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Cognizant Technology Solutions Resolves $25 Million SEC Enforcement Action In Connection With Various Licenses And Permits In India

cognizant

This previous post highlighted the DOJ and SEC’s individual enforcement action against Gordon Coburn and Steven Schwartz (former executives of Cognizant Technology Solutions) in connection with a planning permit in India.

This post highlights the SEC’s enforcement action (as well as the DOJ’s so-called declination letter) against the company based on the same core conduct in which the company, without admitting or denying the SEC’s findings, agreed to pay approximately $25 million in disgorgement and prejudgement interest.

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Issues To Consider From The Panasonic Enforcement Action

Issues

This prior post went in-depth into the $280 million Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement action against Japan-based Panasonic Corp.  and a U.S. subsidiary Panasonic Avionics Corp. (PAC).

This post continues the analysis by highlighting additional issues to consider.

Timeline

As highlighted in this prior post, Panasonic’s FCPA scrutiny appears to have begun in early 2013. Thus from start to finish, the company’s FCPA scrutiny lasted approximately 5.5 years.

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Panasonic Corp. And Related Entity Resolve $280 Million Avionics Industry FCPA Enforcement Action

panasonic

Yesterday, the DOJ and SEC announced (here and here) a parallel Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement action against Japan-based Panasonic Corp.  and a U.S. subsidiary Panasonic Avionics Corp. (PAC).

As stated in the enforcement action, Panasonic was an issuer until April 2013 and again “for a brief period between 2015 and 2016 as a result of a share swap that retriggered Panasonic’s obligation to file its financial statements with the SEC.”

As highlighted in this post, the enforcement action consisted of:

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Swiss National, A Former Maxwell Technologies Exec, Criminally Charged

When highlighting the frequent lack of individual Foreign Corrupt Practices Act charges in connection with most corporate FCPA enforcement action, the qualifier “at least yet” has always been used.  This qualifier if warranted because in certain instances individual charges follow years after a corporate FCPA enforcement action.

For instance, in January 2011 Maxwell Technologies (a California-based manufacturer of energy storage and power delivery products) resolved parallel DOJ and SEC FCPA enforcement actions concerning alleged business conduct in China by agreeing to pay approximately $14 million.

Alleging the same core conduct at issue in the 2011 corporate enforcement action, earlier this week the DOJ criminally charged Alain Riedo, a Swiss citizen, with conspiracy and substantive violations of the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions, books and records and internal controls provisions.  According to the indictment, Riedo was, at various relevant times, a Vice President and General Manager of Maxwell Technologies S.A. (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Maxwell Technologies incorporated and located in Switzerland)  as well as a Senior Vice President and officer of Maxwell.  As noted in this SEC filing, in July 2009 the employment contract between Riedo and Maxwell was terminated.

According to this Wall Street Journal Risk and Compliance post, Riedo is currently “the director of the Fribourg chapter of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Switzerland” and the DOJ considers Riedo a fugitive.

As indicated above, the allegations in the Riedo indictment mirror the conduct at issue in the 2011 Maxwell corporate enforcement action.

In pertinent part, the DOJ alleges that Riedo and others made “corrupt payments to Chinese government officials, including officials at Pinggao Group, Xi-an XD and Shenyang HV, and to others” and falsely “record[ed] such payments on Maxwell’s books, records, and accounts, in order to obtain and retain business, prestige, and increased compensation for Riedo, Maxwell, Maxwell S.A. and others.”

As in the prior corporate enforcement action, Pinggao is alleged to be a “state-owned and state-controlled manufacturer of electric-utility infrastructure in Henan Provice, China,” Xi-an XD is alleged to be a “state-owned and state-controlled manufacturer of electric-utility infrastructure in Shaanxi Province, China,” and Shenyang HV is alleged to be “either state-owned or substantially controlled by the Chinese government.”

Like the prior corporate enforcement, Agent 1 (a Chinese national who served as Maxwell S.A.’s third party agent from 2002 to 2009 and was “responsible for the sale of Maxwell capacitors to customers” in China) is prominently mentioned in the Riedo indictment.  According to the indictment, Agent 1 “would and did pay bribes to Chinese government officials” and “would and did ensure that the quotes [obtained from Maxwell S.A.] contained a secret mark-up of approximately 20 percent, resulting in a higher total price to the Chinese customers for Maxwell S.A.’s equipment.”  According to the indictment, Riedo and another individual caused Maxwell S.A.’s books and records to “falsely record the ‘extra amount’ bribe payments as commissions, sales expenses, or consulting fees.”

The indictment further alleges that Riedo and another individual “would and did hamper efforts by other Maxwell executives to learn the truth about operations and finances at Maxwell S.A’s operations in Switzerland” and that “after Maxwell terminated its sales-representative arrangement with Agent 1, Riedo would and did attempt to re-hire Agent 1 as the company’s sales agent in China under the name of another company and against the instructions of Maxwell’s CEO.”

The DOJ generally alleges the following U.S. acts by Riedo.

  • Riedo electronically transmitted or caused to be transmitted to Maxwell’s headquarters in California Maxwell S.A’s false books and records and also caused the false entries to be included “in Maxwell’s books, records, and accounts, including Maxwell’s publicly filed financial statements and SEC filings.”
  • Riedo signed a “sub-certification” as part of Maxwell’s Sarbanes-Oxley process and falsely certified information that Riedo knew was incorrect and that Riedo caused the false “sub-certification” and other financial data to be sent to corporate headquarters in California.
  • Riedo sent an e-mail from Switzerland to California “asking Maxwell’s CFO to release funds to Agent 1 to retain business in China”
  • Riedo sent an e-mail from Switzerland to California attaching an “FCPA” certificate and asking Maxwell’s CFO to proceed in approving payment of an extra amount.

The DOJ further alleges that Riedo completed an internal Maxwell questionnaire and answered “no” to various FCPA issues “when in fact Riedo knew that Agent 1 was, directly and indirectly, receiving extra-amount payments and passing those payments along to employees of Chinese state-owned entities and other companies in order to obtain or retain business.”

Based on the above allegations, the indictment charges conspiracy to violate the FCPA’s anti-bribery and books and records and internal controls provisions, two substantive violations of the anti-bribery provisions, five substantive violations of the FCPA’s books and records provisions, and one substantive violation of the FCPA’s internal controls provisions.

This will be an interesting case to follow should Riedo choose to contest the DOJ’s charges.

Aside from the enforcement theory that employees of alleged China SOEs are “foreign officials” under the FCPA (the same general issue is currently on appeal before the 11th Circuit – see here), are potential jurisdiction issues.  In certain respects, this action may implicate the same general issues as in SEC v. Elek Strab et. al (see here for the pre-trial motion to dismiss decision) and SEC v. Herbet Steffen (see here for the pre-trial motion to dismiss decision).

Friday Roundup

Add two more companies to the list, a reply to a retort, Avon developments, Total S.A. perhaps nears a top-5 settlement, the reason for those empty Olympic seats, another FCPA-inspired derivative action is dismissed, Sensata Technologies and more on the meaning of “declination,” one of my favorite reads and additional material for the weekend reading stack.  It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Recent Disclosures

As noted in this Wall Street Journal Corruption Currents post “German healthcare firm Fresenius Medical Care AG has opened an internal investigation into potential violations” of the FCPA.  The company’s recent SEC filing (here) states as follows.

“The Company has received communications alleging certain conduct that may violate the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) and other anti-bribery laws. In response to the allegations, the Audit and Corporate Governance Committee of the Company’s Supervisory Board is conducting an internal review with the assistance of counsel retained for such purpose. The Company has voluntarily advised the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice that allegations have been made and of the Company’s internal review. The Company is fully committed to FCPA compliance. It cannot predict the outcome of its review.”

In addition, as noted in this Wall Street Journal Corruption Currents post, “the Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd, the world’s largest manufacturer of generic drugs, for possible violations” of the FCPA.   The Israel based company recently stated in an SEC filing (here) as follows.

“Teva received a subpoena dated July 9, 2012 from the SEC to produce documents with respect to compliance with the Foreign Corrupt Practice Act (“FCPA”) in Latin America. Teva is cooperating with the government. Teva is also conducting a voluntary investigation into certain business practices which may have FCPA implications and has engaged independent counsel to assist in its investigation. These matters are in their early stages and no conclusion can be drawn at this time as to any likely outcomes.”

U.K. DPAs

In this previous post, I discussed my letter to the U.K. Ministry of Justice urging the MoJ to just say no to deferred prosecution agreements.  Over at thebriberyact.com (a site that has lead discussion of the issue) the authors disagree with me (see here).  That’s all fine and dandy and healthy to the discussion, but the substance of the retort is not persuasive.

The retort is  basically that the SFO “frequently has to fight its corner in court” and that “sometimes it loses” whereas in the U.S. “the accepted wisdom [is] that an FCPA investigation would result in a corporate settlement” and the “DOJ simply [does] not have to test its legal theories in court.”  In short, the authors state “statistically in the US corporates and their counsel often fold in the face of a DOJ investigation” but “in the UK this is not so.”

Contrary to the suggestion in the retort, I did not ignore the Bribery Act’s Section 7 offense – rather it is all the more reason to reject DPAs.

The retort closes as follows.  “Sadly, as it stands, the UK enforcement agencies do not have equality of arms when it comes to their enforcement toolkit.  Put another way the DOJ can end run UK enforcement agencies because it does have the potential to enter into DPA’s.  This reason alone is justification enough for putting in place a system which delivers a similar result to the US system.”

This confirms in my mind that the UK’s desire for DPAs has little to do with justice and deterring improper conduct, but more to do with enforcement statistics and posturing in an emerging “global arms race” when it comes to “prosecuting” corruption and bribery offenses.

Avon Developments

Avon was in the news quite a bit this week.

On Monday, the Wall Street Journal reported (here) that “federal prosecutors looking into possible bribery of foreign officials by Avon have asked to speak to Andrea Jung, the former chief executive and current full-time chairman.”

On Wednesday, the company filed its quarterly report and stated, among other things, as follows.  “We are in discussions with the SEC and DOJ regarding mutually resolving the government investigations. There can be no assurance that a settlement will be reached or, if a settlement is reached, the timing of any such settlement or that the terms of any such settlement would not have a material adverse effect on us.”  During the Q2 earnings call, company CEO Sheri McCoy stated as follows.   “We are in discussion with the SEC and DOJ regarding mutually resolving the government investigations.”

On Thursday, the Wall Street Journal reported (here) that McCoy “frustrated with the pace of Avon’s internal probe, has pushed to bring in a second law firm for advice on the progress of the investigation.   The company has held discussions with law firm Allen & Overy LLP for that role.”  Arnold & Porter has been leading Avon’s investigation.  According to the article, Avon’s “probe has turned up millions of dollars of payments in Brazil and France made to consultants hired to assist with Avon’s tax bills in those countries.”

What to make of the above information?

It is unusual for the enforcement agencies to want to speak to a former CEO and current chairman in connection with an FCPA inquiry.  But then again, prosecutors have reportedly spoken to several other Avon executives in connection with the probe.  Given Avon’s disclosure that it has begun settlement discussions, this would suggest that the factual portion of the enforcement agencies investigation is over.

Avon’s FCPA scrutiny has perhaps been most notable for the amount of pre-enforcement action professional fees and expenses – approximately $280 million.  Thus, yesterday’s report that the company is considering bringing in a second law firm nearly four years into the investigation is interesting and unusual.

Even though Avon has disclosed it is in settlement talks, an enforcement action in 2012 is not certain.  In many cases, companies have disclosed the existence of FCPA settlement discussions, but the actual enforcement action did not happen for 6-12 months (or longer).

Whenever the enforcement action occurs, and whatever the ultimate fine and penalty is, Avon’s greatest financial hit  has likely already occured – its pre-enforcement action professional fees and expenses.  For instance, assuming a settlement amount would match the $280 million, this would be the sixth largest FCPA settlement of all time, and none of the enforcement actions in the top 5 were outside the context of foreign “government” procurement.

Total Settlement Near?

For some time, there has been speculation that Total S.A. (you better sit down for this) would actually mount a defense and put the DOJ and SEC to its burden of proof in an enforcement action.  Information in a recent company press release suggests that this is unlikely to occur.  In this recent release, Total stated as follows.  “Total has been cooperating with the … SEC and DOJ in connection with an investigation concerning gas contracts awarded in Iran in the 1990’s.  Total, the SEC, and the DOJ have conducted discussions to resolve issues arising from the investigation.  In light of recent progess in these discussions, Total has provisioned 316 million euros [$389 million]  in its accounts in the second quarter of 2012.”

A $389 million settlement would be a top five FCPA settlement in terms of fine and penalty amounts.  For additional coverage, see here from Reuters.

Empty Olympic Seats

A reason, perhaps, for those empty Olympic seats?  According to a recent study (see here) by the Society for Corporate Compliance and Ethics  “tighter than anticipated corporate entertainment and gift policies.”

Smith & Wesson Derivative Action Dismissed

Even against the backdrop of generally frivolous plaintiff derivative claims in the FCPA context, the action against Smith & Wesson (“S&W”) stood out.  After S&W employee Amaro Goncalves was criminally indicted in the manufactured Africa Sting case, certain investors filed a derivative claim in U.S. District Court in Massachusetts suing members of the board of S&W and company officers derivatively on behalf of the corporation for failing to have effective FCPA controls and oversight, thereby breaching their duty of care.

In dismissing the complaint (see here for the decision) Judge Michael Ponsor characterized the complaint as follows. “[I]n essence, that the company enjoyed an increase in international sales and then had an employee indicted for FCPA violations. This indictment, later dropped, supposedly evidenced a failure to implement proper controls.”

For another recent dismissal of an FCPA inspired derivative claim against Tidewater, see this prior post.  See also this recent post from Kevin LaCroix at The D&O Diary blog.

Sensata Technologies

In October 2010, Sensata Technologies disclosed in a quarterly report (here) as follows.

“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.”

In its most recent quarterly report (here), the company disclosed as follows.

“During 2012, the DOJ informed us that it has closed its inquiry into the matter but indicated that it could reopen its inquiry in the future in the event it were to receive additional information or evidence. We have not received an update from the SEC concerning the status of its inquiry.”

Did Sensata “win a declination” as the FCPA Blog suggested here?

Since August 2010 (see here for the prior post) I have proposed that when a company voluntarily discloses an FCPA internal investigation to the DOJ and the SEC, and when the DOJ and/or SEC decline enforcement, the DOJ and/or the SEC should publicly state, in a thorough and transparent manner, the facts the company disclosed to the agencies and why the agencies declined enforcement on those facts.

Perhaps then we would know if the DOJ concluded it could prove beyond a reasonable doubt all the necessary elements of an FCPA charge, yet decided not to pursue Sensata – which is my definition of declination as noted in this prior post.  Anything else, is what the law commands, not a declination.

Favorite Read

One of my favorite reads is always Shearman & Sterling’s “Recent Trends and Patterns in the Enforcement of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.”  See here for the most recent edition.

As to “foreign official,” the report states as follows. “[T]he government does not appear to have been deterred by the [foreign official] debate. In most of the cases brought in 2012, the relevant government officials were employed by “instrumentalities” such as state health insurance plans (Orthofix), a state-owned nuclear plant (Data Systems & Solutions), government hospitals (Biomet and Smith & Nephew), a state-owned real estate development company (Peterson) a state-owned oil company (Marubeni), and state-owned airlines (NORDAM).”

As to FCPA guidance, the report states as follows. “We understand that this guidance will be issued before October, when the US is scheduled to issue a written progress report on its implementation of the OECD Working Group on Bribery’s recommendations.”

A final kudos – Shearman & Sterling keeps its FCPA enforcement statistics the best way.  As it explains – “we count all actions against a corporate “family” as one action. Thus, if the DOJ charges a subsidiary and the SEC charges a parent issuer, that counts as one action.”  This is consistent with my “core” approach (see here), but unlike many others in the industry.

Weekend Reading Stack

An interesting and informative article (here) in Fortune about the Alba-Alcoa tussle and the role of Victor Dahdaleh.  For more on the underlying civil suit between Alba and Alcoa see this recent Wall Street Journal Corruption Currents post.

SOX’s executive certification requirements were supposed to be a panacea for corporate fraud.  It has not happened.  See here from Alison Frankel (Reuters) and here from Michael Rapoport (Wall Street Journal).  As noted in this prior post concerning the Paul Jennings (former CFO and CEO of Innospec) enforcement action, SOX certification charges were among the charges the SEC filed against Jennings.  Then SEC FCPA Unit Chief Cheryl Scarboro stated, “we will vigorously hold accountable those who approve such bribery and who sign false SOX certifications and other documents to cover up the wrongdoing.”  Speaking of Jennings, as noted in this recent U.K. Serious Fraud Office, Jennings recently pleaded guilty to one charge of conspiracy to corrupt Iraqi public officials and other agents of the Government of Iraq.

*****

A good weekend to all.

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