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In-Depth On VimpelCom

VimpelComThis post goes in-depth regarding yesterday’s FCPA enforcement action against VimpelCom (and a related entity) and summarizes the approximate 120 pages of resolution documents.

As highlighted in this previous post, The net $397.5 million U.S. portion of the settlement is the 5th largest FCPA settlement amount of all-time (see here for the current top-ten list).

The resolution documents contain numerous allegations about VimpelCom executive officers as well as various VimpelCom corporate committees that were engaged in the improper conduct. The allegations in the VimpelCom action are egregious and paint a picture of a culture of corruption at VimpelCom with high-level executives seeking legal cover at nearly every turn to facilitate the alleged bribery scheme.

DOJ

Unitel Criminal Information

The conduct at issue centers on  the Uzbek Agency for Communications and Information (“UzACI”), described as an Uzbek governmental entity authorized to regulate operations and formulate state policy in the sphere of communication, information, and the use of radio spectrum in Uzbekistan. According to the information,UzACI was a “department,” “agency,” and “instrumentality” of a foreign government under the FCPA.

The “foreign official” is described as follows: an individual whose identity is known to the United States, who was an Uzbek government official and a close relative of a high-ranking Uzbek government official. Foreign Official had influence over decisions made by UzACI.

Under the heading “Overview of the Corruption Scheme,” the information alleges:

“VimpelCom and UNITEL conspired with others to provide over $114 million in bribes in exchange for Foreign Official’s understood influence over decisions made by UzACI concerning Uzbekistan’s telecommunications market. VimpelCom and UNITEL officials understood that they had to regularly pay Foreign Official millions of dollars in order to continue to obtain necessary UzACI approvals and be allowed to obtain and retain Uzbek telecommunications business.

The conspiracy to make corrupt payments to Foreign Official occurred in stages:

a. First, before entering the Uzbek market, certain VimpelCom management understood that they were required to have Foreign Official as a “local partner” to conduct business in Uzbekistan. As part of its efforts to enter the market, VimpelCom paid $60 million to acquire Buztel, a company in which certain VimpelCom management knew that Foreign Official held an indirect interest via Shell Company [described as a company incorporated in Gibraltar that was beneficially owned by Foreign Official] because certain VimpelCom management knew that the acquisition of Buztel likely would facilitate VimpelCom’s acquisition of Unitel LLC and enable the company to conduct business in Uzbekistan.

b. Second, in 2006, VimpelCom and UNITEL corruptly entered into a lucrative partnership agreement with Foreign Official’s front company, Shell Company, in which Shell Company would obtain an indirect ownership interest in UNITEL that VimpelCom would later repurchase at a guaranteed profit. The true purpose of this agreement was to pay a $37.5 million bribe to Foreign Official in exchange for Foreign Official permitting VimpelCom and UNITEL to conduct business in Uzbekistan.

c. Third, VimpelCom, through a subsidiary, corruptly entered into a contract with Shell Company purportedly to obtain 3G frequencies in 2007. Certain VimpelCom management caused a $25 million bribe to be paid to Foreign Official via Shell Company so that Foreign Official would help UNITEL obtain these valuable telecommunications assets and permit it to conduct business in Uzbekistan.

d. Fourth, VimpelCom, directly or through a subsidiary, knowingly entered into fake consulting contracts with Shell Company for $2 million in 2008 and $30 million in 2011; in both cases, Shell Company did no real work to justify the large consulting fees. The corrupt purpose of these contracts was to provide Foreign Official with approximately $32 million in exchange for valuable telecommunications assets and to allow UNITEL to continue to conduct business in Uzbekistan.

e. Finally, VimpelCom and UNITEL made $20 million in bribe payments to Foreign Official in 2011 and 2012 through purposefully non-transparent transactions with purported “reseller” companies. Through these transactions with reseller companies, VimpelCom and UNITEL made and concealed corrupt payments to Foreign Official through Shell Company, which allowed UNITEL to continue to conduct business in Uzbekistan.

Certain VimpelCom and UNITEL management used U.S.-based email accounts to communicate with others and effectuate the scheme. In addition, VimpelCom and UNITEL each made numerous corrupt payments that were executed through transactions into and out of correspondent bank accounts at financial institutions in New York, New York.”

Next the information alleges how VimpelCom entered the Uzbek market and how company leaders sought legal cover in doing so. Specifically, the information alleges:

“In 2005, as part of a plan of expansion into the CIS region, VimpelCom sought to acquire an Uzbek telecommunications company. Two companies under consideration for acquisition were Unitel LLC, the second largest operator in Uzbekistan with approximately 300,000 subscribers, and Buztel, which was a much smaller operator with only 2,500 subscribers. Although there was a sound business case for purchasing Unitel LLC alone, VimpelCom ultimately purchased Buztel, as well. Certain VimpelCom management knew that Foreign Official held an indirect interest in Buztel, and that purchasing Buztel would ensure Foreign Official’s support for VimpelCom’s entry into the Uzbek telecommunications market.

As reflected in the minutes of a December 13, 2005 VimpelCom Finance Committee meeting, certain VimpelCom management explained that “due to certain political reasons (and this message should be taken by us as is), Buztel should be considered as an entry ticket into [the] Uzbekistan market and the buyer of Buztel would be considered a preferred buyer of Unitel.” Certain VimpelCom management explained that it was “more important to follow the political requirements suggested for entry into the market versus [the] questionable risk of acquisition of Unitel as [a] standalone” and VimpelCom would be “in opposition to a very powerful opponent and bring [the] threat of revocation of licenses after the acquisition of Unitel [as a] stand-alone.”

According to minutes of the meeting, a VimpelCom Finance Committee member questioned the wisdom of purchasing Buztel when Unitel LLC was of a size sufficient for nation-wide coverage and when the $60 million purchase price for Buztel could be better spent developing Unitel LLC’s network. The minutes reflect that same member also “expressed concern on the structure of the deal and FCPA issues” and noted “that if [VimpelCom] goes into this deal under this structure and if the structure violates the FCPA picture, [VimpelCom’s] name could be damaged.”

The Finance Committee voted to move forward with the acquisition process with the understanding that VimpelCom’s board should consider whether to “enter Uzbekistan through acquisitions of both Buztel (as a condition of entry into the market) and Unitel, . . . provided, however, that all issues related to FCPA should be resolved” or “to bid for Unitel only with understanding that potentially it may be more expensive and is connected with risks of business development without [the] local partner.”

During a December 14, 2005 VimpelCom board meeting, the likelihood of corruption was further discussed. For example, certain VimpelCom management explained that Foreign Official was actively influencing and interfering with Buztel’s operations because of Foreign Official’s ownership interest in the company. Certain VimpelCom management added that Foreign Official appeared to have control and influence over the purchase price for Unitel LLC. Certain VimpelCom management also warned that there could be a falling out with the local partner if VimpelCom only purchased Unitel LLC that would make it difficult, if not impossible, to operate in Uzbekistan. Concerns were raised about doing business with Foreign Official and the dangers associated with the Buztel transaction, and there was a recognition that a thorough analysis was needed to ensure that the Buztel payment was not merely a corrupt pretext for other services and favors. There were also numerous requests to ensure that the deal complied with the FCPA. Ultimately, VimpelCom’s board approved the acquisitions of Buztel and Unitel LLC, with a condition that FCPA analysis from an international law firm be provided to VimpelCom.

VimpelCom’s management then sought FCPA advice that could be used to satisfy the board’s requirement while allowing VimpelCom to proceed with a knowingly corrupt deal. Despite the known risks of Foreign Official’s involvement in Buztel, certain VimpelCom management obtained FCPA legal opinions from an international law firm supporting the acquisition of Unitel LLC and Buztel; however, certain VimpelCom management did not disclose to the law firm Foreign Official’s known association with Buztel. As a result, the legal opinion did not address the critical issue identified by the VimpelCom board as a prerequisite to the acquisition. Certain VimpelCom management limited the law firm’s FCPA review of the transaction to ensure that the legal opinion would be favorable.

Having obtained a limited FCPA legal opinion designed to ostensibly satisfy the board’s requirement, certain VimpelCom management then proceeded with the Buztel acquisition and corrupt entry into the Uzbek market. VimpelCom, through subsidiaries, purchased Buztel for approximately $60 million on or about January 18, 2006 and Unitel LLC for approximately $200 million on or about February 10, 2006, along with the assumption of some debt.”

Next, the information alleges how VimpelCom again sought legal cover in entering a local partnership with the Shell Company controlled by the “foreign official.”

“As VimpelCom entered the Uzbek market through the acquisitions of Unitel LLC and Buztel, certain VimpelCom management learned that VimpelCom would be required to enter into a partnership with Shell Company, which was ultimately controlled by Foreign Official, in order to conceal corrupt payments to Foreign Official in exchange for Foreign Official’s support to allow VimpelCom and UNITEL to do business in Uzbekistan.

VimpelCom structured the partnership agreement to hide the bribe payments to Foreign Official. Under the deal, Shell Company obtained an indirect interest of approximately 9 7% in UNITEL for $20 million, and Shell Company received an option to sell its shares back to UNITEL in 2009 for between $57.5 million and $60 million for a guaranteed net profit of at least $37.5 million. In proposing the partnership, VimpelCom justified it in part by explaining that the partner would provide the “[r]evision of the licensing agreement for the major licenses” and “transfer of frequencies,” while also noting that the direct transfer of frequencies was not allowed in Uzbekistan.

VimpelCom’s board approved the partnership on or about April 7, 2006, but its approval again was conditioned on “FCPA analysis by an international law firm” and required that the “the identity of the Partner . . . [be] presented to and approved by the Finance Committee.” VimpelCom received an FCPA opinion on the sale of the indirect interest in UNITEL to Shell Company on or about August 30, 2006. The FCPA advice VimpelCom received was not based on important details that were known to certain VimpelCom management and that certain VimpelCom management failed to provide to outside counsel, including Foreign Official’s control of Shell Company. In addition, documents, including minutes from the Finance Committee’s meeting on August 28, 2006, failed to identify the true identity of the local partner by name while noting the “extremely sensitive” nature of the issue.

On or about March 28, 2007, VimpelCom’s board unanimously approved the partnership agreement with Shell Company, and the deal progressed as planned. Associate A [the information alleges that Associate A was Foreign Official’s close associate and that when Shell Company was incorporated in 2004, Associate A was twenty years old and became Shell Company’s purported sole owner and director] signed the agreement on behalf of Shell Company as the “Director,” and on or about June 12, 2007, Shell Company transferred $20 million from its Latvian bank account to VimpelCom’s bank account. Less than three years later, in or around September 2009, Shell Company exercised its guaranteed option to have VimpelCom’s subsidiary repurchase Shell Company’s shares, and VimpelCom transferred $57,500,000 from its bank account to Shell Company’s bank 10 account in Hong Kong. Both transfers were executed through transactions into and out of correspondent bank accounts at financial institutions in New York, New York.

As a result of VimpelCom’s partnership agreement and transfer of funds to Shell Company, Foreign Official made a net profit of approximately $37.5 million and VimpelCom and UNITEL were able to continue to conduct business in Uzbekistan.”

The information next alleges how various VimpelCom executives and management used “contracts for fake consulting services with Shell Company in order to provide Foreign Official with approximately $32 million in exchange for valuable telecommunications assets and to allow UNITEL to continue to conduct business in Uzbekistan.” According to the indictment:

“VimpelCom did not conduct any FCPA analysis concerning this purported consulting services agreement with Shell Company. This was despite the fact that certain VimpelCom management had received a prior FCPA opinion concerning Shell Company, which explicitly excluded any FCPA analysis associated with consulting services provided by Shell Company. Moreover, during the earlier due diligence process, Shell Company had represented that “[Shell Company] does not contemplate entering into consultancy or similar agreement with VimpelCom . . . .”

The information further alleges:

“In 2011, Executive 1 [described as a high-ranking VimpelCom executive with responsibilities in the Commonwealth of Independent States (“CIS”) region, including oversight of UNITEL in Uzbekistan] conspired with Executive 2 [described as a person who worked with Executive 1 relating to VimpelCom’s business in the CIS region, including oversight of UNITEL in Uzbekistan] and others to direct an additional $30 million payment to Foreign Official through Shell Company. This $30 million bribe payment was made specifically to acquire 4G mobile communication frequencies for UNITEL, but was also part of the broader effort to enable UNITEL to continue to operate in the Uzbek telecommunications market without interference by Foreign Official.”

Regarding the 4G consulting agreement with Shell Company, the information alleges that it “caused substantial internal criticism by some VimpelCom executives, including those who were charged with approving the transaction.” According to the information:

“Certain VimpelCom management again sought an FCPA opinion from outside counsel to provide a plausible cover to go forward with the transaction. Certain VimpelCom management then failed to provide outside counsel with important information, most notably that Shell Company was known to be owned by Foreign Official, because certain VimpelCom management were willing to accept an opinion that focused on Shell Company as a third party without analyzing or addressing the nature of the transaction itself or its high dollar value.

Furthermore, the purported FCPA due diligence on Shell Company was flawed in design and execution. No in-house or outside lawyer ever directly contacted Shell Company’s purported owner, Associate A, and instead, the FCPA questionnaires purportedly designed to uncover beneficial owners and potential corruption risks were sent to intermediaries to respond. For example, on or about August 5, 2011, a VimpelCom in-house lawyer emailed FCPA questionnaires to Executive 1 to pass along “to the [Shell Company] representative to fill out.” On or about August 6, 2011, Executive 1 forwarded the FCPA questionnaires both to Executive 1’s personal email account and the personal email account of Associate B. Executive 1 also forwarded the email with the FCPA questionnaires to Executive 2 who replied: “Hardcore, of course . . . But in my opinion with the exception of the first and last names they can answer everything else.”

The information contains several allegations concerning “Witness” (a consultant functioning as a senior VimpelCom executive who was among the chief critics of the 4G consulting agreement with Shell Company). The information alleges:

“In or around August and September 2011, Witness continued to raise concerns. On or about September 2, 2011, Witness emailed a then in-house VimpelCom attorney to explain that Witness was “very concerned about this way of structuring the payment,” and Witness asked whether VimpelCom had received “any official ‘ok’ from US Governmental body/SEC . . . .” On or about September 5, 2011, Witness received a response from VimpelCom’s then in-house counsel that acknowledged that, “[t]his transaction deserves caution but on the legal side the 17 question boils down to whether there is a reasonable basis to believe that our counter-party will make illegal payments. We cannot establish conclusively that there will not be any illegal payments . . . .” VimpelCom’s then in-house counsel added, “. . . . our due diligence is our defense in the event that there is a claim against us so we have to ask ourselves whether the situation warrants additional due diligence. [We are] comfortable that additional due diligence is not warranted. We are going to monitor the process and ensure that real work is being done by the counter-party.” However, VimpelCom, including its in-house attorneys, did not thoroughly monitor the process to ensure that Shell Company performed any services. Once the FCPA opinion was obtained, VimpelCom proceeded with the deal.

The 4G consulting agreement required approvals from certain senior VimpelCom executives reviewing the transaction from their areas of expertise. After receiving repeated assurances from VimpelCom’s then in-house lawyers, in or around mid-September 2011, Witness eventually provided the sign-off for Witness’s expert area for the proposed 4G consulting agreement with Shell Company. However, Witness handwrote an unusual caveat below Witness’s signature: “This sign off is solely related to [my expert area]. My sign off confirm[s] that I have reviewed the technical [] position and approved with it.” Notably, certain other VimpelCom executives specifically limited their approval or expressed reservations before signing off on their expert areas. Executive 2 expressed no reservations before providing the necessary approval on behalf of the business unit.

Soon after providing the limited sign-off on the deal, Witness escalated the matter to the highest levels within VimpelCom management, with whom Witness met on or about September 30, 2011. However, certain VimpelCom management failed to act on Witness’s concerns and the 4G deal remained in place after the meeting.”

The information also alleges how the “reselling” process was used to facilitate the bribery scheme.  According to the information:

“Because of significant currency conversion restrictions in Uzbekistan and the inability to use Uzbek som (the Uzbek unit of currency) to obtain necessary foreign goods, UNITEL frequently entered into non-transparent transactions with purported “reseller” companies to pay foreign vendors in hard currency for the provision of goods in Uzbekistan. Typically, UNITEL would contract with a local Uzbek company in Uzbek som, and that Uzbek company’s related companies located outside of Uzbekistan would agree to pay an end supplier using the hard currency (usually, U.S. dollars). In February and March 2011, Executive 1 conspired with Executive 2 and others to take advantage of the murky reseller process to conceal a $10 million bribe to Foreign Official via Shell Company through various purported reseller transactions to Shell Company.

[…]

By using the reseller scheme, certain VimpelCom and UNITEL executives avoided additional scrutiny, including FCPA analysis, of the transactions and payments.”

Based on the above core conduct, the information charges one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions.

Unitel Plea Agreement

The plea agreements sets forth the advisory sentencing guidelines fine range of $732 million to $1.46 billion. The agreement then states:

“The parties agree that, in light of (a) the complexity of the overall dispositions with Unitel and its parent company, VimpelCom Ltd., and (b) the interrelationship among the charges and conduct underlying those dispositions, an application of the Alternative Fines Act, Title 18, United States Code, Section 3571(d), to this case would unduly complicate or prolong the sentencing process, so that the maximum fine under the Sentencing Guidelines is $500,000 as provided in Title 18, United States Code Section 3571(c)(3). The parties agree that, in light of the VimpelCom DPA, which requires VimpelCom to pay a total monetary penalty of $460,326,398.40 as a result of the misconduct committed by both VimpelCom Ltd. and the defendant, as well as the factors cited in the VimpelCom DPA, no fine should be imposed on the defendant.”

VimpelCom Information

Based on the same core conduct alleged above, VimpelCom was also charged with conspiracy to violate the FCPA’s anti-bribery and books and records provisions and a separate count of violating the FCPA’s internal controls provisions.

Under the heading “VimpelCom’s Failure to Implement and Enforce Internal Accounting Controls,” the information alleges:

“Throughout the time period of VIMPELCOM’s bribery of Foreign Official, VIMPELCOM failed to implement adequate internal accounting controls and failed to enforce the internal accounting controls it did have in place, which permitted the above-referenced bribe payments to occur without detection or remediation.

VIMPELCOM failed to implement a system for conducting, recording, and verifying due diligence on third parties, including joint venture partners, consultants, reseller companies, and suppliers to uncover their true nature, beneficial ownership, and possible corruption risks. Time and again, board members, executives, and employees of VIMPELCOM identified serious concerns with third parties, and VIMPELCOM still failed to undertake adequate due diligence.

Further, VIMPELCOM knowingly failed to require that all consulting agreements be for bona fide services, that agreed-upon payments were commensurate with the services to be performed, and that services paid for were, in fact, performed. VIMPELCOM knowingly failed to conduct meaningful auditing or testing of its consultant agreements, invoices, and payments, including those with Shell Company and, as demonstrated above, failed to conduct adequate investigations of corruption complaints. VIMPELCOM also had no policy regarding payments to bank accounts located in places where the contractual partner neither performed work nor had operations.

In 2011 and 2012, VIMPELCOM paid $20 million in bribes through singlesource decisions with reseller companies that allowed certain executives to structure nontransparent transactions. VIMPELCOM knowingly failed to implement and maintain adequate controls for approving and transacting with reseller companies and intermediaries to ensure that reseller companies were scrutinized and that single-source contracting decisions were justified. Certain VIMPELCOM and Unitel executives took advantage of these control failures to engage in transactions designed to obfuscate the actual purpose of the payments, which was to corruptly influence Foreign Official.

As a result of the facts described herein and the failures of VIMPELCOM’s management, VIMPELCOM also knowingly lacked a sufficient internal audit function to provide reasonable assurances that corporate assets were not used to make bribery payments to foreign officials and failed to enforce audit protocols or conduct adequate internal audits to detect and prevent criminal activity. As discussed above, VIMPELCOM knowingly failed to implement and enforce internal controls to keep a 2012 reseller transaction within a regularly conducted audit after Executive 2 intervened to cause its removal, thereby allowing a bribe payment to Foreign Official, through Shell Company, to go undetected.

VIMPELCOM management also knowingly failed to implement and maintain adequate controls governing processes concerning conflicts of interest. For example, certain VIMPELCOM management knew of a conflict with Associate B’s representation of Shell Company, because at the time Associate B was a chief executive of one of Unitel’s primary competitors in Uzbekistan. Moreover, Associate B requested to be contacted about work matters on a personal email account and through a pseudonym. VIMPELCOM failed to implement or enforce any meaningful policy to adequately scrutinize business deals with representatives who had such conflicts of interest or otherwise engaged in non-transparent activities.

Other failures that contributed to VIMPELCOM’s lax control environment were VIMPELCOM’s failure to enforce price thresholds that determined the required level of approval authority, failure to retain documentation of deliverables for contracts, and failure to adequately classify and obtain approvals for purported charitable contributions that were made in exchange for state-provided assets.

VIMPELCOM’s failures to implement and enforce adequate internal controls contributed to an environment where it was possible for VIMPELCOM and Unitel executives to pay Foreign Official through Shell Company over $114 million in bribes.

VIMPELCOM also had particularly severe deficiencies in its general compliance function and its anticorruption compliance policies and procedures. When VIMPELCOM entered the Uzbek market, it had no Chief Compliance Officer (“CCO”). To the extent that compliance was considered by VIMPELCOM, it was the responsibility of the legal department and was thought of as a “completeness check” that legal formalities were followed. When VIMPELCOM later did designate a CCO, whose formal title was the Head of Department of Compliance with Obligations and Disclosure of Information and Corporate Law, the junior executive selected had no background in compliance and was given no staff or support. Furthermore, all of VIMPELCOM’s compliance duties were expected to take a small fraction of the executive’s time. In fact, there was no dedicated compliance function at VIMPELCOM until 2013, and CCO was not a senior management group position until 2014.

During the duration of the conspiracy, certain high-level VIMPELCOM management knew of the FCPA, yet VIMPELCOM had little to no anticorruption compliance program, much less a program that was regularly and appropriately evaluated for effectiveness and provided appropriate incentives. VIMPELCOM’s only anticorruption policy was encapsulated in two, high-level paragraphs in VIMPELCOM’s code of conduct, which required consultation with the legal department “before providing anything of value to a government official.” In fact, VIMPELCOM’s legal department did no internal FCPA review of transactions. When corruption issues were identified in the above-mentioned cases, the subsequent “FCPA review” was seen as a “check list and a confirmation from [outside counsel].” As demonstrated above, certain VIMPELCOM management withheld crucial information in such situations in Uzbekistan from outside counsel and overly restricted the scope of FCPA opinions such that the advice given was of no value. Indeed, VIMPELCOM did not have a specific anti-corruption policy until February 2013. Training on the FCPA during the course of the corruption conspiracy, to the extent it existed at all, was inadequate and ad hoc. In short, rather than implement and enforce a strong anti-corruption ethic, VIMPELCOM sought ways to give itself plausible deniability of illegality while proceeding with business transactions known to be corrupt.”

Under the heading “Scheme to Falsify Books and Records,” the information alleges:

“Due to VIMPELCOM’s failure to implement effective internal accounting controls, VIMPELCOM, acting through certain executives and others, disguised on its books and records over $114 million in bribe payments made for the benefit of Foreign Official in exchange for VIMPELCOM and Unitel’s ability to enter and conduct business in the Uzbek telecommunications market.

Although all of VIMPELCOM’s and Unitel’s bribes to Foreign Official were funneled through Shell Company, it was part of the scheme that certain VIMPELCOM management and others used a variety of non-transparent transactions with different purported business purposes, described above, so that the payments would be inaccurately recorded as legitimate transactions. a. The bribe related to the partnership agreement in which Shell Company first purchased and then sold an indirect equity interest in Unitel was falsely recorded in VIMPELCOM’s consolidated books and records as the receipt of loan proceeds in 2007 to be repaid in 2009 and secured by shares in a VIMPELCOM subsidiary. b. The bribe related to the acquisition of 3G frequencies in 2007 was falsely recorded in VIMPELCOM’s consolidated books and records as the acquisition of an intangible asset, namely 3G frequencies, and as consulting expenses. c. The bribe in 2008 was falsely recorded in VIMPELCOM’s consolidated books and records as “submission and support documentation packages seeking assignment of 24 channels to Unitel” and treated as an acquisition of an intangible asset and consulting services. d. The bribe related to consultancy services associated with the acquisition of 4G frequencies in 2011 was falsely recorded in VIMPELCOM’s consolidated books and records as “consulting services” and treated as consulting services and as an acquisition of an intangible asset, namely 4G frequencies.

The bribes made through purported reseller transactions in 2011 and 2012 were falsely recorded in VIMPELCOM’s consolidated books and records as “professional services” expenses. VIMPELCOM also created, and caused to be created, false and backdated records to further conceal these improper payments. For example, each bribe payment was concealed by false contracts that were intended to create the appearance of legitimacy. Some of these contracts included provisions prohibiting unlawful payments, including payments that would violate the FCPA, even though certain VIMPELCOM and Unitel executives knew that the payments called for by the contracts were, in fact, bribes to Foreign Official in violation of the FCPA. At times, VIMPELCOM and Unitel executives also created false service acceptance acts, invoices, and other back-up documentation to justify supposedly legitimate business services when, in truth and in fact, those executives knew that no such work was actually performed to justify the generous payments made to Shell Company. Certain VIMPELCOM and Unitel executives also accepted plagiarized work product to falsely substantiate consulting work that was never performed.”

VimpelCom DPA

The criminal charges against VimpelCom were resolved through a DPA with a term of three years.

Under the heading “Relevant Considerations,” the DPA states:

The Offices enter into this Agreement based on the individual facts and circumstances presented by this case and the Company. Among the factors considered were the following: (a) the Company failed to self-disclose voluntarily its misconduct to the Offices after an internal investigation had been initiated and uncovered wrongdoing, and as a result the Company was not eligible for a more significant discount on the fine amount or the form of resolution; (b) the Company has provided to the Offices all relevant facts known to the Company, including information about individuals involved in the FCPA misconduct; (c) the Company received full cooperation and remediation credit of 25% for its substantial cooperation with the Offices, including-providing evidence (where not prohibited by relevant foreign data privacy and national security laws and regulations) uncovered during a previously conducted internal investigation; undertaking significant efforts to provide foreign evidence to the Offices (again where not prohibited by relevant foreign data privacy law and national security laws or regulations); conducting additional investigation independently, proactively, and as requested; voluntarily making foreign employees available for interviews; assisting with interviews of former employees; and collecting, analyzing, translating, and organizing voluminous evidence and information for the Offices (again where not prohibited by relevant foreign data privacy law and national security laws or regulations); (d) the Company received additional credit of 20% for its prompt acknowledgement of wrongdoing by Company personnel after being informed by the Offices of their criminal investigation, and the Company’s willingness to resolve promptly its criminal liability on an expedited basis; (e) the Company has engaged in extensive remediation, including terminating the employment of officers and employees when the Company determined that they were complicit in the unlawful payments or otherwise failed their responsibilities in connection with such payments; has been substantially upgrading its anti-corruption compliance program; has retained new leaders of its legal, compliance, and financial gatekeeper functions; and has committed to continue to enhance its compliance program and internal controls, including ensuring that its compliance program satisfies the minimum elements set forth in Attachment C to this Agreement; (f) despite these remedial efforts, the Company recognized the need for, and agreed to, the imposition of an independent compliance monitor, as set forth in Attachment D to this Agreement; (g) the Company has no prior criminal history; and (h) the Company has agreed to continue to cooperate with the Offices as provided below in any investigation of the Company and its officers, directors, employees, agents, and consultants relating to possible violations under investigation-by-the Offices …”.

The DPA sets forth the advisory sentencing guidelines fine range of $836 million to $1.67 billion. The DPA then states:

“The Company agrees to pay total monetary penalties in the amount of $460,326,398.40 (the “Total Criminal Penalty”), $40,000,000 of which will be paid as forfeiture … This Total Criminal Penalty is 45% below the bottom of the applicable Sentencing Guidelines fine range, which reflects a reduction of 25% for the Company’s full cooperation as permitted by relevant foreign data privacy and national security laws and regulations and a reduction of 20% for the Company’s prompt acknowledgement of wrongdoing and willingness to resolve its criminal liability on an expedited basis. The Company will pay $190,163,199.20 of-the-Total Criminal Penalty to the United States Treasury within ten (10)  business days of the sentencing by the Court of VimpelCom’s subsidiary Unitel LLC in connection with its guilty plea and plea agreement entered into simultaneously herewith, except that the parties agree that any criminal penalties that might be imposed by the Court on VimpelCom’s subsidiary Unitel LLC in connection with its guilty plea and plea agreement will be deducted from the $190,163,199.20. The Total Criminal Penalty will be offset by up to $230,163,199.20 for any criminal penalties paid to the Organization of the Public Prosecution Service of the Netherlands (“Dutch Prosecution Service”) in connection with the settlement of the Company’s potential prosecution in the Netherlands. Should any amount of such payment to the Dutch Prosecution Service be returned to the Company or any affiliated entity for any reason, then the remaining balance of the Total Criminal Penalty will be paid to the U.S. Treasury within ten (10) business days of such event. The Company and the Offices agree that this penalty is appropriate given the facts and circumstances of this case, including the Company’s prompt acknowledgment of wrongdoing, willingness to resolve its criminal liability on an expedited basis, full cooperation, and extensive remediation in this matter.”

SEC

The SEC’s settled civil complaint is based on the same core conduct alleged in the above DOJ action.

In summary fashion, the complaint alleges:

“From 2006 to at least 2012, VimpelCom offered and paid bribes to a government official in Uzbekistan in connection with its Uzbek operations. During the course of the bribery scheme, VimpelCom made or caused to be made at least $114 million in improper payments in order to obtain and retain business that generated more than $2.5 billion in revenues for VimpelCom.

These payments were primarily made through sham contracts, but were also, in certain instances, made under the guise of legitimate charitable contributions or sponsorships. These payments were improperly characterized in the books of records of VimpelCom’s subsidiaries as legitimate expenses, and consolidated in VimpelCom’s financial statements which were filed with the Commission throughout the relevant period.”

Unlike the DOJ resolution documents, the SEC complaint alleges under the heading “Payments to Charities” as follows.

“VimpelCom also made what were ostensibly charitable payments in order to improperly influence Local Partner A. In connection with corruptly influencing Local Partner A, representatives of Local Partner A directed VimpelCom to make at least $502,000 in payments to charities directly affiliated with Local Partner A.

Unitel had insufficient internal accounting controls and maintained inaccurate books and records regarding its charitable contributions. From 2009 and through 2013, Unitel provided approximately $38 million in sponsorships or charitable contributions in Uzbekistan. Despite the presence ofred flags, these transactions were not vetted to ensure that they were not improperly benefitting government officials.”

The complaint charges VimpelCom with violating the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions, books and records provisions, and internal controls provisions.

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I am pleased to share that FCPA Professor has been honored by the American Bar Association as a “Top 100 Blawg.”  (See here).

Described by others as “the Wall Street Journal concerning all things FCPA-related,” and “the most authoritative source for those seeking to understand and apply the FCPA,” FCPA Professor has previously been named a Top Law Blog for in-house counsel by Corporate Counsel and a Top 25 Business Law Blog by LexisNexis.  FCPA Professor readers include a world-wide audience of attorneys, business and compliance professionals, government agencies, scholars and students, journalists and other interested persons.

In addition to informing readers of FCPA news and developments in a timely and in-depth manner, FCPA Professor is a comprehensive website which features, among other things:

  • links to original source documents;
  • a detailed FCPA 101 page;
  • a resource portal; and
  • hundreds of subject matter categories designed to facilitate in-depth FCPA research and analysis.

All of this takes time, money, and substantial effort, yet the content on FCPA Professor is provided free to readers and without compromising and distracting advertisements.

If FCPA Professor adds value to your practice or business or otherwise enlightens your day and causes you to contemplate the issues in a more sophisticated way, please consider a donation – a voluntary yearly subscription – to FCPA Professor.  Yearly subscriptions to other legal publications or sources of information can serve as an appropriate guide for a donation amount.

Event Notice

I will be participating in a free telephonic event on Tuesday, December 8, 2015 at 3pm EST. Sponsored by the Young Advocates and Criminal Litigation Committees of the ABA, the event is titled: “Ask the Professor: What You Need to Know About Anti-Bribery Laws.”

The event will be moderated by Terra Reynolds (Paul Hastings). Click here to learn more and to register.

Scrutiny Alerts and Updates

British American Tobacco

The company, with ADRs traded in the U.S., was recently the focus of this in-depth piece by the BBC. According to the article:

“[T]he BBC obtained hundreds of documents that reveal how BAT employees bribed politicians, public officials and even people working for a rival company in Africa. […] In 2012, BAT lobbyist Julie Adell-Owino arranged bribes totalling US$26,000 for three public officials in Rwanda, Burundi and the Comoros Islands. All three officials were connected to a United Nations effort to reduce the number of tobacco related deaths.”

As highlighted in this prior post, in 2010 U.S. tobacco companies Alliance One and Universal Corporation resolved FCPA enforcement based on alleged improper payments, including in Africa.

J.P. Morgan

The Wall Street Journal focuses on J.P. Morgan’s FCPA scrutiny for its alleged hiring practices in China. According to the article, J.P. Morgan hired 222 candidates under a program known internally as “Sons and Daughters.” The article makes much of the alleged fact that 45% of the hires were referred by Chinese government officials or employees of state-owned companies.  However, according to the article, an equal percentage (44%) were nongovernmental referrals – an issue that could be relevant to corrupt intent.

Vimpelcom

This recent post highlighted Vimpelcom’s disclosure of a $900 million reserve in connection with its FCPA and related scrutiny. The prior post noted that the disclosure was ambiguous as to the various components of the $900 million.

Bloomberg reports:

Vimpelcom “is in talks to pay about $775 million — a near record — to settle U.S. allegations it paid bribes in Uzbekistan to win business, according to three people familiar with the matter. The Amsterdam-based company’s resolution with the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission could be announced in January, said the people, who asked not to be identified because details of the proposed settlement aren’t public.”

Bloomberg also goes in-depth into the burgeoning Uzbekistan telecom scandal here.

PTC

The company (formerly known as Parametric Technology) has been under FCPA scrutiny since 2011 and recently disclosed:

“We have been in discussions with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) to resolve an investigation concerning expenditures by our business partners in China and by our China business, including for travel and entertainment, that apparently benefited employees of customers regarded as state owned enterprises in China. This matter involves issues regarding compliance with laws, including the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. We have recorded liabilities of $28.2 million as a result of our agreements in principle with those agencies to settle the matter. There can be no assurance that we will enter into final settlements on the agreed terms with these agencies or, if not, that the cost of any final settlements, if reached, would not exceed the existing accrual. Further, any settlement or other resolution of this matter could have collateral effects on our business in China, the United States and elsewhere.”

 Wal-Mart

The media continues to gush over Wal-Mart’s FCPA scrutiny.  In the latest example, the Wall Street Journal reports:

“A U.S. investigation into potential foreign bribery by Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has unearthed evidence of possible misconduct by the retailer in Brazil, after investigators found little to support the sweeping allegations involving Mexico that initially prompted the probe, according to documents and people familiar with the matter. Federal prosecutors are examining $500,000 in payments that they believe ultimately went to an individual hired to obtain government permits the company needed to build two stores in Brasília, Brazil’s capital, between 2009 and 2012, an investigative document shows.”

What do DOJ FCPA Attorneys Do?

To the extent a job listing is an accurate depiction, this is what DOJ FCPA attorneys do:

“The Criminal Division, U.S. Department of Justice, is seeking qualified, experienced attorneys for two-year renewable term positions in the Fraud Section located in Washington, DC. The incumbent will serve as a Trial Attorney in the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) Unit or the Securities & Financial Fraud Unit (SFF) and, as such, will independently direct, conduct, and monitor investigations, prepare for and conduct trials, and advise on pleadings and other court filings.

Generally, as a Trial Attorney in the FCPA Unit or the SFF Unit, the incumbent:

  • In collaboration with unit managers, carries out and fosters effective investigations and prosecutions, including advising on strategy and legal complexities, and developing litigation priorities, policy, and legislative recommendations. Recommends charging decisions and proposes dispositions with regard to assigned cases.
  • Partners with and leads Assistant U.S. Attorneys and attorneys in other federal law enforcement agencies in the development, management and trial of complex white collar and corporate investigations and prosecutions. Engages in all phases of investigation and litigation, including, but not limited to, using the grand jury, advising federal law enforcement agents, utilizing international evidence collection tools, preparing appropriate pleadings, and litigating motions and trials before U.S. District Courts across the country.
  • Collaborates with foreign prosecutors and foreign law enforcement officers on international investigations.
  • Evaluates reports of potential violations of the FCPA / securities and financial fraud laws from both internal and outside sources to determine whether investigation is warranted.
  • Advises and instructs Assistant U.S. Attorneys on complicated questions of law and Departmental policy with respect to the FCPA / securities and financial fraud laws.
  • Represents the United States in direct negotiations and discussions with corporate counsel and high-level officials. Participates in discussions with opposing counsel for defendants and in the formulation of settlements often having far-reaching legal consequences.
  • Advises and consults with the Assistant Attorney General, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Section Chief, et al., reporting on the status of all cases and matters related to civil/criminal remedies.
  • Serves as an expert, providing advice and policy determinations in matters involving the planning, discussion and coordination of the activities related to the investigation and litigation of FCPA cases. Oversees the preparation and litigation assignments of lower graded attorneys, paralegals and clerical personnel.”

Quotable

One thing high-ranking DOJ officials most certainly do is give numerous speeches.

In the latest example, DOJ Deputy Assistant Attorney General Sung-Hee Suh delivered this keynote address at the ABA Criminal Justice Section’s inaugural Global White Collar Crime Institute in Shanghai (an event, I am pleased to say, was organized by my Southern Illinois University School of Law colleague Professor Lucian Dervan).

Set forth below is an expert of Suh’s address.

On internal investigations:

“Until last year, I worked for 15 years in private practice representing companies – often in the context of criminal or regulatory investigations. I believe I have a good sense of the challenges that companies and their counsel face in determining the appropriate scope of an internal investigation. But some of those challenges appear to stem from a misperception that the longer and more expensive and more resource intensive the company’s internal investigation, the more favorably the government will view the company’s cooperation. But broad, aimless investigations by a company – just as by the government – are counter-productive. As we in the Criminal Division have long emphasized, and continue to stress today, an investigation should be narrowly focused on getting to the bottom of what happened, identifying who within the company was involved, and – if the company seeks cooperation credit — providing that information to us on a timely basis.”

On transparency:

“[W]e understand that it has not always been clear why the Department required a corporate entity to plead guilty to resolve a criminal case, as opposed to a deferred or non-prosecution agreement, or why we declined to pursue a criminal resolution altogether with another corporate entity that engaged in similar misconduct. I have also heard companies and their counsel say that they have no idea how the government’s monetary resolutions were arrived at – that it sometimes appears as if the government just picks these numbers out of thin air. Also notable has been the trend among companies over the last several years against voluntary self-reporting, including – and perhaps especially – in the FCPA space, in part due to what is perceived, as noted during this morning’s sessions, that there is little or no benefit to self-reporting. Some lawyers have advised their clients that it’s simply more rational to wait to see if the government comes knocking and then cooperate if and when that happens.”

[…]

“[T]o those companies that are disinclined to self-report in the belief that the government will never know – I say, think again. In the anti-corruption space, the Fraud Section and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are deploying significantly more resources to detect and prosecute companies that choose not to self-disclose in FCPA cases. We’re hiring an additional 10 prosecutors in the FCPA Unit, an increase of over 50%, and the FBI has established three new squads devoted to international corruption investigations and prosecutions.”

On compliance programs:

“No compliance program is foolproof. We understand that. We also appreciate that the challenges of implementing an effective compliance program are compounded by the everincreasing cross-border nature of business and of criminal activity. Many companies’ businesses are all over the world. They are creating products and delivering services not only here in China but overseas and are operating across many different legal regimes and cultures. We also recognize that a smaller company doesn’t have the same compliance resources as a Fortune-50 company. Finally, we know that a compliance program can seem like “state of the art” at a company’s U.S. headquarters, but may not be all that effective in the field, especially in far-flung reaches of the globe.”

*****

For your viewing pleasure, a video of a roundtable with new DOJ compliance counsel Hui Chen and DOJ Fraud Section Chief Andrew Weissmann.  The first portion of the event consisted of the DOJ officials respond to (likely scripted) questions by a moderator, the second portion – when the video recorder was turned off – consisted of the DOJ officials responding to audience questions.

Reading Stack

I did not come up with the title of the entry or its narrative, but I did answer the questions posed to me in this Corporate Crime Reporter entry about the political aspects of FCPA enforcement as well as questions about an FCPA compliance defense – a defense I have long advocated for (see here for the article “Revisiting a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Compliance Defense.”

*****

A Wall Street Journal op-ed by Professor Lucian Dervan titled “The Injustice of the Plea-Bargaining System.”

*****

A good weekend to all.

The Burgeoning Uzbekistan Telecommunication Investigations

Telecomscandal

For approximately two years, Dutch telecommunications company VimpelCom  and Swedish telecommunications company TeliaSonera have been under scrutiny concerning its business practices in Uzbekistan (see here and here prior posts).

The scrutiny has sort of flown under the radar, but recent events suggest that the scrutiny, as well as related scrutiny of other companies, may be on par with arguably the most high profile instance of multi-company FCPA scrutiny (the 2009 – 2012 enforcement actions against KBR/ Halliburton, Snamprogetti / ENI, Technip, JGC Corp. and Marubeni all in connection with the Bonny Island natural gas project in Nigeria – with the exception of Marubeni all of these enforcement actions are in the top 8 in terms of overall settlement amounts).

Recently, VimpelCom, a company with shares traded on NASDAQ, disclosed:

“As previously disclosed, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”), the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”), and the Dutch Public Prosecution Service (Openbaar Ministerie) (“OM”) are conducting investigations relating primarily to VimpelCom Ltd.’s (the “Company” or “VimpelCom”) business in Uzbekistan and prior dealings with Takilant Ltd. As announced in February of 2015, the Company has been exploring resolution of the Company’s potential liabilities. The Company continues to cooperate with the authorities. Based on its ongoing assessment of the investigation during the third quarter of 2015, the Company will make a provision in the amount of US$900 million in its third quarter financial statements. The discussions with the authorities are ongoing and, until concluded, there can be no certainty as to the final cost to the Company of any such resolution or the nature, likelihood or timing of a definitive resolution. At this time, the Company will make no further comments on the ongoing discussions.”

The amount mentioned in the disclosure caught many by surprise.

The disclosure amount is a bit ambiguous. For instance, does it refer to a settlement amount (and if so how will it be apportioned between U.S. and Dutch authorities)? Likewise, does the disclosure amount refer to pre-enforcement action professional fees and expenses (often the largest financial hit to a company under FCPA scrutiny) and/or expected post-enforcement action professional fees and expenses?

Regardless, it would appear that a future FCPA enforcement action against VimpelCom is likely to land on the top ten list of FCPA settlement amounts.

What is certain is that days after the above announcement, plaintiffs lawyers came out of the woodwork and filed class action securities fraud complaints (see here, here, and here).

As to TeliaSonera, a company with ADRs registered with the SEC, since 2013 the company has been conducting a review of its operations in Uzbekistan as well as other Eurasia countries including Azerbaijan.

VimpelCom and TeliaSonera are not the only telecommunications under scrutiny.

Russia-based Mobile TeleSystems PJSC, a company with shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange, has also been FCPA scrutiny in connection with Uzbekistan business and recently disclosed:

“[A]s the Company had previously disclosed, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) and the SEC are conducting an investigation into MTS’s business activities in Uzbekistan. In addition, MTS publicly confirmed that it had been referenced in a civil forfeiture complaint, filed by the DOJ, directed at certain assets of an unnamed Uzbek government official. The complaint alleges that MTS made corrupt payments to gain access to the Uzbek telecommunications market. The Complaint alleges among other things that MTS and certain other parties made corrupt payments to the unnamed Uzbek official to assist MTS entering and operating in the Uzbekistan telecommunications market. The Complaint is solely directed towards assets held by the unnamed Uzbek official, and none of MTS’s assets are affected by the Complaint. Recent announcements with regard to Uzbekistan by MTS’s peers in the market have naturally raised questions among stakeholders and partners to MTS’s management. At this time, MTS can reiterate that it is cooperating with the investigation, and it is too early to draw any conclusions based on the experiences of others in the Uzbekistan market. As there have yet been no new developments, MTS can make no further comment or provide new information.”

Last, but certainly not least, Norway-based Telenor recently announced that its CEO has resigned and that it is divesting its ownership interest in VimpelCom. Shortly thereafter the company disclosed:

“On 14 March 2014 VimpelCom announced that the company was under investigation by US and Dutch authorities for its operations in Uzbekistan. Telenor Group has status as witness in these investigations and has cooperated with the investigating authorities. As a witness, Telenor has shared all requested information, and interviews have been conducted with relevant persons in Telenor. Telenor Group sees VimpelCom’s announcement today as a serious development that significantly increases our concerns in relation to the potential outcome of the still ongoing investigations. Telenor Group has a financial participation with an economic stake of 33 per cent in VimpelCom. In its financial reporting, Telenor includes VimpelCom as an associated company.”

The above disclosure was thereafter followed by this disclosure from Telenor:

Telenor Board of Directors has assigned Deloitte Advokatfirma AS (Deloitte) to perform a review of Telenor’s handling and oversight of the minority ownership in VimpelCom. The review will focus on Telenor’s handling of its ownership in VimpelCom which covers the Telenor nominees on the VimpelCom Supervisory Board and Telenor’s follow-up as a shareholder. In addition the review will cover actions and decisions by Telenor nominees and Telenor employees in relation to VimpelCom’s investment in Uzbekistan. The review will assess facts and identify learning points for future governance and organization of Telenor’s ownerships. This would cover both the formal governance structure and the practical handling of the ownerships. The review will cover the period from 2005 until this date. The conclusions and recommendations of the review will be made public.”

What interest does the U.S. have in investigating alleged bribery of Uzbekistan officials or family members by Dutch, Swedish, Russian and Norwegian telecom companies?

Probably as much interest as the U.S. had in investigating and bringing enforcement actions against Dutch, Italian, French and Japanese companies for bribing Nigerian officials in the Bonny Island, Nigeria enforcement actions.

Friday Roundup

Coming attractions, monitor talk, LatinNode related individual sentences, just who are those “gestores,” scholarship of note, and Supreme Court quotables.  It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Coming Attractions

This prior post contained FCPA practitioner Homer Moyer’s discussion of industry sweeps.  Industries that have been subjected to industry sweeps or are reportedly in the middle of industry sweeps include:  oil and gas, pharmaceutical / medical devices, and financial services.

Add Hollywood film studies to the list.

Reuters reports (here) that the SEC “has sent letters of inquiry to at least five movie studios in the past two months, including News Corp’s 20th Century Fox, Disney, and DreamWorks Animation” that “ask for information about potential inappropriate payments and how the companies dealt with certain government officials in China.”

The New York Times (here) also reported on the letters of inquiry and stated that the SEC “has begun an investigation into whether some of Hollywood’s biggest movie studios have made illegal payments to officials in China to gain the right to film and show movies there.”

In other disclosure news, Turkcell Iletisim Hizmetleri A.S. (Turkcell), Turkey’s only New York Stock Exchange listed company, recently disclosed in an SEC filing (here) as follows.  “Some of [the countries the company operates in] also suffer from relatively high rates of fraud and corruption. For example, allegations have been made regarding improper payments relating to the operations of KCell, a mobile operator in Kazakhstan and 51% subsidiary of Fintur Holdings B.V., in which we hold a 41.45% stake, while TeliaSonera holds the remainder. The allegations were discussed by Turkcell’s Board of Directors, which requested an independent investigation of the allegations made. TeliaSonera initiated an independent investigation as agreed by the Fintur Board. The Turkcell Board has been informed that to date there has not been substantiated any such allegations and the Fintur Board informs us that it has completed its own investigation. Since no assurance can be given that there will not be further requests for investigation, we remain vigilant on this matter.”

In other disclosure news, in October 2006, the SEC informed the Bristol Myers Squibb Company that it had begun a formal inquiry into the activities of certain of the company’s German pharmaceutical subsidiaries and its employees and/or agents.  The company previously disclosed that “the SEC’s inquiry encompasses matters formerly under investigation by the German prosecutor in Munich, Germany, which have since been resolved,” that the inquiry concerns potential violations of the FCPA and that “the company is cooperating with the SEC.”  Yesterday, in a 10-Q filing, the company stated as follows.  “In March, 2012, the Company received a subpoena from the SEC. The subpoena, issued in connection with an investigation under the FCPA, primarily relates to sales and marketing practices in various countries. The Company is cooperating with the government in its investigation of these matters.”

According to my tally, over the past two months, approximately 15 companies have newly disclosed, or been linked to, FCPA scrutiny.  See here for the prior post “The Sun Rose, a Dog Barked, and a Company Disclosed FCPA Scrutiny.”  (And no, Wal-Mart is not included in this list, the company disclosed its FCPA scrutiny in December 2011).

Hercules Offshore disclosed better news in its 10-Q filing yesterday.  The company stated as follows.  “On April 4, 2011, the Company received a subpoena issued by the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) requesting the delivery of certain documents to the SEC in connection with its investigation into possible violations of the securities laws, including possible violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) in certain international jurisdictions where the Company conducts operations. The Company was also notified by the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) on April 5, 2011, that certain of the Company’s activities were under review by the DOJ. On April 24, 2012, the Company received a letter from the DOJ notifying the Company that the DOJ has closed its inquiry into the Company regarding possible violations of the FCPA and does not intend to pursue enforcement action against the Company. The DOJ indicated that its decision to close the matter was based on, among other factors, the thorough investigation conducted by the Company’s special counsel and the Company’s compliance program. The Company, through the Audit Committee of the Board of Directors, intends to continue to cooperate with the SEC in its investigation. At this time, it is not possible to predict the outcome of the SEC’s investigation, the expenses the Company will incur associated with this matter, or the impact on the price of the Company’s common stock or other securities as a result of this investigation.”

For the second straight day, I say kudos to the DOJ.  Yet, I also ask on consecutive days – would anything really change with an FCPA compliance defense?  As I note in “Revisiting a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Compliance Defense” (here) the DOJ already recognizes a de facto FCPA compliance defense albeit in opaque, inconsistent and unpredictable ways. Thus, an FCPA compliance defense accomplishes, among other things, the policy goal of removing factors relevant to corporate criminal liability from the opaque, inconsistent, and unpredictable world of DOJ decision making towards a more transparent, consistent, and predictable model best accomplished through a compliance defense amendment to the FCPA.

Monitor Talk

As discussed in this prior post, in March Biomet resolved an FCPA enforcement action involving $22.8 million in combined fines and penalties ($17.3 million via a DOJ deferred prosecution agreement, and $5.5 million via a settled SEC civil complaint).  Pursuant to the DPA, Biomet agreed to engage an independent compliance monitor “for a period of not less than 18 months” and to provide periodic reports to the DOJ regarding remediation and implementation of the enhanced compliance measures as described in an attachment to the DPA.

As evidence that investor concern regarding FCPA issues does not end on enforcement action day, during a recent earnings conference call, an analyst asked Biomet CEO Jeff Binder the following question.

“I guess just with regard to the DOJ settlement that was announced for the FCPA potential violations, I’m just wondering — I guess you’re going to have an 18-month monitoring period. So I assume that would only apply to your international business? And then maybe even within the international business, would that only apply to certain regions where there have been problems found? And then what sort of a pricing — sorry, not pricing, but cost impact do you expect from that monitoring? Is it something material or not?”

Binder responded as follows.  “Yes. You’re correct that the monitorship will apply to our businesses outside the United States, but the monitors purview is broad outside the United States. The monitor has the ability to take a look at our businesses across the world. The monitor will do a risk assessment upfront. They’ll understand where our issues have been and they’ll take a look at our processes. They’ll develop that risk assessment. They’ll come up with a work plan that’s based on that risk assessment. And we’ll take it from there. We don’t expect that additional expenses for the monitor will be material to the business. DOJ and SEC require the candidates for the monitorship to submit budgets of the projected services for their work. And I’d just say that the amounts that were set forth in those budgets are not material, and we don’t anticipate significant internal expenses associated with the monitorship.”

LatiNode Individual Sentences

As noted in this DOJ release, in April 2009 LatiNode, a privately held Florida corporation, pleaded guilty to violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in connection with improper payments in Honduras and Yemen and agreed to pay a $2 million criminal penalty.  Thereafter, several of its former executives – Jorge Granados, Manuel Caceres, Manuel Salvoch, and Juan Vasquez were criminally charged and pleaded guility.

Earlier this week Caceres (former vice president of business development at LatiNode) and Vasquez (a former senior commercial executive at LatiNode) were sentenced.  U.S. District Court Judge Joan Lenard (S.D. of Fl.) sentenced Caceres to 23 months followed by 1 year supervised release – the DOJ sought a 36 month sentence.  U.S. District Court Judge Patrricia Seitz (S.D. of Fl.) sentenced Vasquez to 3 years probation, community service, home detention and monitoring and ordered him to pay a $7,500 criminal fine – the DOJ originally sought a 36 month sentence and recently stated that it “would not oppose a sentence for Vasquez that was less than the sentence for Caceres and Salvoch [who is yet to be sentenced].”

As noted in this prior post, in September 2011, Granados was sentenced to 46 months in prison.

“Gestores”

The New York Times article suggested that many of the Wal-Mart Mexican payments at issue were routed through Mexican gestores.   Just who are those “gestores.”?  I found this article from CBS of interest.  The article states as follows.   “A visit to any government office is likely to bring the sighting of a well-dressed man carrying reams of documents who will glide past the long lines, shake hands with the official behind the counter and get ushered into a backroom, where his affairs presumably get a fast-track service. The suspicion is these go-betweens funnel a portion of the fees they charge clients to corrupt officials to smooth the issuance of permits, approvals and other government stamps.  In a country where laws on zoning rules, construction codes and building permits are vague or laxly enforced, the difference between opening a store quickly and having it held up for months may depend on using a gestor.”

Scholarship of Note

Pre-Wal-Mart, the FCPA conversation of the spring focused on charitable contributions in the context of the Wynn-Okada dispute.  See here, here and here for the prior posts.  Other posts have noted (see here) that, strange as it may sound, the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions are only implicated when something of value is provided, directly or indirectly, to a foreign official to influence the official in obtaining or retaining business.  The FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions are not implicated when the thing of value is provided to a foreign government itself.  Other prior posts (here and here) have discussed Dodd-Frank Act Section 1504’s Resource Extraction Disclosure Provisions.

Given my prior writings on these issues, I was pleased when Emory University School of Law student Francesca Pisano sent me the student comment “Anti-Corruption Law & Corporate Philanthropy: Rethinking the Regulations” (here) selected for publication in a forthcoming issue of the Emory Law Journal.

The abstract states as follows.

“When the 2010 earthquake hit Port-au-Prince, Haiti, U.S. companies donated over $146.8 million to the relief effort. Despite this impressive display of global engagement, commentators suggested that the US anti-corruption laws had discouraged corporations from greater involvement. Even with the laws in force, however, reports of corruption in the relief effort soon surfaced, derailing Haiti’s recovery. Foreign aid that feeds corruption will never achieve sustainable growth, but development efforts will similarly fail if U.S. anti-corruption laws discourage corporate philanthropy.  This comment analyzes the application of two U.S. anti-corruption laws, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) and the Dodd-Frank Section 1504, to international corporate charity. It shows how the FCPA’s ambiguous nature has the unfortunate effect of being both over- and under-inclusive, discouraging bona fide charity while at the same time failing to capture corrupt donations. The recently-enacted Dodd-Frank Section 1504 has great potential, but the SEC’s proposed rules have created a loophole to allow corruption to continue if hidden in corporate charity.  This comment proposes a modification to FCPA enforcement: creating a Safe Harbor Option. This will offer businesses the opportunity to “buy” a rebuttable presumption of legitimacy for their charitable donations by publically disclosing the payments, projects, and recipients of their philanthropy. Granting a presumption of legitimacy to disclosed donations will ameliorate many of the over-inclusive aspects of the FCPA. The increased disclosure will allow the public to monitor corporate charity and question suspicious gifts, ameliorating the under-inclusive aspects of FCPA enforcement. This comment also argues that Section 1504 should be defined expansively to prevent charity from being used to circumvent the congressional goals of increasing transparency and combating corruption. If properly defined, Section 1504 is an excellent example of regulation through disclosure and transparency, rather than prohibitions.”

Supreme Court Quotable

This recent post discussed non-FCPA caselaw that touched upon issues relevant to the recent “foreign official” challenges.  Last week, the Supreme Court issued its opinion (here) in Mohamad v. Palestinian Authority concerning the scope of the Torture Victim Protection Act.  The Court, in an opinion authored by Justice Sotomayor held that the term “individual” in the TVPA encompasses only natural persons, and thus the law does not impose liability against corporatons.  In her opinion, Justice Sotomayor’s stated, among other things, as follows.

“Congress remains free, as always, to give the word [individual] a broader or different meaning. But before we will assume it has done so, there must be some indication Congress intended such a result.”

“We add only that Congress appeared well aware of the limited nature of the cause of action it estab­lished in the Act.”

“The text of the TVPA convinces us that Congress did not extend liability to organizations, sovereign or not. There are no doubt valid arguments for such an extension. But Congress has seen fit to proceed in more modest steps in the Act, and it is not the province of this Branch to do otherwise.”

*****

I went to Walmart last night.  After completing my purchase and before exiting the store, I stopped, looked around, and thought, wow, what a week!

A good weekend to all.

Haiti Teleco’s Other Preferred Providers

In terms of defendants (13), it is the largest FCPA enforcement action in history and its involves Haiti Teleco.  As indicated in a post last week (see here), another individual – and a high-profile individual at that (former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide), has been mentioned in connection with the enforcement action.

The enforcement action(s) principally allege payments by various defendants to obtain preferred telecommunication rates from Haiti Teleco.  See here for the indictment of Joel Esquenazi, Carlos Rodriguez and others.  See here for the information as to Juan Diaz.  See here for the information as to Antonio Perez.  See here for the superseding indictment of various Cinergy Telecommunications employees and others.

Even though the Haiti Teleco enforcement action(s) are already broad in scope, other companies also obtained preferred telecommunication rates from Haiti Teleco –  and allegations or suspicions have been raised as to how.  However, at present, there have not been any enforcement actions as to the below companies.

Prior SEC filings by IDT Corporation (here), starting in 2008, have stated as follows.  “On April 1, 2004, D. Michael Jewett, a former employee, […] sent a copy of the complaint he had filed against the Company to the United States Attorney’s Office. In the complaint, Jewett had alleged, among other things, that improper payments were made to foreign officials in connection with an IDT Telecom contract. As a result, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”), the SEC and the United States Attorney in Newark, New Jersey conducted an investigation of this matter. The Company and the Audit Committee of the Company’s Board of Directors initiated independent investigations, by outside counsel, regarding certain of the matters raised in the Jewett complaint and in these investigations. Neither the Company’s nor the Audit Committee’s investigations have found any evidence that the Company made any such improper payments to foreign officials.”

The substance of IDT’s disclosure on this issue has not changed since 2008.  In 2010, IDT entered into a confidential settlement agreement with Jewett. In its most recent quarterly filing, IDT stated as follows as to the above issue.  “The Company continues to cooperate with these investigations, which the SEC and DOJ have confirmed are still ongoing.”  For more on the IDT – Haiti Teleco contract, see this 2009 article from Forbes.

This March 2010 editorial in the Wall Street Journal “Democrats and Haiti Telecom” raises questions about a 1999 contract between Fusion Telecommunications (here) and Haiti Teleco (as well as Fusion board member, Joseph P. Kennedy II – the article also states that “numerous [Bill] Clinton cronies were also on Fusion’s board”).   The article asserts that Fusion had access to the Teleco network at a 75% discount from the official rate on file at the Federal Communications Commission.  For additional Wall Street Journal coverage of Fusion’s Haiti Teleco contract – see here and here – from today’s Wall Street Journal titled “The Looting of Haiti Teleco.”

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