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The FCPA’s Long Tentacles

There are numerous reasons to comply with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

One reason is that mere existence of an FCPA inquiry can significantly throw a wrench into a company’s ability to sell itself. Another reason is that mere existence of an FCPA inquiry can cause an analyst to downgrade a company’s stock.

Both are discussed in this post starting with a real-world case study.

The case study involves Allied Defense Group, Inc. (here).

It turns out that Smith & Wesson (see here) is not the only publicly traded company affected by the Africa Sting case (see here for prior posts).

Also affected is ADG – a “multinational defense business focused on the manufacture and sale of ammunition and ammunition related products for use by the U.S. and foreign governments.” According to its website, ADG has “has two operating units in the Weapons & Ammunition industry: Mecar, S.A. and Mecar USA.”

On January 19, 2010, ADG agreed to be acquired by Chemring Group PLC (see here). See here for the release.

January 19, 2010 turned out to be an eventful day at ADG because on that same day, the company received a subpoena from the DOJ requesting that it produce documents relating to its dealings with foreign governments. ADG learned that the subpoena was related to an employee of Mecar USA being indicted in the Africa Sting case. The employee (reportedly Mark Frederick Morales) was terminated the next day and ADG stated that Mecar USA transacted business, either directly or indirectly, with six individuals indicted in the Africa Sting case.

In a June 2010 press release (see here), ADG stated as follows:

“The DOJ recently advised ADG that it is conducting an industry-wide review, and therefore the DOJ’s investigation of ADG will be ongoing. As a result, Chemring indicated that it was unwilling to consummate the merger pursuant to the terms of the merger agreement.”

Cherming Group noted (see here) that because of the DOJ’s expanded review “it could not complete the acquisition of ADG pursuant to the Merger Agreement.”

Instead, Cherming “entered into a new conditional agreement with ADG to acquire ADG’s two principal operating businesses – Mecar S.A., based in Nivelles, Belgium and Mecar US, based in Marshall, Texas (collectively “Mecar”). Pursuant to this new agreement, Chemring agreed to acquire the entire issued share capital of Mecar S.A. and the business and assets of Mecar US for a total cash consideration of $59 million.

Fast forward to last week.

ADG filed its definitive proxy statement regarding the merger.

In pertinent part it stated as follows:

“ADG’s audit committee, with the assistance of independent outside counsel, is conducting an internal review of the matters raised by the DOJ’s subpoena and the related indictment of Mecar USA’s former employee. ADG has been cooperating with the DOJ and is working to comply with the DOJ’s subpoena. ADG has also been providing regular updates to Chemring on the progress of the internal review and has been responding to Chemring’s requests for additional information.”

“As a result of the DOJ subpoena, the special meeting of stockholders to adopt the Merger Agreement with Chemring, originally scheduled for April 8, 2010, was postponed twice and then adjourned several times, most recently to June 30, 2010. As discussed below, our board of directors determined that these postponements and adjournments were desirable, for among other reasons, to continue ADG’s internal review, to respond to requests from Chemring for additional information and, with respect to the later adjournments, to provide additional time for ADG and Chemring to discuss restructuring Chemring’s acquisition of ADG.”

Restructuring did indeed occur.

As stated in the proxy materials:

“After Chemring indicated it would not complete the originally contemplated merger pursuant to the Merger Agreement, we entered into the Sale Agreement to restructure the acquisition as a purchase of our assets in order to address Chemring’s concerns about the uncertainties arising out of the DOJ subpoena. This revised transaction structure allows us to complete the sale of our operating assets to Chemring while retaining liabilities and expenses associated with the DOJ subpoena.”

[Note – in an asset sale an acquirer ordinarily does not acquire the selling entity’s liabilities, in a stock sale or merger the acquirer ordinarily does]

“Our board of directors’ original decision to enter into the Merger Agreement, and its subsequent decision to restructure the acquisition as the proposed Asset Sale, were the result of a decision-making process that evaluated ADG’s strategic alternatives, including its prospects of continuing as a stand-alone company, and that followed a market test process with the assistance of our financial advisor.”

The proxy materials then state:

“Our board of directors recommends that you vote FOR the authorization of the Asset Sale.”

The special meeting of shareholders is currently scheduled for August 31, 2010.

The ADG – Chemring saga is an interesting case study of the FCPA’s long tentacles.

It is particularly relevant given the recent General Electric settlement of a SEC FCPA enforcement action for $23.4 million. As noted in this prior post, GE’s exposure was primarily based on the conduct of two entities GE acquired after the conduct at issue occurred. Yet, as the SEC alleged, GE acquired the liabilities of these entities, along with assets, in the acquisition and that GE is the successor to the liability of these entities.

ADG – Chemring is not the only deal in which the FCPA is an issue.

For another real-world example look no further than The PBSJ Corporation – WS Atkins merger.

Remember PBSJ?

In January, the company disclosed the existence of an internal investigation to “determine whether any laws, including the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”), may have been violated in connection with certain projects undertaken by PBS&J International, Inc., one of our subsidiaries with revenue of $4.3 million in fiscal year 2008 and $3.9 million in fiscal year 2009, in certain foreign countries.” (See here).

In its May 10-Q filing (see here) PBSJ stated that the “udit Committee completed the internal investigation in May 2010. The results of that investigation suggest that FCPA violations may have occurred.”

According to this recent filing, the company has spent $7 million on the FCPA investigation … that’s nearly twice the FY 2009 revenue of the relevant subsidiary!

Yesterday, PBSJ announced (see here) “that it has entered into a definitive merger agreement by which WS Atkins plc, [headquartered in the United Kingdom] the world’s 11th largest design firm, will acquire PBSJ in an all-cash transaction for $17.137 per share of PBSJ.”

The merger agreement (see here) states that PBSJ “has fully disclosed to [WS Atkins] all information that would be material to a purchaser’s assessment of the FCPA Investigation or that has been prepared or gathered in connection with the FCPA Investigation that could reasonably be expected to have a Company Material Adverse Effect.” The agreement further states that the parties “agree that neither the existence of the FCPA Investigation nor any particular development in the FCPA Investigation shall, in and of itself, constitute a Company Material Adverse Effect, but any significant effect, event, development or change relating to the FCPA Investigation may be considered in determining whether there has been a Company Material Adverse Effect.”

One more example of the FCPA’s long tentacles?

Analysts may downgrade a company because of FCPA issues.

That is exactly what Cowen & Co. recently did with Raytheon Company.

Among the reasons for the downgrade to neutral from outperform was the FCPA.

In a report authored by Cai von Rumohr, Gautam Khanna, and Mark Hokanson the authors state:

“Since second-quarter 2009, Raytheon has conducted ‘a self-initiated review’ of FCPA issues with ‘possible areas of concern’ regarding ‘a jurisdiction where we do business.’ It’s unclear when the review might end or if it’s related to early retirement of D. Smith, president of IDS when Raytheon signed the $3.3 billion UAE Patriot order. FCPA issues are a risk given: (1) increased Department of Justice priority; (2) rising size of FCPA fines (top four year-to-date average equals $300 million-plus); (3) noncompliance is fined even with voluntary disclosure and strict ethics programs; and (4) whistleblower provision in Financial Reform Law.”

The company’s most recent 10-Q filing (see here) states as follows:

“We are currently conducting a self-initiated internal review of certain of our international operations, focusing on compliance with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. In the course of the review, we have identified several possible areas of concern relating to payments made in connection with certain international operations related to a jurisdiction where we do business. We have voluntarily contacted the SEC and the Department of Justice to advise both agencies that an internal review is underway. Because the internal review is ongoing, we cannot predict the ultimate consequences of the review. Based on the information available to date, we do not believe that the results of this review will have a material adverse effect on our financial position, results of operations or liquidity.”

Raytheon “is a technology and innovation leader specializing in defense, homeland security and other government markets throughout the world.” The company is one of the largest defense contractors to the U.S. government and the majority of its revenue comes from U.S. government contracts.

FCPA Enforcement and Credit Ratings

Fitch Ratings (see here) is a global rating agency that provides credit opinions, research and data to the world’s credit markets.

It recently issued a report titled “U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act – No Minor Matter.”

The report contains some interesting and informative non-legal perspectives on FCPA enforcement which are excerpted below.

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“Aside from management distraction and reputational risk, additional compliance costs and fines [arising from FCPA violations] could have rating implications for those companies with modest FCF [free cash flow] and/or liquidity. It should also be noted that it can take years from the discovery of a violation to the time a plea agreement is reached. In the interim, corporate credit profiles, liquidity, and ratings may weaken. The fine that could be easily paid with cash on hand today might not be readily payable years down the road if a company’s credit profile has weakened and liquidity becomes constrained.”

The report notes that many FCPA fines are “imposed on large investment grade corporations whose substantial cash balances easily afforded them the ability to absorb the payments with no or minimal increases in leverage.”

However, the report notes, “there have also been violations by non-investment grade companies.”

The report then discusses Willbros Group, Inc. “which borrowed from banks on a secured basis.” The report notes that when the company became aware of its FCPA issues (see here for prior posts on Willbros) the issues resulted “in the restatement of its annual financial statements at December 2002 and 2003, as well as the first, second, and third fiscal quarters iof 2004 and 2003.”

The report continues:

“In its 2005 10-K [Willbros] noted that it required an amendment on an indenture due to late filing and several amendments on its bank credit facility. In the July 1, 2005 Second Amendment and Waiver Agreement the credit facility was reduced from $150 million to $100 million.”

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The report also discusses the fiscal consequences of “deferring the legal consequences” of an FCPA violation – as so often happens given the frequency in which non-prosecution and deferred prosecution agreements are used to resolve FCPA enforcement actions. Pursuant to these agreements, the non-prosecuted or deferred charges could go “live” if the company fails to adhere to its obligations under the agreement. “This means,” according to the report, “that investors and analysts cannot take a deep breath or relax until” the time period in the NPA or DPA has expired.

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The report also discusses how FCPA issues can become a “sticking point in acquisitions/dispositions of businesses.”

The report notes:

“Sellers may have contingent liabilities related to violations even after assets or businesses are sold. Prices could be less than expected and may hamper sellers who need to receive a certain level of cash or offload debt to deleverage or meet covenants. Additionally, buyers who have not done enough due diligence up front may find themselves with an unexpected obligation and higher litigation expenses in the future.”

For a recent example of a company halting a planned acquisition because of an FCPA issue (see here).

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As to “management distraction” resulting from an FCPA inquiry, the report notes:

“Fines, penalties, widespread adverse publicity with potential damage to corporate reputations, having an independent compliance monitor, and building up the compliance organization can all pose an enormous distraction to management. More importantly, while many companies tend to have significant financial resources at the
start of an inquiry, it generally takes years before there is a conclusion. In that interim, it is possible that a corporation’s financial profile could weaken.”

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The report contains an informative chart detailing “Fitch-Rate Issuers” that tracks the date the FCPA issue first went public.

Noteworthy examples include:

Accenture Ltd. (identified a potential FCPA issue in July 2003 – in its March 2010 SEC filing the company stated that there has been no new developments);

Bristol-Myers Squibb Company (the SEC notified the company in October 2004 of an inquiry of certain pharma subsidiaries in Germany – in its 2009 10-K the company stated that it is cooperating with the SEC);

Eli Lilly & Co (the SEC notified the company in 2003 that it was investigating whether certain Polish units has violated the FCPA – in its 2009 10-K the company stated that the DOJ and SEC had issued subpoenas relating to other countries).

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As to “credit implications,” the report notes, among other things:

That, because the time from discovery of FCPA violations to resolution can take years, a company’s credit profile could weaken – perhaps reflecting a weak economic cycle. When allegations of bribery separately arise, “for most corporations if the credit profile weakens, potential fines and/or legal contingencies would be among the items of concern in the Rating or Outlook.”

The report then talks specifically about Avon and its FCPA issues (see here for a prior post).

The report notes:

“The cost of investigations and ongoing compliance can be sizeable, and each company’s liquidity and metrics over the medium term would need to be considered. Avon, with $10 billion in 2009 revenues, had $120 million in FCF. In April 2010 the company disclosed that the cost of the investigation would be in the $85 million – $95 million range, up from $35 million in 2009. The additional cost of widening the investigation represents a significant percentage of the company’s 2009 FCF. While the company has more than $1 billion in cash on hand, Fitch’s expectation of moderate FCF in the medium term was part of the rationale for the downgrade to ‘A-’ from ‘A’ on Feb. 2, 2010. Additional layers of investigatory or compliance-related expenses could hamper FCF for Avon and other companies that violate the FCPA. Continued relative weakness in FCF and/or increased leverage typically can provide the impetus for a downgrade or change in outlook for many corporations.”

All in all, the Fitch Report is an interesting and informative read.

A couple of observations.

Some FCPA enforcement actions, per the enforcement agencies’ allegations, involve conduct that goes “all the way to the top” – the Siemens enforcement action comes to mind. In this type of FCPA enforcement action, the company’s credit ratings, and much else about the company’s business, ought to be negatively impacted by the FCPA enforcement action.

However, enforcement actions like Siemens are clearly outliers.

The far more common FCPA enforcement action involves allegations of improper conduct by a single employee or a small group of employees – often in a foreign subsidiary. Even so, because of respondeat superior, the parent company issuer faces FCPA exposure. In such a situation – a common FCPA scenario – is it proper for company’s credit rating to be negatively impacted by the enforcement action?

Add to this the fact that most FCPA enforcement actions are resolved through non-prosecution or deferred prosecution agreements. These agreements are privately negotiated, subject to no (or little) judicial scrutiny, and do not necessarily represent the triumph of one party’s legal position over the other. In such a situation – again a very common FCPA scenario – is it proper for the company’s credit rating to be negatively impacted by the enforcement action?

In my forthcoming piece “The Facade of FCPA Enforcement,” I discuss why the facade of FCPA enforcement matters.

The Fitch Report has informed me of another reason why the facade of FCPA enforcement matters – and that is because FCPA enforcement actions can negatively impact a company’s credit rating.

Baker Hughes – BJ Services Merger

The press (see here among other places) is reporting that Baker Hughes has agreed to buy BJ Services in a $5.5 billion cash and stock deal.

Both companies should be familiar to FCPA followers and there are many FCPA issues present in this announced merger.

For starters, a bit of background.

In 2007, Baker Hughes settled parallel DOJ and SEC FCPA enforcement actions concerning business conduct in Kazakhstan, Nigeria, Angola, Indonesia, Russia, and Uzbekistan. (See here for the DOJ release and related materials, see here for the SEC release and related materials). Combined fines and penalties were a then FCPA-record $44 million.

In 2004, BJ Services consented to entry of an SEC cease-and-desist order finding that it violated the FCPA’s anti-bribery, books and records, and internal control provisions in connection with the business conduct of its wholly-owned Argentinean subsidiary. (See here for the SEC order).

In addition, in its 2008 Annual Report (filed in November 2008 see here) BJ Services indicated (at pgs. 69-70) that it voluntarily disclosed to the DOJ/SEC the results of an internal investigation concerning problematic business conduct in the Asia-Pacific region that could implicate the FCPA. To my knowledge, no enforcement action has yet resulted from this disclosure.

At a minimum, the following FCPA issues are present in the Baker Hughes / BJ Services announced merger.

Baker Hughes settled the 2007 FCPA enforcement action by agreeing to a deferred prosecution agreement (see here). Pursuant to Paragraph 8 of the DPA, Baker Hughes agreed to engage an independent monitor to review the company’s compliance with the FCPA for a period of three years. Thus, per the DPA, Baker Hughes is still under an FCPA monitor – an individual who no doubt has been busy or soon will be busy in ensuring that Baker Hughes properly integrates BJ Services into Baker Hughes’ existing FCPA compliance policies and procedures.

What about the issue of Baker Hughes purchasing a company with disclosed, yet apparently unresolved, FCPA issues? This is one area where the DOJ has offered up substantive guidance to acquiring companies and the following DOJ Opinion Procedure Releases are relevant (in whole or in part): 08-02 (see here), 08-01 (see here), 04-02 (see here), and 03-01 (see here). For additional reading (see here).

I like to tell my students that the business law issues we cover in class are not merely historical, but rather are issues that companies deal with on a daily basis. For all you FCPA students out there, the Baker Hughes – BJ Services merger announcement provides a good real-world “issue-spotting” exam.

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