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Friday Roundup

Roundup

Scrutiny alerts and updates, former Bio-Rad general counsel prevails, and light FCPA sentences. It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Scrutiny Alerts and Updates

USANA Health Sciences

When putting together a list of companies that are likely to become the subject of FCPA scrutiny, small Utah-based companies that sell healthcare products is surely to be at the bottom of the list.

Yet, Nu Skin Enterprises resolved an FCPA enforcement action in 2016 and Nature’s Sunshine Products resolved an FCPA enforcement action in 2009.

In the latest instance of FCPA scrutiny involving this unique group, USANA Health Sciences Inc., a Utah based nutritional company that manufacturers supplements, personal care and healthy food products, recently disclosed:

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Friday Roundup

Roundup

Guilty plea, scrutiny alerts and updates, SEC Director of Enforcement to leave, sound analysis of the JPMorgan enforcement action, and for the reading stack.

It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Mebiame Guilty Plea

As highlighted in this previous post, in August 2016 the DOJ unsealed a criminal complaint charging Samuel Mebiame, a Gabonese national connected to Och-Ziff, with conspiracy to violate the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions. In pertinent part, the complaint alleged that Mebiame, on behalf of Och-Ziff and related entities, routinely paid bribes to foreign government officials in at least each Niger, Guinea and Chad.”

Today, the DOJ announced that Mebiame pleaded guilty.

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Friday Roundup

Roundup

Scrutiny alerts and updates, sentenced, asset recovery, to FCPA Inc., across the pond, quotable and for the reading stack.

It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Scrutiny Alerts and Updates

Grupo Televisa

This Wall Street Journal article concerns Grupo Televisa SAB, a Mexican broadcaster with shares traded on the NYSE. According to the article:

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Friday Roundup

Roundup2

Listening in, for the reading stack, and time served.  It’s all here in the Friday Roundup.

Listening In

This previous post about the $75,000 FCPA enforcement action against Hyperdynamics highlighted that the company spent approximately $12.7 million in pre-enforcement action professional fees and expenses (a shocking 170:1 ratio).

In this recent investor conference call, company executives stated:

“The FCPA investigations restricted our available opportunities to raise capital and significantly increased our legal bills.

[…]

Speaking of legal fees I do want to address the fees we incurred during the FCPA investigation.  As you know, we spent $12 MM from inception to closure of that investigation.  We were unhappily aware that FCPA investigations can take years to conclude but that we only had until September 2016 because of the date for the conclusion of the concession.  We therefore determined that our only option was to do everything in our power to facilitate a resolution of the investigation, and ultimately were able to close the investigations in 20 months. This came at a very heavy legal cost to say the least, but again it was the best option we saw to move forward on the path to drilling the well.”

Dear Hyperdynamics executives and shareholders, you ought to be asking some serious questions about the extent of your pre-enforcement action professional fees and expenses.

To learn more how settlement amounts in an FCPA enforcement action are often only a relatively minor component of the overall financial consequences of FCPA scrutiny and enforcement, see here for “Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Ripples.”

Reading Stack

In 2015, the UC-Davis Law Review and Fordham Law Review both held events focused on bribery and corruption topics. The articles from those events were recently published and are available below.

UC-Davis Law Review

Fordham Law Review

Time Served

In 2013 and 2014 the DOJ brought FCPA and related charges against various individuals associated with broker dealer Direct Access Partners in connection with alleged improper payments to Maria Gonzalez (V.P. of Finance / Executive Manager of Finance and Funds Administration at Bandes, an alleged Venezuelan state-owned banking entity that acted as the financial agent of the state to finance economic development projects).

As recently noted here by Reuters:

“Gonzalez “avoided prison time beyond the 16-1/2 months she already served after admitting that she accepted millions of dollars in bribes from a Wall Street brokerage to which she steered business. Maria de los Angeles Gonzalez de Hernandez, who was a senior official at Caracas-based Banco de Desarrollo Económico y Social de Venezuela, also known as Bandes, was further ordered by U.S. District Judge Denise Cote to forfeit the roughly $5 million she garnered from the scheme. Cote said she was “affected by the degree of remorse” Gonzalez showed in a statement she read to the court through an interpreter. “We’re enormously grateful for the court’s compassion and understanding,” said Jane Moscowitz, Gonzalez’s attorney, after the sentencing.”

Previously in connection with the same core action:

  • Jose Hurtado was sentenced to three years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release, and consented to a $11.9 million forfeiture.
  • Ernesto Lujan was sentenced to two years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release, and consented to a $18.5 million forfeiture.
  • Tomas Clarke was  sentenced to two years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release, and consented to a $5.8 million forfeiture.
  • Benito Chinea was sentenced to four years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release, and consented to a $3.6 million forfeiture; and
  • Joseph DeMeneses was sentenced to four years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release, and consented to a $2.7 million forfeiture.

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A good weekend to all.

 

Friday Roundup

Roundup2

Double standard (sports edition), recent sentencing activity, and scrutiny alerts.  It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Double Standard (Sports Edition)

A public official wants tickets to a high-profile sporting event. So, through his aides, he asks the entity hosting the event for free tickets. The entity obliges because it needs the public official’s support in a variety of contexts.

A prudent FCPA practitioner would spot the “red flags” as the free tickets (mostly certainly something of value) could be viewed as a way to curry favor with the public official.  Indeed, the competent FCPA practitioner will recall that several FCPA enforcement actions have been based, in whole or in part, on free tickets to sporting events.

However, the public officials in the above example are not “foreign officials,” they are current U.S. officials who want tickets to high-profile college sporting events.

Bribery? Silly you for even mentioning the “b” word.  This is the US of A.

For the latest edition of the double standard, see this Wall Street Journal article titled “Why Tickets Come Easy on Capitol Hill.”

Why do interactions with “foreign officials” seem to be subject to different standards than interactions with U.S. officials? Why do we reflexively label a “foreign official” who receives “things of value” from private business interests as corrupt, yet generally turn a blind eye when it happens here at home? Is the FCPA enforced too aggressively or is enforcement of the U.S. domestic bribery statute too lax? Ought not there be some consistently between enforcement of the FCPA and the domestic bribery statute?

As you contemplate these questions, just remember in the words of the DOJ – “we in the United States are in a unique position to spread the gospel of anti-corruption”

For additional reading, see here for the recent article “The Uncomfortable Truths and Double Standards of Bribery Enforcement.” In addition, for approximately 50 other posts highlighting double standards, see this subject matter tag.

Sentencing Activity

Vicente Garcia

The DOJ announced:

“Vicente Eduardo Garcia, 65, … was sentenced to 22 months in prison by U.S. District Judge Charles R. Breyer of the Northern District of California.  On Aug. 12, 2015, Garcia pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).  On July 15, 2015, Garcia and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) entered into a settlement of the parallel SEC investigation in which Garcia agreed, among other things, to pay disgorgement of $85,965 plus prejudgment interest.  For this reason, the United States did not request, and the court did not order, forfeiture in the criminal action.”

For the specifics of the underlying actions, see this prior post.

Garcia’s sentencing memo contains a section titled “Why Vicente Did It.” It states:

“Vicente participated in the bribery scheme here for two reasons: first, to get $150,000 that Advanced [a Third Party] owed him and, second, to secure the Panamanian government as a new customer for his employer SAP.

Vicente’s did not start his business dealings with the Panamanian government intending to commit a crime. But Vicente ultimately did conspire to bribe Panamanian officials.

He has cooperated with authorities since FBI and IRS agents confronted him at his offices. Other than this instance, Vicente’s business dealings have all been above board and legal.

However, here, once the Minister of Technology made clear to Vicente and his colleagues that for Advanced to receive the contract he would require a bribe, Vicente, rather than refuse, acceded and assisted in the scheme—a decision that he deeply regrets. Though not an excuse, he rationalized it at the time as a way to correct his failure in trying to run his own business.”

Vadim Mikerin

This previous post highlighted the FCPA enforcement action against Daren Condrey, an owner and executive of a Maryland Transportation Company, for allegedly bribing Vadim Mikerin, an alleged foreign official employed by an alleged Russian state-owned / controlled entity.

As highlighted in the prior post, Mikerin was also criminally charged and pleaded guilty to money laundering offenses. Earlier this week, the DOJ announced that Mikerin was sentenced to four years in prison and order to forfeit approximately $2.1 million dollars.

As noted in the release, Condrey awaits sentencing.

Jose Hurtado

In 2013 and 2014 the DOJ brought FCPA and related charges against various individuals associated with broker dealer Direct Access Partners in connection with alleged improper payments to Maria Gonzalez (V.P. of Finance / Executive Manager of Finance and Funds Administration at Bandes, an alleged Venezuelan state-owned banking entity that acted as the financial agent of the state to finance economic development projects).

Recently Jose Hurtado was sentenced to three years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release, and consented to a $11.9 million forfeiture .

Previously:

  • Ernesto Lujan was sentenced to two years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release, and consented to a $18.5 million forfeiture.
  • Tomas Clarke was  sentenced to two years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release, and consented to a $5.8 million forfeiture.
  • Benito Chinea was sentenced to four years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release, and consented to a $3.6 million forfeiture; and
  • Joseph DeMeneses was sentenced to four years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release, and consented to a $2.7 million forfeiture.

Scrutiny Alerts

Sociedad Química y Minera de Chile S.A.

Santiago, Chile based Sociedad Química y Minera de Chile S.A. (SQM), a company with shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange, recently issued this release stating:

“[The] Company’s Board of Directors met … to receive and review a report presented by the U.S. law firm Shearman & Sterling LLP (the Report) for SQM’s AdHoc Committee, which was appointed by the Company’s board in a meeting held February 26, 2015.

[…]

SQM previously informed the relevant authorities and markets that this Committee had been formed and that it had hired the professional services of Shearman & Sterling LLP to investigate and analyze the possible liability for SQM under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), a United States of America law that applies to the Company as an issuer of securities in the U.S. market. The Chilean law firm Grupo Vial / Serrano Abogados and the international forensic services firm FTI Consulting, Inc. assisted Sherman & Sterling.

The investigation specifically analyzed: (a) Whether the Company had made any payment defined as corrupt for FCPA purposes. (b) Whether the Company had breached the accounting provisions of the FCPA.

The Company’s Management was fully cooperative and transparent during the investigation. Among other procedures, investigators collected more than 3.5 million documents and selected approximately 930,000 for review. In addition, 24 individuals were interviewed, including members of the board prior to April 2015, as well as SQM’s senior executives and other relevant employees. A forensic analysis of the Company’s accounting since 2008 was also conducted. Interviews were also requested from Mr. Patricio Contesse G.—former CEO of SQM—and Mr. Patricio Contesse F.—former director of SQM, but they declined.

After close to nine months of investigation, Shearman & Sterling, assisted by Grupo Vial / Serrano Abogados and FTI Consulting, informed the Committee that for FCPA purposes: (a) payments were identified that had been authorized by SQM’s former CEO, Mr. Patricio Contesse G., for which the Company did not find sufficient supporting documentation; (b) no evidence was identified that demonstrates that payments were made in order to induce a public official to act or refrain from acting in order to assist SQM obtain economic benefits; (c) regarding the cost center managed by SQM’s former CEO, Mr. Patricio Contesse G., it was concluded that the Company’s books did not accurately reflect transactions that have been questioned, notwithstanding the fact that, based on the amounts involved, these transactions were below the materiality threshold defined by the Company’s external auditors determined in comparison to SQM’s equity, revenues, expenses or earnings within the reported period; and (d) SQM’s internal controls were not sufficient to supervise the expenses made by the cost center managed by SQM’s former CEO and that the Company trusted Mr. P. Contesse G. to make a proper use of resources.

Throughout this process, SQM has taken and will continue to take the proper measures to strengthen its corporate governance and internal controls in order to correct the issues identified in the Report. The measures that have already been adopted include: (i) dismissing Mr. P. Contesse G. from his position as SQM’s CEO; (ii) filing corrected tax returns with the Chilean Internal Revenue Service; (iii) creating SQM’s Corporate Governance Committee, which is comprised of three of its directors; (iv) separating and strengthening the team and responsibilities of the Internal Audit and Compliance departments, both of which report to SQM’s board of directors, while the latter also reports to the Company’s CEO; (v) hiring KPMG, the auditing firm, to review SQM’s payment process controls; (vi) improving the Company’s payment process controls and approvals; and, (vii) reformulating SQM’s Code of Ethics.

Lastly, after acknowledging receipt of the Report, the directors expressed that the Company will continue to cooperate with authorities and adopt the appropriate measures to improve its corporate governance and internal controls.”

SNC Lavalin

One reason SNC Lavalin has been pouting about Canada’s lack of deferred prosecution agreements is because of the collateral consequences of a criminal conviction.

On that front, the company recently announced:

“[The Company] has signed an administrative agreement with Public Services and Procurement of the Government of  Canada  (PSP) under the Government of  Canada’s  new Integrity Regime. The administrative agreement allows companies – that have federal charges pending against them – to continue to contract with or supply the Government of  Canada

“This is another example of our commitment to move forward. I thank PSP for recognizing SNC-Lavalin’s significant efforts and dedication to continuous improvement in ethics and compliance, which have allowed us to meet the difficult criteria of the new Integrity Regime. I am proud of our ethics and compliance program that is an integral part of the way we work every day, here in Canada  and globally. Our clients and partners have recognized our concrete actions, efforts and accomplishments over the past three years,” stated Neil Bruce, President and CEO, SNC-Lavalin. “This agreement is a milestone that allows us to continue to be an important contributor to the Canadian economy. It protects the public, and is good for our employees, clients, investors and all of  Canada.”

The administrative agreement is due to the federal charges filed against three of the company’s legal entities in , which SNC-Lavalin contests. SNC-Lavalin confirms that, provided the company complies with the terms of the administrative agreement, it will be able to continue to bid on and win contracts to provide procurement goods and services to all Canadian government departments and agencies, in Canada  and abroad, until the final conclusion of those charges.”

*****

A good weekend to all.

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