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An Immaterial Disclosure?

The securities laws generally require issuers to disclose material facts and events to investors.

What is material?

Technically, there is SEC guidance on the issue (see here).

The issue basically boils down to whether the information would affect the judgment of a reasonable investor in making an investment decision.

As Thierry Olivier Desmet (Assistant Regional Director, FCPA Unit, SEC) explained at the recent World Bribery and Corruption Compliance Forum (here) the concept of materiality itself has two “sub-concepts”: (i) quantitative materiality (something that impacts a company’s financial statements) – Desmet conceded that very few bribes are quantitatively material; and (ii) qualitative materiality a “complicated gray area” to use Desmet’s words. He said that all bribes can be considered qualitatively material because they may “automatically trigger a books and records violation.” Because of this, Desmet said that it is “prudent” for any issuer to approach the SEC with any “suspicion” of bribes “as soon as” the company learns of the improper payment.

It is against this backdrop that issuers frequently disclose immaterial payments which may implicate the FCPA.

Case in point, Sensata Technologies Holding N.V. (“Sensata”) (here), a global industrial technology company that began trading on the New York Exchange in March 2010 (see here).

The company had this to say in its October 22nd 10-Q filing (here):

“An internal investigation has been conducted under the direction of the Audit Committee of the Company’s Board of Directors to determine whether
any laws, including the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”), may have been violated in connection with a certain business relationship entered into by one of the Company’s operating subsidiaries involving business in China. The Company believes the amount of payments and the business involved was
immaterial. The Company discontinued the specific business relationship and its investigation has not identified any other suspect transactions. The
Company has contacted the United States Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission to begin the process of making a voluntary disclosure of the possible violations, the investigation, and the initial findings. The Company will cooperate fully with their review. The FCPA (and related statutes and regulations) provides for potential monetary penalties, criminal and civil sanctions, and other remedies. The Company is unable to estimate the potential penalties, if any, that might be assessed and, accordingly, no provision has been made in the accompanying condensed consolidated financial statements.”

Since the disclosure, Sensata’s shares have climbed approximately 1.5%.

However, this has not stopped the new breed “FCPA” plaintiff lawyers from acting.

Yesterday, the Shareholders Foundation announced (here) an investigation on behalf of investors of Sensata concerning “whether certain officer and directors of Sensata […] breached their fiduciary duties and are liable for possibly violating the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”).”

SciClone – An FCPA Feeding Frenzy

On August 9, 2010 SciClone Pharmaceuticals made an FCPA-related disclosure.

This post discusses what has happened since.

August 10th

Shares of SciClone plunged, at one point down 40% from the previous day’s close, closing down 31.9%. (This is clearly in stark contrast to the recent situation involving Schlumberger discussed in yesterday’s post – here).

Levi & Korsinsky LLP announce that it is investigating SciClone on behalf of shareholders for possible violations of state and federal securities laws.

The Law Offices of Howard G. Smith announce that it is investigation SciClone on behalf of shareholders for possible violations of federal securities laws.

The law firm of Kahn Swick & Foti, LLC announces the commencement of an investigation into SciClone to determine whether it has violated federal securities laws.

Roy Jacobs & Associates announce that it is investigating SciClone for potentially violating the federal securities laws.

August 11

Pomerantz Haudek Grossman & Gross LLP announce that it is investigating claims on behalf of investors of SciClone to determine whether it has violated federal securities laws.

The law firm of Statman, Harris & Eyrich, LLC announce that it is investigating SciClone for potential violations of state and federal law.

Goldfarb Branham, LLP announce that it is investigating SciClone for shareholders who purchased stock of the company and preparing a possible derivative lawsuit against company executives.

Finkelstein Thompson LLP announce that it is investigating potential shareholder claims concerning SciClone.

August 12

Robbins Umeda LLP announce that it commenced an investigation into possible breaches of fiduciary duty and other violations of the law by certain officers and directors at SciClone.

August 13

The law firm of Kahn Swick & Foti announce that the firm has filed the first 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.

August 19

Barroway Topaz Kessler Meltzer & Check, LLP announce that a class action lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California on behalf of purchasers of the securities of SciClone.

Brower Piven, A Professional Corporation, announce that a class action lawsuit has been commenced in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California on behalf of purchasers of the common stock of SciClone.

August 20

Kendall Law Group announce an investigating of SciClone for shareholders.

Ryan & Maniskas, LLP announce that a class action lawsuit has been filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California on behalf of purchasers of SciClone.

August 28

Roy Jacobs & Associates (again) announce that it is investigating SciClone for potentially violating the federal securities laws.

September 7

The Shuman Law Firm announces that a class action lawsuit has been filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California on behalf of anyone who purchased or otherwise acquired SciClone common stock between May 11, 2009and August 10, 2010.

September 8

Kaplan Fox & Kilsheimer LLP announce that it has filed a class action suit against SciClone alleging violations of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 on behalf of purchasers of SciClone’s common stock during the period May 11, 2009 and August 9, 2010.

September 16

The law firm of Strauss & Troy announce that a class action lawsuit has been filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California against SciClone for potential violations of state and federal law.

September 23

The law firm of Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP announce that class action lawsuits have been brought on behalf of purchasers of the common stock of SciClone.

Given the above, you are probably wondering, geez, what did SciClone disclose – how extensive were the disclosed FCPA violations? Did the company’s CEO or CFO resign? Is the company still in business?

Well, not exactly.

On August 9th, SciClone disclosed (see here) 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.”

During SciClone’s August 9th earnings conference call Friedhelm Blobel (President and CEO) stated that SciClone “intends to cooperate fully with the SEC and DOJ in the conduct of their investigations, and has appointed a special committee of independent directors to oversee the Company’s efforts.” Blobel noted that “as far as timing is concerned, the lawyers tell us that these investigations typically are long lasting.” In response to the question – is the investigation disrupting day-to-day operations or ongoing sales, Gary Titus (CFO) said that “it is business as usual for SciClone, and we continue to focus on all of the priorities that we have set for the Company …”

That’s right.

All of the above occured because the SEC initiated a formal investigation of SciClone and issued a subpoena to the company and because SciClone received a letter from the DOJ as to an industry-wide investigation suggesting possible improper conduct by the company.

You be the judge.

Are the above referenced investigations and lawsuits a rational and value added exercise for shareholders of SciClone or rather indicative of an FCPA feeding frenzy where everyone, it seems, is trying to get a slice of the pie?

Has this all gotten a bit out-of-hand?

*****

Yesterday, SciClone (see here) announced “continued topline growth and strong cash position in the Third Quarter of 2010.”

Another Stumble For The DOJ In The Kozeny Affair

The DOJ continues to encounter problems in some of its signature FCPA prosecutions.

Earlier this month, it was the Giffen Gaffe (see here).

Last fall, U.S. District Court Judge Shira Scheindin (S.D.N.Y.) remarked at Fredrick Bourke’s sentencing that “after years of supervising this case, it’s still not entirely clear to me whether Mr. Bourke is a victim or a crook or a little bit of both.” (See here).

And then there is Victor Kozeny, indicted along with Bourke, and the alleged mastermind of the fraudulent investment scheme related to the privatization of state-owned businesses in the Republic of Azerbaijan.

In 2005, Kozeny was criminally charged (see here) with, among other charges, one count of engaging in a conspiracy to violate the FCPA and twelve counts of violating the FCPA.

To make a long story short, Kozeny remains the most famous FCPA fugitive living a comfortable life in the Bahamas. The DOJ’s repeated efforts to extradite him from the Bahamas to the U.S. have failed. See here.

In the indictment, the DOJ asserted that “Peak House” a multi-million dollar property in Aspen, Colorado was the site of certain of Kozeny’s criminal activity.

Peak House was sold in 2001 for approximately $22 million and the DOJ sought civil forfeiture of the funds it alleged were connected to Kozeny’s criminal activity.

However, U.S. District Court Judge Harold Baer (S.D.N.Y.) recently concluded that the DOJ’s attempt was barred by the statute of limitations.

This latest DOJ setback in the Kozeny affair would seem embarrassing for the DOJ given that Judge Baer criticized the DOJ’s lack of diligence in even attempting to file a civil forfeiture suit in a timely fashion.

Judge Baer concludes his opinion (see here) by stating:

“It is unfortunate that this action, which appears to have some merit and involves a substantial amount of funds, must be dismissed on procedural grounds, but there is no question that the Government learned of the Peak House funds at the very latest by 2005 and sat on its hands until 2009.”

Brian Whisler (here), a former federal prosecutor and current partner in
Baker & McKenzie’s white collar practice and individual who brought this decision to my attention, noted that “this defeat on procedural grounds represents yet another bump in the road for DOJ in the Bourke/Kozeny matter and suggests that DOJ will likely persist in its pursuit of Kozeny now that a criminal conviction is legally required to effect forfeiture of the sale proceeds of Kozeny’s Aspen home and other assets.”

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.”

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