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DOJ Brings First FCPA Enforcement Action Of 2015

February 2014 post foreshadowed a future FCPA enforcement action against Dmitrij Harder in connection with a notable Third Circuit grand jury proceeding.

Yesterday, the DOJ announced [1] the enforcement action against Harder, the former owner and President of Chestnut Consulting Group Inc. and Chestnut Consulting Group Co. (together “Chestnut Group”), for allegedly bribing an official with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

The enforcement action is notable in that it invokes the rarely used “public international organization” prong of the FCPA’s “foreign official” element.

In the indictment [2], Harder is described as “Russian national, naturalized German citizen and permanent resident alien of the United States” who purportedly used the Chestnut Group entities to “provide, among other things, consulting services to companies seeking financing from multilateral development banks.”

According to the indictment:

“Between in or around 2007 through in or around 2009, Harder engaged in a scheme to pay approximately $3.5 million in bribe payments for the benefit of a foreign official to corruptly influence the foreign official’s actions on applications for financing submitted to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (“EBRD”) by the clients of Harder and the Chestnut Group, and to corruptly influence the foreign official to direct business to Harder and the Chestnut Group, and others.”

The EBRD is described as follows.

“The EBRD was a multilateral development bank headquartered in London, England, and was owned by over 60 sovereign nations. Among other things, the EBRD provided debt and equity financing for development projects in emerging economies, primarily in Eastern  Europe. On or about June 18, 1991, the President of the United States signed Executive Order 12766 designating the EBRD as a “public international organization.” The EBRD was thus a “public international organization,” as that term is defined in the FCPA.”

The EBRD Official is described as follows.

“EBRD Official” was a Russian and United Kingdom national residing in or around London, England, and was a senior banker working in the Natural Resources Group at the EBRD. As a senior banker, EBRD Official served as an Operations Leader in the Natural Resources Group and was responsible for leading the review of applications submitted to the EBRD for project financing, including loans and equity investments. EBRD Official thus had the authority to influence the process for approving project financing, and setting the terms and conditions for that financing. EBRD Official was a “foreign official,” as that term is used in the FCPA.  […] Harder  knew EBRD Official from business associations dating back to at least 1999.”

The indictment also described the EBRD Official’s Sister as follows.

“EBRD Official’s Sister” was a Russian and United Kingdom national residing in or around London, England, and was the sister of EBRD Official. EBRD Official’s Sister purportedly provided consulting and other business services for the Chestnut Group. In reality, however, EBRD Official’s Sister provided no such services to the Chestnut Group or Harder.”

According to the indictment:

“Between in or about 2007 and in or about 2009, Harder, through the Chestnut Group, worked as a financial consultant to companies seeking project financing from the EBRD. For at least four of these applications, including those of Company A [a Russian independent oil and gas company] and Company B [an oil and gas company incorporated in the United Kingdom with operations in Russia] EBRD Official was the Operations Leader responsible for leading the management of the application process and negotiating the terms and conditions of any financing provided by the EBRD. Chestnut Inc. was retained by Company A and Company B despite its relatively small size, distant location from the EBRD, and unproven track record as a financial advisor. […] [T]he EBRD ultimately approved the applications for project financing for Company A and Company B.”

[…]

In all, Chestnut Inc. received payments from Company A totaling approximately $2.9 million, and Harder caused payments to be made to EBRD Official’s Sister totaling approximately $1.06 million. While EBRD Official’s Sister purportedly received these payments as a result of providing consulting and other business services to the Chestnut Group, in reality, EBRD Official’s Sister provided no such services. Instead, EBRD Official’s Sister received these payments for the benefit of EBRD Official, to corruptly influence the foreign official’s actions on applications for financing by the clients of Harder and the Chestnut Group, and to corruptly influence the foreign official to direct business to Harder and the Chestnut Group.”

[…]

“[A]fter Chestnut Inc. received the success fees from Company B, Harder caused a payment of approximately $2,478,580.89 to be made to EBRD Official’s Sister. Although EBRD Official’s Sister purportedly received these payments as a result of providing consulting and other business services to the Chestnut Group, in reality, EBRD Official’s Sister provided no such services. Instead, EBRD Official’s Sister received these payments for the benefit of EBRD Official, to corruptly influence the foreign official’s actions on applications for financing by the clients of Harder and the Chestnut Group, and to corruptly influence the foreign official to
direct business to Harder and the Chestnut Group.”

Under the heading “concealment of the bribe payments,” the indictment alleges:

“Through the Chestnut Group, Harder paid EBRD Official’s Sister approximately $3.5 million in bribe payments for the benefit of EBRD Official. To conceal and cover up these bribe payments, Harder and EBRD Official’s Sister created false paperwork to make it appear that EBRD Official’s Sister had provided services to the Chestnut Group for these payments, when in fact no such services were provided.”

Based on the above allegations, the indictment charges Harder with one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA and Travel Act, five counts of violating the FCPA, five counts of violating the Travel Act, one count of conspiracy to commit international money laundering, and two counts of money laundering.

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

“We are committed to combating foreign corruption, across the globe and across all industries, through enforcement actions and prosecutions of companies and the individuals who run those companies. As alleged, in this case, the owner and chief executive of a Pennsylvania financial consulting firm secured hundreds of millions of dollars in business by bribing a European banking official. He now faces an indictment for corruption in federal court.  Bribery of foreign officials undermines the public trust in government and fair competition in business.  The charges returned today reflect the clear message that we will root out corruption and prosecute individuals who violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.”

U.S. Attorney Zane Memeger of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania stated:

“We will aggressively investigate and prosecute individuals in our district who use corrupt means like bribery to influence foreign officials.  Our criminal statutes in this arena must be enforced to ensure fair dealing in a competitive global marketplace where foreign officials often hold significant decision-making authority.  The alleged conduct here was particularly reprehensible because it undermined the legitimacy of a process designed to support businesses for the citizens of developing nations.”

Special Agent in Charge Edward Hanko of the FBI’s Philadelphia Division stated:

“This is a great example of the FBI’s ability to successfully coordinate with our international law enforcement partners to tackle corruption. Bribery – foreign or domestic – cripples the notion of fair competition in the marketplace.”

For more information on the conduct alleged in the enforcement action, see this [3] 2012 Bloomberg article.