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Friday Roundup

Scrutiny alerts and updates, quotable, and for the reading stack.  It’s all here in the Friday Roundup.

Scrutiny Alerts And Updates

Avon

Yesterday, Avon’s stock dropped approximately 22% to $17.50.  The company disclosed a drop in third quarter sales and weaker than expected earnings.  Avon also disclosed, in pertinent part, the following regarding its long-running FCPA scrutiny:

“As previously reported in our Quarterly Report on Form 10-Q for the period ending June 30, 2013, we made an offer of settlement to the DOJ and the SEC in June 2013 that, among other terms, would have included payment of monetary penalties of approximately $12. Although our offer was rejected by the DOJ and the staff of the SEC, we accrued the amount of our offer in the second quarter of 2013.

In September 2013, the staff of the SEC proposed terms of potential settlement that included monetary penalties of a magnitude significantly greater than our earlier offer. We disagree with the SEC staff’s assumptions and the methodology used in its calculations and believe that monetary penalties at the level proposed by the SEC staff are not warranted. We anticipate that the DOJ also will propose terms of potential settlement, although they have not yet done so and we are unable to predict the timing or terms of any such proposal. If the DOJ’s offer is comparable to the SEC’s offer and if the Company were to enter into settlements with the SEC and the DOJ at such levels, we believe that the Company’s earnings, cash flows, liquidity, financial condition and ongoing business would be materially adversely impacted.

Although we are working to resolve the government investigations through settlement, our discussions are at early stages and at this point we do not know if those efforts will be successful and, if they are, what the timing or terms of any such settlements would be. We expect any such settlements will include civil and/or criminal fines and penalties, and may also include non-monetary remedies, such as oversight requirements and additional remediation and compliance requirements. We may be required to incur significant future costs to comply with the non-monetary terms of any settlements with the SEC and the DOJ. If we are able to reach settlements with the SEC and the DOJ, the Company believes that such settlements are likely to include monetary penalties that would be material to its earnings and cash flows in the relevant fiscal period and could, depending on the amounts of the settlements, materially adversely impact the Company’s liquidity, financial condition and ongoing business.

There can be no assurance that our efforts to reach settlements with the government will be successful.  If we do not reach settlements with the SEC and/or the DOJ, we cannot predict the outcome of any subsequent litigation with the government but such litigation could have a material adverse effect on our earnings, cash flow, liquidity, financial condition and ongoing business.>We have not recorded an additional accrual beyond the amount recorded in the second quarter of 2013 because at this time, in light of the early stages of our discussions of possible settlement terms with the government, the magnitude of the difference between our offer and the amount proposed by the SEC and the absence of a proposal from the DOJ, and our inability to predict whether we will be able to reach settlements with the government, we cannot reasonably estimate the amount of additional loss above the amount accrued to date.

Until these matters are resolved, either through settlement or litigation, we expect to continue to incur costs, primarily professional fees and expenses, which may be significant, in connection with the government investigations. Furthermore, under certain circumstances, we may also be required to advance and/or reimburse significant professional fees and expenses to certain current and former Company employees in connection with these matters.”

In certain respects, Avon’s disclosure was similar to its August disclosure (see here for the prior post) in which it stated “we made an offer of settlement to the DOJ and the SEC that, among other terms, included payment of monetary penalties of approximately $12 [million]. The DOJ and the SEC have rejected the terms of our offer.”

The fact that there is a negotiation and back and forth between the SEC and a company concerning an FCPA settlement number is not unusual, what is a bit unusual is that this back and forth is being aired in public via the company’s SEC filings.

Embraer

Previous posts here and here have profiled Embraer’s FCPA scrutiny.  In an article titled “Plane Maker Embraer Faces Bribery Inquiries,” the Wall Street Journal reports:

“U.S. and Brazilian authorities are investigating whether aircraft maker Embraer SA bribed officials in the Dominican Republic in return for a $90 million contracts to furnish the country’s armed forces with attack planes.”

According to the article, U.S. authorities say they have “evidence – including bank records and e-mails – that they believe shows that Embraer executives had approved a $3.4 million bribe to a Dominican official with influence over military procurement.”

Mead Johnson

Mead Johnson Nutrition Company recently disclosed as follows.

“The company has initiated an internal investigation of, and is voluntarily complying with a Securities and Exchange Commission request for documents relating to, certain business activities of the company’s local subsidiary in China. The company’s investigation is focused on certain expenditures that were made by the subsidiary in connection with the promotion of the company’s products or may have otherwise been made and that may not have complied with company policies and applicable U.S. and/or local laws. The company has retained outside legal counsel to conduct the investigation, which is being overseen by a committee of independent members of the company’s board of directors. At this time, the company is unable to predict the scope, timing or outcome of this ongoing matter or any regulatory or legal actions that may be commenced related to this matter.”

National Geographic

The on-line publication Vocativ recently published an article “Tut-Tut: Did National Geographic Bribe Egypt’s Famed Indiana Jones?”  The article begins as follows.

“This is not your typical story about international bribery. For one thing, it involves mummies. It also involves one of America’s most beloved institutions: National Geographic.  Vocativ has learned that the Justice Department has opened a criminal bribery investigation into the prestigious nonprofit. At issue: Nat Geo’s tangled relationship with Dr. Zahi Hawass, a world-famous Indiana Jones–type figure who for years served as the official gatekeeper to Egypt’s glittering antiquities.  Beginning in 2001 and continuing for a decade, National Geographic paid the archaeologist between $80,000 and $200,000 a year for his expertise. The payments came at a time when the popularity of mummies and pharaohs was helping transform the 125-year-old explorer society into a juggernaut with multiple glossies, a publishing house and a television channel. But they also came as Hawass was still employed by the Egyptian government to oversee the country’s priceless relics.”

According to the article, Hawass also worked with National Geographic competitor, the Discovery Channel.

Although National Geographic is a non-profit entity, the FCPA’s definition of “domestic concern” is “any corporation, partnership, association, joint-stock company, business trust, unincorporated organization, or sole proprietorship …”.

Teva Pharmaceuticals

As noted in this previous post, in August the company disclosed that it “received a subpoena … from the SEC to produce documents
with respect to compliance with the FCPA in Latin America.”  Earlier this week, Teva disclosed as follows.

“Beginning in 2012, Teva received subpoenas and informal document requests from the SEC and the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) to produce documents with respect to compliance with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (the “FCPA”) in certain countries. Teva has provided and will continue to provide documents and other information to the SEC and the DOJ, and is cooperating with the government in their investigations of these matters. Teva is also conducting a voluntary investigation into certain business practices that may have FCPA implications and has engaged independent counsel to assist in its investigation. In the course of its investigation, which is continuing, Teva has identified in Russia, certain Eastern European countries, and certain Latin American countries issues that could potentially rise to the level of FCPA violations and/or violations of local law. Teva has brought these issues to the attention of the SEC and the DOJ. No conclusion can be drawn at this time as to any likely outcomes in these matters.”

JPMorgan

As highlighted in this previous post, in August JPMorgan’s hiring practices in China came under scrutiny.

The company recently disclosed:

“The Firm has received subpoenas and requests for documents from the SEC’s Division of Enforcement regarding, among other things, hiring practices relating to candidates referred by clients, potential clients and government officials, the Firm’s employment of certain former employees in Hong Kong, its business relationships with certain related clients in the Asia Pacific region and its engagement of consultants in the Asia Pacific region. The Firm has also received a request for documents from the U.S. Department of Justice regarding the same referral hiring practices. The Firm is cooperating with these investigations. Separate inquiries on these or similar topics have been made by other authorities, including authorities in other jurisdictions, and the Firm is responding to those inquiries.”

Quotable

From Attorney General Eric Holder at the Arab Forum on Asset Recovery in Morocco.

“As we’ve all seen – and as President Obama has said – “[t]he struggle against corruption is one of the great struggles of our time.”  Fortunately […] corruption is no longer widely seen as an accepted cost of doing business.  It is no longer tolerated as an unavoidable aspect of government.  On the contrary – it is now generally understood that the consequences of corruption are devastating – eroding trust in public and private institutions, undermining confidence in the fairness of free and open markets, siphoning precious resources at a time when they could hardly be more scarce, and all too often breeding contempt for the rule of law.

[…]

This is why, as Attorney General, I’ve consistently worked to ensure that anticorruption remains a top priority for my colleagues at every level of the United States Department of Justice – within as well as beyond our borders.”

A recent article in Corporate Counsel titled “The Perils of Keeping FCPA Infractions Under Wraps” states:

“Charles Duross, the deputy chief of the U.S. Justice Department’s Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Unit, delivered an ominous message Monday to in-house lawyers at the Association of Corporate Counsel’s Annual Meeting in Los Angeles: Failure to report potential bribery is more perilous than ever.  Duross, who is based in Washington, D.C., said DOJ is handling a “pretty steady stream of cases,” with every major U.S. attorney’s office investigating alleged violations of the FCPA, which prohibits bribery of foreign officials.  “The risk of getting caught . . . is greater today than any point previously,” Duross said. “I think that’s kind of a no-brainer.”  Duross said he isn’t naïve about the calculus companies have to perform when deciding whether to report a potential FCPA infraction to the U.S. government. But if a company makes the disclosure on its own, he noted, the Justice Department stands ready to help.  DOJ can make deferred-prosecution or non-prosecution agreements with businesses—or even decline to pursue any action against them, he said. “It’s a tough one” for companies, Duross said. “No doubt about it.” Self-reporting can be overrated, according to New York-based Morrison & Foerster partner Carl Loewenson Jr., a co-chairman of the firm’s securities litigation, enforcement, and white-collar defense group who also spoke at the ACC event. Making the disclosures is great for business at the DOJ, as well as law firms and accounting offices, he said. But companies that report almost always get some type of a public charge, he noted. “I think that these days there are too many cases in which too many companies are being too reflexive about self-reporting” to the government, Loewenson said. “In some cases, not in all, you can solve these problems yourself.”

Reading Stack

Several spot-on observations in the most recent issue of the always informative FCPA Update from Debevoise & Plimpton concerning the recent Diebold enforcement action (see here and here for prior posts).

“Although there are significant aggravating factors that might explain imposing $48 million in penalties and disgorgement on a company that voluntarily disclosed what are, unfortunately, common improprieties in China, combined with wholly unrelated commercial bribery in Russia, the size of the financial resolution – apart from the substantial burdens of the monitorship – raises questions about future enforcement of the FCPA, as well as the incentives for companies to self-report.

The first noteworthy aspect of this resolution is the enforcement agencies’ decision to use the books and records and internal controls provisions as a vehicle for obtaining monetary relief penalizing purely commercial bribery (40% of the improper payments at issue). While not entirely novel or outside the theoretical reach of those provisions, were the enforcement agencies routinely to investigate issuers in connection with commercial bribery abroad, the “risk-based” calculus of almost all corporate compliance programs would potentially need to be rebalanced.

Second, the total financial aspect of the resolution was 16 times the total value of alleged improper payments. In describing the improper payments, the enforcement agencies aggregated a number of often small payments over five years. When considered alongside the Ralph Lauren enforcement action from earlier this year, the Diebold enforcement action, and in particular its imposition of a monitor, long-considered one of the most burdensome aspects of FCPA settlements, could call into question one common view of the statements relating to gifts and corrupt intent in the November 2012 DOJ/SEC joint Resource Guide to the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act: namely, that FCPA covered companies should not “sweat the small stuff.”

[…]

“[T]he Diebold enforcement actions revive the pre-guidance confusion about the government’s enforcement priorities and raise significant questions about the value of voluntary disclosure. The confusion, arising from repeated charges related to relatively small expenditures, including, even, $500 for four pairs of shoes provided as gifts to Chinese officials, was part of  the background of frustration with the government’s enforcement of the FCPA that led to publication of the joint DOJ/ SEC Resource Guide.  It has been commonly thought that the Resource Guide’s distinctions between “expensive gifts” and “token[s] of esteem or gratitude” signified at least an implicit recognition by U.S. enforcement agencies that compliance resources would be better allocated to topics other than gifts valued at a few hundred dollars, let alone gifts that individually do not exceed $100 in value. But the Diebold case will raise new questions about the government’s enforcement priorities, questions that will only be amplified by the imposition of a monitor, potentially one of the most disruptive, burdensome, and costly components of FCPA settlement tools, and one that had been in declining use for several years.”

An observant article from The Lawyer titled “Round Table on Cross-Border Disputes – Bandwagons Roll.”  It states:

“Co-operation [between foreign law enforcement regulators] is good.'”  […]  More co-operation between regulators when they are trying to address the same issues is welcome.”  However, co-operation – while praised for attempting to provide consistency – has its drawbacks.  “They all want to impose sanctions for the same conduct.” […]   “It’s common now for a company to finish a US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act or UK Bribery Act investigation  that has taken three years and generated huge fees, to turn around and see a long line of regulators from, say, China or India with their own legal and  political concerns.”

It does not necessarily justify the behavior, but the following article at least puts the behavior in the proper context and highlights why Congress specifically included a facilitation payments exception in the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions.

“Seventy-five percent of businesses in Vietnam pay bribes to  government agencies on their own volition in order to avoid being stuck in red tape, a World Bank specialist says.  At an anti-corruption conference held in Hanoi Thursday, Soren Davidsen said that sixty-three percent of firms questioned in a survey said they paid the “unofficial fees” to speed up procedures.”

A useful compliance resource here from the U.S. – China Business Council titled “Best Practices for Managing Compliance in China.”

*****

A good weekend to all,

Friday Roundup

Add two more companies to the list, a reply to a retort, Avon developments, Total S.A. perhaps nears a top-5 settlement, the reason for those empty Olympic seats, another FCPA-inspired derivative action is dismissed, Sensata Technologies and more on the meaning of “declination,” one of my favorite reads and additional material for the weekend reading stack.  It’s all here in the Friday roundup.

Recent Disclosures

As noted in this Wall Street Journal Corruption Currents post “German healthcare firm Fresenius Medical Care AG has opened an internal investigation into potential violations” of the FCPA.  The company’s recent SEC filing (here) states as follows.

“The Company has received communications alleging certain conduct that may violate the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) and other anti-bribery laws. In response to the allegations, the Audit and Corporate Governance Committee of the Company’s Supervisory Board is conducting an internal review with the assistance of counsel retained for such purpose. The Company has voluntarily advised the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice that allegations have been made and of the Company’s internal review. The Company is fully committed to FCPA compliance. It cannot predict the outcome of its review.”

In addition, as noted in this Wall Street Journal Corruption Currents post, “the Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd, the world’s largest manufacturer of generic drugs, for possible violations” of the FCPA.   The Israel based company recently stated in an SEC filing (here) as follows.

“Teva received a subpoena dated July 9, 2012 from the SEC to produce documents with respect to compliance with the Foreign Corrupt Practice Act (“FCPA”) in Latin America. Teva is cooperating with the government. Teva is also conducting a voluntary investigation into certain business practices which may have FCPA implications and has engaged independent counsel to assist in its investigation. These matters are in their early stages and no conclusion can be drawn at this time as to any likely outcomes.”

U.K. DPAs

In this previous post, I discussed my letter to the U.K. Ministry of Justice urging the MoJ to just say no to deferred prosecution agreements.  Over at thebriberyact.com (a site that has lead discussion of the issue) the authors disagree with me (see here).  That’s all fine and dandy and healthy to the discussion, but the substance of the retort is not persuasive.

The retort is  basically that the SFO “frequently has to fight its corner in court” and that “sometimes it loses” whereas in the U.S. “the accepted wisdom [is] that an FCPA investigation would result in a corporate settlement” and the “DOJ simply [does] not have to test its legal theories in court.”  In short, the authors state “statistically in the US corporates and their counsel often fold in the face of a DOJ investigation” but “in the UK this is not so.”

Contrary to the suggestion in the retort, I did not ignore the Bribery Act’s Section 7 offense – rather it is all the more reason to reject DPAs.

The retort closes as follows.  “Sadly, as it stands, the UK enforcement agencies do not have equality of arms when it comes to their enforcement toolkit.  Put another way the DOJ can end run UK enforcement agencies because it does have the potential to enter into DPA’s.  This reason alone is justification enough for putting in place a system which delivers a similar result to the US system.”

This confirms in my mind that the UK’s desire for DPAs has little to do with justice and deterring improper conduct, but more to do with enforcement statistics and posturing in an emerging “global arms race” when it comes to “prosecuting” corruption and bribery offenses.

Avon Developments

Avon was in the news quite a bit this week.

On Monday, the Wall Street Journal reported (here) that “federal prosecutors looking into possible bribery of foreign officials by Avon have asked to speak to Andrea Jung, the former chief executive and current full-time chairman.”

On Wednesday, the company filed its quarterly report and stated, among other things, as follows.  “We are in discussions with the SEC and DOJ regarding mutually resolving the government investigations. There can be no assurance that a settlement will be reached or, if a settlement is reached, the timing of any such settlement or that the terms of any such settlement would not have a material adverse effect on us.”  During the Q2 earnings call, company CEO Sheri McCoy stated as follows.   “We are in discussion with the SEC and DOJ regarding mutually resolving the government investigations.”

On Thursday, the Wall Street Journal reported (here) that McCoy “frustrated with the pace of Avon’s internal probe, has pushed to bring in a second law firm for advice on the progress of the investigation.   The company has held discussions with law firm Allen & Overy LLP for that role.”  Arnold & Porter has been leading Avon’s investigation.  According to the article, Avon’s “probe has turned up millions of dollars of payments in Brazil and France made to consultants hired to assist with Avon’s tax bills in those countries.”

What to make of the above information?

It is unusual for the enforcement agencies to want to speak to a former CEO and current chairman in connection with an FCPA inquiry.  But then again, prosecutors have reportedly spoken to several other Avon executives in connection with the probe.  Given Avon’s disclosure that it has begun settlement discussions, this would suggest that the factual portion of the enforcement agencies investigation is over.

Avon’s FCPA scrutiny has perhaps been most notable for the amount of pre-enforcement action professional fees and expenses – approximately $280 million.  Thus, yesterday’s report that the company is considering bringing in a second law firm nearly four years into the investigation is interesting and unusual.

Even though Avon has disclosed it is in settlement talks, an enforcement action in 2012 is not certain.  In many cases, companies have disclosed the existence of FCPA settlement discussions, but the actual enforcement action did not happen for 6-12 months (or longer).

Whenever the enforcement action occurs, and whatever the ultimate fine and penalty is, Avon’s greatest financial hit  has likely already occured – its pre-enforcement action professional fees and expenses.  For instance, assuming a settlement amount would match the $280 million, this would be the sixth largest FCPA settlement of all time, and none of the enforcement actions in the top 5 were outside the context of foreign “government” procurement.

Total Settlement Near?

For some time, there has been speculation that Total S.A. (you better sit down for this) would actually mount a defense and put the DOJ and SEC to its burden of proof in an enforcement action.  Information in a recent company press release suggests that this is unlikely to occur.  In this recent release, Total stated as follows.  “Total has been cooperating with the … SEC and DOJ in connection with an investigation concerning gas contracts awarded in Iran in the 1990’s.  Total, the SEC, and the DOJ have conducted discussions to resolve issues arising from the investigation.  In light of recent progess in these discussions, Total has provisioned 316 million euros [$389 million]  in its accounts in the second quarter of 2012.”

A $389 million settlement would be a top five FCPA settlement in terms of fine and penalty amounts.  For additional coverage, see here from Reuters.

Empty Olympic Seats

A reason, perhaps, for those empty Olympic seats?  According to a recent study (see here) by the Society for Corporate Compliance and Ethics  “tighter than anticipated corporate entertainment and gift policies.”

Smith & Wesson Derivative Action Dismissed

Even against the backdrop of generally frivolous plaintiff derivative claims in the FCPA context, the action against Smith & Wesson (“S&W”) stood out.  After S&W employee Amaro Goncalves was criminally indicted in the manufactured Africa Sting case, certain investors filed a derivative claim in U.S. District Court in Massachusetts suing members of the board of S&W and company officers derivatively on behalf of the corporation for failing to have effective FCPA controls and oversight, thereby breaching their duty of care.

In dismissing the complaint (see here for the decision) Judge Michael Ponsor characterized the complaint as follows. “[I]n essence, that the company enjoyed an increase in international sales and then had an employee indicted for FCPA violations. This indictment, later dropped, supposedly evidenced a failure to implement proper controls.”

For another recent dismissal of an FCPA inspired derivative claim against Tidewater, see this prior post.  See also this recent post from Kevin LaCroix at The D&O Diary blog.

Sensata Technologies

In October 2010, Sensata Technologies disclosed in a quarterly report (here) as follows.

“An internal investigation has been conducted under the direction of the Audit Committee of the Company’s Board of Directors to determine whether any laws, including the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”), may have been violated in connection with a certain business relationship entered into by one of the Company’s operating subsidiaries involving business in China. The Company believes the amount of payments and the business involved was immaterial. The Company discontinued the specific business relationship and its investigation has not identified any other suspect transactions. The Company has contacted the United States Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission to begin the process of making a voluntary disclosure of the possible violations, the investigation, and the initial findings. The Company will cooperate fully with their review.”

In its most recent quarterly report (here), the company disclosed as follows.

“During 2012, the DOJ informed us that it has closed its inquiry into the matter but indicated that it could reopen its inquiry in the future in the event it were to receive additional information or evidence. We have not received an update from the SEC concerning the status of its inquiry.”

Did Sensata “win a declination” as the FCPA Blog suggested here?

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.

Perhaps then we would know if the DOJ concluded it could prove beyond a reasonable doubt all the necessary elements of an FCPA charge, yet decided not to pursue Sensata – which is my definition of declination as noted in this prior post.  Anything else, is what the law commands, not a declination.

Favorite Read

One of my favorite reads is always Shearman & Sterling’s “Recent Trends and Patterns in the Enforcement of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.”  See here for the most recent edition.

As to “foreign official,” the report states as follows. “[T]he government does not appear to have been deterred by the [foreign official] debate. In most of the cases brought in 2012, the relevant government officials were employed by “instrumentalities” such as state health insurance plans (Orthofix), a state-owned nuclear plant (Data Systems & Solutions), government hospitals (Biomet and Smith & Nephew), a state-owned real estate development company (Peterson) a state-owned oil company (Marubeni), and state-owned airlines (NORDAM).”

As to FCPA guidance, the report states as follows. “We understand that this guidance will be issued before October, when the US is scheduled to issue a written progress report on its implementation of the OECD Working Group on Bribery’s recommendations.”

A final kudos – Shearman & Sterling keeps its FCPA enforcement statistics the best way.  As it explains – “we count all actions against a corporate “family” as one action. Thus, if the DOJ charges a subsidiary and the SEC charges a parent issuer, that counts as one action.”  This is consistent with my “core” approach (see here), but unlike many others in the industry.

Weekend Reading Stack

An interesting and informative article (here) in Fortune about the Alba-Alcoa tussle and the role of Victor Dahdaleh.  For more on the underlying civil suit between Alba and Alcoa see this recent Wall Street Journal Corruption Currents post.

SOX’s executive certification requirements were supposed to be a panacea for corporate fraud.  It has not happened.  See here from Alison Frankel (Reuters) and here from Michael Rapoport (Wall Street Journal).  As noted in this prior post concerning the Paul Jennings (former CFO and CEO of Innospec) enforcement action, SOX certification charges were among the charges the SEC filed against Jennings.  Then SEC FCPA Unit Chief Cheryl Scarboro stated, “we will vigorously hold accountable those who approve such bribery and who sign false SOX certifications and other documents to cover up the wrongdoing.”  Speaking of Jennings, as noted in this recent U.K. Serious Fraud Office, Jennings recently pleaded guilty to one charge of conspiracy to corrupt Iraqi public officials and other agents of the Government of Iraq.

*****

A good weekend to all.

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