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Items Of Interest From The Layne Christensen Company Enforcement Action

Yesterday’s post dived deep into the Layne Christensen Company SEC FCPA enforcement action.

This post continues the analysis by highlighting various issues associated with the enforcement action.

4 for 4

In 2014, there have been four SEC corporate FCPA enforcement actions (Layne Christensen, Smith & Wesson, Alcoa, and HP).  All have been resolved via the SEC’s administrative process.

My recent article, “A Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Narrative,” (see pgs. 991-995) discusses this trend and how it is troubling as it places the SEC in the role of regulator, prosecutor, judge and jury all at the same time.  As Judge Rakoff recently observed, “from where does the constitutional warrant for such unchecked and unbalanced administrative power derive?”

Another noticeable feature of the Layne Christensen action was that the company resolved the SEC’s action without admitting or denying the SEC’s findings.  Smith & Wesson likewise resolved its FCPA enforcement action in this way.

$4

It is reasonable to assume that the SEC included findings in its order for a specific reason (and not just to practice its typing skills).

It is therefore noteworthy that the SEC’s order includes this finding:

“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.”

Stay tuned for (I predict) coming law firm client alerts and memos on this $4 payment.

As highlighted in this prior post, if the DOJ and SEC are genuine in their message that they are only “focused on bribes of consequence,” on payments of “real and substantial value” and in companies spending compliance dollars in the “most sensible way,” there is something very easy and practical for the enforcement agencies to do.

Only allege conduct that actually determines the ultimate outcome of the enforcement action.

Same Process, Different Results

Does voluntary disclosure and cooperation result in:

An SEC administrative cease and desist order?  Yes, see Layne Christensen.

An SEC non-prosecution agreement?  Yes, see Ralph Lauren.

An SEC deferred prosecution agreement?  Yes, see Tenaris.

An SEC civil complaint?  Yes, see Archer Daniels Midland Company.

Granted, the facts of each FCPA enforcement action are unique, but what drives FCPA practitioners and their clients crazy about the FCPA enforcement process is a lack of transparency and predictability of outcomes.

What Would Have Happened Had The SEC Been Put To Its Burden Of Proof?

Pardon me for being “that guy,” but what would have happened had the SEC been put to its burden of proof on its finding that Layne Christensen violated the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions?  The SEC’s allegations all concerned payments outside the context of government procurement but rather to allegedly secure favorable tax treatment, customs clearance, work permits, relief from regulatory inspections, etc.

It is a matter of fact, that the SEC has been put to its ultimate burden of proof only once concerning alleged payments outside the context of government procurement and it lost that case.  (See here for the discussion of SEC v. Mattson and Harris). For a broader discussion of this issue, including DOJ actions, see this article.

Moreover, many of the SEC’s findings would seem to potentially implicate the FCPA’s facilitating payments exception.  On that score, in SEC v. Jackson & Ruehlen, a court ruled that the SEC has the burden of negating this statutory exception, something the SEC was unable to do in that case (based on certain similar facts as alleged in the Layne Christensen action) which resulted in a defendant-friendly settlement on the eve of trial.  (See here).

Finally, no doubt Layne Christensen as part of its cooperation likely agreed to toll statute of limitations or waive statute of limitations defenses altogether.  Yet it is worth highlighting that the bulk of the SEC’s findings concern conduct that allegedly occurred between 2005 and July 2009; in other words, beyond the FCPA’s typical 5 year statute of limitations.

Timeline

As highlighted in this 2010 post, Layne Christensen initially disclosed its FCPA scrutiny in Fall 2010.  The company’s first disclosure stated, in pertinent part:

“In connection with the Company updating its Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) policy, questions were raised internally in late September 2010 about, among other things, the legality of certain payments to customs clearing agents in connection with importing equipment into the Democratic Republic of Congo (“DRC”) and other countries in Africa.  […] Although the Company has had a long-standing published policy requiring compliance with the FCPA and broadly prohibiting any improper payments by the Company to foreign or U.S. officials, the Company has adopted additional policies and procedures to enhance compliance with the FCPA and related books and records requirements. Further measures may be required once the investigation is concluded.”

In short, Layne Christensen’s FCPA scrutiny – from point of first public disclosure to resolution – lasted approximately 4 years.

The “Three Buckets” 

In my article, “Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Ripples,” I coin the term “three buckets” of FCPA financial exposure and demonstrate how settlement amounts in an actual FCPA enforcement action (“bucket #1) are often not the most expensive aspect of FCPA scrutiny and enforcement.

In nearly every case in which a comparison can be made, “bucket #1” (pre-enforcement action professional fees and expenses) is the most expensive aspect of FCPA scrutiny.

The numbers in Layne Christensen serve as another instructive reminder.

Bucket #1 = in excess of $10 million (based on the company’s disclosures)

Bucket #12 = $5.1 million

Bukcet #3 (post enforcement action professional fees and expenses) are to be determined.  A noticeable aspect of the Layne Christensen action (one based on a voluntary disclosure and cooperation) is that the company has a reporting obligation imposed upon it.  As stated in the SEC’s order, Layne Christensen shall “report to the Commission periodically, at no less than nine-month internals during a two-year term, the status of its FCPA and anti-corruption related remediation and implementation of compliance measures.”

Compliance Enhancements, Etc.

During its period of FCPA scrutiny, Layne Christensen previously disclosed the following compliance enhancements.

  • contracted with a third party forensics accounting team to conduct an in-depth review of the operations in Africa and to make recommendations for improvement to the internal control systems;
  • reviewing existing arrangements with third parties interacting with government officials in international locations in an effort to assure that contracts and agreements include anti-corruption terms and conditions;
  • performing due diligence on third parties interacting with government officials in international locations and implementing a process to assess potential new third parties;
  • terminated certain agency and business relationships;
  •  established a separate position of, and appointed, a chief compliance officer, effective March 30, 2011, under the supervision of our Senior Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary to facilitate implementation and maintenance of compliance policies, procedures, training, reporting and internal reviews, with indirect reporting responsibility to the audit committee;
  • developed new procedures to improve the controls over cash handling and record retention;
  • conducting a company-wide risk assessment, including an employee survey, to ascertain whether similar issues may exist elsewhere in the Company;
  • initiated an enhanced company-wide, comprehensive training of Company personnel in the requirements of the FCPA, including training with respect to those areas of the Company’s operations that are most likely to raise FCPA compliance concerns; and
  • continued to enhance our training of management, including our operations managers, to emphasize further the importance of setting the proper tone within their organization to instill an attitude of integrity and control awareness and the use of a thorough and proper analysis of proposed transactions.

 

Of Note From the Tyco Enforcement Action

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Yesterday’s post (here) went long and deep as to the Tyco enforcement action.  This post continues the analysis by highlighting additional notable issues.

The Tyco Enforcement Action Should Be An FCPA Practitioners New Best Friend

During the negotiation phase of resolving an FCPA enforcement action with the DOJ and/or the SEC, a topic that often comes up, and an analysis that an FCPA practitioner frequently performs, is comparing the conduct at issue in the current case to prior enforcement actions.  The enforcement agencies typically dismiss such comparative efforts by practitioners by saying that every enforcement action (and negotiation) is unique and that what the agencies did in one enforcement action is not binding in another.  On the flip side, and a position I think is imminently reasonable, is that the enforcement agencies ought to be bound by some consistency in enforcement approaches.

If so, the Tyco enforcement action should be the FCPA practitioners new best friend.

For starters, this enforcement action involved a company that settled a wide-ranging fraud action in 2006 – one that involved a material FCPA component (see here for the prior SEC action).  In that 2006 action, Tyco was permanently enjoined from, among other things, future FCPA violations.  (For more on so-called “obey the law injunctions – see this recent guest post and this prior post).

The government bluntly stated in this week’s enforcement action that certain of the misconduct occurred even after the 2006 injunction.  In addition, and per the government, the alleged misconduct in this week’s enforcement action was carried out by several different methods, the conduct occurred over a lengthy time period and involved conduct in approximately 25 countries.

Even so, against this backdrop of an injunction being violated and widespread misconduct in approximately 25 countries, Tyco was offered a non-prosecution agreement by the DOJ and the government did not require an imposition of a corporate monitor.

Should an FCPA practitioner in the future be faced with anything other than a DOJ NPA or should a monitor be insisted upon by the government, the Tyco enforcement action should be your new best friend.

Assessing Tyco’s Culpability

Yes, as noted above, Tyco is now an FCPA “recidivist.”  By my count, it has now joined ABB, Baker Hughes, and General Electric in that category.

Yet in reading the Tyco enforcement action, I am hardly surprised nor shocked.  The company is a diversified global company operating in more than 60 countries with more than 100,000 employees worldwide.  The vast majority of the conduct at issue in the enforcement actions allegedly occurred between 2000 and 2006.

Furthermore, there is no allegation or suggestion that Tyco (the parent company entity) knew of or participated in the improper conduct.  For instance, the closest Tyco connection alleged is in the SEC’s complaint concerning conduct in Turkey.  However, even there, the SEC only alleges a dual officer structure between the relevant subsidiary and executive officers while at the same time alleging that there was “no indication that any of these individuals [the dual officers] knew of the illegal conduct.”   In other respects, the resolution documents allege or suggest that various indirect subsidiaries took steps to conceal the conduct at issue or circumvent Tyco’s internal controls.

I’ve said before and I will say again (based on nearly a decade of FCPA practice experience conducting FCPA internal investigations around the world) that if every large multi-national company with diverse global business units, with tens of thousands of employees scattered across the world, would hire FCPA counsel to do a complete and thorough world-wide review of the company’s operations, given the current enforcement theories, including the standardless books and records and internal controls theories of enforcement, 95% of companies would find problematic conduct (the other 5% of companies either hired counsel not well versed on the current enforcement theories and/or counsel did not look hard enough).

It Takes A While … Just To Negotiate

As noted in this previous post regarding Pfizer, the gray cloud that is FCPA scrutiny can hang over a company for a long time.  On this issue, it is interesting to note that Tyco’s most recently quarterly filing stated that the company began its negotiations with the DOJ and SEC in February 2010.

The FCPA As An M&A Issue

The $26 million in combined fines and penalties will not be borne entirely by Tyco and its shareholders.  The FCPA frequently finds its way into corporate divestitures and other transactions.

On this note, Tyco’s most recent quarterly filing stated as follows concerning previously spun off business units and now separate companies.  “Covidien  and TE Connectivity agreed, in connection with the 2007 Separation, to cooperate with the Company in its responses regarding these matters. Any judgment required to be  paid or settlement or other cost incurred by the Company in connection with the FCPA investigation matters would be subject to the liability sharing provisions of the Separation and Distribution  Agreement, which assigned liabilities primarily related to the former Healthcare and Electronics businesses of the Company to Covidien and TE Connectivity, respectively, and provides that the Company  will retain liabilities primarily related to its continuing operations. Any liabilities not primarily related to a particular segment will be shared equally among the Company, Covidien and TE  Connectivity.”

In addition, as noted in the NPA, one of Tyco’s business units is poised to be spun-off to Pentair Inc. later this week.  The NPA states as follows.  “Tyco agrees that if this separation and merger occur during the term of this Agreement, Tyco shall, for any business entities, operations, or units involved in the conduct [at issue] and included in the spin-off and merger, including provisions in any separation agreement binding the relevant and culpable entities to the [compliance] obligations [set forth in the NPA].  Tyco shall no longer be responsible for ensuring compliance by any separated entities, operations or units with the obligations described in the [NPA].”

More Foreign Healthcare Providers as “Foreign Official”

This recent post traced the origins and prominence of the enforcement theory that employees of certain foreign health care systems are “foreign officials” under the FCPA.  Add the Tyco enforcement action to the list as the enforcement action included conduct involving Chinese health care providers, Saudi Arabian health care providers, and Polish health care providers.

With the Tyco action on the list, 5 of the 9 (55%) core corporate enforcement actions this year have been based, in whole or in part, on this theory.

More Chinese Design Institutes

The number of FCPA enforcement actions involving Chinese design institutes (an entity category that has given many an FCPA practitioner a headache trying to figure them out) has grown with the Tyco enforcement action.  As noted in this previous post concerning Watts Water Technologies, other enforcement actions that have involved, in whole or in part, Chinese design institutes include the following:  Rockwell Automation (here), ITT (here), and Avery Dennison (here).

Of Note From The Pfizer Enforcement Action

Yesterday’s post (here) went long and deep as to the Pfizer / Wyeth enforcement action.  Today’s post continues the analysis by highlighting additional notable issues.

FCPA Reform Issue

For the second time in recent months, the DOJ has attempted to address an FCPA reform proposal in an enforcement action press release.  See here and here for prior posts concerning the Garth Peterson enforcement action / Morgan Stanley no enforcement action.

As noted here and here (among other posts), one FCPA reform proposal seeks to address an acquiring company inheriting the acquired company’s FCPA exposure.

The DOJ’s release (here) in the Pfizer enforcement action stated as follows.  “In the 18 months following its acquisition of Wyeth, Pfizer Inc., in consultation with the department, conducted a due diligence and investigative review of the Wyeth business operations and integrated Pfizer’s Inc.’s internal controls system into the former Wyeth business entities.  The department considered these extensive efforts and the SEC resolution in its determination not to pursue a criminal resolution for the pre-acquisition improper conduct of Wyeth subsidiaries.”

Kudos to the DOJ … in part.

As evident from a close read of the statement of facts attached to the DPA (here), a substantial portion of the improper conduct giving rise to the allegations in Pfizer HCP’s information resulted from Pfizer’s acquisition of Pharmacia Corporation in 2003.  The statement of facts state as follows.  “[In April 2003] Pfizer acquired Pharmacia Corporation in a stock-for-stock transaction.  Pharmacia’s international operations were combined with Pfizer’s, including Pharmacia’s operations in Bulgaria, Croatia, Kazakhstan and Russia which were thereafter restructured and incorporated into Pfizer HCP.”  [Conduct in these countries was the focus of the information].

No Knowledge at Corporate Headquarters

Pfizer’s press release (here – pursuant to the DPA, Pfizer had to consult with the DOJ prior to issuing) stated as follows.  “There is no allegation by either DOJ or SEC that anyone at Pfizer’s or Wyeth’s corporate headquarters knew of or approved the conduct at issue before Pfizer took appropriate action to investigate and report it.  As soon as these local activities came to the attention of Pfizer’s corporate headquarters, they were voluntarily brought to the attention of the DOJ and SEC. Today’s settlements are focused solely on these local activities.”

You do wonder whether those opposed to FCPA reform (such as here) actually read FCPA resolution documents and understand this as well as other alleged facts in the Pfizer action such as the successor liability issue discussed above and that the conduct at issue in the DOJ enforcement took place between 6 – 15 years ago.  Probably not.

Curious Charging Decisions

In criminal actions, the DOJ’s burden of proof is beyond a reasonable doubt.  In civil actions, the SEC’s burden of proof is a more lenient preponderance of the evidence.  Given these different burdens of proof, it is common for the SEC to charge FCPA anti-bribery violations even in the absence of similar DOJ charges.

The exact opposite happened in this enforcement action.

The DOJ’s information charges FCPA anti-bribery violations, however, the SEC’s complaint which tracks the DOJ’s allegations (and then some) merely charge FCPA books and records and internal control violations.

Thinking About Disgorgement

There are certain exceptions, but one FCPA-related issue that has always intrigued me is that most corporate FCPA violators are otherwise viewed as selling the best product or service for the best price.  In my 2010 opening remarks at the World Bribery and Corruption Compliance (see here) I observed as follows.  “Another issue in need of deeper analysis is the commonly held enforcement view that the contract (and thus net profits of the contract) at issue was secured solely because of the alleged improper payments made by the corporate. This ignores the fact that most of the companies settling enforcement actions are otherwise viewed as industry leaders presumably because they offer the best product or service for the best price. With such companies, can it truly be said that the alleged improper payments were the sole reason the company secured the contract at issue, thus justifying the company being forced to disgorge all of its net profits associated with the contract? Does a but for analysis have a place in bribery laws – in other words should the enforcement agency have to prove that but for the improper payment, the company would not have secured the contract at issue?”

Given my interest in this issue, I was delighted to read (as highlighted in this prior post) a piece titled “Economic Analysis of Damages under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act,” (here) by Dr. Patrick Conroy (here) and Dr. Graeme Hunter (here) – both of Nera Economic Consulting.  The authors note that “to date there has been little consideration of the true benefit of the bribe” but “with fines in the hundreds of millions of dollars and increasing enforcement, it is necessary to clearly understand what effect a bribe had on profits and to carefully establish what the but-for profits would have been without the bribe.” The authors note that “while a bribe may have led to very high gains, the but-for profits could have been high (and the gain from the bribe low) if the bribe would have little effect on the probability of winning the work or if alternative projects were similarly profitable.”

As noted by the FCPA Blog (here), the combined SEC disgorgement (and pre-judgement interest amount) in the Pfizer / Wyeth settlements was approximately $45 million.

However, does anyone truly believe that the only reason Chinese doctors prescribed Pfizer products was because under the “point programs” the physician would receive a tea set?  Does anyone truly believe that the only reason Czech doctors prescribed Pfizer products was because the company sponsored educational weekend took place at an Austrian ski resort?  Does anyone truly believe that the only reason Pakistani doctors offered Wyeth nutritional products to new mothers was because the company provided office equipment to the physicians?  Numerous other examples could also be cited in connection with the enforcement action, be I trust you get the point.

Given the above referenced SEC charges, the enforcement action also again raises the issue of “no-charged bribery disgorgement” which was the focus of this prior post that highlighted an FCPA Update by Debevoise & Plimpton (the author group included Paul Berger (here) a former Associate Director of the SEC Division of Enforcement).

A Gray Cloud That Lasted 8 Years

The FCPA Blog recently highlighted here the FCPA’s long shadow and asked “how long should the DOJ and SEC keep self reporting companies on the hook?” I share the concern that FCPA scrutiny, and the gray cloud it represents as hanging over a company, simply lasts too long.  In many cases, the gray cloud lasts between 2-4 years from the point of first disclosure to the point of an enforcement action.  In certain cases the gray cloud hangs over a company for a longer period of time.  Pfizer is one such example.  As noted in the resolution documents, Pfizer voluntarily disclosed various conduct giving rise to the enforcement action in 2004.  Thus the gray cloud lasted approximately 8 years.

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