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SEC Brings Another Travel And Entertainment FCPA Enforcement Action

Yesterday, the SEC brought its 7th Foreign Corrupt Practices Act enforcement action of 2014.  Like the previous 6 enforcement actions (5 against companies and 1 against individuals), the enforcement action was resolved via the SEC’s administrative process.

Yesterday’s enforcement action against life-sciences company Bruker Corporation [1] was primarily based on excessive travel and entertainment benefits provided to alleged Chinese “foreign officials.”  The same core conduct was the basis of the SEC’s other most recent FCPA enforcement (see here [2]).

In summary fashion, the SEC’s order [3] sates:

“This matter concerns violations of the books and records and internal controls provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) by Bruker. The violations took place from at least 2005 through 2011 and occurred throughout Bruker’s China operations. Employees of the China offices of four Bruker subsidiaries (collectively, the “Bruker China Offices”) made unlawful payments of approximately $230,938 to government officials (“Chinese government officials”) who were employed by state owned entities (“SOEs”) in China that were Bruker customers. These payments were made to obtain or retain business from the SOEs for the Bruker China Offices. Specifically, all of the Bruker China Offices provided non-business related travel to Chinese government officials, and one Bruker China Office also paid Chinese government officials under “research cooperation” ventures and “collaboration” agreements (collectively, the “Collaboration Agreements”) for which there was no legitimate business purpose. Bruker realized approximately $1.7 million in profits from sales contracts with SOEs whose officials received the improper payments.

The payments to the Chinese government officials were recorded as legitimate business and marketing expenses in the Bruker China Offices’ books and records, when in fact they were improper payments designed to personally benefit the officials. The Bruker China Offices’ books and records were consolidated into Bruker’s books and records, thereby causing Bruker’s books and records to be inaccurate. Bruker failed to devise and maintain an adequate system of internal accounting controls sufficient to prevent and detect the improper payments that occurred over several years.”

According to the SEC order:

‘Bruker manages its China operations through the Shanghai and Beijing representative offices of the Asia-based subsidiaries of four Bruker divisions: Bruker Optics, Bruker BioSpin, Bruker Daltonics, and Bruker Materials (formerly Bruker AXS).”

Under the heading “The Bruker China Offices Improperly Funded Leisure Travel for Chinese Government Officials,” the Order states:

“The Bruker China Offices funded leisure travel for Chinese government officials to visit the United States, the Czech Republic, Norway, Sweden, France, Germany, Switzerland and Italy. These leisure trips typically followed business-related travel funded by the Bruker China Offices. The Chinese government officials who went on the trips often authorized the purchase of products from the Bruker China Offices. For example, during 2006, as part of a sales contract with an SOE, a Bruker China Office paid for purported training expenses for a Chinese government official (who signed the sales contract on behalf of the SOE). In fact, the payment included reimbursement for sightseeing, tour tickets, shopping and other leisure activities in Frankfurt and Paris. Also, in 2007, a Bruker China Office paid for three Chinese government officials to visit Sweden for a conference, but included as part of the travel, several days of sightseeing in Sweden, Finland, and Norway.

The Bruker China Offices also funded certain trips for Chinese government officials that had no legitimate business component. For example, during 2009, a Bruker China Office paid for two Chinese government officials to travel to New York, despite the lack of any Bruker facilities there, and to Los Angeles, where they engaged in sightseeing activities. Also during 2009, a Bruker China Office paid for three Chinese government officials to visit destinations in Europe for sightseeing. In another instance, during 2010, a Bruker China Office paid for three Chinese government officials to visit Frankfurt, Heidelberg, Stuttgart, and Munich, in Germany, as well as Salzburg, Liz, Innsbruck, Graz, and Vienna, in Austria. And in 2011, a Bruker China Office paid for Chinese government officials from seven SOEs to go on sightseeing visits to Europe, including Austria, France, Switzerland, Italy, and the Czech Republic. In certain cases, the Chinese government officials who went on these trips were involved in purchasing products from the Bruker China Offices.

Overall, from 2005 through 2011, the Bruker China Offices paid approximately $119,710 to fund 17 trips for Chinese government officials that were for the most part not related to any legitimate business purpose. These trips were recorded in Bruker’s books and records as business expenses, without any indication that they were primarily for sightseeing and other nonbusiness related activities. Bruker improperly profited by $1,131,740 from contracts obtained from the SOEs whose officials participated on these trips.”

Under the heading, “A Bruker China Office Improperly Funneled Payments to Officials of SOEs Under the Guise of Collaboration and Research Agreements,” the Order states:

“From 2008 through 2011, a Bruker China Office paid $111,228 to Chinese government officials pursuant to 12 suspect Collaboration Agreements. Generally, under these Collaboration Agreements, the SOEs had to provide research on Bruker products, or had to use Bruker products in demonstration laboratories. However, the Collaboration Agreements did not specify the work product that the SOEs had to provide to be paid, and no work product was in fact provided to the Bruker China Office by the SOEs. Also, certain Collaboration Agreements were executed directly with a Chinese government official, rather than the SOE itself; in some cases, the Bruker China Office paid the Chinese government official directly. And at times, the Chinese government officials who signed the Collaboration Agreements or obtained payments under the Agreements were involved in purchasing products from the Bruker China Office. Bruker profited by approximately $583,112 from contracts improperly obtained from the SOEs whose officials received payments under the Collaboration Agreements.”

Under the heading, “Bruker Failed to Implement an Adequate Internal Controls System,” the Order states:

“From at least 2005 through 2011, Bruker failed to implement an adequate internal controls system to address the potential FCPA problems posed by its ownership of the Bruker China Offices, which sold their products primarily to SOEs. For example, Bruker did not translate its training presentations on FCPA, ethics, or compliance issues into local languages, including Mandarin. And although Bruker implemented an FCPA policy in 2006, it failed to translate that policy into Mandarin and relied mainly on its China-based managers to ensure that employees understood the potential FCPA implications of doing business with SOEs. Also, while Bruker periodically distributed its Code of Conduct (containing its gifts and entertainment policies) and employee handbook to employees worldwide, it again failed to translate these documents into local languages, including Chinese. Likewise, Bruker’s toll free employee hotline, which employees were to use to report complaints anonymously, was not provided in Mandarin, limiting its efficacy.

Bruker also failed to adequately monitor and supervise the senior executives at the Bruker China Offices to ensure that they enforced anti-corruption policies or kept accurate records concerning payments to Chinese government officials. The Bruker China Offices had no independent compliance staff or an internal audit function that had authority to intervene into management decisions and, if appropriate, take remedial actions. Bruker also failed to tailor its preapproval processes for conditions in China, instead allowing the Bruker China Offices approval over items such as nonemployee travel and changes to contracts. As a result, senior employees of the Bruker China Offices had unsupervised control over the compliance process; these employees in turn abused their privileges, approving suspect payments to Chinese government officials for non-business related travel and for purported Collaboration Agreements.”

Based on the above findings, the SEC’s Order finds that Bruker violated the FCPA’s books and records and internal controls provisions.

Under the heading, “Discovery, Internal Investigation, and Self-Reporting,” the Order states:

“Bruker discovered the improper payments to Chinese government officials during 2011 while investigating the misappropriation of company funds by certain employees of a Bruker China Office. Upon learning about these payments, Bruker’s board of directors promptly initiated an investigation, with the assistance of independent outside counsel and an independent forensic consulting firm. Bruker self-reported the preliminary results of its internal investigation to both the staff of the Commission and to the Department of Justice. Thereafter, Bruker, on its own initiative, undertook a broad review of the China operations of its other divisions. To the extent this internal review identified additional issues of concern, Bruker fully shared its findings with the staff.

As part of its internal review and investigation, Bruker promptly undertook significant remedial measures including terminating the senior staff at each of the Bruker China Offices. Bruker also revised its pre-existing compliance program, updated and enhanced its financial accounting controls and its compliance protocols and policies, and implemented those enhancements in China, and thereafter around the world. These steps included: (1) instituting preapproval processes for nonemployee travel and significant changes to contracts; (2) establishing a new internal audit function and hiring a new director of internal audit who is charged with oversight over Bruker’s global compliance program, including FCPA compliance; (3) adopting an amended FCPA policy translated into local languages; (4) implementing an enhanced FCPA training program, which includes training programs in local languages as well as mandatory online employee training programs regarding ethics and FCPA compliance; (5) enhancing due diligence procedures for third-parties; and (6) implementing a new global whistleblower hotline.

Throughout the process, Bruker provided extensive, thorough, and real-time cooperation with the Commission. In addition to self-reporting to the Commission shortly after discovering the FCPA violations, Bruker voluntarily provided the Commission with real-time reports of its investigative findings; shared its analysis of important documents and summaries of witness interviews; expanded the scope of the investigation at the Commission’s request; and responded to the Commission’s requests for documents and information in a timely manner. These actions assisted the Commission in efficiently collecting valuable evidence, including information that may not have been otherwise available to the staff.”

In this [4] SEC release, Kara Brockmeyer (Chief of the SEC’s FCPA Unit) stated:

“Bruker’s lax internal controls allowed employees in its China offices to enter into sham ‘collaboration agreements’ to direct money to foreign officials and send officials on sightseeing trips around the world. The company has since taken significant remedial steps to revise its compliance program and enhance internal controls over travel and contract approvals.”

As noted in the release:

“The SEC’s order finds that Bruker violated the internal controls and books and records provisions of the [FCPA].  The company agreed to pay $1,714,852 in disgorgement, $310,117 in prejudgment interest, and a $375,000 penalty.  Bruker consented to the order without admitting or denying the findings, and the SEC considered the company’s significant remedial acts as well as its self-reporting and cooperation with the investigation when determining a settlement.”

Todd Cronan [5] (Goodwin Procter) represented Bruker.

According to Bruker’s public disclosures, the company has spent approximately $22 million in pre-enforcement action professional fees and expenses.  For more on this dynamic, and how settlement amounts in an FCPA enforcement action are often only a relatively minor component of the overall financial consequences of FCPA scrutiny, see “Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Ripples [6].”

Yesterday, Bruker’s stock price fell 1.8%.