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Haiti Teleco’s Other Preferred Providers

In terms of defendants (13), it is the largest FCPA enforcement action in history and its involves Haiti Teleco.  As indicated in a post last week (see here), another individual – and a high-profile individual at that (former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide), has been mentioned in connection with the enforcement action.

The enforcement action(s) principally allege payments by various defendants to obtain preferred telecommunication rates from Haiti Teleco.  See here for the indictment of Joel Esquenazi, Carlos Rodriguez and others.  See here for the information as to Juan Diaz.  See here for the information as to Antonio Perez.  See here for the superseding indictment of various Cinergy Telecommunications employees and others.

Even though the Haiti Teleco enforcement action(s) are already broad in scope, other companies also obtained preferred telecommunication rates from Haiti Teleco –  and allegations or suspicions have been raised as to how.  However, at present, there have not been any enforcement actions as to the below companies.

Prior SEC filings by IDT Corporation (here), starting in 2008, have stated as follows.  “On April 1, 2004, D. Michael Jewett, a former employee, […] sent a copy of the complaint he had filed against the Company to the United States Attorney’s Office. In the complaint, Jewett had alleged, among other things, that improper payments were made to foreign officials in connection with an IDT Telecom contract. As a result, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”), the SEC and the United States Attorney in Newark, New Jersey conducted an investigation of this matter. The Company and the Audit Committee of the Company’s Board of Directors initiated independent investigations, by outside counsel, regarding certain of the matters raised in the Jewett complaint and in these investigations. Neither the Company’s nor the Audit Committee’s investigations have found any evidence that the Company made any such improper payments to foreign officials.”

The substance of IDT’s disclosure on this issue has not changed since 2008.  In 2010, IDT entered into a confidential settlement agreement with Jewett. In its most recent quarterly filing, IDT stated as follows as to the above issue.  “The Company continues to cooperate with these investigations, which the SEC and DOJ have confirmed are still ongoing.”  For more on the IDT – Haiti Teleco contract, see this 2009 article from Forbes.

This March 2010 editorial in the Wall Street Journal “Democrats and Haiti Telecom” raises questions about a 1999 contract between Fusion Telecommunications (here) and Haiti Teleco (as well as Fusion board member, Joseph P. Kennedy II – the article also states that “numerous [Bill] Clinton cronies were also on Fusion’s board”).   The article asserts that Fusion had access to the Teleco network at a 75% discount from the official rate on file at the Federal Communications Commission.  For additional Wall Street Journal coverage of Fusion’s Haiti Teleco contract – see here and here – from today’s Wall Street Journal titled “The Looting of Haiti Teleco.”

Former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide Implicated In Haiti Teleco Cases

Besides the manufactured (and now former) Africa Sting cases, the Haiti Teleco related enforcement actions are the largest in FCPA history in terms of individual defendants – 13.   Another individual has been mentioned in connection with the case, and a high-profile individual at that.

Jean-Bertrand Aristide served two stints as Haiti’s President, most recently between 2001-2004.  According to this article over the weekend in the Miami Herald, Aristide is believed to be “Official B” in the second superseding indictment (here) filed in January 2012 against various defendants.  The indictment states that “from in or around 2011 to in or around 2004, Official B was an official in the executive branch of the Haitian Government.”  According to the article, Aristide allegedly pocketed “millions of dollars in bribes from Miami businesses that brokered long-distance phone deals” with Haiti Teleco.

Aristide’s lawyer, Ira Kurzban (here), is quoted in the article as follows.  “I view this as part of the same smear campaign that the United States has orchestrated against Aristide since he was first elected in 1990.”

 

Friday Roundup

The Chamber and others weigh in on the DOJ’s promised FCPA guidance, a re-run worth watching, the DOJ dismisses its FCPA case against defunct Cinergy Telecommunications, this week’s FCPA disclosure, a World Bank debarment, and reflecting on this “new era” of FCPA enforcement.  It’s all here in a souped-up version of the Friday roundup.

Guidance

The conventional wisdom is that when the DOJ announced in November 2011 (see here for the prior post) that it would be issuing FCPA guidance in 2012, that this stalled introduction of an FCPA reform bill.  The current conversation thus seems to be focused on DOJ’s promised guidance.

This prior post highlighted how Senator Charles Grassley is curious about DOJ’s guidance and this prior post highlighted how Senators Amy Klobuchar and Chris Coons are as well.

Earlier this week, the Chamber of Commerce (and approximately 30 other trade associations or councils ranging from the American Gaming Association, the Financial Services Roundtable, the Poultry Federation, and the West Virginia Bankers Association) sent a letter (here) to Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer and SEC Director of Enforcement Robert Khuzami titled “Guidance Concerning the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.”

The letter begins as follows.  “On behalf of the more than three million businesses and organizations whose interests we represent, we the undersigned organizations, write to request that this guidance address several issues and questions of significant concern to businesses seeking in good faith to comply with the FCPA. Detailed, authoritative guidance on these matters will enhance companies’ compliance with the FCPA by clarifying the “rules of the road” and by mitigating the significant interpretive challenges that companies face when applying the text of the statute to complex real-world circumstances.”

Topics addressed in the letter include:  “definitions of ‘foreign official’ and ‘instrumentality'”; “consideration of compliance programs in enforcement decisions”; “parent-subsidiary liability”; “successor liability”; “de minimis gifts and hospitality”; “mens rea standard for corporate criminal liability”; and “declination issues.”

In this previous post regarding the DOJ’s promised guidance I commented that while a welcome development, DOJ’s promise of FCPA guidance in 2012 will not cure many of the issues that are being debated in good faith during this new era of FCPA enforcement.  Furthermore, I expect DOJ’s guidance to be little more than a compilation in one document of information that is already in the public  domain for those who know where to look.  The Chamber letter similarly states as follows concerning compliance programs.  “If the forthcoming guidance on this issue consists merely of a recitation in summary form of specific corporate compliance programs that have been adopted pursuant to deferred prosecution agreements, non-prosecution agreements or SEC settlements, the marginal utility of such guidance to the cause of FCPA compliance in the business community will be limited.”

Whenever released and whatever it says, the DOJ’s guidance will be merely that – guidance.  What the FCPA needs is not guidance, but limited structural reforms  (such as a compliance defense) as well as a change in DOJ policy (such as  elimination of non-prosecution and deferred prosecution agreements).

A Re-Run Worth Watching

If you missed “The FCPA Compliance: Yes Or No” debate between Howard Sklar and I earlier this week on Securities Docket, here is the audio replay (approximately 70 minutes) along with the presentation slides.  At the end of the presentation participants were asked to vote “yes” or “no” and the vote tally was 68% “yes” 32% “no.”  Many thanks to Bruce Carton at Securities Docket for hosting.

Cinergy Telecommunications

In July 2011, Cinergy Telecommunications was added to the Haiti Teleco enforcement action (see here for the prior post).  In a superceding indictment, the privately-held telecommunications company incorporated in Florida was charged
with one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA and to commit wire fraud, six counts of FCPA violations, one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering and 19 counts of money laundering.  In addition, Washington Vasconez Cruz (the president of Cinergy) was also charged as was Amadeus Richers (a former director of Cinergy).  As noted in this January post by Samuel Rubenfeld (Wall Street Journal Corruption Currents) in a second superceding indictment Cecilia Zurita (a former vice president of Cinergy as well as Cruz’s wife) was also added to the case.

Earlier this week, the DOJ moved to dismiss (see here) its case against Cinergy.  The motion states as follows.  “The government has recently learned that defendant Cinergy Telecommunications, Inc. is a non-operational entity that effectively exists only on paper for the benefit of two fugitive defendants, Washington Vasconez Cruz and Cecilia Zurita.  For several years, these defendants took actions making it appear as though Cinergy was an on-going operational company.”  The motion states that “defense counsel recently confirmed that Cinergy is in fact now non-operational, has no employees, and has no assets of any real value.”  The motion concludes as follows.  “In light of persuasive information the government has developed that Cinergy no longer exists in any real sense and that it was portrayed as existing at least in part to further fugitive defendants’ litigation strategy, the government in its discretion and under the circumstances presented has elected not to proceed with a trial against Cinergy.”

Joel Hirschhorn (here – Hirschhorn & Bieber P.A.) represents Cinergy as well as certain individual defendants in the case.

This Week’s FCPA Disclosure

In this prior post, I commented (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) that every week another company seems to be disclosing FCPA scrutiny.  So far so good.  This week’s disclosure is from Cobalt International Energy which disclosed as follows in its recent annual report.

“In connection with entering into our RSAs for Blocks 9 and 21 offshore Angola, two Angolan-based E&P companies were assigned as part of the contractor group by the Angolan government. We had not worked with either of these companies in the past, and, therefore, our familiarity with these companies was limited. In the fall of 2010, we were made aware of allegations of a connection between senior Angolan government officials and one of these companies, Nazaki Oil and Gáz, S.A. (“Nazaki”), which is a full paying member of the contractor group. Nazaki has repeatedly denied the allegations in writing. In March 2011, the SEC commenced an informal inquiry into these allegations. To avoid non-overlapping information requests, we voluntarily contacted the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) with respect to the SEC’s informal request and offered to respond to any requests the DOJ may have. Since such time, we have been complying with all requests from the SEC and DOJ with respect to their inquiry. In November 2011, a formal order of investigation was issued by the SEC related to our operations in Angola. We are fully cooperating with the SEC and DOJ investigations, have conducted an extensive investigation into these allegations and believe that our activities in Angola have complied with all laws, including the FCPA. We cannot provide any assurance regarding the duration, scope, developments in, results of or consequences of these investigations.”

World Bank Debarment

Earlier this week, the World Bank announced (here) “debarment of Alstom Hydro France and Alstom Network Schweiz AG (Switzerland) – in addition to their affiliates – for a period of three years following Alstom’s  acknowledgment of misconduct in relation to a Bank-financed hydropower  project.”  According to the release, “in 2002, Alstom made an improper payment of €110,000, to an entity controlled by a  former senior government official for consultancy services in relation to the  World Bank-financed Zambia Power Rehabilitation Project.”  The release further states as follows. “The  debarment is part of a Negotiated Resolution Agreement between Alstom and the  World Bank which also includes a restitution payment by the two companies  totaling approximately $9.5 million. The debarment can be reduced to 21 months –  with enhanced oversight – if the companies comply with all conditions of the  agreement.”

What to make of the debarment based on conduct 10 years ago is a bit difficult.  This Wall Street Journal Story by Dionne Searcey and David Crawford states as follows.  “There was some confusion about the company’s official response. Early Wednesday, Alstom spokesman Patrick Bessy said Alstom didn’t admit guilt in its settlement with the World Bank. “The World Bank made assumptions which were not proved,” he said, adding that because the matter was so old, “Alstom was unable to find evidence it could present in its own defense so we decided to settle.”  Mr. Bessy said the blacklisting won’t affect Alstom Group, which has had only one project that involved World Bank funding since 2007. He said the company has several other subsidiaries engaged in hydroelectric projects that aren’t affected by the ban and will be eligible for World Bank funding of their projects. In all only about 5% of Alstom sales are in the hydroelectric field, Mr. Bessy said. In a later statement, the company rejected Mr. Bessy’s comments: “Alstom’s general counsel … stated that any comments that were previously made by Alstom are not valid.”

Reflecting On The New Era of FCPA Enforcement

As discussed in this previous post, in November 2010 Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer declared as follows.  “We are in a new era of FCPA enforcement’ and we are here to stay.”  Thomas Gorman (Dorsey Whitney) runs the always informative SEC Actions blog – see here.  In this post, titled “The New Era of FCPA Enforcement:  A Time For Reflection” Gorman hit the ball out of the park when he states as follows.

“Perhaps now is a good time to stop and reflect on what the courts and jurors have said about the “new era” of FCPA enforcement. Surely that era should be more than a dazzling array of ever increasing monetary payments by corporations or actions against individuals built on questionable blue collar tactics. Surely it should be more than business organizations spending ever increasing sums to conduct far reaching and perhaps at times unnecessary investigations at huge expense in a effort to win cooperation credit. Surely it should be more than brining increasing numbers of charges against individuals and demanding longer and longer prison terms. Perhaps now is the time to craft meaningful reform to the Act and enforcement policy to ensure clearer guidance and a more balanced application of the statutes to ensure that the laudable goals of the statute in a fair and balanced manner in the future. That would truly be a “new era” of FCPA enforcement.”

For additional reflections on this “new era” of FCPA enforcement, see this piece I published with the ABA Global Anti-Corruption Task Force.

*****

A good weekend to all.

Friday Roundup

From the dockets, an FCPA compliance defense – yes or no, hiring a woman closely associated with a foreign official, and a focus on the FCPA’s “red-haired stepchild” – it’s all here in the Friday Roundup.

From the Dockets

Last month when Judge Lynn Hughes dismissed, at the close of the DOJ’s case, the FCPA charges against John Joseph O’Shea (see here for the prior post), it was only a partial victory as O’Shea still faced non-FCPA charges.  Complete victory is imminent as yesterday the DOJ filed a motion to dismiss (here) the remaining charges (conspiracy, money laundering and obstruction) against O’Shea.

In July 2011, Patrick Joseph (a former general director for telecommunications at Haiti Teleco and thus a “foreign official” according to the DOJ) was added to the extensive Haiti Teleco case.  (See here for the prior post).  Because the FCPA does not apply to bribe recipients, the DOJ charged Joseph with a non-FCPA offense: one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.  Earlier this week, Joseph pleaded guilty to the charges (see here).  Pursuant to the plea agreement, Joseph agreed to forfeit approximately $956,000.  It is clear from the plea agreement that Joseph was likely an early cooperator in the Haiti Teleco case as the plea agreement refers to a June 2009 proffer agreement with the DOJ.  Many of the other individual defendants in the Haiti Teleco case were charged in December 2009 (see here).  The plea agreement requires Joseph’s continued cooperation and later this month a trial is to begin as to other defendants in the wide-ranging Haiti Teleco case.

FCPA Compliance Defense – Yes or No?

That is the title of a free webcast on February 21st to be hosted by Bruce Carton’s Securities Docket (see here to sign up and for more information).  I will be discussing my  paper “Revisiting a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Compliance Defense”and will argue in favor of Congress creating an FCPA compliance defense.  On the other side of the issue, Howard Sklar (Senior Counsel, Recommind and a frequent commentator on FCPA issues at, among other places, his Open Air Blog) will argue that Congress should not include a compliance defense to violations of the FCPA.

Former Employee Alleges FCPA Issues at GE

As previously reported by Chris Matthews at Wall Street Journal Corruption Currents (see here) Khaled Asadi (a dual U.S. and Iraqi citizen) who was previously employed by G.E. Energy (USA) LLC (“GE Energy”) as its Country Executive for Iraq, located in Amman, Jordan, has filed a civil complaint (here) in the Southern District of Texas against G.E. Energy.   GE Energy is a wholly-owned subsidiary of General Electric Company (“GE”).

The complaint alleges that G.E. harassed, pressured Asadi to vacate his position, and ultimately terminated him after he informed his supervisor and G.E.’s Ombudsperson “regarding potential violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act committed by G.E. during negotiations for a lucractive, multi-year deal with the Iraqi Ministry of Electricity.”  The substance of Asadi’s complaint is that “on or about June of 2010 Mr. Asadi was alerted by a source in the Iraqi Government that GE had hired a woman closely associated with the Senior Deputy Minister of Electricty (Iraq) to curry favor with the Ministry while in negotiation for a Sole Source Joint Venture Contract with the Ministry of Electricity. (According to the complaint, the Joint Venture Agreement between GE and the Ministry of Electricity was signed in Baghdad on December 30, 2010 and that the exclusive materials and repairs provision is estimated to be valued at $250,000,000 for the seven year agreement.)

Hiring friends, family members, etc. of a “foreign official” at the request of the ‘foreign official” has been the basis, in part, for previous FCPA enforcement actions – particularly if the hired individual was not qualified for the position, did not engage in any meaningful work, or was paid an unreasonably high salary.  For instance, the 2011 FCPA enforcement action against Tyson Foods (see here for the prior post) involved, in part, allegations that a company subsidiary placed the wives of Mexican “foreign officials” on its payroll and provided them with “a salary and benefits, knowing that the wives did not actually perform any
services” for the company.

In the WSJ Corruption Currents article, a GE spokesman stated as follows.  “Mr. Asadi’s termination had absolutely nothing to do with any allegations he is making.  Regarding our contracts in Iraq, GE followed all requirements and his allegations are false.”

Travel Act Readings

A few informative Travel Act readings to pass along.

In this article from Thomson Reuters News & Insight, Mike Emmick (Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton) calls the Travel Act the “FCPA’s red-haired stepchild” and says that in conducting an internal investigation “there are some additional rocks to flip over” before celebrating findings of no payments to “foreign officials.”

In this article from Bloomberg Law Reports, John Rupp and David Fink (Covington & Burling) note that a “move by U.S. authorities to target commercial bribery robustly is a distinct possibility.”  The piece discusses the laws that could be used by U.S. authorities to prosecute foreign commercial bribery.”

*****

A good weekend to all.

Mum’s The Word As To Perez Sentence

On January 21st, the DOJ announced (here) that Antonio Perez was sentenced to 2 years in prison in connection with the Haiti Teleco case.

I did not cover the sentence as it happened because, as I hope readers recognize and appreciate, I like to analyze things a bit before posting.

Thus, when it comes to FCPA sentences, the actual sentence only tells part of the story; the complete story requires knowledge of the sentence the DOJ was actually requesting.

For instance, the DOJ sought a 37 month sentence as to Leo Winston Smith, but the judge sentenced him to six months (see here). The DOJ sought a 38 month sentence as to Bobby Elkins, but the judge sentenced him to probation (see here). The DOJ sought a 14-17 year sentence as to Nam Nguyen, but the judge sentenced to him to 16 months (see here).

Numerous other examples abound and I’ve previously noted that the DOJ may be charging more individuals with FCPA violations (although in 2010, 70% of corporate enforcement actions did not involve any related enforcement action against company employees), and those individuals may be pleading guilty (perhaps because of the “carrots” and “sticks” the DOJ possesses), but when it comes time to sentencing, judges are viewing FCPA cases much differently than the DOJ.

Back to Perez.

There is nothing in the publicly filed documents that indicate the sentence the DOJ was seeking in this case.

I contacted Perez’s attorney, Michael Chavies (see here) and asked him – what sentence was the DOJ seeking – the answer – no comment.

I’ve exchanged e-mails with the Public Affairs Office at Justice Department and, after nearly three months, I’ve still yet to learn the answer to the rather simple question of what sentence the DOJ was seeking as to Perez.

Perhaps someday the answer will be known and a more thoughtful analysis of the Perez sentence will be possible.

For now, mum’s the word.

So … in case you had not heard, Antonio Perez was sentenced to two years in prison and ordered to serve two years of supervised release following his prison term, and to forfeit $36,375.

For numerous prior posts on the Haiti Teleco, please visit the Haiti tab on the right.

*****

A good weekend to all.

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