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Friday Roundup

Another acknowledgment of the logic, whistleblower statistics, a guilty plea, and for the reading stack.  It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Another Acknowledgment of the Logic

Previous posts here and here have highlighted recent speeches by top SEC officials in which they acknowledge the underlying logic supporting a compliance defense.  Deputy Attorney General James Cole did the same in this recent speech before a bank compliance officer crowd.

“At the Department of Justice, we know that compliance officers within financial institutions, and the lawyers, bankers, and others who work with them, are the first line of defense against abuse within these institutions.  Compliance officers are critical to protecting both a bank’s reputation and its bottom line.  They’re essential when it comes to preventing criminal activity – and if that effort is not entirely successful, detecting and reporting such conduct.  It is not an exaggeration to say that compliance is fundamental to protecting the security of our financial institutions and is essential to the integrity of our entire financial system. Despite, and in some ways because of, this crucial role, I know that working in compliance is often difficult.  Compliance is seldom thought of as a ‘money-maker’ for any bank, and it may be challenging to get sufficient resources and authority to do the job well.  To some, compliance may not seem to fit within the culture of a fast-moving, cutting-edge institution.  And at times, certain business units or managers may seem downright hostile toward the compliance function. We at the Department of Justice understand this reality.  And we appreciate that, despite these challenges, you and your colleagues are fully committed to helping protect the integrity of your institutions and our financial system.”

[…]

The notion that compliance must be firmly embedded in a corporation’s culture has been raised before, including at this conference, by many government officials.  You’ve heard a great deal about the importance of ‘tone at the top.’  Indeed, companies regularly argue during negotiations that they have taken various steps to set the right tone at the highest levels of their institutions.  But based on what we have seen, we cannot help but feel that the message is not getting through often enough or clearly enough. Despite years of admonitions by government officials that compliance must be an important part of a corporation’s culture, we continue to see significant violations of law at banks, inadequate compliance programs, and missed opportunities to prevent and detect crimes.”

In “Revisiting a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Compliance Defense,” I argue, among other things, that a compliance defense will better incentivize corporate compliance and reduce improper conduct.  Compliance is a cost center within business organizations and expenditure of finite resources on FCPA compliance is an investment best sold if it can reduce legal exposure, not merely lessen the impact of legal exposure.

In short, an FCPA compliance defense will best allow compliance professionals in the FCPA context to – in the words of Cole – “get sufficient resources and authority to do the job well.”

Will the DOJ and SEC ever be capable of realizing that a compliance defense is a race to the top, not a race to the bottom?  (See here for the prior post).  Will the DOJ and SEC ever have the courage to realize that a compliance defense can best help the enforcement agencies accomplish its laudable goals? (See here for the prior post).

Whistleblower Statistics

The Dodd-Frank Act enacted in July 2010 contained whistleblower provisions applicable to all securities law violations including the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.  In this prior post from July 2010, I predicted that the new whistleblower provisions would have a negligible impact on FCPA enforcement.  As noted in this prior post, my prediction was an outlier (so it seemed) compared to the flurry of law firm client alerts that predicted that the whistleblower provisions would have a significant impact on FCPA enforcement.  So anxious was FCPA Inc. for a marketing opportunity to sell its compliance services, some even called the generic whistleblower provision the FCPA’s “new” whistleblower provisions.

So far, there have not been any whistleblower awards in connection with FCPA enforcement actions.  Given that enforcement actions (from point of first disclosure to resolution) typically take between 2-4 years, it still may be too early to effectively analyze the impact of the whistleblower provisions on FCPA enforcement.

Whatever your view, I previously noted that the best part of the new whistleblower provisions were that its impact on FCPA enforcement can be monitored and analyzed because the SEC is required to submit annual reports to Congress.  Recently, the SEC released (here) its annual report for FY2013.

Of the 3,238 whisteblower tips received by the SEC in FY2013, 4.6% (149) related to the FCPA.  As noted in this similar post from last year, of the 3,001 whisteblower tips received by the SEC in FY2012, 3.8% (115) related to the FCPA.  In FY2011 (a partial reporting year)  3.9% of the 334 tips received by the SEC related to the FCPA.

Yes, there will be in the future a whistleblower award made in the context of an FCPA enforcement action.  Yes, there will be much ink spilled on this occasion and wild predictions about this “new trend.”  Yet, I stand by my prediction – now 3.5 years old, that Dodd-Frank’s whistleblower provisions will have a negligible impact on FCPA enforcement.

“Foreign Official” Pleads Guilty

Earlier this week, the DOJ announced that Maria Gonzalez, the alleged “foreign official” at the center of the FCPA enforcement actions against individuals associated with broker-dealer Direct Access Partners LLC, pleaded guilty to “conspiring to violate the Travel Act and to commit money laundering, as well as substantive counts of these offenses.”  Gonzalez (V.P. of Finance / Executive Manager of Finance and Funds Administration at Bandes – an alleged state-run economic development bank in Venezuela) is to be sentenced on August 15, 2014.

As noted in the DOJ’s release:

“Previously, three former employees of the Broker-Dealer – Ernesto Lujan, Jose Alejandro Hurtado, and Tomas Alberto Clarke Bethancourt – each pleaded guilty in New York federal court to conspiring to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), to violate the Travel Act and to commit money laundering, as well as substantive counts of these offenses, relating, among other things, to the scheme involving bribe payments to Gonzalez.  Sentencing for Lujan and Clarke is scheduled for Feb. 11, 2014, before U.S. District Judge Paul G. Gardephe.  Hurtado is scheduled for sentencing before U.S. District Judge Harold Baer Jr. on March 6, 2014.”

Reading Stack

An interesting read from a Vietnam media source regarding the notion that – just like in tango – it takes two in a bribery scheme and that many instances of bribery are the result of harassment by foreign officials and extortion-like demands.  When passing the FCPA in 1977, Congress fully recognized and understood this reality and that is why it did not seek to capture facilitation payments in the FCPA.  (See here for more reading).

*****

A good weekend to all.

Friday Roundup

Scrutiny alerts and updates, quotable, and for the reading stack.  It’s all here in the Friday Roundup.

Scrutiny Alerts And Updates

Avon

Yesterday, Avon’s stock dropped approximately 22% to $17.50.  The company disclosed a drop in third quarter sales and weaker than expected earnings.  Avon also disclosed, in pertinent part, the following regarding its long-running FCPA scrutiny:

“As previously reported in our Quarterly Report on Form 10-Q for the period ending June 30, 2013, we made an offer of settlement to the DOJ and the SEC in June 2013 that, among other terms, would have included payment of monetary penalties of approximately $12. Although our offer was rejected by the DOJ and the staff of the SEC, we accrued the amount of our offer in the second quarter of 2013.

In September 2013, the staff of the SEC proposed terms of potential settlement that included monetary penalties of a magnitude significantly greater than our earlier offer. We disagree with the SEC staff’s assumptions and the methodology used in its calculations and believe that monetary penalties at the level proposed by the SEC staff are not warranted. We anticipate that the DOJ also will propose terms of potential settlement, although they have not yet done so and we are unable to predict the timing or terms of any such proposal. If the DOJ’s offer is comparable to the SEC’s offer and if the Company were to enter into settlements with the SEC and the DOJ at such levels, we believe that the Company’s earnings, cash flows, liquidity, financial condition and ongoing business would be materially adversely impacted.

Although we are working to resolve the government investigations through settlement, our discussions are at early stages and at this point we do not know if those efforts will be successful and, if they are, what the timing or terms of any such settlements would be. We expect any such settlements will include civil and/or criminal fines and penalties, and may also include non-monetary remedies, such as oversight requirements and additional remediation and compliance requirements. We may be required to incur significant future costs to comply with the non-monetary terms of any settlements with the SEC and the DOJ. If we are able to reach settlements with the SEC and the DOJ, the Company believes that such settlements are likely to include monetary penalties that would be material to its earnings and cash flows in the relevant fiscal period and could, depending on the amounts of the settlements, materially adversely impact the Company’s liquidity, financial condition and ongoing business.

There can be no assurance that our efforts to reach settlements with the government will be successful.  If we do not reach settlements with the SEC and/or the DOJ, we cannot predict the outcome of any subsequent litigation with the government but such litigation could have a material adverse effect on our earnings, cash flow, liquidity, financial condition and ongoing business.>We have not recorded an additional accrual beyond the amount recorded in the second quarter of 2013 because at this time, in light of the early stages of our discussions of possible settlement terms with the government, the magnitude of the difference between our offer and the amount proposed by the SEC and the absence of a proposal from the DOJ, and our inability to predict whether we will be able to reach settlements with the government, we cannot reasonably estimate the amount of additional loss above the amount accrued to date.

Until these matters are resolved, either through settlement or litigation, we expect to continue to incur costs, primarily professional fees and expenses, which may be significant, in connection with the government investigations. Furthermore, under certain circumstances, we may also be required to advance and/or reimburse significant professional fees and expenses to certain current and former Company employees in connection with these matters.”

In certain respects, Avon’s disclosure was similar to its August disclosure (see here for the prior post) in which it stated “we made an offer of settlement to the DOJ and the SEC that, among other terms, included payment of monetary penalties of approximately $12 [million]. The DOJ and the SEC have rejected the terms of our offer.”

The fact that there is a negotiation and back and forth between the SEC and a company concerning an FCPA settlement number is not unusual, what is a bit unusual is that this back and forth is being aired in public via the company’s SEC filings.

Embraer

Previous posts here and here have profiled Embraer’s FCPA scrutiny.  In an article titled “Plane Maker Embraer Faces Bribery Inquiries,” the Wall Street Journal reports:

“U.S. and Brazilian authorities are investigating whether aircraft maker Embraer SA bribed officials in the Dominican Republic in return for a $90 million contracts to furnish the country’s armed forces with attack planes.”

According to the article, U.S. authorities say they have “evidence – including bank records and e-mails – that they believe shows that Embraer executives had approved a $3.4 million bribe to a Dominican official with influence over military procurement.”

Mead Johnson

Mead Johnson Nutrition Company recently disclosed as follows.

“The company has initiated an internal investigation of, and is voluntarily complying with a Securities and Exchange Commission request for documents relating to, certain business activities of the company’s local subsidiary in China. The company’s investigation is focused on certain expenditures that were made by the subsidiary in connection with the promotion of the company’s products or may have otherwise been made and that may not have complied with company policies and applicable U.S. and/or local laws. The company has retained outside legal counsel to conduct the investigation, which is being overseen by a committee of independent members of the company’s board of directors. At this time, the company is unable to predict the scope, timing or outcome of this ongoing matter or any regulatory or legal actions that may be commenced related to this matter.”

National Geographic

The on-line publication Vocativ recently published an article “Tut-Tut: Did National Geographic Bribe Egypt’s Famed Indiana Jones?”  The article begins as follows.

“This is not your typical story about international bribery. For one thing, it involves mummies. It also involves one of America’s most beloved institutions: National Geographic.  Vocativ has learned that the Justice Department has opened a criminal bribery investigation into the prestigious nonprofit. At issue: Nat Geo’s tangled relationship with Dr. Zahi Hawass, a world-famous Indiana Jones–type figure who for years served as the official gatekeeper to Egypt’s glittering antiquities.  Beginning in 2001 and continuing for a decade, National Geographic paid the archaeologist between $80,000 and $200,000 a year for his expertise. The payments came at a time when the popularity of mummies and pharaohs was helping transform the 125-year-old explorer society into a juggernaut with multiple glossies, a publishing house and a television channel. But they also came as Hawass was still employed by the Egyptian government to oversee the country’s priceless relics.”

According to the article, Hawass also worked with National Geographic competitor, the Discovery Channel.

Although National Geographic is a non-profit entity, the FCPA’s definition of “domestic concern” is “any corporation, partnership, association, joint-stock company, business trust, unincorporated organization, or sole proprietorship …”.

Teva Pharmaceuticals

As noted in this previous post, in August the company disclosed that it “received a subpoena … from the SEC to produce documents
with respect to compliance with the FCPA in Latin America.”  Earlier this week, Teva disclosed as follows.

“Beginning in 2012, Teva received subpoenas and informal document requests from the SEC and the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) to produce documents with respect to compliance with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (the “FCPA”) in certain countries. Teva has provided and will continue to provide documents and other information to the SEC and the DOJ, and is cooperating with the government in their investigations of these matters. Teva is also conducting a voluntary investigation into certain business practices that may have FCPA implications and has engaged independent counsel to assist in its investigation. In the course of its investigation, which is continuing, Teva has identified in Russia, certain Eastern European countries, and certain Latin American countries issues that could potentially rise to the level of FCPA violations and/or violations of local law. Teva has brought these issues to the attention of the SEC and the DOJ. No conclusion can be drawn at this time as to any likely outcomes in these matters.”

JPMorgan

As highlighted in this previous post, in August JPMorgan’s hiring practices in China came under scrutiny.

The company recently disclosed:

“The Firm has received subpoenas and requests for documents from the SEC’s Division of Enforcement regarding, among other things, hiring practices relating to candidates referred by clients, potential clients and government officials, the Firm’s employment of certain former employees in Hong Kong, its business relationships with certain related clients in the Asia Pacific region and its engagement of consultants in the Asia Pacific region. The Firm has also received a request for documents from the U.S. Department of Justice regarding the same referral hiring practices. The Firm is cooperating with these investigations. Separate inquiries on these or similar topics have been made by other authorities, including authorities in other jurisdictions, and the Firm is responding to those inquiries.”

Quotable

From Attorney General Eric Holder at the Arab Forum on Asset Recovery in Morocco.

“As we’ve all seen – and as President Obama has said – “[t]he struggle against corruption is one of the great struggles of our time.”  Fortunately […] corruption is no longer widely seen as an accepted cost of doing business.  It is no longer tolerated as an unavoidable aspect of government.  On the contrary – it is now generally understood that the consequences of corruption are devastating – eroding trust in public and private institutions, undermining confidence in the fairness of free and open markets, siphoning precious resources at a time when they could hardly be more scarce, and all too often breeding contempt for the rule of law.

[…]

This is why, as Attorney General, I’ve consistently worked to ensure that anticorruption remains a top priority for my colleagues at every level of the United States Department of Justice – within as well as beyond our borders.”

A recent article in Corporate Counsel titled “The Perils of Keeping FCPA Infractions Under Wraps” states:

“Charles Duross, the deputy chief of the U.S. Justice Department’s Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Unit, delivered an ominous message Monday to in-house lawyers at the Association of Corporate Counsel’s Annual Meeting in Los Angeles: Failure to report potential bribery is more perilous than ever.  Duross, who is based in Washington, D.C., said DOJ is handling a “pretty steady stream of cases,” with every major U.S. attorney’s office investigating alleged violations of the FCPA, which prohibits bribery of foreign officials.  “The risk of getting caught . . . is greater today than any point previously,” Duross said. “I think that’s kind of a no-brainer.”  Duross said he isn’t naïve about the calculus companies have to perform when deciding whether to report a potential FCPA infraction to the U.S. government. But if a company makes the disclosure on its own, he noted, the Justice Department stands ready to help.  DOJ can make deferred-prosecution or non-prosecution agreements with businesses—or even decline to pursue any action against them, he said. “It’s a tough one” for companies, Duross said. “No doubt about it.” Self-reporting can be overrated, according to New York-based Morrison & Foerster partner Carl Loewenson Jr., a co-chairman of the firm’s securities litigation, enforcement, and white-collar defense group who also spoke at the ACC event. Making the disclosures is great for business at the DOJ, as well as law firms and accounting offices, he said. But companies that report almost always get some type of a public charge, he noted. “I think that these days there are too many cases in which too many companies are being too reflexive about self-reporting” to the government, Loewenson said. “In some cases, not in all, you can solve these problems yourself.”

Reading Stack

Several spot-on observations in the most recent issue of the always informative FCPA Update from Debevoise & Plimpton concerning the recent Diebold enforcement action (see here and here for prior posts).

“Although there are significant aggravating factors that might explain imposing $48 million in penalties and disgorgement on a company that voluntarily disclosed what are, unfortunately, common improprieties in China, combined with wholly unrelated commercial bribery in Russia, the size of the financial resolution – apart from the substantial burdens of the monitorship – raises questions about future enforcement of the FCPA, as well as the incentives for companies to self-report.

The first noteworthy aspect of this resolution is the enforcement agencies’ decision to use the books and records and internal controls provisions as a vehicle for obtaining monetary relief penalizing purely commercial bribery (40% of the improper payments at issue). While not entirely novel or outside the theoretical reach of those provisions, were the enforcement agencies routinely to investigate issuers in connection with commercial bribery abroad, the “risk-based” calculus of almost all corporate compliance programs would potentially need to be rebalanced.

Second, the total financial aspect of the resolution was 16 times the total value of alleged improper payments. In describing the improper payments, the enforcement agencies aggregated a number of often small payments over five years. When considered alongside the Ralph Lauren enforcement action from earlier this year, the Diebold enforcement action, and in particular its imposition of a monitor, long-considered one of the most burdensome aspects of FCPA settlements, could call into question one common view of the statements relating to gifts and corrupt intent in the November 2012 DOJ/SEC joint Resource Guide to the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act: namely, that FCPA covered companies should not “sweat the small stuff.”

[…]

“[T]he Diebold enforcement actions revive the pre-guidance confusion about the government’s enforcement priorities and raise significant questions about the value of voluntary disclosure. The confusion, arising from repeated charges related to relatively small expenditures, including, even, $500 for four pairs of shoes provided as gifts to Chinese officials, was part of  the background of frustration with the government’s enforcement of the FCPA that led to publication of the joint DOJ/ SEC Resource Guide.  It has been commonly thought that the Resource Guide’s distinctions between “expensive gifts” and “token[s] of esteem or gratitude” signified at least an implicit recognition by U.S. enforcement agencies that compliance resources would be better allocated to topics other than gifts valued at a few hundred dollars, let alone gifts that individually do not exceed $100 in value. But the Diebold case will raise new questions about the government’s enforcement priorities, questions that will only be amplified by the imposition of a monitor, potentially one of the most disruptive, burdensome, and costly components of FCPA settlement tools, and one that had been in declining use for several years.”

An observant article from The Lawyer titled “Round Table on Cross-Border Disputes – Bandwagons Roll.”  It states:

“Co-operation [between foreign law enforcement regulators] is good.'”  […]  More co-operation between regulators when they are trying to address the same issues is welcome.”  However, co-operation – while praised for attempting to provide consistency – has its drawbacks.  “They all want to impose sanctions for the same conduct.” […]   “It’s common now for a company to finish a US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act or UK Bribery Act investigation  that has taken three years and generated huge fees, to turn around and see a long line of regulators from, say, China or India with their own legal and  political concerns.”

It does not necessarily justify the behavior, but the following article at least puts the behavior in the proper context and highlights why Congress specifically included a facilitation payments exception in the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions.

“Seventy-five percent of businesses in Vietnam pay bribes to  government agencies on their own volition in order to avoid being stuck in red tape, a World Bank specialist says.  At an anti-corruption conference held in Hanoi Thursday, Soren Davidsen said that sixty-three percent of firms questioned in a survey said they paid the “unofficial fees” to speed up procedures.”

A useful compliance resource here from the U.S. – China Business Council titled “Best Practices for Managing Compliance in China.”

*****

A good weekend to all,

The FCPA Meets Insurance – Aon Resolves Enforcement Action

This post analyzes the DOJ and SEC enforcement actions against Aon Corporation (one of the largest insurance brokerage firms in the world) announced yesterday.  Total fines and penalties are approximately $16.3 million ($1.8 million via a DOJ non-prosecution agreement and $14.5 million via a settled SEC civil complaint).

DOJ

The NPA (here) begins as follows.  The DOJ will not criminally prosecute Aon Corporation or its subsidiaries for any crimes “related to Aon’s knowing violation of the anti-bribery, books and records, and internal controls provisions of the FCPA .. arising from and related to the making of improper payments to government officials in Consta Rica in order to assist Aon in obtaining and retaining business” or “for the conduct related to improper payments and associated recordkeeping […] relating to Aon’s improper payments in Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Egypt, Indonesia, Myanmar, Panama, the United Arab Emirates, and Vietnam that it discovered during its thorough investigation of its global operations.”

The NPA has a term of two years.  As is typical in FCPA NPAs or DPAs, Aon agreed “not to make any public statement” contradicting the below facts.

According to the NPA, the DOJ agreed to resolve the action via an NPA based, in part, on the following factors:

(a) Aon’s extraordinary cooperation with the DOJ and SEC;

(b) Aon’s timely and complete disclosure of facts relating to the above payments; [unlike many corporate FCPA enforcement actions, the Aon action does not appear to be the result of a voluntary disclosure; as stated in Aon’s most recent quarterly SEC filing, “following inquiries from regulators, the Company commenced an internal review of its compliance with certain U.S. and non-U.S. anti-corruption laws, including the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.”]

(c) the early and extensive remedial efforts undertaken by Aon, including the substantial improvements the company has made to its anti-corruption compliance procedures;

(d) the prior financial penalty of 5.25 million paid to the U.K. Financial Services Authority (“FSA”) [see here] by Aon Limited, a U.K. subsidiary of Aon, in 2009 concerning certain of the conduct at issue; and

(e) the FSA’s close and continuous supervisory oversight over Aon Limited.

The NPA’s Statement of Facts begin by detailing the business of reinsurance – that is insurance for insurance companies.  Specifically, the NPA states as follows.  “Reinsurance involves the transfer of all or part of the risk of paying claims under a policy from the insurance company that issued the policy to a reinsurance company.  A reinsurance broker arranges this transfer of risk, which takes place under a contract of reinsurance.  The insurance company is the reinsurance broker’s client and the broker acts on behalf of the insurance company.  The broker collects the premium due from the insurance company under the contract of reinsurance, and is typically paid for its services by retaining a portion of the premium for its own account.  The portion of premium retained by the broker is known as ‘brokerage.'”

The conduct at issue focuses on the Instituto Nacional De Deguros (“INS”), Costa Rica’s state-owned insurance company” (here) that “had a monopoly over the Costa Rican insurance industry.”  The NPA states as follows.  “INS was created by Act No. 12 of October 30, 1924, with the aim of meeting the protection needs of Costa Rican society.  All insurance agreements in Costa Rica, including the reinsurance contracts that Aon Limited [a subsidiary of Aon Corporation based in and organized under U.K. law that “reported financially through a series of intermediary entities into its U.S.-based issuer parent] assisted in obtaining to insure Costa Rican entities, were required to be issued through INS.  The head of INS was appointed by the President of Costa Rica.”

According to the NPA, a company Aon Limited acquired established a “Training and Education Fund” or “Brokerage Fund” for the benefit of INS “to sponsor training and education trips for INS officials.”  The NPA states that the “Brokerage Fund eventually became used for a wide variety of purported ‘training’ purposes, as well as to pay for client renewal trips to European insurers.”  The NPA also states that a second training account (the so-called 3% Fund) was funded by premiums to reinsurers and that “INS required that Aon Limited manage the fund, handle the paperwork, and provide reimbursement for the expenses incurred by INS officials.”

According to the NPA, “the supposed purpose of both the Brokerage Fund and the 3% Fund was to provide education and training for INS officials.”  However, the NPA states, “Aon Limited used a significant portion of the funds to reimburse for non-training related activity or for uses that could not be determined from Aon’s books and records.”

The NPA cites an e-mail from a former Aon Limited executive which stated as follows.  “INS started telling [another brokerage company] how [various reinsurers] were inviting their managers to seminars and were contributing positively to INS’s technological improvement with all expenses paid by the reinsurers.  The message was clear to both [the other brokerage company] and ourselves that unless we did the same we would see the gradual process of disintermediation and a continued erosion of our orders.”

The NPA then states as follows.  “Aon Limited disbursed nearly all of the $215,000 in the Brokerage Fund from 1997 until 2002, approximately $650,000 of the money in the 3% Fund from 1999 until 2002, and made a small number of additional disbursements from these funds between 2003 and 2005 to pay for the third-party services used by INS officials. These services often included travel related expenses, such as airfare and hotel accommodations, as well as conference fees, meals,  and other related expenses for INS officials and their relatives. It was common for INS to hire a
travel agency or tourism company to arrange for the particulars of the travel and educational conferences attended by its officials.  The majority of the money paid from the two funds was disbursed to a tourism company in Costa Rica. The director of INS’ reinsurance department, who played an active role in setting up the training funds, served on the board of directors of tourism company.  The director of INS’ reinsurance department himself took fourteen trips from 1996 to 2001 with expenses totaling approximately $44,000 that Aon Limited paid from the two funds. The funds also covered the official’s wife’s attendance on at least five of the trips.  On several occasions, Aon Limited reimbursed the official directly for expenses that were invoiced for his various trips, sometimes with cash payments.  The director of INS took six trips from 1998-2001 with expenses totaling approximately $20,000 that Aon Limited paid from the two funds. The director’s spouse accompanied him on four of these trips. The director of INS, the director of reinsurance at INS, their wives, and another INS official and her husband traveled to Europe in 1998 and charged their expenses of approximately $15,160 to the Brokerage Fund. While these trips had a small business-related component, a significant portion of the funds expended on the trips were used for the personal benefit of the officials and their wives.  A  substantial number of the trips taken by INS offcials were in connection with conferences and seminars in tourist destinations, including London, Paris, Monte Carlo, Zurich, Munich, Cologne, and Cairo. Many of the invoices and other records for these trips do not provide the business purpose of the expenditures, if any, or showed that the expenses were clearly not related to a legitimate business purpose. In addition, the subject matters of some of the better documented conferences and trainings, such as a literary conference and a Mexican information technology conference, had no logical connection to the insurance industry.  INS officials traveled to the United States for approximately twenty-five training events.  Aon Limited paid approximately $115,000 out of the funds in connection with these events in the United States.  In some instances, Aon Limited paid third parties at INS’s direction where the business purpose of the travel or expenses could not be discerned from the documentation, or where the purpose of the travel and expenses appeared to be improper, such as those pertaining to literary conferences, holiday expenses, and pure entertainment. Aon Limited paid large expenses for hotels, without any indication that the stays were business related. Aon Limited’s employees did not question the requests for payment or reimbursement from the funds.  While virtually all payments made in connection with the funds originated in London, Aon Limited made at least forty payments via, or that terminated in, the United States.  From 1995 to 2002, Aon Limited [and the company it acquired] earned profits of approximately $1.840,200 in connection with reinsurance brokerage business with INS.”

As to statute of limitation issues, Aon’s recent quarterly filing states as follows.  Aon “has agreed with the U.S. agencies to toll any applicable statute of limitations pending completion of the investigations.”

Under the heading “Books and Records/Internal Controls,” the NPA states as follows.  “The books and records of Aon Limited were consolidated into those of Aon Corporation. With respect to the Costa Rican training funds, although Aon Limited maintained accounting records for the payments that it made from both the Brokerage Fund and the 3% Fund, these records did not accurately and fairly reflect, in reasonable detail, the purpose for which the expenses were incurred. A significant portion of the records associated with payments made through tourist agencies gave the name of the tourist agency with only generic descriptions such as “various airfares and hotel.”  Additionally, to the extent that the accounting records did provide the location or purported educational seminar associated with travel expenses, in many instances they did not disclose or itemize the disproportionate amount of leisure and non-business related activities that were also included in the costs.  As a result, during the relevant time period, Aon failed to make and keep books, records and accounts which, in reasonable detail, accurately and fairly reflected the transactions and disposition of its assets and failed to devise and maintain an adequate system of internal accounting controls with respect to foreign sales activities sufficient to ensure compliance with the FCPA.”

Pursuant to the NPA, “Aon admits, and accepts and acknowledges responsibility” for the above conduct; however, there is no suggestion or implication in the NPA that anyone at Aon Corporation  knew of, participated in, or authorized the conduct at issue.

See here for the DOJ’s release.

Pursuant to the NPA, Aon agreed to pay a monetary penalty in the amount of $1.76 million.  The NPA states as follows.  “This substantially reduced monetary penalty reflects the Department’s determination to credit meaningfully Aon for its extraordinary cooperation with the Department, including its thorough investigation of its global operations and complete disclosure of facts to the Department, and its early and extensive remediation.  In agreeing to this monetary penalty, the Department also took into account the penalty paid to the FSA relating to Aon Limited’s systems and controls in countries other than Costa Rica.”  Pursuant to the NPA, Aon also agreed to “continue to strengthen its compliance, bookkeeping, and internal controls standards and procedures” as set forth in “Corporate Compliance Program” appendix to the NPA.

SEC

The SEC’s settled civil complaint (here) begins as follows.  “From as early as 1983 until as recent as 2007, subsidiaries of Aon Corporation in numerous countries made improper payments to various parties as a means of obtaining or retaining insurance business in those countries.  During this period, over $3.6 million in such payments were made, including some directly or indirectly to foreign government officials who could award business directly to Aon subsidiaries, who were in position to influence others who could award business to Aon subsidiaries, or who could otherwise provide favorable business treatment for the Company’s interest.  These payments were not accurately reflected in Aon’s books and records.  During this period, Aon failed to maintain an adequate internal control system reasonably designed to detect and prevent these payments.”

According to the SEC complaint, “the improper payments made by Aon’s subsidiaries fall into two general categories:  (i) training, travel and entertainment provided to employees of foreign-government owned clients and third parties and (ii) payments made to third-party facilitators.”

As to the first category of payments, the SEC complaint is largely focused on the same Costa Rica / INS payments described in the DOJ’s NPA.  Additional payments concern Egypt and the complaint alleges that from 1983 to 2009 Aon (or its predecessor) “served as insurance broker for an Egyptian government-owned company, the Egyptian Armament Authority (“EAA”), and its U.S. arm, the Egyptian Procurement Office (“EPO”).  According to the complaint, delegation trips for EAA and EPO officials to various U.S. destinations “had some business component” but also “included a disproportionate amount of leisure activities and lasted longer than the business component would justify.”  According to the SEC, the company’s “books and records did not fairly and accurately reflect the true nature of the payments made in connection with the delegation trips.”

As to the second category of payments, under the heading “Payments to Third-Party Facilitators” the complaint alleges as follows.  “Aon’s subsidiaries also made payments to third parties that were retained to assist in obtaining accounts in several countries.  In some instances, the subsidiaries made payments to the third parties without taking steps to assure that they would not be passed to foreign government officials.  The subsidiaries made some payments under circumstances in which the third parties appeared to have performed no legitimate services relating to the prospective accounts, thereby suggesting that they were simply conduits for improper payments to government officials in order to obtain or retain business for Aon.”

In Vietnam, the complaint alleges that “Aon Limited served as a co-broker on an insurance policy for Vietnam Airlines, a Vietnamese government-owned entity, since 2003.”   According to the complaint, a third-party facilitator assisted in securing the account and “company record indicate that the third-party facilitator did not provide legitimate services, but instead transferred some of the money that Aon Limited paid under its consultancy agreement to unidentified individuals referred to as ‘related people.'”

In Indonesia, the complaint alleges that “Aon Limited served as a broker on reinsurance contracts with BP Migas and Pertamina, two Indonesian state-owned entities in the oil and gas industry.”    The complaint alleges that “several former Aon Limited employees authorized improper payments to government officials in Indonesia to secure the Pertamina and BP Migas accounts for Aon Limited.”

In the United Arab Emirates, the complaint alleges that “Aon Limited provided brokerage services to a privately-held insurance company” and that payments were made “to the general manager of the insurance company as inducements to secure and retain the account for Aon Limited.”

In Myanmar, the complaint alleges that “Aon Limited retained an introducer in Myanmar to assist Aon Limited in connection with its account with Myanmar Airways and Myanmar Insurance, two government-owned entities.”  According to the complaint, “company records indicate that the introducer likely used a portion of his commission to improperly influence a government official on Aon Limited’s behalf in connection with the Myanmar account.”

In Bangladesh, the complaint alleges that “Aon Limited made approximately $1.07 million in payments to secure its account with Biman Bangladesh Airways and Sudharan Bima Corporation, two government-owned entities.”

Based on the above allegations, the SEC complaint alleges FCPA books and records and internal controls violations – but not FCPA anti-bribery violations – notwithstanding the fact that the DOJ’s NPA refers to “Aon’s knowing violation of the anti-bribery, books and records, and internal controls.”

As stated in the SEC’s release (here), without admitting or denying the allegations in the SEC’s complaint, Aon consented to entry of a final judgment permanently enjoining it from future FCPA books and records and internal controls violations and ordering the company to pay “disgorgement of $11,416,814 in profits together with prejudgement interest thereon of $3,128,206 for a total of $14,545,020.”

In a release (here) Aon stated as follows.  “Since beginning an internal review of these issues in 2007, Aon has put in place a comprehensive, global and robust anti-corruption program designed to prevent and detect improper conduct.”  Greg Case, Aon’s President and Chief Executive Officer stated as follows.  “Acting with integrity is Aon’s core value and we embody this in our commitment to the highest professional standards for our clients, markets and colleagues.  Aon has invested a significant amount of time and resources in anti-corruption compliance and transparency to greatly enhance our controls and processes.”

Kirkland & Ellis attorneys Laurence Urgenson (here) and Craig Primis (here) represented Aon.

Foreign Enforcement Action Roundup

The U.S., of course, is not the only country with an FCPA-like law. Canada’s version is the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act (“CFPOA”).  Australia’s version is part of its general Criminal Code.

For years, Canada and Australia have been hammered by various civil society organizations for its general lack of enforcement. For instance, Transparency International’s recent Annual Progress Report of the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention (here) noted that “Canada is the only G7 country in the little or no enforcement category, and [it] has been in this category since the first edition of [TI’s] report in 2005.”  Australia likewise was in the little to no enforcement category and TI stated as follows.  “The continued absence of prosecution for the past decade under the Criminal Code, as well as the absence of cases reported under the taxation law for this type of bribery offence, makes it difficult to demonstrate that successful prosecution is feasible under the present system.”

Against this backdrop, it was noteworthy that Canada and Australia authorities recently brought enforcement actions.  This post summarizes the enforcement actions as well as recent developments in the U.K.

Canada

Niko Resources

On June 24th, it was announced that Niko Resources (an oil and natural gas exploration and production company headquartered in Calgary) agreed to resolve a CFPOA enforcement action.

The Agreed Statement of Facts (here) states that Niko “did, in order to obtain or retain an advantage in the course of business provide goods and services to a person for the benefit of Foreign Public Officials to induce the officials to use their position to influence any acts or decisions of the foreign state for which the official performs duties or functions, contrary” to the CFPOA. 

The conduct at issue focused on Bangladesh and Niko Resources (Bangladesh) Limited (an indirectly wholly owned subsidiary) and specifically how Niko Bangladesh “provided the use of a vehicle [a Toyota Land Cruiser] costing [$190,984 Canadian dollars] to AKM Mosharraf Hossain, the Bangladeshi State Minister for Energy and Mineral Resources in order to influence the Minister in dealings with Niko Bangladesh within the context of ongoing business dealings.”  In addition, the Statement of Facts states that “Niko paid the travel and accommodation expenses for Minister AKM Mosharraf Hossain to travel from Bangladesh to Calgary to attend GO EXPO oil and gas exploration, and onward to New York and Chicago, so that the Minister could visit his family who lived there, the cost being approximately $5000.”

According to the Statement of Facts, Canada’s investigation began after news stories surfaced concerning a possible violation of the CFPOA by Niko.

The total fine imposed on Niko was $8,260,000 plus a 15% Victim Fine Surcharge for a total of $9,499,000 (all Canadian dollars).  This would seem to be a very aggressive fine amount for providing a Toyota Land Cruiser to a Bangladeshi Minister and paying $5,000 of non-business travel expenses to the official.  The Statement of Facts states that the “fine reflects that Niko made these payments in order to persuade the Bangladeshi Energy Minister to exercise his influence to ensure that Niko was able to secure a gas purchase and sales agreement acceptable to Niko, as well as to ensure the company was dealt with fairly in relation to claims for compensation for the blowouts, which represented potentially very large amounts of money.”  The Statement of Facts further state that Canadian authorities were “unable to prove that any influence was obtained as a result of providing the benefits to the Minister.”

The Probation Order (here) in the case reads very much like a U.S. style plea agreement or NPA/DPA in the FCPA context.  Among other things, Niko agreed to continue its cooperation in the investigation, to implement a series of compliance undertakings, and to report to relevant Canadian authorities concerning its compliance and remediation.

In this Bulletin, Mark Morrision and Michael Dixon of Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP noted that “a particularly significant aspect of this case is the amount and nature of the penalty imposed upon Niko” given that the only prior conviction under the CFPOA – in 2005 against Hydro Kleen – resulted in a $25,000 fine. The Bulletin notes that “the sentencing precedents submitted by the Prosecutor were U.S.Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) cases and the authors state that “the court’s willingness to accept these precedents and impose a fine of this amount now sets the benchmark for CFPOA fines in Canada.”

For additional coverage of the Niko enforcement action, see here from The Globe and Mail. For a related development connected to the Niko enforcement action involving a former member of Canada’s Parliament, see here from The Globe and Mail.

In a press release (here), Niko Chairman and CEO Ed Sampson stated as follows. “What happened was wrong. We acknowledge this. We accept responsibility, and we appreciate the seriousness of the actions. As a result of these events we have taken extensive steps in all aspects of our organization. One such step is the creation of the position of Chief Compliance Officer who reports directly to our Board, to ensure that something like this doesn’t happen again.” Niko’s release notes that since 2009 it has “adopted a full anti-corruption compliance program, training program and processes for risk assessment due diligence and compliance monitoring and reporting around the world.”

Australia

Securency International, et al

For years there has been news of an investigation of Securency International and certain of its executives for alleged breaches of Australia’s criminal code which prohibit payments to foreign government officials to obtain a business advantage.  See here and here for the prior posts.

On July 1st, the Australian Federal Police commenced prosecutions against Securency International (“Securency”), Note Printing Australia Ltd (“NPA”) and a number of senior executives of those companies for criminal offences concerning the bribery and corrupting of various foreign public officials.  Criminal charging documents are not publicly available in Australia, but Robert Wyld of  Johnson Winter & Slattery (see here) provides this overview based on press reports.

“The event generated considerable publicity and banner headlines in Victoria where The Age has been prominent in investigating and following the story. The Federal Police commander, Chris McDevitt was quoted by The Age as saying that the case should send “a very clear message to corporate Australia” about avoiding bribery overseas.

The Securency allegations might be summarised as follows, taken from the news coverage of the events, noting that all corporations and individuals charged are innocent until proven guilty.

Securency and NPA have each been charged with criminal offences.  The CEO (Myles Curtis), the CFO (Mitchell Anderson) and a Sales Executive (Ron Marchant) of Securency together with the CEO (John Leckenby), the CFO (Peter Hutchinson) and a Sales Executive (Barry Brady) of NPA and each been charged with bribery offences contrary to sections11.5(1) and 70.2 of the Criminal Code.  The offences are alleged to have taken place between 1999 and 2005 and involved payments totalling nearly $10 million.  The conduct in question involved activity in Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam concerning the payment of moneys to consultants or others characterised as public officials in circumstances which resulted in the  award of contracts to Securency and NPA for the printing of foreign currency polymer banknotes.  Specifically,  in Malaysia, Securency and NPA secured a contract to print the 5 ringgit polymer banknotes through the services of an arms broker and a United Malays National Organisation MP and official and a former Malay central bank assistant governor has been charged with bribery by Malaysian authorities.  In Indonesia, Securency and NPA secured a contract to print 500 million 100,000 rupiah polymer banknotes through the services of a consultant, Radius Christanto who received nearly US$4.9 million in commissions.  In Vietnam, Securency secured a contract to print all Vietnamese currency on polymer banknotes, through the services of a local agent Anh Ngoc Luong (said to be a colonel in the Vietnam internal spy agency) and his company CFTD (whose directors were said to be relatives of Communist Party officials).  In  addition, in Nigeria, investigations are ongoing concerning up to $20 million that may have been paid to intermediaries to secure contracts.  Further investigations are ongoing in Europe, the UK and in the US involving the identified conduct and potentially, conduct in other countries.

To the extent that any offences result in convictions, the applicable penalties will be determined under the old Criminal Code regime which existed (and was heavily criticised by the OECD and by Transparency International) before the penalties were substantially amended in February 2010.”

U.K.

Macmillan Publishers

On July 22nd, the Serious Fraud Office (“SFO”) announced (here)  that an Order was made under the Proceeds of Crime Act  for Macmillan Publishers Limited (“MPL”)  “to pay in excess of  £11 million in recognition of sums it received which were generated through unlawful conduct related to its Education Division in East and West Africa. ”  As noted in the SFO release, “the initial enquiry commenced following a report from the World Bank” (see here for a prior post discussing the World Bank debarment proceeding of the MPL.)   The SFO release goes into detail regarding the ” procedure based on the guidance contained within [the SFO’s] published protocol document” that the SFO required MPL to follow and the release also sets forth  “a number of relevant features, which have informed the resolution” of the matter.   This SFO guidance will be of interest to those following SFO expectations in this Bribery Act era.  For more on the MPL enforcement action see here from Field Fisher Waterhouse.

Willis Limited 

On July 21st, the U.K. Financial Services Authority announced (here) a £6.895 million fine against Willis Limited for “failings in its anti-bribery and corruption systems and controls.”  The FSA release states as follows.  “Between January 2005 and December 2009, Willis Limited made payments to overseas third parties who assisted it in winning and retaining business from overseas clients, particularly in high risk jurisdictions. These payments totalled £27 million. The FSA investigation found that, up until August 2008, Willis Limited failed to: ensure that it established and recorded an adequate commercial rationale to support its payments to overseas third parties; ensure that adequate due diligence was carried out on overseas third parties to evaluate the risk involved in doing business with them; and adequately review its relationships on a regular basis to confirm whether it was still necessary and appropriate for Willis Limited to continue with the relationship.  These failures contributed to a weak control environment surrounding payments to overseas third parties and gave rise to an unacceptable risk that these payments could be used for corrupt purposes, including paying bribes. In addition, between January 2005 and May 2009, Willis Limited failed to adequately monitor its staff to ensure that each time it engaged an overseas third party, an adequate commercial rationale had been recorded and that sufficient due diligence had been carried out. Although Willis Limited improved its policies in August 2008, it failed to ensure that its staff were adequately implementing them. Lastly, throughout the period, Willis Limited’s senior management did not receive sufficient information about the performance of Willis Limited’s relevant policies to allow them to assess whether bribery and corruption risks were being mitigated effectively. During the FSA investigation, Willis Limited identified as suspicious a number of payments totalling $227,000 which it made to two overseas third parties in respect of business carried out in Egypt and Russia.”

According to the FSA,  Willis’s “failings created an unacceptable risk that payments made by Willis Limited to overseas third parties could be used for corrupt purposes.”  The FSA release states that the fine is the  largest “in relation to financial crime systems and controls to date.”  For more on the Willis Limited enforcement action see here from Adam Greaves of McGuireWoods.  The FSA’s Willis Limited enforcement action is similar to a January 2009 enforcement action against Aon Limited (see here).

Is There A Difference?

In September 2010, during the sentencing of Nam Quoc Nguyen, one of the Nexus Technology defendants (see here for the post on the sentences), the DOJ called to the witness stand the former U.S. commercial attache from Vietnam who was asked to testify as to the “seriousness of the offense as it impacts Vietnam.” (See here for relevant portions of the sentencing transcript).

While in Vietnam, the commercial attache oversaw a staff of about ten in delivering services to American companies to help them grow their exports and he managed an advocacy portfolio in Vietnam to assist U.S. companies in selling directly to the Vietnam government. The individual testified that his group “constantly advise[d] companies on strategies to enter the market, to bid on government contract, to win business.”

The former commercial attache described Vietnam as a “corrupt country” and the DOJ presumably expected the individual to stay on message as to how corruption in Vietnam is not a victimless crime and to describe who suffers from corruption in Vietnam. He did that.

But the individual drifted it seemed in his testimony and said, “I make no bones about it. It’s very difficult to do business in Vietnam. It’s not very transparent but American companies are making money and there are a number of strategies that companies can follow.”

The individual was asked “is it possible to do business in Vietnam without paying bribes.” He answered “it is.”

One of the strategies he discussed was the following.

“Often it [obtaining Vietnamese government business] may require a personal visit by the Ambassador or another high-ranking official to a government official or an official of a state-run enterprise. It could take the form of a letter from a high-ranking U.S. government official to another official in the Vietnamese government or state-owned enterprise.” (See pg. 68).

The individual then specifically talked about a $180 million commercial satellite contract Lockheed Martin was awarded by Vietnam Post and Telematics Group (a “major state-owned enterprise”). See here for Lockheed’s press release.

According to the individual’s testimony, Lockheed (he described the company as “one of our clients”) “was in a competitive position to provide $180 million commercial satellite to one of the major state-owned enterprises, Vietnam Post and Telematics Group, VNPT.”

At this point, even the judge asked the DOJ attorney, “what does this have to do with what you said you were calling this witness to tell us about?”

After an exchange between the judge and the DOJ attorney, the individual finished by saying. “The bottom line is, we have been able to help companies work through. In this particular case, a European country was offering payment with regards to winning the bid but the intervention of the Ambassador with the Chairman of VNPT and the Minister of Information Communications, was a critical element to help the company win the business, and they have stated as such.”

According to this October 2010 article, Lockheed is among the “biggest corporate campaign contributors in U.S. politics.”

Is there a difference between (a) when a company (or its employees) gives something of value to a foreign official to obtain or retain business with a foreign government; and (b) when a company (or its employees) gives something of value to U.S. political parties or candidates, or spends millions lobbying the U.S. government, and then the U.S. government assists the company obtain or retain business with a foreign government?

What about those U.S. diplomats that act as “marketing agents” for U.S. companies such as Boeing as recently profiled by the New York Times (here).

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