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“World Tour” For Saudi Officials Results In Individual SEC FCPA Enforcement Action

Yesterday, for the first time since April 2012, the SEC brought a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement action against an individual.  Like the previous five SEC corporate FCPA enforcement actions in 2014, the enforcement action was brought via the SEC’s administrative process.

The enforcement action was against Stephen Timms and Yasser Ramahi, individuals who worked in sales at FLIR Systems Inc [1]., (an Oregon-based company that produces thermal imaging, night vision, and infrared cameras and sensor systems).

The enforcement action is similar to previous FCPA enforcement actions against Lucent Technologies [2] and UTStarcom [3] in that the action focused on certain bona fide business travel that morphed into excessive travel and entertainment of foreign officials.

In summary fashion, the SEC’s order [4] states:

“During 2009, Stephen Timms and Yasser Ramahi arranged expensive travel, entertainment, and personal items for foreign government officials in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in order to influence the officials to obtain new business for their employer, FLIR Systems, Inc. and to retain existing business for FLIR with the Saudi  Arabia Ministry of Interior (the “MOI”). Timms and Ramahi subsequently provided false explanations for the gifts to FLIR and attempted to conceal the gifts’ true value by submitting false documentation to the company.”

In the order Timms is described as follows.

“Stephen Timms … is a United States citizen who resides in Thailand. FLIR hired Timms in November 2001. He was promoted to Middle East Business Development Director for FLIR’S Government Systems division in September 2007. Timms was the head of FLIR’s Middle East office in Dubai during the relevant time period, and was one of the company executives responsible for obtaining business for FLIR’s Government Systems division from the MOI.”

Ramahi, a United States citizen who resides in the United Arab Emirates, is described as follows.

“Ramahi was hired by FLIR in late 2005 and worked in business development in Dubai. During the relevant period, Ramahi’s manager was Timms, the head of FLIR’s Middle East office.”

Under the heading “FLIR’s Business with the Saudi Ministry of Interior,” the order states:

“In November 2008, FLIR entered into a contract with the MOI to sell thermal binoculars for approximately $12.9 million. Ramahi and Timms were the primary sales employees responsible for the contract on behalf of FLIR. In the contract, FLIR agreed to conduct a “Factory Acceptance Test,” attended by MOI officials, prior to delivery of the binoculars to Saudi Arabia. The Factory Acceptance Test was a key condition to the fulfillment of the contract. FLIR anticipated that a successful delivery of the binoculars, along with the creation of a FLIR service center, would lead to an additional order in 2009 or 2010.

At the same time, Ramahi and Timms were also involved in FLIR’s negotiations to sell security cameras to the MOI. In May 2009, FLIR signed an agreement for the integration of its cameras into another company’s products for use by the MOI. The contract was valued at approximately $17.4 million and FLIR hoped to win additional future business with the MOI under this agreement.”

Under the heading “World Tour” for Saudi Officials” the order states:

“In February 2009, Ramahi and Timms began preparing for the Factory Acceptance Test, which was scheduled to occur in July 2009 in Billerica, Massachusetts. Timms requested the names of the MOI officials who would attend the test so that travel arrangements could be made for them by FLIR’s travel agent in Dubai, UAE. Timms subsequently contacted the United States Embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, for assistance to obtain visas for the MOI officials to attend the Factory Acceptance Test.

Ramahi and Timms then sent MOI officials on what Timms later referred to as a “world tour” before and after the Factory Acceptance Test. Among the MOI officials for whom Ramahi and Timms provided the “world tour” were the head of the  MOI’s technical committee and a senior engineer on the committee, who played a key role  in the decision to award FLIR the business.

In June 2009, Ramahi made arrangements for himself and MOI officials to travel from Riyadh to Casablanca, where they would stay for several nights at FLIR’s expense. The MOI officials then traveled to Paris with FLIR’s third-party agent, where they would also stay for several nights at a luxury hotel, also paid for by FLIR. Ramahi met the MOI officials and FLIR’s third-party agent in Boston for the equipment inspection at FLIR’s nearby facilities. On the way back from Boston, Ramahi traveled with most of the MOI officials to Dubai and arranged airfare and hotel accommodations for one MOI official to travel to Beirut before returning to Riyadh, all at FLIR’s expense. Timms received the travel itinerary ahead of the officials’ departure on the “world tour.”

The trip proceeded as planned. In total, the MOI officials traveled for 20 nights on their “world tour,” with airfare and hotel accommodations paid for by FLIR. In addition, while the MOI officials were in Boston, Ramahi and the third-party agent also took the MOI officials on a weekend trip to New York City at FLIR’s expense. There was no business purpose for the stops outside of Boston.

While in the Boston area, the MOI officials spent a single 5-hour day at FLIR’s Boston facility completing the equipment inspection. The agenda for their remaining 7 days in Boston included just three other 1-2 hour visits to FLIR’s Boston facility, some additional meetings with FLIR personnel at their hotel, and other leisure activities, all at FLIR’s expense.

Timms approved expenses incurred by Ramahi and the MOI officials in connection with the extended travel, and Timms’ manager approved the expenses for the air travel provided to the MOI officials in connection with their “world tour.” FLIR’s  finance department processed and paid the approved air expenses the next day.”

Under the heading “Expensive Watches for Saudi Officials,” the order states:

“In March 2009, while Ramahi was present, Timms provided expensive gifts to five MOI officials. At Timms’ and Ramahi’s instruction, in February 2009, FLIR’s third-party agent purchased five watches in Riyadh, paying approximately 26,000  Saudi Riyal (about U.S. $7,000).

In mid-March 2009, Ramahi and Timms traveled to Saudi Arabia for a nine-day business trip to discuss several business opportunities with MOI officials. According to Timms’ expense report, the purpose of the trip was to meet with MOI officials regarding FLIR’s efforts to sell its security cameras. During the trip, Timms, with Ramahi’s knowledge, gave the five watches to MOI officials. Ramahi and Timmsbelieved the MOI officials to be important to sales of both the binoculars and the security cameras. The MOI officials who received the watches included two of the MOI officials who subsequently went on the “world tour” travel.

Within weeks of his visit to Saudi Arabia, Timms submitted an expense report to FLIR for reimbursement of the watches. At the time of his submittal, Timms confirmed that each watch cost $1,425 and was for “Executive Gifts.” Shortly thereafter, Timms identified the names of the MOI officials who received the watches. The reimbursement was approved by Timms’ manager and paid out to Timms.”

Under the heading “The Cover Up,” the order states:

“In July 2009, in connection with an unrelated review of expenses in the Dubai office, FLIR’s finance department flagged Timms’ reimbursement request for the watches. In response to their questions, Timms claimed that he had made a mistake and falsely stated that the expense report should have reflected a total of 7,000 Saudi Riyal(about $1,900) rather than $7,000 as submitted.

At his supervisors’ request, Ramahi secured a second, fabricated invoice reflecting that the watches cost 7,000 Saudi Riyal, which Timms submitted to FLIRfinance in August 2009. Ramahi also told FLIR investigators that the watches were each purchased for approximately 1,300-1,400 Saudi Riyal (approximately $377) by FLIR’s third-party agent.

In September 2009, the FLIR finance department attempted to contact FLIR’s third-party agent. In e-mail correspondence, the FLIR finance department asked the agent a series of questions about the watches. Unknown to the finance department, Timms drafted responses to the questions on behalf of the agent. At Timms’ direction, the agent maintained the false cover story: that the watches cost a total of 7,000 Saudi Riyal, not U.S. $7,000.

In July 2009, Ramahi and Timms claimed that the MOI’s luxury travel and “world tour” had been a mistake. They told the FLIR finance department that the MOI had used FLIR’s travel agent in Dubai to book their own travel and that it had been mistakenly charged to FLIR. They promised to send an invoice to the MOI to pay for the“world tour” travel. Instead, however, Ramahi and Timms used FLIR’s agent to give the appearance that that the MOI paid for their travel. Timms also oversaw the preparation of false and misleading documentation of the MOI travel expenses that was submitted to FLIR’s finance department. For example, Timms obtained an invoice from the Dubai travel agency showing direct flights from Boston to Riyadh—a route not taken by the MOI officials on their “world tour.” Timms submitted the false invoice to FLIR finance as the “corrected” travel documentation.”

Under the heading, “FLIR’s FCPA-Related Policies and Training,” the order states:

“At all relevant times, FLIR had in place a code of conduct which prohibited FLIR employees from violating the FCPA. The policy required employees to record information “accurately and honestly” in FLIR’s books and records, with “no materiality requirement or threshold for a violation.”

Both Ramahi and Timms received training on their obligations under the FCPA and FLIR’s policy prior to the provision of expensive gifts of travel, entertainment, and personal items to the MOI. On or around May 13, 2007 and on or around December 2, 2008, Timms completed FLIR’s two-part FCPA-specific online training courses, including courses focused on “Understanding the Law” and “Dealing with Third Parties.” Ramahi only completed part one of the two-part series in May 2007. The training course completed by both Ramahi and Timms, entitled “Understanding the Law,” gave examples of prohibited gifts under the FCPA and specifically identified gifts of luxury watches, vacations and side trips during official business travel.”

As stated in the order:

“Respondents violated [the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions] by corruptly providing expensive gifts of travel, entertainment, and personal items to the MOI officials to retain and obtain business for FLIR. Respondents also violated Section 13(b)(5) of the Exchange Act, and Rule 13b2-1 thereunder, by knowingly circumventing FLIR’s existing policies and controls, placing a fabricated invoice for the watches into FLIR’s books and records and falsifying FLIR’s records regarding the MOI officials’ extended personal travel paid by FLIR. As a result of this same conduct, Respondents caused FLIR’s books and records to be not accurately maintained in violation of [the books and records provisions of the FCPA].”

As noted in the SEC’s order and release, “without admitting or denying the findings, Timms and Ramahi consented to the entry of the order and agreed to pay financial penalties of $50,000 and $20,000 respectively.”

In the SEC’s release [5], Andrew Ceresney (Director of the SEC’s Enforcement Division) states:

“This case shows we will pursue employees of public companies who think it is acceptable to buy foreign officials’ loyalty with lavish gifts and travel. By making illegal payments and causing them to be recorded improperly, employees expose not only their firms but also themselves to an enforcement action.”

According to media reports, Timms is represented by Solomon Wisenberg [6] (Nelson Mullins) an Ramahi is represented by Lisa Prager [7] (Schulte Roth & Zabel).

According to the SEC’s release, “the SEC’s investigation is continuing.”  As relevant to any potential FCPA enforcement action against FLIR, the SEC’s order states under the heading “FLIR Profits from Sales to the Saudi Ministry of Interior” as follows.

“Following the equipment inspection in Boston, the MOI gave its permission for FLIR to ship the thermal binoculars. The MOI later placed an order for additional binoculars for an approximate price of $1.2 million. In total, FLIR received payments from the MOI for the binoculars that exceeded $10 million.

From September 2009 through August 2012, FLIR also shipped the security cameras and related accessories to the MOI. FLIR received payments for the cameras exceeding $18 million. FLIR subsequently submitted a bid to sell additional security cameras to the MOI. The bid expired before the contract was awarded by the MOI.”

Based on a review of FLIR’s SEC filings, it does not appear that the company has disclosed any FCPA scrutiny.