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SEC Returns To “World Tour” Allegations In Administrative Action Against FLIR Systems

World Tour

As highlighted in this prior post, in November 2014 the SEC brought an administrative FCPA enforcement action against Stephen Timms and Yasser Ramahi (individuals who worked in sales at FLIR Systems Inc., – an Oregon-based company that produces thermal imaging, night vision, and infrared cameras and sensor systems).

The conduct at issue was alleged expensive travel, entertainment, and personal items for Saudi foreign officials in order to influence the officials to obtain or retain business for FLIR with the Saudi Arabia Ministry of the Interior.

Based on the same conduct, the SEC yesterday announced this administrative action against FLIR Systems.

In summary fashion, the order states:

“This matter concerns violations of the anti-bribery, books and records and internal controls provisions of the FCPA by FLIR. In 2009, employees of FLIR provided unlawful travel, gifts and entertainment to foreign officials in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to obtain or retain business. The travel and gifts included personal travel and expensive watches provided by employees in FLIR’s Dubai office to government officials with the Saudi Arabia Ministry of Interior (the “MOI”). The extent and nature of the travel and the value of the gifts were concealed by certain FLIR employees and, as a result, were falsely recorded in FLIR’s books and records. FLIR lacked sufficient internal controls to detect and prevent the improper travel and gifts. Also, from 2008 through 2010, FLIR provided significant additional travel to the same MOI officials, which was booked as business expenses, but for which there is insufficient supporting documentation to confirm the business purpose. As a result of the unlawful conduct, FLIR earned over $7 million in profits from the sales to the MOI.”

Under the heading “FLIR’s Business with the Saudi Ministry of Interior” the order states:

“Stephen Timms (“Timms”) was the head of FLIR’s Middle East office in Dubai during the relevant time period, and was one of the company executives responsible for obtaining business for FLIR’s Government Systems division from the MOI. Yasser Ramahi (“Ramahi”) reported to Timms and worked in business development in Dubai.2 Both Timms and Ramahi were employees of FLIR.

In November 2008, FLIR entered into a contract with the MOI to sell binoculars using infrared technology for approximately $12.9 million. Ramahi and Timms were the primary sales employees responsible for the contract on behalf of FLIR. In the contract, FLIR agreed to conduct a “Factory Acceptance Test,” attended by MOI officials, prior to delivery of the binoculars to Saudi Arabia. The Factory Acceptance Test was a key condition to the fulfillment of the contract. FLIR anticipated that a successful delivery of the binoculars, along with the creation of a FLIR service center, would lead to an additional order in 2009 or 2010.”

Under the heading “World Tour,” the order states:

“In February 2009, Ramahi and Timms began preparing for the July 2009 Factory Acceptance Test. Ramahi and Timms then made arrangements to send MOI officials on what Timms later referred to as a “world tour” before and after the Factory Acceptance Test. Among the MOI officials for whom Ramahi and Timms provided the “world tour” were the head of the MOI’s technical committee and a senior engineer on the committee, who played a key role in the decision to award FLIR the business.”

The trip proceeded as planned, with stops in Casablanca, Paris, Dubai and Beirut. While in the Boston area, the MOI officials spent a single 5-hour day at FLIR’s Boston facility completing the equipment inspection. The agenda for their remaining seven days in Boston included just three other 1-2 hour visits to FLIR’s Boston facility, some additional meetings with FLIR personnel, at their hotel, and other leisure activities, all at FLIR’s expense. At the suggestion of Timms’ manager, a U.S.-based Vice President responsible for global sales to foreign governments, Ramahi also took the MOI on a weekend trip to New York while they were in Boston. In total, the MOI officials traveled for 20 nights on their “world tour,” with airfare and luxury hotel accommodations paid by FLIR. There was no business purpose for the stops outside of Boston.

Timms forwarded the air travel expenses for the MOI to his manager for approval, attaching a summary reflecting the full extended routing of the travel. The manager approved the travel, directing him to make the expenses appear smaller by “break[ing] it in 2 [submissions.]” Timms also forwarded the travel charges and an itinerary showing the Paris and Beirut stops, to FLIR’s finance department. FLIR’s finance department processed and paid the approved air expenses the next day. Neither Timms’ manager nor anyone in FLIR’s finance department questioned the itinerary or the travel expense, although the itinerary reflected travel to locations other than Boston.

After receiving questions from Timms’ manager, Ramahi and Timms later claimed that the MOI’s “world tour” had been a mistake. They told the FLIR finance department that the MOI had used FLIR’s travel agent in Dubai to book their own travel and that it had been mistakenly charged to FLIR. They then used FLIR’s third-party agent to give the appearance that the MOI paid for their travel. Timms also oversaw the preparation of false and misleading documentation of the MOI travel expenses that was submitted to FLIR finance as the “corrected” travel documentation. FLIR finance then made an additional payment to the Dubai travel agency for the remaining travel costs.

Following the equipment inspection in Boston, the MOI gave its permission for FLIR to ship the binoculars. The MOI later placed an order for additional binoculars for an approximate price of $1.2 million. In total, FLIR earned revenues of over $7 million in profits in connection with its sales of binoculars to the MOI.”

Under the heading “Additional Travel,” the order states:

“From 2008 through 2010, FLIR paid approximately $40,000 for additional travel by MOI officials. For example, Ramahi took the same MOI officials who went on the “world tour” to Dubai over the New Year holiday in December 2008 and again in 2009. FLIR paid for airfare, hotel, and expensive dinners and drinks. FLIR also paid for hotels, meals and first class flights for the MOI officials to travel within Saudi Arabia to help FLIR win business with other Saudi government agencies. Although the trips were booked as business expenses, the supporting documentation is incomplete and it is not possible to determine whether all the trips in fact had a business purpose.

Moreover, in June and July of 2011, a FLIR regional sales manager accompanied nine officials from the Egyptian Ministry of Defense on travel paid for by a FLIR partner. The travel centered on a legitimate Factory Acceptance Test at FLIR’s Stockholm factory. The travel, however, also included a non-essential visit to Paris, during which the officials spent only two days on demonstration and promotion activities relating to FLIR products. In total, the government officials traveled for 14 days and most of the officials only participated in legitimate business activities on four of those days. Three officials engaged in two additional days of training in Sweden. The total travel costs were approximately $43,000. FLIR subsequently reimbursed the partner for the majority of the travel costs, based upon cursory invoices which were submitted without supporting documentation.”

Under the heading “Expensive Watches,” the order states:

“At Timms’ and Ramahi’s instruction, in February 2009, FLIR’s third-party agent purchased five watches in Riyadh, paying approximately 26,000 Saudi Riyal (about U.S. $7,000). Ramahi and Timms gave the watches to MOI officials during a mid-March 2009 trip to Saudi Arabia to discuss several business opportunities with the MOI. The MOI officials who received the watches included two of the MOI officials who subsequently went on the “world tour” travel.

Within weeks of his visit to Saudi Arabia, Timms submitted an expense report to FLIR for reimbursement of the watches. The expense report clearly identified the watches as “EXECUTIVE GIFTS: 5 WATCHES” costing $1,425 each. Shortly thereafter, Timms specified that the watches were given to MOI officials, and identified the specific officials who received the watches.

Despite these red flags, the reimbursement was approved by Timms’ manager and, based on that approval and the submitted invoices, FLIR’s finance department paid the reimbursement to Timms.

In July 2009, in connection with an unrelated review of expenses in the Dubai office, FLIR’s finance department flagged Timms’ reimbursement request for the watches. In response to their questions, Timms claimed that he had made a mistake and falsely stated that the expense report should have reflected a total of 7,000 Saudi Riyal (about $1,900) for the watches, rather than $7,000 as submitted. Ramahi also told FLIR investigators that the watches were each purchased for approximately 1,300-1,400 Saudi Riyal (approximately $377) by FLIR’s third-party agent. In September 2009, at Timms’ direction, FLIR’s agent maintained the false cover story in response to emailed questions from FLIR’s finance department. Timms and Ramahi also obtained a false invoice reflecting that the watches cost 7,000 Saudi Riyal, which Timms submitted to FLIR finance in August 2009. The false, revised invoice was processed by FLIR.”

Under the heading, “FLIR’s FCPA-Related Policies and Training and Internal Controls,” the order states:

“During the relevant time, FLIR had a code of conduct, as well as a specific anti-bribery policy, which prohibited FLIR employees from violating the FCPA. FLIR’s policies required employees to record information “accurately and honestly” in FLIR’s books and records, with “no materiality requirement or threshold for a violation.” FLIR employees, including Timms and Ramahi, received training on their obligations under the FCPA and FLIR’s policy, although the company did not ensure that all employees, including Ramahi, completed the required training.

FLIR had few internal controls over travel in its foreign sales offices at the time. Although FLIR had policies and procedures over travel for its domestic operations, there were no controls or policies in place governing the use of foreign travel agencies. Instead, FLIR foreign sales employees worked directly with FLIR’s foreign travel agencies to arrange travel for themselves and others. Sales managers, such as Timms, were solely responsible for expense approvals for their sales staff. Timms’ manager was responsible for approving travel-related expenses for all non-U.S.-based senior sales employees (such as Timms) and approving the payment of large invoices to the foreign travel agencies.

FLIR also had few controls over the giving of gifts to customers, including foreign government officials. Sales staff and managers were responsible for all expense approvals for gifts and accounts payable was not trained to flag expenses that were potentially problematic. To the contrary, the initial expense submission for the watches was labeled in large English print “EXECUTIVE GIFTS: 5 WATCHES” for a total of $7,123, and was accompanied by email confirmation that the watches were provided to 5 MOI “officers,” when it was approved by Timms’ manager and processed and paid by FLIR accounts payable department.”

Under the heading, “Remedial Efforts,” the order states:

“In November 2010, FLIR received a complaint letter from FLIR’s thirdparty agent, and began an investigation that lead to the discovery of the improper watches and travel. FLIR subsequently self-reported the conduct to the Commission and cooperated with the Commission’s investigation.

Subsequent to the conduct described herein, FLIR undertook significant remedial efforts including personnel and vendor terminations. FLIR broadened its relevant policies and trainings and implemented a gift policy. FLIR enhanced access by its employees to its anti-bribery policy by providing translations into languages spoken in all countries in which it has offices. FLIR is in the process of enhancing its travel approval system in its foreign offices, including requiring all non-employee travel to be booked through either one large, designated travel agency or a limited number of designated regional travel agencies after receiving advance written approval from senior business personnel and the legal department. All travel agencies will be vetted through FLIR’s full FCPA due diligence framework, be subject to all of FLIR’s current FCPA training obligations, and cannot be reimbursed for travel bookings for non-employees in the absence of appropriate approvals. FLIR added additional FCPA training and procedures for its finance staff, and enhanced its third-party diligence process and contracts. FLIR also engaged outside counsel and forensic accountants to conduct a compliance review of travel and entertainment expenses in its operations outside the U.S.”

Under the heading, “Legal Standards and FCPA Violations,” the order states, in pertinent part:

“FLIR violated [the anti-bribery provisions] by corruptly providing expensive gifts of travel, entertainment, and personal items to the MOI officials to retain and obtain business for FLIR. [FLIR] also violated [the internal control provisions], by failing to devise and maintain a sufficient system of internal accounting controls to prevent the provision and approval of the watches and the travel and the falsification of FLIR’s books and records to conceal the conduct. As a result of this same conduct, FLIR failed to make and keep accurate books and records in violation of [the books and records provisions].”

As noted in the SEC’s release:

“The SEC’s order finds that FLIR violated the anti-bribery provisions of [the FCPA] and the internal controls and books-and-records provisions of [the FCPA].  FLIR self-reported the misconduct to the SEC and cooperated with the SEC’s investigation.  FLIR consented to the order without admitting or denying the findings and agreed to pay disgorgement of $7,534,000, prejudgment interest of $970,584 and a penalty of $1 million for a total of $9,504,584.”

In the release, Kara Brockmeyer (Chief of the SEC’s FCPA Unit) stated:

“FLIR’s deficient financial controls failed to identify and stop the activities of employees who served as de facto travel agents for influential foreign officials to travel around the world on the company’s dime.”

As a condition of settlement, FLIR is required to report to the SEC “periodically, at no less than nine-month intervals during a two-year term, the status of its compliance review of its overseas operations and the status of its remediation and implementation of compliance measures.”

FLIR Systems issued this release stating:

“FLIR Systems … announced an agreement with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) resolving previously disclosed violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) committed by two former FLIR employees dating back to 2008.

FLIR discovered the FCPA violations related to approximately $40,000 in excessive travel related to factory acceptance tests and miscellaneous gifts valued at approximately $7,000. FLIR subsequently self-reported the actions to the SEC and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and then terminated the involved employees, who knowingly violated and actively circumvented the Company’s policies and financial controls. As part of its act of self-reporting, FLIR conducted a thorough investigation of its international business activities with the assistance of independent legal specialists. The settlement fully resolves all outstanding issues related to these investigations.

In announcing the settlement, the SEC recognized FLIR for self-reporting the violations.

“FLIR takes compliance very seriously and has policies and procedures in place to prevent such conduct,” said FLIR President and CEO,Andy Teich. “We self-reported the employees’ activities to the relevant authorities upon discovering them and cooperated with the government’s investigation. We have taken action to bolster our training, controls, and policies. The actions of the two former employees involved do not reflect the values of FLIR or the high standards to which we hold ourselves accountable. I am very pleased that we have fully resolved this matter and put it behind us.”

The DOJ declined to pursue any case against FLIR.”

Bruce Yannett (Debevoise & Plimpton) represented FLIR.

Yesterday, FLIR’s stock closed down approximately .9%.

“World Tour” For Saudi Officials Results In Individual SEC FCPA Enforcement Action

World Tour

Yesterday, for the first time since April 2012, the SEC brought a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement action against an individual.  Like the previous five SEC corporate FCPA enforcement actions in 2014, the enforcement action was brought via the SEC’s administrative process.

The enforcement action was against Stephen Timms and Yasser Ramahi, individuals who worked in sales at FLIR Systems Inc., (an Oregon-based company that produces thermal imaging, night vision, and infrared cameras and sensor systems).

The enforcement action is similar to previous FCPA enforcement actions against Lucent Technologies and UTStarcom in that the action focused on certain bona fide business travel that morphed into excessive travel and entertainment of foreign officials.

In summary fashion, the SEC’s order states:

“During 2009, Stephen Timms and Yasser Ramahi arranged expensive travel, entertainment, and personal items for foreign government officials in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in order to influence the officials to obtain new business for their employer, FLIR Systems, Inc. and to retain existing business for FLIR with the Saudi  Arabia Ministry of Interior (the “MOI”). Timms and Ramahi subsequently provided false explanations for the gifts to FLIR and attempted to conceal the gifts’ true value by submitting false documentation to the company.”

In the order Timms is described as follows.

“Stephen Timms … is a United States citizen who resides in Thailand. FLIR hired Timms in November 2001. He was promoted to Middle East Business Development Director for FLIR’S Government Systems division in September 2007. Timms was the head of FLIR’s Middle East office in Dubai during the relevant time period, and was one of the company executives responsible for obtaining business for FLIR’s Government Systems division from the MOI.”

Ramahi, a United States citizen who resides in the United Arab Emirates, is described as follows.

“Ramahi was hired by FLIR in late 2005 and worked in business development in Dubai. During the relevant period, Ramahi’s manager was Timms, the head of FLIR’s Middle East office.”

Under the heading “FLIR’s Business with the Saudi Ministry of Interior,” the order states:

“In November 2008, FLIR entered into a contract with the MOI to sell thermal binoculars for approximately $12.9 million. Ramahi and Timms were the primary sales employees responsible for the contract on behalf of FLIR. In the contract, FLIR agreed to conduct a “Factory Acceptance Test,” attended by MOI officials, prior to delivery of the binoculars to Saudi Arabia. The Factory Acceptance Test was a key condition to the fulfillment of the contract. FLIR anticipated that a successful delivery of the binoculars, along with the creation of a FLIR service center, would lead to an additional order in 2009 or 2010.

At the same time, Ramahi and Timms were also involved in FLIR’s negotiations to sell security cameras to the MOI. In May 2009, FLIR signed an agreement for the integration of its cameras into another company’s products for use by the MOI. The contract was valued at approximately $17.4 million and FLIR hoped to win additional future business with the MOI under this agreement.”

Under the heading “World Tour” for Saudi Officials” the order states:

“In February 2009, Ramahi and Timms began preparing for the Factory Acceptance Test, which was scheduled to occur in July 2009 in Billerica, Massachusetts. Timms requested the names of the MOI officials who would attend the test so that travel arrangements could be made for them by FLIR’s travel agent in Dubai, UAE. Timms subsequently contacted the United States Embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, for assistance to obtain visas for the MOI officials to attend the Factory Acceptance Test.

Ramahi and Timms then sent MOI officials on what Timms later referred to as a “world tour” before and after the Factory Acceptance Test. Among the MOI officials for whom Ramahi and Timms provided the “world tour” were the head of the  MOI’s technical committee and a senior engineer on the committee, who played a key role  in the decision to award FLIR the business.

In June 2009, Ramahi made arrangements for himself and MOI officials to travel from Riyadh to Casablanca, where they would stay for several nights at FLIR’s expense. The MOI officials then traveled to Paris with FLIR’s third-party agent, where they would also stay for several nights at a luxury hotel, also paid for by FLIR. Ramahi met the MOI officials and FLIR’s third-party agent in Boston for the equipment inspection at FLIR’s nearby facilities. On the way back from Boston, Ramahi traveled with most of the MOI officials to Dubai and arranged airfare and hotel accommodations for one MOI official to travel to Beirut before returning to Riyadh, all at FLIR’s expense. Timms received the travel itinerary ahead of the officials’ departure on the “world tour.”

The trip proceeded as planned. In total, the MOI officials traveled for 20 nights on their “world tour,” with airfare and hotel accommodations paid for by FLIR. In addition, while the MOI officials were in Boston, Ramahi and the third-party agent also took the MOI officials on a weekend trip to New York City at FLIR’s expense. There was no business purpose for the stops outside of Boston.

While in the Boston area, the MOI officials spent a single 5-hour day at FLIR’s Boston facility completing the equipment inspection. The agenda for their remaining 7 days in Boston included just three other 1-2 hour visits to FLIR’s Boston facility, some additional meetings with FLIR personnel at their hotel, and other leisure activities, all at FLIR’s expense.

Timms approved expenses incurred by Ramahi and the MOI officials in connection with the extended travel, and Timms’ manager approved the expenses for the air travel provided to the MOI officials in connection with their “world tour.” FLIR’s  finance department processed and paid the approved air expenses the next day.”

Under the heading “Expensive Watches for Saudi Officials,” the order states:

“In March 2009, while Ramahi was present, Timms provided expensive gifts to five MOI officials. At Timms’ and Ramahi’s instruction, in February 2009, FLIR’s third-party agent purchased five watches in Riyadh, paying approximately 26,000  Saudi Riyal (about U.S. $7,000).

In mid-March 2009, Ramahi and Timms traveled to Saudi Arabia for a nine-day business trip to discuss several business opportunities with MOI officials. According to Timms’ expense report, the purpose of the trip was to meet with MOI officials regarding FLIR’s efforts to sell its security cameras. During the trip, Timms, with Ramahi’s knowledge, gave the five watches to MOI officials. Ramahi and Timmsbelieved the MOI officials to be important to sales of both the binoculars and the security cameras. The MOI officials who received the watches included two of the MOI officials who subsequently went on the “world tour” travel.

Within weeks of his visit to Saudi Arabia, Timms submitted an expense report to FLIR for reimbursement of the watches. At the time of his submittal, Timms confirmed that each watch cost $1,425 and was for “Executive Gifts.” Shortly thereafter, Timms identified the names of the MOI officials who received the watches. The reimbursement was approved by Timms’ manager and paid out to Timms.”

Under the heading “The Cover Up,” the order states:

“In July 2009, in connection with an unrelated review of expenses in the Dubai office, FLIR’s finance department flagged Timms’ reimbursement request for the watches. In response to their questions, Timms claimed that he had made a mistake and falsely stated that the expense report should have reflected a total of 7,000 Saudi Riyal(about $1,900) rather than $7,000 as submitted.

At his supervisors’ request, Ramahi secured a second, fabricated invoice reflecting that the watches cost 7,000 Saudi Riyal, which Timms submitted to FLIRfinance in August 2009. Ramahi also told FLIR investigators that the watches were each purchased for approximately 1,300-1,400 Saudi Riyal (approximately $377) by FLIR’s third-party agent.

In September 2009, the FLIR finance department attempted to contact FLIR’s third-party agent. In e-mail correspondence, the FLIR finance department asked the agent a series of questions about the watches. Unknown to the finance department, Timms drafted responses to the questions on behalf of the agent. At Timms’ direction, the agent maintained the false cover story: that the watches cost a total of 7,000 Saudi Riyal, not U.S. $7,000.

In July 2009, Ramahi and Timms claimed that the MOI’s luxury travel and “world tour” had been a mistake. They told the FLIR finance department that the MOI had used FLIR’s travel agent in Dubai to book their own travel and that it had been mistakenly charged to FLIR. They promised to send an invoice to the MOI to pay for the“world tour” travel. Instead, however, Ramahi and Timms used FLIR’s agent to give the appearance that that the MOI paid for their travel. Timms also oversaw the preparation of false and misleading documentation of the MOI travel expenses that was submitted to FLIR’s finance department. For example, Timms obtained an invoice from the Dubai travel agency showing direct flights from Boston to Riyadh—a route not taken by the MOI officials on their “world tour.” Timms submitted the false invoice to FLIR finance as the “corrected” travel documentation.”

Under the heading, “FLIR’s FCPA-Related Policies and Training,” the order states:

“At all relevant times, FLIR had in place a code of conduct which prohibited FLIR employees from violating the FCPA. The policy required employees to record information “accurately and honestly” in FLIR’s books and records, with “no materiality requirement or threshold for a violation.”

Both Ramahi and Timms received training on their obligations under the FCPA and FLIR’s policy prior to the provision of expensive gifts of travel, entertainment, and personal items to the MOI. On or around May 13, 2007 and on or around December 2, 2008, Timms completed FLIR’s two-part FCPA-specific online training courses, including courses focused on “Understanding the Law” and “Dealing with Third Parties.” Ramahi only completed part one of the two-part series in May 2007. The training course completed by both Ramahi and Timms, entitled “Understanding the Law,” gave examples of prohibited gifts under the FCPA and specifically identified gifts of luxury watches, vacations and side trips during official business travel.”

As stated in the order:

“Respondents violated [the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions] by corruptly providing expensive gifts of travel, entertainment, and personal items to the MOI officials to retain and obtain business for FLIR. Respondents also violated Section 13(b)(5) of the Exchange Act, and Rule 13b2-1 thereunder, by knowingly circumventing FLIR’s existing policies and controls, placing a fabricated invoice for the watches into FLIR’s books and records and falsifying FLIR’s records regarding the MOI officials’ extended personal travel paid by FLIR. As a result of this same conduct, Respondents caused FLIR’s books and records to be not accurately maintained in violation of [the books and records provisions of the FCPA].”

As noted in the SEC’s order and release, “without admitting or denying the findings, Timms and Ramahi consented to the entry of the order and agreed to pay financial penalties of $50,000 and $20,000 respectively.”

In the SEC’s release, Andrew Ceresney (Director of the SEC’s Enforcement Division) states:

“This case shows we will pursue employees of public companies who think it is acceptable to buy foreign officials’ loyalty with lavish gifts and travel. By making illegal payments and causing them to be recorded improperly, employees expose not only their firms but also themselves to an enforcement action.”

According to media reports, Timms is represented by Solomon Wisenberg (Nelson Mullins) an Ramahi is represented by Lisa Prager (Schulte Roth & Zabel).

According to the SEC’s release, “the SEC’s investigation is continuing.”  As relevant to any potential FCPA enforcement action against FLIR, the SEC’s order states under the heading “FLIR Profits from Sales to the Saudi Ministry of Interior” as follows.

“Following the equipment inspection in Boston, the MOI gave its permission for FLIR to ship the thermal binoculars. The MOI later placed an order for additional binoculars for an approximate price of $1.2 million. In total, FLIR received payments from the MOI for the binoculars that exceeded $10 million.

From September 2009 through August 2012, FLIR also shipped the security cameras and related accessories to the MOI. FLIR received payments for the cameras exceeding $18 million. FLIR subsequently submitted a bid to sell additional security cameras to the MOI. The bid expired before the contract was awarded by the MOI.”

Based on a review of FLIR’s SEC filings, it does not appear that the company has disclosed any FCPA scrutiny.

Stung By The Sting – Smith & Wesson Resolves FCPA Scrutiny That Originated With The Africa Sting

In January 2010 when highlighting the manufactured Africa Sting enforcement action, I predicted that the public company employing one of the defendants was likely going to be the subject of Foreign Corrupt Practices Act scrutiny not only based on the alleged conduct in the Africa Sting case, but also other conduct as well because the indicted individual was the “Vice President−Sales, International & U.S. Law Enforcement” for the company.  That company, it soon was learned, was Smith & Wesson and indeed in July 2010 Smith & Wesson disclosed its FCPA scrutiny (see here).

In an instructive example of a dynamic I highlight in my recent article “Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Ripples” (that is every instance of FCPA scrutiny has a point of entry – in other words, a set of facts that give rise to the scrutiny in the first place – and this point of entry is often the beginning of a long and expensive journey for the company under scrutiny as the company – to answer the frequently asked “where else” question and to demonstrate its cooperation – will conduct a world-wide review of its operations), yesterday the SEC announced this administrative FCPA enforcement action against Smith & Wesson.

The conduct has nothing to do with the manufactured (and failed) Africa Sting case, but does involve Smith & Wesson’s former Vice President of International Sales and another individual referred to as the Regional Director of International Sales.  The SEC states in summary fashion as follows.

“This matter concerns violations of the anti-bribery,books and records and internal controls provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) by Smith & Wesson. The violations took place from 2007 through early 2010, when a senior employee and other employees and representatives of Smith & Wesson made, authorized, and offered to make improper payments  and/or to provide gifts to foreign officials in an attempt to win contracts to sell firearm products to foreign military and law enforcement departments. During this period, Smith & Wesson’s international business was in its developing stages and accounted for approximately 10% of the company’s revenues. Smith & Wesson’s employees and representatives engaged in a systemic pattern of making, authorizing and offering bribes while seeking to expand the company’s overseas business.

The bribe payments were inaccurately recorded in Smith & Wesson’s books and records as legitimate sales commissions or other business expenses. Despite its push to make sales in new and high risk markets overseas, Smith & Wesson failed to establish an appropriate compliance program or devise and maintain an adequate system of internal accounting controls, which allowed the repeated improper offers and payments to continue undetected for years.”

According to the SEC:

“Smith & Wesson does not have any international subsidiaries and conducts its international business directly and through brokering agents. Much of Smith & Wesson’s international business involves the sale of firearms to foreign law enforcement and  military departments.  […] From 2007 through early 2010, as Smith & Wesson sought to break into international markets and increase sales, certain of the company’s employees and representatives engaged in a pervasive practice of making, authorizing and offering improper payments to foreign government officials as a means of obtaining or retaining international business. Although only one of the contracts was fulfilled before the unlawful activity was identified, company employees made or authorized the making of improper payments in connection with multiple ongoing or contemplated international sales.”

The SEC’s order contains factual allegations regarding the following countries: Pakistan, Indonesia, Turkey, Nepal and Bangladesh.

As to Pakistan, the SEC order states:

“In 2008, for example, Smith & Wesson retained a third-party agent in Pakistan to assist the company in obtaining a deal to sell firearms to a Pakistani police department. Even after the agent notified the company that he would be providing guns valued in excess of $11,000 to Pakistani police officials in order to obtain the deal, and that he would be making additional cash payments to the officials, the company authorized the agent to proceed with the deal. Smith & Wesson’s Vice President of International Sales and its Regional Director of International Sales authorized the sale of the guns to the agent to be used as improper gifts and authorized payment of the commissions to the agent, while knowing or consciously disregarding the fact that the agent would be providing the guns and part of his commissions to Pakistani officials as an inducement for them to award the tender to the company. Smith & Wesson ultimately sold 548 pistols to the Pakistani police for $210,980 and profited from the corrupt deal in the amount of $107,852.”

As to Indonesia, the SEC order states:

“In 2009, Smith & Wesson attempted to win a contract to sell firearms to a Indonesian police department by making improper payments to its third party agent in Indonesia, who indicated that part of the payment would be provided to the Indonesian police officials under the guise of legitimate firearm lab testing costs. On several occasions, Smith & Wesson’s third-party agent indicated that the Indonesian police expected Smith & Wesson to pay them additional amounts above the actual cost of testing the guns as an inducement to enter the contract. The agent later notified Smith & Wesson’s Regional Director of International Sales that the price of “testing” the guns had risen further. Smith & Wesson’s Vice President of International Sales and its Regional Director of International Sales authorized and made the inflated payment, but a deal was never consummated.”

As to Turkey, Nepal and Bangladesh, the SEC order states:

Similarly, Smith &Wesson made improper payments in 2009 to its third party agent in Turkey, who indicated that part of the payments would be provided to Turkish officials in an attempt to secure two deals in Turkey for sale of handcuffs to Turkish police and firearms to the Turkish military. Neither of these interactions resulted in the shipment of products, as Smith & Wesson was unsuccessful bidding for the first deal, while the latter deal was ultimately canceled. Similarly, Smith & Wesson authorized improper payments to third party agents who indicated that parts of these payments would be provided to foreign officials in Nepal and Bangladesh in unsuccessful attempts to secure sales contracts in those countries. Although these contemplated deals in Nepal and Bangladesh were never consummated in each case, the company had obtained or attempted to obtain the contract by using third party agents as a conduit for improper payments to government officials.”

The SEC’s order then states:

“Despite making it a high priority to grow sales in new and high risk markets overseas, the company failed to design and implement a system of internal controls or an appropriate FCPA compliance program reasonably designed to address the increased risks of its new business model. The company did not perform any anti-corruption risk assessment and conducted virtually no due diligence of its third-party agents regardless of the perceived level of corruption in the country in which Smith & Wesson was seeking to do business. Smith & Wesson  failed to devise adequate policies and procedures for commission payments, the use of samples for test and evaluation, gifts, and commission advances. The Vice President of International Sales had almost complete authority to conduct the company’s international business, including the sole ability to approve most commissions. Smith & Wesson’s FCPA policies and procedures, and its FCPA-related training and supervision also were inadequate. As a result of these compliance and internal controls failures, Smith & Wesson’s Vice President of International Sales and the Regional Director of International Sales were able to cause the company to pay and/or authorize improper payments in numerous countries around the globe for a period of several years.”

Under the headline “Remedial Measures,” the SEC order states:

“Smith & Wesson took prompt action to remediate its immediate FCPA issues, including: conducting an internal investigation, terminating its entire international sales staff; terminating pending international sales transactions; and re-evaluating the markets in which it sought international sales. In addition, Smith & Wesson implemented a series of significant measures to improve its internal controls and compliance processes, including: implementing new internal audit procedures to identify FCPA issues; creating more robust controls on payments, gifts, and other transactions in connection with international business activity; enhancing its FCPA compliance policies and procedures; and creating a Business Ethics and Compliance Committee.”

Based on the above findings, the SEC found that Smith & Wesson violated the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions, books and records provisions and internal controls provisions.  As to the later, the SEC order states:

“Smith & Wesson failed to devise and maintain sufficient internal controls with respect to its international sales operations. While the company had a basic corporate policy prohibiting the payment of bribes, it failed to implement a reasonable system of controls to effectuate that policy. For example, Smith & Wesson failed to devise adequate policies and procedures with regard to commission payments, the use of samples for test and evaluation, gifts, and commission advances. Further, Smith & Wesson’s FCPA policies and procedures, and its FCPA-related training and supervision were inadequate.”

As highlighted in the SEC’s order, Smith & Wesson agreed to “report to the Commission staff on the status of [its] remediation and implementation of compliance measures at six-month to twelve-month intervals during a two-year term.” In addition, Smith & Wesson agreed to conduct an initial review – and two follow-up reviews – “setting forth a complete description of its remediation efforts to date, its proposals reasonably designed to improve the policies and procedures of Respondent for ensuring compliance with the FCPA and other applicable anticorruption laws, and the parameters of the subsequent reviews.”

In the SEC order, Smith & Wesson was ordered to cease and desist from future FCPA violations and agreed to pay $2,034,892 …  including $107,852 in disgorgement, $21,040 in prejudgment interest, and a civil monetary penalty of $1,906,000.”  In resolving its FCPA scrutiny, Smith & Wesson did not admit nor deny the SEC’s findings.

In this SEC release, Kara Brockmeyer (Chief of the SEC’s FCPA Unit) stated:

“This is a wake-up call for small and medium-size businesses that want to enter into high-risk markets and expand their international sales. When a company makes the strategic decision to sell its products overseas, it must ensure that the right internal controls are in place and operating.”

In this release, Smith & Wesson President and CEO James Debney stated:

“We are pleased to have concluded this matter with the SECand believe that the settlement we have agreed upon is in the best interests of Smith & Wesson and its shareholders.  Today’s announcement brings to conclusion a legacy issue for our company that commenced more than four years ago, and we are pleased to now finally put this matter behind us.”

John Pappalardo (Greenberg Traurig) represented Smith & Wesson.

Smith & Wesson’s stock price was down approximately .7% on the day of the SEC’s announcement of the enforcement action.

Bribery Of A Foreign Official On U.S. Soil

[This post is part of a periodic series regarding “old” FCPA enforcement actions]

The core enforcement action described below highlights a rare instance of FCPA violations being charged along with violations of the U.S. domestic bribery statute.  The enforcement action is also a rare instance of the United States being the location where the foreign official was allegedly bribed.

Control Systems Specialist / Darrold Crites

In this 1998 criminal information, the DOJ alleged that Control Systems Specialist, Inc. (“Control Systems” a company engaged in the purchase, repair, and resale of surplus military equipment) and its President Darrold Crites made improper payments to a Brazilian Air Force Lt. Colonel (“Col. Z”) stationed at Wright Patterson Air Force Based in Ohio.  The information describes Col. Z  as follows.

“Col. Z was the Foreign Liaison Officer for the Air Force of the Republic of Brazil … and was authorized to make purchases of military equipment on behalf of the Brazilian Aeronautical Commission (“BAC”), the purchasing agent of the Brazilian Air Force.  The BAC was an “instrumentality” of the Government of Brazil.”

The DOJ alleged that Crites met with a civilian employee of the United States Air Force who worked at Wright Patterson Air Force Base as the Command Country Manager (“Country Manager”) for Brazil and was responsible for representing the United States Air Force in dealings with Col. Z.

According to the DOJ, “Country Manager agreed to provide Crites with surplus part numbers, model numbers, and U.S. military sources of surplus parts in exchange for the promise of payments of money, using information he would obtain through his position as a civilian employee of the United States Air Force.”

In turn, the DOJ alleged that “Crites would thereafter purchase the surplus equipment identified by the Country Manager, recondition it, and resell the same to the BAC.”  According to the DOJ, Col. Z would approve the BAC’s purchase from Control Systems in exchange for payments of money.  Specifically, the DOJ alleged that Crites paid Col. Z “a series of bribes, disguised as ‘consultant fees,’ for each bid accepted by Col. Z on behalf of the BAC.”

The DOJ also alleged that Crites formed a separate company (“Company Y”) with the assistance of an Ohio businessman (“Businessman X”) to pay bribes to Col. Z “in exchange for his approval of Company Y’s bids to sell surplus U.S. military equipment to the BAC.”

According to the DOJ, Crites and Businessman X, as officers of Company Y “arranged not less than forty-four purchases of surplus U.S. military equipment for repair and resale to the BAC.”  The DOJ alleged as follows.

“Some of the surplus equipment was obtained by the BAC through the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Service (DRMS) under the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program and then provided to Control Systems for repair.  Other equipment was purchased directly by Control Systems or Company Y, repaired, and then sold to the BAC.  In all cases, after each purchase was effected, Col. Z was paid for his approval of the transactions.”

According to the DOJ, Crites, Control Systems and others “paid a total of $99,000 to the Country Manager and a total of $257,139 to Col. Z.”

Based on the above allegations, the DOJ charged Control Systems and Crites with conspiracy to violate the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions and a substantive violation of the FCPA’s anti-bribery provision.  Based on the allegations involving the Country Manager, the DOJ also charged Control Systems and Crites with violating 18 USC 201, the domestic bribery statute.

Pursuant to this plea agreement, Crites pleaded guilty to the three charges described above.  In the plea agreement, Crites agreed to cooperate with the DOJ.  According to the statement of facts in the plea agreement, “Crites and Control Systems received approximately $672,298 as a result of the contracts received from the government of Brazil.”  According to a docket entry, Crites was sentenced to three years probation (with the first six months of probation to be spent in home confinement with electronic monitoring with work release privileges) and 150 hours of community service.

Pursuant to this plea agreement, Control Systems also pleaded guilty to the three charges described above.  According to a docket entry, Control Systems was ordered to pay a $1,500 fine and was sentenced to one year probation.

International Materials Solutions Corp. / Thomas Qualey

Based on the same core allegations in the Control Systems / Crites enforcement action, in 1999 the DOJ also alleged in this criminal information that International Materials Solutions Corporation (“IMS” – like Control Systems an Ohio company that engaged in the purchase, repair, and resale of surplus military equipment) and Thomas Qualey (the President of IMS) conspired to violate the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions and violated the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions.  According to the information, IMS and Qualey paid a total of $67,563 to Col. Z to induce the approval by Col. Z of a bid by IMS for the acquisition and repair of ten fork lift trucks.

Pursuant to this plea agreement, Qualey pleaded guilty to the two charges described above.  According to the Statement of Facts in the plea agreement, Qualey and IMS “received approximately $392,250 as a result of the contracts received from the Government of Brazil.”  According to this judgment, Qualey was sentenced to three years probation ((with the first four months of probation to be spent in home confinement with electronic monitoring with work release privileges) and 150 hours of community service and ordered to pay a $5,000 fine.

Pursuant to this plea agreement, IMS pleaded guilty to the two charges described above.  According to this judgment, IMS was ordered to pay a $1,000 fine plus and was sentenced to one year probation.

See this prior post for another FCPA enforcement in connection with the U.S. Foreign Military Sales program.

Foreign Military Sales Lead To FCPA Enforcement Action

[This post is part of a periodic series regarding “old” FCPA enforcement actions]

In 1989, the DOJ criminally charged Minnesota based military equipment and supplies company Venturian Corporation, along with its wholly-owned subsidiary NAPCO International, with conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, substantive FCPA offenses (anti-bribery, books and records and internal controls), as well as various tax fraud offenses.

The conduct at issue was in connection with the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program in which the U.S. government made loans to certain foreign governments to finance the purchase of defense items of U.S. origin.  The Defense Security Assistance Agency (DSAA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Defense, was responsible for directing, administering, and supervising FMS loans.  In connection with the FMS program, contractors and commercial suppliers were required to certify, among other things, that: (i) “commissions would be paid only to bona fide employees or agencies which neither exerted or proposed to exert improper influences to solicit or obtain the contact;” and (ii) “no rebates, gifts or gratutities contrary to U.S. law have been or would be given to officers, officials or employees of the purchaser …”.

The conduct at issue concerned the Republic of Niger, a foreign nation qualified to receive FMS loan assistance from the DSAA, specifically Tahirou Barke Doka (the First Counselor of the Embassy of Niger in Washington, D.C.) and Captain Ali Tiemogo (Chief of Maintenance for the air force component of the Niger Ministry of Defense).

According to the detailed 50-page information, Niger entered into a contract with Dornier GmbH (a West German aircraft maintenance company) to perform maintenance on Nigerien C-130’s.  However, according to the indictment, “the Government of Niger had insufficient funds to pay for Dornier’s services and Dornier sought to affiliate with a U.S. contractor so that the Government of Niger could qualify” for the FMS program.

Thereafter, NAPCO, acting in cooperation with Dornier, began negotiations with the Government of Niger for a contract to furnish replacement parts and to perform maintenance on two C-130 transport aircraft owned by the airforce of the Government of Niger.  Four contracts, in the approximate amount of $2.4 million, were entered into between NAPCO and the Government of Niger.

The information alleges that NAPCO conspired with others to violate the FCPA by making payments or authorizing payments of money to “officials of the Government of Niger, that is, Counselor Tahirou Barke Doka and Captain Ali Tiemogo” and “Fatouma Mailelel Boube and Amadou Mailele, both relatives of Tiemogo, while knowing that all or a portion of such money would be offered, given or promised, directly or indirectly, to foreign officials, namely Barke and Tiemogo” for the purpose of “influencing the acts and decisions of Barke and Tiemogo in their official capacities, and inducing them to use their influence with the Ministry of Defense.”

The information further alleged that NAPCO “falsely represent[ed] to DSAA the identifies of NAPCO’s agents, misrepresenting the percentages of contract funds paid and to be paid to non-U.S. suppliers and filing misdated invoices.”

According to the information, the aggregate amount of bribes paid to Barke and Tiemogo was approximately $131,000.  In addition, the information alleges that Barke “traveled from Washington, D.C. to Niger for his wedding and subsequent honeymoon in Paris, Stockholm and London, using tickets charged to a NAPCO account.”

The information further alleges that NAPCO and others used various methods to conceal the conspiracy such as “preparing and using bogus commission agreements,” “creating a fictitious commission agent,” using the names of Mailele and Boube “in order to conceal the payment of bribes,” “falsely representing to DSAA that Mailele and Boube were NAPCO’s agents “when these persons were not its agents, had performed no services for NAPCO, and had acted solely as the intermediaries for Tiemogo and Barke for the purpose of concealing the bribe payments.

In addition to the conspiracy charge and a substantive FCPA charges, the information also alleges that NAPCO filed false and fraudulent U.S. tax returns which “falsely claimed certain deductions for the payment of agent commissions.”

NAPCO pleaded guilty to the above charges (see here for the plea agreement).  As noted in the plea agreement, the DOJ and the company settled on a fine amount in the “aggregate amount of $1 million in satisfaction of its criminal and civil fines, penalties, taxes and restitution.”  The amount consisted of the following:  $785,000 for the criminal charges set forth in the information, $140,000 in restitution “for full payment of its civil tax liability to the DSSA for appropriate crediting to the FMS account of Niger,” and $75,000 restitution to the IRS for full payment of all criminal and civil tax liabilities.

The plea agreement notes that the DOJ will not prosecute NAPCO for “Napco’s contracts with Egypt,” “alleged United States Customs violations arising from the sale of misidentified radios to the Government of Egypt and to other countries;” or “FCPA violations arising from the transactions evidenced in the documents Napco produced to the Yellow Grand Jury.”

The plea agreement further states:

“The Department of Justice will advise the Department of Defense, Defense Logistics Agency, which is the suspension and debarment authority in this matter, of the facts learned during the government’s investigation of Napco; Napco’ s cooperation during the investigation; and the importance of this prosecution in the government’s efforts towards eradicating fraud in the Foreign Military Sales program.”

The above settlement terms are set forth in this judgment.

According to original source media reports, the DSSA “uncovered the fraud when it checked the name of one of the agents with the government of Niger.”  Media reports quoted Theodore Greenberg (Deputy Chief DOJ Fraud Section) as follows:  “[money from the FMS program] is to be used for the military preparedness of certain governments; that, of course, is important to our national security.”  Media reports quoted Peter Clark (DOJ FCPA Unit) as follows:  “the object of the program is to be getting the biggest bank for the buck – not to pay illegal bribes.”

(See here for NAPCO’s current company website).

(The FMS program is still an active program of the Defense Department – see here).

In addition to the enforcement action against NAPCO / Venturian, the DOJ also brought an injunctive action against Dornier.  Of note, the DOJ described Dornier (a German company) as an “agent of NAPCO” and thus a “domestic concern” under the FCPA.  As to relevant jurisdiction allegations, the DOJ alleged that a Dornier employee Axel Kurth, had telephone conversations with NAPCO employees in Minnesota and that Kurth traveled in the U.S. “where he met with officers of NAPCO” to discuss the alleged improper payments.  Without admitting or denying the DOJ’s allegations, Dornier consented to a permanent injunction prohibiting future FCPA violations.

In addition, the DOJ criminally charged the Vice President of the Aerospace Division of NAPCO.  That individual exercised his constitutional right to a jury trial, put the DOJ to its burden of proof, and the results and ultimate outcomes will be explored in a future post.

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