Top Menu

Friday Roundup

Roundup2

A plethora of scrutiny alerts and updates, dismissed, quotable, and for the reading stack.  It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Scrutiny Alerts and Updates

Crawford & Company

The company, a “provider of claims management solutions to the risk management and insurance industry, as well as to self-insured entities, with an expansive global network serving clients in more than 70 countries.” recently disclosed:

“The Company has voluntarily self-reported to the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”) and the Department of Justice (the “DOJ”) certain potential violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act discovered by the Company during the course of its regular internal audit process. Upon discovery, the Company, with the oversight of the Audit Committee and the Board of Directors, proactively initiated an investigation into this matter with the assistance of external legal counsel and external forensic accountants. The Company has been cooperating fully, and expects to continue to cooperate fully, with the SEC and the DOJ in this matter. The Company cannot currently predict when or what, if any, action may be taken by the SEC or the DOJ, or other governmental authorities, or the effect any such actions may have on the Company’s results of operations, cash flows or financial position.”

In the same disclosure, the company disclosed approximately $3.4 million in “legal and professional fees … related to the ongoing investigation of potential violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.”

SciClone Pharmaceuticals

One of the longest instances of FCPA scrutiny concerns SciClone Pharmaceuticals. The company has been under FCPA scrutiny since August 2010 and recently disclosed:

“As previously disclosed, since 2010 the SEC and the US Department of Justice (“DOJ”) have each been conducting formal investigations of the Company regarding a range of matters, including the possibility of violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”), primarily related to certain historical sales and marketin g activities with respect to the Company’s China operations. I n response to these matters, the Company’sBoard appointed a Special Committee of independent directors (the “Sp ecial Committee”) to oversee its response to the government inquiry. Based on an initial review, the Special Committee decided to undertake an independent investigation as to matters reflected in and arising from the SEC and DOJ investigations in order to evaluate whether any violation of the FCPA or other laws occurred. The Company continue s to cooperate fully with the SEC and DOJ in the conduct of their investigations.

The Company has engaged in settlement discussions with the SEC related to its investigation into possible violations of the FCPA by the Company. The Company has finalized the terms of an offer of settlement of these matters, subject to final approval by the Commissioners of the SEC. Under the terms of the offer of settlement, the Company, without admitting or denying liability, would consent to the entry of an administrative order requiring that the Company cease and desist from any future violations of the FCPA. The Company also would pay disgorgement of $9.4 million, prejudgment interest of $0.9 million and a civil money penalty of $2.5 million. If the offer of settlement is approved by the Commissioners of the SEC, an administrative order will be issued by the SEC and $ 12,826,000   (which was placed in an escrow facility subsequent to September 30, 2015) will immediately be released to the SEC .

The Company has not yet reached a resolution of these matters with the DOJ and management continues to work diligently to obtain closure on this matter.”

Brookfield Asset Management

The company which previously disclosed FCPA scrutiny recently disclosed:

“[I]n 2012 we were notified by the SEC that it was conducting an anti-bribery and corruption investigation related to a Brazilian subsidiary of ours that allegedly made payments to certain third parties in Brazil and those payments were, in turn, allegedly used, with our knowledge, to pay certain municipal officials to obtain permits and other benefits. The U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) opened an investigation in 2013. A civil action against our Brazilian subsidiary by a public prosecutor in Brazil has been ongoing since 2012. All involved have denied the allegations. The SEC and DOJ sought information from us and we cooperated with both authorities in this regard. In 2012, a leading international law firm conducted an independent investigation into the allegations, and based on the results of that investigation we have no reason to believe that our Brazilian subsidiary or its employees engaged in any wrongdoing. In June 2015 the SEC staff informed us in writing that it concluded its investigation and, based on the information it has to date, does not intend to recommend an enforcement action against us. We hope to resolve any remaining outstanding matters in due course and do not expect that any legal outcome will be financially material to the company.”

Alexion Pharmaceuticals 

The company which previously disclosed its FCPA scrutiny this past summer recently disclosed:

“As previously disclosed, in May 2015, we received a subpoena in connection with an investigation by the Enforcement Division of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) requesting information related to our grant-making activities and compliance with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) in various countries. The SEC also seeks information related to Alexion’s recalls of specific lots of Soliris and related securities disclosures. In addition, in October 2015, Alexion received a request from the U.S. Department of Justice for the voluntary production of documents and other information pertaining to Alexion’s compliance with the FCPA. Alexion is cooperating with these investigations. At this time, Alexion is unable to predict the duration, scope or outcome of these investigations. Given the ongoing nature of these investigations, management does not currently believe a loss related to these matters is probable or that the potential magnitude of such loss or range of loss, if any, can be reasonably estimated.”

Alexion was founded by a Yale University professor and the above disclosure was viewed as a big deal by the Yale Daily News (see here).

Hines

According to various media reports (see here and here), Houston-based Hines, a privately-owned real estate firm, is conducting an internal investigation in connection with alleged payments in Brazil involving Petrobras officials.  According to reports, the internal investigation follows a report in a Brazilian newspaper that appeared over the summer alleging improper payments by Hines Brazil in relation to commissions for Petrobras office leases in Rio de Janeiro.

Noble Corp.

Noble Corporation recently disclosed:

“We have used a commercial agent in Brazil in connection with our Petróleo Brasileiro S.A. (“Petrobras”) drilling contracts.  We understand that this agent has represented a number of different companies in Brazil over many years, including several offshore drilling contractors. This agent has pled guilty in Brazil in connection with the award of a drilling contract to a competitor and has implicated a Petrobras official as part of a wider investigation of Petrobras’ business practices.  We are not aware of any improper activity by Noble in connection with contracts that Noble has entered into with Petrobras, and we have not been contacted by any authorities regarding such contracts or the investigation into Petrobras’ business practices.”

As highlighted in this previous post, in 2010 Noble Corp. resolved an $8.2 million FCPA enforcement action  ($2.6 million via a DOJ NPA and $5.6 million in disgorgement and interest via a SEC complaint) in connection with alleged conduct in Nigeria.

Dismissed

This recent post asked where does the truth lie in FCPA enforcement actions?

The post focused on the Mexico prong of the HP enforcement action in which the DOJ and SEC alleged that HP Mexico indirectly made cash payments to a Pemex Chief Information Officer. After the enforcement action, Pemex disclosed in an SEC filing that “the Internal Control Body of [Pemex] concluded its investigation after finding no improper payment.”

HP highlighted the Pemex disclosure in its defense of civil RICO claims brought by Pemex that accused HP of paying bribes to win contracts. As highlighted here, Pemex recently dismissed its lawsuit.

Quotable

Sound advice from Marcus Asner (Arnold & Porter) in this Law360 article titled “A Measured Approach to Internal Investigations” in which he rightly notes: “Outside law firms and vendors … have strong economic incentives to expand investigations.”

For the Reading Stack

From Clifford Chance, an updated version of “A Guide to Anti-Corruption Legislation in Asia Pacific.

*****

A good weekend to all.

Selective Prosecution?

The term selective prosecution is a legal term of art with rather exacting factors.  This post is not about the legal term of art selective prosecution, but rather selective prosecution as a practical matter, in order words, in layman terms.

As highlighted in the below chart, there have been eight corporate Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement actions based largely on alleged improper payments to Nigerian officials in connection with Nigeria’s Temporary Import Process (TIP) for oil and gas rigs.

Company Settlement Amount Related Individual Actions 
Panalpina $81.9 million

$70.6 (DOJ)
$11.3 (SEC)
 
No
Pride Int’l $56.2 million

$32.6 (DOJ)
$23.5 (SEC)
 
No
Royal Dutch Shell $48.1 million

$30 (DOJ)
$18.1 (SEC)
 
No
Transocean $20.7 million

$13.4 (DOJ)
$7.2 (SEC)
 
No
Parker Drilling $15.9 million

$11.8 (DOJ)
$4.1 (SEC)
 
No
Tidewater $15.7 million

$7.4 (DOJ)
$8.3 (SEC)
 
No
Noble Corp. $8.2 million

$2.6 (DOJ)
$5.6 (SEC)
 
Yes
GlobalSantaFe $5.9 million

$5.9 (SEC)
No

As indicated in the above chart, the enforcement agencies collected approximately $253 million in the enforcement actions.  (Note certain of the enforcement actions also alleged other improper payments to Nigerian customs officials and, because of the “where else” question, certain of the enforcement actions also alleged improper payments in other countries as well).

To extent settlement amounts serve as a reasonable proxy for the severity of an FCPA enforcement action, the above chart highlights that among the TIP-related enforcement actions, the enforcement action against Noble Corp. was comparatively minor.  This conclusion is further bolstered by the fact that among the TIP-related enforcement actions to involve a DOJ component, the Noble enforcement action was the only action to be resolved via a non-prosecution agreement.

Nevertheless, as highlighted by the above chart, the Noble enforcement action was the only TIP-related enforcement action to result in any related charges against individuals.  In February 2012, the SEC charged Mark Jackson (Noble’s former CEO) and James Ruehlen (a current Noble executive) in a wide-ranging enforcement action charging violations of, among other things, the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions and books and records and internal controls provisions.

This contemporaneous post flagged the SEC action as one to follow since the SEC has never been put to its burden of proof in an FCPA enforcement action.  The post further noted that the FCPA’s facilitation payments exception was likely to be at issue and even highlighted the unusual nature of the DOJ’s NPA against Noble Corp. which, not once but twice, stated that the alleged payments at issue “would not constitute facilitation payments for routine government actions within the meaning of the FCPA.”

In an ironic twist, after the enforcement agencies collected more than $200 million in the TIP-related enforcement actions against risk averse corporate defendants, Jackson and Ruehlen did indeed put the SEC to its burden of proof and the court ruled that the SEC “must bear the burden of negating the facilitating payments exception” and that the “exception is best understood as a threshold requirement to pleading that a defendant acted ‘corruptly.’”  (See here for the prior post).

The SEC, a law enforcement agency with merely a civil burden of proof, was never able to carry this burden and this was among other reasons why the SEC’s case against Jackson and Ruehlen failed – and yes – this is the only reasonable conclusion to be drawn from last week’s settlement (see here).

The above facts and circumstances from the many TIP-related enforcement actions should cause any reasonable observer to ask why Jackson and Ruehlen were singled out for prosecution by the SEC?

As will be explored in a future post that goes more in-depth into the SEC’s failed prosecution of Jackson and Ruehlen, the SEC’s case against the individuals  was all the more curious given that Noble actually booked the TIP-related payments as facilitating payments (the SEC of course disagreed with this position) and given that – per the SEC’s own briefing in the matter – its charges were based on little more than a series of supposed inferences supported by little more than circumstantial evidence.

Much Activity In SEC Enforcement Action Against Jackson & Ruehlen

If you enjoy reading pleadings in Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement actions, then your week is already off to a great start as there is much to read.

In advance of a scheduled July 9th trial in SEC v. Mark Jackson & James Ruehlen (an enforcement action filed in the S.D. of Tex. in February 2012 and highlighted in last Friday’s post), both parties filed numerous motions last Friday.

The SEC filed: (1) a motion for partial summary judgment on the inapplicability of the facilitating payment exception, and (2) a motion for a determination of foreign law pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 44.1.  The SEC also filed 5 motions seeking to exclude defendants’ expert witnesses.  Both Jackson and Ruehlen filed separate motions for summary judgment as well as 3 motions seeking to exclude the SEC’s expert witnesses.

This post provides an overview of the motions.

SEC Motion for a Determination of Foreign Law

In pertinent part, the SEC states as follows:

“Questions of Nigerian law pervade this bribery case for two reasons. First, findings on threshold questions of Nigerian law are necessary for the jury to determine whether Defendants induced foreign officials “to do or omit to do any act in violation of the lawful duty of such foreign official[s]” in violation of Section 30A of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (the “Exchange Act”), an element of the SEC’s bribery claims. 15 U.S.C. §78dd-1(a)(3)(A)(ii) (emphasis added).  Questions of Nigerian law are also necessary to determine whether the payments at issue in this case fit within the narrow “facilitating payment” exception under the
Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (the “FCPA”).

These questions of Nigerian law include: (i) whether the grant of a Temporary Import Permit (“TIP”) – a concession that allows an importer to avoid the payment of import duties – was discretionary; (ii) what was the permissible duration of a TIP and whether and to what extent a TIP may be extended; and (iii) whether Nigerian customs officials could lawfully accept payments to approve a TIP based on false paperwork showing that Noble’s rigs in Nigeria had been exported and re-imported, when the rigs in fact had never moved out of Nigerian waters. These questions of Nigerian law are, like questions of U.S. law, questions of law for the Court to decide, and each defines the scope of Nigerian customs officials’ “lawful duty” in connection with granting the TIPs and TIP extensions at issue in this case.

Second, rulings on these issues of Nigerian law are necessary in light of the Defendants’ purported expert evidence. Defendants intend to introduce expert evidence asserting that, among other things, the payment of bribes to civil servants in Nigeria “is common – and even expected”; the submission of falsified documents to Nigerian governmental agencies is “satisfactory” or “acceptable” from the Nigerian government’s perspective; that laws governing the issuance of temporary import permits are not laws but “internal rules or policies”; and that compliance with Nigerian law is unclear. Thus, the Defendants’ experts intend to opine directly or indirectly on what is allegedly “permissible” in Nigeria notwithstanding clear and undisputed provisions of Nigerian law to the contrary. Because foreign law is for the Court, not the jury, these issues of Nigerian law should be resolved by the Court.”

SEC Motion Regarding  Inapplicability of Facilitating Payment Exception

As noted in this prior post, in December 2012 Judge Ellison concluded, in what was believed to be an issue of first impression, that the SEC must bear the burden of negating the facilitation payments exception.

In its motion, the SEC states as follows.

“The SEC seeks partial summary judgment on the limited question of whether the payments to Nigerian government officials that Defendants authorized to secure Temporary Import Permits (“TIPs”) and TIP extensions fit within the narrow “facilitating payment” exception under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (the “FCPA”).

The SEC alleges that the Defendants violated the anti-bribery and accounting provisions of the FCPA by authorizing the payment of bribes on behalf of their employer – Noble Corporation – to Nigerian government officials to influence or induce these officials to grant Noble TIPs and TIP extensions. These TIPs allowed Noble to avoid paying import duties on oil drilling rigs that it operated in Nigeria. Because TIPs provide only a temporary exemption from import duties, at the expiration of a TIP and its allowable extension, Noble had an obligation to either pay the import duties due on the drilling rigs or export them out of Nigeria. Using bribes and other means, Defendants secured serial TIPs and TIP extensions, which enabled Noble to keep its rigs operating continuously in Nigeria well beyond the time period allowed under Nigerian law.

The FCPA broadly prohibits corrupt payments to foreign officials to influence any official act or induce any official to violate a lawful duty. See 15 U.S.C. § 78dd-1(a). But there is a narrow exception to that broad prohibition: Under subsection 78dd-1(b), the FCPA permits certain “facilitating or expediting payments” made “to expedite or to secure the performance of a routine governmental action.” 15 U.S.C. § 78dd-1(b). This so-called facilitating payment exception does not apply in this case, as a matter of law.

Summary judgment is appropriate for three reasons:

First, the law of decision is clear and binding. This Court previously held that payments to government officials for discretionary or illegal TIPs and TIP extensions are not permissible facilitating payments.

Second, the applicable foreign law is clear and undisputed. As demonstrated in the SEC’s Motion for a Determination of Foreign Law Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 44.1 (“Rule 44.1 Motion”), the relevant provisions of Nigerian law are clear and undisputed. First, under Nigerian law, customs officials have discretion to grant or deny TIPs and TIP extensions; these TIPs and extensions are a discretionary exemption from import duties, not an entitlement. Second, Nigerian law prohibits both the use of false paperwork to secure TIPs and payments to government officials to secure TIPs and TIP extensions. Third, Nigerian law provides that an initial TIP may not exceed twelve months and may only be extended once for up to an additional twelve months. These provisions of Nigerian law are clear and undisputed, and must be determined as a matter of law by the Court.

Third, the material facts are not in genuine dispute. The payments to Nigerian government officials at issue in this case were themselves illegal in Nigeria and were authorized to obtain import duty exemptions that were (i) discretionary and (ii) in certain cases, illegal under Nigerian law. Specifically, each of the payments to Nigerian government officials at issue was authorized in connection with obtaining a valuable and discretionary government benefit – i.e., import duty exemptions for Noble’s rigs. Certain of the payments were made to obtain TIPs on false pretenses, in violation of Nigerian law. And, some of the payments were authorized to obtain TIP extensions that exceeded the number and duration of TIP extensions allowed under Nigerian law.

For these reasons, the SEC respectfully requests that the Court grant its motion for partial summary judgment that the facilitating payment exception is not applicable in this case.”

SEC Expert Motions

In addition to the above motions, the SEC also filed 5 motions seeking to exclude defendants’ experts:  (1) Alan Bell (CPA – regarding internal controls and books and records issues); (2) Gary Goolsby (CPA – regarding corporate governance and internal controls issues; (3) John Campbell (former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria – regarding Nigeria specific issues; (4) Professor Ronald Gilson (regarding various corporate governance and internal controls issues); and (5) H. Lowell Brown (regarding various FCPA compliance issues).

Jackson’s Motion for Summary Judgment

The motion, signed by David Krakoff (BuckeySandler) , states as follows.

“This case is entirely about Mr. Jackson’s state of mind: Did he act “corruptly” in violation of the FCPA when he approved certain payments to Nigerian customs officials? In denying the Defendants’ Motions to Dismiss, the Court held that an act is done corruptly when it is “done with an evil motive or wrongful purpose of influencing a foreign official to misuse his position.”  It is the SEC’s burden to prove that “Defendants acted corruptly.”

The SEC failed to come close to carrying that burden. Put simply, discovery revealed only one thing: Undisputed evidence that Mr. Jackson acted with the “good faith” belief that Noble’s payments facilitated getting temporary import permits and extensions to which Noble was entitled.  But as the Court observed regarding permit extensions, to establish corrupt intent the SEC must show “that Defendants knew they were not entitled to extensions as a matter of right upon satisfying certain basic threshold requirements.”

Mr. Jackson was repeatedly advised by Noble management that Noble was entitled to those permits and extensions. He was advised by management and PricewaterhouseCoopers that as long as the rigs had contracts to drill oil for the benefit of the Nigerian government, the rigs could stay in the country to perform those contracts. He was advised and observed that legal and audit experts were reviewing Noble’s FCPA compliance and, specifically, compliance in its Nigerian operations. And he was advised that Noble’s Nigerian lawyer had counseled that the use of the so-called “paper process,” where rigs obtained new permits without leaving the country, was legal in Nigeria.

The SEC has no evidence to prove Mr. Jackson’s state of mind was anything different. Despite many promises in the SEC’s pleadings, promises proved false by discovery, there was no evidence that Mr. Jackson believed Nigerian officials had discretion to deny Noble these permits and extensions. There was no evidence that he knew the “paper process” was illegal in Nigeria, so that any payments related to it had to be corrupt. And there was no evidence that he misled anyone – not the Audit Committee, not auditors, not anyone – about any of Noble’s facilitating payments. Instead, what he knew was that Noble’s legal counsel and internal auditors did not question the propriety of payments to Nigerian customs officials. No reasonable jury could conclude that Mark Jackson acted with the state of mind requisite for a violation of the FCPA. The SEC has not met its burden and the Court should grant summary judgment on all claims.”

Ruehlen’s Motion for Summary Judgment

The motion, signed by Nicola Hanna and Joseph Warin (Gibson Dunn), states as follows.

“The Complaint portrays Jim Ruehlen as a “rogue” employee who, shortly after being promoted to the first management-level position of his career, embarked on an intricate scheme to bribe Nigerian officials to obtain illegal temporary import permits for Noble’s rigs; routinely flouted company policy; ignored directions from Noble’s Audit Committee; and concealed illicit payments in Noble’s books and records. At the motion to dismiss stage, the Court was required to accept those allegations as true. Since then, 15 months of discovery have laid bare the utter falsity of the SEC’s narrative.

The undisputed evidence establishes that Mr. Ruehlen—a diligent and hardworking operations employee with an impeccable reputation for honesty and integrity—at all times acted  in good faith and under the close supervision of Noble’s most senior executives. At no point did he attempt to conceal any conduct or circumvent controls or company processes. To the contrary, it was Mr. Ruehlen who in 2004 first reported Noble’s use of the so-called “paper process”—the central focus of the SEC’s claims in this matter. And it was Mr. Ruehlen who received approval for every one of the payments at issue from Noble’s senior management, executives who had access to experts to assess the nature and propriety of those payments. It is undisputed that none of those executives or experts ever raised concerns to Mr. Ruehlen about the payments. The evidence also shows that Mr. Ruehlen, who had no accounting or legal training, had no role in determining how the payments—which were well known within Noble’s corporate hierarchy—were recorded in Noble’s books. And to compound the irony of the SEC’s charges against Mr. Ruehlen, it was Mr. Ruehlen who independently raised new concerns regarding the temporary import process in early 2007, prompting Noble’s internal investigation and voluntary disclosure to the U.S. government.

Notwithstanding this evidence—much of which was known to the SEC well before it filed this action—the SEC charged Mr. Ruehlen with violating the FCPA’s books and records and internal accounting control provisions (collectively, the “accounting provisions”) “under every stretched legal theory imaginable.” Purportedly to “streamline the presentation of evidence to the jury,” the SEC—on the eve of summary judgment—voluntarily dismissed two of those claims (that Mr. Ruehlen failed to “implement” a system of internal accounting controls and aided and abetted Noble’s alleged failure to “devise and maintain” such a system). But the SEC’s remaining FCPA accounting provision claims fail for the same reasons as the claims it now tacitly admits lacked merit—Mr. Ruehlen simply had no responsibility for or authority over the accounting function at Noble, and had no role in determining how the payments at issue were recorded. Moreover, the SEC failed to develop any evidence during discovery to support the numerous—and illogical—ways that Mr. Ruehlen allegedly “circumvented” Noble’s system of internal accounting controls. The Court should grant summary judgment on these claims in light of the undisputed evidence.

The Court should also grant summary judgment on the SEC’s claims for violations of the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions. Whether the SEC can prove these claims turns entirely on Mr. Ruehlen’s state of mind—i.e., whether he acted “corruptly.” The undisputed evidence shows that Mr. Ruehlen, like many others within the company, believed in good faith that the payments were to secure or expedite temporary import permits to which Noble was entitled.”

In addition to the above motions, the defendants also jointly filed 3 motions seeking to exclude SEC experts:  (1) Jeffrey Harfenist (CPA – as to various internal controls issues); (2) Wayne Kelley (as to various customs and practices in the oil and gas industry); and (3) Kofo Olugbesan (a former official of the Nigerian Customs Service).

Friday Roundup

Further trimmed, scrutiny alerts and updates, facts and figures, quotable, and for the reading stack.  It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Further Trimmed

When the SEC announced its enforcement action against James Ruehlen and Mark Jackson  (a current and former executive of Noble Corp.) in February 2012, I said that this would be an interesting case to follow because the SEC is rarely put to its burden of proof in FCPA enforcement actions – and when it has been put to its ultimate burden of proof – the SEC has never prevailed in an FCPA enforcement action.

Over the past two years, the SEC’s case has been repeatedly trimmed.  (See this recent post containing a summary).  In the latest cut, the SEC filed an unopposed motion for partial voluntary dismissal with prejudice on March 25th.  In pertinent part, the motion states as follows.

“To narrow this case and streamline the presentation of evidence to the jury, the SEC hereby moves for leave to voluntarily dismiss with prejudice all portions of its claims … predicated upon Noble Corporation’s violation of [the FCPA’s internal controls provisions”.

For additional specifics, see the filing.

As highlighted in this previous post, in 2010 the SEC charged Noble Corporation with violating the FCPA’s anti-bribery, books and records and internal controls provisions based on the same core conduct alleged in the Jackson/Ruehlen action. Without admitting or denying the SEC’s allegations, Noble agreed to agreed to an injunction and payment of disgorgement and prejudgment interest of $5,576,998.

In short, the SEC’s enforcement action against Ruehlen and Jackson is a shell of its former self.   Interesting, isn’t it, what happens when the government is put to its burden of proof in FCPA enforcement actions.

Scrutiny Alerts and Updates

Alstom

Bloomberg reports speculation that a future FCPA enforcement action against Alstom could top the charts in terms of overall fine and penalty amounts.  (See here for the current Top 10).

The article states:

“The Justice Department is building a bribery case against Alstom SA , the French maker of trains and power equipment, that is likely to result in one of the largest U.S. anticorruption enforcement actions, according to two people with knowledge of the probe. Alstom, which has a history checkered with corruption allegations, has hindered the U.S. investigation of possible bribery in Indonesia and now faces an expanded probe including power projects in China and India, according to court documents in a related case. Settlement talks haven’t begun, the company said.”

In response to the Bloomberg article, Alston released this statement.

“Robert Luskin of Patton Boggs, Alstom’s principal outside legal advisor in the USA, states that the Bloomberg article published on 27 March 2014, regarding the investigation of Alstom by the US Department of Justice, does not accurately reflect the current situation: “Alstom is cooperating closely, actively, and in good faith with the DOJ investigation. In the course of our regular consultations, the DOJ has not identified any on-going shortcomings with the scope, level, or sincerity of the company’s effort”.

“The discussions with the DOJ have not evolved to the point of negotiating a potential resolution of any claims. Any effort to estimate the size of any possible fine is sheer speculation, as would be any comparison with other cases that have recently been resolved. Alstom has agreed to focus its efforts on investigating a limited number of projects that we and the DOJ have identified in our discussions. We are working diligently with the DOJ to answer questions and produce documents associated with these specific projects so that we can address any possible improper conduct”.

VimpelCom

Netherlands-based and NASDAQ traded telecommunications company VimpelCom recently disclosed:

“[T]hat in addition to the previously disclosed investigations by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and Dutch public prosecutor office, the Company has been notified that it is also the focus of an investigation by the United States Department of Justice. This investigation also appears to be concerned with the Company’s operations in Uzbekistan. The Company intends to continue to fully cooperate with these investigations.”

On March 12, 2014, VimpelCom disclosed:

“The Company received from the staff of the United States Securities and Exchange Commission a letter stating that they are conducting an investigation related to VimpelCom and requesting documents. Also, on March 11, 2014, the Company’s headquarter in Amsterdam was visited by representatives of the Dutch authorities, including the Dutch public prosecutor office, who obtained documents and informed the Company that it was the focus of a criminal investigation in the Netherlands. The investigations appear to be concerned with the Company’s operations in Uzbekistan. The Company intends to fully cooperate with these investigations.”

Orthofix International

As noted in this Wall Street Journal Risk & Compliance post, Orthofix International recently disclosed:

“We are investigating allegations involving potential improper payments with respect to our subsidiary in Brazil.

In August 2013, the Company’s internal legal department was notified of certain allegations involving potential improper payments with respect to our Brazilian subsidiary, Orthofix do Brasil. The Company engaged outside counsel to assist in the review of these matters, focusing on compliance with applicable anti-bribery laws, including the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (the “FCPA”). This review remains ongoing.”

As noted in this previous post, in July 2012 Orthofix International resolved a DOJ/SEC FCPA enforcement action concerning alleged conduct by a Mexican subsidiary.  In resolving that action, the company agreed to a three year deferred prosecution agreement.  As is typical in FCPA DPAs, in the Orthofix DPA the DOJ agreed not continue the criminal prosecution of Orthofix for the Mexican conduct so long as the company complied with all of its obligations under the DPA, including not committing any felony under U.S. federal law subsequent to the signing of the agreement.

See this prior post for a similar situation involving Willbros Group (i.e. while the company while under a DPA it was investigating potential additional improper conduct).  As noted here, Willbros was released from its DPA in April 2012, the original criminal charges were dismissed and no additional action was taken.

Besso Limited

Across the pond, the U.K. Financial Conduct Authority (“FCA”) recently issued this final notice to Besso Limited imposing a financial penalty of £315,000 for failing “to take reasonable care to establish and maintain effective systems and controls for countering the risks of bribery and corruption associated with making payments to parties who entered into commission sharing agreements with Besso or assisted Besso in winning and retaining business (“Third Parties”).”

Specifically, the FCA stated:

“The failings at Besso continued throughout the Relevant Period [2005-2011] and contributed to a weak control environment surrounding the making of payments to Third Parties. This gave rise to an unacceptable risk that payments made by Besso to Third Parties could be used for corrupt purposes, including paying bribes to persons connected with the insured or public officials. In particular Besso:  (1) had limited bribery and corruption policies and procedures in place between January 2005 and October 2009. It introduced written bribery and corruption policies and procedures in November 2009, but these were not adequate in their content or implementation; (2) failed to conduct an adequate risk assessment of Third Parties before entering into business relationships; (3) did not carry out adequate due diligence on Third Parties to evaluate the risks involved in doing business with them; (4) failed to establish and record an adequate commercial rationale to support payments to Third Parties; (5) failed to review its relationships with Third Parties, in sufficient detail and on a regular basis, to confirm that it was still appropriate to continue with the business relationship; (6) did not adequately monitor its staff to ensure that each time it engaged a Third Party an adequate commercial rationale had been recorded and that sufficient due diligence had been carried out; and (7) failed to maintain adequate records of the anti-bribery and corruption measures taken on its Third Party account files.”

The FCA has previously brought similar enforcement actions against Aon Limited (see here), Willis Limited (see here), and JLT Speciality Limited (see here).    For more on the U.K. FCA and its focus on adequate procedures to prevent bribery , see this guest post.

Facts and Figures

Trace International recently released its Global Enforcement Report (GER) 2013 – see here to download.  Given my own focus on FCPA enforcement statistics and the various counting methods used by others (see here for a recent post), I particularly like the Introduction of the GER in which Trace articulates a similar “core” approach that I use in keeping my enforcement statistics.  The GER states:

“[W]hen a company and its employees or representatives face multiple investigations or cases in one country involving substantially the same conduct, only one enforcement action is counted in the GER 2013.  An enforcement action in a country with multiple investigating authorities, such as the U.S., is also counted as one enforcement action in the GER 2013.”

The Conference Board recently released summary statistics regarding anti-bribery policies.  It found as follows.

39% of companies in the S&P Global 1200; 23% of companies in the S&P 500; and 14% of companies in the Russell 1000 reported having a policy specifically against bribery.

Given the results of other prior surveys which reported materially higher numbers, these results are very surprising.

Quotable

This recent Wall Street Journal article “Global Bribery Crackdown Gains Steam” notes as follows.

“Cash-strapped countries are seeing the financial appeal of passing antibribery laws because of the large settlements collected by the U.S., according to Nathaniel Edmonds, a former assistant chief at the U.S. Department of Justice’s FCPA division.  “Countries as a whole are recognizing that being on the anticorruption train is a very good train to be on,” said Mr. Edmonds, a partner at Paul Hastings law firm.”

The train analogy is similar to the horse comment former DOJ FCPA enforcement attorney William Jacobson made in 2010 in an American Lawyer article that “[t]he government sees a profitable program, and it’s going to ride that horse until it can’t ride it anymore.”  For additional comments related to the general topic, see this prior post.

Reading Stack

This recent Wall Street Journal Risk & Compliance Journal post contains a Q&A with former DOJ FCPA Unit Chief Chuck Duross.  Contrary to the inference / suggestion in the post, Duross did not bring “tougher tactics” such as wires and sting operations to the FCPA Unit.  As detailed in prior posts here and here, undercover tactics and even sting operations had been used in FCPA enforcement actions prior to the Africa Sting case.

Speaking of the Africa Sting case, the Q&A mentions reasons for why the Africa Sting case was dropped.  Not mentioned, and perhaps relevant, is that the jury foreman of the second Africa Sting trial published this guest post on FCPA Professor after the DOJ failed in the second trial.  Two weeks later, the DOJ dismissed all charges against all Africa Sting defendants.

Further relevant to the Africa Sting case, the Wall Street Journal recently ran this article highlighting the role of Richard Bistrong, the “undercover cooperator” in the case.  Bistrong has recently launched an FCPA Blog – see here.

*****

A good weekend to all.

SEC Files Opposition Brief To Jackson and Ruehlen’s Motion To Dismiss

This previous post discussed the February 2012 SEC FCPA enforcement action against Mark Jackson (former Noble Corporation CEO) and James Ruehlen (current Director and Division Manager of Noble’s subsidiary in Nigeria).  The enforcement action is based on the same core set of facts alleged in the 2010 Noble Corporation enforcement action (see here for the prior post).  The February 2012 post noted that unlike the vast majority of FCPA defendants (corporate and individual) charged in an SEC enforcement action, Jackson and Ruehlen appeared poised to launch a defense.

This previous post discussed Jackson’s and Ruehlen’s May 2012 motion to dismiss and noted the significance of the event in terms of the SEC’s FCPA enforcement program as the SEC is rarely put to its burden of proof in FCPA enforcement actions.  To my knowledge, the Jackson and Ruehlen enforcement action represents the first time since the SEC lost the Mattson and Harris individual enforcement actions in 2002 (see here for a prior post discussing the case) that the Commission will be put to its burden of proof in an FCPA enforcement action.

Last Friday the SEC filed its opposition to the motion to dismiss (here) and in summary fashion the SEC’s opposition brief states as follows.

“The Complaint charges defendants Jackson and Ruehlen, a former and current senior officer of Noble Corporation (“Noble”), respectively, with multiple violations of the anti-bribery and accounting provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”), 15 U.S.C. § 78dd-1, and other violations of the federal securities laws. Noble, an international oil drilling company, used for years an intermediary “customs agent” to pay bribes to government officials of the Nigerian Customs Service and other Nigerian government officials. Jackson and Ruehlen were intimately involved in arranging, approving, falsely booking, and concealing Noble’s bribe payments to foreign officials. Together, the defendants participated in paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to improperly obtain approximately eight illegitimate duty exemptions, known as temporary import permits (“TIPs”), and twenty-two TIP extensions. These TIPs and extensions were obtained illicitly so that Noble’s oil rigs offshore in Nigeria could continue to operate under lucrative drilling contracts. Jackson approved the payments and concealed the payments from Noble’s audit committee and auditors. Ruehlen prepared false documents as to the movement of the rigs, sought approval for the payments from Jackson and others at Noble, and processed and paid the bribe money to the intermediary customs agent.

Defendants contend that the Commission has failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted pursuant to FRCP 12(b)(6). They attack the sufficiency of the Complaint in scattershot fashion, but their arguments distilled to their essence advance six primary arguments for dismissal:

First, the defendants argue that the SEC must allege the “specific identity” of Nigerian officials for whom the defendants authorized the payment of bribes. This line of argument finds no support in the text, legislative history, case law, or purposes of the FCPA. Defendants authorized bribes to foreign officials through intermediaries. The Complaint identifies the officials by country and government agency and alleges defendants’ corrupt intent to improperly influence those officials through the payment of money. Neither the FCPA nor the notice pleading standards of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) require anything more. As the language, text, legislative history and policies of the FCPA confirm, a violation of its provisions rests with the intent of the person authorizing the bribes, not with the identity or role of the official targeted for bribery. The name, title or exact position of the official need not be pleaded or proved, as confirmed by decisions under analogous domestic bribery statutes.

Second, the defendants argue that the Complaint fails to allege facts to support the inference that their payments fell outside of the FCPA’s statutory “routine governmental action” (a.k.a. “facilitating payments”) exception. Yet, the SEC is not required to plead preemptively around a statutory exception that a defendant might invoke. For over a century, including in the securities context, the Supreme Court has held that a pleading based on a general provision that defines the elements of a statutory violation need not negate an exception made by proviso or otherwise to those elements. The “facilitating payments” exception fits that rule. Thus, the defendants, not the SEC, must raise the exception’s application in the pleadings and prove its applicability at trial. Moreover, the Complaint satisfies any purported need to “plead around” the exception. The well-pled facts, such as that the bribes were paid to induce foreign officials to falsely certify facts and accept false paperwork, indicate that defendants’ bribes were not “facilitating payments,” i.e., payments authorized to expedite or secure the performance of an ordinarily or commonly performed official act.

Third, Ruehlen claims that the FCPA’s routine government action exception is unconstitutionally vague as applied to him. Claims of this nature have been soundly rejected by the courts, including by the Fifth Circuit. Also, the Complaint abundantly alleges that Ruehlen sought and obtained authorizations to pay bribes that cannot be understood reasonably as anything other than crossing the line of prohibited conduct.

Fourth, the defendants contend that the Complaint does not allege facts giving rise to the inference that they acted “corruptly.” This attack on the Complaint ignores the well-pled facts and misconstrues the law. The legislative history of the FCPA and the decisions in the Fifth Circuit and elsewhere reject defendants’ definition of “corruptly.” Defendants also overlook that states of mind, such as intent and purposes, may be alleged generally. The Complaint alleges defendants’ corrupt intent, and the allegations are supported by ample facts.

Fifth, the defendants seek to dismiss the Complaint as insufficiently pleading alleged securities violations other than bribery. Defendants, for example, argue that the SEC fails to specify the books and records that were falsified and the internal controls that they evaded. Defendants’ line of arguments directed to these issues are, first, largely premised on their attack on the Commission’s bribery claims – an attack that this Court should reject. In addition, the defendants simply ignore the facts actually pled in the Complaint. The allegations set forth in great detail what Jackson and Ruehlen claim not to find in the Complaint, including identifying the books and records falsified and the internal controls evaded or not implemented.

Sixth, the defendants argue that the Complaint is untimely because the applicable statute of limitations permits relief only for conduct occurring five years before the filing of the Complaint on February 24, 2012. Yet buried in footnotes in their briefs, the defendants admit that they signed tolling agreements extending the statute of limitations. The Complaint alleges violative conduct within the limitations period even absent the tolling agreement. What is more, various equitable doctrines would apply to toll the statute. And the statute of limitations does not apply to claims for equitable relief such as injunctions.

Finally, throughout each of their briefs, defendants intermittently challenge facts asserted in the Complaint, advance facts not alleged in the Complaint but purportedly reflected elsewhere, and argue for inferences favorable to them. At the pleadings stage, these arguments are not a proper basis for granting a motion to dismiss and must be rejected. The Commission has stated a claim upon which relief may be granted for each of Claims One through Seven, and defendants’ motions to dismiss should be denied.”

Powered by WordPress. Designed by WooThemes