Top Menu

Comverse Technology … Is It Really That Simple?

Question: “If you did not have the choice of deferred or non prosecution agreements, what would happen to the number of FCPA settlements every year.

Answer by Mark Mendelsohn, former FCPA chief DOJ: “If the Department only had the option of bringing a criminal charge or declining to bring a case, you would certainly bring fewer cases.”

Mark Mendelsohn on the Rise of FCPA Enforcement, 24 Corporate Crime Reporter 35, September 10, 2010.

“… [T]he S.E.C.’s practice of permitting defendants to neither admit nor deny the charges against them remains pervasive, presumably for no better reason than that it makes the settling of cases easier.”

U.S. District Court Judge Jed Rakoff (S.D.N.Y.) in SEC v. Vitesse Semiconducter Corp., March 21, 2010.

****

A U.S. company has a subsidiary A.

Subsidiary A has a subsidiary – subsidiary B.

Subsidiary B engaged an agent who made improper payments partially facilitated by subsidiary’s B’s inflated commission payments to him.

There is no allegation that Subsidiary A knew about the payments.

There is no allegation that the U.S. company knew about the payments.

But subsidiary B’s books, records and accounts are incorporated into the books, records and accounts of the U.S. company for purposes of financial reporting.

These are the essential facts from last week’s FCPA enforcement action against Comverse Technology Inc. – “a world leader in multimedia telecommunications applications”.

The enforcement action involved both a DOJ and SEC component. Total settlement amount was $2.8 million ($1.2 million criminal fine via a DOJ non prosecution agreement; $1.6 million in disgorgement and prejudgment interest via a SEC settled complaint).

Is it really that simple?

Some have suggested that Comverse received “lenient” treatment (see here). Yet, it is questionable whether Comverse would have faced any criminal liability should the DOJ have been required to satisfy its high burden of proof in court.

Yet, FCPA enforcement actions like Comverse seem to be becoming norm.

DOJ

The DOJ enforcement action was resolved via a non-prosecution agreement, meaning there was not, and will never, be judiciary scrutiny of the DOJ’s enforcement theory.

The NPA (here) begins as follows.

The DOJ “will not criminally prosecute Comverse Technology, Inc. (“CTI”), Comverse Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of CTI (“Comverse Inc.”), and the subsidiaries of Comverse Inc., including Comverse Ltd. (collectively referred to as Comverse) for any crimes … related to Comverse’s knowing violation of the books and records provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act … arising from and related to Comverse’s failure accurately to record certain improper payments made by employees of Comverse Ltd. and certain subsidiaries of Comverse Ltd. and a third party agent from 2003 to 2006.”

According to the NPA, Comverse Inc. was wholly-owned subsidiary of CTI and Comverse Ltd., an Israeli company based in Tel Aviv, was a wholly owned subsidiary of Comverse Inc.

The NPA has a term of two years and Comverse admitted, accepted, and acknowledged responsibility for the below described conduct. As is typical in FCPA NPAs or DPAs, Comverse agreed “not to make any public statement contradicting” the information below.

The conduct at issue focuses on monthly retainer fees paid by Comverse Ltd. to Agent G (an Israeli citizen engaged by Comverse Ltd. as an independent consultant with a particular focus on Greece) and commissions paid to Agent G on purchase orders. According to the NPA, “Agent G would keep 15% of the total commission, and the remaining 85% was used to make improper payments.”

According to the NPA, “between 2003 and 2006, Comverse Ltd. made approximately $536,000 in cash payments to Corporation H [a Cyprus-based company created by Agent G at the direction of Comverse Ltd. employees to facilitate the payment of cash to representatives of certain Comverse Ltd. customers in exchange for securing purchase orders] with the intent that the money woudl be passed on to individuals connected to OTE, including employees of OTE’s subsidiaries Cosmote, Cosmofon, and Cosmorom, in order to obtain purchase orders from those companies for Comverse Ltd. products and services, resulting in approximately $1.25 million in adjusted operating income.”

OTE?

That would be the “Hellenic Telecommunications Organization S.A. – a telecommunications provider controlled and partially owned by the Greek Government.” According to the NPA, “the Greek Government was OTE’s largest single shareholder and maintained an interest in over one-third of OTE’s issued share capital.”

The DOJ agreed to resolve the enforcement action via a NPA “based, in part, on the following factors: (a) Comverse’s timely, voluntary, and complete disclosure of the facts” [described above]; (b) Comverse’s full cooperation with the Department and the [SEC]; and (c) the remedial efforts already undertaken and to be undertaken by Comverse.”

The DOJ release (here) states as follows. “The [NPA] recognizes the company’s thorough self-investigation and the results of its investigation, voluntary disclosure of the underlying conduct, and full cooperation with the department. CTI has also undertaken extensive remedial efforts and overhauled its overall compliance culture, including through the implementation of mandatory training programs focused on anti-corruption and the use of third-party agents and intermediaries, as well as more rigorous accounting controls for the approval of third-party payments. As a result of these mitigating factors, the department has agreed not to prosecute CTI or its subsidiaries for failing to maintain accurate books and records, provided that CTI satisfies its obligations under the agreement for a period of two years. Those obligations include ongoing cooperation, payment of the $1.2 million penalty, and the continued implementation of rigorous internal controls.”

SEC

The SEC’s civil complaint (here) is based on the same core conduct described above.

The complaint alleges, in summary fashion, as follows.

“Between 2003 and 2006, Comverse Technology, Inc. (“Comverse”) violated the books and records and internal controls provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (the “FCPA”) when its Israeli operating subsidiary, Comverse Limited (“Comverse Limited”), engaged in a scheme to make improper payments to obtain or retain business.”

“In order to facilitate and conceal the payments, Comverse Limited employed a third-party agent (the “Agent”) to establish an offshore entity in Cyprus which, in turn, funneled the improper payments to Comverse Limited’s customers. Employees of Comverse Limited made payments to the Cyprus entity and, after taking 15% off the top of these payments, the Agent paid or facilitated the payment of the remaining 85% to Comverse Limited’s customers in the form of cash bribes.”

“Comverse Limited did not accurately record these improper payments in its books and records, which, in turn, caused them to be improperly classified in Comverse’s consolidated financial statements. Comverse failed to devise and maintain a system of internal accounting controls sufficient to provide reasonable assurances that transactions at all levels of the organization were recorded properly.”

Specifically, the SEC alleged as follows.

“Between 2003 and 2006, Comverse Limited made improper payments to employees connected to OTE in order to obtain or retain business with OTE. The scheme originated in Comverse Limited’s EMEA (Europe, Middle East, and Africa) sales division and the improper payments were inaccurately recorded on Comverse Limited’s books and records, which, in turn, were consolidated with Comverse’s financial results.”

“Between 2003 and 2006, Comverse Limited, using [Corporation H], made improper payments totaling approximately $536,000 to individuals connected to OTE, including employees of OTE’s subsidiaries Cosmote, Cosmofon, and Cosmorom to obtain or retain OTE’s business. The improper payments resulted in $1.2 million of improper benefit to Comverse Limited, which flowed through to Comverse.”

As to internal controls, the SEC alleged as follows. “During the relevant time period, neither Comverse nor Comverse Limited had a process, formal or otherwise, for conducting due diligence of third-party agents or for the independent review of third-party agent contracts outside of the sales departments.” The SEC further alleged as follows. “At the time of the conduct, while Comverse did have an omnibus anti-corruption policy that prohibited improper payments to government-affiliated third parties and others, Comverse did not widely circulate this policy and provided no training on it to any employees.”

As to books and records, the SEC alleged as follows. “Comverse Limited falsified its books and records by characterizing and recording the bribes as legitimate sales commissions, thereby failing accurately to reflect the payments and their purpose. These improper expenses, in turn, were consolidated into Comverse’s financial records.”

Based on the above conduct, the SEC charged Comverse with FCPA books and records and internal control violations.

As noted in the SEC release (here) without admitting or denying the SEC’s allegations, Comverse consented “to a conduct-based injunction that prohibits Comverse from having books and records that do not accurately reflect, or from having internal controls that do not prevent or detect, any illegal payments made to obtain or retain business.” In addition, Comverse consented to pay $1,249,614 in disgorgement and $358,887 in prejudgment interest.

Daniel Horwitz (Lankler and Carragher – see here) represented Comverse.

The company’s 8-K filing on April 7th stated as follows. ” As originally disclosed by the Company on March 16, 2009, the Audit Committee of the Board of Directors of the Company conducted its own internal investigation into such payments. The Audit Committee found that the conduct at issue did not involve the Company’s executive officers.”

The company’s 10-K filing on January 25, 2011 suggests that the company’s internal investigation was prompted by a whistleblower complaint and the filing details the company’s remedial actions in connection with the investigation. According to the filing “the Company recorded charges of $2.9 million associated with [the FCPA matter] during the fiscal year ended January 31, 2009.” The company has not yet disclosed what its fees and expenses were during the fiscal year ended January 31, 2010.

*****

Another interesting item from Comverse’s SEC filings. “For the fiscal year ended January 31, 2010, approximately one quarter of Verint’s [Comverse’s majority-owned publicly traded subsidiary] business was generated from contracts with various governments around the world, including federal, state, and local government agencies.”

Analyzing Alcatel-Lucent

In 2006, Alcatel-Lucent, S.A. (“Alcatel”) was formed when an Alcatel S.A. subsidiary merged with Lucent Technologies, Inc. Prior to the merger, Alcatel was a worldwide provider of a wide variety of telecommunications equipment and services and other technology products. The company operated in more than 130 countries directly and through certain wholly owned and indirect subsidiaries including in Costa Rica, Honduras, Malaysia and Taiwan. From 1998 until late 2006, ADR shares of Alcatel were traded on the New York Stock Exchange.

In 2007, the right side of the hyphen – Lucent Technologies – settled an FCPA enforcement action (see here and here).

In 2010, in what was the last FCPA enforcement action of the year, the left side of the hyphen – Alcatel and certain of its subsidiaries – settled an FCPA enforcement.

This post analyzes the Alcatel-Lucent enforcement action. The enforcement action (all 360 pages) is a FCPA feast. Principally based on the lack of due diligence of third-party agents, the enforcement action serves up the following: lots of alleged state-owned or state-controlled telecommunication entities; consultants hired after contracts were secured; a purported telecommunications consultant with only perfume experience; payments to legislators and political parties; things of value including excessive travel and entertainment expenses and crystal for the secretary; joint ventures; and payments from New York and Miami bank accounts.

The Alcatel-Lucent enforcement action involved both a DOJ and SEC component. Total settlement amount was approximately $137.4 million ($92 million criminal fine via DOJ plea agreements and a deferred prosecution agreement; $45.4 million in disgorgement via a SEC settled complaint).

DOJ

The DOJ enforcement action involved a criminal information against Alcatel-Lucent, S.A. (“Alcatel”) resolved through a deferred prosecution agreement and a criminal information against Alcatel-Lucent France S.A. (“Alcatel CIT”), Alcatel-Lucent Trade International A.G. (“Alcatel Standard”), and Alcatel CentroAmerica, S.A. (“ACR”) resolved through plea agreements. See here for the DOJ release.

Alcatel-Lucent S.A. Criminal Information

The information (here) begins with a heading “Background Regarding Alcatel’s Business Practices and the State of Its Internal Controls.”

It states as follows. “Starting in the 1990s and continuing through at least last 2006, Alcatel pursued many of its business opportunities around the world through the use of third-party agents and consultants. This business model was shown to be prone to corruption, as consultants were repeatedly used as conduits for bribe payments to foreign officials (and business executives of private customers) to obtain or retain business in many countries.”

The information also highlights Alcatel’s “de-centralized business structure” which permitted different Alcatel employees around the world “to initially vet the the third-party consultants, and then rely on Executive 1 [a French citizen who served as Chief Executive Officer of Alcatel Standard in Basel, Switzerland] at Alcatel to perform due diligence on them.” According to the information, “this de-centralized structure and approval process permitted corruption to occur, as the local employees were more interested in obtaining business than ensuring that business was won ethically and legally.”

Further, the information alleges that “Executive 1 performed no due diligence of substance and remained, at best, deliberately ignorant of the true purpose behind the retention of and payment to many of the third-party consultants.” Specifically, the information alleges that “Executive 1 made no effort, or virtually no effort, to verify the information provided by the consultant in the Consultant Profile [a form the consultant was supposed to complete with information concerning its ownership, business activities, capabilities, banking arrangements, and professional references], apart from using Dun & Bradstreet reports to confirm the consultant’s existence and physical address.” According to the information, “if the paperwork was completed, regardless of any obvious issues (such as close relationships with foreign officials or a clear lack of skill, experience or telecommunications expertise), Executive 1 authorized hiring and paying the third-party consultant.”

As to payments to the consultants, the information alleges that “Alcatel Standard [a wholly-owned subsidiary of Alcatel located and incorporated in Switzerland and an entity “responsible for entering into most agreements with consultants worldwide on behalf of Alcatel and certain other entities] would contract with the third-party consultant and then Alcatel CIT [a wholly owned subsidiary of Alcatel located and incorporated in France] would pay the consultant” including through a bank account at ABN Amro Bank in New York.

The information alleges as follows. “Often senior executives at Alcatel CIT, Alcatel Standard, and ACR [a wholly owned subsidiary of Alcatel located and incorporated in Costa Rica], among others, knew bribes were being paid, or were aware of the high probability that many of these third-party consultants were paying bribes, to foreign officials to obtain or retain business. For example, in a significant number of instances, the consultant contracts were executed after Alcatel had already obtained the customer business, the consultant commissions were excessive, and lump sum payments were made to the consultants that did not appear to correspond to any one one contract.”

According to the information, “Alcatel CIT, Alcatel Standard, ACR, and certain employees of Alcatel CIT, Alcatel Standard, and ACR knew, or purposefully ignored” that much of the consultant documentation “did not accurately reflect the true nature and purpose of the agreements” and that “many of the invoices submitted by various third-party consultants falsely claimed that legitimate work had been completed, while the true purpose of the monies sought by the invoices was to funnel all or some of the money to foreign officials, directly and indirectly.”

The information alleges that “these transactions were designed to circumvent Alcatel’s internal controls system and were further undertaken knowing that they would not be accurately and fairly reflected in Alcatel CIT, Alcatel Standard, and ACR’s books and records, which were included in the consolidated financial statements that Alcatel filed with the SEC.”

The information then contains ten separate sections: conduct in Costa Rica; conduct in Honduras; conduct in Malaysia; conduct in Taiwan; conduct in Kenya; conduct in Nigeria; conduct in Bangladesh; conduct in Ecuador; conduct in Nicaragua; and other consultancy agreements entered into without proper due diligence.

Costa Rica

The alleged conduct focuses on the actions of Christian Sapsizian and Edgar Valverde Acosta and consultancy agreements on behalf of Alcatel CIT with two Costa Rican consultants which were intended to make improper payments to Costa Rican government officials for telecommunications contracts. According to the indictment, Sapsizian (a French citizen) was a long-term employee of Alcatel and Alcatel CIT responsible for developing business in Latin America. Valverde (a Costa Rica citizen) served as the President of ACR and the Country Senior Officer of Costa Rica. See here for the prior enforcement actions against Sapsizian and Valverde.

According to the information, “both consultants had many personal contacts at ICE [Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad S.A. – a “wholly state-owned telecommunications authority in Costa Rica responsible for awarding and administering public tenders for telecommunications contracts].

According to the information, Sapsizian’s supervisor, the President of Area 1 who worked in Miami, approved more than $18 million in payments to the consultants notwithstanding that the President of Area 1, according to Sapsizian, “told him on several occasions that he knew he was ‘risking jail time’ as a result of his approval of these payments, which he understood would, at least in part, ultimately wind up in the hands of public officials.”

The information alleges that various Alcatel entities “conducted insufficient due diligence” on the consultants and that “neither Alcatel nor any of its subsidiaries took sufficient steps to ensure that the consultants were complying with the FCPA or other relevant anti-corruption laws.”

According to the information, the above described payments were ultimately used to provide money to various ICE officials, a Costa Rica executive branch official, and a Costa Rica legislator, that ultimately assisted Alcatel CIT obtain a $44 million contract, a $149.5 million contract, a $109.5 million contract.

The information also alleges that Sapsizian “approved the payment of approximately $25,000 in travel, hotel, and other expenses incurred by ICE officials during a primarily pleasure trip to Paris” – a trip that “was partially intended to reward these government officials for providing Alcatel with lucrative contracts …”.

Based on this conduct, the information alleges that “employees of Alcatel CIT, Alcatel Standard, and ACR knowingly circumvented Alcatel’s internal controls system and made inaccurate and false entries in the books and records of Alcatel CIT, Alcatel Standard, and ACR, whose financial results were included in the consolidated financial statements of Alcatel submitted to the SEC. As a result of the contracts won by Alcatel CIT in Costa Rica as a result of bribe payments, Alcatel earned approximately $23,661,000 in profits.”

Honduras

The information charges that “employees of ACR, along with Sapsizian, pursued business opportunities on behalf of Alcatel in Honduras with Hondutel [Empresa Hondurena de Telecomunicaciones – an alleged wholly state-owned telecommunications authority in Honduras responsible for providing telecommunications services in Honduras including evaluating and awarding telecommunications contracts on behalf of the government of Honduras] and Conatel [Comision Nacional de Telecouniciaciones – an alleged Honduran government agency that regulated the telecommunications sector in Honduras that issued licenses and concessions for fixed-line and wireless telephony, data transmission and internet services].”

According to the information, Alcatel CIT and Alcatel Mexico made large commission payments to at least one consultant, knowing that all or some of the money paid to that consultant would be paid to a close relative of a Honduran government official, with the high probability that some or all of the money would be passed on to the Honduran government official, in exchange for favorable treatment of Alcatel, Alcatel CIT, and Alcatel Mexico.”

According to the information, the consultant was retained at the request of a high-ranking government official in the Honduran executive branch; however, the consultant was an exclusive distributor of “brand name perfumes” and had no contacts in, or prior experience with, the telecommunications industry in Honduras or anywhere else.

The information alleges that in retaining the consultant, “Alcatel Standard knowingly failed to conduct appropriate due dligence” and “did not follow up on numerous, obvious red flags.”

The information alleges that by utilizing the services of the consultant, Hondutel awarded Alcatel a $1 million contract and four additional contracts for a combined value of approximately $47 million.

The information also alleges that “Alcatel CIT and ACR employees arranged for several other Honduran government officials to take primarily pleasure trips to France, which were paid by Alcatel CIT or ACR directly.” In addition, the information charges that a “high-ranking executive at Hondutel” also “received gifts and improper payments from Alcatel CIT and ACR employees” including $2,000 for an educational trip for the official’s daughter and a trip to Paris (along with the official’s spouse) that mostly consisted of “touring activities via a chauffeur-driven vehicle.” Further, the information alleges that “Alcatel CIT also made payments to a Hondutel attorney who worked” on a contract secured by Alcatel including paying for a trip by the attorney and the attorney’s daughter to Paris.

Based on this conduct, the information alleges that “employees of Alcatel CIT, Alcatel Standard, and ACR knowingly circumvented Alcatel’s internal controls system and caused inaccurate and false entries in the books and records of Alcatel CIT, Alcatel Standard, and ACR, whose financial results were included in the consolidated financial statements of Alcatel submitted to the SEC.” According to the information, “as a result of the bribe payments, Alcatel earned approximately $870,000 in profits.”

Malaysia

The information alleges that “in at least 17 instances in or around 2004 to in or around 2006, Alcatel Malaysia [a joint venture in which Alcatel owned a majority share of and exercised control of] employees, with the consent and approval of Alcatel Malaysia’s management, such as Executive 2 [Alcatel Malaysia’s Country Senior Officer] and Executive 3 [Alcatel Malaysia’s Chief Financial Officer], made improper payments to Telekcom Malaysia [an alleged state-owned and controlled telecommunications provider in Malaysia responsible for awarding telecommunications contracts 43% owned by the Malaysian Ministry of Finance] employees in exchange for nonpublic information relating to ongoing public tenders.” According to the information, “the documents purchased generally consisted of internal assessments by Celcom’s [Telekom Malaysia’s wholly owned subsidiary] tender committee of non-public pricing information.” According to the information, “eight of the 17 improper payments to Telekom Malaysia employees were made in connection with a single public tender that Alcatel Malaysia ultimately won …”. The information alleges that the payments were falsely characterized as “document fees” or accurately as “purchase of tender documents.”

The information further alleges that Alcatel Standard entered into a consulting agreement for more than $500,000 with a Malaysian consultant even though “Alcatel typically paid its agents and consultants commission rates based on the total value of a contract rather than pay a fixed fee for services.” According to the information, “at the time the payments were made to Malaysian Consultant 1, Alcatel Malaysia and Alcatel Standard were aware of a significant risk that Malaysian Consultant 1 would pass on all or a part of these payments to foreign officials.”

The information further alleges that Alcatel Standard entered into another consulting agreement with another consultant by which Alcatel Standard agreed to pay the consultant $500,000 for a “strategic intelligence report on Celcom’s positioning in the celluar industry in relation to its competitors.” According to the information, despite paying the consultant “half a million dollars for this report … there is no evidence that Malaysian Consultant 2 did any actual work for Alcatel Malaysia or ever produced the report.” The information states that “Alcatel Standard and Alcatel Malaysia were aware of a significant risk that Malaysian Consultant 2 was serving merely as a conduit for bribe payments to foreign officials.”

The information further alleges, in summary fashion, as follows. “Alcatel Malaysia lacked internal controls, such as formal policies covering expenditure for gifts, travel, and entertainment for customers, leading to Alcatel Malaysia employees giving lavish gifts to Telekom Malaysia officials.”

Based on this conduct, the information alleges that “Alcatel Standard and Alcatel Malaysia knowingly circumvented Alcatel’s internal controls system and caused inaccurate and false entries in the books and records of Alcatel Standard and Alcatel Malaysia, whose financial results were included in the consolidated financial statements of Alcatel submitted to the SEC.” The information states that “although Alcatel won the $85 million Celcom contract, Alcatel did not generate any profits from it.”

Taiwan

According to the information, Alcatel pursued business in Taiwan through its indirect subsidiary Alcatel SEL, a company located and incorporated in Germany. The information states that Executive 4 [a German citizen who served on Alcatel SEL’s director of international business ans sales] hired two third-party consultants to assist Alcatel SEL and Taisel, a joint venture 60% owned by an Alcatel subsidiary in obtaiing an axle counting contracts from the TRA [the Taiwan Railway Administration – an alleged wholly state-owned authority in Taiwan responsible for managing, maintaining, and running passenger freight services on Taiwan’s railroad lines].” According to the information, “both consultants claimed to have close ties to certain legislators in the Taiwanese government who were understood to have influence in awarding the contract due to their particular responsibilities in the legislature.”

The information alleges that the “purpose behind Alcatel’s hiring of Taiwanese Consultant 1 was so that Alcatel SEL could make improper payments to three Taiwanese legislators who had influence in the award of the TRA axle counting contract.” According to the information, after Taisel has been awarded the contract, “Alcatel SEL paid Taiwanese Consultant 1 a commission of approximately $921,413 by wire transfer from Alcatel SEL’s ABN Amro bank account in New York” and that Taiwanese Consultant 1, in turn, “made improper payments to two Taiwanese legislators: Legislator 2 and Legislator 3 – both members of the Legislative Yuan, the unicameral legislative assembly of the Republic of China. Among other things, the information alleges: that the the consultant promised approximately $180,000 in campaign funds for Legislator 3’s 2004 election campaign and then paid Legislator 3 approximately $90,000 after Alcatel SEL won the bid; that Executive 4 and the consultant “spent approximately $8,000 on trips to Germany” that were “primarly for personal, entertainment purposes, with only nominal business justification;” that Alcatel SEL paid the consultant “approximately $3,000 to reimburse it for a set of crystal given to the secretary of the Taiwan Transportation and Communications Minister.”

The information also alleges that Executive 4 also hired another consultant because “Taiwanese Consultant 2’s owner was the brother of Legislator 4, who had influence with respect to TRA matters.” The information alleges that “to bribe Legislator 4, Alcatel SEL arranged for a bogus consulting agreement between Taisel and Taiwanese Consultant 2.”

The information alleges as follows. “Neither Taiwanese Consultant 1 nor Taiwanese Consultant 2 provided legitimate services to Alcatel or Alcatel SEL. Their only function was to pass on improper payments to three Taiwanese legislators on behalf of Alcatel SEL and Taisel. On or about December 30, 2003 Taisel’s bid was accepted by the TRA, which granted Taisel a supply contract worth approximately $19.2 million …”.

According to the information, “Alcatel SEL’s financial results were included in the consolidated financial statements of Alcatel submitted to the SEC” and “as a result of contracts won by Alcatel in Taiwan as a result of bribe payments, Alcatel earned approximately $4,342,600 in profits.”

Kenya

The information describes a Kenyan joint venture (“Kenyan JV”) formed by a French telecommunications company (“French Telecom”) and a Kenyan company (“Kenyan Company”) to apply for a mobile telecommunications license that the Kenyan JV was awarded for approximately $55 million. Several companies, including Alcatel CIT, bid to provide approximately $87 million in infrastructure and services to the Kenyan JV. The information alleges that Alcatel CIT was informed by French Telecom that Alcatel CIT “would win the bid under one condition: an Alcatel entity had to make improper payments to an intermediary in the approximate amount of $20 million.”

The information then describes the intermediary and payments made to it and concludes with the following paragraph. “After entering into the various contracts, the intermediary provided monthly reports and economic intelligence on the telecommunications market in Africa, but never provided any information related to the 2nd GSM license or the Kenyan telecommunications market. In light of the huge amounts of the payments, the fact that the intermediary performed little legitimate work in connection with the 2nd GSM license, and the fact that Company Z [another company suggested by the intermediary] was an offshore holding of Kenyan Company, there is a high probability that all or a portion of the approximately $20 million in payments made by Alcatel CIT to the intermediary and the related entities was passed on to Kenyan Company, which in turn passed on the funds to Kenyan government officials who had played a role in awarding the original contract to French Telecom.”

Nigeria

The information states that between 1999 and 2007, Alcatel pursued business with various Nigerian customers and alleges as follows.

“Certain Alcatel subsidiaries made improper payments to government officials in Nigeria in the following contexts: (a) payments made to government officials for the purpose of reducing tax or other liabilities; (b) payments made to government officials to obtain security services from the Nigerian police; (c) a payment of approximately $75,000 to a former Nigerian Ambassador to the United Nations for the purpose of arranging meetings between Alcatel representatives and Nigerian Senior Government Official 1, a high-ranking official in the Nigerian executive branch; (d) payments made to government officials for the purpose of securing recovery of a debt totaling approximately $36.5 million owed by the government of Nigeria to ITT Nigeria [an Alcatel entity]; and (e) a payment to a People’s Democractic Party official. These payments were not described accurately and fairly on Alcatel’s books and records.”

The information also alleges as follows. “Alcatel personnel also made improper payments via a consultant to a Senior Executive at Nigerian Telecommunications Company 1” and “Alcatel also made large improper payments to two other consultants which were owned at least in part by a relative of the Senior Executive at Nigerian Telecommunications Company 1.” “These payments were not described accurately and fairly on Alcatel’s books and records.” There is nothing in the information to suggest that Nigerian Telecommunications Company 1 was a state-owned or controlled enterprise and the information refers to payments to the Senior Executive as “commercial bribe payments.”

Bangladesh

The information generally alleges that “Alcatel generated a significant portion of its revenue in Bangladesh from Bangladesh Telegraph and Telephone Board, the state-controlled telecommunications services provider” and that Alcatel used an agent in Bangladesh but “Alcatel Standard did not conduct adequate due diligence” on the consultant. In addition, the information alleges that Alcatel Standard retained the agent in connection with a submarine cable project connecting fourteen countries – Alcatel’s portion of the contract was approximately $258 million. According to the information, Alcatel CIT paid the consultant approximately $626,492 in compensation for services provided in connection with the project and approximately $2,524,939 in connection with various upgrades to a predecessor of the project “aware of a significant risk that Bangladsh Consultant would pass on all or a part of these payments to foreign officials.”

Ecuador

According to the information, “Alcatel conducted business in Ecuador with three major telecommunicatios customers, all of which were state-owned: Andinatel, Pacifictel, and Empresa Municipl de Telecomunicaciones, Aqua Potable, Alcantarillados y Saneamiento. The information alleges that Alcatel retained a consultant in Ecuador (“a wealthy businessman”), but that the consultant and the entities he controlled “did little legitimate work for Alcatel.” The information alleges as follows. “Instead, it was anticipated that Ecuadorian Consultant would funnel a portion of the funds Alcatel paid him to officials of the Ecuadorian state-owned telecommunications companies in order to secure business and other benefits for Alcatel. Improper payments were anticipated to be made or offered in connection with at least nine contracts with government-owned telecommunication companies.”

According to the information, at least some of Alcatel’s payments to the consultant wre made to bank accounts in Miami.

In addition, the information alleges as follows. “Alcatel also paid for trips taken by officials of the three telecommunications companies that were principally for pleasure. For example, both the Vice-President and the Chairman of the Board of Pacifictel received improper all-expenses paid trips to France.”

Nicaragua

According to the information, “Alcatel’s only customer in Nicaragua was Empresa Nicaraguense de Telecomunicaciones S.A. (“Enitel”) which was state-owned during the relevant time period.” The Ecuadorian consultant referenced above, also served as Alcatel’s consultant in Nicaragua. According to the information, “with the assistance of Ecuadorian Consultant, Alcatel CIT secured two contracts with Enitel” valued at approximately $1.6 million and $370,000. The information alleges that Alcatel CIT made payments totaling approximately $229,3822 to the Miami bank account of the consultant and that the consultant “likely used a portion of these payments to bribe certain key Enitel officials in order to influence Enitel to award the two contracts to Alcatel, to obtain confidential information about competing bids, and to secure favorable financial terms.” The information alleges that payments to the consultant were “identified in Alcatel’s books and records as consulting fees, and thus the description of those payments did not accurately and fairly reflect those transactions.”

The information further alleges that “Alcatel CIT also provided a trip to Paris and Madrid to two Enitel officials in late 2001 in order to encourage the execution of one of the two contracts” and that the “purpose of the trip was largley for pleasure, and it appears that Alcatel CIT covered all travel costs and a large portion of the expenses.”

The substantive portion of the information ends with a section titled “Other Consultancy Agreements Entered Into Without Proper Due Diligence.” The allegations concern consultants in Angola, the Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Uganda, and Mali. The customers associated with the consultants were either allegedly state-owned or private companies.

Based on all of the above conduct, the information charges Alcatel with violations of the FCPA’s internal control provisions. The information alleges that Alcatel “knowingly: (a) failed to implement sufficient anti-bribery compliance policies and procedures; (b) failed to maintain a sufficient system for the selection and approval of consultants, which, in turn, permitted corrupt conduct to occur at certain subsidiaries; (c) entered into purported business consulting agreements with no apparent basis, and without performing any due diligence, sometimes after the cmpany had already won the relevant project; (d) failed to verify information provided by consultants, including failing to follow up in circumstances in which managers knew or were substantially certain illicit activity was taking place; (e) failed to prevent consultants from using multiple shell companies to receive commissions in excess of 10% knowing there was a substantial likelihood those consultants were acting as conduits for corrupt payments; (f) failed to conduct appropriate audits of payments to purported business consultants; (g) failed to prohibit lump sum payments being made to consultants that did not correspond to any contract; (h) failed to prohibit payments to consultants and public officials pursuant to an oral ‘gentlemen’s agreement’; (i) failed to appropriately investigate and respond to allegations of corrupt payments and discipline employees involved in making corrupt payments; (j) failed to establish a sufficiently empowered and competent Corporate Compliance Officer; (k) failed to exercise due diligence to prevent and detect criminal conduct; (l) failed to take reasonable steps to ensure the company’s compliance and ethics program was followed, including monitoring and internal audits to detect criminal conduct; (m) failed to evaluate regularly the effectiveness of the company’s compliance and ethics program; and (n) failed to provide appropriate incentives to perform in accordance with the compliance and ethics program.”

Based on the above conduct, the information also charges Alcatel with FCPA books and records violations for (a) drafting sham business consulting agreements to justify third party payments; (b) mis-characterizing bribes in the corporate books and records as consulting fees and other seemingly legitimate expenses; (c) justifying payments to purported business consultants based on false invoices; and (d) entering into purported business consulting agreements with no basis, sometimes after Alcatel had won the relevant project.

Alcatel-Lucent DPA

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

Pursuant to the DPA, Alcatel admitted, accepted and acknowledged that it was responsible for the acts of its officers, employees, agents, and those of Alcatel’s subsidiaries as described above.

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

(a) following press reports concerning bribery by Alcatel, S.A., in Costa Rica, the company investigated and disclosed over the course of several years to the Department and the United States Securities and Exchange Commission the misconduct described above;

(b) Alcatel-Lucent conducted a global internal investigation concerning bribery and related misconduct;

(c) Alcatel-Lucent reported its findings to the Department and the SEC;

(d) after limited and inadequate cooperation for a substantial period of time, Alcatel-Lucent substantially improved its cooperation with the Department’s investigation of this matter, as well as the SEC’s investigation;

(e) Alcatel-Lucent undertook remedial measures, including the implementation of an enhanced compliance program, and agreed to undertake further remedial measures as contemplated by the DPA;

(f) on its own initiative and at a substantial financial cost, Alcatel-Lucent determined as matter of company policy to no longer use third party sales and marketing agents in conducting its worldwide business; and

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

As stated in the DPA, the fine range for the above describe conduct under the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines was $86.58 – $173.16 million. Pursuant to the DPA, Alcatel-Lucent agreed to pay a monetary penalty of $92 million – a rather rare instance of an FCPA criminal fine actually being within the Guidelines range and not below even the minimum range suggested by the Guidelines. Also relevant is that Alcatel’s culpability score was reduced only by -1, reflecting that Alcatel did not receive cooperation credit as many FCPA corporate defendants do receive.

The DPA states that above fine is appropriate given, among other things, “penalties related to the same conduct in Costa Rica [see here], and the extraordinary remedial step of terminating use of third-party sales and marketing agents.”

Pursuant to the DPA, Alcatel agreed to a host of compliance undertakings including the retention of an independent compliance monitor “who is a French national” for a three year term. Corporate Monitors used to be common in FCPA enforcement actions (circa 2005-2008), but required use of corporate monitors has become less common over the past few years.

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

As to potential debarment issues, the DPA states as follows. “The Department agrees to bring to the attention of governmental and other debarment authorities the facts and circumstances relating to the nature of the conduct underlying this Agreement, including the nature and quality of Alcatel-Lucent’s cooperation and remediation. By agreeing to provide this information to debarment authorities, the Department is not agreeing to advocate on behalf of Alcatel-Lucent, but rather is providing facts to be evaluated independently by the debarment authorities.”

Alcatel-Lucent France S.A., Alcatel-Lucent Trade International A.G. and Alcatel CentroAmerica, S.A. Criminal Information

The criminal information against the above Alcatel subsidiaries is virtually identical to the above-described criminal information against Alcatel, albeit it is limited to Costa Rica, Honduras, Malaysia, and Taiwan conduct. Based on this conduct, the information charges the entities with conspiracy to violate the FCPA’s anti-bribery and books and records and internal control provisions. According to the information, the purpose of the conspiracy was to “secure the assistance of officials of various governments, including those in Costa Rica, Honduras, Malaysia, and Taiwan, in obtaining and retaining lucrative telecommunications business through the offer, promise, and payment of bribes.”

Alcatel-Lucent France S.A., Alcatel-Lucent Trade International A.G. and Alcatel CentroAmerica, S.A. Plea Agreements

The above described charges were resolved via separate plea agreements with Alcatel-Lucent France (here), Alcatel-Lucent Trade International (here) and Alcatel CentroAmercia (here). Each plea agreement states that in light of the overall dispositions with the other Alcatel-Lucent entities and “the interrelationship among the charges and conduct underlying those dispositions” the agreed upon fine is $500,000.

SEC

The SEC’s civil complaint (here) alleges in summary fashion as follows.

“From December 2001 through June 2006, Alcatel, S.A., now called Alcatel-Lucent, S.A. (“Alcatel” or the “company”), through its subsidiaries and agents, violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act by paying more than $8 million in bribes to foreign government officials. Alcatel made these payments to influence acts and decisions by these foreign government officials to obtain or retain business, with the knowledge and approval of certain management level personnel of the relevant Alcatel subsidiaries. Alcatel lacked sufficient internal controls to prevent or detect such improper payments, and improperly recorded the payments in its books and records.”

“During this period, Alcatel’s agents and/or subsidiaries paid bribes to foreign government officials in several countries to obtain or retain business:

• From December 2001 to October 2004, Alcatel’s agents and/or subsidiaries paid at least $7 million in bribes to government officials of Costa Rica to obtain or retain three contracts to provide telephone services in Costa Rica totaling approximately $303 million.

• From December 2002 to June 2006, Alcatel’s agents and/or subsidiaries paid bribes to government officials of Honduras to obtain or retain five telecommunications contracts totaling approximately $48 million.

• From October 2003 to May 2004, Alcatel’s agents and/or subsidiaries paid bribes to government officials of Taiwan to obtain or retain a railway axle counting contract valued at approximately $27 million.

• From October 2004 to February 2006, Alcatel’s agents and/or subsidiaries paid bribes to government officials of Malaysia to obtain or retain a telecommunications contract valued at approximately $85 million.”

“All of these payments were undocumented or improperly recorded as consulting fees in the books of Alcatel’s subsidiaries, and then consolidated into Alcatel’s financial statements. A lax corporate control environment aided Alcatel’s improper conduct. Alcatel failed to detect or investigate numerous red flags suggesting that its business consultants were likely making illicit payments and gifts to government officials in these countries at the direction of certain Alcatel employees. The respective heads of several Alcatel subsidiaries and geographical regions, some of whom reported directly to Alcatel’s executive committee, authorized extremely high commission payments under circumstances in which they failed to determine whether such payments were, in part, to be funneled to government officials in violation of the FCPA. These high-level employees therefore knew, or were severely reckless in
not knowing, that Alcatel paid bribes to foreign government officials.”

The SEC complaint contains allegations about the same “Costa Rica Bribery Scheme,” “The Honduras Bribery Scheme,” “The Taiwan Bribery Scheme,” and “The Malaysia Bribery Scheme” referenced above. Typically, SEC complaints in FCPA matters are more broad than DOJ resolution documents, yet in this case the SEC complaint is more narrow than the DOJ resolution documents in that the SEC complaint does not contain any allegations as to conduct in Kenya, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Angola, the Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Uganda, and Mali – as does the DOJ information.

Based on the above conduct, the SEC charged Alcatel with FCPA anti-bribery and books and records and internal control violations and knowingly failing to implement a system of internal controls and knowingly falsifying books and records.

As to books and records the complaint alleges as follows.

“Specifically, A1catel failed to keep accurate books and records by (1) entering into consulting agreements retroactively; (2) establishing and using a system of intermediaries to obscure the source and destination of funds; (3) making payments pursuant to business consulting agreements that inaccurately described the services provided; (4) generating false invoices and other false documents to justify payments; (5) disbursing funds in cash with inaccurate documentation authorizing or supporting the withdrawals; (6) recording illicit payments as legitimate consulting fees; and (7) recording bribes as payment for legitimate services.”

As to internal controls, the complaint alleges as follows.

“Alcatel failed to implement adequate internal controls to comply with the
company’s NYSE listing, including the detection and prevention of violations of the FCPA. First, Alcatel and/or its subsidiaries falsified books and records, entered into agreements retroactively, and obscured the purpose for, and ultimate recipient of, illicit payments. Alcatel used business consultants and intermediaries to funnel bribes in at least four countries. Alcatel created and used false invoices and payment documentation under business consulting agreements that described services that were never intended to be rendered. Illicit payments were falsely recorded as expenses for consulting fees.”

“Second, Alcatel also routinely circumvented the internal controls the company had in place. Although the company in theory had a policy of “checks and balances” to authorize the retention of business consultants, which required several signatures to approve the retention of, and payment to, business consultants, Alcatel employees often violated that policy. In numerous instances, Alcatel officials responsible for reviewing due diligence reports on consultants failed to conduct any review of the documents or could not read the language in which the documents were written. Alcatel employees also entered into agreements retroactively and obscured the amounts paid to business consultants by splitting the payments among separate
agreements (to conceal the high commissions Alcatel paid). Finally, Alcatel Standard’s due diligence on business consultants was inadequate, and Alcatel CIT often paid business consultants without adequate proof of services rendered. Alcatel CIT failed to establish robust controls over cash disbursements, allowed manual payments without documentation, and Alcatel’s FCPA compliance function was understaffed and lacked independence. Alcatel also failed to conduct thorough anti-bribery and corruption training.”

Without admitting or denying the SEC’s allegations, Alcatel agreed to an injunction prohibiting future FCPA violations and agreed to pay disgorgement of $45.372 million.

In a relese (here), Robert Khuzami (Director of the SEC’s enforcement division) stated as follows. ““Alcatel and its subsidiaries failed to detect or investigate numerous red flags suggesting their employees were directing sham consultants to provide gifts and payments to foreign government officials to illegally win business. Alcatel’s bribery scheme was the product of a lax corporate control environment at the company.” Glenn Gordon (Associate Director of Enforcement in the SEC’s Miami office) added, “the serious sanctions Alcatel has agreed to, including paying back all net profits made on the contracts Alcatel illegally obtained, should serve as a reminder that we are committed to enforcing the FCPA and a level playing field for companies seeking to obtain or retain business in other countries.”

In a company press release (here), Steve Reynolds, Alcatel-Lucent General Counsel, stated as follow. “We take responsibility for and regret what happened and have implemented policies and procedures to prevent these violations from happening again. The violations largely occurred prior to the merger of Alcatel and Lucent Technologies and involved improper activities in several countries. These settlements resolve the company’s FCPA liability with the DOJ and SEC. We are pleased to have reached these settlements and look forward to putting these matters behind us. Alcatel-Lucent, created as a result of the merger of Alcatel and Lucent Technologies at the end of 2006, is a radically different company today: It has different management, including a new CEO, a new executive committee and a different Board of Directors; It has a zero-tolerance policy regarding bribery and corruption and has a system in place with strong processes and Internet-based and live training designed to prevent these types of situations in all aspects of our business; and as the first in its industry to do so, Alcatel-Lucent announced in 2008 that it would terminate the use of sales agents and consultants — the primary means by which certain former employees made the improper payments involved in the violations described in the DOJ and SEC settlement papers.”

Martin Weinstein (here) of Willkie Farr & Gallagher represented the Alcatel entities.

DOJ Charges Two Executives In Hondutel Matter

In April 2009, Latin Node, Inc. (“Latin Node”), a privately-held telecommunication services company headquartered in Miami, pleaded guilty to violating the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions in connection with improper payments made to “foreign officials” in Honduras and Yemen. (See here). The criminal information (here) details Latin Node’s efforts to obtain and retain business with Hondutel (the Honduran government-owned telecommunications company).

Yesterday, the DOJ announced (see here) the unsealing of a 19 count criminal indictment against Jorge Granados and Manuel Caceres.

According to the indictment (here), Granados “was the founder, Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Board of Latin Node” between 1999 and 2007. During this time period, Granados, a U.S. citizen, had authority to set company policy, contract with telecommunications companies, hire and fire employees, set sales prices, and approve sales practices in foreign countries.” Caceres was a senior executive of Latin Node from 2004 to 2007, holding such titles as Vice President of Business Development. The indictment alleges that Caceres, a citizen of Honduras and a lawful permanent resident of the U.S., was responsible for, among other things, developing Latin Node’s business in Honduras.

The indictment centers on an “interconnection agreement” between Latin Node and Hondutel “the wholly state-owned telecommunications authority in Honduras, established under Honduran law and headquartered in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.” According to the indictment, Hondutel’s operations “were overseen by another Honduran government entity, Comision Nacional de Telecomunicaciones.”

According to the indictment, “almost immediately after winning the interconnection agreement with Hondutel, Latin Node executives realized that Latin Node needed to obtain a reduction in the Termination Rates in order to be more competitive in the Honduran telecommunications market.” The indictment charges that “Latin Node executives also learned that Official 1 [a senior Hondutel executive with broad decision-making authority and influence over telecommunications contracts with private service providers] was considering whether to rescind Hondutel’s interconnection agreement with Latin Node.”

The indictment charges one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions, twelve counts of FCPA anti-bribery violations, one count of money laundering conspiracy, and five counts of money laundering.

According to the indictment, the “purpose of the conspiracy was to obtain from Hondutel business advantages for Latin Node including, but not limited to, preferred telecommunications rates, retaining the interconnection agreement, and continued operation in Honduras despite late payments to Hondutel, by paying bribes to Honduran government officials, including to officers and employees of the Government of Honduras and of Hondutel …”.

Among other things, the indictment alleges that Granados and Caceres, and others, “would and did offer to pay, promise to pay, and authorize the payments of bribes, directly and indirectly to and for the benefit of Official 1, Official 2 [an attorney in the Hondutel legal department who worked directly for Official 1], and Official 3 [a Minister in the Honduran Government who was a member of Hondutel’s Board of Directors], in exchange for these Officials’ agreements to secure lower rates and other benefits for Latin Node under the interconnection agreement with Hondutel.” The indictment charges that Granados and Caceres, and others, “would and did wire and cause to be wired certain bribe payments from Latin Node’s bank accounts in Miami-Dade County, Florida, to the bank accounts designated by Official 1, Official 2 and Official 3.”

According to the DOJ release, “between September 2006 and June 2007, the defendants allegedly paid more than $500,000 in brobes to the officials, concealing many of the payments by laundering the money through Latin Node subsidiaries in Guatemala and to accounts in Honduras controlled by the Honduran government officials.”

As noted in the DOJ release, in early 2007, eLandia International Inc., (here) announced an agreement to acquire Latin Node.” “The indictment alleges that the defendants took additional measures to conceal the illicit payments during the acquisition due diligence process.”

The DOJ release further notes that the April 2009 resolution with Latin Node resulted from the “actions of eLandia in disclosing potential FCPA violations to the department after eLandia’s acquisition of Latin Node and discovery of the improper payments.”

***

Did the Latin Node enforcement action contribute to a coup? That is the question asked in this interesting piece by Gregory Paw (Pepper Hamilton).

Disconnected … Another Telecommunications Company Settles An FCPA Enforcement Action

Yesterday, Veraz Networks, Inc. (see here) joined a long list of telecommunications companies to recently settle an FCPA enforcement action. Veraz, a California-based telecommunications provider, went public in April 2007 and sells its telecommunication products through both direct and indirect sales channels with a majority of its revenue coming from sales outside of the U.S.

Other telecommunications companies, or individuals employed in that industry, to recently resolve FCPA enforcement actions include: UTStarcom (see here and here for the enforcement action), Latin Node, Inc. (see here for the enforcement action), Lucent Technologies (see here and here for the enforcement action), Siemens (in part, see here for the enforcement action), various individuals in connection with the Haiti Teleco matter (see here for the enforcement action), and various employees of ITXC Corporation (see here for the enforcement action). Pending FCPA enforcement actions against telecommunications companies presumably include: Magygar Telekom (see here) and Global Crossing Limited (see here).

That’s a long list.

Back to Veraz.

According to the SEC release (see here), Veraz violated the FCPA’s books and records and internal control provisions in connection with “improper payments made by Veraz to foreign officials in China and Vietnam after the company went public in 2007.”

The SEC complaint (see here) alleges that “from 2007 to 2008, Veraz resellers, consultants, and employees made and offered payments to employees of government-controlled telecommunications companies in China and Vietnam with the purpose and effect of improperly influencing these foreign officials to award or continue to do business with Veraz.” According to the complaint, a Veraz supervisor referred to certain of these payments as the “gift scheme.” The complaint further alleges that “Veraz failed to accurately record these improper payments on the Company’s books and records, and failed to implement or maintain a system of effective internal accounting controls to prevent them in violation of the FCPA […] and to put in place internal controls that are reasonably designed to ensure that their books and records are accurate.”

The SEC’s sparse factual allegations fall under two headings: “Veraz Made Improper Payments to Chinese Government Officials” and “Veraz Made Improper Payments to Vietnamese Government Officials.”

As to payments to “Chinese Government Officials,” the SEC alleges that Veraz engaged a consultant in China to assist Veraz sell products “to a telecommunications company controlled by the government of China.” The complaint further alleges that the consultant “provided approximately $4,500 worth of gifts to officials” of the telecommunications company “in an attempt to secure a business deal for Veraz.” The complaint further alleges that the consultant “also offered a separate improper payment to officials” at the telecommunications company “to secure a deal for Veraz valued at approximately $233,000.” According to the complaint, “Veraz discovered this improper offer of payment prior to receiving any money from the transaction and cancelled the sale.”

As to payments to “Vietnamese Government Officials,” the SEC alleges that “Veraz sold products to a telecommunications company controlled by the government of Vietnam through a Singapore-based reseller.” According to the complaint, a “Veraz employee, through the Singapore-based reseller, at times made or offered illicit payments to the CEO” of the telecommunications company “in order to win business for Veraz.” The complaint further alleges that Veraz “approved of and reimbursed its employee for questionable expenses related” to the telecommunications company “including gifts and entertainment” for employees of the company and “flowers for the wife of the CEO” of the company.

In both instances, according to the complaint: (i) Veraz did not make or keep books, records, and accounts which, in reasonable detail, accurately and fairly reflected the improper gifts or payments provided by Veraz; and (ii) Veraz failed to devise and maintain an effective system of internal controls to prevent or detect violations of the FCPA.

Based on these allegations, the SEC charged Veraz with violating the FCPA’s books and records and internal control provisions.

According to the SEC’s release, Veraz, without admitting or denying the SEC’s allegations, consented to entry of a final judgment permanently enjoining Veraz from future FCPA violations and ordering Veraz to pay a $300,000 civil penalty.

In an article to be published later this summer titled “The Facade of FCPA Enforcement,” I highlight four pillars which contribute to the facade of FCPA enforcement.

The first pillar highlights the frequency in which FCPA enforcement actions are resolved based on uninformative, bare-bones, and legal conclusory statements of facts or allegations. Check as to the Veraz enforcement action. Just who were those Chinese and Vietnamese Government officials? The SEC complaint contains these wonderfully descriptive allegations: “a telecommunications company controlled by the government of China” and a “telecommunications company controlled by the government of Vietnam.” What was the nature of the “illicit payments” made or offered to the CEO of the Vietnamese telecommunications company and what were the “questionable expenses” related to the same company? The complaint does not elaborate.

The second pillar highlights the increasing and alarming trend of FCPA enforcement actions being resolved based on tenuous, dubious and untested legal theories. Check as to the Veraz enforcement action. True, the enforcement action does not allege antibribery violations, but let’s face it, if Veraz’s books and records did not adequately reflect sales and marketing expenses associated with domestic customers and if Veraz did not have sufficient internal controls to prevent and detect such expenses, we would not be reading about this case as an “FCPA enforcement action” even though such conduct would similarly violate the FCPA’s books and records and internal control provisions. Rather, this is an FCPA enforcement action (in the traditional sense) because the improperly recorded payments were directed at “foreign officials” – so alleges the SEC under the theory, never accepted by a court, that employees of state-owned or state-controlled enterprises are “foreign officials” under the FCPA.

The third pillar highlights highlights the opaque nature of FCPA enforcement and how similar enforcement actions, based on the government’s own allegations, are resolved with materially different charges and penalties. Check as to the Veraz enforcement action. If ever there were carbon copy FCPA enforcement actions, it would seem to be Veraz, UTStarcom and Lucent. All principally involved providing things of value to Chinese “foreign officials” (employees of alleged state-owned enterprises). One would expect then that the charges would be similar as well. Wrong. Veraz appears to be only an SEC enforcement action charging only FCPA books and records and internal control violations. UTStarcom involved a DOJ non-prosecution agreement and an SEC enforcement action charging FCPA antibribery as well as books and records and internal control violations. Lucent also involved a DOJ non-prosecution agreement and an SEC enforcement action charging only FCPA books and records and internal control violations. Thus, three similar cases resolved three distinct ways.

[The fourth pillar highlights how seemingly clear-cut instances of corporate bribery and corruption (per the government’s own allegations) are resolved without FCPA antibribery charges. Veraz is not BAE, Siemens, or Daimler – and thus this pillar is of little significance here].

One final point demonstrated by the Veraz enforcement action: resolution fines/penalties represent merely the “tip of the iceberg” in terms of the costs associated with an FCPA inquiry.

The final fine amount, $300,000, is 1/10 the amount of expenses incurred by the company in connection with the SEC investigation. As stated in the company’s most recent 10-Q filing (May 2010) (see here) “as of March 31, 2010, the Company has incurred expenses relating to the SEC investigation of approximately $3 million.”

No wonder Forbes (see here) recently termed the increase in FCPA enforcement the “bribery racket.” No wonder the Wall Street Journal Law Blog (see here) recently posed the question – “is the FCPA Just a Full-Employment Act for the Private Bar?”

A Look Back (and Forward)

This week marks not only the end of a year, but also a decade.

So let’s take a look back at FCPA enforcement circa 2000.

In 2000, the FCPA was indeed “on the books” (the statute was enacted in 1977), yet there was little in terms of FCPA news or enforcement actions.

A “U.S. newspapers and wires” search for the FCPA in the 2000 picks up 64 “hits” and among the more noteworthy stories from that year were the following:

(1) BellSouth corporation disclosed that the SEC launched a probe into whether one of its Latin American subsidiaries violated the FCPA and the company also disclosed that its outside counsel had already investigated the conduct and found that no violations had occurred; and

(2) BF Goodrich Company announced that it was using a web-enabled training system to educate its employees about work-related legal issues including the FCPA.

One could even attend a few FCPA training sessions in 2000 as the search picked up programs sponsored by both the City of New York Bar and the Washington DC Bar.

There was even one FCPA enforcement action in 2000!

In December 2000, the SEC announced (here) the filing of a settled cease-and-desist proceeding against International Business Machines Corporation (“IBM”).

According to the SEC order (here), IBM violated the books and records provisions of the FCPA based on the conduct of its indirect, wholly-owned subsidiary, IBM-Argentina, S.A. The conduct involved “presumed illicit payments to foreign officials” in connection with a “$250 million systems integration contract” between Banco de la Nacion Argentina (“BNA”) (an apparent “government-owned commercial bank in Argentina) and IBM-Argentina.

The SEC order finds that, in connection with the contract, IBM-Argentina’s Former Senior Management (without the knowledge or approval of any IBM employee in the U.S.) caused IBM-Argentina to enter into a subcontract with an Argentine corporation (“CCR”) and that “money paid to CCR by IBM-Argentina in connection with the subcontract was apparently subsequently paid by CCR to certain BNA officials.”

According to the Order, IBM-Argentina paid CCR approximately $22 million under the subcontract and “at least $4.5 million was transferred to several BNA directors by CCR.”

According to the Order, the former Senior Management “overrode IBM procurement and contracting procedures, and hid the details of the subcontract from the technical and financial review personnel assigned to the Contract.” The Order finds that IBM-Argentina “recorded the payments to CCR in its books and records as third-party subcontractor expenses” and that IBM-Argentina’s financial results were incorporated into IBM’s financial results filed with the Commission.

Based on the above conduct, the SEC concluded that “IBM violated [the FCPA’s books and records provisions] by failing to ensure that IBM-Argentina maintained books and records which accurately reflected IBM-Argentina’s transactions and dispositions of assets with respect to the Subcontract.” IBM consented to a cease and desist order and consented to entry of a judgment ordering it to pay a $300,000 penalty.

A Washington Post article about the IBM action notes that it “is the SEC’s first in three years involving overseas bribery.”

In 2000, there were no DOJ FCPA prosecutions (against corporations or individuals).

The first DOJ corporate FCPA prosecution of this decade did not occur until 2002.

In that action (here) Syncor Taiwan, Inc. (a wholly-owned, indirect subsidiary of Syncor International Corporation) pleaded guilty to a one-count criminal information charging violations of the FCPA. According to the DOJ release, “[t]he company admitted making improper payments [approximately $344,110] to physicians employed by hospitals owned by the legal authorities in Taiwan for the purpose of obtaining and retaining business from those hospitals and in connection with the purchase and sale of unit dosages of certain radiopharmaceuticals.”

The release further notes that the company “made payments [approximately $113,000] to physicians employed by hospitals owned by the legal authorities in Taiwan in exchange for their referrals of patients to medial imaging centers owned and operated by the defendant.”

Based on this conduct, the release notes that the company agreed to a $2 million criminal fine – “the maximum criminal fine for a corporation under the FCPA” (as noted in the release). The release also notes that “Syncor International has consented to the entry of a judgment requiring it to pay a $500,000 civil penalty, the largest penalty ever obtained by the SEC in an FCPA case.”.

From this retrospective, two issues jump out.

First, as demonstrated by the IBM action, the notion that an issuer may be strictly liable for a subsidiary’s (even if indirect) violations of the FCPA books and records is nothing new. (See here for a prior post on this issue).

Second, as demonstrated by the Syncor action, DOJ’s interpretation of the “foreign official” element to include non-government employees employed by state-owned or state-controlled entities stretches back to earlier this decade. (See here for prior posts on this issue).

This retrospective also highlights just how significantly FCPA enforcement has changed this decade.

For starters, the same “U.S. newspapers and wires” search for the FCPA (year to date) picks up nearly 700 “hits” (a ten-fold increase from ten years ago). In addition, if one wanted to, one could attend (it seems) an FCPA seminar, training session, bar event, etc. every week in a different state.

Further, I bet my Jack LaLanne Power Juicer received this holiday season that if the IBM enforcement action were to have recently occurred, the SEC would have also charged FCPA internal control violations as well as sought a significant disgorgement penalty given that the alleged improper payments in that matter helped secure a $250 million contract.

Moreover, the $2 million “maximum criminal fine for a corporation under the FCPA” (as noted in the Syncor DOJ release) seems laughable when viewed in the context of the $450 million Siemens criminal fine (Dec. 2008) or the $402 million Kellogg Brown & Root criminal fine (Feb. 2009). Also laughable is the $500,000 “largest penalty ever obtained by the SEC in an FCPA case” (as noted in the Syncor release) when viewed in the context of the $350 million Siemens penalty or the $177 million KBR/Halliburton penalty.

Has the conduct become more egregious during this decade or have enforcement theories and strategies simply changed? I doubt it is the former.

Why have enforcement theories and strategies changed? One of the best, candid explanations I’ve heard recently is that FCPA enforcement for the government “is lucrative.” (See here).

One of the great legal “head-scratchers” of this decade is how DOJ and SEC’s enforcement of the FCPA against business entities has taken place almost entirely outside of the normal judicial process due to the fact that corporate FCPA prosecutions are resolved through non-prosecution or deferred prosecution agreements, settled through SEC cease and desist orders, or otherwise resolved informally. The end result is that in many cases, the FCPA means what DOJ and SEC says it means.

My hope for the New Year and decade is that many of the untested and unchallenged legal theories which are now common in FCPA enforcement will actually be subject to judicial scrutiny and interpretation.

Powered by WordPress. Designed by WooThemes