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FCPA Jurisprudence Alert

Judicial Decision

This recent post highlighted the SEC’s long-standing Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement action against former Magyar Telekom executives Elek Straub, Tamas Morvai, and Andras Balogh and how Judge Richard Sullivan (S.D.N.Y) seemed poised to issue rulings that point towards a trial (which is scheduled for May 8, 2017). The procedural posture of the case was motions for summary judgment whereas Judge Sullivan’s 2013 ruling in the case (see here) was on motions to dismiss.

Last week, Judge Sullivan issued this opinion and order. The decision represents a rare instance of actual FCPA case law (albeit a trial court decision).

On the FCPA front, the decision goes into the weeds on a rather esoteric issue, that being what does “use” of an instrumentality of interstate commerce mean in connection with the FCPA’s jurisdictional element relevant to foreign issuers and those acting on its behalf.

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Issues To Consider From The Analogic Enforcement Action

Issues

This previous post went in-depth regarding last week’s $14.9 million Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement action against Analogic Corp. and a related entity.

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

Sparse Allegations

Rarely has an SEC enforcement action against an issuer contained such few allegations against, well, the issuer.

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Friday Roundup

Roundup

Harder pleads guilty, scrutiny alerts and updates, when the dust settles, visual proof, and golf. It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Harder Pleads Guilty

As highlighted in this post, in January 2015 the DOJ announced a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement action against Dmitrij Harder for allegedly bribing an official with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. Harder is a Russian national, naturalized German citizen and permanent resident of the U.S. and the former owner and President of Chestnut Consulting Group Inc. and Chestnut Consulting Group Co. both based in Pennsylvania.

The enforcement action was notable in that it invoked the rarely used “public international organization” prong of the FCPA’s “foreign official” definition.

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Current CEO Of LAN Airlines Resolves SEC FCPA Enforcement Action Based On A Payment He Authorized 10 Years Ago In Connection With A Labor Dispute

PlazaLast week was busy for SEC Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement.

First, there was the $3.9 million enforcement action against SAP (see here).

Then, there was the $12.8 million enforcement action against SciClone Pharmaceuticals (see here).

And then, as highlighted in this post, there was an individual action against Ignacio Cueto Plaza, the current CEO of LAN Airlines (pictured at left).

The Cueto enforcement action was noteworthy in at least five respects.

  • First, it was a rare SEC individual FCPA enforcement action (the Cueto action represents only the fourth core individual action since April 2012).
  • Second, it was an FCPA enforcement action against a CEO (rarely do individual FCPA enforcement actions involve an executive officer).
  • Third, it was an FCPA enforcement action against an existing CEO (most individual FCPA enforcement involve former employees because the company, as part of its remedial measures, terminates the employee found to be in violation of the FCPA).
  • Fourth, even though most FCPA enforcement actions are based on “old” conduct, a 2016 enforcement action based on 2006 conduct stretches the credibility of the SEC’s enforcement program to a new level, coupled with the fact that a U.S. law enforcement agency brought an enforcement action against a Chilean citizen based on alleged improper conduct in Argentina.
  • Fifth, most FCPA enforcement actions, even those that “only” charge or find FCPA books and records and internal controls violations, are still based on the alleged “foreign officials.” In this regard, the Cueto enforcement action is vague whether the SEC viewed the Argentine “union officials” to be “foreign officials” under the FCPA. If the SEC did view the “union officials” as such, it stretches the definition of “foreign official” even further. If the SEC did not view the “union officials” as foreign officials, the Cueto action represents a rare enforcement action concerning improper booking and insufficient internal controls concerning an instance of commercial bribery.

In this administrative action, the SEC found as follows.

“In 2006 and 2007, Ignacio Cueto Plaza (“Cueto”), the CEO of LAN Airlines S.A. (“LAN”), authorized $1.15 million in improper payments to a third party consultant in Argentina in connection with LAN’s attempts to settle disputes on wages and other work conditions between LAN Argentina S.A. (“LAN Argentina”), a subsidiary of LAN, and its employees. At the time, Cueto understood that it was possible the consultant would pass some portion of the $1.15 million to union officials in Argentina. The payments were made pursuant to an unsigned consulting agreement that purported to provide services that Cueto understood would not occur. Cueto authorized subordinates to make the payments that were improperly booked in the Company’s books and records, which circumvented LAN’s internal accounting controls.”

Cueto is described as follows.

” [A] Chilean citizen and, since 2012, has been CEO of LAN. From 1995 to 1998, Cueto served as President of LAN Cargo, a LAN subsidiary located in Miami, Florida. He served on the Board of Directors of LAN from 1995 to 1997. From 1999 to 2005, Cueto was CEO of LAN’s passenger airline business. In 2005, Cueto became President and COO of LAN Airlines S.A. He remained in that position until June of 2012, when LAN merged with Brazilian Airline TAM, S.A. (“TAM”) and became LATAM Airlines Group S.A. (“LATAM”). Cueto remains CEO of LAN, which is now part of LATAM.”

The enforcement action focuses the “obstacles that LAN might face in trying to enter the Argentine airline market.” Under the heading “LAN Faces Major Issues Upon Entering the Argentine Market,” the order states:

“Upon entering the Argentine passenger airline market LAN immediately faced several major issues impacting its viability and began losing money. First, it needed to meet demands from labor unions representing the employees acquired from LAFSA and Southern Winds. Second, LAN needed majority ownership of its Argentine subsidiary, and therefore had to persuade the Argentine government to change its existing law on foreign ownership of domestic airlines and to increase caps on airfares. Third, LAN needed regulatory authorization to operate various flight routes, both domestically and internationally, in Argentina. Since the Argentine passenger airline market was heavily regulated by the government, particularly officials within the Department of Transportation who had close ties to the unions, LAN sought help from the government officials with each of these issues.

In early 2006, the consultant again contacted the Vice President of Business Development and offered to assist LAN in Argentina. By this time, the consultant was a government official in the Ministry of Federal Planning, Public Investment and Services, Department of Transportation. On January 31, 2005, the Secretary of Transportation appointed the consultant as a Cabinet Advisor “ad-honorem.”

LAN executives, including Cueto, knew that for LAN Argentina to become profitable it would need an infusion of cash. LAN asked Argentine government officials to liberalize the laws on foreign ownership so that LAN could own a majority share of LAN Argentina and sought government authorization to raise regulated airfares. On or about August 8, 2006, the President of Argentina signed a Decree that enabled LAN to become a majority owner of LAN Argentina and allowed LAN to raise airfares by 20%. LAN Argentina was also awarded critical additional flight routes by the Transportation Secretary.”

Under the heading “LAN Encounters Problems with the Unions in Argentina,” the order states:

“As part of the deal that LAN reached with the Argentine government in March 2005, LAN was required to hire between six and eight hundred employees from the defunct LAFSA and Southern Winds airlines. LAN was bound by the existing bargaining agreements between LAFSA, Southern Winds and the labor unions.

There were five unions representing airline employees in Argentina. They included the grounds crew union, the Asociación del Personal Aeronáutico (APA), the pilots’ union, the Asociación de Pilotos de Lineas Aereas (APLA), the mechanics’ union, Asociacion del Personal Técnico Aeronáutico (APTA), the flight attendants’ union, Asociación de Tripulantes de Cabina de Pasajeros de Empresas Aerocomerciales (ATCPEA), and the supervisors’ union, Unión del Personal Superior y Profesional de Empresas Aerocomerciales (UPSA).

All of the unions were powerful and unafraid to make demands on LAN. They sought wage increases and additional benefits, and used the terms of their respective Collective Bargaining Agreements (“CBAs”) as leverage. These labor agreements contained provisions that LAN believed were unfavorable, such as restrictions on the hours employees could work and their work locations.

The mechanics’ union, the flight attendants’ union and the supervisors’ union each had a single-function rule contained in their CBAs. The single-function rule was a provision that limited workers from performing more than one work function at a time for LAN. The single-function rule was loosely interpreted and for the most part not enforced by the unions. Had it been enforced, the single-function rule would have required LAN to double its work force and would have seriously imperiled LAN’s ability to continue its operations in Argentina.

Around 2006 the unions began campaigning for wage increases. The unions threatened to enforce the single-function rule unless LAN Argentina agreed to a substantial wage increase. LAN’s management, including Cueto, attempted to negotiate on the wage issues but made no progress and things worsened over time. Eventually there were work stoppages and slowdowns on the part of the workforce, including strikes involving the pilots’ and the mechanics’ unions.”

Under the heading “Cueto Approves Improper Payments,” the order states:

“Beginning in the summer of 2006, the consultant supplied LAN executives with information on how to deal with specific union members and the unions in general. Eventually, the consultant offered to negotiate directly with the unions on LAN’s behalf, making it clear that he would expect compensation for such negotiations, and that payments would be made to third parties who had influence over the unions. After his staff informed Cueto that the consultant was well connected with the unions and could effectively negotiate an agreement with union officials, Cueto approved the retention of the consultant.

During the summer of 2006, Cueto approved payments totaling $1,150,000 to the consultant in connection with LAN’s attempts to settle disputes on wages and other work conditions with the unions. At the time, Cueto understood that it was possible the consultant would pass some portion of the $1.15 million to union officials in Argentina. Cueto approved the payments to get the unions to abandon their threats to enforce the single-function rule and to get them to accept a wage increase lower than the amount asked for in negotiations. LAN and the consultant agreed that LAN would make the payment to a company controlled by the consultant in Argentina. In 2006, LAN did not have a policy requiring that due diligence be performed on consultants, and neither Cueto nor LAN conducted any due diligence on the consultant or any of his related entities.

Around August 2006, Cueto’s staff informed him that the consultant had reached an oral agreement to settle the wage dispute with the mechanics’ union on LAN’s behalf. Although the existing Collective Bargaining Agreement with the mechanics’ union would remain unchanged, Cueto understood that the union would orally agree not to seek enforcement of the single-function rule for a period of four years in exchange for a wage increase of approximately 6 15% of salary. The wage increase of approximately 15% was lower than the amount originally sought by the mechanics’ union.

Around August 2006, the flight attendants’ and supervisors’ unions both agreed to accept wage increases of approximately 15% and 10% respectively of salaries. The amounts were lower than the amounts originally sought by each union.”

Under the heading, “Cueto Authorized Improper Payments That Were Not Accurately and Fairly Feflected on LAN’s Books and Records,” the order states:

“Cueto directed subordinates to make the improper payments. The improper payments authorized by Cueto were improperly described in the books and records as “other debtors” costs in a LAN subsidiary that had no role in LAN’s argentine business.”

Under the heading, “Cueto Caused LAN’s Internal Accounting Control Failure,” the order states:

“As President and Chief Operating Officer of LAN, Cueto, along with others, was responsible for devising and maintaining compliance with internal accounting controls at LAN. Cueto did not follow the company’s existing internal accounting controls when he authorized the payment of $1,150,000 to the consultant’s company and failed to prevent the payment of $58,000 to another company owned by consultant’s son and wife. Cueto received and approved the sham contract for the consultant’s company to provide consulting services to LAN, knowing that such services would never be provided. Cueto also authorized payment of invoices from the consultant’s company that contained a description of services listed on the invoices that was false.”

Based on the above findings, the order finds that Cueto caused books and records and internal controls violations by LAN and that Cueto also knowingly circumvented or knowingly failed to implement a system of internal accounting controls or knowingly falsified book, record or account and that Cueto also violated falsified or cause to be falsified, a book, record, or account.

Under the heading “Remedial Actions and Undertakings,” the order states:

“As the CEO of LAN, which is now a division of LATAM, Cueto is subject to LATAM’s enhanced compliance structure and internal accounting controls. Cueto is required to certify compliance with LATAM’s new Code of Conduct that was adopted in 2013, as well as other internal corporate policies, including an Anti-Corruption Guide, a Gifts, Travel, Hospitality and Entertainment Policy, an Escalation Policy, and Procurement and Payment policies.

Cueto has attended the Corporate Governance Training provided by the LATAM Chief Compliance Officer and has provided a certification confirming acknowledgement of the Code of Conduct, the relevant applicable regulations, as well as the Company policies. Cueto has also executed an amendment to his employment agreement whereby Respondent acknowledges having been informed regarding the LATAM Manual for the Prevention of Corruption, among other matters, and his responsibilities to perform his duties with the highest ethical standards, in compliance with all Company Policies and Procedures.

[…]

Cueto also undertakes to attend all anti-corruption training sessions required for senior executives at LAN. These sessions will include, but are not limited to, both live and online anti-corruption trainings to be completed on at least an annual basis and according to LAN’s Compliance Department’s training schedule. These sessions will include, in addition to anticorruption laws and regulations, such as the FCPA, training on anti-trust laws, the Company’s Code of Conduct and all other applicable policies that each LAN employee must follow. After the conclusion of each session Cueto will sign the appropriate documentation that acknowledges his attendance and understanding of the topics presented. Should LAN modify the schedule of such  training sessions for any reason, Cueto will, so long as he is a senior executive of LAN, attend a comparable anti-corruption session on an annual basis and complete appropriate documentation attesting to his attendance and the session’s contents.”

Without admitting or denying the SEC’s findings, Cueto agreed to cease and desist from future legal violations and agreed to pay a $75,000 civil penalty.

Cueto was represented by Richard Grime (Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher –  a former Assistant Director of Enforcement at the SEC heavily involved in FCPA enforcement). Commenting generally on the SEC’s evolving and expansive FCPA enforcement theories, Grime recently stated:

“It’s not that you couldn’t intellectually [conceive of] the violation. It’s that the government is sort of probing every area where there is an interaction with government officials and then working backwards from there to see if there is a violation, as opposed to starting out with the statute … and what it prohibits.”

Items Of Interest From The Layne Christensen Company Enforcement Action

Yesterday’s post dived deep into the Layne Christensen Company SEC FCPA enforcement action.

This post continues the analysis by highlighting various issues associated with the enforcement action.

4 for 4

In 2014, there have been four SEC corporate FCPA enforcement actions (Layne Christensen, Smith & Wesson, Alcoa, and HP).  All have been resolved via the SEC’s administrative process.

My recent article, “A Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Narrative,” (see pgs. 991-995) discusses this trend and how it is troubling as it places the SEC in the role of regulator, prosecutor, judge and jury all at the same time.  As Judge Rakoff recently observed, “from where does the constitutional warrant for such unchecked and unbalanced administrative power derive?”

Another noticeable feature of the Layne Christensen action was that the company resolved the SEC’s action without admitting or denying the SEC’s findings.  Smith & Wesson likewise resolved its FCPA enforcement action in this way.

$4

It is reasonable to assume that the SEC included findings in its order for a specific reason (and not just to practice its typing skills).

It is therefore noteworthy that the SEC’s order includes this finding:

“Layne Christensen made more than $10,000 in small payments to foreign officials through various customs and clearing agents that it used in Tanzania, Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, and the DRC. These payments ranged from $4 to $1,700 and were characterized in invoices submitted by the agents as, among other things, “intervention,” “honoraires,” “commissions,” and “service fees.”

Stay tuned for (I predict) coming law firm client alerts and memos on this $4 payment.

As highlighted in this prior post, if the DOJ and SEC are genuine in their message that they are only “focused on bribes of consequence,” on payments of “real and substantial value” and in companies spending compliance dollars in the “most sensible way,” there is something very easy and practical for the enforcement agencies to do.

Only allege conduct that actually determines the ultimate outcome of the enforcement action.

Same Process, Different Results

Does voluntary disclosure and cooperation result in:

An SEC administrative cease and desist order?  Yes, see Layne Christensen.

An SEC non-prosecution agreement?  Yes, see Ralph Lauren.

An SEC deferred prosecution agreement?  Yes, see Tenaris.

An SEC civil complaint?  Yes, see Archer Daniels Midland Company.

Granted, the facts of each FCPA enforcement action are unique, but what drives FCPA practitioners and their clients crazy about the FCPA enforcement process is a lack of transparency and predictability of outcomes.

What Would Have Happened Had The SEC Been Put To Its Burden Of Proof?

Pardon me for being “that guy,” but what would have happened had the SEC been put to its burden of proof on its finding that Layne Christensen violated the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions?  The SEC’s allegations all concerned payments outside the context of government procurement but rather to allegedly secure favorable tax treatment, customs clearance, work permits, relief from regulatory inspections, etc.

It is a matter of fact, that the SEC has been put to its ultimate burden of proof only once concerning alleged payments outside the context of government procurement and it lost that case.  (See here for the discussion of SEC v. Mattson and Harris). For a broader discussion of this issue, including DOJ actions, see this article.

Moreover, many of the SEC’s findings would seem to potentially implicate the FCPA’s facilitating payments exception.  On that score, in SEC v. Jackson & Ruehlen, a court ruled that the SEC has the burden of negating this statutory exception, something the SEC was unable to do in that case (based on certain similar facts as alleged in the Layne Christensen action) which resulted in a defendant-friendly settlement on the eve of trial.  (See here).

Finally, no doubt Layne Christensen as part of its cooperation likely agreed to toll statute of limitations or waive statute of limitations defenses altogether.  Yet it is worth highlighting that the bulk of the SEC’s findings concern conduct that allegedly occurred between 2005 and July 2009; in other words, beyond the FCPA’s typical 5 year statute of limitations.

Timeline

As highlighted in this 2010 post, Layne Christensen initially disclosed its FCPA scrutiny in Fall 2010.  The company’s first disclosure stated, in pertinent part:

“In connection with the Company updating its Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) policy, questions were raised internally in late September 2010 about, among other things, the legality of certain payments to customs clearing agents in connection with importing equipment into the Democratic Republic of Congo (“DRC”) and other countries in Africa.  […] Although the Company has had a long-standing published policy requiring compliance with the FCPA and broadly prohibiting any improper payments by the Company to foreign or U.S. officials, the Company has adopted additional policies and procedures to enhance compliance with the FCPA and related books and records requirements. Further measures may be required once the investigation is concluded.”

In short, Layne Christensen’s FCPA scrutiny – from point of first public disclosure to resolution – lasted approximately 4 years.

The “Three Buckets” 

In my article, “Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Ripples,” I coin the term “three buckets” of FCPA financial exposure and demonstrate how settlement amounts in an actual FCPA enforcement action (“bucket #1) are often not the most expensive aspect of FCPA scrutiny and enforcement.

In nearly every case in which a comparison can be made, “bucket #1” (pre-enforcement action professional fees and expenses) is the most expensive aspect of FCPA scrutiny.

The numbers in Layne Christensen serve as another instructive reminder.

Bucket #1 = in excess of $10 million (based on the company’s disclosures)

Bucket #12 = $5.1 million

Bukcet #3 (post enforcement action professional fees and expenses) are to be determined.  A noticeable aspect of the Layne Christensen action (one based on a voluntary disclosure and cooperation) is that the company has a reporting obligation imposed upon it.  As stated in the SEC’s order, Layne Christensen shall “report to the Commission periodically, at no less than nine-month internals during a two-year term, the status of its FCPA and anti-corruption related remediation and implementation of compliance measures.”

Compliance Enhancements, Etc.

During its period of FCPA scrutiny, Layne Christensen previously disclosed the following compliance enhancements.

  • contracted with a third party forensics accounting team to conduct an in-depth review of the operations in Africa and to make recommendations for improvement to the internal control systems;
  • reviewing existing arrangements with third parties interacting with government officials in international locations in an effort to assure that contracts and agreements include anti-corruption terms and conditions;
  • performing due diligence on third parties interacting with government officials in international locations and implementing a process to assess potential new third parties;
  • terminated certain agency and business relationships;
  •  established a separate position of, and appointed, a chief compliance officer, effective March 30, 2011, under the supervision of our Senior Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary to facilitate implementation and maintenance of compliance policies, procedures, training, reporting and internal reviews, with indirect reporting responsibility to the audit committee;
  • developed new procedures to improve the controls over cash handling and record retention;
  • conducting a company-wide risk assessment, including an employee survey, to ascertain whether similar issues may exist elsewhere in the Company;
  • initiated an enhanced company-wide, comprehensive training of Company personnel in the requirements of the FCPA, including training with respect to those areas of the Company’s operations that are most likely to raise FCPA compliance concerns; and
  • continued to enhance our training of management, including our operations managers, to emphasize further the importance of setting the proper tone within their organization to instill an attitude of integrity and control awareness and the use of a thorough and proper analysis of proposed transactions.

 

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