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Odebrecht / Braskem Bribery Schemes Net Approximate $420 Million FCPA Enforcement Action

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Yesterday, the DOJ and SEC announced (here and here) a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement action against Odebrecht S.A. (a Brazilian holding company) and Braskem S.A. (a Brazil-based petrochemical company in which Odebrecht owns 50.1% of the voting shares, 38.1% of the total share capital and which Odebrecht “effectively controlled” according to the DOJ). Braskem has American Depositary Receipts registered with the SEC and traded on the NYSE and thus the enforcement action also included an SEC component.

Perhaps because of the less than clear DOJ release (clear once one actually reads the original source documents), this action is being reported in various places as a $3.5 billion FCPA enforcement action. While that figure represents the overall global settlement amount (Brazil and Swiss law enforcement also brought related actions), yesterday’s action was most certainly not a $3.5 billion FCPA enforcement action. Not even close.

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Further To The Clustering Phenomenon

Earlier this week, the DOJ announced that two additional individual defendants have been added to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (and related) enforcement action against individuals associated with broker dealer Direct Access Partners.  (See here for the original May 2013 enforcement action against Jose Hurtado and Tomas Clarke and here for an additional individual, Ernesto Lujan, being added to the enforcement action in June 2013).

Like in the previous enforcement actions, the additional defendants (Benito Chinea and Joseph DeMeneses, the Chief Executive Officer and a managing partner, respectively of Direct Access Partners) were criminally charged in connection with alleged improper payments to Maria Gonzalez (V.P. of Finance / Executive Manager of Finance and Funds Administration at Bandes, an alleged Venezuelan state-owned banking entity that acted as the financial agent of the state to finance economic development projects).

As noted in the DOJ’s release, Chinea and DeMeneses were each charged with one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA and the Travel Act, five counts of violating the FCPA, and five counts of violating of the Travel Act. Chinea and DeMeneses were also charged with one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering and three counts of money laundering. DeMeneses was further charged with one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice.  (See here for the SEC’s announcement of a related enforcement action against Chinea and DeMeneses.  Like the SEC’s prior enforcement actions against the other individuals, Chinea and DeMeneses are charged with various securities law violations, but not FCPA offenses as the individuals – while associated with a broker dealer –  are not associated with an issuer).

As noted in the DOJ’s release, in August 2013 Lujan, Hurtado and Clarke each pleaded guilty to conspiring to violate the FCPA, to violate the Travel Act and to commit money laundering, as well as substantive counts of these offenses.

The DOJ’s enforcement action against Chinea and DeMeneses is further to the curious clustering phenomenon clearly observable in FCPA enforcement.

As highlighted in this previous post (with statistics calculated through the end of 2013), 53% of the individuals charged by the DOJ with FCPA criminal offenses since 2008 have been in just four cases and 75% of the individuals charged by the DOJ since 2008 have been in just nine cases.

Of further note (and again with statistics calculated through the end of 2013), of the 89 individuals charged by the DOJ with FCPA criminal offenses since 2008, 61 of the individuals (69%) were employees or otherwise affiliated with private business entities (for instance – Haiti Teleco related enforcement actions, Control Components Inc. Latin Node, Nexus Technologies, BizJet, not to mention failed prosecutions against various Africa Sting defendants and individuals associated with Lindsey Manufacturing).

This is a striking statistic given that 48 of the 60 corporate DOJ FCPA enforcement actions since 2008 (80%) (again using statistics calculated through the end of 2013) were against publicly traded corporations.  In short, a private entity DOJ FCPA enforcement is approximately three times more likely to have a related DOJ FCPA criminal prosecution of an individual than a public entity DOJ FCPA enforcement action.

Thus far in 2014, the trends have been further magnified.  In addition to this week’s action:

  • 5 individuals associated with private company Group DF were charged with FCPA offenses (see here); and
  • 3 individuals associated with private company PetroTiger Ltd. were charged with FCPA offenses (see here)

Friday Roundup

Guilty plea in FCPA obstruction case, SEC trims a pending case, across the pond, turnabout is fair play, and for the reading stack.  It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Cilins Pleads Guilty

Earlier this week, the DOJ announced that Frederic Cilins pleaded guilty “to obstructing a federal criminal investigation into whether a mining company paid bribes to win lucrative mining rights in the Republic of Guinea.”  The DOJ release further states:

“Cilins pleaded guilty to a one-count superseding information …, which alleges that Cilins agreed to pay money to induce a witness to destroy, or provide to him for destruction, documents sought by the FBI.   According to the superseding information, those documents related to allegations concerning the payment of bribes to obtain mining concessions in the Simandou region of the Republic of Guinea.”

Cilins was originally charged in April 2013 (see this prior post for a summary of the criminal complaint) and there was much activity leading up to Cilins’s March 31st trial date.  For instance, on February 18th the DOJ filed a superseding indictment and on March 4th Cilins filed this motion to dismiss.  In pertinent part, the motion stated:

“For almost a year, the government has proceeded against Mr. Cilins under the theory that he criminally obstructed an investigation conducted by a federal grand jury in the Southern District of New York and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, after he first learned of that investigation in the spring of 2013. Now, on the eve of trial, the government has charged Mr. Cilins with conspiracy to commit criminal obstruction. The supposed conspiracy began in 2012, when, as the government admits, he had no intent to obstruct an American investigation—indeed, well before any such investigation had even been contemplated. The charge is instead based on a radical new theory: that Mr. Cilins interfered with a Guinean civil licensing investigation, which somehow amounts to a violation of U.S. obstruction law under 18 U.S.C. § 1519.

The government’s unprecedented and breathtaking attempt to federalize protection for investigations spread far and wide throughout the world has no basis in the text of the obstruction statute itself and no support in the case law. It also runs up against the well-established presumption that, absent strong evidence to the contrary, Congress did not intend to give federal statutes extraterritorial reach. Not only does § 1519 contain no textual evidence that Congress meant to give the law a worldwide sweep, the statute’s legislative history also confirms the obvious: that Congress wrote a federal obstruction statute in order to criminalize intentional interference with American investigations. The government’s new conspiracy count is fatally defective and must be dismissed.”

Cilins has been widely reported to be linked to Guernsey-based BSG Resources Ltd.  As reported here from 100 Reporters:

“The U.S. Justice Department has formally notified the Franco-Israeli billionaire Beny Steinmetz [the founder of BSG Resources] that he is the target of a federal probe of allegations of bribery in the Republic of Guinea, according to a source with knowledge of the matter. The disclosure places Steinmetz … personally at the center of a broad-based multinational corruption investigation involving some of the largest remaining untapped iron ore deposits in the world.  […] According to the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, attorneys for Steinmetz have received a so-called “target letter” from federal prosecutors investigating allegations that Steinmetz’s mining company offered millions of dollars in bribes to win and keep the multi-billion dollar concession first awarded by the Guinean government in 2008.  The letter went to Steinmetz’s lawyers in January, the source said.”

For additional coverage of Cilins’s plea, see here from Reuters (noting that the plea agreement does not require any cooperation with the government’s investigation) and here from Bloomberg.

SEC Trims a Pending Case

This recent post highlighted how the SEC has never prevailed in an FCPA enforcement action when put to its ultimate burden of proof.

Against this backdrop, it is notable, as reported by the Wall Street Journal here and citing an SEC official, that the SEC is dropping its claims that former Magyar Telekom executives Elek Straub, Andras Balogh and Tomas Morval bribed Montenegro officials.  (The SEC’s claims that the former executives bribed Macedonian officials remains active).

See this prior post summarizing the SEC’s original 2011 complaint.

Across the Pond

More from the U.K. trial of former News Corp. executive Rebekah Brooks.  From the Guardian:

“Rebekah Brooks has admitted rubber stamping payments to military sources while she was editor at the Sun at the Old Bailey phone hacking trial. Brooks also admitted on Monday that she did not question whether the source of a series of stories that came from a reporter’s “ace military source” was a public official who could not be paid without the law being broken. Crown prosecutor Andrew Edis, QC, quizzed her about a series of emails from the reporter requesting tens of thousands of pounds for his military source. She responded to one request for payment in under a minute and to another within two minutes, the phone hacking trial heard. “You really were just acting as a rubber stamp weren’t you,” Edis asked. Brooks replied: “Yes.”

As noted in previous posts here and here:

“What happens in these trials concerning the bribery offenses will not determine the outcome of any potential News Corp. FCPA enforcement action. But you can bet that the DOJ and SEC will be interested in the ultimate outcome. In short, if there is a judicial finding that Brooks and/or Coulson or other high-level executives in London authorized or otherwise knew of the alleged improper payments, this will likely be a factor in how the DOJ and SEC ultimately resolve any potential enforcement action and how News Corp.’s overall culpability score may be calculated under the advisory Sentencing Guidelines.”

Turnabout Is Fair Play

Last week’s Friday Roundup (here) highlighted how Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) called out Koch Industries on the Senate floor and accused the company of violating the FCPA.  The previous post noted that it was not just executives or companies that support Republican causes that have come under FCPA scrutiny (several Democratic examples could be cited as well).

Indeed, that is just what the Washington Examiner did in this article which states as follows.

“Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has received campaign contributions from people and political action committees linked to multiple companies suspected of violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.  […]  [R]ecords reveal that Reid has accepted campaign money from individuals and political action committees associated with 10 companies linked to FCPA investigations.  The contributions total $515,100 between 2009 and 2013.”

The inference from both Senator Reid’s initial volley and the Washington Examiner report would seem to be that companies that resolve FCPA enforcement actions or companies under FCPA scrutiny are bad or unethical companies and that politicians who accept support from such companies are thus tainted as well.

Such an inference is naive in the extreme.

Yes, certain FCPA enforcement actions are based on allegations that executive management or the board was involved in or condoned the improper conduct at issue. However, this type of FCPA enforcement action is not typical.

A typical FCPA enforcement action involves allegations that a small group of people (or perhaps even a single individual) within a subsidiary or business unit of a business organization engaged in conduct in violation of the FCPA. Yet because of respondeat superior principles, the company is exposed to FCPA liability even if the employee’s conduct is contrary to the company’s pre-existing FCPA policies and procedures.

Also relevant to the question of whether companies that resolve FCPA enforcement actions are “bad” or “unethical” is the fact that most FCPA enforcement actions are based on the conduct of third-parties under the FCPA’s third-party payment provisions. Further, certain FCPA enforcement actions are based on successor liability theories whereby an acquiring company is held liable for the acquired company’s FCPA liability.

Finally, given the resolution vehicles typically used to resolve an FCPA enforcement – such as non-prosecution and deferred prosecution agreements – companies subject to FCPA scrutiny often decide it is quicker, more cost efficient, and more certain to agree to such a resolution vehicle than engage in long-protracted litigation with the DOJ or SEC. These resolution vehicles do not require the company to plead guilty to anything (or typically admit the allegations in the SEC context), are not subject to meaningful judicial scrutiny, and do not necessarily represent the triumph of one party’s legal position over the other. Rather resolution via such a vehicle often reflects a risk-based decision often grounded in issues other than facts or the law. Indeed, a former high-ranking DOJ FCPA enforcement official has stated that given the availability of such alternative resolution vehicles, “it is tempting for the [DOJ], or the SEC since it too now has these options available, to seek to resolve cases through DPAs or NPAs that don’t actually constitute violations of the law.”

Last, but certainly not least, many corporate FCPA enforcement actions concern conduct that allegedly took place 5, 7, 10 or even 15 years ago.

Reading Stack

An informative read from Catherine Palmer and Daiske Yoshida (Latham & Watkins) titled “Deemed Public Officials:  A Potential Risk For U.S. Companies in Japan.”  The article states:

“Deemed public officials are officers and employees of entities that are not government owned but serve public functions. This concept is somewhat analogous to state-owned enterprises, but rather than being government owned/controlled entities that participate in commercial activities, these are commercial entities that play quasi-government roles.  […] The statutes that authorized the establishment of these companies stipulate that their officers and  employees are “deemed to be an employee engaged in public service” for the purposes of the Penal Code of Japan.”

Another informative read from Wendy Wysong (Clifford Chance) titled “Why, Whether, and When the FCPA Matters in Capital Market Transactions: The Asian Perspective.”  The article, in part, covers the FCPA’s tricky “issuer” concept and explores FCPA liability in Rule 144A and Regulation S offerings.

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A good weekend to all.

Friday Roundup

Docket exploration in this Friday roundup.

SEC v. Jackson & Ruehlen

My first post concerning the SEC’s enforcement action against Mark Jackson and James Ruehlen asked – will the SEC be put to its burden of proof?   I noted that the case would be most interesting to follow as the SEC is rarely put to its burden of proof in Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement actions and I highlighted, at the time, how the last time that happened (in 2002) the SEC lost.

As time would demonstrate, Jackson and Ruehlen indeed did put the SEC to its burden of proof and in December 2012 Judge Keith Ellison (S.D. of Tex.) granted Defendants’ motion to dismiss the SEC’s claims that sought monetary damages while denying the motion to dismiss as to claims seeking injunctive relief.  (See here for the prior post).  Even though Judge Ellison granted the motion as to SEC monetary damage claims, the dismissal was without prejudice meaning that the SEC was allowed to file an amended complaint.  As noted in this prior post, that is indeed what happened next, and as noted here a second round of briefing began anew.

In the Defendant’s renewed motion to dismiss (filed Feb. 22nd) they argued that the SEC could not rely on the fraudulent concealment or continuing violations doctrine to extend the limitations period to cover certain claims that accrued before May 12, 2006.  A week later the Supreme Court issued its unanimous decision in SEC v. Gabelli (see here for the prior post) and soon thereafter on March 11th the Defendants filed a notice of supplemental authority with the court arguing that Gabelli “bolstered” their position.

On March 22nd, the same day the SEC’s opposition brief was due, the parties jointly notified the court “that in lieu of opposing the [motion to dismiss] the SEC intends to file a Second Amended Complaint.”  The filing noted that the then proposed Second Amended Complaint “moots the relief sought in the [the motion to dismiss] because it clarifies that, among the violations alleged, the SEC seeks civil penalties … only to the extent such violations accrued on or before May 12, 2006.

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Speaking of statute of limitations, a recent article highlights how the DOJ is “testing a novel argument” to extend statute of limitations in certain cases.  The theory.  We are at war … in Afghanistan … and regardless of whether the conduct at issue has anything to do with that war in Afghanistan, the 1948 Wartime Suspension of Limitations Act gives prosecutors unlimited time to go after alleged fraud during times of war.

No this article was not in the Onion, it was in the Wall Street Journal (see here).

Former Siemens Executive Sharef Settles 2011 SEC Enforcement Action

The SEC announced earlier this week (here) that Uriel Sharef, “a former officer and board member of Siemens” agreed to settle – as had long been expected – the SEC’s action against him.  As noted in this previous post, Sharef, along with others was charged (both by the DOJ and SEC) in December 2011 in connection with an Argentine bribery scheme that was also the focus, in part, of the 2008 Siemens corporate enforcement action.

As noted in the SEC’s release, without admitting or denying the SEC’s allegations, Sharef consented to entry of a final judgment prohibiting future FCPA violations and he agreed to pay a $275,000 civil penalty – a penalty the SEC called “the second highest penalty assessed against an individual in an FCPA case.”

[In connection with the Innospec FCPA enforcement action, in August 2010, Ousama Naaman resolved an SEC enforcement action by agreeing to disgorge $810,076, pay prejudgment interest of $67,020 and pay a civil penalty of $438,038.  See here for the prior post].

The burning question of course is whether the SEC would have prevailed against Sharef if he put the SEC to its burden of proof.  As highlighted in this previous post, Sharef’s co-defendant, Herbert Steffen, did just that and in February Judge Shira Scheindlin dismissed the SEC’s complaint against Steffen finding that personal jurisdiction over Steffen exceeded the limits of due process.

The SEC’s allegations against Sharef mention the phone call Sharef placed in the U.S. to Steffen.  As to this call, Judge Scheindlin stated as follows in the Steffen decision.

“Neither Sharef’s call to Steffen from the United States nor the fact that a portion of the bribery payments were deposited in a New York bank provide sufficient evidence of conduct directed towards the United States to establish minimum contacts.  First, Steffen did not place the calls to Sharef.  Further, Steffen did not direct that the funds be routed through a New York bank.  […]  His conduct was focused solely on ensuring the continuation of the Siemens contract in Argentina.”

The SEC complaint did however state the following additional as to Sharef.

“Sharef met in New York, NY [in January 2003] with payment intermediaries and agreed to pay $27 million in bribes to Argentine officials in connection with the [contract at issue].

Obstruction Charges Filed Against French Citizen in Connection With FCPA Investigation

The DOJ announced (here) earlier this week that “Frederic Cilins a French citizen, has been arrested and accused of attempting to obstruct an ongoing investigation into whether a mining company paid bribes to win lucrative mining rights in the Republic of Guinea.”

The Criminal Complaint charges Cilins with one count of tampering with a witness, victim, or informant; one count of obstruction of a criminal investigation; and one count of destruction, alteration, and falsification of records in a federal investigation.

Under the heading “Overview of the Defendant’s Crimes” the complaint states, in pertinent part, as follows.

“Cilins … has made repeated efforts to obstruct an ongoing federal grand jury investigation … concerning potential money laundering violations and potential violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, including such violations by a domestic concern as defined by the FCPA, relating to bribes to officials of a former government of the country of Guinea for the purpose of obtaining valuable mining concessions in Guinea.  During monitored and recorded phone calls and face-to-face meetings with a cooperating witness “CW” [identified as the former wife of a now deceased high-ranking official in the Government of Guinea who is cooperating with the government “in the hopes of obtaining immunity for her own potential criminal conduct”] assisting in this investigation, Cilins, among other things, agreed to pay large sums of money to the cooperating witness to induce the cooperating witness to: (1) provide to Cilins, for destruction, documents Cilins knew had been requested from the cooperating witness by special agents of the FBI and which were to be produced before a federal grand jury; and (2) sign an affidavit containing numerous false statements regarding matters within the scope of the grand jury investigation.  Cilins repeatedly told the cooperating witness that the documents needed to be destroyed ‘urgently’ and that Cilins needed to be present to personally witness the documents being burned.”

Various reports (see here for instance) have linked Cilins to Guernsey-based BSG Resources Ltd and the Criminal Complaint would seem to reference this company as a “particular business entity not based in the United States engaged in the mining industry” (the “Entity”).  The Criminal Complaint sketches a bribery scheme and states, in pertinent part, as follows.

“CW was visited by several individuals including Cilins who identified themselves as representatives of the Entity.  According to the CW, these individuals told the CW, on behalf of the Entity, that they wished to invest in mines in Guinea and asked the CW for help with the Guinean Official, who was then CW’s spouse.  Cilins offered the CW $12 million, to be distributed to the CW and ministers or officials within the Government of Guinea who might be needed to secure the mining rights if all went well after their introduction to the Guinean Official.”

The Criminal Complaint further states that “some of the money paid to the CW by the Entity and its affiliates or agents was wired to a bank account in Florida controlled by the CW.”

It would appear from the Criminal Complaint that BSG Resources is not the sole focus of the U.S. investigation.   Indeed, BSG Resources does not fit the description of a “domestic concern” as referenced in the Criminal Complaint which further states that “subjects of the grand jury investigation include one or more “domestic concerns” within the meaning of the FCPA …”.

Contrary to this assertion, obstruction charges were not first used in the FCPA enforcement against Hong Carson.  Prior to Carson (in which the charge was ultimately dropped) obstruction charges have been used in several FCPA enforcement actions since the FCPA’s first-mega case in 1982 (see here for the prior post).  Although not always successful prosecuted, the following FCPA defendants were nevertheless also charged with various obstruction charges:  Gerald Green, David Kay and Douglas Murphy, Leo Winston Smith and John O’Shea

TJGEM, LLC Complaint

In another example of the noticeable trend of increasing “offensive” use of the FCPA, in late March, Missouri-based TJGEM, LLC filed this civil complaint in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia alleging a variety of claims, including RICO, against various Ghana officials and New Jersey-based Conti Construction Co. Inc. in connection with a sewer project.  AllAfrica reports here as follows.

 “TJGEM is claiming that [a Ghanian official] inflated the contract sum for the construction of the sewer system, which has now been awarded to Conti Construction, also an American company, by $10 million …  According to [the complaint] because TJGEM’s representatives, who were negotiating with [the official] for the contract, were totally non-receptive and unresponsive to the [official’s] corrupt practices and solicitations, and refused to neither entertain  nor accede to same, but instead, rejected said corrupt practices, the contract  was taken away from them. [TJGEM] argues that the selection of a company whose price for the reconstruction of the sewer  project was some $10,000,000 in excess of the price fixed by TJGEM, leads to a reasonable inference that the [official] inflated the price of the sewer project, in order to receive said $10,000,000 as a bribe and kickback in the award of the  sewer project contract to his own use and benefit, and to the use and benefit of other Ghanaian public officials with whom he is acting in concert in the said criminal enterprise.”

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A good weekend to all.

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