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BAE

In a joint enforcement action that is sure to generate much discussion and controversy, the U.K. Serious Fraud Office (SFO) and the U.S. DOJ announced today resolution of an enforcement action against BAE Systems.

The SFO announced (here) that it has “reached an agreement with BAE systems that the company will plead guilty” to the offense of “failing to keep reasonably accurate accounting records in relation to its activities in Tanzania.”

BAE’s press release (here) notes that “[i]n connection with the sale of a radar system by the Company to Tanzania in 1999, the Company made commission payments to a marketing adviser and failed to accurately record such payments in its accounting records. The Company failed to scrutinise these records adequately to ensure that they were reasonably accurate and permitted them to remain uncorrected. The Company very much regrets and accepts full responsibility for these past shortcomings.”

The SFO and company release note that BAE will pay a £30 million penalty “comprising a fine to be determined by the Court with the balance paid as a charitable payment for the benefit of Tanzania.”

In a strange turn of events, the SFO also announced (here) that it has withdrawn charges filed last week (see here) against a former agent charged with “conspiracy to corrupt” and for “conspiring with others to give or agree to give corrupt payments […] to unknown officials and other agents of certain Eastern and Central European governments, including the Czech Republic, Hungary and Austria as inducements to secure, or as rewards for having secured, contracts from those governments for the supply of goods to them, namely SAAB/Gripen fighter jets, by BAE Systems Plc.”

The SFO release notes that “[t]his decision brings to an end the SFO’s investigations into BAE’s defence contracts.”

So what happened to the charges and allegations involving certain Eastern and Central European governments, including the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Austria?

Good question.

Much like the wave of magician’s wand, they have simply disappeared.

Closer to home, the DOJ announced that it:

“filed a criminal charge (here) in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against BAE Systems plc charging that the multinational defense contractor conspired to impede the lawful functions of the Departments of Defense and State, made false statements to the Departments of Defense and Justice about establishing an effective anti-corruption compliance program to ensure conformance with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and paid hundreds of millions of dollars in undisclosed commission payments in violation of U.S. export control laws.”

The DOJ and BAE release note that the company “will pay a fine of $400 million and make additional commitments concerning its ongoing compliance.”

According to the DOJ release (which is available through the DOJ Office of Public Affairs, but not yet publicly posted on DOJ’s website) “BAE Systems is charged with intentionally failing to put appropriate, anti-bribery preventative measures in place, contrary to the representations it made to the United States government, and then making hundreds of millions of dollars in payments to third parties, while knowing of a high probability that money would be passed on to foreign government decision makers to favor BAE in the award of defense contracts. BAE Systems allegedly failed to disclose these payments to the State Department, as it was required to do so under U.S. laws and regulations in order to get necessary export licenses.”

The bold language above would expose most companies to an FCPA enforcement action, but BAE is no ordinary company. It is a major defense contractor on both sides of the Atlantic (as noted in the criminal information “in 2008, BAE was the largest defense contractor in Europe and the fifth largest in the U.S. as measured by sales”).

You can bet that these charges were the subject of much negotiation so as to not upset current or future government contracts as well as foreign policy issues and concerns.

The BAE charges and thus similar to those against Siemens in December 2008. In that case, despite the company engaging in bribery “unprecedented in scale and geographic scope” and despite the company being one in which “bribery was nothing less than standard operating procedure” (both direct DOJ quotes), the company avoided FCPA antibribery charges. (See here for prior posts about Siemens).

These two cases seriously raise the issue of whether certain companies in certain industries are simply “above” the FCPA.

Can the enforcement agencies on both sides of the Atlantic say with a straight face that this case was merely about improper record keeping, making false statements to the government, and export licenses?

Transparency, corporate accountability, and indeed a criminal justice system all suffered setbacks today.

The FCPA suffered a black-eye as well and one would be right to ask, “what the heck is going on here!”

Potpourri

A Friday roundup of recent FCPA events.

An FCPA Sentencing Trend?

As noted in yesterday’s DOJ release (here), two former executives of Willbros International Inc. (a subsidiary of Houston-based Willbros Group Inc.) were sentenced for their roles in a conspiracy to make improper payments to “foreign officials” in Nigeria and Ecuador.

Jason Edward Steph was sentenced to 15 months in prison and Jim Bob Brown was sentenced to 366 days in prison.

For more on the Willbros matter, see here and here.

The DOJ’s sentencing recommendations appear to be sealed, but one can assume, given the “light” sentences, that perhaps the DOJ likely sought sentences greater than those issued by District Court Judge Simeon Lake.

If so, this would appear to continue a trend of judges sentencing FCPA defendants to prison sentences less than those recommended by DOJ.

For instance, in Frederic Bourke case, a case which involved a “massive bribery scheme” according to DOJ, Judge Shira Scheindin rejected the 10-year prison sentence proposed by DOJ and sentenced Bourke to 366 days in prison. (see here). In sentencing Bourke, Judge Scheindin is reported to have said “after years of supervising this case, it’s still not entirely clear to me whether Mr. Bourke is a victim or a crok or a little bit of both.”

With several FCPA sentencing dates on the horizon, this apparent trend will be an issue to watch.

See here for local media coverage regarding the sentences.

Kozeny’s Tan Not in Jeopardy

While Bourke (see here) prepares his appeal, Viktor Kozeny, the alleged master-mind of the scheme to bribe officials in Azerbaijan in connection with privatization of the state-owned oil company, will be staying put in The Bahamas as an appellate court again rejected DOJ’s extradition attempts.

As noted in the recent Bahamian Court of Appeals decision (here), Kozeny, a Czech national, has been living in The Bahamas since 1995 and has not departed the country since 1999.

The opinion notes that there is no dispute “that there was a conspiracy to corrupt the Azeri officials and that such officials were paid money, given gifts and provided shares in certain companies under the control of [Kozeny] without payment; and had certain medical procedures paid for them by [Kozeny].

Even so, the court concluded that while The Bahamas did indeed have a bribery/corruption statute, it applied only to bribes within The Bahamas or given to a Bahamian public officer. Thus, because Kozeny’s conduct would not violate Bahamian law, the appellate court upheld the lower court’s denial of the extradition request.

For additional coverage (see here and here and here).

According to these reports, the decision may be appealed to London’s Privy Council pursuant to Bahamian legal procedure. Kozeny’s U.S. lawyer is quoted as saying “enough is enough” and U.S. prosecutors should finally accept the fact that Kozney, a non-U.S. citizen, could not violate the FCPA as it existed in 1998 – the year in which the bribe scheme perhaps ended – although, as noted in the opinion, the U.S. alleges that the bribe scheme continued into 1999.

Why is this relevant?

Because the FCPA was amended in 1998 to include, among other provisions, 78dd-3 which applies the antibribery provisions to “any person” (i.e. foreigners) “while in the territory of the U.S.” from making use of the mails or any other means or instrumentality of interstate commerce in furtherance of an improper payment.

The SFO Continues to “Step-It-Up”

Today, the U.K. Serious Fraud Office (the functional equivalent of the DOJ) issued a release (here) indicating that a former BAE agent has been charged with “conspiracy to corrupt” for “conspiring with others to give or agree to give corrupt payments […] to unknown officials and other agents of certain Eastern and Central European governments, including the Czech Republic, Hungary and Austria as inducements to secure, or as rewards for having secured, contracts from those governments for the supply of goods to them, namely SAAB/Gripen fighter jets, by BAE Systems Plc.”

For local media coverage of the charges (see here).

With a new Bribery Bill expected in the U.K. by years end, the SFO continues to “step-it-up” (see here for more on the SFO).

Disclosing FCPA Compliance

Public companies dislose FCPA issues all the time. Rarely though do the disclosures concern issues other than internal investigations and potential enforcement actions.

Accordingly, two recent SEC filings caught my eye.

China MediaExpress Holdings, Inc. (a Delaware company) recently disclosed (here) that it:

“[e]ntered into a securities purchase agreement with Starr Investments Cayman II, Inc. Under this agreement, Starr will, subject to various terms and conditions, purchase from the Company 1,000,000 shares of Series A Convertible Preferred Stock and warrants to purchase 1,545,455 shares of the Common Stock of the Company for an aggregate purchase price of US$30,000,000.”

One of the conditions was that the company “shall have adopted a program with respect to compliance with the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act” and a post-closing covenant obligates the company to “implement a program regarding compliance with the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act not later than April 30, 2010.”

Cardtronics Inc. (an operator of ATM networks around the world) (here) recently disclosed (here) that:

“On January 25, 2010, the Board of Directors by unanimous vote approved three management proposed modifications to the Company’s Code of Business Conduct and Ethics. The modifications as approved by the Board include: (i) adding a section that addressed compliance with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and International Anti-Bribery and Fair Competition Act of 1998.”

Costa Rica Joins the Club

Last, but certainly not least, Costa Rica recently announced a first … the first time a foreign corporation has paid the government damages for corruption.

As noted here, telecom company Alcatel-Lucent recently disclosed a $10 million payment to settle a corruption case in Costa Rica in which it was accused of paying kicbacks to former Costa Rican President Miguel Angel Rodriguez (and others government officials) in return for a 2001 contract worth $149 million.

There has been FCPA/corruption issues on both sides “of the hyphen” as noted here in this recent Main Justice article.

And with that, have a nice weekend.

The Investigative Agency That Prefers Not to Investigate

The Serious Fraud Office (“SFO”) in the United Kingdom is similar to the U.S. DOJ.

According to the SFO’s website (here), it “investigates fraud and corruption.” Elsewhere on the website (here) it notes that the SFO is the “lead agency” in the U.K. “for investigating and prosecuting cases of domestic and overseas corruption.” Elsewhere on the website (here) is a specific page as to how the SFO “investigates and prosecutes” and the page notes that a thorough investigation “often includes examining vast quantities of documents which have often been left in a deliberately obscure and fragmented form.”

All sounds rather intense from an investigative standpoint.

Problem is, the SFO recently stated that it would prefer not to investigate bribery and corruption cases!

As discussed elsewhere (see here), the SFO recently made public additional guidance as to its July 2009 memo titled “Approach of the Serious Fraud Office to Dealing with Overseas Corruption.” (See here for my prior post on this memo).

While it is commendable for a government agency to provide more guidance to those subject to a law, the following sentence in the SFO letter (see here) caused me to pause (let alone read multiple times):

“Our very strong preference is that all investigative work should be carried out by the professional advisers [of the company disclosing a potential issue] and that it is not necessary for the SFO to conduct any investigation itself.”

Have we seriously come to the point (on both sides of the Atlantic) where the government agencies tasked with investigating and prosecuting bribery and corruption cases no longer view it as their responsibility to investigate the factual circumstances supporting the charges?

A Trip Around the World

Grab your bags and your passport, it’s time for a quick trip around the world.

First stop, Germany.

Siemens

In December 2008, Siemens (a global corporation organized under the laws of Germany with shares listed on the New York Stock Exchange since March 2001) agreed to pay $800 million in combined fines and penalties to settle FCPA charges for a pattern of bribery the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) termed “unprecedented in scale and geographic scope.” The combined fines and penalties were easily the largest ever levied against an FCPA violator.

This week, Siemens announced (see here) that it “has come to an agreement about settlements with six further former Board members against whom damages were claimed in connection with past cases of corruption in the company.” See (here) for press coverage.

Next stop, the U.K.

SFO Charges Former DePuy Executive

The U.K.’s Serious Fraud Office (“SFO”) (an enforcement agency similar to the U.S. DOJ), recently announced (see here) that Robert John Dougall, the former Vice President of Market Development of DePuy International Limited was charged with conspiracy for “making corrupt payments and/or giving other inducements to medical professionals working in the Greek public healthcare system.” The SFO has previously indicated (see here) that it seeks to generally model DOJ’s enforcement strategies, and that model now seems to include a broad interpretation of the potential universe of recipients of improper payments (i.e. not just core government officials, but also employees of public healthcare systems). There is greater cooperation between law enforcement agencies around the world in investigating cases of alleged improper payments, a fact highlighted by the SFO release which notes that the case “was referred to the [SFO] by the [DOJ] and accepted in March 2008.” Depuy (see here) is “part of the Johnson & Johnson family of companies.” In February 2007, Johnson & Johnson disclosed a potential FCPA issue and the company’s most recent announcement on the issue is in its November 2009 10-K filing (see here).

Next stop, Australia.

Money to Print Money

The Age of Melbourne has reported (see here) that Securency International (see here) and certain of its executives are being investigated by the Australian Federal Police for alleged breaches of Australia’s criminal code which prohibit payments to foreign government officials to obtain a business advantage. According to the article, Securency (according to its website – a world leader in secure polymer substrate technology and the supplier of a range of unique substrates which are used for the printing of banknotes and other security documents), is also under scrutiny in the U.K., Vietnam, and Nigeria. The article notes that the Securency matter could be Australia’s first prosecution for foreign bribery.

Final stop, the beaches of the Bahamas.

Kozeny Extradition Hearing

While Frederic Bourke (see here) prepares his appeal, Viktor Kozeny, the alleged master-mind of the bribery scheme, continues to enjoy life in the Bahamas as U.S. government attempts at extradition have thus far failed. This week, the U.S. government’s appeal hearing was heard in the Bahamas. See here for press coverage.

Halliburton / KBR … The Sequel

In February 2009, Halliburton Co., KBR Inc., and Kellogg Brown & Root LLC agreed to resolve parallel DOJ and SEC FCPA enforcement actions concerning improper payments to Nigerian officials in connection with the Bonny Island liquefied natural gas project. (see here, here, and here).

The combined $579 million in fines and penalties remains the most ever against a U.S. company for FCPA violations.

Included in the web of companies involved in the Nigeria conduct was M.W. Kellogg Company (“MWKL”), a United Kingdom joint venture 55% owned by KBR. MWKL is mentioned in the linked DOJ and SEC materials above.

It looks like Halliburton’s exposure via M.W. Kellogg is not over.

Today, in a 10-Q filing (see here – p. 10), Halliburton stated as follows:

“In the United Kingdom, the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) is considering civil claims or criminal prosecution under various United Kingdom laws and appears to be focused on the actions of MWKL, among others. Violations of these laws could result in fines, restitution and confiscation of revenues, among other penalties, some of which could be subject to our indemnification obligations under the master separation agreement. Our indemnity for penalties under the master separation agreement with respect to MWKL is limited to 55% of such penalties, which is KBR’s beneficial ownership interest in MWKL. Whether the SFO pursues civil or criminal claims, and the amount of any fines, restitution, confiscation of revenues or other penalties that could be assessed would depend on, among other factors, the SFO’s findings regarding the amount, timing, nature and scope of any improper payments or other activities, whether any such payments or other activities were authorized by or made with knowledge of MWKL, the amount of revenue involved, and the level of cooperation provided to the SFO during the investigations.”

It used to be that companies with FCPA exposure could get a good night’s sleep after resolving DOJ and (if an issuer) SEC enforcement actions.

As this action (and others in recent years) demonstrate, the landscape has changed and “tag-a-long” FCPA-like enforcement actions or inquiries in other countries I think will become the new norm.

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