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Oxford Publishing Resolves U.K. SFO / World Bank Actions

Last July, the U.K. publisher resolving an enforcement action concerning textbook and other sales in East Africa was Macmillian Publishing (see here [1] for the prior post).  This July, it is Oxford Publishing Limited (OPL), a wholly owned subsidiary of Oxford University Press (OUP).

Yesterday the U.K. Serious Fraud Office announced (here [2]) an enforcement action against OPL regarding “unlawful conduct related to subsidiaries incorporated in Tanzania and Kenya.”  The conduct at issue included “participating in public tenders for contracts to supply governments with text books and other educational materials for the school curricula.”

Pursuant to a civil recovery order under the Proceeds of Crime Act, OPL agreed to pay £1,895,435.

Under the heading “self referral” the SFO release states as follows.

“In 2011, OUP became aware of the possibility of irregular tendering practices involving its education business in East Africa.  OUP acted immediately to investigate the matter, instructing independent lawyers and forensic accountants to undertake a detailed investigation. As a result of the investigation, in November 2011 OUP voluntarily reported certain concerns in relation to contracts arising from a number of tenders which its Kenyan and Tanzanian subsidiaries … entered into between the years 2007 and 2010. […] The investigation was thorough – involving numerous interviews and an extensive review of documents and electronic data – and completed to the satisfaction of the SFO. The substantial product of those investigations was presented to the SFO […]  The product of that work led the SFO … to believe that [OPL subsidiaries] had offered and made payments, directly and through agents, intended to induce the recipients to award competitive tenders and/or publishing contracts for schoolbooks.”

The SFO release states that “a number of relevant features … led to the decision to pursue a civil recovery order in place of a criminal prosecution.”  Those factors include the following:  “OUP has conducted itself in a manner which fully meets the criteria set out in the SFO guidance on self reporting matters of overseas corruption” and “there is no evidence of Board level (or the equivalent) knowledge or connivance within OUP in relation to the business practices which led to the case being referred to the SFO.”  The SFO release also states as follows.  “The products supplied were of a good standard and provided at ‘open market’ values.  This means that the jurisdictions involved have not been victims as a result of overpaying for the goods or as a result being supplied goods which were unsuitable or not required.”

The SFO release further states as follows.

“Since the occurrence of the conduct that is the subject matter of the civil recovery order, OUP has introduced enhanced compliance procedures intended to significantly reduce the risk of recurrence of such conduct within OUP.  These procedures will be subject to review by a monitor who will report to the Director of the SFO within twelve months …”.

As noted in the SEC release, OUP also “unilaterally offered to contribute £2,000,000 to not-for-profit organisations for teacher training and other educational purposes in sub-Saharan Africa.  This was a reflection of the seriousness with which OUP views the course of events that were subject to the investigation and a wish to acknowledge that the conduct of [its subsidiaries] fell short of that expected within its wider organisation.”  As to this contribution, the SFO releases states that it “decided that the offer should not be included in the terms of the court order as the SFO considers it is not its function to become involved in voluntary payments of this kind.”

In the release, SFO Director David Green states as follows.  “This settlement demonstrates that there are, in appropriate cases, clear and sensible solutions available to those who self report issues of this kind to the authorities.  The use of Civil Recovery powers has been exercised in accordance with the Attorney General’s guidelines.  The company will be adopting new business practices to prevent a recurrence of these issues and these new procedures will be subject to an extensive and detailed review.”

Finally, the SFO release notes that it “has previously been subject to criticism in relation to the transparency of the processes and proceedings in civil recovery matters.”  Thus the SFO release links to a number of documents including this [3] Claim Form which sets forth specific claim details.

Based on the same core conduct, the World Bank also announced yesterday (here [4]) that “OUP has agreed to make a payment of US$500,000 to the World Bank.”  In addition, as part of a negotiated resolution, the World Bank “announced the debarment of two wholly-owned subsidiaries of OUP, namely: Oxford University Press East Africa Limited (OUPEA) and Oxford University Press Tanzania Limited (OUPT) – for a period of three years following OUP’s acknowledgment of misconduct by its two subsidiaries in relation to two Bank-financed education projects in East Africa.”

In a statement (here [5]) OUP Chief Executive Nigel Portwood stated as follows.

“OUP is committed to maintaining the highest ethical standards, and we have been deeply concerned to discover evidence of wrongdoing in two of our African subsidiaries. We do not tolerate such behaviour. As soon as these matters came to light we acted immediately to investigate thoroughly and report to the relevant authorities. We have strengthened our management in the region and are taking appropriate disciplinary action in respect of those involved in this conduct.”