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“Rapid Multinational Expansion Through Mergers and Acquisitions” Leads to FCPA Enforcement Action Against Diageo

The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act is of course no laughing matter. Yet if an FCPA joke book is ever written there is surely to be an entry about the Indian and Korean military officials, a Thai lobbyist, and a Korean Customs official, who while on a purely recreational side-trip to Budapest, stopped in a bar, nibbled on some rice cakes, downed a Guinness and talked about product labeling, excise taxes, and transfer pricing.

Yesterday, the SEC announced (here) an FCPA books and records and internal controls enforcement action against Diageo PLC via an administrative cease and desist order. Diageo, headquartered in London, has American Depository Shares registered with the SEC and traded on the New York Stock Exchange and is thus an “issuer” under the FCPA.

In summary fashion, the Order (here) stated as follows.

“This matter concerns multiple violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) by Respondent Diageo, one of the world’s largest producers of premium alcoholic beverages. Over more than six years, Diageo, through its subsidiaries, paid over $2.7 million to various government officials in India, Thailand, and South Korea in separate efforts to obtain lucrative sales and tax benefits.”

“In India, from 2003 through mid-2009 Diageo made over $1.7 million in illicit payments to hundreds of Indian government officials responsible for purchasing or authorizing the sale of its beverages. Increased sales from these payments yielded more than $11 million in ill-gotten gains. In Thailand, from 2004 through mid-2008, Diageo paid approximately $12,000 per month – totaling nearly $600,000 – to retain the consulting services of a Thai government and political party official. This official lobbied extensively on Diageo’s behalf in connection with multi-million dollar pending tax and customs disputes, contributing to Diageo’s receipt of certain favorable dispositions by the Thai government. With respect to South Korea, in 2004, Diageo paid 100 million won (KRW) (over $86,000) to a customs official as a reward for his role in the government’s decision to grant Diageo significant tax rebates. Diageo also paid over $100,000 in travel and entertainment expenses for South Korean customs and other government officials involved in these tax negotiations. Separately, Diageo made hundreds of gift payments totaling over $230,000 to South Korean military officials in order to obtain and retain liquor business.”

“Diageo and its subsidiaries failed to account accurately for these illicit payments in their books and records. Exercising lax oversight, Diageo also failed to devise and maintain internal accounting controls sufficient to detect and prevent the payments.”

As set forth in the SEC’s order, “Diageo’s history of rapid multinational expansion through mergers and acquisitions contributed to defects in its FCPA compliance programs.” Indeed, the conduct at issue focused on Diageo India Pvt. Ltd. (“DI”) (a wholly-owned indirect subsidiary acquired as a result of a merger); Diageo Moet Hennessy Thailand (“DT”) (a joint venture Diageo acquired an indirect majority interest in as a result of a merger) and Diageo Korea Co. Ltd. (“DK”) (a wholly-owned indirect subsidiary acquired during an acquisition). According to the SEC, “at the times of these acquisitions, Diageo recognized that its new subsidiaries had weak compliance policies, procedures, and controls” but “nevertheless, Diageo failed to make sufficient improvements to these programs until mid-2008 in response to the discovery of illicit payments.”


As to India, the SEC stated as follows. “From at least 2003 through June 2009, DI paid an estimated $792,310 in improper cash payments through its third-party distributors to 900 or more employees of government liquor stores in and around New Delhi. DI also paid an estimated $186,299 (representing 23% of the payments) in “cash service fees” to the distributors as compensation for advancing the funds. DI made the payments to increase government sales orders of its products, and to secure favorable product placement and promotion within the stores.”

The SEC further stated as follows. “During the same six-year period (2003 – 2009), Diageo, through DI, also reimbursed an estimated $530,955, and made plans to reimburse an additional $79,364, in improper cash payments made by third-party sales promoters to government employees of the Indian military’s Canteen Stores Department (“CSD”). The payments, made with DI’s knowledge and authorization, were designed to: (i) foster the promotion of Diageo products in the CSD’s canteen stores (analogous to the U.S. military’s post exchanges); (ii) obtain initial listings and annual label registrations for Diageo brands, price revision approvals, and favorable factory inspection reports; (iii) secure the release of seized shipments of Diageo products; and (iv) promote good will through the distribution of Diwali and New Year’s holiday gifts to CSD employees.”

The SEC also stated as to India as follows. “Diageo failed to ensure that DI properly accounted for a number of additional, improper payments to government officials who controlled administrative functions vital to DI’s business. From at least 2003 through 2008, Diageo, through DI, reimbursed an estimated $98,310 in cash payments made by its third-party promoters and distributors to government officials in the North Region of India and in the State of Assam for the purpose of securing label registrations for Diageo products.” In addition, the SEC Order stated as follows. “… [F]rom at least 2003 through June 2009, Diageo, through DI, paid an estimated $78,622 in extra commissions to its distributors in the North Region to reimburse them for payments made to Excise officials to secure import permits and other administrative approvals.”


As to Thailand, the SEC Order stated as follows. “From April 2004 through July 2008, Diageo, through DT, retained the services of a Thai government and foreign political party official (the “Thai Official”) to lobby other Thai officials to adopt Diageo’s position in several multi-million dollar tax and customs disputes. For this retainer DT paid approximately $12,000 per month for 49 months, for a total of $599,322. DT compensated the Thai Official through 49 direct payments to a political consulting firm (the “Consulting Firm”) for which the Thai Official acted as a principal. Most, if not all, of the $599,322 paid to the Consulting Firm was for the Thai Official’s services and accrued to his benefit. The Thai Official served as a Thai government and/or political party official throughout the relevant period (April 2004 – July 2008) in which he received compensation from DT. At various times the Thai Official served as Deputy Secretary to the Prime Minister, Advisor to the Deputy Prime Minister, and Advisor to the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives. The Thai Official also served on a committee of the ruling Thai Rak Thai political party, and as a member and/or advisor to several state-owned or state-controlled industrial and utility boards. DT’s senior management knew that the Thai Official was a government officer during its engagement of the Consulting Firm. The Thai Official was the brother of one of DT’s senior officers at that time. Several members of Diageo’s global and regional management attended meetings with the Thai Official and senior members of the Thai government. The Thai Official provided extensive lobbying services on behalf of Diageo and DT in connection with several important tax and customs disputes that were pending between Diageo and the Thai government. For example, with respect to excise taxes, the Thai Official coordinated and attended numerous meetings between senior Thai government officials and senior Diageo and DT management, including two meetings in April and May 2005 with Thailand’s then Prime Minister. In May 2005, shortly following the meetings arranged by the Thai Official, the Prime Minister made a radio address publicly endorsing Diageo’s position in favor of a “specific” approach (based on quantity) rather than an “ad valorem” approach (based on price) to calculating excise taxes. On Diageo’s behalf, the Thai Official also met repeatedly with senior commerce, finance, and customs authorities in charge of the transfer pricing and import tax disputes, as well as with members of the Thai parliament. The Thai Official’s services contributed to Diageo’s successful resolution of several components of these disputes. For example, during 2004 and 2005 Diageo and DT were actively engaged in a dispute with the Thai government over the appropriate transfer pricing formula applied to One Liter bottles of Johnnie Walker Red Label and Black Label Scotch whiskey. Based in part on the Thai Official’s lobbying efforts, the Thai government accepted important aspects of DT’s transfer pricing method and released over $7 million in bank guarantees that DT had been required to post while the tax dispute was pending.”

South Korea

As to Korea, the SEC Order stated as follows. “Diageo had significant tax and customs issues in South Korea. In April 2003, DK, under Diageo’s direction, requested from South Korea a more advantageous formula for calculating the transfer pricing, for tax purposes, of Windsor Scotch whiskey that DK was importing into South Korea. As part of those negotiations, DK also sought tens of millions of dollars in tax rebates based on a claim that DK had overpaid under the then existing transfer pricing formula. In April 2004, following a year of intense negotiations and lobbying by DK, the South Korean government granted DK a rebate of approximately $50 million. In July 2004, three months after DK received the tax rebates, a DK manager (the “Manager”) paid an apparent reward of 100 million KRW ($86,339) to a Korean Customs Service official (the “Customs Official”) who had played a key role in the transfer pricing negotiations. With the approval of DK’s then chief financial officer, the Manager generated 60 million KRW ($51,802) of the payment by means of a surreptitious cash kickback scheme. The Manager solicited an inflated invoice from DK’s third-party customs brokerage firm (the “Customs Broker”), which had provided DK with consulting services during the transfer pricing negotiations. As orchestrated, DK paid an inflated invoice amount to the Customs Broker, which then gave 60 million KRW ($51,802) in cash back to the Manager. The Manager funded the remaining 40 million KRW ($34,537) of the total reward amount from personal sources. The Manager then provided the Customs Official with 100 million KRW ($86,339) in the form of ten bank checks of approximately 10 million KRW ($8,634) each.”

The SEC Order further stated as follows. “During the course of the transfer pricing negotiations in 2003 and 2004, DK also paid $109,253 in travel and entertainment costs for Korean customs and other government officials. Some of these expenses were unapproved and constituted improper inducements of the South Korean officials. For example, in December 2003, the Customs Official and several official colleagues traveled to Scotland with DK employees. The purported reason for the trip was to inspect Diageo’s Windsor Scotch production facilities as part of the transfer pricing negotiations. During the course of this apparently legitimate trip, DK’s chief financial officer and the Manager took the South Korean officials on a purely recreational side-trip to Prague and Budapest.”

In addition, the SEC Order stated as follows regarding gifts to Korean military officers. “From at least 2002 through at least 2006, Diageo, through DK, routinely made hundreds of small payments to South Korean military officers for the purpose of obtaining or maintaining business and securing a competitive business advantage. The payments assumed two forms: (i) holiday and vacation gifts known as “rice cake” payments; and (ii) business development gifts, called “Mokjuksaupbi” payments. Rice cake payments were customary and traditional presents that Diageo, through DK, provided to scores of military officers – many of whom were responsible for procuring liquor – several times each year during holidays and vacations. From 2002 through 2006, DK made approximately 400 rice cake payments, totaling at least $64,184, in the form of cash or gift certificates ranging in value between $100 and $300 per recipient. In October 2004, a senior officer within Diageo’s global compliance department explicitly approved the practice of making rice cake payments after a DK employee explained that the company would face a competitive disadvantage if it refrained. Over the same four-year period, Diageo, through DK, also spent approximately $165,287 on hundreds of non-traditional, non-seasonal gifts and entertainment for the military. Of these so-called “Mokjuksaupbi” payments (a term that was broadly intended by DK to refer to “payments for relationships with customers”), approximately $106,051 were for the purpose of influencing specific purchasing decisions. For example, in 2003, DK personnel requested approval of approximately $2,600 to entertain army personnel “for their cooperation” in connection with the re-selection of Windsor Scotch.”

Based on the above conduct, the SEC found FCPA violations, but only FCPA books and records and internal control violations. The absence of FCPA anti-bribery violations against Diageo and the referenced entities would seem to be the result of a lack of a U.S. nexus as to the payments. Even though the FCPA was amended in 1998 to provide an alternative nationality jurisdiction test as to U.S. issuers and domestic concerns, the FCPA retains a territorial U.S. nexus jurisdictional test as to non-U.S. issuers such as Diageo that are nevertheless subject to the FCPA.

As to the FCPA violations, the SEC order states as follows. “Diageo’s books and records did not accurately reflect illicit payments that it made, through its subsidiaries, to Indian, Thai, and South Korean government and military officials. Instead, Diageo, through DI, DT, and DK, disguised the improper payments as legitimate vendor expenses or recorded them under misleading rubrics such as “factory expenses,” “telephone expenses,” “shareholder stake,” and “sales support.” In several instances, the illicit payments were not recorded at all.” The SEC Order further states as follows. “As evidenced by the extent and duration of the wrongful payments and their improper recordation, Diageo failed to devise and maintain sufficient internal accounting controls.”

The SEC Order mentions Diageo’s cooperation and “certain remedial measures undertaken by Diageo, including employee termination and significant enhancements to its compliance program.”

As is common in all SEC FCPA enforcement actions, Diageo settled the matter without admitting or denying the SEC’s findings. Per the SEC Order, Diageo shall pay disgorgement of $11,306,081, prejudgment interest of $2,067,739, and a civil monetary penalty of $3,000,000.

In a press release (here) Diageo stated as follows. “Diageo takes the SEC’s findings seriously and regrets this matter. Systems and controls have been enhanced in an effort to prevent the future occurrence of such issues and to reinforce, everywhere the Company operates, a culture of compliance and commitment to the principles embodied in Diageo’s Code of Business Conduct.”

Diageo’s most recent Annual Report (Sept. 2010) stated as follows.

“As previously reported, Diageo Korea and several of its current and former employees have been subject to investigations by Korean authorities regarding various regulatory and control matters. Convictions for improper payments to a Korean customs official have been handed down against two former Diageo Korea employees, and a former and two current Diageo Korea employees have been convicted on various counts of tax evasion. Diageo had previously voluntarily reported the allegations relating to the convictions for improper payments to the US Department of Justice and the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The SEC has commenced an investigation into these and other matters, and Diageo is in the process of responding to the regulators’ enquiries regarding activities in Korea, Thailand, India and elsewhere. Diageo’s own internal investigation in Korea, Thailand, India and elsewhere remains ongoing. The US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and related statutes and regulations provide for potential monetary penalties, criminal sanctions and may result in some cases in debarment from doing business with governmental entities in connection with FCPA violations.”

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