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Pride – A Little Bit Of Nigeria, And A Whole Lot Else … Plus It Pays To Assist the DOJ!

Next up in the analysis of CustomsGate enforcement actions is Pride International.

As described below, the Pride enforcement action includes not only Nigeria – Panalpina related conduct, but also conduct relating to contract extensions in Venezuela, bribing an administrative law judge in India, customs duties in Mexico, as well as other improper conduct in other countries.

See here for the prior post on the Shell enforcement action, here for the prior post on the Transocean enforcement action, here for the prior post on the Tidewater enforcement action here for the prior post on the Noble enforcement action and here for the prior post on the GlobalSantaFe enforcement action.

The Pride enforcement action involved both a DOJ and SEC component. Total settlement amount was approximately $56.2 million ($32.6 million criminal fine via a DOJ plea agreement and deferred prosecution agreement; $23.5 million in disgorgement and prejudgment interest via a SEC settled complaint).

DOJ

The DOJ enforcement action involved a criminal information against Pride International Inc. (“Pride International”) resolved through a deferred prosecution agreement and a criminal information against Pride Forasol S.A.S. (“Pride Forasol”), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Pride International resolved through a plea agreement.

Pride International Inc. Criminal Information

Houston based issuer Pride International Inc. (here) is one of the world’s largest offshore drilling companies.

The criminal information (here) alleges bribery schemes in Venezuela, India and Mexico.

Venezuela

According to the information, “Pride International owned and operated numerous oil and gas drilling rigs throughout South America, including in Venezuela.” In Venezuela, Petroleos de Venezuela S.A. (“PDVSA”), “a Venezuelan state-owned oil company,” leased “the semi-submersible rig Pride Venezuela from Pride Foramer Venezula.” Pride Foramer is described as a branch of Pride Forasol’s wholly-owned subsidiary Prime Foramer operating in Venezuela. According to the information, PDVSA “also contracted with Pride Foramer Venezuela to operate two jackup rigs, the GP-19 and the GP-20.”

The information alleges that between February 2003 and July 2003 Country Manager 1 [a U.S. citizen who was the Country Manager in Venezuela], the Marketing Manager [a Venezuelan citizen working for Pride Foramer Venezuela in Venezuela], the Operations Manager [a French citizen working for Pride Foramer Venezuela in Venezuela], and others known and unknown agreed to pay $120,000 to the Venezuela Intermediary [a company that provided catering services to Pride Foramer Venezuela] with the intent that the money would be paid to the PDVSA Director [a Venezuelan citizen appointed by the President of Venezuela as a member of the PDVSA Board of Directors] to secure a contract extension for the Pride Venezuela.”

According to the information, “in order to conceal and to generate money to pay the bribes to the PDVSA Director” the above named individuals “agreed and instructed one of Pride Foramer Venezuela’s vendors, Vendor A, to inflate certain of its invoices for its services” that “Pride Foramer Venezuela then paid Vendor A for the undelivered services relating to the inflated invoices” and that “Vendor A delivered the excess money it received from Pride Foramer Venezuela to the Venezuela Intermediary with the intent that it would be provided to the PDVSA Director.”

According to the information, “on behalf of Pride International and Pride Foramer Venezuela, Vendor A wire transferred bribe payments of at least $120,000 to, or for the benefit of, the PDVSA Director to an account at a bank in Miami, Florida in the name of the Venezuelan Intermediary.” According to the information, “in exchange for the corrupt payments, the Pride Venezuela contract was extended for approximately three months” and “the profits Pride International derived from extending the contract were approximately $2.45 million.”

As to GP-19 and GP-20, the information alleges that between April 2004 and November 2004 “the Marketing Manager, the Operations Manager, and others known and unknown also agreed to pay at least $114,000 to the Venezuelan Intermediary with the intent that the money would be paid to the PDVSA Director to secure contract extensions for the GP-19 and GP-20.” The information describes a similar payment scheme and payments made to an account in Miami, Florida in the name of the Venezuela Intermediary. According to the information, “in exchange for the corrupt payments, the PDVSA Director caused PDVSA to extend the GP-20 contract from July 2004 through June 2005 and the GP-19 contract from February 2005 through June 2005.”

According to the information “the profits that Pride International derived from the contract extensions for the GP-20 were approximately $596,000” however, the “GP-19 extension was not profitable.” The information further alleges that Senior Executive A [a U.S citizen located in Houston] “concealed information relating to the bribe payments to the PDVSA Director from reports submitted to Pride International auditors.”

India

The information alleges that between January 2003 and July 2003, “Senior Executive B [a French citizen who served as the Director of International Finance for Pride International], the Legal Director [a French citizen who served as the Director of Legal Affairs for Pride Forasol], the Base Manager [a Canadian citizen working for Pride India], the Area Manager [a U.S. citizen with responsibility for the Asia Pacific region], the India Customs Consultant [an individual who provided customs consulting services to Pride India], and others known and unknown agreed to pay $500,000 into bank accounts in Dubai in the names of third party entities with the intent that it would be passed on to an Indian CEGAT [Customs, Excise, and Gold Appellate Tribunal – an Indian administrative judicial tribunal] judge to secure a favorable judicial decision for Pride India [a branch of Pride Forasol’s wholly-owned subsidiary Pride Foramer] relating to a litigation matter pending before the official involving the payment of customs duties and penalties owed for a rig, the Pride Pennsylvania.”

According to the information, “to pay the bribe, employees of Pride Forasol, including Senior Executive B and the Legal Director, caused false invoices for agent and consulting services to be created and submitted to Interdrill [a wholly-owned subsidiary of Pride International organized under the laws of the Bahamas] for payment.” The invoices were processed, the payment was made and on June 30, 2003″Pride India received a favorable ruling from CEGAT” resulting in an “estimate gain to Pride Forasol” of “at least $10 million.”

According to the information, “to conceal the bribe, the Finance Manager [a British citizen who was the Eastern Hemisphere Finance Manager for Pride International], who was located in Houston, Texas, with knowledge of the scheme to bribe the Indian CEGAT judge, sent an e-mail to the Assistant Controller [a U.S. citizen], who was located in Houston, Texas, authorizing the booking of the bribe payments by Pride International’s subsidiary, Interdrill, as a ‘regular fee’ in a newly created ‘miscellaneous fees’ account.”

Mexico

The information alleges that around December 2004, “Senior Executive A, the Logistics Coordinator [a U.S. citizen who was the Logistics Coordinator for Pride Mexico], Country Manager 2 [a U.S. citizen who was the Country Manager in Mexico], and others known and unknown agreed to pay approximately $10,000 to the Mexican Marketing Agent [an individual who provided marketing services to Pride Mexico] to avoid taxes and penalties for alleged violations of Mexican customs regulations relating to a vessel leased by Pride International.”

According to the information, “to conceal the payments, the Mexico Marketing Agent caused false invoices purportedly for electrical maintenance services to be submitted to Pride Mexico [collectively Mexico Drilling Limited LLC, Pride Central America LLC, and Pride Drilling LLC – wholly owned subsidiaries of Pride International] in support of the payment.”

The information then alleges that all of the above-described payments were falsely characterized in the books and records of various subsidiaries or branches that were consolidated into the books, records, and accounts of Pride International for purposes of financial reporting.

Under the heading “total corrupt payments paid and improper benefits received,” the information alleges that between January 2003 through December 2004 “certain Pride International subsidiaries and their branches paid at least $804,000 in bribes to foreign government officials in Venezuela, India, and Mexico to extend contracts, secure a favorable judicial decision, and avoid the payment of customs duties and penalties.”

According to the information, “the benefit that Pride International received as a result of these payments was at least $13 million.”

Based on the above allegations, the DOJ charged Pride International with one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions and to knowingly falsify books and records as to the Mexico payments; one count of violating the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions as to the Venezuela payments; and one count of FCPA books and records violations as to the India payments.

Pride International Inc. DPA

The DOJ’s charges against Pride International were resolved via a deferred prosecution agreement (see here).

Pursuant to the DPA, Pride International admitted, accepted and acknowledged that it was responsible for the acts of its officers, employees, subsidiaries, and agents as set forth above.

The term of the DPA is three years and seven months and it states that the DOJ entered into the agreement “based on the individual facts and circumstances” of the case and Pride International. Among the factors stated are the following.

(a) during a routine audit, Pride International discovered an allegation of bribery;

(b) Pride International voluntarily and timely disclosed to the Department and the SEC the misconduct;

(c) Pride International conducted a thorough internal investigation of that misconduct;

(d) Pride International voluntarily initiated a comprehensive anti-bribery compliance review of Pride International’s business operations in certain other high-risk countries [as to this broader compliance review, this Joint Motion to Waive Presentence Investigation notes that the review included a number of “high-risk countries including Angola, Brazil, Kazakhstan, Libya, Nigeria, the Republic of Congo, and Saudi Arabia” and that outside counsel with assistance from forensic accounting professionals were involved in the review of approximately 20 million pages of electronic and hard copy documents gathered from approximately 350 custodians, and that more than 200 interviews of employees and agents took place;

(e) Pride International regularly reported its findings to the Department;

(f) Pride International cooperated in the Department’s investigation of this matter, as well as the SEC’s investigation;

(g) Pride International undertook, of its own accord, remedial measures, including the enhancement of its FCPA compliance program, and agreed to maintain and enhance, as appropriate, its FCPA compliance program; and

(h) Pride International agreed to continue to cooperate with the Department in any ongoing investigation of the conduct of Pride International and its employees, agents, consultants, contractors, subcontractors, and subsidiaries relating to violations of the FCPA.

As stated in the DPA, the fine range for the above describe conduct under the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines was $72.5 million to $145 million. Pursuant to the DPA, Pride International agreed to pay a monetary penalty of $32.625 million – approximately 55% below the minimum guideline amount.

Pursuant to the DPA, Pride International agreed to a host of compliance undertakings and to report to the DOJ on an annual basis (during the term of the DPA) “on its progress and experience in maintaining and, as appropriate, enhancing its compliance policies and procedures.”

As is standard in FCPA DPAs, Pride International agreed not to make any public statement “contradicting the acceptance of responsibility by Pride International as set forth” in the DPA and Pride International further agreed to only issue a press release in connection with the DPA if the DOJ does not object to the release.

Pride Forasol Criminal Information

The Pride Forasol criminal information (here) alleges the same scheme to bribe an administrative judge in India as described in the Pride International information. The information charges one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions and to knowingly falsify books and records; one count of violating the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions; and one count of aiding and abetting the creating of false books and records.

Pride Forasol Plea Agreement

The above described charges against Pride Forasol were resolved via a plea agreement (see here). Even though the Pride Forasol information is limited to India conduct, the sentencing guidelines range, $72.5 million to $145 million, is the same as set forth in the above described Pride International DPA.

The agreement sets forth factors motivating the DOJ to resolve the criminal charges in the manner in which they were resolved.

Such factors include: “Pride International’s and Pride Forasol’s substantial assistance with other related Department investigations regarding the bribery of foreign government officials in Venezuela and Mexico, including providing: (1) the names of individuals involved; and (2) contact information for the individuals” and “Pride International’s and Pride Forasol’s substantial assistance with other Department investigations regarding the bribery of foreign government officials in Nigeria and Saudi Arabia, including providing documentation and access to individuals.”

The above referenced Joint Motion to Waive Presentence Investigation states that Pride Forasol and Pride International “developed and timely provided detailed and significant information regarding third parties, including Panalpina Word Transport (Holding) Ltd. […] that was used to pay bribes to foreign government officials by numerous companies around the world.” The Joint Motion states that “the information provided by the Companies substantially assisted the Department because the extent of Panalpina’s conduct was unknown by the Department at the time of the Companies’ disclosure. It was only through the extensive, worldwide investigative efforts of the Companies that these complex criminal activities were uncovered and reported to the Department.”

SEC

The SEC’s civil complaint (here) alleges the same Venezuela, India, and Mexico payments described above.

As to Venezuela, the complaint alleges as follows:

“From approximately 2003 to 2005, Joe Summers, the country manager of the Venezuelan branch of a French subsidiary of Pride, and/or certain other managers authorized payments totaling approximately $384,000 to third-party companies believing that all or a portion of the funds would be given to an an official of Venezuela’s state-owned oil company in order to secure extensions of three drilling contracts. In addition, Summers authorized the payment of approximately $30,000 to a third party believing that all or a portion of the funds would be given to an employee of Venezuela’s state-owned oil company in order to secure an improper advantage in obtaining the payment of certain receivables.” (See this prior post for a summary of the Summers enforcement action).

“In or about 2003, a French subsidiary of Pride made three payments totaling approximately $500,000 to third-party companies, believing that all or a portion of the funds would be offered or given by the third-party companies to an administrative judge to favorably influence ongoing customs litigation relating to the importation of a rig into India. Pride’s U.S.-based Eastern Hemisphere finance manager had knowledge of the payments at the time they were made.”

“In or about late 2004, Bobby Benton, Pride’s Vice President, Western Hemisphere Operations, authorized the payment of $10,000 to a third party, believing that all or a portion of the funds would be given by the third party to a Mexican customs official in return for favorable treatment by the official regarding certain customs deficiencies identified during a customs inspection of a Pride supply boat.” (See here for a summary of the Benton enforcement action).

Based on these allegations, the SEC charged Pride International with FCPA anti-bribery violations. Based on these allegations, as well as the below allegations, the SEC charged Pride International with FCPA books and records and internal control violations.

The SEC’s complaint also describes certain other “transactions entered into by wholly or majority owned Pride subsidiaries operating in Mexico, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, the Republic of Congo, and Libya [that] were not correctly recorded in those subsidiaries’ books.”

As to Mexico, the complaint alleges that a $15,000 payment was made to a “Mexican customs official during the course of the export [of certain rigs] to ensure that the export of the rig would not be delayed due to claimed violations relating to non-conforming equipment on board the rig.”

As to Kazakhstan, the complaint alleges that the Kazakhstan affiliate of Panalpina informed a Pride Forasol logistics manager “that Kazakh customs officials had identified irregularities during a customs audit of Pride Forasol Kazakhstan, but that the issue could be resolved by making a cash payment of approximately $45,000 and paying substantially reduced monetary penalties.” According to the complaint, “certain Pride Forasol managers authorized the cash payment by [Panalpina] to resolve the customs irregularities.” The complaint further alleges that Pride Forasol Kazakhstan made “three payments totaling approximately $204,000” to a Kazakh Tax Consultant while “knowing facts that suggested a high probability that the Kazakh Tax Consultant would give all or a portion of the payments to Kazakh tax officials” who previously threatened to levy substantial taxes and penalties against Pride Forasol Kazakhstan.

As to Nigeria, the complaint alleges that “certain Pride Forasol Nigeria and Pride Forasol managers were aware of information suggesting a high probability that [Panalpina] would give all or a portion of the lump-sum payments charged in connection with obtaining or extending Pride Forasl Nigeria temporary importation (“TI”) permits to Nigerian customs officials in exchange for their cooperation in issuing the TI permits on favorable terms and/or without completing certain legally required steps.” The complaint further alleges that Pride Forasol Nigeria records were incompete and that Pride Forasol Nigeria “did not have adequate assurances” that certain tax payments were not paid directly to tax officials. In addition, the complaint alleges that Pride Forasol Nigeria “authorized the payment of $52,000 to a Nigeria Tax Agent while knowing facts that suggested a high likelihood that the Nigeria Tax Agent would give all or a portion of the money to a Nigerian tax official.”

As to Saudi Arabia, the complaint alleges that the Saudi Arabian affiliate of Panalpina informed a Pride Forasol Arabia manager that expedited customs clearance of a rig could be assured for a payment of $10,000. The complaint alleges that the manager “took $10,000 in cash from Pride Forasol Arabia’s petty cash fund, describing on the petty cash voucher the purpose of the payment as ‘freight forwarding services,’ and gave the money to a Saudi customs official.”

As to Congo, the complaint alleges as follows. “An inspection by the Congo Merchant Marine revealed that certain personnel abroad [a Pride Congo rig] lacked required maritime certification. A Merchant Marine official proposed that Pride Congo could resolve the paperwork defiiciency by making a payment for his personal benefit. A Pride Congo manager agreed to pay the Merchant Marine official $8,000 in lieu of an official penalty.” According to the complaint, the “payments were recorded as travel expenses in Pride Congo’s books and records.”

As to Libya, the complaint alleges that Pride Forasol managers authorized payments to a Libya Tax agent in connection with unpaid social security taxes and penalties against Pride Forasol Libya “without adequate assurances that the Libyan Tax Agent would not pass some or all of these fees to” officials of Libya’s social security agency.

According to the complaint, “Pride obtained improper benefits totaling approximately $19,341,870 from the conduct” described in the complaint. “Prejudgment interest on this amount is $4,187,848.”

Without admitting or denying the SEC’s allegations, Pride agreed to an injunction prohibiting future FCPA violations and agreed to pay disgorgement and prejudgment interest of $23,529,718.

Pride’s press release (here) notes, among other things, as follows: “In addition to self-reporting in February 2006 and voluntarily cooperating with the government, we have greatly strengthened and enhanced our antibribery compliance program and policies. Our current management and board are strongly committed to conducting the company’s business ethically and legally, and we seek to instill in our employees the expectation that they uphold the highest levels of honesty, integrity, ethical standards and compliance with the law.”

Martin Weinstein (here) and Jeffrey Clark (here) both former DOJ enforcement attorneys with Willkie Farr & Gallagher, as well as Samuel Cooper (here) of Baker Botts, represented the Pride entities.

Baker Hughes – Behind the Scenes

In April, 2007, Baker Hughes entities settled related DOJ and SEC FCPA enforcement actions principally related to conduct in Kazakhstan. (See here, here, and here).

As noted in the DOJ release (here), Baker Hughes Services International Inc. (“BHSI”) – a wholly owned subsidiary of Baker Hughes Incorporated – pleaded guilty to violations of the anti-bribery provisions of the FCPA, conspiracy to violate the FCPA, and aiding and abetting the falsification of books and records of its parent company Baker Hughes. The conduct at issue involved “approximately $4.1 million in bribes over approximately a two-year period to an intermediary whom the company understood and believed would transfer all or part of the corrupt payments to an official of Kazakoil, the state-owned oil company.” BHSI agreed to pay a $11 million criminal fine. Baker Hughes entered into a deferred prosecution agreement regarding the same underlying conduct and accepted responsibility for conduct of its employees. As noted in the SEC release (here), Baker Hughes also agreed to pay more than $23 million in disgorgement and prejudgment interest and to pay a civil penalty of $10 million for violating a 2001 Commission cease-and-desist Order prohibiting violations of the books and records and internal controls provisions of the FCPA.

The combined $44 million in fines and penalties was (at the time) the largest monetary sanction ever imposed in an FCPA case.

An April 11, 2007 diplomatic dispatch released by WikiLeaks and published by the U.K. Guardian (here) provides some interesting behind the scenes action that took place prior to the public announcement of the enforcement action.

The cable states, other other things, as follows.

“A Foreign Corrupt Practices Act case involving malfeasance by U.S. oil technology and services firm Baker Hughes in Kazakhstan will soon be settled, revealing details of bribes paid by the firm’s local representatives. Baker Hughes representatives are in Astana to brief Prime Minister Masimov on the case before it becomes public, in hopes of limiting the negative impact on the firm’s ability to work in Kazakhstan. In order to minimize the damage from the case to U.S. investors and the bilateral relationship, post believes it would be helpful to inform the Kazakhstani government that the U.S. government authorized Baker Hughes’ representatives to brief them in advance of the settlement, and to share the text of the decision once it is issued.”

“The Ambassador met with Alan R. Crain, Senior Vice President and General Counsel of Baker Hughes Incorporated, and Amb. Beth Jones, Executive Vice President of APCO Worldwide, on April 10 in Astana to discuss a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) case involving Baker Hughes’ work in Kazakhstan. Crain and Jones informed the Ambassador that they would meet with Prime Minister Masimov later that day to brief him on the upcoming U.S. court decision in the case. They had met with Masimov on January 9 to inform him that legal proceedings were underway in the U.S., and now planned to share the details. They stated that the Department of Justice and the SEC had authorized both meetings.”

“Jones and Crain said that their goal in briefing PM Masimov was to demonstrate the respect that Baker Hughes as an investor has for Kazakhstan and its laws, and thereby ensure that the firm will still be able to operate here and that its employees will not face harassment. They will also emphasize the fact that the investigation centered on commercial malfeasance and did not reveal the involvement of any high-ranking Kazakhstani government officials. After the Masimov meeting took place, Jones contacted the Ambassador to relay Masimov’s request that the Embassy convey the court decision as soon as it is released.”

The cable also states as follows.

“Crain told the Ambassador that a former employee of Baker Hughes filed a report with the SEC in August 2003 detailing alleged malfeasance in several overseas subsidiaries, including Kazakhstan.” “Four separate incidents were discovered during the internal investigation, the second of which is the basis of the legal proceedings currently underway in the U.S.”

The DOJ enforcement action relates only to Kazakhstan. The SEC’s enforcement action also relates to conduct in Indonesia, Nigeria, and Angola as well.

As to the agent at the center of the Kazakhstan payments, see this related story from the U.K. Guardian.

The Giffen Gaffe – The Final Chapter

The original 2003 indictment (here) charged James Giffen with “making more than $78 million in unlawful payments to two senior officials of the Republic of Kazakhstan in connection with six separate oil transactions, in which the American oil companies Mobil Oil, Amoco, Texaco and Phillips Petroleum acquired valuable oil and gas rights in Kazakhstan.”

Giffen’s defense?

Partly that his actions were taken with the knowledge and support of the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Council, the Department of State and the White House. The DOJ did not dispute the fact that Giffen had frequent contacts with senior U.S. intelligence officials or that he used his ties within the Kazakh government to assist the United States. With the court’s approval, Giffen sought discovery from the government to support such a public authority defense and much of the delay in the case was due to the government’s resistance to such discovery and who was entitled to see such discovery.

In August, the case took a mysterious turn when Giffen agreed to plead guilty (here) to a one-paragraph superseding indictment charging a misdemeanor tax violation.

The case ended Friday in a Manhattan court room.

U.S. District Court Judge William Pauley called Giffen a Cold War hero, imposed no jail time, and stated that the case should never had been brought in the first place.

It’s the Giffen Gaffe, the biggest blunder in the history of the FCPA.

Today’s post is from Steve LeVine who was present in Judge Pauley’s courtroom on Friday. LeVine writes “The Oil and The Glory” For Foreign Policy (here) and the below is reprinted with his permission.

*****

James Giffen, the oil dealmaker at the center of what was once the largest foreign bribery case in U.S. history, is officially a free man.

The 69-year-old former oil adviser to Kazakhstan’s president, accused of diverting $78 million from oil companies to the Kazakh government, waited out more than a dozen federal prosecutors and sat through some two dozen court appearances and five trial dates over the course of seven years. Today, the effort paid off. Three months after prosecutors announced a stunning capitulation, dropping all foreign bribery, money laundering, and fraud charges against Giffen in exchange for a guilty plea on a misdemeanor tax charge, U.S. District Judge William Pauley ordered no prison time and no fines in sentencing proceedings at a Manhattan courthouse.

In handing down the non-sentence, Pauley seemingly validated the argument to which Giffen’s lawyers had clung since 2003: that whatever crimes Giffen had allegedly committed occurred while he was a highly valued foreign asset of the American intelligence. “Suffice it to say, Mr. Giffen was a significant source of information to the U.S. government and a conduit of secret information from the Soviet Union during the Cold War,” Pauley said today.

Giffen may have been lesser-known than the other businessmen-cum-criminal-defendants of recent decades, but he was equally colorful, a swaggering, coarse-talking, heavy-drinking womanizer and a charismatic fixture on the Caspian Sea. He arrived in Kazakhstan in 1992, but the trajectory that ultimately landed him there began in 1969, when he started traveling to Moscow as an aide to a Connecticut metals trader. Giffen worked his way up to become a major player in a U.S-Soviet business association with top-level political ties in both Washington and Moscow. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, business in Russia dried up, and Giffen moved on to Kazakhstan, which was quickly becoming one of the hottest oil plays on the planet.

Giffen managed to ingratiate himself with a man he called The Boss: Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev. He became Nazarbayev’s chief oil negotiator and, prosecutors alleged, his personal banker. While honchoing some of the era’s biggest oil deals, he also diverted some $78 million in payments made to Kazakhstan by now-dead companies like Mobil, Amoco, and Texaco into Swiss and other bank accounts that he set up in the name of Nazarbayev, other senior Kazakh officials, and their relatives, prosecutors alleged. (U.S. diplomats said that Nazarbayev, an unindicted co-conspirator in the case, so dreaded being tarnished by a Giffen conviction that both he and his envoys pleaded repeatedly for the George W. Bush Administration to order the case dropped.)

The case seemed open and shut, since the prosecutors presented a detailed paper trail — provided by a Swiss magistrate — of Giffen slicing payments into tiny discrete pieces for transfer into secret Swiss bank accounts, rather than shifting them as a whole, a classic method of money laundering. Even at their most voluble and expansive in court, Giffen’s lawyers made no attempt openly to dispute the prosecution’s facts. They simply kept repeating that, whatever Giffen may have done, he was taking orders from the Kazakh government — a sovereign state entitled to its own ideas of legality — and otherwise serving the patriotic interests of the Central Intelligence Agency.

It was an audacious defense that many thought verged on the preposterous. For one thing, CIA officers of the era deny that Giffen was anything of the sort — he walked into CIA headquarters on his own volition and talked to agency officers about Kazakhstan, they said, but that was very different from being a trusted asset on an informal assignment. In short, they asserted, Giffen was simply another dude talking.

The CIA, however, appears to have refused to hand over many — if any — documents sought by the defense. Judge Pauley had ruled that such documents were obligatory if Giffen were to have access to his rights to adequately defend himself. So the prosecution was left with having to drop the charges.

In his sentencing remarks, Pauley said that he had had access to classified documents that no one else in the courtroom had seen, and that they largely validated Giffen’s claims. “He was one of the only Americans with sustained access to” high levels of government in the region, Pauley said. “These relationships, built up over a lifetime, were lost the day of his arrest. This ordeal must end. How does Mr. Giffen reclaim his reputation? This court begins by acknowledging his service.”

*****

For additional coverage see here (David Glovin – Bloomberg) and here (Larry Neumeister – AP).

For Giffen’s contribution to FCPA case law (see here).

“We May Not Have Conducted Our Business In Compliance With The FCPA”

Those are the words used by Dutch-based Lyondellbasell Industries N.V. (see here) in its August 25th SEC filing (see here).

Lyondellbasell’s disclosure is not exactly “new” news as it was first disclosed in a March 2010 court filing in connection with the company’s bankruptcy proceeding, but the news is new to me, and perhaps to you as well.

The FCPA disclosure reads as follows:

“We have identified an agreement related to a project in Kazakhstan under which a payment was made in late 2008 that raises compliance concerns under the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (the “FCPA”). We have engaged outside counsel to investigate these activities, under the oversight of a special committee established by the Supervisory Board, and to evaluate internal controls and compliance policies and procedures. We made a voluntary disclosure of these matters to the U.S. Department of Justice in late 2009 and are cooperating fully with that agency. We cannot predict the ultimate outcome of this matter at this time or whether we will discover other matters raising compliance issues, including under other statutes. In this respect, we may not have conducted our business in compliance with the FCPA and may not have had policies and procedures in place adequate to ensure compliance. We cannot reasonably estimate any potential penalty that may arise from these matters. We are in the process of adopting and implementing more stringent policies and procedures designed to ensure compliance. We cannot predict the ultimate outcome of this matter at this time since our investigations are ongoing. Violations of these laws could result in criminal and civil liabilities and other forms of relief that could be material to us.”

According to this Bloomberg report, “a review of international holdings by a management team installed after the bankruptcy triggered the disclosure.”

Citing a company spokesperson and unnamed sources, the Bloomberg article states that “the company’s review involves a petrochemical complex in western Kazakhstan where LyondellBasell was a partner until earlier this year” and that “a LyondellBasell payment of $7 million made about two years ago to an individual affiliated with a Kazakh company, SAT & Co., is at the center of the internal investigation” which is being conducted by Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft LLP .

According to a company spokesperson, “the characterization of the $7 million payment was not accurate.”

As noted in the SEC filing, since emerging from bankruptcy on April 30, 2010, there has been a limited market for the company’s securities. “LyondellBasell Industries N.V.’s class A ordinary shares and class B ordinary shares have been quoted on Pink OTC Market’s electronic quotation and trading system under the symbols “LALLF” and “LALBF,” respectively, since emergence. We have applied for listing of our class A ordinary shares and our class B ordinary shares on the New York Stock Exchange (“NYSE”).”

The Giffen Gaffe

Perhaps one day the true story will be told about the DOJ’s prosecution of James Giffen.

I don’t pretend to know what happened behind the scene other than to know that something significant occurred behind the scene.

That conclusion is compelled when an original indictment (see here) charging “Giffen with making more than $78 million in unlawful payments to two senior officials of the Republic of Kazakhstan in connection with six separate oil transactions, in which the American oil companies Mobil Oil, Amoco, Texaco and Phillips Petroleum acquired valuable oil and gas rights in Kazakhstan” is resolved via a one-paragraph superseding information (see here) charging a misdemeanor tax violation.

Sure, DOJ can say that it prosecuted a functionally defunct entity, The Mercator Corporation – in which Giffen was the principal shareholder, board chairman, and chief executive officer – with violating the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions. Yet that criminal information (see here) merely alleges that “Mercator caused the purchase of two snowmobiles that were shipped to Kazakhstan for delivery to KO-2” (a senior official of the Kazakh Government).

You read that correctly.

From an FCPA perspective this entire, nearly decade-long prosecution, was reduced to allegations about two snowmobiles for a Kazakh official.

So what was that something significant that occurred behind the scene?

I don’t know.

But I do know this.

Part of Giffen’s defense was that his actions were taken with the knowledge and support of the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Council, the Department of State and the White House. The DOJ did not dispute the fact that Giffen had frequent contacts with senior U.S. intelligence officials or that he used his ties within the Kazakh government to assist the United States. With the court’s approval, Giffen sought discovery from the government to support such a public authority defense and much of the delay in the case was due to the government’s resistance to such discovery and who was entitled to see such discovery.

Perhaps it was that public airing of the information in these documents would be embarrassing to the U.S. government or impact U.S. foreign relations with a key oil and gas producing country.

If so, it is troubling to think that our government condones bribery, when done with the approval or the wink and nod of government officials, while aggressively prosecuting commercial actors – often times based on untested and dubious legal theories.

For the record, Giffen pleaded guilty (see here) last Friday to a one-count criminal information charging him with willfully failing to supply information on tax returns regarding foreign bank accounts in violation of 26 USC 7203. The information charges, and Giffen pleaded guilty to, filing a U.S. individual income tax return which failed to report that he maintained an interest in, and signature and other authority over, a bank account in Switzerland in the name of Condor Capital Management, a British Virgin Islands corporation he controlled. In pleading guilty, Giffen also relinquished right, title and interest he may have had, directly or indirectly, in several named Swiss bank accounts.

Pursuant to the plea agreement, Giffen’s sentencing range will be 0 to 6 months and the applicable fine range will be $250 to $5,000.

For the record, Mercator also pleaded guilty (see here) last Friday to a one-count criminal information charging it with violating the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions. According to the information, Mercator “advised Kazakhstan in connection with various transactions related to the sale by Kazakhstan of portions of its oil and gas wealth.” The information alleges that between 1995 and 2000 Mercator was paid approximately $67 million in success fees for its work in assisting the Kazakh Ministry of Oil and Gas Industries develop a strategy for foreign investment in the oil and gas sector and coordinating the negotiation of numerous oil and gas transactions. The information charges that certain senior officials of the Kazakh government (including KO-2) had the authority to hire and pay Mercator and that Mercator was therefore “dependant upon the goodwill” of the officials. The one-paragraph statutory allegation merely states that Mercator “caused the purchase of two snowmobiles that were shipped to Kazakhstan for delivery to KO-2.”

As indicated in the plea agreement, the DOJ and Mercator could not agree on whether the 1998 Sentencing Guidelines or the 2009 Sentencing Guidelines apply – an issue that will be left for the court to decide. If the 2009 guidelines apply, the plea agreement sets forth a fine range of $650,000 to $1.3 million. If the 1998 guidelines apply, the plea agreement sets forth a fine range of $30,000 to $60,000.

Whether Mercator’s and/or Giffen’s actions were indeed taken with the knowledge and support of the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Council, the Department of State and the White House, the following paragraph from the Mercator plea agreement would seem relevant:

“Because the offense involved an elected official or a public official in a high-level decision-making or sensitive position, the offense level is increased 4 levels pursuant to U.S.S.G. 2C1.1(b)(3).”

That provision (see here) defines “public official” to include, among other categories, an individual “in a position of public trust with official responsibility for carrying out a government program or policy; acts under color of law or official right; or participates so substantially in government operations as to possess de facto authority to make governmental decisions.”

DOJ releases in FCPA enforcement actions are typically peppered with get-tough, this sends a message type of language. The release (see here) in the Giffen / Mercator enforcement action does not contain any quotes from DOJ officials.

William Schwartz of Cooley Godward Kronish LLP (here), a former Assistant United States Attorney in the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York where he was Deputy Chief of the Criminal Division, represented both Giffen and Mercator.

So, what to make of the Giffen Gaffe.

It seems that Giffen prevailed not because of the facts or the law, but because he possessed significant leverage over the government in that he asserted his actions were taken with the knowledge and support of the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Council, the State Department and the White House.

Few FCPA defendants can make a similar claim. Thus, resolution of the Giffen case would seem to have little or no effect on the nuts and bolts of future FCPA enforcement actions.

Yet, resolution of the Giffen case does raise some troubling issues as to the DOJ’s enforcement of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

For starters, the Giffen case and the Frederick Bourke case (see here for prior posts) generally marked the beginning of the FCPA’s resurgence. Regardless of the outcome of Bourke’s Second Circuit appeal, the trial phase ended with the sentencing judge saying:

“After years of supervising this case, it’s still not entirely clear to me whether Mr. Bourke is a victim or a crook or a little bit of both.”

In both the Giffen and Bourke cases, the DOJ made spectacular allegations only to see these enforcement actions end with a whimper.

The Giffen resolution would also seem embarrassing for the Justice Department which actively preaches the transparency and anti-corruption gospel message around the world while calling on other countries to increase enforcement of their own bribery laws.

However, what does it say about transparency in our country when a case that begins with criminal allegations of more than $78 million in unlawful payments to senior Kazakh officials ends with a misdemeanor tax violation and a largely meaningless FCPA enforcement action against a functionally defunct entity focused merely on two snowmobiles?

The Giffen resolution should further enrage segments of the business community that justifiably see a double standard in that certain business practices seem tolerated when done in connection with government business or policy, yet aggressively prosecuted, often times based on untested and dubious legal theories, when done in connection with a purely commercial transaction.

The Giffen Gaffe is troubling enough in isolation.

Coupled with another bribery blunder from approximately six months ago, it is an open question whether the government’s enforcement of the FCPA, to borrow a parliamentary phrase, would survive a no-confidence vote.

In February, the DOJ alleged (see here) that BAE, the largest defense contractor in Europe and the fifth largest in the U.S. as measured by sales, “provided substantial benefits” “through various payment mechanisms both in the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S. and elsewhere” to a Saudi official “in a position of influence” to award fighter jet deals. The DOJ stated that BAE “provided support services to the [Saudi official] while in the territory of the U.S.” and that these benefits “included the purchase of travel and accommodations, security services, real estate, automobiles and personal items.” The DOJ alleged that over $5 million in invoices for benefits provided to the Saudi official were submitted by just one BAE employee during a one year period. Yet resolution of the BAE enforcement action contained no FCPA charges.

Sure the U.S. may prosecute the most bribery cases in terms of shear numbers compared to other countries.

Yet, as is becoming increasingly obvious, many of those cases are settled via privately negotiated resolution vehicles that are not subjected to any meaningful judicial scrutiny and are based on dubious and untested legal theories.

On the flip side, when allegations of egregious or widespread bribery are alleged, the charges are not even FCPA anti-bribery violations.

Before another U.S. government official goes abroad to spread the anti-corruption gospel, preach transparency, and question other countries commitment to prosecuting bribery, it would seem that our government and Justice Department first need to examine its own enforcement of the FCPA.

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