First it was Johnson & Johnson (see here – $70 million enforcement action in April 2011).
Then it was Smith & Nephew (see here – $22 million enforcement action in February 2012).
Then it was Biomet (see here – $22.8 million enforcement action in March 2012).
Then it was Pfizer / Wyeth (see here – $60 million enforcement action in August 2012).
Then it was Eli Lilly (see here – $29 million enforcement action in December 2012).
Then it was Stryker (see here – $13.2 million enforcement action in October 2013).
Then it was Mead Johnson (see here – $12 million enforcement action in July 2015).
The latest of the most recent Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement actions (there are many more than those listed above) premised on the theory that physicians of certain foreign health care systems are “foreign officials” under the FCPA is Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. (“BMS”).
Some will say this enforcement action – like certain of the others mentioned above – merely involved the FCPA’s books and records and internal controls provisions, but make no mistake about it, this action – as well as the prior actions – was all about the alleged “foreign officials.”
Yesterday, the SEC announced this administrative cease and desist order in which BMS agreed, without admitting or denying the SEC’s findings, to pay approximately $14.7 million.
The order states in summary fashion as follows.
“These proceedings arise out of violations of the internal controls and recordkeeping provisions of the FCPA by BMS and its majority-owned joint venture in China. Between 2009 and 2014, BMS failed to design and maintain effective internal controls relating to interactions with health care providers (“HCPs”) at state-owned and state-controlled hospitals in China. Through various mechanisms during this period, certain sales representatives of the joint venture improperly generated funds that were used to provide corrupt inducements to HCPs in the form of cash payments, gifts, meals, travel, entertainment, and sponsorships for conferences and meetings in order to secure new sales and increase existing sales. BMS falsely recorded the relevant transactions as legitimate business expenses in its books and records.”
The findings focus on Bristol-Myers Squibb (China) Investment Co. Limited (“BMS China), a company through which BMS conducts business in China, and how BMS China, in turn, primarily operates in China through Sino-American Shanghai Squibb Pharmaceuticals Limited (“SASS”), a majority-owned joint venture.
According to the Order:
“BMS holds a 60% equity interest in SASS and has held operational control over this entity since 2009 when it obtained the right to name the President of SASS and a majority of the members of SASS’s Board of Directors.
BMS began operating in China in 1982 when it formed SASS, the first SinoAmerican pharmaceutical joint venture. Following a successful product launch in 2005, BMS China’s business grew quickly. By 2009, BMS China had 1490 full-time employees and net sales of more than $200 million. This upward trend continued through 2014 when the number of full-time employees expanded to 2464 and net sales reached nearly $500 million.
Certain BMS China employees achieved their sales, in part, by providing HCPs and other government officials with cash and other inducements in exchange for prescriptions and drug listings.”
Under the heading “Failure to Respond to Red Flags,” the Order states:
“BMS China failed to respond effectively to red flags indicating that sales personnel provided improper payments and other benefits in order to generate sales from HCPs. In 2009, BMS China initiated a review of travel and entertainment expenses submitted for reimbursement by its sales personnel and found non-compliant claims, fake and altered invoices and receipts, and consecutively numbered receipts. Shortly thereafter, BMS China retained a local accounting firm to conduct monthly post-payment reviews of all claims for travel, entertainment, and meeting expenses to identify false, improperly documented, and unsubstantiated claims. BMS China brought this function in-house in early 2011 and the results of both the external and internal reviews were provided to management of BMS China as well as regional compliance and corporate business managers who reported directly to senior management of BMS.
During the period between mid-2009 and late 2013, BMS China identified numerous irregularities in travel and entertainment and event documentation, including fake and altered purchase orders, invoices, agendas, and attendance sheets for meetings with HCPs that likely had not occurred. BMS China inaccurately recorded the reimbursement of these false claims as legitimate business expenses in its books and records, which were then consolidated into the books and records of BMS.
Certain BMS China employees admitted that they had submitted false reimbursement claims and used the funds for the benefit of HCPs in support of sales by BMS China. They also alleged that the use of false reimbursement claims to fund payments to and for the benefit of HCPs in order to secure prescription sales was a widespread practice at BMS China. In emails to the BMS China President in November 2010 and January 2011, certain terminated employees wrote that they used the funds to pay rebates, provide entertainment, and fund gift cards for HCPs, as there was no other way to meet their sales targets. Citing the “open secret” that HCPs in China rely upon the “gray income” to maintain their livelihood, they said that they tried to meet the demands of the HCPs for the benefit of BMS China. Despite the widespread exceptions and serious allegations of potentially widespread bribery practices, BMS China did not investigate these claims.”
Under the heading “Compliance and Controls Environment,” the Order states:
“Despite its longstanding presence in China, BMS did not implement a formal FCPA compliance program until April 2006 when it adopted its first standalone anti-bribery policy and corresponding corporative directive. At approximately the same time, BMS began conducting compliance assessments and audits of BMS China that included a review of internal controls relating to anti-bribery risks. These internal reviews revealed weaknesses in the monitoring of payments made to HCPs, the lack of formal processes around the selection and compensation of HCPs as speakers, deficiencies in obtaining and documenting the approval of donations, sponsorships, and consulting arrangements with HCPs, and the failure to conduct post-event verification of meetings and conferences sponsored by sales representatives. Reports of these findings were provided to senior management of BMS China as well as members of BMS’s global compliance department.
These identified controls deficiencies were not timely remediated and compliance resources were minimal. The corporate compliance officer responsible for the Asia-Pacific region through 2012 was based in the U.S. and rarely traveled to China. There was no dedicated compliance officer for BMS China until 2008, and no permanent compliance position in China until 2010. In addition, the BMS sales force in China received limited training and much of it was inaccessible to a large number of sales representatives who worked in remote locations. For example, when BMS rolled out mandatory anti-bribery training in late 2009, 67% of employees in China failed to complete the training by the due date.
Annual internal audits of BMS China repeatedly identified substantial gaps in internal controls, and the results were reported to the Audit Committee and senior management of BMS. In connection with each audit, the audit team cited a lack of effective controls and documentation relating to interactions with HCPs and the monitoring of potential inappropriate payments to HCPs. Among Internal Audit’s conclusions were that BMS China’s controls around the review and approval of travel and entertainment expenses and gifts to HCPs were not effective and that it failed to track payments to HCPs, including high-risk payments, in its quarterly review of potential inappropriate payments, and to enforce controls relating to the documentation, approval, and payment of distributor rebates. Internal Audit also cited the lack of due diligence assessments of distributor compliance, including anti-bribery compliance, the failure to properly document and approve agreements with HCPs who served as speakers, and the lack of a mechanism to ensure that services were received in exchange for sponsorships. As a result, Internal Audit issued a series of qualified opinions in connection with its annual audits of BMS China between 2009 and 2013.”
Under the heading “Internal Documents Reveal Improper Benefits Provided to HCPs,” the Order states:
“Emails and other BMS China documents detail, among other things, proposed “activity plans,” “action plans,” and plans for “investments” in HCPs to increase prescription sales. These contemporaneous documents were prepared at the direction of, and sometimes transmitted to, district and regional sales managers of BMS China, and show that sales representatives used funds derived from travel and expense claims to make cash payments to HCPs and to provide gifts, meals, entertainment, and travel to HCPs in order to induce them to prescribe products sold and marketed by BMS China. The sales representatives provided a variety of benefits to HCPs, ranging from small food and personal care items to shopping cards, jewelry, sightseeing, and cash payments, in exchange for prescription sales. This kind of conduct was captured in a July 2013 email from a sales representative to a regional manager. The sales representative explained that a former sales representative had offered cash for sales to HCPs at a local hospital and “the attitude of the director of the infectious diseases department was extremely clear when I took over: ‘No money, no prescription.’” Similarly, the work plans prepared by other sales representatives also identified correlations between the value of the benefits provided to specific HCPs and the volume of prescription sales expected.
Certain documents within BMS China were replete with references to “investments” made in order to obtain sales, such as offering speaking engagements and sponsorships for domestic and international conferences and meetings in exchange for prescriptions. Some sales representatives also sought to increase prescription sales and maintain drug listings at pharmacies by hosting cash promotions and events for pharmacy employees. Based on the volume of prescriptions, certain BMS China sales representatives gave cash, shopping cards, and foodstuffs as promotional prizes to pharmacy employees; at least one sales representative characterized the expenses as a “departmental development fee” in contemporaneous documents.”
Based on the above, the Order finds:
“As described herein, BMS, through the actions of certain BMS China employees, violated [the FCPA’s books and records provisions] by falsely recording, as advertising and promotional expenses, cash payments and expenses for gifts, meals, travel, entertainment, speaker fees, and sponsorships for conferences and meetings provided to foreign officials, such as HCPs at state-owned and state-controlled hospitals as well as employees of state-owned pharmacies in China, to secure prescription sales. BMS also violated [the FCPA’s internal controls provisions] by failing to devise and maintain a system of internal accounting controls relating to payments and benefits provided by sales representatives at BMS China to these foreign officials. As identified in various internal reviews, audits, and investigations conducted since at least 2009, BMS lacked effective internal controls sufficient to provide reasonable assurances that funds advanced and reimbursed to employees of BMS China were used for appropriate and authorized purposes.”
Under the heading “Remedial Efforts,” the Order states:
“BMS has implemented significant measures to enhance its anti-bribery and general compliance training and policies and to strengthen its accounting and monitoring controls relating to interactions with HCPs, including travel and entertainment expenses, meetings, sponsorships, grants, and donations funded by BMS China. BMS took numerous steps to improve the internal controls and compliance program at BMS China. Examples include a 100% pre-reimbursement review of all expense claims; the implementation of an accounting system designed to track each expense claim, including the request, approval, and payment of each claim; and the retention of a third-party vendor to conduct surprise checks at events sponsored by sales representatives. Additionally, BMS terminated over ninety employees, and disciplined an additional ninety employees, including sales representatives and managers of BMS China, who failed to comply with or sufficiently supervise compliance with relevant policies. In addition, BMS replaced certain BMS China officers as part of an overall effort to enhance “tone at the top” and a culture of compliance. Further, BMS revised the compensation structure for BMS China employees by reducing the portion of incentive-based compensation for sales and distribution, eliminated gifts to HCPs, implemented enhanced due diligence procedures for third-party agents, implemented monitoring systems for speaker fees and third-party events, and incorporated risk assessments based on data analytics into its compliance program.”
As stated in the Order:
“Without admitting or denying the findings, Bristol-Myers Squibb consented to the order and agreed to return $11.4 million of profits plus prejudgment interest of $500,000 and pay a civil penalty of $2.75 million. Bristol-Myers Squibb also agreed to report to the SEC for a two-year period on the status of its remediation and implementation of FCPA and anti-corruption compliance measures.”
In the SEC’s release Kara Krockmeyer (Chief of the SEC’s FCPA Unit stated):
“Bristol-Myers Squibb’s failure to institute an effective internal controls system and to respond promptly to indications of significant compliance gaps at its Chinese joint venture enabled a widespread practice of providing corrupt inducements in exchange for prescription sales to continue for years.”
Yesterday Bristol-Myers’s stock closed down .47%.
According to reports, Bristol-Myers was represented by F. Joseph Warin of Gibson Dunn.