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Former Bio-Rad General Counsel Brings Employment Claims Against Company And Executives In The Aftermath Of An FCPA Enforcement Action

Bio-Rad

In recent years several terminated corporate employees have alleged unfair employment practices in connection with some aspect of FCPA scrutiny or enforcement.

Indeed, in 2010 FCPA Professor coined the term “noisy exit” to describe this dynamic.

Last week, Sanford Wadler, the former General Counsel and Secretary of Bio-Lab Laboratories, filed this civil complaint in federal court (N.D. Cal.) against the company and certain executive officers and board members alleging various unfair employment practices.  In summary fashion, the complaint alleges:

“This matter presents the classic case of whistleblower retaliation. After learning of his employer Bio-Rad’s involvement in extensive bribery occurring in Russia, Thailand, and Vietnam, Wadler investigated evidence of similar violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) in China, where corruption is notoriously endemic. Key Bio-Rad officers and directors wanted Wadler to turn a blind eye to this misconduct or sweep it under the rug, but he refused. Instead, and following his mandatory duties under federal securities laws as the Company’s chief legal officer, Wadler investigated this potential criminal activity and reported it up the ladder. When Wadler reasonably began to believe that the conspiracy to violate the FCPA went all the way to the top of the corporate hierarchy, he reported his concerns to the Company’s audit committee. Then, just shortly before Bio-Rad was scheduled to present to the SEC and DOJ regarding the Company’s investigation into potential FCPA violations, the Company fired Wadler precisely because he refused to be complicit in its wrongdoing. A company is not allowed to attempt to silence whistleblowers in this manner.”

Wadler’s complaint asserts various federal and state law claims.

As highlighted in this previous post, in November 2014 Bio-Rad agreed to pay approximately $55 million to resolve DOJ and SEC FCPA enforcement actions.

Wadler’s complaint contains interesting allegations as to the inner-workers of how FCPA allegations were handled at Bio-Rad as well as critical allegations concerning the law firms hired by Bio-Rad to conduct the FCPA internal investigation.

Wadler is represented by Michael Von Loewenfeldt of Kerr & Wagstaffe LLP

Ashland Oil – The “FCPA’s” First Repeat “Offender”

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

In 1986 the SEC brought this civil injunctive action against Ashland Oil, Inc. (a Kentucky based oil refining company) and its Chairman and CEO Orin Atkins for engaging in conduct in violation of the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions.

The complaint began by noting that in 1975, prior to the passage of the FCPA, the defendants consented to final judgments of permanent injunction enjoining them from using corporate funds “for unlawful political contributions or other similar unlawful purposes.”  As noted in “The Story of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act” Ashland Oil’s payments to Albert Bernard Bongo, the President of Gabon, were among a group of payments that drew Congressional attention to the foreign corporate payments problem and motivated Congress to pass the FCPA in 1977.

The 1986 Ashland Oil enforcement action is thus notable as the first instance of an “FCPA” repeat “offender.”

As highlighted in more detail below, the enforcement action is also notable for the following reasons:  (i) the thing of value consisted of buying a “foreign official’s” interest in a largely worthless mine); (ii) the conduct at issue lead to an FCPA-related civil suit in which two terminated company employees were awarded $70 million in damages; and (iii) there was controversy both as to the DOJ’s and SEC’s handling of the conduct at issue.

In the 1986 action, the SEC alleged that Ashland Oil and Atkins “paid $25 million in principal plus approximately $4 million in interest, and by virtue of the acquisition of an interest in Midlands Chrome [a largely worthless Zimbabwe mine owned by the “foreign official” and his family], gave something of value to James Landon [a British national seconded (detailed) to the government of Oman who served as a special adviser to the Sultan of Oman on Omani intelligence and security matters] … for the purpose of inducing Landon to use his influence with the government of Oman … in order to assist Ashland in obtaining and retaining business with the government of Oman … namely certain business related to crude oil.”

According to the complaint, Atkins was told that Midlands Chrome “could be purchased from persons who could be sympathetic to Ashland’s desire to become a purchaser of crude oil from Oman.”  Even though a company lawyer advised that the transaction raised issues under the FCPA, the SEC alleged that the “board of directors of Ashland held a meeting at which Atkins presented for the Board’s approval the acquisition of Midland Chrome.”  According to the complaint, Atkins viewed the acquisition as a “high risk project” but one that had “potential of being more than offset by a potential crude oil contract …”.  According to the complaint, initial board meeting minutes show that Atkins said “the corporation was interested [in the Midlands Chrome acquisition] for the reason that it might thereby be enabled to obtain a contract to purchase crude oil from Oman” but that “this statement was deleted from the final version of the minutes at Atkins’ direction.”

Based on the above core conduct, in a detailed 35 page complaint, the SEC alleged three substantive FCPA anti-bribery violations.

Atkins resigned as chairman of Ashland in 1981 after an internal investigation into a number of questionable foreign payments.  According to media reports, when the 1986 matter was resolved Atkins issued a statement which read as follows.  “Although it would be my personal preference to litigate this matter, I have agreed to settle this action so that the company can put this lingering dispute behind it, and because to contest this matter would have involved disproportionate trouble and expense.”  For more on the life of Orin Atkins, see here and here.

In media reports, Richard Murphy, an SEC enforcement lawyer, said the Ashland case was significant because it demonstrated that the SEC will go beyond the traditional “cash cases” and scrutinize more complicated transactions to determine if they represent violations.

In 1995, Ashland Oil changed its name to Ashland Inc.

In an interesting side note, former Ashland employees Bill McKay and Harry Williams sued the company for breach of contract and wrongful discharge, asserting that Ashland’s pattern of corrupt practices amounted to a violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations law.   McKay alleged that he was terminated because he refused to take part in any bribery schemes and that he refused in subsequent investigations to hide Ashland’s conduct from officials at the IRS and SEC.  According to a 1989 ABA Journal report, “Williams had not been asked to take part in any foreign payments, but he’d become sympathetic to McKay’s efforts to change Ashland’s policy.”  According to the report,  Williams “made an anonymous phone call to the SEC and spoke freely about Ashland’s recent actions abroad.”  A jury returned a verdict of approximately $70 million.  According to the ABA report, McKay was awarded over $44.5 million, and the rest was apportioned to Williams.  According to the report, Ashland threatened to appeal and the parties settled for $25 million.

Set forth below, in pertinent part, is an interesting article published in the Washington Post on July 10, 1988. about the DOJ’s and SEC’s handling of the conduct at issue.

“Lawyers for two former executives who won a $ 69.5 million award from Ashland Oil Co. contend that their victory shows the Securities and Exchange Commission pulled its punches in handling charges of overseas bribery and other illegal conduct by Ashland.  The two former vice presidents had said in wrongful-dismissal lawsuits and in SEC testimony that Ashland paid tens of millions of dollars in bribes to foreign officials to get scarce crude oil and then tried to cover up the illegal conduct. They said they lost their jobs after refusing to participate in conspiracies, perjury and other crimes.  Last month, a U.S. District Court jury in Covington, Ky., awarded Bill E. McKay $ 44.6 million and Harry D. Williams $ 24.9 million after a 35-day trial. The jury said the liability should be shared by Ashland; its former chairman and chief executive, Orin E. Atkins; John R. Hall, who succeeded Atkins in 1981, and Richard W. Spears, senior vice president for human resources and law.”

“The SEC filed a much narrower civil lawsuit in July 1986 charging that Ashland and Atkins had bribed an official of Oman to get oil from the sultanate. The suit was filed in tandem with a consent decree, a final court judgment in which Ashland and Atkins neither admitted nor denied past violations while agreeing to face criminal penalties for future ones.”

“The jury and the SEC each had essentially the same evidence of possible violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) of 1977. The gap between the jury’s verdict and the SEC action shows that the SEC dealt with the matter too lightly, according to John R. McCall and Kenneth M. Robinson, the lawyers for McKay and Williams.  ‘I can understand how counsel for McKay and Williams are proud of their achievement, and they certainly have the right to crow about it,’ said SEC enforcement chief Gary G. Lynch. ‘But any criticism of the commission’s investigation, or of the results that we achieved, is simply unwarranted.'”

“Punitive damages accounted for only $ 3 million of the awards to McKay and Williams. Compensatory damages were tripled — to $66.5 million — for conspiring to violate, and for violating, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. RICO makes it unlawful for any person associated with an enterprise affecting commerce to lead or to join in ‘conduct of [the] enterprise’s affairs through a pattern of racketeering activity.’  The jury found that the three individual defendants had all conducted or participated in ‘a pattern of racketeering activity’ principally through multiple violations of the FCPA antibribery section and of a law prohibiting travel for the purpose of violating the section.”

[…]

“The SEC’s 1986 lawsuit, which followed months of negotiations with Ashland’s law firm, Cravath, Swaine & Moore, named only one person paid by the oil company, James T.W. (Tim) Landon of Oman, as a foreign government official under the FCPA’s antibribery provisions. The complaint also alleged only one bribe, described by Ashland as a $ 25 million investment in a Landon-controlled chromium mine in Rhodesia.  But the jury found that Ashland, ‘with corrupt intent to bribe,’  had made payments to three figures it said were foreign officials under the FCPA: Landon and Yehia Omar of Oman, and Hassan Y. Yassin of Saudi Arabia (who also has operated a consulting firm in McLean).  With the same corrupt intent, the jury said, Ashland had made payments to a fourth recipient, Sadiq Attia, ‘knowing or having reason to know that’ all or a portion of the money — $ 17 million — ‘would be used to bribe a government official of Abu Dhabi.'”

“The SEC complaint and consent decree did not mention Yehia Omar or cite any Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia payments.  Last December, SEC Chairman David S. Ruder told Senate Banking Committee Chairman William Proxmire (D-Wis.) that the Division of Enforcement ‘concluded that the evidence was … insufficient to support further charges of violations’ of the FCPA. In an interview after the jury verdict, Lynch said ‘there was not sufficient evidence that we felt comfortable we could prevail’ if charges were brought based on Ashland payments to Omar. ‘Even before we sat down to negotiate, we had decided privately to exclude Omar, Abu Dhabi, and Saudi Arabia from the consent decree.  ‘It was clear to us that the Landon transaction was the strongest, because we believed we could establish that Landon was a government official at the time the chrome transaction occurred.’ Lynch said. He called a multiple-count complaint unnecessary.  ‘We were suing for injunctive relief,’ and ‘we could get it with Landon,’ he said. ‘There was no need to push and take on a litigation risk in a case that was much less certain.’  He extended this argument to the omission of the Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia cases.”

“But lawyers McCall and Robinson disagreed. ‘The finest judicial scrutiny our American judicial system can provide has now determined that the earlier government efforts were incomplete,’ McCall said. It’s ‘ridiculous’ for the SEC to claim the evidence was insufficient to convince a jury that bribery far beyond that which it alleged hadn’t occurred, he said.”

“Lynch also defended the SEC’s decision not to ask a federal court to find Ashland and Atkins had violated a 1975 consent decree and to hold them in criminal contempt.  ‘We did have a concern about meeting the higher burden of proof in order to prove criminal contempt,’ Lynch said. […] One difficulty in going the criminal route was that ‘the major thrust’ of the 1975 decrees involved unlawful political contributions, and ‘these were foreign bribes,’ Lynch said.”

“But the lawyers for McKay and Williams dismissed this explanation. They pointed out that the 1975 consent decrees prohibited false or fictitious bookkeeping entries, and said the $ 25 million Oman item that the SEC called a bribe, as well as the Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia payments, all were recorded by Ashland as ordinary outlays.  ‘It was like shooting ducks in a barrel,’ Robinson said. ‘There was no answer that any Ashland official could give on the stand to explain the fraud that was in the documents that they wrote. And how the SEC could miss that is beyond description.’  ‘The SEC should have seen it. These were indictable offenses … I don’t see the evidence that the SEC even slapped Ashland’s wrist. They just closed the book by executing another consent decree — a promise to pay, which is all that it is.'”

“Arthur F. Mathews, who was an SEC deputy enforcement chief in 1969, said in an interview that ‘in the horse-trading for not litigating,’ Cravath, Swaine ‘got the staff to strike Yehia Omar …  If I had to guess, they did not include Yehia Omar in their action because they thought it was a toss-up whether you could prove it, and they gave it up in the bargain.'”

“McCall said the SEC staff may well have done all it could have, particularly in light of the Reagan administration’s apparent reluctance to enforce the FCPA’s antibribery provisions.’ The SEC commissioners, for example, voted 3 to 2 to reject the division’s initial recommendation for a lawsuit that named only Landon as the recipient of a bribe. Only after the division reargued its case did the commission reverse itself, allowing Lynch to file the lawsuit.  Lynch said the SEC disregarded a report by an outside counsel who concluded that the Oman transactions had not violated the FCPA or the 1975 consent decree. Williams and McKay had challenged the independence of the outsider, Pittsburgh attorney Charles J. Queenan. Queenan is a friend of Cravath, Swaine presiding partner and Ashland director Samuel C. Butler, who submitted the report to the SEC as the work of an independent counsel.  ‘We did not accept the conclusion that it was an ‘independent counsel’ report,” Lynch said. The SEC staff ‘did our own very thorough investigation of the matter,’ he said. ‘It is clear that if we had accepted the Queenan report’s findings, we would not have filed an action.”

[…]

“Sen. Proxmire, who monitors FCPA enforcement, also has raised questions about the Justice Department’s role in the Ashland case. The department had full access to the SEC’s files from the start of the SEC staff investigation in May 1983. Last October, after a Washington Post series on Ashland’s payments to overseas consultants, Proxmire asked the department if it had investigated the matter and if ‘it has concluded that violations of the FCPA have taken place.’ If the conclusion was that there’d been no violations, ‘I would like an explanation of the rationale underlying such a judgment,’ Proxmire said. ‘If the department has not investigated these allegations, I request that you do so and let me know the results.’  Assistant Attorney General John R. Bolton said on Jan. 20 that he would respond when he received a report from the fraud section of the Criminal Division.  On June 20, Proxmire, having heard nothing more for six months, sent Attorney General Edwin Meese III a news story on the jury verdict in Kentucky and asked ‘whether the Department of Justice will now initiate a criminal action.’  If not, Proxmire said he wanted to know why. A department spokesman said a response is being prepared.”

The Work Of A Monitor And Checking In On Siemens

The 2008 Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement action against Siemens remains the largest in FCPA history in terms of resolution amount – $800 million ($450 million DOJ, $350 million SEC).  The DOJ stated in this release that “for much of its operations across the globe, bribery was nothing less than standard operating procedure for Siemens.”  The SEC stated in the release that the “pattern of bribery by Siemens was unprecedented in scale and geographic reach” and the “corruption involved more than $1.4 billion in bribes to government officials in Asia, Africa, Europe, the Middle East and the Americas.”

Not surprisingly, given the nature and extent of the conduct at issue, as part of its plea agreement (here), Siemens was required to engage a corporate monitor for a three year period.

Time passes quickly, and on December 18, 2012, the DOJ filed this “Notice Regarding Corporate Monitorship” notifying the court that Siemens has “satisfied its obligations under the plea agreement with respect to the corporate compliance monitor engaged by the company.”

This post details the monitor’s work and then highlights the difficulties of anti-corruption compliance in a large, multinational company.

The Work of a Monitor

The recent DOJ filing details the work of the monitor and states as follows.

“In accordance with the plea agreement, the Monitor conducted an initial review and three subsequent reviews of Siemens’s anti-corruption compliance program, and documented the Monitor’s findings and recommendations in four annual reports dated October 5, 2009, October 13, 2010, October 7, 2011, and October 12, 2012. Over the course of those four years, the Monitor conducted on-site or remote reviews of Siemens’ activities in 20 countries; conducted limited or issue-specific reviews in or relating to an additional 19 countries; reviewed over 51,000 documents totaling more than 973,000 pages in 11 languages; conducted interviews of or meetings with over 2,300 Siemens employees; observed over 180 regularly scheduled company events; and spent the equivalent of over 3,000 auditor days conducting financial studies and testing.

During that time, the Monitor made a total of 152 recommendations in over a dozen topic areas, such as third-party risks, financial controls, and compliance policies and training that, pursuant to the plea agreement, were “reasonably designed to improve the effectiveness of Siemens’ program for ensuring compliance with the anti-corruption laws.”  Without objection, Siemens AG adopted and implemented all 152 recommendations. Thereafter, the Monitor confirmed that all of the recommendations had been fully implemented.

Those recommendations and the other remedial measures and internal control improvements undertaken by Siemens have included enhanced policies and a revised code of conduct directed at prohibiting corruption; additional and more frequent training for employees, agents, and business partners on the enhanced anti-corruption policies and procedures; additional staffing and resources dedicated to coordinating and overseeing the implementation and enforcement of the anti-corruption program; improved hotline for reporting potential violations of the code of conduct; improved accounting system controls designed to ensure the maintenance of accurate books and records; and improved due diligence and review processes for agreements with agents and business partners, including an express clause related to anti-corruption.

Pursuant to the terms of the plea agreement, the Monitor has met with representatives from the government and the SEC on an annual basis to review the findings and recommendations in the Monitor’s annual reports.  In accordance with the terms of the plea agreement, the Monitor certified on October 13, 2010, October 7, 2011, and October 12, 2012, that “Siemens’ compliance program is reasonably designed and implemented to detect and prevent violations within Siemens of anti-corruption laws . . . .”

Based on the monitor’s work, the filing then states as follows.

“[T]he government concludes that Siemens AG has satisfied its obligations under the plea agreement with respect to the corporate compliance monitorship. The government has conferred with the staff of the SEC and the staff of the SEC concludes that Siemens AG has also complied with the terms of the Final Judgment in the civil action with respect to the corporate compliance monitorship.”

As highlighted in my article “Revisiting an FCPA Compliance Defense” (here), even before the Siemens monitor began its work, Siemens had – in the words of the DOJ – “already implemented substantial compliance changes” and was setting “a high standard for multi-nationals to follow.”  According to the DOJ, Siemens’ total external costs for this pre-monitor remediation exceeded $150 million.  Although Siemens has not, to my knowledge, disclosed its costs associated with its post-enforcement action monitor, one can safely assume that the monitor costs easily exceeded this $150 million figure and perhaps reached as high as the $800 million amount announced on enforcement action day.

I noted in my Compliance Defense article that “there is likely no other company in the world today … that has devoted as many corporate resources towards compliance” and that “likewise, there is likely no other company in the world today .. that faces as many negative consequences should its compliance efforts fail.”

Difficulties of Anti-Corruption Compliance

The discussion of Siemens in my article, and here, demonstrates that not even a company that has “set a high standard for multi-national companies to follow” (again, in the words of the DOJ) can insulate itself from FCPA and related exposure.

This fact (and a fact I submit makes a compelling case for an FCPA compliance defense as outlined in my article) is clear from a review of Siemens most recent annual report (here), filed with the SEC on Nov. 28, 2012.   The filing contains a separate section titled “public corruption proceedings.” To be sure, the section lists various proceedings that pre-date 2008 and that may have been indicative of the corporate culture at Siemens that gave rise to the 2008 FCPA enforcement action in the first place.  However, certain proceedings in listed in the filing are post 2008, including the following.

“As previously reported, in May 2011 Siemens AG voluntarily reported a case of attempted public corruption in connection with a project in Kuwait in calendar 2010 to the U.S. Department of Justice, the SEC, and the Munich public prosecutor. The Munich public prosecutor discontinued the investigations, which related to certain former employees, but imposed conditions on them. Siemens is cooperating with the U.S. authorities in their ongoing investigations.”

“As previously reported, in July 2011 the Munich public prosecutor notified Siemens AG of an investigation against an employee in connection with payments to a supplier related to the oil and gas business in Central Asia from calendar 2000 to 2009. Siemens is cooperating with the public prosecutor.”

Add to this list a Dodd-Frank whistleblower retaliation complaint (here) recently filed against Siemens in federal court by Meng-Lin Liu, a former compliance officer for Siemens AG in China.  As highlighted by this Reuters report, Liu alleges that Siemens fired him after he tried to expose a kickback scheme involving medical equipment sales to hospitals in China.

In pertinent part, the complaint alleges as follows.

“Shortly after he started at [Siemens China Ltd. (SLC)] in March 2008, Liu began encountering and confronting a culture within Siemens’ Chinese healthcare business of evading and circumventing the anti-corruption due diligence systems and controls required by the FCPA and Siemens’ 2008 Plea Agreement.”

” … Liu consistently objected to and tried to remedy systemic evasion of Siemens’ due diligence systems in circumstances where there were major ‘red flags’ indicating extremely high risks of corruption.  Ultimately, Liu uncovered incontrovertible evidence that Siemens was submitting inflated bids for many of the multi-million-dollar medical diagnostic and scanning equipment sales it made to public hospitals in China, and then selling the equipment at substantially lower prices to intermediaries designated by the hospital’s procurement officials.  In other words, Liu discovered that Siemens itself was complicit in a scheme whereby the end-user hospitals paid amounts to third-party intermediaries that were between 20% and 130% higher than the price Siemens received for the equipment, which was resold by these intermediaries to the end-user hospital at the original Siemens’ inflated bid price.  This had all the hallmarks of a classic bribery or ‘kickback’ scheme and there was no legitimate explanation for the huge price differential that existed between prices at which Siemens sold the equipment and the prices paid by the end-user hospitals.”

“Within a week of presenting this evidence to SLC’s CFO for Healthcare, Liu was summarily removed from his position as Compliance Officer, instructed not to report to the office for the remaining four months of his employment contract and given ‘early notice’ that his contract would not be renewed upon its expiration.  Four months later his employment was terminated.”

Friday Roundup

From the dockets, an FCPA compliance defense – yes or no, hiring a woman closely associated with a foreign official, and a focus on the FCPA’s “red-haired stepchild” – it’s all here in the Friday Roundup.

From the Dockets

Last month when Judge Lynn Hughes dismissed, at the close of the DOJ’s case, the FCPA charges against John Joseph O’Shea (see here for the prior post), it was only a partial victory as O’Shea still faced non-FCPA charges.  Complete victory is imminent as yesterday the DOJ filed a motion to dismiss (here) the remaining charges (conspiracy, money laundering and obstruction) against O’Shea.

In July 2011, Patrick Joseph (a former general director for telecommunications at Haiti Teleco and thus a “foreign official” according to the DOJ) was added to the extensive Haiti Teleco case.  (See here for the prior post).  Because the FCPA does not apply to bribe recipients, the DOJ charged Joseph with a non-FCPA offense: one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.  Earlier this week, Joseph pleaded guilty to the charges (see here).  Pursuant to the plea agreement, Joseph agreed to forfeit approximately $956,000.  It is clear from the plea agreement that Joseph was likely an early cooperator in the Haiti Teleco case as the plea agreement refers to a June 2009 proffer agreement with the DOJ.  Many of the other individual defendants in the Haiti Teleco case were charged in December 2009 (see here).  The plea agreement requires Joseph’s continued cooperation and later this month a trial is to begin as to other defendants in the wide-ranging Haiti Teleco case.

FCPA Compliance Defense – Yes or No?

That is the title of a free webcast on February 21st to be hosted by Bruce Carton’s Securities Docket (see here to sign up and for more information).  I will be discussing my  paper “Revisiting a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Compliance Defense”and will argue in favor of Congress creating an FCPA compliance defense.  On the other side of the issue, Howard Sklar (Senior Counsel, Recommind and a frequent commentator on FCPA issues at, among other places, his Open Air Blog) will argue that Congress should not include a compliance defense to violations of the FCPA.

Former Employee Alleges FCPA Issues at GE

As previously reported by Chris Matthews at Wall Street Journal Corruption Currents (see here) Khaled Asadi (a dual U.S. and Iraqi citizen) who was previously employed by G.E. Energy (USA) LLC (“GE Energy”) as its Country Executive for Iraq, located in Amman, Jordan, has filed a civil complaint (here) in the Southern District of Texas against G.E. Energy.   GE Energy is a wholly-owned subsidiary of General Electric Company (“GE”).

The complaint alleges that G.E. harassed, pressured Asadi to vacate his position, and ultimately terminated him after he informed his supervisor and G.E.’s Ombudsperson “regarding potential violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act committed by G.E. during negotiations for a lucractive, multi-year deal with the Iraqi Ministry of Electricity.”  The substance of Asadi’s complaint is that “on or about June of 2010 Mr. Asadi was alerted by a source in the Iraqi Government that GE had hired a woman closely associated with the Senior Deputy Minister of Electricty (Iraq) to curry favor with the Ministry while in negotiation for a Sole Source Joint Venture Contract with the Ministry of Electricity. (According to the complaint, the Joint Venture Agreement between GE and the Ministry of Electricity was signed in Baghdad on December 30, 2010 and that the exclusive materials and repairs provision is estimated to be valued at $250,000,000 for the seven year agreement.)

Hiring friends, family members, etc. of a “foreign official” at the request of the ‘foreign official” has been the basis, in part, for previous FCPA enforcement actions – particularly if the hired individual was not qualified for the position, did not engage in any meaningful work, or was paid an unreasonably high salary.  For instance, the 2011 FCPA enforcement action against Tyson Foods (see here for the prior post) involved, in part, allegations that a company subsidiary placed the wives of Mexican “foreign officials” on its payroll and provided them with “a salary and benefits, knowing that the wives did not actually perform any
services” for the company.

In the WSJ Corruption Currents article, a GE spokesman stated as follows.  “Mr. Asadi’s termination had absolutely nothing to do with any allegations he is making.  Regarding our contracts in Iraq, GE followed all requirements and his allegations are false.”

Travel Act Readings

A few informative Travel Act readings to pass along.

In this article from Thomson Reuters News & Insight, Mike Emmick (Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton) calls the Travel Act the “FCPA’s red-haired stepchild” and says that in conducting an internal investigation “there are some additional rocks to flip over” before celebrating findings of no payments to “foreign officials.”

In this article from Bloomberg Law Reports, John Rupp and David Fink (Covington & Burling) note that a “move by U.S. authorities to target commercial bribery robustly is a distinct possibility.”  The piece discusses the laws that could be used by U.S. authorities to prosecute foreign commercial bribery.”

*****

A good weekend to all.

President Obama Visits Allison Transmission

President Obama will be in the Indianapolis area today visiting Allison Transmission. See here. [Update: given the budget talks in Washington, President Obama has postponed his visit to Allison Transmission].

Readers may recall that in November 2010, Allison Transmission was named as a defendant in a “noisy exit” case. See here for the prior post and here for the prior coverage in the Indianapolis Business Journal (“IBJ”).

Stephen Lowe (Allison’s former Managing Director for China, Japan & Korea Operations) alleged in a civil complaint that Allison fired him because he “refused to engage in violations of the FCPA.” Lowe’s complaint implicated both Allison’s Vice President of International Sales and Marketing and Allison’s Commercial Director of Asia Strategy.

As noted here by the IBJ, Lowe’s lawsuit against Allison was quickly settled in January 2010.

I noted, for the IBJ article, that Allison could be dealing with FCPA exposure for years to come given that such employee allegations often result in a company launching an internal investigation and/or for the DOJ to become interested in the allegations and the company’s overall FCPA compliance.

Fast forward to late March when Allison filed a registration statement with the SEC for an initial public offering. See here for the IBJ coverage.

Allison’s registration statement (here) is silent as to FCPA issues aside from a generic template-like statement as to future risk factors.

This suggest a number of possibilities: (1) that Lowe’s complaint lacked merit yet was settled for nuisance value; (2) that Lowe’s complaint had merit, but the DOJ has not yet contacted the company or perhaps never will; or (3) that Lowe’s complaint had merit, the DOJ has contacted the company, but Allison has chosen not to disclose this in its registration statement.

In any event, none of this is likely to come up during Obama’s visit to Allison Transmission today, but Obama’s visit did provide a good opportunity to check up on Allison Transmission.

*****

A good weekend to all.

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