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Friday Roundup

A happy holiday to all, scholars program, scrutiny alerts and updates, departing speech, spot-on and inexcusable.  It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Happy Holiday

Readers often encourage me to “share” more about myself and background.  I have obliged in part, by going off-topic once a year to share my Ironman triathlon results.

I will oblige once again, particularly since it is March Madness.

Happy Mike Koehler Day!

That’s right, on this day 21 years ago (gosh that is hard to believe) my hometown of Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin retired my #21 basketball jersey and proclaimed it “Mike Koehler Day.”  No facilitating payments were necessary.  I ended my high school basketball career, and still remain, the third leading scorer in the history of Wisconsin high school basketball (#1 leading scorer in the history of the state that did not play for their dad)!  A poorly timed illness ended my high school career without that “one shining moment” I dreamed of, and while I was  academic all-conference at the University of South Dakota, my college basketball career was uneventful.

So there you have it, you now know something more about me.

Back to the task at hand.

Scholars Program

Kudos to Trace International for launching a new scholars program.  The Trace Scholars Program is aimed at developing exceptional leaders in the field of anti-corruption who are committed to advancing commercial transparency. The TRACE Scholar Program will fully fund, with tuition, lodging and travel, two international LLM students from developing countries to pursue studies related to strategies and tools for increasing transparency and reducing corruption. TRACE Scholars will spend an academic year at one of two universities (the University of Washington School of Law or the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law) followed by a paid summer internship at TRACE headquarters in Annapolis, Maryland.

Scrutiny Alerts and Updates

Och-Ziff Capital Management Group, SL Industries, SciClone Pharmaceuticals, TeliSonera and a clarification regarding Beny Steinmetz.

Och-Ziff Capital Management Group

Och-Ziff Capital Management Group stated in its recent annual report as follows:

“Beginning in 2011, and from time to time thereafter, we have received subpoenas from the SEC and requests for information from the U.S. Department of Justice (the “DOJ”) in connection with an investigation involving the FCPA and related laws.  The investigation concerns an investment by a foreign sovereign wealth fund in some of our funds in 2007 and investments by some of our funds, both directly and indirectly, in a number of companies in Africa.  At this time, we are unable to determine how the investigation will be resolved and what impact, if any, it will have.  An adverse outcome could have a material effect on our business, financial condition or results of operations.”

A day after the company’s annual report, the company’s stock closed down approximately 3.5% and you can rest assured plaintiffs firms will soon be announcing “investigations” and/or filing civil suits.  For more see here from Bloomberg.

SL Industries

As noted in this Wall Street Journal Risk & Compliance Journal post has disclosed:

“During 2012, the Company conducted an investigation to determine whether certain employees of SL Xianghe Power Electronics Corporation, SL Shanghai Power Electronics Corporation and SL Shanghai International Trading Corporation, three of the Company’s indirect wholly-owned subsidiaries incorporated and operating exclusively in China, may have improperly provided gifts and entertainment to government officials (the “China Investigation”). The Company had retained outside counsel and forensic accountants to assist in the China Investigation. Based upon the China Investigation, the estimated amounts of such gifts and entertainment were not material to the Company’s financial statements. Such estimates did not take into account the costs to the Company of the China Investigation itself, or any other additional costs.

The China Investigation included determining whether there were any violations of laws, including the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”). The Company’s outside counsel contacted the DOJ and the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”) voluntarily to disclose that the Company was conducting an internal investigation, and agreed to cooperate fully. Additionally, the Company hired outside consultants to provide assistance in implementing a mandatory FCPA compliance program for all of its employees which is now completed by such employees annually. Also, during the first and second quarters of 2013 the Company engaged outside consultants to perform FCPA compliance tests at its operations in China and Mexico, which, going forward, will be performed by the Company annually. On September 26, 2013, the DOJ notified the Company that it had closed its inquiry into this matter without filing criminal charges. The Company has not received an update from the SEC regarding the status of its inquiry. The Company cannot predict at this time whether any action may be taken by the SEC.”

SciClone Pharmaceuticals

SciClone Pharmaceuticals has been under FCPA scrutiny since August 2010 (see here for the prior post).  In its most recent annual report, the company disclosed:

“For the year ended December 31, 2013, we determined that a payment of $2.0 million to the government in penalties, fines and/or other remedies is probable. Accordingly, we have recorded $2.0 million of operating expense in our 2013 results of operations to reflect our estimate of a probable loss incurred related to potential penalties, fines and/or other remedies in the ongoing investigations with the SEC and DOJ.”

Once again highlighting that any actual enforcement action fines and penalties are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of a company’s overall financial exposure due to FCPA scrutiny, SciClone also disclosed:

“Additional increases in general and administrative expenses for the year ended December 31, 2013, included higher professional expenses of approximately $5.3 million related to legal matters associated with the ongoing government investigation and our ongoing improvements to our FCPA compliance efforts …”.

TeliaSonera

Various media have reported (see here from the Wall Street Journal for instance) that the DOJ and SEC have opened investigations of Swedish telecommunications company TeliaSonera.  According to the reports:

“[The DOJ and SEC] have requested documents relating to the acquisition of an Uzbekistan wireless data license and spectrum frequencies in 2007. The deals were done with a Gibraltar-based holding company with alleged ties to Uzbekistan’s authoritarian regime.  The U.S. DOJ and the SEC join several authorities investigating the transactions. The scrutiny was sparked after a Swedish television program in 2012 alleged TeliaSonera may have been involved in corruption when it bought its Uzbeki telecom license.”

Steinmetz

Regarding Beny Steinmetz, the founder of BSG Resources, the 100 Reporters story that identified him as a “target” of a DOJ investigation has been amended as follows.

“After this story was published, the source informed 100Reporters that the source had mischaracterized the letter in question as a “target letter.” Later conversations and further reporting suggested that the letter had instead indicated that Steinmetz was a subject and not a target of the investigation.”

Departing Speech

As highlighted in this February post concerning the announced departure of Mythili Raman as Acting Assistant Attorney, Raman carried forward much of the same rhetoric former Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer frequently articulated concerning the DOJ’s FCPA enforcement program.  (See here for my article “Lanny Breuer and Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Enforcement).

Like other DOJ FCPA officials before her, Raman frequently highlighted certain enforcement statistics, yet conveniently ignored the most telling enforcement statistic of all – the DOJ’s dismal record when actually put to its burden of proof in FCPA enforcement actions.  In short, for a long time the DOJ’s FCPA Unit has had a distorted view of success.

During his last day as head of the Criminal Division, Raman delivered this speech before an FCPA audience and the critique remains the same.  Among other things, Raman stated:

“[The DOJ’s] successful foreign bribery prosecutions speaks for itself …”

“These efforts and these successes are the product of the skill, hard work and determination of the talented prosecutors in our Fraud Section’s FCPA Unit, working in tandem with federal prosecutors across the country at many of the 94 U.S. Attorney’s Offices.”

“We have been successful in our efforts to prosecute individuals in part because we are using all of the law enforcement techniques that are at our disposal.”

Spot-On

I’ve written a number of times that trade barriers and distortions are often the root causes of bribery and a reduction in bribery will not be achieved without a reduction in trade barriers and distortions.  Few in the anti-bribery space seem to grasp this basic issue, perhaps because it is just easier to pound the pavement for more enforcement or blame everything on those evil corporations.

However, Evelyn Suarez (Williams Mullen) gets it.  In this recent piece about the pending Trade Facilitation Agreement (“FTA”), she writes:

“There can be no trade facilitation when border officials solicit bribes and grant favorable treatment to those who pay such bribes.  The demand side of corruption has generally been overlooked, and the implementation of TFA  provides an excellent and even funded opportunity to address the problem.  Thus, measures to ensure public integrity must be adopted along with the trade facilitation measures specified in TFA.”

Spot-on.

Inexcusable

Did you know that NCR Corp. has “paid FCPA penalties in 2014”?

Did you know that Avon has “paid FCPA penalties in 2014?”

Did you know that in 2013 the “U.S. government handed down .. just five FCPA enforcement actions”?

Of course you did not know this, because every one of the above statements are false.

Yet every one of the above statements is included in just one paragraph in this recent Inside Counsel article.

Simply inexcusable, and once again not the media’s finest FCPA moment.  (See herehere and here for prior posts).

*****

A good weekend to all – and good luck with your brackets.

The Latest Disclosures

A Friday focus on disclosures.  The SEC asks Oracle – what about that FCPA issue, the SEC takes an interest in Libya, and yet another voluntary disclosure.

Oracle

As noted in this previous post, in September 2011 Joe Palazzolo and Samuel Rubenfeld broke the story in the Wall Street Journal, “U.S. Probes Oracle Dealings,” that “U.S. authorities are investigating whether Oracle Corp., one of the world’s largest software  companies by sales, violated federal antibribery laws in its dealings abroad  …”.  According to the report, “agents in the FBI’s Washington field office and  fraud prosecutors in the Justice Department’s Criminal Division are handling a criminal investigation, which has been underway for at least a year.”   Palazzolo and Rubenfeld also report that the SEC is also investigating for possible civil violations.  According to the report, “the agencies are examining whether Oracle employees or agents acting on the company’s behalf made improper payments in Africa in order to land sales of database and applications software.”

Since then, Oracle’s SEC filings have been silent as to any FCPA inquiry.  The SEC wants to know why as demonstrated by this February Q&A between the SEC Division of Corporation Finance and Oracle filed by the company.

SEC: “We also note various news articles indicating that the company has been subject to investigations regarding possible Foreign Corrupt Practices Act violations for more than a year. Please tell us how you considered the guidance in paragraphs 50-3 through 50-5 of ASC 450-20-50 in evaluating the need to disclose these pending matters.”

Oracle Response:  “We make a quarterly assessment of legal matters, including the matters referenced in the Staff’s inquiry above, to determine how those matters should be treated in the context of the accounting and disclosure requirements of paragraphs 50-3 through 50-5 of ASC 450-20-50. For those matters referenced above, we evaluated whether it was reasonably possible that a loss or a loss exceeding amounts already recognized may be incurred. We determined that the estimated ranges of additional losses for those matters referenced above, if any, either individually or in the aggregate, would not have a material effect on our consolidated financial position, results of operations or cash flows. Consequently, we believe our disclosures comply with the aforementioned guidance.”

ASC 450-20-50 you ask?  ASC 450 is the former FASB 5 standard regarding gain and loss contingencies (i.e. when a company should record, disclose or not disclose certain contingencies).

Libya

Two foreign oil companies with ADRs traded on U.S. exchanges recently disclosed SEC scrutiny concerning conduct in Libya.

In this recent SEC filing, French oil company Total S.A. stated as follows.

“In June 2011, the SEC issued to certain oil companies – including, among others, TOTAL – a formal request for information related to their operations in Libya.  TOTAL is cooperating with this non-public investigation.”

See here for a recent prior post concerning Total’s FCPA scrutiny in Iran.

In this recent SEC filing, Italian oil company Eni SpA stated as follows.

“On June 10, 2011 Eni received by the US SEC a formal judicial request of collection and presentation of documents (subpoena) related to Eni’ s activity in Libya from 2008 to 2011. The subpoena is related to an ongoing investigation without further clarifications nor specific alleged violations in connection to “certain illicit payments to Libyan officials” possibly violating the US Foreign Corruption Practice Act. At the end of December 2011, Eni received a request for the collection of further documentation aiming at integrating the subpoena previously received. Eni is fully collaborating with the US SEC.”

For more on the recent Libya disclosures, see here from Samuel Rubenfeld at Wall Street Journal Corruption Currents.

As highlighted in this prior post, in July 2010, Eni was a party in the DOJ/SEC’s Bonny Island Nigeria focused FCPA enforcement action which resulted in $365 million in combined fines and penalties.

Another Voluntary Disclosure

SL Industries (here – a New Jersey based designer, manufacturer and marketer of power electronics, motion control, power protection, and other related products) recently disclosed (here) as follows.

“The Company is conducting an investigation to determine whether certain employees of SL Xianghe Power Electronics Corporation, SL Shanghai Power Electronics Corporation and SL Shanghai International Trading Corporation, three of the Company’s indirect wholly-owned subsidiaries incorporated and operating exclusively in China, may have improperly provided gifts and entertainment to government officials. Based upon the initial investigation, which is ongoing, the preliminary estimate of the amounts of such gifts and entertainment does not appear to be material to the Company’s financial statements. There can be no assurance, however, that after further inquiry the actual amounts will not be in excess of what is currently estimated. Such estimate does not take into account the costs to the Company of the investigation or any other additional costs.  The Company’s investigation includes determining whether there were any violations of laws, including the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Consequently, on March 29, 2012, the Company’s outside counsel contacted the DOJ and the SEC voluntarily to disclose that the Company was conducting an internal investigation, and agreed to cooperate fully and update the DOJ and SEC periodically on further developments. The Company has retained outside counsel and forensic accountants to assist in its investigation of this matter. Because the investigation is ongoing, the Company cannot predict at this time whether any regulatory action may be taken or any other adverse consequences may result from this matter.”

According to my tally, the new disclosures discussed above means that in the last six weeks, seven companies have newly disclosed FCPA scrutiny.   See here for the prior post “The Sun Rose, a Dog Barked, and a Company Disclosed FCPA Scrutiny.”  If SEC filings are your ideal form of pleasure reading, you can hardly wait to see what next week holds.

A good weekend to all.

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