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DOJ Announces FCPA Enforcement Action Against Two Former SBM Offshore Executives

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If you are scoring at home, in the past 48 hours the DOJ has announced FCPA enforcement actions involving 7 individuals. (See here for the prior post regarding the FCPA enforcement action earlier this week against 5 individuals associated with Rolls-Royce).

By way of comparison, as highlighted in this post, in all of 2016 8 individuals were involved in DOJ FCPA enforcement actions and in 2015 8 individuals were also involved in DOJ FCPA enforcement actions.

In other words, those predicting a slow down in FCPA enforcement in the Trump administration were ignorant to begin with, but now really need to move on to other topics.

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Items Of Interest From The Recent Dutch Enforcement Action Against SBM Offshore

Dutch-based SBM Offshore recently resolved an enforcement action in the Netherlands.  With a settlement amount of $240 million, the SBM Offshore enforcement action is believed to be the third largest bribery enforcement action of 2014 with China’s $490 million enforcement action against GlaxoSmithKline and the U.S.’s $384 million enforcement action against Alcoa consisting of the top two.

The enforcement action was pursuant to Article 74 of the Dutch Penal Code, a provision of Dutch law that has been criticized by the OECD.

As stated by the OECD, Article 74 of the Dutch Penal Code “essentially involves the payment of a sum of money by the defendant to avoid criminal proceedings.”  Regarding such out-of-court settlements, the OECD has further noted that “out-of-court settlements in the Netherlands do not require an admission of guilt.”

In its December 2012 Phase 3 review of the Netherlands, one of the follow-up items listed was: “the use of out-of-court transactions for foreign bribery offences, as governed by article 74 of the  Dutch Penal Code, to ensure that they result in the imposition of effective, proportionate and dissuasive sanctions (Convention, Article 3.1).”

Regarding the SBM Offshore action, the Dutch Prosecutor’s Service announced:

“SBM Offshore has accepted an offer from the Dutch Public Prosecutor’s Service to enter into an out-of-court settlement. The settlement consists of a payment by SBM Offshore … of US$ 240,000,000 in total. This amount consists of a US$ 40,000,000 fine and US$ 200,000,000 disgorgement. This settlement relates to improper payments to sales agents and foreign government officials in Equatorial Guinea, Angola and Brazil in the period from 2007 through 2011 […]. According to the [Dutch prosecutors] those payments constitute the indictable offences of bribery in the public and the private sector as well as forgery.”

According to the release, the reasons for the out-of-court settlement include:

  • SBM Offshore itself brought the facts to the attention of the authorities …SBM Offshore itself investigated the matter and agreed to fully cooperate with subsequent criminal investigations …;
  • there has been a new Management Board since 2012;
  • after it became aware of the facts, the newly established Management Board of SBM Offshore, at its own initiative, has taken significant measures to improve the company’s compliance; and
  • as noted in SBM Offshore’s press release, the current Management Board and Supervisory Board regret the failure of control mechanisms in place in the past.

According to the release, “from 2007 to 2011, SBM Offshore paid approximately US$ 200 million in commissions to foreign sales agents for services.  The largest part of these commissions totaling US $180.6 million, relate to Equatorial Guinea, Angola and Brazil.”

As to Equatorial Guinea, the release states:

“In early 2012, it came to SBM Offshore’s attention that one of its former sales agents might have given certain items of value to government officials in Equatorial Guinea. This reportedly involved one or more cars and a building. In the opinion of the Openbaar Ministerie and the FIOD, SBM Offshore’s former sales agent paid a significant portion of the commissions paid to him by SBM Offshore on to third parties, who in turn would have forwarded parts of these payments to one or more government officials in Equatorial Guinea. There also are other payments, such as education and health insurance costs. In the opinion of the [Dutch authorities], such (forwarded) payments took place with the knowledge of people who at the time were SBM Offshore employees, including someone who at the time was a member of the Management Board. From 2007 through 2011, SBM Offshore paid that particular sales agent USD 18.8 million in total in relation to Equatorial Guinea.”

As to Angola, the release states:

“In the period from 2007 through 2011, SBM Offshore also used several sales agents in Angola. These sales agents received commissions for services regarding certain projects in Angola. In the opinion of the [Dutch authorities], Angolan government officials, or persons associated with Angolan government officials, who are associated with at least one of these sales agents, received funds. In addition, there are payments for travel and study costs to one or more Angolan government officials or their relatives. Also with respect to Angola, the [Dutch authorities] are of the opinion that such payments took place with the knowledge of people who at the time were SBM Offshore employees. In the period from 2007 through 2011, SBM Offshore paid USD 22.7 million in commissions to its sales agents in connection with Angola.”

As to Brazil, the release states:

“With regard to Brazil, certain “red flags” relating to the main sales agent used in Brazil were found during the internal investigation commissioned by SBM Offshore. These red flags included:

  • the high amounts (in absolute terms) of commission that were paid to the sales agent and its companies;
  • a split between commissions paid to the sales agent between its Brazilian and its offshore entities; and
  • documents indicating the sales agent had knowledge of confidential information about a Brazilian client.

The internal investigation conducted by SBM Offshore did not yield any concrete evidence that payments may have been made to one or more government officials in Brazil. In the period from 2007 through 2011, SBM Offshore paid USD 139.1 million in commissions to its sales agents in connection with Brazil.

A mutual legal assistance request in the context of the investigation conducted by the [Dutch authorities] established that payments were made from the Brazilian sales agent’s offshore entities to Brazilian government officials. These findings resulted from means of investigation inaccessible to SBM Offshore.”

The release states, under the heading “Further Investigation” as follows.

“It appears from the criminal investigation that certain natural persons have been involved in the criminal offences committed in the opinion of the [Dutch authorities]. In a case like the one at hand, the [Dutch authorities] has jurisdiction if criminal acts are committed in the Netherlands, or when criminal acts are committed abroad by persons with the Dutch nationality. From the current state of affairs of the investigation, this does not appear to be the case. The [Dutch authorities] will cooperate fully with the countries that have jurisdiction to prosecute the natural persons involved.”

In this release, SBM Offshore stated that “the United States Department of Justice has informed SBM Offshore that it is not prosecuting the Company and has closed its inquiry into the matter.”

The SBM Offshore release further states:

Self-Reporting

The settlement with the [Dutch authorities] is a result of the discussions between the [Dutch authorities] and SBM Offshore, which started after SBM Offshore voluntarily informed the [Dutch authorities] and the United States Department of Justice of its self-initiated internal investigation in the spring of 2012. The findings of the internal investigation were communicated in SBM Offshore’s press release of April 2, 2014. SBM Offshore fully cooperated with the [Dutch authorities] and the United States Department of Justice.

Remedial Measures

With its voluntary reporting of the internal investigation to the [Dutch authorities], the United States Department of Justice and the market in April 2012, SBM Offshore made it clear that it wants to conduct its business transparently. The Supervisory Board appointed a new Management Board that took office in the first half of 2012. The new Management Board has repeatedly stressed the importance of compliance inside and outside the organisation. The Company, with the assistance of its advisors, enhanced its anti-corruption compliance program and related internal controls. The Company shared these measures with the [Dutch authorities] and the United States Department of Justice. The measures include:

  • the appointment of [a] Chief Governance and Compliance Officer, a newly created Management Board position;
  • the appointment of a seasoned compliance professional as Compliance Director, another newly created position;
  • the enhancement of anti-corruption related policies and procedures designed to ensure compliance by Company employees as well as third parties;
  • at the inception of the internal investigation, a review of all sales agents who were active at that time;
  • a decision to no longer use sales agents in those countries where the Company itself has a substantial presence;
  • the enhancement of compliance procedures related to the retention of sales agents, other intermediaries and joint venture partners;
  • the launch of a significant training effort for employees in compliance-sensitive positions;
  • the enhancement of mechanisms to report potential wrongdoing;
  • the enhancement of the Company’s internal financial controls related to anti-corruption compliance and internal audit processes; and
  • disciplinary actions against employees who were involved in or had knowledge of possible improper payments, including termination of employment agreements.

Although the current Management Board and the Supervisory Board regret that in the past, SBM Offshore’s processes relating to the monitoring of its sales agents appeared to not have been of a standard that allowed SBM Offshore to ensure the integrity of the actions taken by its sales agents, SBM Offshore believes that with these measures it offers a transparent and open Company to its clients and other stakeholders.

In the release Bruno Chabas (CEO of SBM Offshore) stated:

“SBM welcomes the conclusion of all discussions with the Dutch and U.S. authorities. We have been open, transparent and accountable throughout this difficult process which has addressed issues from a past era. We can now focus on the future, secure in the knowledge that we have put in place an enhanced compliance culture which embeds our core values.”

To some, the lack of a DOJ enforcement action against SBM Offshore was a declination.  However, such a conclusion implies that there was actually an FCPA enforcement action to bring against SBM Offshore.

Two points are relevant to this issue.  First, as noted in this Global Investigations Review article, SBM Offshore’s outside counsel comments that the company disclosed to the Dutch authorities an the DOJ “before we had done much of the internal investigation.” Second, SBM Offshore could only be prosecuted for FCPA anti-bribery violations to the extent the conduct at issue had a U.S. nexus.

Failure to Move Rigs Costs GlobalStantaFe

When an FCPA enforcement action involving 13 separate entities, comprising both DOJ and SEC components, is announced on the same day, there is a natural tendency to look at the forest, without spending much time on the trees.

Today’s post, and those that will follow in the near future, will focus on the separate enforcement actions (see here) announced by the DOJ/SEC on November 4th, in what I’ll call “CustomsGate.”

First up, GlobalSantaFe Corp. (“GSF”), the only enforcement action without a DOJ component.

GSF provided offshore oil and gas drilling services for oil and gas exploration companies. (GSF is a former issuer that completed a merger with a subsidiary of Transocean Inc. and became known as Transocean Worldwide, Inc. which is a subsidary of Transocean Ltd., an issuer).

In order to import equipment necessary to do such work in Nigeria, GSF needed to obtain a temporary importation permit (“TIP”) from the Nigerian government through the Nigerian Customs Service (“NCS”). Obtaining a TIP required mounds of paperwork. TIPS were initially issued for one year and were allowed to be extended twice for a period of six months each. Rarely, and only in the discretion of NCS officials, could a third six-month extension be granted.

Prior to or after a TIP expired, GSF was required to move its rigs out of Nigerian waters and to begin again the paper heavy TIP application process. Failure to export a rig after the expiration of a TIP, and all permissible extensions, would render a rig subject to potential forfeiture or seizure.

Moving a rig is no small task, it requires tug boats and money.

So begins the SEC’s complaint (here) against GSF.

According to the SEC, “instead of moving its oil drilling rigs out of Nigerian waters when GSF’s permit to temporarily import the rigs into Nigeria had expired, GSF, through its customs brokers, made payments to NCS officials in order to obtain documentation reflecting that the rigs had moved out of Nigerian waters, when in fact, the rigs had not moved at all.”

According to the SEC, there were four such instances.

The Adriatic VIII should have left Nigerian waters on or before October 15, 2004. However, in September 2004, the SEC alleges that “GSF, through its customs broker, took steps to obtain false documentation from NCS reflecting that the Adriatic VIII left Nigeria on September 29, 2004.” According to the SEC, “GSF paid its customs broker $87,500 (wired through a bank account in the name of GSF located in the U.S.) to obtain the new TIP, including a payment of $3,500 identified on the customs broker’s invoice as ‘additional charges for export.” According to the SEC, GSF managers in Nigeria “knew that the Adriatic VIII had never actually left Nigerian waters and knew, or knew that there was a high probability, that the explanation on the invoice as ‘additional charges for export’ was for purposes of disguising a bribe.” According to the SEC, a fews years later, GSF, through its customs-broker, again obtained false documentation from NCS reflecting that the Adriatic VIII had left Nigerian waters when, in fact, it had not.”

The Adriatic I should have left Nigerian waters on or before January 31, 2004. However, before this date, the SEC alleges that “GSF, through its customs broker, obtained documentation from NCS, reflecting that the Adriatic I left Nigeria on January 31, 2004 when, in fact, it had not.”

The Baltic I should have left Nigerian waters on or before June 3, 2004. However, before this date, the SEC alleges that “GSF, through its customs broker, took steps to obtain documentation from NCS, reflecting that the Baltic I left Nigeria on June 25, 2004. According to the SEC, the GSF managers “authorized and submitted for payment invoices containing charges described as ‘additional charges for export’ when the same GSF managers knew that the GSF rig had not been exported from Nigeria.” Thus, the SEC alleges, the “GSF managers either knew that the ‘additional charges for export’ were bribes, or knew that there was a high probability that they were bribes.

By engaging in the above referenced conduct, the SEC alleged that GSF: (1) avoided costs of approximately $1.5 million from not physicially moving the rigs; and (2) gained revenues of approximately $619,000 from not interrupting operations to move the rigs.”

The SEC charged GSF, on the above facts, with violating the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions.

Because none of the above-described payments were “accurately reflected in GSF’s books and records,” the SEC also charged GSF with violating the FCPA’s books and records and internal control provisions in connection with the above payments.

There is more to the SEC’s complaint.

It is common for an enforcement agency (whether DOJ or SEC) to ask the “where else question.” In other words, if the company was making the above-described payments in country x, where else was the company also making similar payments?

This frequent question causes the company to do a worldwide review of its operations and report back the results to the enforcement agency.

This is why an SEC complaint or DOJ resolution vehicle often contains a laundry list of related allegations towards the end of the resolution vehicle.

Case in point, the SEC’s complaint against GSF.

The SEC alleges that “GSF, through its customs brokers, made a number of additional payments to government officials in Nigeria totaling approximately $82,000.” The complaint gives sparse detail as to these alleged “other suspicious payments.”

Further, the SEC alleges that “GSF, through its customs brokers, also made a number of other payments […] totaling approximately $300,000 to government officials in Gabon, Angola, and Equatorial Guinea.”

These “other suspicious payments” in Nigeria and the Gabon, Angola, and Equatorial Guinea payments were not accurately reflected in GSF’s books and records and GSF failed to devise and maintain an effective system of internal controls to prevent or detect them, thus giving rise to FCPA books and records and internal charges. (These other payments were not included in the FCPA anti-bribery charges).

Based on the entire above-described conduct, and without admitting or denying the SEC’s allegations, GSF agreed to pay $5.85 million (approximately 3.75 million in disgorgement and a 2.1 million penalty).

Of Course It’s Because of the Oil

“Bribe takers” get a free pass under the FCPA as the statute only applies to “bribe givers.”

However, in 2004, President Bush signed Proclamation 7750 “To Suspend Entry As Immigrants or Nonimmigrants of Persons Engaged In or Benefiting From Corruption” (see here). The Proclamation states:

“…that it is in the interests of the United States to take action to restrict the international travel and to suspend the entry into the United States, as immigrants or nonimmigrants, of certain persons who have committed, participated in, or are beneficiaries of corruption in the performance of public functions where that corruption has serious adverse effects on international activity of U.S. businesses, U.S. foreign assistance goals, the security of the United States against transnational crime and terrorism, or the stability of democratic institutions and nations.”

Section 2 of the Proclamation says that its prohibitions “shall not apply with respect to any person otherwise covered […] where entry of the person into the United States would not be contrary to the interests of the United States.”

So what happens when the Forest and Agriculture Minister of Equatorial Guinea and the son of Equatorial Guinea’s president shows up at the U.S. “doorstep” on his way to his $35 million Malibu estate?

To find out, here is the article from today’s NY Times.

Short answer, he is let in. Despite the fact that federal law enforcement officials believe that “most if not all” of his wealth came from corruption related to oil and gas reserves in his home country. Despite the fact that the DOJ believes that he “may be receiving bribes or extortion payments” from oil companies operating in the country.

Why is he allowed in the U.S. in seeming contradiction to Proclamation 7750?

Well, at least according to the former U.S. ambassador to Equatorial Guinea it is “of course because of oil.”

A former State Department official says that the State Department (which is responsible for enforcing the proclamation) “seem[s] to lack the backbone to use this prohibition.”

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Interesting side note – in contrast to the FCPA’s “foreign official” definition, Proclamation 7750 applies to “public officials or former public officials.”

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