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Friday Roundup

Reader mail, an Olympic loophole, this week’s disclosure(s), the SEC speaks, and so do executives … it’s all here in the Friday Roundup.

Reader Mail

At times, even I ask myself why I spend countless hours maintaining a free website.  Then I receive an e-mail from a reader such as the one below (the reader encouraged me to share it) and I keep writing.

“I just wanted to thank you for your blog.  My son-in-law, [former Africa Sting defendant], was involved in the sting case.
After his arrest we found your website and learned alot from it.  We had never heard of the fcpa before all of this happened.  Your site was the most informative and easy for nonlawyers to understand. I would check it everyday for updates!  It was my lifeline!  Thank you again for writing so much about the case.  I’m just glad it is over and life can go back to normal.

Sincerely,

[Relative of former Africa Sting defendant]”

Olympic Loophole

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal (A Battle for Mongolia’s Copper Lode – Feb. 22nd) reminded me of a post lost in the unpublished archives.

Last August, Rio Tinto PLC, which manages the Oyu Tolgoi mine in Mongolia, announced (here) that the company “signed an agreement with the Mongolian National Olympic Committee (MNOC) to be a Gold Partner sponsor for the Mongolian National Team competing at the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.”  In the release, Rio Tinto Country Director Mongolia, David Paterson,  stated “we are sponsoring the National Olympic Team as part of our long-term commitment to Mongolia and Oyu Tolgoi.”  The release further stated as follows.  “Rio Tinto’s Olympic sponsorship is just one of many ways the company is contributing to Mongolia’s development. For example, Rio Tinto invests in numerous programmes that assist regional and local communities and young Mongolians in the areas of education and training, local procurement practices and sustainable development.”

An August 2011, Wall Street Journal article discussing Rio Tinto’s sponsorship states that Mongolia “is a key battleground for mining companies, which are vying to extract its rich mineral deposits” and that the Oyu Tolgoi project “is expected to yield 1.2 billion metric tons of copper and 650,000 ounces of gold a year in its first 10 years, as well as silver and other metals.”

For more on Rio Tinto’s involvement at Oyu Tolgoi, see here from the company’s website.

On one level, engaged corporate citizens with a committment to community welfare and development is a good thing and ought to be encouraged.

But, on another level, and FCPA jurisdictional issues aside (although Rio Tinto’s ADR’s are traded on a U.S. exchange), is a company’s sponsorship of a country’s Olympic team any less problematic than a company providing a laptop computer or an expensive bottle of wine to an employee of a state-owned or state-controlled enterprise?  What about pre-paid gifts cards (oops, getting ahead of myself, that is coming up next)?  Such instances have never been the sole basis for an FCPA enforcement action, but such allegations (or those similar) are frequently included in FCPA enforcement actions suggesting that the enforcement agencies do indeed view such conduct as problematic.

Strange as it may sound, the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions are only implicated when something of value is provided, directly or indirectly, to a foreign official to influence the official in obtaining or retaining business.  The FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions are not implicated when the thing of value is provided to a foreign government itself.  Even the DOJ recognizes this. See here for DOJ Opinion Procedure Release 09-01 in which the DOJ states that the  proposed course of conduct “fall[s] outside the scope of the FCPA in that the  [thing of value] will be provided to the foreign government, as opposed to  individual government officials …”.

Is this an FCPA loophole?  If so, ought it be closed?

This Week’s Disclosure(s)

Back to those pre-paid gift cards.

On Feb. 16th in this prior post, I commented (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) that every week another  company seems to be disclosing FCPA scrutiny.  So far two weeks have passed and there have been two new disclosures.  This week’s disclosure is from W.W. Grainger Inc. (consistently ranked as one of the “world’s most admired companies” by Forbes).  In a recent SEC filing, the company (a broad-line distributor of maintenance, repair and operating supplies and other related products and services) stated as follows.

“The Company is conducting an inquiry into alleged falsification of expense accounts submitted by employees in certain sales offices of Grainger China LLC, a subsidiary of the Company. In the course of the investigation the Company learned that sales employees may have provided prepaid gift cards to certain customers. The extent and value of the gift cards are subject to further inquiry. The Company’s investigation includes determining whether there were any violations of laws, including the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Consequently, on January 24, 2012, the Company contacted the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to voluntarily disclose that the Company was conducting an internal investigation, and agreed to fully cooperate and update the DOJ and SEC periodically on further developments. The Company has retained outside counsel to assist in its investigation of this matter. Because the investigation is on-going, the Company cannot predict at this time whether any regulatory action may be taken or any other potential consequences may result from this matter.”

Finally on the disclosure front, in August 2011, Brucker Corp. made an FCPA disclosure concerning its Brucker Optics subsidiary in China.  Recently, the company further disclosed as follows.

“As previously reported, in 2011 the Audit Committee of our Board of Directors commenced an internal investigation, with the assistance of independent outside counsel and an independent forensic consulting firm, in response to certain anonymous communications received by us alleging improper conduct in connection with the China operations of our Bruker Optics subsidiary. The Audit Committee’s investigation, which included a review of compliance by Bruker Optics and its employees in China and Hong Kong with the requirements of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and other applicable laws and
regulations, has been completed. The investigation found evidence indicating that payments were made that improperly benefited employees or agents of government-owned enterprises in China. The investigation also has found evidence that certain employees of Bruker Optics in China and Hong Kong failed to comply with our corporate policies and standards of conduct. As a result, we have taken personnel actions, including the termination of certain individuals. We have also terminated our business relationships with certain third party agents, implemented an enhanced FCPA compliance program, and strengthened the financial controls and oversight at our subsidiaries operating in China and Hong Kong. We have also initiated a review of the China operations of our other subsidiaries, which is being conducted with the assistance of an independent audit firm.

“In the fiscal year ended December 31, 2011, $4.3 million was recorded for legal and other professional services incurred related to the internal investigation of these matters.”

As noted in Brucker’s initial filing, in 2010, the China operations of Bruker Optics accounted for less than 2.5  percent of the Company’s consolidated net sales and less than 1.0 percent of its  consolidated total assets.

SEC Speaks

The Subject to Inquiry Blog published by McGuireWoods has this post regarding the recent SEC Speaks event.  Regarding anti-corruption enforcement, the post states as follows.

The Commission now has a “cross-border group” charged with ferreting out corruption in corporations that trade on US exchanges, but are headquartered abroad.  The group is particularly interested in the accounting policies and financial disclosures of cross-border companies, many of which rely on “small US audit firms.”  As a result, the SEC is leaning on audit firms, which the SEC regards as “gatekeepers.”  To that end, the SEC issued guidance in 2010 and again in 2012, advising that they conduct risk-based analyses of their overseas clients.  According to Kara Brockmeyer, head of the SEC’s FCPA Unit, the SEC has seen a spike in Form 8-K reports of accounting irregularities, as well as a jump in Rule 10A reports.  She expects additional 10A reports to flow in through the Office of the Whistleblower.

Brockmeyer noted that the SEC is also devoting significant resources to Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) enforcement.  The SEC’s FCPA Unit is focusing heavily on international cooperation, teaming with regulators around the world.  She highlights the FCPA Unit’s cooperation with Switzerland, Russia, and China, each of which recently enacted anticorruption laws.  The FCPA Unit brought 20 FCPA enforcement cases 2011, including 19 against companies and one against an individual.  Brockmeyer cautioned, however, that the 2011 numbers should not be seen as a model.  Indeed, in 2012 the SEC has already charged 14 individuals with FCPA violations, compared with only five companies charged.

From the Executive’s Mouth

Some excerpts from earnings conference calls that caught my eye.

From Bill Utt (President, CEO and Chairman of KBR Inc.) during a recent call.  “I would also like to report that in February KBR successfully concluded our three-year independent corporate monitorship related to KBR’s 2009 plea under the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act case. Overall, the engagement with our corporate monitor was a positive experience for KBR. We remain committed to consistently doing the right thing every time, and our commitment to compliance is a fundamental part of KBR’s culture. In fact, our compliance programs are paying off in terms of new work as we were recently awarded an international project where our compliance program was a differentiating factor in KBR securing the work.”

From Kevin Royal (Senior VP, CFO of Maxwell Technologies) during a recent call.  “Now I would like to provide an update regarding the shareholder derivatives. As we have disclosed in past public filings in 2010, two shareholders had alleged that certain of our past and current officers and directors failed to prevent us from violating the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, or FCPA. It is important to note that the Company is only a nominal defendant in this suit. In December 2011 mediation was held and a proposed settlement was reached wherein $3 million would be paid to plaintiff’s counsels, with $2.7 million to be paid by our insurance carrier, and $290,000 would be paid by the Company. In addition, we would be required to insure that certain corporate governance measures are in place and in force. The agreement is subject to among other things, court approval and notice to our shareholders. Without admitting any wrongdoing, the defendants to this suit are willing to enter into this settlement in order to expedite resolution of the matter, and to relieve the defendants and the Company from further financial burden. We are pleased that this suit is near final settlement, and look forward to putting this matter behind us.”  [For a recent post on FCPA-related civil litigation titled “A Purpose or Parasitic” – see here].

From Bernard Duroc-Danner (President and CEO of Weatherford International in response to a question about the company’s FCPA inquiry) “Well, there’s not a lot to say about, that I can say, about the DOJ process. To a degree, I think it fell off the screen as it were.  For us it moves slowly, that’s all I can tell you. So, I don’t have much of an update that I can tell you. And actually even if I could, I wouldn’t have much of an update period.”

*****

On that note, a good weekend to all.

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