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Coming Soon … Panalpina

No, it’s not another Hollywood FCPA movie like Syriana (see here), although it sort of sounds like it.

Rather it is the Panalpina enforcement action. And its coming soon. According to Panalpina, a Swiss company and one of the world’s leading suppliers of forwarding and logistics services, “last week” it “commenced settlement discussions” with the DOJ concerning its FCPA exposure and the matter is “coming to a close.” (see here).

Not familar with the Panalpina matter?

In February 2007, DOJ announced (see here) the guilty pleas of three Vetco International Ltd. subsidiaries for violating the FCPA. In the plea documents, the Vetco entities acknowledged making improper payments to employees of the Nigerian Customs Services “through a major international freight fowarding and customs clearance company.”

In July 2007, Panalpina announced (see here) that the above guilty plea triggered a number of events. First, Panalpina’s U.S. subsidiary was requested to produce documents relating to the services it provided to the Vetco entities in Nigeria. Second, and more broadly, Panalpina announced that “several other customers have announced to U.S. authorities the review of their practices related to Nigerian importation procedures.” Further, the company noted that “U.S. authorities have extended the scope of their review to Panalpina’s documents related to services into Nigeria, Kazakhstan and Saudi Arabia for a limited number of customers.”

Soon thereafter, Panalpina “suspended part of its service offering in Nigeria including its temporary importation services for oil and gas customers.” (see here). Later, Panalpina stopped all domestic services in Nigeria. (see here).

When announced, the Panalpina FCPA enforcement action is likely to be broad in scope and potentially entangle other companies as well.

An FCPA Triangle

First it was the company – Willsbros Group Inc. (see here).

Then, it was the company’s employees – Jim Bob Brown (see here) and Jason Steph (see here).

Finally, it is the company’s consultant – Paul Novak (see here).

An FCPA triangle of sorts.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for an FCPA square because, as has been noted in previous posts, the final piece of the puzzle … the “foreign official” will not be happening anytime soon as the FCPA only applies to the “briber-giver” not the “bribe-taker.”

As noted in the DOJ release, Novak (a former consultant for Willbros International Inc. – a subsidiary of Willbros Group Inc.) pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA and one substantive count of violating the FCPA in connection with payments to Nigerian “foreign officials.”

Assistant Attorney General Breuer (the blog’s “person of the week” given his frequent mention here in the last few days) had this to say:

“The use of intermediaries to pay bribes will not escape prosecution under the FCPA. The Department will continue to hold accountable all the players in an FCPA scheme – from the companies and their executives who hatch the scheme, to the consultant they retain to carry it out.”

Of course, there still must be jurisdiction over the consultant, but this was not a problem in the Novak matter as he is a U.S. citizen and thus subject both to territorial jurisdiction (i.e. U.S. nexus – see 78dd-2(a)) or nationality jurisdiction (see 78dd-2(i)).

This isn’t the first time the DOJ has gone after consultants or agents. In March 2009, the DOJ unsealed indictments against U.K. citizens Jeffrey Tesler and Wojciech Chodan for their alleged roles in the KBR/Halliburton Nigeria bribery scheme. (see here for the DOJ release, here for the indictment).

Halliburton / KBR … The Sequel

In February 2009, Halliburton Co., KBR Inc., and Kellogg Brown & Root LLC agreed to resolve parallel DOJ and SEC FCPA enforcement actions concerning improper payments to Nigerian officials in connection with the Bonny Island liquefied natural gas project. (see here, here, and here).

The combined $579 million in fines and penalties remains the most ever against a U.S. company for FCPA violations.

Included in the web of companies involved in the Nigeria conduct was M.W. Kellogg Company (“MWKL”), a United Kingdom joint venture 55% owned by KBR. MWKL is mentioned in the linked DOJ and SEC materials above.

It looks like Halliburton’s exposure via M.W. Kellogg is not over.

Today, in a 10-Q filing (see here – p. 10), Halliburton stated as follows:

“In the United Kingdom, the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) is considering civil claims or criminal prosecution under various United Kingdom laws and appears to be focused on the actions of MWKL, among others. Violations of these laws could result in fines, restitution and confiscation of revenues, among other penalties, some of which could be subject to our indemnification obligations under the master separation agreement. Our indemnity for penalties under the master separation agreement with respect to MWKL is limited to 55% of such penalties, which is KBR’s beneficial ownership interest in MWKL. Whether the SFO pursues civil or criminal claims, and the amount of any fines, restitution, confiscation of revenues or other penalties that could be assessed would depend on, among other factors, the SFO’s findings regarding the amount, timing, nature and scope of any improper payments or other activities, whether any such payments or other activities were authorized by or made with knowledge of MWKL, the amount of revenue involved, and the level of cooperation provided to the SFO during the investigations.”

It used to be that companies with FCPA exposure could get a good night’s sleep after resolving DOJ and (if an issuer) SEC enforcement actions.

As this action (and others in recent years) demonstrate, the landscape has changed and “tag-a-long” FCPA-like enforcement actions or inquiries in other countries I think will become the new norm.

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.

Mixed FCPA Verdict (It Would Seem) in Former Congressman Jefferson Trial

You may have forgotten his name, but you likely have not forgotten the headline grabbing “cash in the freezer” allegations against former Congressman William Jefferson (Louisiana), the first member of Congress ever charged with FCPA violations.

This week, a federal jury delivered a split-verdict on the FCPA charges – or so it would seem (see below).

While Jefferson was found guilty of a variety of other charges (solicitation of bribes, honest services wire fraud, money laundering, racketeering, and conspiracy)(see here for the DOJ release), he was acquitted on the substantive FCPA antibribery charge. That charge, according to the indictment (see here), was principally based on allegations that Jefferson attempted to bribe Nigerian officials (including the former Nigerian Vice President) to assist himself and others obtain or retain business for a Nigerian telecommunications joint venture. The famous “cash in the freezer” was allegedly part of the bribery scheme.

However, the jury did convict Jefferson on a conspiracy count that the indictment charged as conspiracy to solicit bribes, to commit honest services wire fraud, and to violate the FCPA. As reported by Jefferson’s home-state newspaper, the Times-Picayune (see here), “the law only require[d][that] the jury find [Jefferson] guilty on two out of three of those counts — solicit bribes, deprive honest services and violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act– and in announcing the verdict, the deputy clerk did not specify which counts the jury agreed on. It may or may not have included conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.”

Perhaps the FCPA portion of the Jefferson verdict will become more clear in the days to come.

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