of illicit payments.”

As to the additional Congo allegations, the complaint states:

“In addition to bribery schemes involving Angolan government officials, WSL made over $500,000 in commercial bribe payments through the Swiss Agent to employees of a commercial customer, a wholly-owned subsidiary of an Italian energy company, between March 2002 and December 2008.

[…]

WSL mischaracterized the bribe payments as legitimate expenses on its books and records. Bank account records and a U.S. brokerage account statement show that among the recipients were two employees of the commercial customer who were responsible for awarding contracts to WSL. Weatherford obtained profits of$1,304,912 from commercial business in Congo relating to payments made by Swiss Agent.”

The SEC complaint also contains allegations concerning conduct in Algeria and Albania.

Under the heading “Improper Travel and Entertainment in Algeria,” the complaint alleges:

Weatherford also provided improper travel and entertainment to officials of Sonatrach, an Algerian state-owned company, that were not justified by a legitimate business purpose. The improper travel and entertainment to Sonatrach officials include:

• June 2006 trip by two Sonatrach officials to the FIFA World Cup soccer tournament in Hanover, Germany;

• July 2006 honeymoon trip of the daughter of a Sonatrach official; and

• October 2005 trip by a Sonatrach employee and his family to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, for religious reasons that were improperly booked as a donation

In addition, on at least two other occasions, Weatherford provided Sonatrach officials with cash sums while they were visiting Houston. For example, in May 2007, Weatherford paid for four Sonatrach officials, including a tender committee official, to attend a conference in Houston. Prior to the trip, a Weatherford finance executive sent an email to a Weatherford officer requesting $10,000 cash to be advanced to a WOTME employee without providing any explanation tor the cash advance. The request was approved and a portion of the funds was provided to the tender committee official. There is no evidence the cash was used for legitimate business or promotional expenses. In connection with a December 2007 trip by three Sonatrach officials traveling to Houston, a Weatherford finance employee questioned the propriety of a WOTME employee’s request for a $14,000 cash advance in connection with the trip.  The finance employee’s concern was disregarded and the request was ultimately approved at high levels within Weatherford and a portion of the funds was provided to the officials.  In total, Weatherford spent $35,260 on improper travel, entertainment and gifts for Algerian officials from May 2005 through November 2008 that were recorded in the company’s books and records as legitimate expenses.”

Under the heading “Improper Payments to Albanian Tax Authorites,” the complaint alleges:

“From 2001 to 2006, the general manager and financial manager at a Weatherford Italian subsidiary, WEMESP A, misappropriated over $200,000 of company funds, a portion of which was improperly paid to Albanian tax auditors. WEMESPA’s general manager and financial manager misappropriated the funds by taking advantage of Weatherford’s inadequate system of internal accounting controls. They misreported cash advances, diverted payments on previously paid invoices, misappropriated government rebate checks and received reimbursement of expenses that did not relate to business activities, such as golf equipment and perfume. 

[…]

In addition to the cash payments, in 2005, after a regime shift in Albania, the Country Manager provided three laptop computers for the tax director and two members of Albania’s National Petroleum Agency, which the WEMESPA executives approved and misrecorded in the books and records.”

Under the heading “Misconduct During the Investigation and Subsequent Remediation Efforts,” the complaint states:

“Certain conduct by Weatherford and its employees during the course of the Commission staffs investigation compromised the investigation. These activities involved the failure to provide the staff with complete and accurate information, resulting in significant delay. In one instance, the staff sought information concerning the Iraq Country Manager who signed letters agreeing to pay bribes to Iraqi officials during the Oil for Food Program. The staff was informed that the Country Manager was missing or dead when, in fact, he remained employed by Weatherford. In at least two instances, email was deleted by employees prior to the imaging of their computers. On another occasion, Weatherford failed to secure important computers and documents and allowed potentially complicit employees to collect documents subpoenaed by the staff.  Subsequent to the misconduct, Weatherford greatly improved its cooperation and engaged in remediation efforts, including disciplining employees responsible for the misconduct, establishing a high level Compliance Officer position, significantly increasing the size of its compliance department, and conducting numerous anti-corruption reviews in many of the countries in which it operates.”

Under the heading “Anti-Bribery Violations,” the complaint states in pertinent part:

“Weatherford’s conduct in the Middle East and Angola violated [the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions]. From 2005 through 2011, Weatherford authorized $11.8 million in payments to national oil company officials through a distributor intended to wrongfully influence national oil company decision makers to obtain and retain business.  Weatherford also violated [the anti-bribery provisions] when it retained the Swiss Agent to funnel bribes to a Sonangol official to obtain the Cabinda contract. Weatherford similarly violated [the anti-bribery provisions] by bribing other Sonangol officials via the joint venture in return for contracts and preferential treatment.”

Under the heading “Failure to Maintain Books and Records,” the complaint states in pertinent part:

“Weatherford, directly and through its subsidiaries, also violated [the books and records provisions] when it made numerous payments and engaged in many transactions that were incorrectly described in the companys books and records. In the Middle East, for example, the money given to a distributor to be used as bribes was reflected in Weatherfords books and records as legitimate volume discounts. In Angola and Congo, payments to foreign officials and others were described as legitimate consulting fees rather than bribe payments.  Payments to Sonangol executives through the joint venture were misrecorded as legitimate dividend payments.”

Under the heading “Failure to Maintain Adequate Internal Controls,” the complaint states in pertinent part:

“Weatherford violated [the internal controls provisions] by failing to devise and maintain an adequate system of internal accounting controls.  The violations were widespread and involved conduct at Weatherford’s headquarters as well as at numerous subsidiaries. Executives, managers and employees throughout the organization were aware of the conduct, which lasted a decade.  Weatherford paid millions of dollars to consultants, agents and joint venture partners without adequate due diligence. Weatherford approved cash payments to Algerian officials traveling to Houston without any justification for the payments. Employees made payments to agents without regard to grants of authority and, on some occasions, without even receiving an invoice. In Italy, internal accounting controls were ineffective, allowing executives to embezzle and pay bribes for years.

In the Middle East, the company failed on several occasions to perform due diligence on the distributor it used, despite the fact that the agent was imposed upon them by a national oil company official and would be selling to a government entity. The use of large volume discounts was not routinely reviewed.  […] Weatherford also failed to provide FCPA … training.  While Weatherford did require certain employees to complete a yearly ethics questionnaire seeking instances of alleged misconduct, Weatherford failed to investigate or even review the responses.”

As noted in the SEC’s release, Weatherford agreed to pay approximately $65.6 million to the SEC, including an approximate $1.9 million penalty assessed in part for lack of cooperation early in the investigation.

In the SEC’s release, Andrew Ceresney (Co-Director of the SEC’s enforcement division) stated:

“The nonexistence of internal controls at Weatherford fostered an environment where employees across the globe engaged in bribery and failed to maintain accurate books and records.  They used code names like ‘Dubai across the water’ to conceal references to Iran in internal correspondence, placed key transaction documents in mislabeled binders, and created whatever bogus accounting and inventory records were necessary to hide illegal transactions.”

Kara Brockmeyer (Chief of the SEC’s FCPA Unit) stated:

“Whether the money went to tax auditors in Albania or officials at the state-owned oil company in Angola, bribes and improper payments were an accustomed way for Weatherford to conduct business.  While the profits may have seemed bountiful at the time, the costs far outweigh the benefits in the end as coordinated law enforcement efforts have unraveled the widespread schemes and heavily sanctioned the misconduct.”

Joseph Warin (Gibson Dunn) represented Weatherford.

In this statement, Bernard Duroc-Danner (Weatherford’s Chairman, President and CEO) stated:

“This matter is now behind us. We move forward fully committed to a sustainable culture of compliance.  With the internal policies and controls currently in place, we maintain a best-in-class compliance program and uphold the highest of ethical standards as we provide the industry’s leading products and services to our customers worldwide.”

On the day of the enforcement action, Weatherford’s shares closed up approximately 1.2%.

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