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Nortek / Akamai – Don’t Believe The Hype, Rather Ask What Viable Criminal Charges Did The DOJ Actually Decline?

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Earlier this week, at the same time the SEC announced non-prosecution agreements against Nortek and Akamai Technlogies (see here and here for prior posts), the DOJ released two “declination” letters involving the companies. [Note: the FCPA Blog’s assertion that the letters were “released by the companies and not by the DOJ” is false. The DOJ’s press office released the letters in an e-mail titled “Department Declination Letters for Akamai and Nortek FCPA Inquiries” on Tuesday, June 7th at 12:24 p.m.]

Before the expected flood of FCPA Inc. client alerts and commentary regurgitating the assertions in the DOJ letters and otherwise extoling the virtues of the DOJ’s FCPA Pilot Program, this post intervenes by posing the salient question – based on the information in the the public domain just what viable charges did the DOJ decline?

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Two For Tuesday In FCPA Enforcement Land – First Up Nortek

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Just when you think you’ve seen all possible combinations of Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement, along comes yesterday’s “two for Tuesday” in which the SEC announced in the same press release two non-prosecution agreements against two separate companies and the DOJ simultaneously released two so-called “declination” letters against the same two companies.

This post highlights the enforcement action against Nortek Inc. and a second post today highlights the enforcement action against Akamai Technologies. From there future posts will highlight issues to consider from the enforcement actions (and there are many including the question of just what charges – based on the SEC’s statement of facts – did the DOJ actually decline?”).

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Friday Roundup

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Not something you see everyday, Yates Memo related, quotable, scrutiny alerts and updates, and for the reading stack. It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Not Something You See Everyday

It’s not everyday that you see a director of a publicly-traded company publicly resign because the director thinks the company is engaged in improper conduct including FCPA violations.

But that is just what Michael Moss, until recently a director of Malvern Bancorp, did.

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Friday Roundup

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The anti-bribery business, quotable, scrutiny alerts and updates, and for the reading stack.  It’s all here in the Friday Roundup.

“The Anti-Bribery Business”

Several articles have been written about FCPA Inc., a term I coined in April 2010 (see here), as well as the “facade of FCPA enforcement” (see here for my 2010 article of the same name).

The articles have included: “Cashing in on Corruption” (Washington Post); “The Bribery Racket” (Forbes); and “FCPA Inc. and the Business of Bribery” (Wall Street Journal).

I talked at length with The Economist about the above topics and certain of my comments are included in this recent article “The Anti-Bribery Business.”

“The huge amount of work generated for internal and external lawyers and for compliance staff is the result of firms bending over backwards to be co-operative, in the hope of negotiating reduced penalties. Some are even prepared to waive the statute of limitations for the conclusion of their cases. They want to be sure they have answered the “Where else?” question: where in the world might the firm have been engaging in similar practices?

In doing so, businesses are egged on by what Mr Koehler calls “FCPA Inc”. This is “a very aggressively marketed area of the law,” he says, “with no shortage of advisers financially incentivised to tell you the sky is falling in.” Convinced that it is, the bosses of accused companies will then agree to any measure, however excessive, to demonstrate that they have comprehensively answered the “Where else?” question. So much so that even some law enforcers have started telling them to calm down. Last year Leslie Caldwell, head of the DOJ’s criminal division, said internal investigations were sometimes needlessly broad and costly, delaying resolution of matters. “We do not expect companies to aimlessly boil the ocean,” she said.

Her words have provided scant comfort: defence lawyers say that their clients feel that if they investigate problems less exhaustively, they risk giving the impression that they are withholding information. Some say the DOJ is maddeningly ambiguous, encouraging firms to overreact when allegations surface.”

Quotable

Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell is spot-on in this recent Q&A in Fraud Magazine as to the importance of uniquely tailored compliance.

“I think companies have to tailor their compliance programs and their investigative mechanisms to their businesses. There’s no one-size-fits-all compliance program. Different businesses have different risks. And a company needs to do an assessment that’s very tailored to their risks and game out what could go wrong and figure out how to prevent that from happening.”

She is less than clear though when describing when the DOJ would like companies to voluntarily disclose:

“We don’t want a company to wait until they’ve completed their own investigation before they come to us. We’ll give them room to do that, but there may be investigative steps that we want to take that maybe the company is not even capable of taking. We definitely don’t want to send a message that the company should complete its own investigation and then come to us. However, we obviously don’t expect a company to report to us as soon as it receives a hotline report that it hasn’t even checked into yet.”

For your viewing pleasure, here is the video of a recent speech by Caldwell (previously highlighted here) along with Q&A.

Scrutiny Alerts and Updates

Bilfinger

Reuters reports:

“German engineering firm Bilfinger has become the first international company to disclose to Brazil that it may have paid bribes as it seeks leniency under a new anti-corruption law, Comptroller General Valdir Simão said on Thursday. By reporting potential graft to the comptroller, known by the acronym CGU, Bilfinger hopes to continue operating in Brazil, Simão said, though it may still pay damages. “The company knows it will be punished in Brazil; it is not exempt from fines,” Simao said at a conference in Sao Paulo adding that in exchange the company could be guaranteed the right to keep operating in Brazil. Companies that are convicted for bribery could be banned from future contracts in Brazilunder the law, which took effect in January 2014. Bilfinger said in March that it may have paid 1 million euros to public officials in Brazil in connection with orders for large screens for security control centers during the 2014 soccer World Cup. It is conducting an internal investigation and collaborating with Brazilian authorities, Bilfinger said in a statement at the time. Five companies are pursuing leniency deals with the CGU, Simao said, adding that such deals are “quite new” for the country. Four are tied to a scandal at Brazil’s state-run oil firm Petroleo Brasileiro SA, he said.”

As highlighted in this previous post, in December 2013 German-based Bilfinger paid approximately $32 million to resolve an FCPA enforcement action concerning alleged conduct in Nigeria.  The enforcement action was resolved via a three-year deferred prosecution agreement.

Siemens

Reuters reports:

“A Chinese regulator investigated Siemens AG last year over whether the German group’s healthcare unit and its dealers bribed hospitals to buy expensive disposable products used in some of its medical devices, three people with knowledge of the probe told Reuters. The investigation, which has not previously been reported, follows a wide-reaching probe into the pharmaceutical industry in China that last year saw GlaxoSmithKline Plc fined nearly $500 million for bribing officials to push its medicine sales. China’s State Administration for Industry and Commerce (SAIC) accused Siemens and its dealers of having violated competition law by donating medical devices in return for agreements to exclusively buy the chemical reagents needed to run the machines from Siemens, the people said.”

In 2008, Siemens paid $800 million to resolve DOJ and SEC FCPA enforcement actions that were widespread in scope.  The enforcement action remains the largest of all-time in terms of overall settlement amount.

Dun & Bradstreet

The company recently disclosed the following update regarding its FCPA scrutiny.

“On March 18, 2012, we announced we had temporarily suspended our Shanghai Roadway D&B Marketing Services Co. Ltd. (“Roadway”) operations in China, pending an investigation into allegations that its data collection practices may have violated local Chinese consumer data privacy laws. Thereafter, the Company decided to permanently cease the operations of Roadway. In addition, we have been reviewing certain allegations that we may have violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and certain other laws in our China operations. As previously reported, we have voluntarily contacted the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) and the United States Department of Justice (“DOJ”) to advise both agencies of our investigation, and we are continuing to meet with representatives of both the SEC and DOJ in connection therewith. Our investigation remains ongoing and is being conducted at the direction of the Audit Committee.

During the three months ended March 31, 2015 , we incurred $0.4 million of legal and other professional fees related to matters in China, as compared to $0.3 million of legal and other professional fees related to matters in China for the three months ended March 31, 2014.

As our investigation and our discussions with both the SEC and DOJ are ongoing, we cannot yet predict the ultimate outcome of the matter or its impact on our business, financial condition or results of operations. Based on our discussions with the SEC and DOJ, including an indication from the SEC in February and March 2015 of its initial estimate of the amount of net benefit potentially earned by the Company as a result of the challenged activities, we continue to believe that it is probable that the Company will incur a loss related to the government’s investigation. We will be meeting with the Staff of the SEC to obtain and to further understand the assumptions and methodologies underlying their current estimate of net benefit and will subsequently provide a responsive position. The DOJ also advised the Company in February 2015 that they will be proposing terms of a potential settlement, but we are unable to predict the timing or terms of any such proposal. Accordingly, we are unable at this time to reasonably estimate the amount or range of any loss, although it is possible that the amount of such loss could be material.”

Bio-Rad

The company disclosed as follows concerning civil litigation filed in the aftermath of its November 2014 FCPA enforcement action (see here for the prior post).

“On January 23, 2015, the City of Riviera Beach General Employees’ Retirement System filed a new shareholder derivative lawsuit in the Superior Court of Contra Costa County against three of our current directors and one former director. We are also named as a nominal defendant. In the complaint, the plaintiff alleges that our directors breached their fiduciary duty of loyalty by failing to ensure that we had sufficient internal controls and systems for compliance with the FCPA; that we failed to provide adequate training on the FCPA; and that based on these actions, the directors have been unjustly enriched. Purportedly seeking relief on our behalf, the plaintiff seeks an award of restitution and unspecified damages, costs and expenses (including attorneys’ fees). We and the individual defendants have filed a demurrer requesting dismissal of the complaint in this case.

On January 30, 2015, we received a demand pursuant to Section 220 of the Delaware General Corporation Law from the law firm of Scott + Scott LLP on behalf of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 38 Pension Fund to inspect certain of our books and records. The alleged purpose of the demand is to investigate potential wrongdoing, mismanagement, and breach of fiduciary duties by our directors and executive officers in connection with the matters relating to our FCPA settlement with the SEC and DOJ, and alleged lack of internal controls. We objected to the demand on procedural grounds by letter. On May 1, 2015, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 38 Pension Fund filed an action against us in the Delaware Court of Chancery to compel the inspection of the requested books and records.

On March 13, 2015, we received a demand pursuant to Section 220 of the Delaware General Corporation Law from the law firm of Kirby McInerney LLP on behalf of Wayne County Employees’ Retirement System to inspect certain of our books and records. The alleged purpose of the demand is to investigate potential wrongdoing, mismanagement, and breach of fiduciary duties by our directors and executive officers in connection with the matters relating to our FCPA settlement with the SEC and DOJ, and alleged lack of internal controls. We objected to the demand on procedural grounds by letter. On April 21, 2015, Wayne County Employees’ Retirement System filed an action against us in the Delaware Court of Chancery to compel the inspection of the requested books and records.”

Nortek

The company disclosed its FCPA scrutiny earlier this year and stated as follows in its recent quarterly filing:

“For the first quarter of 2015 approximately $1 million was recorded for legal and other professional services incurred related to the internal investigation of this matter. The Company expects to incur additional costs relating to the investigation of this matter throughout 2015.”

For the Reading Stack

From Global Compliance News by Baker & McKenzie titled “When a DPA is DOA:  What The Increasing Judicial Disapproval of Corporate DPAs Means for Corporate Resolutions With the U.S. Government.”

“The legal setting in which corporations are negotiating with U.S. regulators is always evolving. Federal judges’ increasing willingness to second-guess negotiated settlements between the government and corporations is likely to encourage government attorneys to seek even more onerous settlements to ensure that judges do not reject them or criticize the agency in open court. Companies and their counsel should be ready to push back, using the judicial scrutiny to their advantage where possible.”

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A good weekend to all.

Friday Roundup

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Scrutiny alerts, quotable, and for the reading stack.  It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Scrutiny Alerts

Nortek

Nortek Inc.  recently disclosed:

“As part of our routine internal audit activities, Nortek, Inc. (the “Company” or “we”) discovered certain questionable hospitality, gift and payment practices, and other expenses at the Company’s subsidiary, Linear Electronics (Shenzhen) Co. Ltd. (“Linear China”), which are inconsistent with the Company’s policies and raise concerns under the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) and perhaps under other applicable anti-corruption laws. The Company initiated an internal investigation into these practices and payments with the assistance of outside counsel. On January 7, 2015 and January 8, 2015, respectively, we voluntarily contacted the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) and the United States Department of Justice (“DOJ”) to advise both agencies of our internal investigation. The Company intends to cooperate with any SEC or DOJ investigation into these matters. The Company takes these matters very seriously and is committed to conducting its business in compliance with all applicable laws. Based on information known at this time, we currently believe that the amount of the questionable expenses and payments is not material with respect to the Company’s financial condition or results of operations. However, at this time, we are unable to predict, what, if any, action may be taken by the DOJ or SEC or any penalties or remedial measures these agencies may seek, but intend to cooperate with both agencies. Any determination that our operations or activities are not in compliance with existing laws or regulations could result in the imposition of fines, civil and criminal penalties, and equitable remedies, including disgorgement or injunctive relief. Nortek’s Linear China location manufactures products primarily for our Security and Control Solutions Segment and does not sell products to third parties.”

Sony

Last week’s Friday Roundup highlighted the FCPA scrutiny of Sony and other Hollywood film studies in China.

In this article, Bloomberg reports:
“Sony Corp.’s entertainment unit investigated its Indian operations for possible legal violations including bidding fraud and kickbacks, according to internal e-mails released by hackers, highlighting challenges the company has faced in the country. Sony enlisted Ernst & Young to look into its businesses in the country and uncovered potential evidence of wrongdoing, according to the e-mails. In one case, investigators found that a joint venture between Sony and Discovery Communications Inc. (DISCA) may have engaged in fraudulent bids, kickbacks and excessive handouts to government officials …”
According to the article, there are various “areas of concern” including: “potential gifts and entertainment of Indian government officials” such as providing tickets to IPL cricket matches to public servants, as well as laptop bags that were requested as gifts for government officials during the Diwali festival.”

Related to the entertainment industry, this recent Wall Street Journal article “Media Giants Look Far Afield for New TV Audience” is an interesting read (with FCPA goggles on) as it describes how various U.S. companies are expanding abroad.

Transparency International

Transparency International (TI) is usually the one scrutinizing, not being scrutinized.  However, this Corporate Crime Reporter article highlights Siemens’ recent $3 million dollar donation to TI.  The article quotes a “TI insider, who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation” as follows.

“This really shows that Transparency International is not as pure as people think. Transparency International’s own policy forbids accepting money from corrupt companies. Period. Even though the Siemens bribery scandal broke in 2006, the company is still being investigated in more than 20 countries — in Europe, Asia, the Americas, Africa and the Middle East. All over the world, Siemens is still under suspicion.”

“Its reputation is the most valuable asset that Transparency International has. But its management has made the choice that taking $3 million from Siemens to support its $70 million international budget is worth the risk of damaging its reputation. That’s less than 5 percent of TI’s budget. Is this really worth it?”

“How can anyone trust TI? The world’s leading anti-corruption NGO is now taking money from one of the world’s worst corporate criminals. People need to start asking the question.”

Quotable

In this recent speech, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Sung-Hee Suh spoke “about the Criminal Division’s white-collar criminal enforcement priorities now and in the coming year.” Among other things, Suh stated:  

“The prosecution of individuals—including corporate executives—for criminal wrongdoing continues to be a high priority for the department.  That is not to say that we will be looking to charge individuals to the exclusion of corporations. However, corporations do not act criminally, but for the actions of individuals.  And, the Criminal Division intends to prosecute those individuals, whether they are sitting on a sales desk or in a corporate suite. It is within this framework that we are also seeking to reshape the conversation about corporate cooperation to some extent.  Corporations too often overlook a key consideration that the department has long expressed in our Principles of Federal Prosecution, which guide our prosecutorial decisions:  That is a corporation’s willingness to cooperate in the investigation of its culpable executives. Of course, corporations—like individuals—are not required to cooperate.  A corporation may make a business or strategic decision not to cooperate.  However, if a corporation does elect to cooperate with the department, it should be mindful of the fact that the department does not view voluntary disclosure as true cooperation, if the company avoids identifying the individuals who are criminally responsible for the corporate misconduct. Even the identification of culpable individuals is not true cooperation, if the company intentionally fails to locate and provide facts and evidence at their disposal that implicate those individuals.  The Criminal Division will be looking long and hard at corporations who purport to cooperate, but fail to provide timely and full information about the criminal misconduct of their executives. In the past year, the Criminal Division has demonstrated its continued commitment to the prosecution of individual wrongdoers in the corporate context.  I will highlight a few examples. On the FCPA front, since 2009, we have convicted 50 individuals in FCPA and FCPA-related cases, and resolved criminal cases against 59 companies with penalties and forfeiture of almost $4 billion.  Within the last two years alone, we have charged, resolved by plea, or unsealed cases against 26 individuals, and 14 corporations have resolved FCPA violations with combined penalties and forfeiture of more than $1.6 billion. As just one example, the department unsealed charges against the former co-CEOs and general counsel of PetroTiger Ltd., a BVI oil and gas company with offices in New Jersey, for allegedly paying bribes to an official in Colombia in exchange for assistance in securing approval for an oil services contract worth $39 million. The general counsel and one of the CEOs already pleaded guilty to bribery and fraud charges, and the other former CEO is headed for trial. This case was brought to the attention of the department through voluntary disclosure by PetroTiger, which cooperated with the department’s investigation.  Notably, no charges of any kind were filed against PetroTiger. An example on the flip side is the Alstom case, an FCPA investigation stemming from a widespread scheme involving tens of millions of dollars in bribes spanning the globe, including Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the Bahamas. When the Criminal Division learned of the misconduct and launched an investigation, Alstom opted not to cooperate at the outset.  What ensued was an extensive multi-tool investigation involving recordings, interviews, subpoenas, MLAT requests, the use of cooperating witnesses, and more. As of today, four individual Alstom executives have been charged; three of them have pleaded guilty; Alstom’s consortium partner, Marubeni, was charged and pleaded guilty; and Alstom pleaded guilty and agreed to pay a record $772 million fine.  And that only accounts for the charges in the United States. As I have said, we want corporations to cooperate, and will provide appropriate incentives.  But, we will not rely exclusively upon corporate cooperation to make our cases against the individual wrongdoers.

[…]

To do these complex, international investigations, we are increasingly coordinating with domestic and foreign regulators and law enforcement counterparts, some of whom are on this panel today. In working with our foreign counterparts, we have developed growing sophistication and experience in a variety of areas, including analyzing foreign data privacy laws and corporations’ claims that overseas documents cannot be provided to investigators in the United States. We are also building and relying upon on our relationships with our foreign counterparts to gather evidence, locate individuals overseas, conduct parallel investigations of similar conduct, and, when appropriate, coordinate the timing and scope of resolutions. Yes, just as we are coordinating our investigations, we are likewise willing to coordinate our resolutions, including accounting for the corporate monetary penalties paid in other jurisdictions when appropriate. This is all to say that you should expect to see these meaningful, multinational investigations and prosecutions of corporations and individuals to continue.”

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These pages have frequently highlighted how the root cause of bribery and corruption is often foreign trade barriers and distortions.

Jeremy Douglas (who leads the United Nation’s regional Office on Drugs and Crime for Southeast Asia and the Pacific) was thus spot-on in this recent Q&A.

“Q: How do western companies get themselves into trouble in the region?

A: … What we see in the region is that bureaucracies and government structures tend to be highly personalized. People are ensconced in key positions i.e. government procurement positions, or people in the position to give government contracts, let’s say building a power plant. [These officials] are in powerful positions to ease up administrative procedures and accelerate red tape and issue licenses. So companies can be drawn into scenarios where they are paying facilitation fees or their intermediaries are paying facilitation fees. [Much of] Southeast Asia doesn’t have a lot of the regulatory structure–the checks and balances you have in the [U.S. or Canada] so companies come in and run into very powerful persons in those structures, and they know if they can influence these officials, they can get what they need to win business.”

Reading Stack

The Corporate Crime Reporter previews a new bookUnaccountable: How Elite Power Brokers Corrupt our Finances, Freedom, and Security written by Professor Janine Wedel.  Professor Wedel states:
“Transparency International pioneered the corruption index in the early 1990s. They rank countries from most corrupt to the least corrupt. And they are based on public perception – perception of business people and experts from outside the country. They come up with these numbers that are attractive to the press. And it has put Transparency International on the map. They are simple minded surveys. But they don’t really mean a lot. The idea of corruption in these surveys is simple bribery — cash changing hands. It’s the proverbial cash in the piano or the freezer. Corruption is reduced to bribery. In fact, today’s most savvy power brokers are engaged in a kind of corruption that is much more subtle and more difficult to detect. Today’s most corrupt players, at least in the West, don’t need this quid pro quo corruption. They are far beyond that. That’s for the little players. That’s for the small fry. That’s a key point of Unaccountable.”

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This Op-Ed about Chinese law enforcement (in the corruption space and otherwise) states: “China’s leaders must realize that even the perception that they are targeting foreign businesses disproportionately can create great harm.”  Against this backdrop, is the following fact.  8 of the top 10 FCPA enforcement actions (in terms of settlement amounts) have been against foreign companies and are often based on sparse jurisdictional allegations.

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From the Singapore Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau

“Public Officers Rejecting Bribe Offers

Singapore enjoys a good international standing for having a clean and efficient civil service. While this is reflected by the low number of public servants being prosecuted for corruption offences, another evidence of the clean public sector is the significant number of public officers who take pride in discharging their duties and say “no” to bribes when put to the test.”

The post then provides several examples.

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A good weekend to all.

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