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VimpelCom’s Uzbekistan Bribery Scheme Nets $397.5 Million FCPA Enforcement Action

VimpelComThis is the first of several posts in the coming days regarding the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and related enforcement action against VimpelCom and a related entity announced yesterday by the DOJ and SEC (see here for the DOJ release, here for the SEC release).

Yesterday’s enforcement action is expected to be the first enforcement action concerning the Uzbek bribery scandal with additional enforcement actions (of similar or greater settlement amounts) against TeliaSonera and Mobile TeleSystems expected in the future.

After accounting for various credits and deductions, VimpelCom will pay $230.1 million to the DOJ, $167.5 million to the SEC, and $397.5 million to Dutch regulators. 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).

A future post will contain an in-depth overview of the U.S. VimpelCom resolution documents which total approximately 120 pages and another future post will highlight various issues to consider from the U.S. enforcement action.

DOJ

The DOJ component involved a guilty plea by Unitel LLC (an entity headquartered and incorporated in Uzbekistan which conducted VimpelCom’s mobile telecommunications business in Uzbekistan) to a criminal information charging it with conspiracy to violate the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions.

In addition, VimpelCom (a Bermuda company that was headquartered in Moscow, Russia until 2010 when it moved its headquarters to Amsterdam, the Netherlands and which has shares traded on NASDAQ and previously the New York Stock Exchange) entered into a deferred prosecution agreement (and here) to resolve a criminal information charging it 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.

To resolve the DOJ actions, VimpelCom agreed to pay a total criminal penalty of approximately $230.1 million, including$40 million in criminal forfeiture.

In the DOJ release, Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell stated:

“These cases combine a landmark FCPA resolution for corporate bribery with one of the largest forfeiture actions we have ever brought to recover bribe proceeds from a corrupt government official. The Criminal Division’s FCPA enforcement program and our Kleptocracy Initiative are two sides of the same anti-corruption coin.  The FCPA resolution in this case is also one of the most significant coordinated international and multi-agency resolutions in the history of the FCPA, and demonstrates our commitment both to pursuing justice and to bringing about corporate reform.”

Preet Bharara (U.S. Attorney, Southern District of New York) stated:

“Today we mark the resolution of criminal charges and civil proceedings against corrupt corporate entities that made bribery a foundation of their business model. As they have admitted in court filings, VimpelCom, the world’s sixth largest telecommunications company, with securities traded in New York, and its subsidiary, Unitel, built their business in Uzbekistan on over $114 million in bribes funneled to a government official.  Those payments, falsely recorded in the company’s books and records, were then laundered through bank accounts and assets around the world, including through accounts in New York.”

Richard Weber (Chief of Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) stated:

“Today’s admission of guilt by VimpelCom and Unitel to paying bribes to government officials is a victory for all who fight corruption at all levels. It also demonstrates the skill and tenacity of IRS Criminal Investigation special agents when it comes to delving underneath layers of financial transactions designed to conceal illegal payments for gain.  The global economy demands a level playing field for all.  When certain VimpelCom and Unitel executives chose to use deception in order to continue this scheme and take advantage of insider knowledge, they also chose to become criminals.  IRS-CI pledges to continue our efforts on the international stage to stop corrupt financial schemes such as this one.”

SEC

VimpelCom also agreed to resolve a settled civil complaint charging it with violating the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions, books and records provisions, and internal controls provisions. The company resolved the complaint by agreeing to pay a total of $375 million in disgorgement of profits and prejudgment interest.

In the SEC release, Andrew Ceresney (Director of the SEC Enforcement Division) stated:

“VimpelCom made massive revenues in Uzbekistan by paying over $100 million to an official with significant influence over top leaders of the Uzbek government. These old-fashioned bribes, hidden through sham contracts and charitable contributions, left the company’s books and records riddled with inaccuracies.”

Kara Brockmeyer (Chief of the SEC Enforcement Division’s FCPA Unit) stated:

“International cooperation among regulators is critical to holding companies responsible for all facets of a bribery scheme.  This closely coordinated settlement is a product of the extraordinary efforts of the SEC, Department of Justice, and law enforcement partners around the globe to jointly pursue those who break the law to win business.”

Dutch Enforcement Action

According to the DOJ and SEC releases, VimpelCom also resolved a Public Prosecution Service of the Netherlands (OM) enforcement action by agreeing to pay a $230.1 million criminal penalty.

After accounting for various credits (for instance the SEC $375 million in disgorgement of profits and prejudgment interest was divided between the SEC and OM, the DOJ agreed to credit the penalty paid to the OM and the SEC agreed to credit the DOJ forfeiture) the net U.S. portion of the settlement amounts to $397.5 million – the 5th largest of all-time from a settlement perspective.

As noted in the SEC’s release: “the settlement requires VimpelCom to pay $167.5 million to the SEC, $230.1 million to the U.S. Department of Justice, and $397.5 million to Dutch regulators.”

Asset Recovery

Separate and distinct from the above components of the VimpelCom enforcement action, the DOJ also announced as part of its Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative the filing of a civil complaint seeking the forfeiture of more than $550 million held in Swiss bank account, which allegedly constitute bribe payments made by VimpelCom and two separate telecommunications companies, or funds involved in the laundering of those payments, to the Uzbek official. As noted in the DOJ release, yesterday’s civil complaint follows an earlier civil complaint filed in June 29, 2015 which seeks forfeiture of more than $300 million.

In this release, Jean-Yves Charlier (Chief Executive Officer of VimpelCom) stated:

“Resolving this has been a top priority for VimpelCom. While this has been a very challenging experience for our business and our employees, we are pleased to have now reached settlements with the authorities. The wrongdoing, which we deeply regret, is unacceptable. We have taken, and will continue to take, strong measures to embed a culture of integrity across the group. We have significantly strengthened our internal controls and compliance program. Since the launch of the investigation, VimpelCom has appointed a new Chief Executive Officer, Chief Financial Officer, Group General Counsel, Chief Performance Officer and Group Chief Compliance Officer to drive the necessary change forward.”

As part of the settlements, […] VimpelCom has also agreed to oversight by an independent compliance monitor to promote continued, and regular, compliance enhancements across the Company and its subsidiaries. VimpelCom’s cooperation in the investigation and actions in rapidly resolving this matter, together with substantial upgrades to its compliance program, have been recognized by the authorities in the settlements.”

Yesterday VimpelCom’s Nasdaq shares closed down 1.6%.

Mark Rochon and John Davis (both of Miller Chevalier) represented the VimpelCom entities.

Friday Roundup

Roundup2

Scrutiny alerts and updates, double standard, ripple, job description, new website, quotable and for the reading stack.  It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Scrutiny Alerts and Updates

Vimpelcom / TeliaSonera

As highlighted in this recent post, when recently asked about the slowdown in 2015 DOJ corporate FCPA enforcement Andrew Weissmann (Chief of the DOJ Fraud Section) stated: “just wait three months, it might be a very different picture.”

According to this report:

“Vimpelcom “is set to announce a settlement with the US Department of Justice and Swiss and Dutch authorities that will be “just shy of a billion dollars.” […]  A source close to the DoJ, which does not comment publicly on individual cases, said it is expected that approximately three-quarters of the funds would go to the US government and the remainder to the European governments. […] [S]ources say [the Vimpelcom action] is a precursor for a much larger settlement coming down the line with TeliaSonera, the Swedish telecom operator.”

See this prior post titled “The Burgeoning Uzbekistan Telecommunication Investigations.”

SBM Offshore

Previous posts have highlighted SBM Offshore’s scrutiny including its disclosure in November 2014 that the DOJ informed the company “that it is not prosecuting the Company and has closed its inquiry” into allegations of improper conduct in Brazil and other countries.

Earlier this week, the company disclosed:

“[The DOJ] has informed SBM Offshore that it has re-opened its past inquiry of the Company and has made information requests in connection with that inquiry.  The Company is seeking further clarification about the scope of the inquiry.  The Company remains committed to close-out discussions on this legacy issue which the Company self-reported to the authorities in 2012 and for which it reached a settlement with the Dutch Public Prosecutor in 2014.”

British American Tobacco

This previous Friday roundup highlighted the scrutiny surrounding British American Tobacco. Recently, several members of Congress sent this letter to Andrew Weissmann (Chief of the DOJ’s Fraud Section) stating in pertinent part:

“We are deeply troubled by recent media reports alleging that British American Tobacco (BAT) conspired to bribe politicians and public health officials across Central and East Africa to block, weaken, and delay the passage and implementation of public health laws designed to protect people from the deadly effects of tobacco. We request the Department of Justice to investigate BAT’s alleged bribery to determine whether it violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.”

General Cable

The company has been under FCPA scrutiny since approximately September 2014 and recently disclosed:

“As previously disclosed, we have been reviewing, with the assistance of external counsel, our use and payment of agents in connection with, and certain other transactions involving, our operations in Angola, Thailand, India, China and Egypt (the “Subject Countries”). Our review has focused upon payments and gifts made, offered, contemplated or promised by certain employees in one or more of the Subject Countries, directly and indirectly, and at various times, to employees of public utility companies and/or other officials of state owned entities that raise concerns under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) and possibly under the laws of other jurisdictions. We have substantially completed our internal review in the Subject Countries and, based on our findings, we have increased our outstanding FCPA-related accrual of $24 million by an incremental $4 million, which represents the estimated profit derived from these subject transactions that we believe is probable to be disgorged. We have also identified certain other transactions that may raise concerns under the FCPA for which it is at least reasonably possible we may be required to disgorge estimated profits derived therefrom in an incremental aggregate amount up to $33 million.
The amounts accrued and the additional range of reasonably possible loss solely reflect profits that may be disgorged based on our investigation in the Subject Countries, and do not include, and we are not able to reasonably estimate, the amount of any possible fines, civil or criminal penalties or other relief, any or all of which could be substantial. The SEC and DOJ inquiries into these matters remain ongoing, and we continue to cooperate with the DOJ and the SEC with respect to these matters.”

Qualcomm 

As highlighted in previous posts, Qualcomm has been under FCPA scrutiny for over four years and recently disclosed:

“On March 13, 2014, the Company received a Wells Notice from the SEC’s Los Angeles Regional Office indicating that the staff has made a preliminary determination to recommend that the SEC file an enforcement action against the Company for violations of the anti-bribery, books and records and internal control provisions of the FCPA. The bribery allegations relate to benefits offered or provided to individuals associated with Chinese state-owned companies or agencies. The Wells Notice indicated that the recommendation could involve a civil injunctive action and could seek remedies that include disgorgement of profits, the retention of an independent compliance monitor to review the Company’s FCPA policies and procedures, an injunction, civil monetary penalties and prejudgment interest.

A Wells Notice is not a formal allegation or finding by the SEC of wrongdoing or violation of law. Rather, the purpose of a Wells Notice is to give the recipient an opportunity to make a “Wells submission” setting forth reasons why the proposed enforcement action should not be filed and/or bringing additional facts to the SEC’s attention before any decision is made by the SEC as to whether to commence a proceeding. On April 4, 2014 and May 29, 2014, the Company made Wells submissions to the staff of the Los Angeles Regional Office explaining why the Company believes it has not violated the FCPA and therefore enforcement action is not warranted.

On November 19, 2015, the DOJ notified the Company that it was terminating its investigation and would not pursue charges in this matter. The DOJ’s decision is independent of the SEC’s investigation, with which we continue to cooperate.”

Double Standard

While we wait for additional FCPA enforcement actions against financial service firms based on alleged improper internship and hiring practices in the mold of the BNY Mellon action, the Wall Street Journal reports:

“Wall Street is emerging as a particularly dominant funding source for Republicans and Democrats in the presidential election, early campaign-finance reports filed with the Federal Election Commission show. So far, super PACs have received more than one-third of their donations from financial-services executives, according to data from the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.”

Separately, certain FCPA enforcement actions have been based on alleged “foreign officials” receiving speaking fees or excessive honorariums. Against this backdrop, here is the list of Hillary Clinton’s speaking fees for speeches delivered to Wall Street audiences after she left the State Department but while she was a presumptive presidential candidate.

Ripple

Och-Ziff Capital Management has been under FCPA scrutiny since 2011. In this recent investor conference call, a company executive stated: “Uncertainty stemming from the FCPA investigation has also had some impact on investment decisions by certain LPs.”

In other words, a ripple of FCPA scrutiny.

To learn how FCPA scrutiny and enforcement has a range of negative financial impacts on a company beyond enforcement action settlement amounts, see “FCPA Ripples.”

Job Description

What is the Assistant Deputy Chief of the DOJ’s Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Unit expected to do? See here for the job opening and expected duties.

New Website

The U.K. Serious Fraud Office recently unveiled a new website. Among the feature is a “current cases” page which specifically lists the following companies are under investigation for bribery/corruption offenses.

  • Alstom Network UK Ltd & Alstom Power Ltd
  • ENRC Ltd
  • GPT Special Project Management Ltd
  • Innovia Securency PTY Ltd
  • Rolls-Royce PLC
  • Soma Oil & Gas

Quotable

In this Corporate Crime Reporter interview, Crispin Rapinet (a partner at Hogan Lovells in London) states:

“The danger of deferred prosecution agreements is the commercial temptation to deal with a problem that may or may not be in reality a real problem. If you pushed the prosecutor to actually establish that it is a criminal offense, it may not be that straight-forward. But the temptation for any corporate to deal with that risk through a commercial settlement which involves a sum of money and living with someone looking over your shoulder for a period of time is understandably great.

Whether that, from a jurisprudential point of view, is the ideal world is questionable. You can see why people might take the view of — we don’t actually know whether these people have committed a criminal offense or not. But the power of the threat of the cost and time and management distraction associated with defending a claim, to say nothing of the ultimate risk if you are ultimately unsuccessful in your defense, is such that in the overwhelming majority of circumstances where these problems arise, the commercial temptation is to enter into a deferred or non prosecution agreement.”

Spot-on.

For The Reading Stack

An informative read here from Jon Eisenberg (K&L Gates) regarding SEC civil monetary penalties.

Friday Roundup

Roundup2

Top blog, event notice, scrutiny alerts and updates, what do DOJ FCPA attorneys do, quotable, and for the reading stack.  It’s all here in the Friday Roundup.

Top Blog

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

Roundup2

Scrutiny alerts and updates, asset recovery, Fokker DPA appeal, Holder to private practice, and for the reading stack. It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Scrutiny Alerts and Updates

Former Yara Executives

Reuters reports:

“A Norwegian court sentenced four former top executives at Yara, the world’s biggest nitrate fertilizer maker, to prison on Tuesday for paying bribes in Libya and India, in one of Norway’s biggest corruption scandals. Prosecutors had accused the men of paying around $8 million in bribes to officials in Indiaand Libya – including to the family of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s oil minister and the family of a financial adviser in India’s Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers – for the right to establish joint ventures. Former CEO Thorleif Enger got the longest sentence of three years. His lawyer said he would appeal the sentence. Former chief legal officer Kendrick Wallace was sentenced to 2-1/2 years in prison, while former head of upstream activities Tor Holba and former deputy CEO Daniel Clauw were both given two-year jail terms years, court documents showed.”

For more on the underlying Libya investigations, see here.

Cerberus Capital Management

Cerberus Capital Management has been the subject of several recent media articles (see here and here for instance) concerning its purchase of a portfolio of the National Asset Management Agency (Nama) in 2014 in Northern Ireland.  According to reports:

“Northern Irish politicians have called for an investigation after a politican in Dublin alleged that Belfast law firm Tughans had £7m in an account, ‘reportedly earmarked for a Northern Ireland politician’.”

Tughans was engaged as local counsel by Brown Rudnick in connection with its representation of Cerberus. In response to the scrutiny, Brown Rudnick released this statement.

Asset Recovery

The DOJ recently filed this civil forfeiture complaint seeking “£22 million in British pounds (approximately $34 million at current exchange rates) that represent the value of 4,000,000 founders’ shares in Griffiths Energy International Inc. (“Griffiths Energy”), and that are traceable to, and involved in the laundering of, bribe payments made to Chadian diplomats …”.

According to the complaint, Griffiths Energy gave Mahamoud Adam Bechir (“Bechir”), Chad’s ambassador to the United States and Canada from approximately 2004 to 2012, and others “valuable company shares in exchange for Bechir exercising his official influence over the award to the company of lucrative oil development rights in Chad.”

The recent action is the second DOJ civil action filed in connection with the Griffiths Energy matter.  (See here).

See here for the prior post regarding the underlying Canadian enforcement action against Griffiths Energy.

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As highlighted in this Bloomberg article:

“The Justice Department is seeking to seize $300 million claimed to be the proceeds of an international bribery conspiracy involving two Russian phone companies, as the U.S. joins a group of European nations in a telecom corruption probe. The U.S. claims VimpelCom Ltd., part-owned by Russian billionaire Mikhail Fridman, and Mobile TeleSystems OJSC used a web of shell companies and phony consulting contracts to funnel bribes to a close relative of Uzbekistan’s president, Islam Karimov, in exchange for access to that country’s telecommunications market. The assets sought by the U.S., in a complaint filed Monday in Manhattan federal court, are held in Bank of New York Mellon Corp. in Ireland, Luxembourg and Belgium. VimpelCom said in March 2014 that its Amsterdam headquarters had been raided by Dutch prosecutors and that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission demanded documents as part of the probe into its business.”

Fokker DPA Appeal

This previous post concerned the pending D.C. Circuit appeal of the DOJ – Fokker Services deferred prosecution agreement. Recently David Debruin (Jenner & Block), the court appointed amicus, filed this brief.

Regarding the following issue: “whether the District Court abused its discretion by denying the parties’ motion to exclude time under the Speedy Trial Act […] which provides for the exclusion of a period of delay pursuant to a deferred prosecution agreement “with the approval of the court.”, the brief states in pertinent part:

“If the Court reaches the merits, it should hold that the District Court had the authority to consider the substantive fairness of the DPA. Under 18 U.S.C. § 3161(h)(2), a DPA requires “approval of the court.” The plain text of this provision grants a district court the discretion to consider the substantive fairness of a DPA before approving it. The parties argue that a district court may reject a DPA only if it concludes that the parties are using the DPA as a pretext for a continuance, but that artificial restriction on judges’ discretion finds no basis in § 3161(h)(2). The legislative history, structure, and purpose of the Speedy Trial Act similarly confirm a district court’s discretion to consider a DPA’s substantive fairness.

Contrary to the parties’ contentions, the District Court’s rejection of the DPA poses no separation-of-powers problem. The District Court’s order does not force the Government to pursue a criminal prosecution. The Government remains free to negotiate a new DPA, try its case, or dismiss the charges. Prosecutorial discretion does not confer upon the Government the right to force a judge to exclude time from the Speedy Trial Act clock for 18 months. A district court order excluding time under the Speedy Trial Act is a judicial act, and separation-ofpowers principles give a judge the authority and the obligation to exercise independent judgment in performing that judicial act. If the Government had wanted to avoid judicial involvement, it should have signed a non-prosecution agreement; by instead choosing to invoke judicial process and filing a motion to exclude time under the Speedy Trial Act, it cannot now characterize the District Court’s denial of that motion as a separation-of-powers violation.

On the merits, the District Court did not abuse its discretion in rejecting the DPA. FSBV willfully violated the U.S. sanctions regime over 1,000 times and repeatedly provided assistance to the Iranian military. Yet under the DPA, as long as it agreed to pay back the revenues it earned and promised not to break the law, it would get off scot-free. The District Court’s conclusion that the DPA was grossly disproportionate to FSBV’s conduct was entirely reasonable.”

Holder to Covington

Recently Covington & Burling announced:

“Former U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr., is returning to Covington as a partner after more than six years of service as the nation’s top law enforcement officer. Mr. Holder will be resident in the firm’s Washington office and focus on complex investigations and litigation matters, including matters that are international in scope and raise significant regulatory enforcement issues and substantial reputational concerns. […] Mr. Holder was a partner at Covington from 2001 until February 2009, when President Obama appointed and the Senate confirmed him as the nation’s 82nd Attorney General.”

Reading Stack

Gibson Dunn’s Mid-Year FCPA Update is here.

Gibson Dunn’s Mid-Year Update on Corporate NPAs and DPAs is here.

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A good weekend to all.

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