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German Company Resolves FCPA Enforcement Action Based On Conduct From “The Distant Past”

Approximately 8 years ago, a German company owned 80% of a German entity doing business in Nigeria.  The German entity doing business in Nigeria entered into a joint venture consortium agreement with subsidiaries of a Panamanian company.  The Panamanian company had principal places of business in the U.S. and had shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange.  The joint venture consortium allegedly made bribe payments to Nigerian officials.

The end result?

Why of course, $32 million dollars to the U.S. Treasury.

Yesterday, the DOJ announced (here) that “Bilfinger SE, an international engineering and services company based in Mannheim, Germany, has agreed to pay a $32 million penalty to resolve charges that it violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act by bribing [Nigerian] government … to obtain and retain contracts related to the Eastern Gas Gathering System (EGGS) project, which was valued at approximately $387 million.”

As noted in the DOJ’s release, the EGGS has been the focus, in whole or in part, in several prior enforcement actions against Willbros Group, Jim Brown, Jason Steph, James Tillery and Paul Novak.

The enforcement action involved a DOJ criminal information resolved via a deferred prosecution agreement.

Information

The information alleges that Bilfinger conspired with others “to obtain and retain contracts related to the EGGS project through the promise and payment of over $6 million in bribes to officials of [the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation – NNPC], [National Petroleum Investment Management Services – a subsidiary of NNPC], the [dominant political party in Nigeria], an official in the executive branch of the Government of Nigeria, and others (collectively – the Nigerian Officials).”

According to the information, in 2003 Bilfinger “agreed to create a joint venture with [Willbros West Africa, Inc. (WWA) and Willbros Nigeria Ltd. (WNL) – both subsidiaries of Willbros International Inc., a Panamanian corporation with principal places of business in the U.S. and with shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange] to bid on the EGGS contract and its optional scopes of work.”  In late 2003, [Bilfinger Berger Gas and Oil Services Nigeria Ltd. “BBGOS” – a German company based in Nigeria that was owned 80% by Bilfinger] and WWA/WNL executed a “Consortium Agreement” which formalized Bilfinger’s agreement to create a joint venture in connection with the EGGS project.”

According to the information, “Bilfinger and its coconspirators agreed that the EGGS Consortium would inflate the price of its bids for the EGGS project by 3% so it could cover the cost of paying bribes to Nigerian officials for their assistance in obtaining and retaining the EGGS project and its optional scopes of work.

The information alleges, among other things, that when other conspirators “encountered difficulty obtaining money to make [their] share of the promised bribe payments to Nigerian officials,” Bilfinger agreed to those loan the other conspirators $1 million “with the understanding that the $1 million would be used to pay some of the promised bribe payments to Nigerian officials …”.

The information contains the following relevant jurisdictional allegations.

  • “[In 2004] WWA opened a bank account in the U.S. on behalf of the EGGS Consortium, in which payments for work conducted by the EGGS Consortium would be deposited and out of which payments would be made to BBGOS or WWA when authorized by both BBGOS and WWA.”
  • “[In 2005], Bilfinger Employee 1 [a German citizen] telephoned Bilfinger Employee 3 [a German citizen], who was in the United States, and asked Bilfinger Employee 3 to meet with Tillery in Boston, MA, to find out what payments had been promised to officials and whether [a relevant contract] was at risk because those payments had not yet been made.”
  • [In 2005], Bilfinger Employee 3 flew from Houston, TX, to Boston, MA, to meet with Tillery and inquire about the outstanding corrupt payments and the [relevant contract].”

Based on the above allegations, the information charges conspiracy to violate the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions and two substantive FCPA anti-bribery charges.  The two substantive charges are based on (1) a 2005 “flight from Houston, TX to Boston, MA to discuss promised bribe payments,” and (2) a 2005 “wire transfer of $2,804,496 from Houston, TX to Frankfurt, Germany in connection with the EGGS contract.”

DPA

The charges against Bilfinger were resolved via a DPA in which the company admitted, accepted, and acknowledged that it was responsible for the acts of its officers, directors, employees, and agents as charged in the information.

The DPA has a term of three years and under the heading “relevant considerations” it states:

“The Department enters into this Agreement based on the individual facts and circumstances presented by this case and the Company.  Among the facts considered were the following:  (a) the Company’s cooperation with the Department, albeit at a late date, including interviewing relevant employees and disclosing the facts learned during those interviews to the Department, facilitating the Department’s interviews of foreign employees; (b) the Company’s remediation efforts, including terminating the employment of certain employees responsible for the corrupt payments and disciplining others, and enhancing its compliance program and internal accounting controls; (c) the Company’s committment to continue to enhance its compliance program and internal accounting controls …; and (d) the Company’s agreement to continue to cooperate with the Department in any ongoing investigation of the conduct of the Company and its officers, directors, employees, agents, and consultants relating to violations of the FCPA …”.

Pursuant to the DPA, the advisory Sentencing Guidelines range for the conduct at issue was $28 million to $56 million.  The DPA states that the monetary penalty of $32 million “is appropriate given the facts and circumstances of this case, including the Company’s cooperation and remediation in this matter.”

Pursuant to the DPA, Bilfinger agreed to review its existing internal controls, policies and procedures regarding compliance with the FCPA and other applicable anti-corruption laws.   The specifics are detailed in Attachment C to the DPA.  The DPA also requires Bilfinger to engage a corporate compliance monitor for ”a period of not less than 18 months from the date the monitor is selected.”  The specifics, including the Monitor’s reporting obligations to the DOJ, are detailed in Attachment D to the DPA.

As is common in FCPA corporate enforcement actions, the DPA contains a “muzzle clause” prohibiting Bilfinger or anyone on its behalf from “contradicting the acceptance of responsibility by the company” as set forth in the DPA.

Sidley Austin attorneys Thomas Green and Jeffrey Green represented Bilfinger.

In this press release (which the company had to consult with the DOJ before releasing) Bilfinger CEO stated:

“We are pleased that we have now been able to put these events from the distant past behind us. In recent years, Bilfinger has consistently expanded its compliance instruments and today has a modern and efficient system.”

Parker Drilling Resolves FCPA Enforcement Action Involving Conduct In Nigeria

It’s been quite a week on the FCPA enforcement front.

On Monday, the DOJ announced (here) criminal obstruction of justice charges against “Frederic Cilins a French citizen [for] attempting to obstruct an ongoing investigation into whether a mining company paid bribes to win lucrative mining rights in the Republic of Guinea.”

Yesterday, it was reported (here) that former Siemens executive Uriel Sharef had, as expected, settled the SEC enforcement action against him by agreeing, without admitting or denying the SEC’s allegations, to pay a $275,000 penalty.  (See here for the prior post discussing the DOJ’s and SEC’s December 2011 charges against Sharef and others).

Yesterday, the DOJ announced (here) that criminal charges “have been unsealed against one current and one former executive of the U.S. subsidiary of a French power and transportation company for their alleged participation in a scheme to pay bribes to foreign government officials.”  The individuals are:

Frederic Pierucci (“a current company executive who previously held the position of vice president of global sales for the Connecticut-based U.S. subsidiary) “who was charged in an indictment unsealed in the District of Connecticut with conspiring to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and to launder money, as well as substantive charges of violating the FCPA and money laundering.”  According to the DOJ, Pierucci, a French national, was arrested Sunday night at John F. Kennedy International Airport.

David Rothschild (“a former vice president of sales for the Connecticut-based U.S. subsidiary”) who pleaded guilty on Nov. 2, 2012, to a criminal information charging one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA.  The charges against Rothschild and his guilty plea were recently unsealed.

Future posts will explore in more detail each of the above developments.

Today’s post is about yesterday’s other FCPA development – the announcement of the long-expected enforcement action against Parker Drilling (a Houston-based oil drilling services company) for conduct in Nigeria.

As indicated in this DOJ release, the Parker Drilling action “stemmed from the DOJ’s Panalpina-related investigations.”

As detailed in this prior post, in November 2010, the DOJ and SEC announced coordinated FCPA enforcement actions against Swiss-based freight forwarder Panalpina and six oil and gas companies that utilized its services in connection with business in Nigeria.  The November 2010 enforcement action resulted in approximately $237 million in combined DOJ/SEC settlement amounts.  (For additional reading on these actions, please visit the CustomsGate tab under the search feature of this site or see here where all the prior actions are linked).  As noted in this prior statistical post, Panalpina-related enforcement actions are one, of just a few unique events, that have given rise to the majority of FCPA enforcements since 2007, and Panalpina-related enforcement actions significantly contributed to the “spike” in FCPA enforcement actions in 2010.

Total fines and penalties in the Parker Drilling enforcement action were approximately $15.9 million (approximately $11.8 million in the DOJ enforcement action and approximately $4.1 million in the SEC enforcement action).

This post summarizes the DOJ’s and SEC’s allegations and resolution documents.

DOJ

The DOJ enforcement action involved a criminal information (here) against Parker Drilling resolved through a deferred prosecution agreement (here)

Criminal Information

Parker Drilling operated oil-drilling rigs in Nigeria owned by Parker Drilling (Nigeria Limited), a Nigerian entity and wholly-owned subsidiary of Parker Drilling Offshore International, Inc., (a Cayman Islands corporation wholly-owned by Parker Drilling).  According to the information, “Parker Drilling ceased drilling operations in Nigeria in 2006” and the conduct at issues focused on two issues or events that occurred between 8 to 12 years ago.

First, the information, like the prior Panalpina-related enforcement actions, alleged conduct in connection with obtaining temporary importation permits (TIPs) in Nigeria for oil-drilling rigs.  The information alleges that in 2001, Parker Drilling retained Panalpina to “obtain TIPs and TIP extensions on Parker Drilling’s behalf.  According to the information, between 2001 and 2002:

“Panalpina obtained new TIPs for Parker Drilling’s rigs by submitting false paperwork on Parker Drilling’s behalf to avoid the time, cost, and risk associated with exporting the rigs and re-importing them into Nigerian waters (a process that Panalpina referred to as the ‘paper process’ or ‘recycling.’).  Panalpina created and caused to be presented to Nigerian officials documents that reflected that the rigs had been physically exported and re-imported.  In reality, the drilling rigs never left Nigerian waters.”

Second, and more significant in terms of the conduct alleged in the information, the DOJ alleges conduct in relation to the Nigerian “Panel of Inquiry for the Investigation of All Cases of Temporary Import Permits Issued Between 1984 to Year 2000” (the “TI Panel”).  According to the information, the TI Panel was “presidentially appointed, operated under the auspices of the Nigerian President’s Office, and possessed the power to issue subpoenas and levy fines” in connection with certain duties and tariffs that the Nigerian Customs Service (“NCS”) collected or failed to collect between 1984 and 2000.

As to the TI Panel, the information alleges that beginning in 2002 the TI Panel began reviewing Parker Drilling.  According to the information, thereafter Parker Drilling engaged Nigeria Outside Counsel (a Nigerian citizen based in Nigeria who advised Parker Drilling on customs and other matters in Nigeria) and a Nigeria Agent (a Nigerian and British citizen based in the U.K. to assist Parker Drilling in connection with customs matters in Nigeria) who represented Parker Drilling before the TI Panel.

The information alleges that in 2004 “the TI Panel concluded that Parker Drilling had violated [Nigerian law] with respect to several of its TIPS” and that the “TI Panel assessed a fine of $3.8 million against Parker Drilling.”  The information then outlines a “bribery scheme,” that resulted in the TI Panel reducing Parking Drilling’s fine “to just $750,000.”

In connection with this “bribery scheme,” the information alleges conduct as to Employee A (a U.S. citizen based in Nigeria who, during the relevant time period, was the General Manager of Parker Drilling’s operations in Nigeria); Employee B (a U.S. citizen based in Nigeria who also was a General Manager of Parker Drilling’s Operations in Nigeria); Executive A (a U.S. citizen based in Houston who performed financial and compliance functions for Parker Drilling between 2002 through 2005); Executive B (a U.S. citizen based in Houston who performed a legal function for Parker Drilling); U.S. Outside Counsel (a U.S. citizen and partner in a U.S. law firm who served as Parker Drilling’s outside counsel who provided legal and business advice to Parker Drilling on customs and other issues in Nigeria).

Specifically, the information alleges that U.S Outside Counsel suggested that Parker Drilling retain the Nigeria Agent to resolve its Nigerian customs issues even though Nigeria Agent’s “resume, which U.S. Outside Counsel provided to Parker Drilling, did not reflect any past experience in Nigeria or handling customs issues.”  According to the information, Parker Drilling “conducted no additional due diligence into Nigeria Agent’s qualifications.”

The information alleges that “with one exception, Parking Drilling paid Nigeria agent indirectly through the U.S.-based law firm” and that “Executives A and B paid and caused to be paid all of Nigeria Agent’s expenses without receiving any invoices particularly describing the expenditures’ purposes.”   According to the information, many of expenses related to food, entertainment, social events and the like and the information alleges various meetings the Nigeria Agent had with various Nigerian foreign officials.

The information further alleges that Parker Drilling’s treasurer informed Executive B “that the lack of invoices could raise an issue in Parker Drilling’s ongoing Sarbanes Oxley audit.”  Thereafter, the information alleges, the Nigeria Agent sent an invoice and that Executive B “accepted the invoice and retained it in Parker Drilling’s files, knowing that the invoice did not accurately reflect the true purpose of Parker’s Drillings” prior payments to the Nigeria Agent.

The information then states as follows.  “All told, Parker Drilling transferred and caused to be transferred to Nigeria Agent approximately $1.25 million to address Parker Drilling’s TI Panel issues” and that “Nigeria Agent succeeded in reducing Parker Drilling’s TI Panel Fines.”

Based on the above conduct, the information charges one count of violating the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions.  Although the above Panalpina-related allegations are incorporated by reference into the paragraphs charging the FCPA violation, the information specifically identifies only the TI Panel conduct and states as follows.  “Parker Drilling made and cause to be made from the United States … a series of payments totaling approximately $1.25 million to Nigeria Agent, knowing that all or a portion of those payments would be given or used to procure goods and services that were to be given to a foreign government official in return for the diminution of a lawfully assessed fine.”

Deferred Prosecution Agreement

The above charge against Parker Drilling was resolved via a DPA in which Parker Drilling admitted, accepted, and acknowledged that it was responsible for the acts of its officers, directors, employees and agents as charged in the information.

The DPA has a term of three years and under the heading “relevant considerations” it states as follows.

“The Department enters into this Agreement based on the individual facts and circumstances presented by this case and the Company.  Among the facts considered were the following:  (a) the Company’s cooperation, including conducting an extensive internal investigation and collecting, analyzing, and organizing voluminous evidence and information for the Department; (b) the Company has engaged in extensive remediation, including ending its business relationships with officers, employees or agents primarily responsible for the corrupt payments, enhancing its due diligence protocol for third-party agents and consultants, increasing training and testing requirements, and instituting heightened review of proposals and other transactional documents for all the Company’s contracts; (c) the Company has retained a full-time Chief Compliance Officer and Counsel who reports to the Chief Executive Officer and Audit Committee, as well as staff to assist the Chief Compliance Officer and Counsel; (d) the Company has already significantly enhanced and is committed to continue to enhance its compliance program and internal controls, including ensuring that its compliance program satisfies the minimum elements set forth [elsewhere in the DPA]; (e) the Company has implemented a compliance-awareness improvement initiative and program that includes issuance of periodic anti-bribery compliance alerts; (f) the Company has already implemented many of the elements described [elsewhere in the DPA]; and (g) the Company has agreed to continue to cooperate with the Department in any ongoing investigation …”.

Pursuant to the DPA, the advisory Sentencing Guidelines range for the conduct at issue was $14.7 million to $29.4 million.  The DPA then states as follows.

“The Company agrees to pay a monetary penalty in the amount of $11,760,000, an approximately 20% reduction off the bottom of the fine range […].  The Company and the Department agree that this fine is appropriate given the facts and circumstances of this case, including the Company’s cooperation, extensive remediation, committment to continue to enhance its compliance program, and culpability relative to other companies examined in this investigation.”

During the period of the DPA, Parker Drilling will have annual reporting obligations to the DOJ concerning its remediation and implementation of various compliance measures.  As is typical in FCPA DPAs, Parker Drilling also agreed to a “muzzle clause” (see this prior post for more information).

SEC

In a related enforcement action based on the same core conduct, the SEC brought a civil complaint (here) against Parking Drilling.

The introductory paragraph of the complaint states as follows.

“This matter involves violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) by Defendant Parker Drilling Company.  In 2004, through its outside counsel, Parker Drilling retained a Nigerian agent to assist the company with customs disputes related to the importation of its drilling rigs into Nigeria. During the course of the agent’s work, two Parker Drilling executives knowingly paid the agent large sums of money through its outside counsel for, among other things, the “entertainment” of Nigerian foreign officials in an effort to obtain their influence in resolving the customs disputes.”

The SEC complaint also contains a paragraph with the same general Panalpina-related allegations as alleged in the DOJ’s criminal information.

Under the heading “Remedial Efforts” the complaint states as follows.

“Parker Drilling demonstrated significant cooperation and conducted an extensive internal investigation. Since the time of the conduct noted in this Complaint, Parker Drilling has made significant enhancements to its global anti-corruption compliance program, including: retaining a full-time Chief Compliance Officer and Counsel who reports to the Chief Executive Officer and Audit Committee and full-time staff to assist him; enhancing anti-corruption due diligence requirements for relationships with third parties; increasing compliance monitoring and corporate auditing specifically tailored to anti-corruption; implementing a compliance awareness initiative that includes issuance of periodic anti-bribery compliance alerts; enhancing financial controls and governance; and expanding anti-corruption training throughout the organization.”

Based on the above conduct, the SEC charged an FCPA anti-bribery violation and an FCPA books and records and internal controls violation.  Other than restating the language of the books and records and internal controls provisions, the SEC complaint does not contain any specific allegations concerning these charges.

As noted in this SEC release, Parker Drilling agreed to pay disgorgement of 3,050,00 plus pre-judgment interest of $1,040,818, and consented to the entry of a final judgment permanently enjoining it from future FCPA violations.

Mitchell Ettinger, Saul Pilchen and Stephanie Cherny (Skadden, Arps) represented Parker Drilling.

Parker Drilling in this release stated as follows.

“After an extensive investigation, with which we fully cooperated, we are pleased to have reached agreement with the DOJ and the SEC, and we will continue to maintain a vigorous FCPA compliance program, to emphasize the importance of compliance and ethical business conduct, and to enhance our compliance efforts.”

Parker Drilling had previously disclosed that the DOJ and SEC’s investigations concerned “certain of our operations relating to countries in which we currently operate or formerly operated, including Kazakhstan and Nigeria.”

Friday Roundup

Better late than never, Judge Leon pulls a Judge Rakoff, Edmonds sentenced, it’s official, whistleblower statistics, it ought to stop marketing, China related issues, ICE melted quickly, and a U.K. enforcement action.  It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Under The Microscope

Academic publishing is seldom quick. Yet before the calendar flips into another year, I am pleased to share my article concerning 2011 FCPA enforcement.  The abstract of “The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Under The Microscope” (see here to download) recently published in the University of Pennsylvania Journal of Business Law is as follows.  Information in the article is current as of January 16, 2012.

For most of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act’s history, key decisions concerning its scope and enforcement were made behind closed doors around conference room tables in Washington, D.C. The FCPA took on a life of its own and, in many instances, the statute came to mean whatever the DOJ or SEC could get putative corporate FCPA defendants (mindful of the consequences of actual prosecuted charges) to agree to behind those closed doors. However, as the enforcement agencies continued to push the envelope on enforcement theories and practices, and as the DOJ brought more individual FCPA enforcement actions, including through manufactured sting operations, business entities and individuals alike began to openly fight back. While many FCPA enforcement decisions and procedures remain opaque, 2011 witnessed the most intense year of public scrutiny in the FCPA’s history. This Article (i) provides an overview of 2011 FCPA enforcement and discusses certain problematic enforcement trends, and (ii) highlights how in 2011 the FCPA was subjected to the most meaningful public scrutiny in its history. FCPA enforcement trends and scrutiny demonstrate that as the FCPA nears its thirty-fifth year, basic legal and policy questions remain as to the purpose, scope, and effectiveness of the FCPA.

Start your collection of FCPA Year in Reviews.  For my 2011 (short version), see here.  For 2010, see here (short version), here (long version).  For 2009, see here (long version).

Judge Leon Pulls a Judge Rakoff

My post concerning the SEC’s March 2011 enforcement action against IBM was titled “Questions Abound in IBM Enforcement Action.”  (See here).  Among the issues I discussed were the following.  That in December 2000, IBM resolved an FCPA enforcement action and consented, as part of the settlement, to the entry of an Order that requires IBM to cease and desist from committing or causing any future violation of [the FCPA’s books and records provisions].  I noted that because the March 2011 enforcement action alleged FCPA books and records charges, that IBM was thus in clear violation of the 2000 court order.

The case was assigned to Judge Richard Leon (of Africa Sting fame) and lingered for a long time.  This Wall Street Journal Corruption Currents post and this Bloomberg article report that Judge Leon has refused to approve the settlement.

As stated by Bloomberg – “The heart of the dispute is that Leon, who has had the case under review for 22 months, wants reporting on a broader range of possible wrongdoing than the company is willing to turn over.  Leon, who spoke loudly and angrily, asked why the regulator would agree to limit such requirements for a company with a history of books-and-records violations. […]   “I guess you want that $10 million judgment on your list of achievements this year,” Leon told [the SEC lawyer]. “Well, it’s not going to happen.”  He scheduled a hearing for Feb. 4.”

As stated by Wall Street Journal Corruption Current – “Leon also questioned broader SEC settlement policies and warned that he was among “a growing number of district judges who are increasingly concerned” by those policies.”

In not “rubber stamping” the SEC – IBM settlement, Judge Leon pulled a Judge Rakoff.  Judge Rakoff of the S.D. of N.Y. has been a frequent focus on this site – see here, here, here and here.  See also, the discussion of Judge Rakoff in my 2010 article “The Facade of FCPA Enforcement.”

Edmonds Sentence

This past June, David Edmonds, a defendant in the long-running “Carson” enforcement action involving former employees of Control Components Inc., agreed to plead guilty on the eve of trial to substantially reduced charges. (See here for the prior post).  Earlier this week, Judge James Selna sentenced Edmonds to four months in prison and four months of home confinement.  (See here for Judge Selna’s sentencing memo).  As noted in the DOJ’s sentencing memo (here), the DOJ sought a 14 month prison sentence.

Other defendants previously sentenced in the case are Stuart Carson (4 months in prison followed by 8 months of home detention), Hong Carson (3 years probation to include 6 months of home detention) and Paul Cosgrove (13 months home detention).

It’s Official

Imagine a foreign country in which the president is actively seeking and accepting corporate money to fund inaugural festivities.  All sorts of red flags right?

But wait, this describes the United States and President Obama’s upcoming inauguration.  As detailed in this prior post, President Obama’s fundraising advisers “have urged the White House to accept corporate donations for his January 2013 inaugural celebration rather than rely exclusively on weary donors who underwrote his $1 billion re-election effort.”

It’s now official.  As noted by this recent New York Times article “President Obama’s finance team is offering corporations and other institutions that contribute $1 million exclusive access to an array of inaugural festivities.”  As noted in the article, Obama’s finance team is offering four different packages “with differing levels of access depending on the level of contribution.”

Our FCPA enforcement agencies are bringing enforcement actions against companies for conduct that includes providing $600 bottles of wine, Cartier watches, cameras, kitchen appliances, business suits, and executive education classes to individuals employed by foreign companies that are allegedly state-owned or state-controlled.  (These are all allegations found in recent FCPA enforcement actions).

But remember, as Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer recently declared (see here), “we in the United States are in a unique position to spread the gospel of anti-corruption.”

Whistleblower Statistics

The Dodd-Frank Act enacted in July 2010 contained whistleblower provisions applicable to all securities law violations including the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.  In this prior post from July 2010, I predicted that the new whistleblower provisions would have a negligible impact on FCPA enforcement.  As noted in this prior post, my prediction was an outlier (so it seemed) compared to the flurry of law firm client alerts that predicted that the whistleblower provisions would have a significant impact on FCPA enforcement.

So far, there have not been any whistleblower awards in connection with FCPA enforcement actions.  Given that enforcement actions (from point of first disclosure to resolution) typically take between 2-4 years, it still may be too early to effectively analyze the impact of the whistleblower provisions on FCPA enforcement.

Whatever your view, I previously noted that the best part of the new whistleblower provisions were that its impact on FCPA enforcement can be monitored and analyzed because the SEC is required to submit annual reports to Congress.  Last month, the SEC released (here) its annual report for FY2012.

Of the 3,001 whisteblower tips received by the SEC in FY2012, 3.8% (115) related to the FCPA.  As noted in this similar post from last year, in FY2011 (a partial reporting year)  3.9% of the 334 tips received by the SEC related to the FCPA.

It Ought to Stop Marketing

In this previous post titled “It Ought to Stop” I focused on the FCPA conference industry and how conference firms drive attendance to their events by touting the public servants who will speak at the event.

Here is how conference firm C5 touts its upcoming conference in a press release (here).

Ask the U.S. DOJ and U.S. SEC directly how your company can remain compliant

Hear the latest on the newly released FCPA guidance. Along with the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission’s, Charles E. Cain, the Deputy Chief of the FCPA Unit, Enforcement Division, we will have Matthew S. Queler, from the Criminal Division at the U.S. Department of Justice, presenting comprehensive, insightful and practical details of the U.S. government’s interpretation of the guidance, and highlight recent examples designed to help prevent future violations.  Their session at 14:00 on Day 1, will help you navigate the ever evolving markets and recognize the current enforcement trends; giving you the tools to reanalyse risk profiles and minimize areas of exposure. Finally, to top off the hour you will be given an exclusive opportunity to have your FCPA questions answered. The only way to obtain answers directly from the U.S. DOJ and U.S. SEC is to register for this forum!

The event, depending when you register and which package you select, costs between €4341 – €1795.

It ought to stop.

China Related Issues

An occassional topic of discussion on this site is Chinese state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and how such companies are frequently doing business outside its borders, including here in the U.S. (See here, here, and here for prior posts).

Wall Street Journal Columnist Dennis Berman “hit the nail on the head” in his recent column when he noted that one of “the most intriguing business stories of the past month has been taking place in San Francisco, where a group of U.S. developers is planning the biggest real-estate expansion there since the 1906 earthquake. The group—which includes Lennar Corp., Ross Perot Jr. and others —isn’t getting financing from an American bank or pension fund. No, the money, some $1.7 billion of it, is coming from the China Development Bank, a policy arm of the Chinese state.  As Berman further notes, a financing contingency is that China Railway Construction Corp. – a state-owned infrastructure builder with roots in the People’s Liberation Army—take part in the projects, which will develop up to 20,000 new homes.

Another occasional topic of discussion on this site is how Chinese companies are listing shares on U.S. exchanges and thus becoming “issuers” for purposes of the FCPA.  (See here for a prior post).  A core FCPA enforcement action of a Chinese issues has never occurred, but I predict it will some day – diplomatic and foreign policy issues aside.  Only now, the universe of potential targets is shrinking.  As noted in this recent Wall Street Journal article, several Chinese companies have delisted from U.S. exchanges.  The article provides the following information.  “At the peak, at year-end 2010, 167 Chinese companies were listed on Nasdaq and 99 on the NYSE. That compares with 84 China-based companies on NYSE and 129 on Nasdaq as of Nov. 30, 2012, according to the exchanges.”  For more, see this recent article from the New York Times.

ICE Melted Quickly

This recent post highlighted the cert petition of Instituto Constarricense de Electricidad of Costa Rica (“ICE”) to the Supreme Court related to victim issues in connection with the December 2010 Alcatel-Lucent FCPA enforcement action.  After several unsuccessful 11th Circuit appeals, ICE petitioned the Supreme Court to hears it case (see here).  The question presented for review is as follows.  “Whether a crime victim who is denied rights conferred by the federal Crime Victims’ Rights Act has a right to directly appeal the denial of those rights.”

The ice melted quickly as recently the Supreme Court denied ICE’s petition.

U.K. Enforcement Action

Earlier this week, the U.K. Serious Fraud Office announced (here) charges against former employees of Swift Group (an oil and gas services provider) following “a two-year investigation into allegations of corruption in relation to the tax affairs of Swift Technical Energy Solutions Ltd, a Nigerian subsidiary of the Swift Group of companies.”  According to the SFO release,  “the value of the bribes alleged to have been paid is approximately£180,000.”

The SFO release notes that Paul Jacobs (the former Chief Financial Officer of Swift), Bharat Sodha (the former Tax Manager of Swift), Nidhi Vyas (the former Financial Controller of Swift), and Trevor Bruce (the former Area Director for Nigeria of Swift) were charged in relation to “bribes to tax officials to avoid, reduce or delay paying tax on behalf of workers placed by Swift.  The charges relate to payments said to have been made to agents of the Rivers State Board of Internal Revenue and the Lagos State Board of Internal Revenue, both in Nigeria. The payments were made in 2008 and 2009.”

*****

A happy holiday season to all.

An FCPA Enforcement Action That Led To A Supreme Court Decision

[This post is part of a periodic series regarding “old” FCPA enforcement actions]

The first Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement action to involve business conduct in Nigeria was a 1985 enforcement action against W.S. Kirkpatrick, Inc. (a privately held New Jersey avionics supply firm) and Harry Carpenter (Chairman and CEO of the company).

The criminal informations filed against the company (here) and Carpenter (here) alleged one count of violating the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions and contains the same concise allegation.

“On or about December 21, 1982 … W.S. Kirkpatrick, Inc. … used a means and instrumentality of interstate commerce, that is, a Western Union international telex from Fairfield, New Jersey, to New York, New York, to order Standard Chartered Bank of New York to pay $580,973 to the Bank of New York for the account of Bank of Commerce and Credit International in Luxembourg corruptly in furtherance of an offer, payment, promise to pay and authorization of the payment of money to: (a) a person, that is Benson ‘Tunde’ Akindale through two companies, Deriks and Los, Panamanian bearer share corporations, while having reason to believe that a portion of such money would be offered, given, or promised, directly or indirectly to foreign officials, Nigerian Air Force officers, the Party of Nigeria, the Minister of Nigeria and other government defense personnel for the purpose of influencing the acts and decisions of such foreign officials and others in their official capacity and inducing them to use their influence within the Government of Nigeria in order to obtain a contract for flight training equipment for W.S. Kirkpatrick, Inc.”

An offer of proof filed in Carpenter’s case contains the following additional information.

Carpenter learned of the opportunity to sell various equipment to the Nigerian Air Force and he “believed Kirkpatrick needed an agent in Nigeria to assist in negotiating and obtaining the contract.”  “On recommendation of two British businessmen, Carpenter contracted a London solicitor, who in turn put him in touch with Benson ‘Tunde’ Akindele, a Nigerian national.”  According to the offer of proof, “Akindele offered to assist Kirkpatrick by serving as its local agent in Nigeria.  Carpenter negotiated an agreement with Akindele which provided that Kirkpatrick would pay a commission equal to twenty percent of the contracted price of [the equipment] to two Panamanian bearer share corporations, which were set up, and controlled by Akindele to receive payments from Kirkpatrick.”

W.S. Kirkpatrick Inc. pleaded guilty and was fined $75,000 (see here) and Carpenter pleaded guilty, was sentenced to three years probation and ordered to pay a $10,000 fine (see here).  Noted white collar criminal defense attorney Theodore Wells (here) represented Carpenter.

See here for the DOJ’s release which notes that the contract at issue was worth $10.8 million.

After the DOJ enforcement action, Environmental Tectonics Corporation (“ETC” –  an unsuccessful bidder for certain of the Nigerian contracts which first brought the problematic conduct to the attention of the Nigerian Air Force and the U.S. Embassy) brought a civil action against W.S. Kirkpatrick, Carpenter, Akindele and others seeking damages under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, the Robinson-Patman Act and the New Jersey Anti-Racketeering Act.

The defendants moved to dismiss the complaint on the ground that the action was barred by the act of state doctrine.  The district court granted the motion and concluded that the act of state doctrine applies “if the inquiry presented for judicial determination includes the motivation of a sovereign act which would result in embarrassment to the sovereign or constitute interference in the conduct of foreign policy of the United States.”  See 659 F.Supp. 1381.    The court held that ETC’s suit had to be dismissed because, in order to prevail, it would have to show that “the defendants or certain or them intended to wrongfully influence the decision to award the Nigerian Contract by payment of a bribe, that the Government of Nigeria, its officials or other representatives knew of the offered consideration for awarding the Nigerian Contract to Kirkpatrick, that the bribe was actually received or anticipated and that ‘but for’ the payment or anticipation of the payment of the bribe, ETC would have been awarded the Nigerian Contract.”

The Third Circuit reversed finding that application of the act of state doctrine was unwarranted given the facts of the case.  In particular, the Third Circuit found persuasive a letter to the district court by the State Department legal adviser which stated that a judicial inquiry into the purpose behind the act of a foreign sovereign would not produce the ‘unique embarrassment, and the particular interference with the conduct of foreign affairs that may result from the judicial determination that a foreign sovereign’s acts are invalid.”

Defendants then appealed to the Supreme Court which agreed to hear the case.

In 1990, Justice Scalia authored the opinion of a unanimous Supreme Court.  See 493 U.S. 400.  The opinion begins as follows.  “In this case, we must decide whether the act of state doctrine bars a court in the United States from entertaining a cause of action that does not rest upon the asserted invalidity of an official act of a foreign sovereign, but that does require imputing to foreign officials an unlawful motivation (the obtaining of bribes) in the performance of such an official act.”

The Court concluded that the “factual predicate for application of the act of state doctrine does not exist” because nothing in the case required the Court to declare invalid the official act of a foreign sovereign.  The Court reasoned that “neither the claim nor any asserted defense requires a determination that Nigeria’s contract with Kirkpatrick International was, or was not, effective,” that ETC “was not trying to undo or disregard the governmental action,” but rather that ETC was only trying to “obtain damages from private parties who had procured” the contract.

In short, the Court stated that the act of state doctrine “has no application to the present case because the validity of no foreign sovereign act is at issue.”

Friday Roundup

Add a few to the list, take a few off, a word on guest posts, take a deep breath, whose fault is it, once again nobody was charged.  It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Add Another

Most companies bury FCPA disclosures deep in SEC filings.  Not so with Nordion Inc. (here – a Canadian based health sciences company with shares traded in the U.S).  It took the open and direct route by issuing a release (here) specifically devoted to the topic.  The release states as follows.

“[The company] disclosed that it is conducting an internal inquiry and investigation of a foreign supplier and related parties focusing on compliance with the Canadian Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act (CFPOA) and the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). Through the Company’s own internal review as part of its CFPOA compliance program, Nordion discovered potential compliance irregularities. As a result, the Company recently commenced an internal investigation of the possible compliance issues.  These issues relate to potential improper payments and other related financial irregularities in connection with the supply of materials and services to the Company.  The investigation is being conducted by outside legal counsel and external forensic and accounting firms who are experts in such compliance. These external advisors are reporting regularly to a special Committee of the Board constituted to deal with this matter.  Nordion has voluntarily contacted the regulatory and enforcement authorities, including the Canadian and U.S. Department of Justice, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, to provide details of the matter and advise that an internal investigation is underway. The internal investigation is in its early stages and the Company’s external advisors have met with these authorities and will continue to provide reports to them as the investigation progresses.Nordion is committed to the highest standards of integrity and diligence in its business dealings and to the ethical and legally compliant business conduct by its employees, representatives and suppliers. The Company reviews its compliance programs on a regular basis to assess and align them with emerging trends and business practices.  Corrupt or fraudulent business conduct is in direct conflict with the Company’s Global Business Practice Standards and corporate policies. The Company will continue to investigate this matter and cooperate with regulatory and enforcement authorities with a view to an expedient resolution.”

By my estimation, in the past four months, approximately twenty companies have become subject to FCPA scrutiny (whether through disclosures or FCPA-related civil complaints).  In addition, industry sweeps as to the Hollywood movie industry and retail industry have reportedly been launched.  See here for a prior post titled “The Sun Rose, A Dog Barked, and a Company Disclosed FCPA Scrutiny.”

Academi, Inc., formerly known as Xe Services, formerly known as Blackwater was also in the news this week.  As noted in this FBI release, pursuant to a deferred prosecution agreement (here) the company admitted to certain facts and agreed to a $7.5 million fine in connection with certain export controls and firearms law violations.  As noted in the release, the DPA “also acknowledges and references a $42 million settlement between the company and the Department of State as part of a settlement of violations of the Arms Export Control Act and the International Trafficking in Arms Regulations.”  As noted in this previous post, Blackwater has been under investigation for FCPA violations in Iraq (and Sudan as noted in the FBI release).  The above DPA specifically states however that “this agreement does not apply to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act investigation independently under investigation by the DOJ.”  As noted in this previous post, Blackwater’s FCPA scrutiny in Iraq inspired Representative Peter Welch to introduce H.R. 5366, the “Overseas Contractor Reform Act,” an impotent debarment bill that passed the House in September 2010 (see here).

There are also developments to report on the other side of the Atlantic as the U.K. Serious Fraud Office announced hereas follows.  “The Director of the Serious Fraud Office has decided to open a criminal investigation into allegations concerning GPT and aspects of the conduct of their business in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”  As noted in this Bloomberg piece, GPT is a unit of European Aeronautic Defence & Space Co. (EADS), and the investigation involved suspected payments to win a telecommunications deal with Saudi Arabia’s royal family.  The Financial Times stated that the “Serious Fraud Office’s criminal inquiry is a step-change for the agency  after it said in March that it was happy with an internal investigation the company was conducting.”

Although he is no longer in Congress, former Representative Todd Tiahrt is probably delighted by this news.  See here for the prior post.

Take a Few Off

Huntsman Corporation recently disclosed as follows in a SEC filing (here).

“During the third quarter of 2010, we completed an internal investigation of the operations of Petro Araldite Pvt. Ltd. (“PAPL”), our majority owned joint venture in India. PAPL manufactures base liquid resins, base solid resins and formulated products in India. The investigation initially focused on allegations of illegal disposal of hazardous waste and waste water discharge and related reporting irregularities. Based upon preliminary findings, the investigation was expanded to include a review of the production and off-book sales of certain products and waste products. The investigation included the legality under Indian law and U.S. law, including the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, of certain payments made by employees of the joint venture to government officials in India. Records at the facility covering nine months in 2009 and early 2010 show that less than $11,000 in payments were made to officials for that period; in addition, payments in unknown amounts may have been made by individuals from the facility in previous years.  […] Also in May 2010, we voluntarily contacted the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) and the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) to advise them of our investigation and that we intend to cooperate fully with each of them. We met with the SEC and the DOJ in October 2010 to discuss this matter and we continue to cooperate with these agencies. Steps have been taken to halt all known illegal or improper activity, including the termination of employment of management employees as appropriate. In May 2012, the SEC and DOJ notified us that they would not recommend any enforcement action be taken against our Company in this matter.”

Since August 2010 (see here for the prior post), I have proposed that when a company voluntarily discloses an FCPA internal investigation to the DOJ and the SEC, and when the DOJ and/or SEC decline enforcement, the DOJ and/or the SEC should publicly state, in a thorough and transparent manner, the facts the company disclosed to the agencies and why the agencies declined enforcement on those facts.

In the meantime, we can only speculate as to why the enforcement agencies did not bring an enforcement action against Hunstman.  Of note, in the DOJ’s written declination responses after the June 2011 House hearing (see here), the DOJ stated that it has declined matters when, among other circumstances, “the improper payments involved minimal funds compared to the overall business revenue.”

As noted in this previous post, in April Hercules Offshore disclosed as follows.  “On April 4, 2011, the Company received a subpoena issued by the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) requesting the delivery of certain documents to the SEC in connection with its investigation into possible violations of the securities laws, including possible violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) in certain international jurisdictions where the Company conducts operations. The Company was also notified by the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) on April 5, 2011, that certain of the Company’s activities were under review by the DOJ. On April 24, 2012, the Company received a letter from the DOJ notifying the Company that the DOJ has closed its inquiry into the Company regarding possible violations of the FCPA and does not intend to pursue enforcement action against the Company. The DOJ indicated that its decision to close the matter was based on, among other factors, the thorough investigation conducted by the Company’s special counsel and the Company’s compliance program. The Company, through the Audit Committee of the Board of Directors, intends to continue to cooperate with the SEC in its investigation. At this time, it is not possible to predict the outcome of the SEC’s investigation, the expenses the Company will incur associated with this matter, or the impact on the price of the Company’s common stock or other securities as a result of this investigation.”

Earlier this week, the company updated its disclosure as follows.  “On August 7, 2012, Hercules Offshore, Inc. (the “Company”) received a letter from the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) notifying the Company that the SEC staff has completed its investigation into the Company regarding possible violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) and does not intend to pursue enforcement action against the Company. As previously disclosed, the Company was notified by the SEC and the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) in April 2011, that certain of the Company’s activities were under review by the SEC and DOJ with respect to possible violations of the FCPA in certain international jurisdictions where the Company conducts operations. The Company previously disclosed that it received a letter from the DOJ on April 24, 2012, notifying the Company that the DOJ has closed its inquiry into the Company regarding possible violations of the FCPA and does not intend to pursue enforcement action against the Company. The DOJ noted that it terminated its investigation ‘…based on a number of factors, including, but not limited to, the thorough investigation undertaken by Hercules and the steps that Hercules has taken in the past and continues to take to enhance its compliance program, including efforts to ensure compliance with the FCPA.’ As a result of the termination by the SEC and the prior termination by the DOJ, there are no open FCPA investigations against the Company.”

As evident from the disclosures, unlike Huntsman, the FCPA scrutiny of Hercules was not based on a voluntary disclosure, but inquiries from the SEC and DOJ.  Whether this represents a declination or a dud is the question.

Guest Posts

Part of the mission of FCPA Professor is to facilitate a forum for discussion and analysis of FCPA and related issues among FCPA practitioners, business and compliance professionals, scholars and students, and other interested persons.  Given this mission, I frequently publish guest posts (see here for approximately 60 such posts).  In publishing guest posts, it should not be assumed in all cases that I agree in whole or in part with the content of such posts.  Rather, providing the forum for delivery into the marketplace of ideas is what I hope to facilitate and I encourage all who want to make their voice heard on the issues to consider submitting a guest post.

A Deep Breath

The FCPA is a unique statute, with unique and difficult to manage risks.

Nevertheless , it was refreshing to see this piece by Pamela Marple (Chabourne & Park – here) in the NACD Director Advisory titled “The FCPA: A New Bear in the Woods?”  Marple begins as follows.  “Over the past five years, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act has solidified itself as an industry brimming with expert forums, company departments and substantial news coverage.  Is this statute really the bear in the woods some say it is?”  Marple states as follows.  “The existence of the FCPA industry (and professionals who are available to conduct internal investigations at a high price) does not mean that this reaction is what is always required. What is required first and foremost is reasonable judgment exercised by directors and professionals who seek both compliance and solutions—without assuming a bear is present at every turn.”

As I previously commented (here) to Corporate Board Member, corporate directors need to keep a proper perspective.  There’s a whole industry out there that’s trying to sell the steroids version of FCPA compliance.  But directors should not get their undies in a bundle over this.  This is an issue, just like any other risk area, that directors need to have on their radar screen.  Corporate directors should not panic when it comes to FCPA compliance.

Whose Fault is It?

Do FCPA violations occur because companies subject to the law go into foreign markets intent on engaging in bribery or because the companies are confronted by corrupt foreign officials seeking to line their own pockets?

Circumstances vary of course, but this recent article in the African Globe includes comments from human rights lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria Femi Falana who focused on the former.  The article stated as follows.   “In order to cover up the involvement of western governments and corporations in the promotion of corruption, terrorism and drug abuse in Africa, the impression is often created by top public officials of some foreign governments that Africans are the most corrupt people in the world,” Falana observed noting that only last week, the US Secretary of State, Mrs. Hillary Clinton, kicked off her 11-day tour of some African states in Senegal by condemning corruption in Africa and urging African leaders to fight it in order to get good governance in the continent. He said it was also the kernel of President Barack Obama’s message to Africans when he made a brief stopover in Ghana three years ago. “While we do not condone corruption, it is high time the Obama administration was told to stop blaming the victims of grand corruption promoted and fuelled by western countries led by Switzerland, France, United Kingdom and United States,” Falana said.”

Nobody Was Charged

A recent New York Times article (here) once again raises the issue of why few corporate fraud enforcement actions result in individual charges.  The article states as follows.  “The Justice Department has collected $8.6 billion over the last three years, more than in any similar period in history, but relatively few prosecutions of individuals have come from the biggest settlements.”

A reason?

In the FCPA context, I submit and stated during my 2010 Senate testimony (here), involves the quality of the corporate enforcement action.  Given the prevalence of NPAs and DPAs in the FCPA context and the ease in which DOJ offers these alternative resolution vehicles to companies subject to an FCPA inquiry, companies often agree to enter into such resolution vehicles regardless of the DOJ’s legal theories or the existence of valid and legitimate defenses. It is simply easier, more cost efficient, and more certain for a company to agree to a NPA or DPA than it is to be criminally indicted and mount a valid legal defense  even if the DOJ theory of prosecution is questionable.  (See here for my scholarship “The Facade of FCPA Enforcement).  Individuals, on the other hand, face a deprivation of personal liberty, and are more likely to force the DOJ  to satisfy its high burden of proof as to all FCPA elements.

A telling statistic?

As noted in this prior post, since alternative resolution vehicles were first used in the FCPA context (December 2004) there have been 61 “core” corporate DOJ FCPA enforcement actions.  47 of the 61  ”core” corporate DOJ FCPA enforcement actions (77%)  have been resolved via an NPA (19 instances) or a DPA (28 instances).  In these 47 “core” corporate DOJ FCPA enforcement actions, only 7 enforcement actions (15%) have resulted in any individual FCPA criminal charges against company employees. In other words, when the DOJ resolves an FCPA enforcement action via a NPA or DPA, there is only a 15% likelihood that individual criminal charges will be filed against any company employee or those affiliated with the company. [Note: the above statistics were calculated in Sept. 2011]

For previous posts on this very same issue see here.

*****

A good weekend to all.

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