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Still Yet Another Noisy Exit

Perhaps it is a new trend.

Perhaps it is because the media now covers anything and everything FCPA related.

In any event, it is noticeable.

There has been still yet another “noisy exist.”

Including the below example, I count five in the last few months. See here, here and here for the prior posts.

In October 2009, Stephen Lowe was hired by Allison Transmission (“Allison”) as its Managing Director, China, Japan & Korea Operations. [Allison (here) is an Indiana based designer, manufacturer and supplier of automatic transmissions for medium- and heavy-duty commercial vehicles and military vehicles. In 2007 (see here) The Carlyle Group and Onex Corporation acquired Allison Transmission from General Motors Corporation for US$5.575 billion.]

Lowe alleges in this complaint recently filed in Marion County (Indiana) Superior Court that Allison fired him in July 2010 because he “refused to engage in violations of the FCPA.” Lowe’s complaint implicates both Allison’s Vice President of International Sales and Marketing (“Vice President”) and Allison’s Commercial Director of Asia Strategy (“Commercial Director”).

Among other things, Lowe alleges that: (i) he witnessed the Commercial Director deliver a cash filled envelope to Beijing City Bus officials during dinner; (ii) he heard the Commercial Director describe how he purchased silver jewelry for Chinese government officials “in order to please the officials” (iii) the Commercial Director bragged about winning a Beijing City Bus Olympics contract by doing “whatever it took to please the officials” “including giving gifts, money and prostitutes” and (iv) the Commercial Director “deliberately lost” high-stakes card games to “key Beijing City Bus officials.” [Brain teaser of the day – is deliberately losing a high-stakes card game to a “foreign official” providing the official with a “thing of value”?]

According to the complaint, Allison’s Vice President knew, and approved of, certain of the Commercial Director’s conduct. According to the complaint, “a month before Allison fired him” Lowe disclosed his concerns about the Commercial Director and the Vice President to Allison’s Marketing Manager.

Lowe’s complaint, filed by The Employment Law Group law firm, alleges various Indiana state law causes of action including retaliatory discharge, breach of contract, and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing.

For additional coverage of Lowe’s complaint, see here from the Indiana Business Journal.

Yet Another Noisy Exit

Rodolfo Michelon was the Director & Controller – Mexico of Sempra Global. Michelon was also the legal representative of various Sempra subsidiary companies located in Mexico and served as a member of the board of directors of the Mexican subsidiaries.

That is until March 10, when Michelon was terminated by Sempra.

In a lawsuit (here) recently filed in California state court, Michelon claims that his termination was wrongful for many reasons, including the following:

“Sempra regularly required Michelon to transfer funds, and account for illegitimate expenditures that boiled down to bribes of government officials – everything from fraudulent trusts ostensibly to purchase fire fighting equipment for Mexican governments, to paying off local fisherman to move their operations away from Sempra facilities, to demanding remediation of accounting that falsely stated Sepmpra’s assets, to the outright wiring of huge amounts of money to ‘consultants’ throughout Mexico. As with his other attempts to ensure he was complying with his ethical requirements as a CPA, Michelon’s repeated questioning and protests of the miscellaneous frauds and bribes was met with open hostility and threats of termination. The termination of the Controller employment was not only in retaliation for Michelon’s complaints, but it was also meant to keep Michelon from reporting the frauds and bribes to governmental, law enforcement officials.”

Sempra Global is described (here) as “the umbrella for Sempra Energy’s businesses operating in competitive energy markets. Sempra Global companies acquire, develop and operate infrastructure assets related to the production and distribution of energy, including power plants, natural gas pipelines and liquefied natural gas (LNG) receipt terminals.”

Various Sempra entities are publicly traded issuers (see here).

In this San Diego Union Tribune report Sempra officials “called Michelon a disgruntled ex-employee attempting to cash in by making ‘outlandishly false claims and misrepresentations’ after being let go in a routine reorganization.” A Sempra spokesperson said that the “company first became aware of Mr. Michelon’s claims several months ago” and that “Sempra’s board of directors ordered an independent investigation, which found Mr. Michelon’s allegations to be completely without merit.”

Michelon’s “noisy exit” is the fourth such exit publicly reported over the past three months that may implicate the FCPA. See here and here for the prior posts.

Another Noisy Exit

Steven Jacobs was the President of Macau Operations for Las Vegas Sands Corp. (“LVSC”), a company with shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange (see here).

That is, until his termination on July 23, 2010.

In an October 20th complaint filed against LVSC in District Court, Clark County, Nevada (see here) alleging breach of contract and tort-based causes of action, Jacobs alleges, among other things, that LVSC’s “notoriously bellicose” Chief Executive Officer and majority shareholder made several “outrageous demands” upon him including, but not limited to the following:

“demands that Jacobs use improper ‘leverage’ against senior government officials of Macau in order to obtain Strata-Title for the Four Seasons Apartments in Macau;”

“demands that Jacobs threaten to withhold Sands China business from prominent Chinese banks unless they agreed to use influence with newly-elected senior government officials of Macau in order to obtain Strata-Title for the Four Seasons Apartments and favorable treatment with regards to labor quotas and table limits;”

“demands that secret investigations be performed regarding the business and financial affairs of various high-ranking members of the Macau government so that any negative information obtained could be used to exert ‘leverage’ in order to thwart government regulations/initiatives viewed as adverse to LVSC’s interests;” and

“demands that Sands China continue to use the legal services of a Macau attorney […][an individual media is reporting as a member of a Chinese local government executive council] despite concerns that [the individual’s] retention posed serious risks under the criminal provisions of the United States code commonly known as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (‘FCPA’).”

A LVSC spokesperson has been quoted as saying “While Las Vegas Sands normally does not comment on legal matters, we categorically deny these baseless and inflammatory allegations.”

For other examples of recent noisy exists that may implicate the FCPA see this prior post.

A Noisy Exit

Robert Bruce, a former Director and Chair of the Audit Committee of China North East Petroleum, is not the only individual to have recently made a noisy exit (see here for the prior post at the FCPA Blog).

Peter Barker-Homek was the Chief Executive Officer of Abu Dhabi National Energy Company PJSC – also known as TAQA (see here) and TAQA New World Inc. (see here).

In an explosive complaint (see here) recently filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan (Southern Division), Barker (a former pilot in the U.S. Marine Corps and Gulf War veteran as well as State Department official) alleges as follows:

“When Barker tried to put a stop to the kickbacks, bribery, accounting fraud and corruption at TAQA, the Defendants [TAQA, TAQA New World, […] (a NY licensed attorney and chief attorney for and General Counsel of TAQA] fired him. Instead of abiding by the terms of Barker’s employment contract, they summoned him to a meeting and presented him with a so-called ‘severance agreement,’ a one-sided agreement in which Barker purportedly agreed to step down as CEO and forfeit millions of dollars owed to him. Defendant […], a New York-licensed attorney, chief attorney for and General Counsel of TAQA, demanded that he sign the ‘severance agreement’ on the spot, comply with its provisions, or be arrested and sent to prison. Worried for his life and the well-being of his family, Barker signed the ‘severance agreement.’ Thereafter, he was harassed and lived in fear of a ‘knock’ on the door by police, received mysterious phone calls and was followed, until finally he and his family escaped to the safety of the United States.”

According to the complaint, 75% of TAQA’s stock is owned by the Abu Dhabi Ruling Family and 25% is owned by investors and is publicly-traded on the Abu Dhabi Stock Exchange. The complaint asserts that TAQA has offices in North America, including in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and that TAQA does business by and through various subsidiaries including TAQA New World Inc., a Delaware corporation based in Ann Arbor.

In terms of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, TAQA New World is a “domestic concern.” The complaint also asserts that TAQA “conducts several of its global business functions out of its Ann Arbor office including: human resources; accounting; tax management; and regulatory affairs.”

While Barker’s complaint does not appear to directly implicate the FCPA, given his general allegations, this case may draw DOJ interest.

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