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Friday Roundup

The problem with NPAs and DPAs, how does your product go to market in China, media coverage in China, victory, scrutiny alerts and updates, and for the reading stack.  It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

The Problem With NPAs and DPAs

I’ve long called for the abolition of NPAs and DPAs in the FCPA context as part of a two-pronged reform approach (see here among other posts).  As highlighted here among other posts, NPAs and DPAs are problematic across a wide spectrum and the agreements often contain meaningless or senseless language.

This recent Wall Street Journal Law Blog post titled “5 Things Companies Agree to But Can’t Deliver On in DPAs” is a worthy read. It begins:

“FCPA lawyers have a love-hate relationship with deferred-prosecution agreements,” said Laurence Urgenson, a partner at Mayer Brown. “We need them to get around the collateral consequences of prosecutions…but there is language in the agreements that drives us crazy.” Mr. Urgenson said the agreements originated with settlements prosecutors would reach with individuals, often children, placing certain requirements on them as a condition for the charges eventually being dropped. But many of those requirements make no sense in a settlement with a company; Mr. Urgenson picked out some of his favorites.”

How Does Your Product Go To Market In China?

Returning to issues discussed in this 2011 post and this 2011 post, this recent article in Food Navigator – Asia (not my typical source of FCPA material) states as follows concerning practices in China:

“One currently emerging trend is how companies are apparently becoming more comfortable to talk openly about measures they are taking to avoid gaining approvals and still move their products to market.  Indeed, four companies outlined to us the agreements they had made with Chinese distributors to deliver their products to locations near to China and then leave the local partners to navigate their movement into the People’s Republic.  Most likely, this would be done in cahoots with ministry officials in deals that would involve sweeteners and other transactions.  ‘Once we’ve delivered the product, it isn’t our problem what our partner decides to do with it,’ an executive at a U.S.-based multinational told us in Hong Kong.  ‘It’s not the cost of approvals that concerns us, it’s the time,” a mid-market manufacturer, also from the U.S., told us.  “It is important for us that we hit China right now.’  Not all the companies we talked to about this were from America, but the fact that two were was surprising.  This is not least because business practices there are governed by the FCPA …  […]  What is surprising to us is not the fact that these practices exist at all, it is how U.S. businesses in particular have now become comfortable enough to openly brief the press about their part in this trend.”

That makes two of us that are surprised!

Media Coverage in China

This prior 2012 post titled “All the News That Fit? To Print” highlighted the practice of paying journalists for media coverage in China.  Related to the general issue is this recent New York Times article which describes how “journalists who worked for a business news website under investigation in Shanghai have described a scheme of extorting Chinese companies, which were pressed to pay in return for the production of flattering articles or the burying of damaging ones.”

Victory

In this prior post I exposed how the DOJ and SEC literally re-wrote the FCPA statute in the November 2012 issued FCPA Guidance. The post highlighted the difference – even a first year law student would be expected to see – between what the FCPA actually says and the version of the FCPA in the Guidance.

Set forth below is the text of the FCPA regarding the “obtain or retain business” element.

   ”anything of value to

         any foreign official for purposes of

(A) (i) influencing any act or decision of such foreign official in his official capacity, (ii) inducing such foreign official to do or omit to do any act in violation of the lawful duty of such official, or (iii) securing any improper advantage; or

(B) inducing such foreign official to use his influence with a foreign government or instrumentality thereof to affect or influence any act or decision of such government or instrumentality,

         in order to assist such issuer in obtaining or retaining business for or with, or directing business to, any person;

Set forth below is how the text of the FCPA was [originally] portrayed in the FCPA Guidance.

   “anything of value to

         any foreign official for purposes of

(A) (i) influencing any act or decision of such foreign official in his official capacity, (ii) inducing such foreign official to do or omit to do any act in violation of the lawful duty of such official, or (iii) securing any improper advantage; or

(B) inducing such foreign official to use his influence with a foreign government or instrumentality thereof to affect or influence any act or decision of such government or instrumentality, in order to assist such issuer in obtaining or retaining business for or with, or directing business to, any person;

Recently, I received an interesting e-mail from a reader who was confused by my prior post because the FCPA Guidance does not portray the FCPA as suggested in my original post.  The reader was right!  That’s because the DOJ/SEC changed the version of the FCPA originally set forth in the Guidance to its proper form.  To prove that the original FCPA Guidance literally re-wrote the FCPA, here is the version of the FCPA that originally appeared in the FCPA Guidance which relevant portions highlighted.

Subtle yes, but sometimes victory occurs in the shadows.

Scrutiny Alerts and Updates

HP Russia

Related to the April 2014 DOJ enforcement action against HP related entities (see here for the prior post), the DOJ announced yesterday that HP Russia formally pleaded guilty.

As stated in the DOJ release

“In a brazen violation of the FCPA, Hewlett Packard’s Russia subsidiary used millions of dollars in bribes from a secret slush fund to secure a lucrative government contract,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Marshall Miller.  “Even more troubling was that the government contract up for sale was with Russia’s top prosecutor’s office.   Tech companies, like all companies, must compete on a level playing field, not resort to secret books and sham transactions to hide millions of dollars in bribes.  The Criminal Division has been at the forefront of this fight because when corruption takes hold overseas, American companies and the rule of law are harmed.  Today’s conviction and sentencing are important steps in our ongoing efforts to hold accountable those who corrupt the international marketplace.”

“Today’s conviction and sentence of HP Russia demonstrates that the United States Attorney’s Office is dedicated to aggressively prosecuting all forms of corporate fraud that touch our district, wherever they may occur,” said U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag.  “HP’s cooperation during the investigation is what we expect of major corporate leaders facing the challenges of doing business around the world.”

“For more than a decade HP Russia business executives participated in an elaborate scheme that involved paying bribes to government officials in exchange for large contracts,” said Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office Andrew McCabe. “There is no place for bribery in any business model or corporate culture.  Along with the Department of Justice, the IRS and international law enforcement partners, the FBI is committed to investigating corrupt backroom deals that threaten our global commerce.”

Image Sensing Systems

Earlier this week, the company issued the following release:

“Image Sensing Systems, Inc. today announced that the DOJ has closed its inquiry into the Company in connection with the previously disclosed investigation of potential violations of the FCPA citing the Company’s voluntary disclosure, thorough investigation, cooperation and voluntary enhancements to its compliance program.  The SEC earlier notified the Company that it had closed its investigation under the FCPA without recommending enforcement action. Kris Tufto, Image Sensing Systems chief executive officer, commented, “We are very pleased to conclude the DOJ and SEC investigations without further action.  From the very beginning, we have voluntarily cooperated with the authorities and have worked diligently to implement measures to enhance our internal controls and compliance efforts. We understand that those efforts have been recognized and that the resolution of the investigation reflects this cooperation.”  As previously reported by Image Sensing Systems, it had learned in early 2013 that Polish authorities were conducting an investigation into alleged violations of Polish law by two employees of Image Sensing Systems Europe Limited SP.Z.O.O., its Polish subsidiary, who had been charged with criminal violations of certain laws related to a project in Poland. A special subcommittee of the audit committee of the board of directors immediately engaged outside counsel to conduct an internal investigation.  Image Sensing Systems voluntarily disclosed the matter to the DOJ and the SEC, and it has cooperated fully with those agencies in connection with their review.”

Alstom

Regarding the previously announced U.K. criminal charges against Alstom (see here for the prior post), the U.K. Serious Fraud Office recently released this charge sheet detailing the charges in connection with alleged conduct in India, Poland and Tunisia.

Reading Stack

A very interesting read from the New York TimesForeign Powers By Influence at Think Tanks.”  The article begins as follows.

“More than a dozen prominent Washington research groups have received tens of millions of dollars from foreign governments in recent years while pushing United States government officials to adopt policies that often reflect the donors’ priorities, an investigation by The New York Times has found. The money is increasingly transforming the once-staid think-tank world into a muscular arm of foreign governments’ lobbying in Washington.”

Forbes asks – is it “silly season” in China?  What is perhaps silly is the advice highlighted in the article to negotiate the regulatory minefield:

“[B]uild a network. ‘Involve some powerful local Chinese partners in some peripheral areas in order to build a political foundation. I don’t necessarily recommend an overall partnership, since they would be better off with a well-placed approach in specific areas. Have a partnership in marketing or R&D and develop a perception that you are working closely with Chinese firms, but in reality you will not give away anything that is sensitive.”

This is probably only going to increase a company’s risk because of the FCPA’s third-party payment provisions.

*****

A good weekend to all.

 

Food For Thought

Given the enforcement agencies’ interpretations of the FCPA, a wide variety of seemingly routine interactions with “foreign officials” are subject to FCPA scrutiny.

For instance, in February, Tyson Foods, one of the world’s largest processors of chicken and other food items, agreed to resolve an FCPA enforcement action focused on payments to Mexican veterinarians responsible for certifying product for export. As noted in this prior post, the enforcement action involved both a DOJ and SEC component and the total settlement amount was approximately $5.2 million – a figure in addition to the pre-enforcement action and post-enforcement action fees and expenses.

The Tyson Foods enforcement action was an example of yet another recent Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement action dealing with licenses, permits, certifications, and the like.

On January 4, 2011, President Obama signed the Food Safety Modernization Act (“FSMA”) (here for more information).

In a recent piece published by Law360 (“Growing Risk: FCPA Exposure For Foreign Food Food Cos. – March 16, 2011), Foley & Lardner attorneys Lisa Noller (here) and Carmen Couden (here) state that new provisions in the FSMA “unintentionally create foreign bribery risks for foreign importers of food.”

The FCPA risk, the authors note, is all about foreign certifications. The FSMA will require importers of food to have a certification issued by “an agency or a representative of the government of the country from which the article of food at issue originated” that the “article of food complies with applicable requirements” under the FSMA.

As further noted by the authors, “food is often a commodity that cannot wait for clearances – if it does not ship immediately, it spoils and the value is destroyed.”

This dynamic would seem to increase the motivation a low-ranking, poorly paid “foreign official” has to make an improper, extortionate payment related to food certification.

A facilitating payment exempted from the FCPA (at least per the FCPA’s terms – enforcement is separate question) or prosecutable bribe payment?

What type of journey did your banana, scallop – create your own dish – take on its way to the U.S.?

Interesting food for thought.

Tyson Foods Settles FCPA Enforcement Action Involving Mexican Veterinarians And Their No-Show Wives

Yet another FCPA enforcement action raises the issue of whether the FCPA’s “obtain or retain business” element means anything anymore or whether the FCPA, contrary to Congressional intent, has morphed into an all-purpose corporate ethics statute and – in a game of chicken – companies opt to settle rather than mount a legal defense.

Yesterday, Tyson Foods, one of the world’s largest processors of chicken and other food items, agreed to resolve an FCPA enforcement action focused on payments to Mexican veterinarians (and their no-show wives) responsible for certifying product for export.

The enforcement action involved both a DOJ and SEC component. Total settlement amount was approximately $5.2 million ($4 million criminal fine via a DOJ deferred prosecution agreement; $1.2 million in disgorgement and prejudgment interest via a SEC settled complaint).

DOJ

The DOJ enforcement action involved a criminal information (here) against Tyson resolved through a deferred prosecution agreement (here).

Criminal Information

The information contains a background section which describes the following.

“The Government of Mexico administers an inspection program, Tipo Inspeccion Federal (“TIF”), for meat-processing facilities. Any company that exports meat products from Mexico must participate in the inspection program, which is supervised by an office in the Mexican Department of Agriculture (“SAGARPA”). The inspection program at each facility is supervised by an on-site veterinarian who is a government employee (“TIF veterinarian”), paid by the state, who ensures that all exports are in conformity with Mexican health and safety laws.” “There are two categories of TIF veterinarians: ‘approved’ and ‘official.’ Although all TIF veterinarians are foreign officials under the FCPA, Mexican law permits approved veteriarians to charge the facility in which they work a fee for their services in addition to their offcial salary. Official veterinarians receive all of their salary from the Mexican government and may not be paid by the facility they supervise.”

The conduct at issue focuses on Tyson de Mexico (“TdM”), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Tyson that produces protein-based and prepared food products for sale in Mexico and foreign countries other than the U.S. TdM is headquartered in Mexico and maintains three meat-processing factories in Mexico.

The information charges that from July 2004 through November 2006, Tyson, TdM, and others were engaged in a conspiracy to “assist Tyson and TdM in the export of meat products from Mexico through the payment and promise of payment of things of value to Mexican government-employed TIF veterinarians, in order to obtain or retain business for TdM by influencing the decisions of veterinarians responsible for certifying TdM products for export under the TIF Program.”

The information does not give any detail as to how the payments sought to influence the veterinarians nor does it suggest that the product at issue was not qualified for export. In fact, as detailed below, Tyson’s press release (a release the DOJ had to approve per the deferred prosecution agreement) states that there were no issues with the safety of the exported products.

Among other things, the information alleges that part of the conspiracy was “to place the wives of the TIF veterinarians on TdM’s payroll, providing them with a salary and benefits, knowing that the wives did not actually perform any services for TdM …”. According to the information, upon “termination of the salaries to the wives of the TIF veterinarians” in November 2006 Tyson “agreed to increase the amount paid to the veterinarians based on false invoices by the same amount as the salaries previously paid to their wives.”

The information alleges that the above payments were falsely recorded on company books and records as “professional fees” and salaries in order to conceal the true nature of the improper payments in the consolidated books and records of Tyson.

In addition to the above described payments, the information also alleges that from the time Tyson acquired TdM in 1994 through 2006, “Tyson made occassional additional improper payments to the TIF veterinarians on an ad-hoc basis.”

Under the heading “Total Improper Payments” the information alleges as follows:

“Tyson, its executives, and its subsidiaries authorized the payment, directly or indirectly, of approximately $90,000 to Mexican government-employed veterinarians, in order to obtain or retain business for TdM by influencing the decisions of veterinarians responsible for certifying TdM products for export under the TIF program, resulting in profits of approximately $880,000.”

In addition, the information alleges that from the time of Tyson’s acquisition of TdM until May 2004, “an additional $260,000 in improper payments were made to the TIF veterinarians, both indirectly and directly, including through payments to wives of TIF veterinarians.”

Based on the above allegations, the information charges Tyson with conspiracy to violate the FCPA and substantive FCPA anti-bribery violations.

DPA

The DOJ’s charges against Tyson were resolved via a deferred prosecution agreement.

Pursuant to the DPA, Tyson admitted, accepted and acknowledged that it was responsible for the acts of its officers, employees, agents, and wholly-owned subsidiaries as set forth above.

The term of the DPA is two years and it states that the DOJ entered into the agreement “based on the following factors”:

(a) Tyson voluntarily disclosed the misconduct;

(b) Tyson conducted a thorough internal investigation of the misconduct;

(c) Tyson reported all of its findings to the Department;

(d) Tyson cooperated in the Department’s investigation of the matter;

(e) Tyson has undertaken certain remedial measures;

(f-g) Tyson has agreed to continue to cooperate with the Department and the SEC in any investigation of the conduct of Tyson and its directors, offcers, employees, agents, consultants, subsidiaries, contractors, and subcontractors relating to violations of the FCPA; and

(h) with respect to the corporate compliance reporting obligations, the Department considered the following facts and circumstances: (i) Tyson has already engaged in signficant remediation related to the misconduct and implemented an enhanced compliance program; (ii) approximately 85-90% of Tyson’s sales are domestic; (iii) Tyson operates only six wholly-owned production facilities overseas, three in Mexico and three in Brazil, all of which have been subjected to rigorous FCPA reviews; (iv) Tyson’s only direct government customers are domestic; and (v) the problematic operations in TdM comprised less than one percent of Tyson’s global net sales.

As stated in the DPA, the fine range for the above described conduct under the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines was $5.04 to $10.08 million. Pursuant to the DPA, Tyson agreed to pay a monetary penalty of $4 million (approximately 20% below the minimum amount suggested by the guidelines).

Pursuant to the DPA, Tyson agreed to self-report to the DOJ “periodically, at no less than six-month intervals” during the term of the DPA “regarding remediation and implementation of the compliance activities” described in the DPA. Given the factors the DOJ set forth in (h) above, this reporting obligation is a bit of a surprise.

As is standard in FCPA DPAs, Tyson agreed not to make any public statement “contradicting the acceptance of responsibility” as set forth in the DPA and Tyson further agreed to only issue a press release in connection with the DPA if the DOJ does not object to the release.

In the DOJ’s release (here) Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer stated as follows: “Tyson Foods used false books and sham jobs to hide bribe payments made to publicly-employed meat processing plant inspectors in Mexico – the penalty and resolution announced today reflect the company’s disclosure of this conduct, its cooperation with the government’s investigation and its commitment to implementing enhanced controls.”

SEC

The SEC’s civil complaint (here) is based on the same core conduct described above.

The complaint alleges that Tyson “authorized” TdM’s illicit activities and that “in connection with these improper payments, Tyson Foods failed to keep accurate books and records and failed to have effective internal controls, as the true nature of the payments were concealed through salary payments to phantom employees and through service invoices submitted by one of the veterinarians.”

According to the SEC, “Tyson Foods realized net profits of more than $880,000 from export sales from [TdM] facilities in fiscal years 2004, 2005 and 2006.

Based on the above conduct, the SEC charged Tyson with FCPA’s anti-bribery violations and FCPA books and records and internal control violations.

Without admitting or denying the SEC’s allegations, Tyson agreed to an injunction prohibiting future FCPA violations and agreed to pay $1.2 million in disgorgement and pre-judgement interest.

In the SEC release (here), Robert Khuzami (Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement) stated: “Tyson and its subsidiary committed core FCPA violations by bribing government officials through no-show jobs and phony invoices, and by having a lax system of internal controls that failed to detect or prevent the misconduct.”

Laurence Urgenson (here) of Kirkland & Ellis represented Tyson.

Tyson’s press release (here) notes, among other things, that its voluntary disclosure occured in early 2007 and that “none of the products exported from Tyson de México during the time period involved were shipped to the U.S., nor were there any issues with the safety of the products.”

David Van Bebber, the company’s Executive Vice President and General Counsel stated as follows: “We’re committed to abiding by the law as well as our company’s Core Values, which call on all of our people to operate with integrity. While we’re disappointed mistakes were made, corrective action has been taken and the improper payments were discontinued. As our international operations have expanded, we continue to strengthen the compliance efforts of our international businesses including improved training and compliance programs, extensive retraining, and anti-corruption focused audits.”

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