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In The Blink Of An Eye … Along Comes A Securities Fraud Suit

In last week’s roundup (see here) it was noted that on Monday August 9th, SciClone Pharmaceuticals Inc. disclosed in an 10-Q filing as follows:

“On August 5, 2010 SciClone was contacted by the SEC and advised that the SEC has initiated a formal, non-public investigation of SciClone. In connection with this investigation, the SEC issued a subpoena to SciClone requesting a variety of documents and other information. The subpoena requests documents relating to a range of matters including interactions with regulators and government-owned entities in China, activities relating to sales in China and documents relating to certain company financial and other disclosures. On August 6, 2010, the Company received a letter from the DOJ indicating that the DOJ was investigating Foreign Corrupt Practices Act issues in the pharmaceutical industry generally, and had received information about the Company’s practices suggesting possible violations.”

As indicated in the prior post, news of the FCPA inquiry sent SciClone’s shares, at one point, down 41% to a 52 week low.

As indicated in this press release on Friday, August 13th, Kahn Swick & Foti, LLC and Former Louisiana Attorney General Charles C. Foti, Jr. filed a securities fraud class action lawsuit against SciClone in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, on behalf of purchasers of the common stock of the Company between May 11, 2009 and August 10, 2010.

As noted in the law firm release,

“The Complaint alleges that throughout the Class Period, defendants were engaged in illegal and improper sales and marketing activities in China and abroad regarding its products. This ultimately caused the Company to become the focus of a joint investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) and the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) for possible violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”). It was only at the end of the Class Period, however, that investors ultimately learned the truth about the Company’s operations after it was reported that the SEC and DOJ were investigating the Company for violations of the FCPA. At that time, shares of the Company declined almost 40% in the single trading day, on abnormally large trading volume.”

This has got to set a record for the least amount of time between disclosure of an FCPA inquiry and collateral civil litigation …. less than 100 hours!

As Nathan Vardi at Forbes correctly notes (see here) plaintiff lawyers have indeed “joined the bribery racket.” (In April, Vardi penned a provocative feature article – “The Bribery Racket.” See here for my prior post which links to the article).

Innospec Related News

In March, Innospec (a global chemical company) settled bribery enforcement actions on both sides of the Atlantic (see here).

This post discusses recent Innospec news – the SEC enforcement action against an Innospec agent (an individual who previously plead guilty to a DOJ enforcement action – see here) and a former Business Director at the company; a civil suit filed by an Innospec competitor in U.S. District Court in Richmond, Virginia; and how Innospec continues to grow its cash coffers despite receiving a pass on $50 million in fines and penalties in the March enforcement action based on inability to pay.

SEC Enforcement Action Against Turner and Naaman

Last week, the SEC added to Ousama Naaman’s legal woes charging him (see here) with civil FCPA anti-bribery violations, knowingly circumventing or knowingly falsifying books and records, and aiding and abetting Innospec’s FCPA books and records and internal control violations. According to the SEC release (see here) Naaman, Innospec’s agent in Iraq, agreed to disgorge $810,076 plus prejudgment interest of $67,030 and pay a penalty of $438,038 that will be deemed satisfied by his criminal fine. The disgorgement amount represents commissions Naaman received from Innospec “for his role in funneling bribe payments.” To my knowledge, the approximate $877,000 the SEC will recover from Naaman is the largest SEC recovery against an individual FCPA defendant.

In the same complaint, the SEC also charged David Turner, the Business Director of Innospec’s TEL Group, with the same substantive charges as Naaman. According to the complaint, Turner (a U.K. citizen who left Innospec in June 2009) “actively participated” in Innospec’s bribery and kickback schemes in Iraq and “actively participated” in Innospec’s bribery scheme in Indonesia.

According to the complaint:

“Turner was aware of the kickback scheme in connection with the Oil for Food Program. At some point in late 2002 or early 2003 Innospec’s internal auditors questioned Turner about the nature of the commission payments that were made to Naaman under the U.N. Oil for Food Program. Turner made false statements to the auditors and concealed the fact that the commission payments to Naaman included kickbacks to the Iraqi government in return for Oil for Food contracts. Turner also made false statements when he signed annual-certifications that were provided to auditors up until 2008 where Turner falsely stated that he had complied with Innospec’s Code of Ethics incorporating the company’s Foreign Corrupt Practices Act policy prohibiting kickbacks and bribery, and that he was unaware of any violations of the Code of Ethics by anyone at Innospec.”

Even after the Oil for Food Program was terminated in late 2003, the complaint alleges that “Turner, along with senior officials at Innospec, directed and approved” additional bribe payments to Iraqi officials. In addition, the complaint alleges that “Turner and other Innospec officials directed and authorized payments, through Naaman, to fund lavish trips for Iraqi officials.”

As to Indonesia, the complaint alleges that “Turner, along with senior officials at Innospec, authorized and directed the payment of bribes to Indonesian government officials from at least 2000 through 2005, in order to win contracts for Innospec for the sale of TEL to state owned oil and gas companies in Indonesia.” According to the complaint, Turner and other Innospec officials and employees used various “euphemisms” in e-mail communications and in discussions to refer to the bribery scheme.

According to the complaint, Turner “obtained $40,000 in bonuses that were tied to the success of the TEL sales, which were procured through bribery.”

According to the SEC release, Turner, without admitting or denying the SEC’s allegations, consented to entry of a final judgment requiring him to disgorge $40,000. The release states that no civil penalty will be imposed on Turner “based on, among other things, Turner’s extensive and ongoing cooperation in the investigation.”

Competitor Sues Innospec

The FCPA does not have a private right of action (although as I explored in this post it would be interesting if a court were faced with this issue today).

However, a company that settles an FCPA enforcement action increasingly faces collateral litigation, most often shareholder derivative claims. If a plaintiff does craft a direct cause of action against the company, it is usually a RICO claim.

As noted in this Richmond Times-Dispatch story, NewMarket Corp.’s civil case against Innospec does not fit the above mold, rather it alleges that Innospec’s conduct, as set forth in the DOJ and SEC enforcement actions, violated the Robinson-Patman Act and the Virginia Antitrust Act as well as the Virginia Business Conspiracy Act.

The article quotes NewMarket’s principal financial officer as saying that the company learned of Innospec’s actions after reading the documents released in connection with the March enforcement action. Among other things, the DOJ and SEC alleged that Innospec’s bribe payments in Iraq ensured that a field test of a competitor’s fuel additive failed. NewMarket claims that the competitor was a subsidiary company Ethyl Petroleum Additives Inc. which now goes by the name Afton Chemical Corp.

Innospec Continues to Be In the Money

In this prior post I highlighted how Innospec was ordered to pay $60,071,613 in disgorgement in the SEC’s enforcement action, but because of Innospec’s “sworn Statement of Financial Condition” all but $11,200,000 of that disgorgement was waived.

In other words, Innospec got a pass on approximately $50 million in March.

I then noted that Innospec’s first quarter financial results were positive and that
“as of March 31, 2010, Innospec had $67.5 million in cash and cash equivalents, $22.5million more than its total debt of $45.0 million.”

Innospec recently reported its second quarter financial results and it continues to be in the money. As noted in this company release:

“As of June 30, 2010, Innospec had $77.0 million in cash and cash equivalents, $30.0 million more than its total debt of $47.0 million.”

The company’s President and Chief Executive Officer stated that “Innospec’s second quarter operating results were very strong, with impressive double-digit increases in sales and operating income across all three business segments.”

What is Alba?

It’s the commercial enterprise at the center of two FCPA enforcement inquiries.
Commercial enterprise?

In the words of the late Gary Coleman – “whatcha talkin bout” (see here) – the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act concerns payments to “foreign officials.”

However, that is not how the enforcement agencies see it.

Well, actually it is, but under the enforcement agencies’ interpretation of the key “foreign official” element (an interpretation that has never received judicial approval), if a commercial enterprise seemingly has any hint of state involvement, it is an “instrumentality” of the foreign government and all employees of the commercial enterprise are deemed “foreign officials.”

Over 50% of recent FCPA enforcement actions center, in whole or in part, on this controversial interpretation of the “foreign official” element.

The commercial enterprise at the center of two FCPA enforcement inquiries is Aluminium Bahrain BSC (“Alba”).

First, a bit of background.

As evident from the DOJ’s recent stay motion in Alba v. Sojitz Corporation – embedded in this story by Lisa Brennan at Main Justice, the DOJ is currently investigating whether Sojitz Corporation, a Japanese company with its principal place of business in Tokyo, and Sojitz Corporation of America, a wholly owned subsidiary and agent/or alter ego of Sojitz Corporation, made corrupt payments to Alba officials in violation of the FCPA. It appears that DOJ will assert jurisdiction over the Japanese entity based on this statement: “Sojitz Corporation, and its controlled subsidiaries, make use of United States banks to distribute aluminum, and other products, and is a member of the Chicago Board of Trade.”

The DOJ filing also notes that since 2008 the DOJ has also been investigating a separate matter involving Alba, specifically, whether Aloca Inc. made corrupt payments to “public officials in Bahrain in connection with Alcoa’s sale of alumina to Alba.” (see page 3). (See page 11 of Alcoa’s recent 10-Q filing – here – for more).

So what is Alba, the entity at the middle of two separate DOJ FCPA enforcement inquiries?

According to its website (here), Alba is one of the largest aluminium smelters in the world. The company has three shareholders: the government of Bahrain, the Saudi Public Investment Fund, and Breton Investments.

The company exports to more than 25 countries. Approximately 50% of its output is for Bahrain’s downstream industries, about 20% for the Gulf Cooperation Council (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and UAE) and Middle East market, approximately 13% for the Far East market, with the rest for North Africa, South East Asia, India, Europe and the U.S.

The company has over 3,000 employees.

Alba’s CEO is Laurent Schmitt and its CFO is Tim Murray (see here). Prior to being appointed Alba’s CEO, Mr. Schmitt was previously President of Rhodia Polyamide a world wide global business of Rhodia Group based in France. (see here). On Alba’s board is David Meen (see here).

When Congress enacted the FCPA, did it envision that a company like Alba (a company with thousands of employees, a company conducting significant business outside of Bahrain, and company with non-“native” executive officers and board members) would be deemed a “instrumentality” of the Bahrain government by the enforcement agencies?

Alcatel-Lucent’s Woes Continue

First it was Lucent Technologies. It settled parallel DOJ and SEC enforcement actions principally based on providing excessive travel and entertainment benefits to Chinese “foreign officials” (see here and here).

Then it was Alcatel-Lucent. It settled Costa Rican charges that it paid “kickbacks to former Costa Rican President Miguel Angel Rodriguez and other government officials in return for a 2001 contract worth $149 million to supply cellular telephone equipment.” (See here).

Then it was Alcatel-Lucent that disclosed it had reached agreements with the DOJ and SEC to resolve bribery and corruption allegations in several countries, including Costa Rica, Taiwan, and Kenya. These agreements have not yet been announced. Here is what the company most recently said in its March 23rd Form 20-F:

“FCPA investigations: In December 2009 we reached agreements in principle with the SEC and the U.S. Department of Justice with regard to the settlement of their ongoing investigations involving our alleged violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) in several countries, including Costa Rica, Taiwan, and Kenya. Under the agreement in principle with the SEC, we would enter into a consent decree under which we would neither admit nor deny violations of the antibribery, internal controls and books and records provisions of the FCPA and would be enjoined from future violations of U.S. securities laws, pay U.S. $ 45.4 million in disgorgement of profits and prejudgment interest and agree to a three-year French anticorruption compliance monitor. Under the agreement in principle with the DOJ, we would enter into a three-year deferred prosecution agreement (DPA), charging us with violations of the internal controls and books and records provisions of the FCPA, and we would pay a total criminal fine of U.S. $ 92 million, payable in four installments over the course of three years. In addition, three of our subsidiaries – Alcatel-Lucent France, Alcatel-Lucent Trade International AG and Alcatel Centroamerica – would each plead guilty to violations of the FCPA’s antibribery, books and records and internal accounting controls provisions. If we fully comply with the terms of the DPA, the DOJ would dismiss the charges upon conclusion of the three-year term. Final agreements must still be reached with the agencies and accepted in court.”

[For those of you “scoring at home” this would appear to be yet another DOJ “bribery, yet no bribery” enforcement action against the parent company. The DOJ’s eventual sentencing memorandum is likely to mention the European Union debarment provisions which would be applicable to Paris-based Alcatel-Lucent should it have been charged with FCPA anti-bribery violations.]

As if all of the above were not enough, it was recently reported (here) that “El Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad (ICE), Costa Rica’s telecommunications and electricity provider, filed a complaint in the Miami-Dade County Circuit Court, Miami, Florida, against Alcatel Lucent S.A. and other related parties.” According to the article, “the complaint asserts claims for violations of civil racketeering and other laws of Florida in connection with Alcatel Lucent’s bribery and corruption of Costa Rican officials to secure telecommunications contracts with ICE” and that “if successful, the lawsuit will allow ICE to recover three times the amount of its damages.”

FCPA Collateral Effects and Those “Pesky” Shareholders

I previously posted (see here) that while there is little in terms of substantive FCPA case law – this much is clear – there is no private right of action under the FCPA – enforcement of the law is in the hands of the DOJ and the SEC.

That does not mean that aggrieved third parties, including a company’s own shareholders, are without legal recourse should a company become subject to an FCPA enforcement action or merely disclose a potential FCPA issue.

Indeed, shareholder derivative litigation is often a collateral effect of FCPA disclosures or enforcement actions.

Case in point, the shareholder derivative complaint filed last week on behalf of Pride International, Inc. in Texas state court against certain members of its board of directors and certain of its executives officers seeking to remedy defendants’ breach of fiduciary duties. (see here).

The breach?

According to the complaint, “[f]rom 2001 to 2006, Pride repeatedly violated the [FCPA] through its business operations in numerous countries.” (see para. 1). “Certain current and former officers and directors of the company were aware of the violations and that the violations could, and eventually did, cause substantial harm to Pride and its shareholders, yet they knowingly failed to make a good faith effort to correct or prevent the misconduct.” (see para. 1).

The complaint alleges at para 23 that “[t]he individual defendants were aware of the violations well before the company announced the FCPA Investigation to the company’s shareholders and the public at large.” “Nevertheless,” according to the complaint, “the Individual Defendants took no action until an undisclosed employee of the company complained about the violations.”

The complaint then details Pride’s numerous public statements – beginning in March 2006 – regarding its potential FCPA issues and exposure. Certain of these disclosures and statements have been covered elsewhere (see here and here).

Beyond re-stating Pride’s numerous public statements, the complaint is sparse on detail, including little specific factual evidence to support the allegation that the Director Defendants “knew or were reckless in not knowing of the Company’s violations of the FCPA.” (see para. 50).

Regardless of the complaint’s ultimate fate, the Pride derivative suit is but the latest example of the collateral effects / sanctions a company will likely face when its business conduct is subject to FCPA scrutiny.

For those keeping track at home, such collateral effects / sanctions are yet another reason for companies to have effective, robust and well-communicated FCPA compliance policies and procedures which are periodically monitored and strengthened.

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