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Disconnected – The Many FCPA Enforcement Actions Against Telecom Companies

Telecomscandal

Not all industry sectors have the same Foreign Corrupt Practices Act risk.

At its most basic level, FCPA risk is a function of real company employees or agents having real points of contact with real alleged “foreign officials” in the global marketplace. The more regulated a foreign marketplace is, the more points of contact there are likely to be.

In many countries, the telecom sector is heavily regulated and thus not surprisingly many FCPA enforcement actions have occurred in this sector.

As highlighted below, since 2010 there have been eleven FCPA enforcement actions against telecom companies resulting in approximately $3.1 billion in settlements. Seven of these enforcement actions were against non-U.S. telecom companies and four of these enforcement actions are in the Top Ten of FCPA settlements.

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Swedish Company Bribes Foreign Officials, U.S. Collects $1.06 Billion In Record-Setting FCPA Enforcement Action

ericsson

Late last Friday, the DOJ and SEC announced (here and here) a record-setting Foreign Corrupt Practices Act action Swedish telecom company Ericsson (a company with American Depositary Shares traded in the U.S.). The $1.06 billion settlement amount is the largest net FCPA settlement amount in history surpassing the $850 million FCPA enforcement action against Russian telecom company MTS in March 2019 (see here).

The enforcement action concerned conduct in Djibouti, China, Vietnam, Kuwait, Indonesia, and Saudi Arabia.

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Next Up – MTS Resolves $850 Million FCPA Enforcement Action

mts

First it was Netherlands-based VimpelCom which resolved a net $398 million FCPA enforcement action in February 2016 for bribing an alleged Uzbekistan telecom official (see here and here for prior posts).

Then it was Sweden-based Telia which resolved a net $483 million FCPA enforcement action in September 2017 based on the same alleged core conduct. (see here and here for prior posts).

Recently, the SEC and DOJ announced (see here and here) that Russia-based Mobile TeleSystems PJSC (MTS) agreed to resolve an $850 million DOJ/SEC FCPA enforcement action based on the same alleged core conduct. This is the largest settlement amount in an FCPA enforcement action in history. (See here for a list of the top ten corporate enforcement actions).

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Polycom Resolves A $36.6 Million Enforcement Action – SEC Believes That The FCPA Is A Strict Liability Statute And Just What Viable Criminal Charges Did The DOJ Decline?

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Earlier this week, Polycom (up until 2016 an issuer which was then acquired by a private equity firm and is now a wholly-owned subsidiary of Plantronics) resolved a $36.6 million Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement action ($16.3 million pursuant to an SEC administrative order and $20.3 million pursuant to a so-called DOJ declination with disgorgement letter).

The conduct at issue concerned a Chinese subsidiary which created “a separate, parallel sales management system outside of Polycom’s company-approved systems, which was orchestrated by Polycom’s Vice President of China” and whose employees used “non-Polycom e-mail addresses when discussing deals with Polycom’s distributor.” According to the SEC, “Polycom personnel outside China were unaware of the existence of this parallel system.”

Yet, in another example of the SEC believing that the FCPA is a strict liability statute, the SEC found that Polycom violated the FCPA’s books and records and internal controls provisions. Moreover, without highlighting any additional substantive information the DOJ “declined prosecution … despite the bribery committed by employees of the Company’s subsidiaries in China, and these subsidiaries’ knowing and willful causing of false books and records at Polycom.” However, based on the information in the public domain (that is the SEC’s order) it remains an open question just what viable criminal charges the DOJ actually declined.

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DOJ Announces Individual FCPA And Related Enforcement Action In Connection With Aruba Telecom Scheme

setar

It’s not every day that the DOJ announces a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement casually in a press release about another enforcement action, but that is what the DOJ did today in this release announcing that Egbert Yvan Ferdinand Koolman (a Dutch citizen residing in Miami, Florida who was an official of Servicio di Telecommunicacion di Aruba N.V. (Setar), an instrumentality of the Aruban government) pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering involving FCPA violations.

The release further states: “in connection with the scheme, Lawrence W. Parker, Jr., 42, of Miami, pleaded guilty on Dec. 28, 2017 to one count of conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and to commit wire fraud.  Parker’s sentencing is scheduled for April 30.”

This post summarizes the original source documents in the Parker enforcement action.

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