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FCPA Aches and “Payne”s

Helmerich & Payne Inc. (“H&P”) is an international drilling contractor headquartered in Tulsa. It has land and offshore operations in South America. To operate in that region, H&P must import and export equipment and materials. According to the DOJ and SEC, therein lies the problem.

H&P recently settled a DOJ and SEC FCPA enforcement action based on the conduct of two wholly-owned second tier subsidiaries, Helmerich & Payne (Argentina) Drilling Company (“H&P Argentina”) and Helmerich & Payne de Venezuela, C.A. (“H&P Venezuela”).

Pursuant to a two-year DOJ non-prosecution agreement, H&P acknowledged responsibility for the conduct of H&P Argentina and H&P Venezuela in making various improper payments to officials of the Argentine and Venezuelan customs services. According to a DOJ release (see here), the payments “were made in order to import and export goods that were not within regulations, to import good that could not lawfully be imported, and to evade higher duties and taxes on the goods.” Pursuant to the agreement, H&P will pay a $1 million penalty.

In a parallel action, H&P agreed to an SEC settlement under which it agreed to pay approximately $375,000. The SEC cease-and-desist order (“Order”) (see here) finds that: (i) “H&P Argentina paid Argentine customs officials approximately $166,000 to permit the importation and exportation of equipment and materials without required certifications, to expedite the importation of equipment and materials, and to allow the importation of materials that could not imported under Argentine law; and (ii) “H&P Venezuela paid Venezuelan customs officials approximately 19,673 either to permit the importation and exportation of equipment and materials that were not in compliance with Venezuelan importation and exportation regulations or to secure a partial inspection, rather than a full inspection, of the goods being imported.”

According to the Order, the payments were “falsely, or at least misleadingly” described as “additional assessments,” “extra costs,” “extraordinary expenses,” “urgent processing,” “urgent dispatch,” or “customs processing.” The SEC found that as a result of the payments, H&P avoided approximately $320,000 in expenses it would have otherwise incurred had it properly imported and exported the equipment and materials. The subsidiaries’ financial results were included in H&P’s filings with the SEC and, based on the above conduct, the SEC found that H&P violated the FCPA books and records and internal control provisions.

The Order is silent as to H&P’s knowledge of or involvement in the above described payments.

No doubt H&P received an SEC cease and desist order (the least harsh SEC sanction) and a DOJ non-prosecution agreement because of its conduct upon learning of the payments. As described in the Order, during an FCPA training session, an employee voluntarily disclosed some potentially problematic payments, through a customs broker, in Argentina to customs officials. Thereafter, H&P hired FCPA counsel, conducted an internal investigation, and voluntarily reported the conduct at issue to the government.

According to H&P’s Form 8-K filed on July 30, 2009 (see here), “[t]here are no criminal charges involved in the settlements and disciplinary action has been taken by the company with respect to certain employees involved in the matter, including in some cases, termination of employment.” The 8-K also notes that both settlements “recognize the company’s voluntary disclosure, cooperation with both agencies, and its proactive remedial efforts.”

The FCPA … It’s Not Just For Americans

In 1998, the FCPA’s antibribery provisions were amended to, among other things, broaden the jurisdictional reach of the statute to prohibit “any person” “while in the territory of the U.S.” from making improper payments through “use of the mails or any means or instrumentality of interstate commerce” or from doing “any other act in furtherance” of an improper payment. (see 15 USC 78dd-3(a)). “Any person” is generally defined to include any person other than a U.S. national or any business organization organized under the laws of a foreign nation. (see 15 USC 78dd-3(f)).

Thus, since 1998, and contrary to a still widely-held misperception, foreign nationals can be subject to the FCPA.

Ousama Naaman apparently did not get the memo as the DOJ recently unsealed a criminal indictment charging him with violating the FCPA and conspiracy to violate the FCPA and commit wire fraud. According to a DOJ release (see here) Naaman (a Canadian citizen), acting on behalf of a U.S. public chemical company and its subsidiary, allegedly offered and paid kickbacks to the Iraqi government on five contracts under the United Nations Oil for Food Program. In addition, the indictment alleges that Naaman paid $150,000 on behalf of a U.S. company to Iraqi Ministry of Oil officials to keep a competing product out of the Iraqi market.

This is certainly not the first time a foreign national has been subject to an FCPA enforcement action. Other recent examples include Jeffrey Tesler and Wojciech Chodan (both U.K. citizens criminally indicted for their roles in the KBR / Halliburton bribery scheme)(see here) and Chrisitan Sapsizian (a French citizen who pleaded guilty to violating the FCPA for his role in a scheme to bribe Costa Rican foreign officials) (see here).

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