On April 14, the DOJ and the SEC announced additional charges in a previously announced case against employees of a U.S. broker-dealer related to an alleged “massive international bribery scheme.” The DOJ announced the arrest of the CEO and a managing partner of the New York-based U.S. broker-dealer on felony charges arising from an alleged conspiracy to pay bribes to a senior official in Venezuela’s state economic development bank in exchange for the official directing financial trading business to the broker-dealer. The SEC, whose routine compliance examination detected the allegedly illegal conduct, announced parallel civil charges against the same two executives. Broker-dealer employees charged earlier in the case pleaded guilty last August for conspiring to violate the FCPA, the Travel Act, and anti-money laundering laws, as well as for substantive counts of those offenses, relating, among other things, to the scheme involving bribe payments. In November 2013, the Venezuelan bank senior official pleaded guilty in Manhattan federal court for conspiring to violate the Travel Act and anti-money laundering laws, as well as for substantive counts of those offenses, for her role in the scheme.
On May 16, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit became the first circuit court to define “instrumentality” under the FCPA. U.S. v. Esquenazi, No. 11-15331 (11th Cir. May 16, 2014). The FCPA generally prohibits bribes to a “foreign official” defined as “any officer or employee of a foreign government or any department, agency, or instrumentality thereof.” Two individuals appealed their convictions and sentences imposed for FCPA and related violations, arguing that the telecommunications company whose employees they were alleged to have bribed in exchange for relief from debt owed to that company was not, as the government asserted and a jury found, an “instrumentality” of a foreign government. As the court explained, “instrumentality” is not defined in the FCPA, and no circuit court has yet offered a definition. The court held that, based on the statutory context of the term following amendment of the FCPA in 1998 to implement the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions, an instrumentality is “an entity controlled by the government of a foreign country that performs a function the controlling government treats as its own.” The court explained that to determine control, triers of fact should consider (i) the foreign government’s formal designation of the entity; (ii) whether the government has a majority interest in the entity; (iii) the government’s ability to hire and fire the entity’s principals; (iv) the extent to which the entity’s profits, if any, go directly into the governmental fisc, and the extent to which the government funds the entity if it fails to break even; and (v) the length of time those indicia have existed. The court added that the factors to consider in determining whether an entity performs a function of the government include: (i) whether the entity has a monopoly over the function it exists to carry out; (ii) whether the government subsidizes the costs associated with the entity providing services; (iii) whether the entity provides services to the public at large in the foreign country; and (iv) whether the public and the government of that foreign country generally perceive the entity to be performing a governmental function. In this case, the court determined that the telecommunications company at issue was an instrumentality under the FCPA, and after applying that decision to the convicted individuals’ specific challenges, affirmed their convictions and sentences.
Recently, the DOJ issued its first opinion release of 2014 regarding application of the FCPA. In this instance, an investment bank and securities issuer who was a majority shareholder of a foreign financial services company sought the DOJ’s opinion with regard to the bank’s purchase of the remaining minority interest from a foreign businessman who now serves as a senior foreign official. The DOJ determined that based on the facts and representations described by the requestor, the only purpose of the payment to the official would be consideration for the minority interest. The DOJ explained that although the FCPA generally prohibits an issuer from corruptly giving or offering anything of value to any “foreign official” in order to assist “in obtaining or retaining business for or with, or directing business to” the issuer, it does not “per se prohibit business relationships with, or payments to, foreign officials.” In this situation, the DOJ determined, based on numerous, fact-intensive considerations, that the transfer of value as proposed would not be prohibited under the FCPA. The DOJ found no indications of corrupt intent, citing, among other things, the proffered purpose to sever the parties’ existing financial relationship to avoid a conflict of interest, and the use of a reasonable alternative valuation model. The DOJ also determined the bank demonstrated that the parties would appropriately and meaningfully disclose their relationships before the sale closed, and that the bank would implement strict recusal and conflict-of-interest-avoidance measures to prevent the shareholder/foreign official from assisting the bank in obtaining or retaining business. As with all Opinion Releases under the FCPA, the DOJ cautioned that the opinion has no binding application to any other party.
On March 19, the DOJ announced that Marubeni Corporation, a Japanese trading company, agreed to plead guilty to violating the FCPA by participating in a seven-year scheme to bribe high-ranking government officials in Indonesia to help the company secure a contract for a power project. The DOJ charged that to conceal the bribes, the company and a consortium partner retained two consultants purportedly to provide legitimate consulting services on behalf of the power company and its subsidiaries in connection with the project. The DOJ asserted, however, that the primary purpose for hiring the consultants was to use them to pay bribes to Indonesian officials.The eight-count criminal information against the company included one count of conspiracy to violate the anti-bribery provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and seven counts of violating the FCPA. As part of its plea, the company admitted its criminal conduct and agreed to pay a criminal fine of $88 million, subject to the district court’s approval. Sentencing is scheduled for May 15, 2014. Two years ago, the company entered a deferred prosecution agreement and agreed to pay $54.6 million to resolve allegations it acted as an agent for a joint venture in a scheme to bribe Nigerian officials.
On January 6, the DOJ announced that two former CEOs of an oil and gas services company had been charged for their alleged involvement in a scheme to violate the anti-bribery provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), and for other related offenses. The DOJ also revealed that the company’s former General Counsel (GC) had entered a guilty plea on bribery and fraud charges related to the alleged schemes. According to two separate Criminal Complaints that were filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, the former CEOs allegedly paid bribes to a Colombian official for his assistance in securing approval of a contract valued at approximately $39 million. They were also charged with attempting to defraud members of the company’s board through their attempts to secure kickbacks for themselves as part of an effort to acquire another firm. The Information filed against the former GC provided further details on the bribery and kickback schemes.
On January 9, the SEC and the DOJ announced the resolution of parallel FCPA enforcement actions against a major U.S. extractive industries firm and one of its subsidiaries. The actions related to improper payments to officials of a foreign government, and to a “middle man” serving as an intermediary to secure contracts to supply a government controlled aluminum plant. The SEC’s cease and desist order asserts the parent firm lacked sufficient internal controls to prevent and detect bribes made through foreign subsidiaries, which were improperly recorded in the parent company’s books and records as legitimate commissions or sales. The order directs the parent firm to disgorge $175 million, $14 million of which would be satisfied by forfeiture required in the parallel DOJ action. As a result of that action, the parent company pleaded guilty to one count of violating the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions and consented to entry of a judgment that requires the company to pay a criminal fine of $209 million and forfeit $14 million. The plea agreement also requires the parent firm to maintain and implement an enhanced global anti-corruption compliance program, and both the parent and subsidiary companies must cooperate with the DOJ in its continuing investigation of individuals and institutions that were involved in the subject activities.
On December 20, the DOJ and the SEC announced separate enforcement actions against a major U.S. agribusiness firm and one of its foreign subsidiaries. In the DOJ action filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois, a foreign subsidiary of the U.S. corporate parent pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to violate the anti-bribery provisions of the FCPA, and agreed to pay $17.8 million in criminal fines. The plea agreement resolved allegations that the subsidiary paid bribes through intermediary firms to Ukrainian government officials in exchange for over $100 million in value-added tax (VAT) refunds. The DOJ also entered into a non-prosecution agreement with the U.S. parent to resolve claims that the company failed to implement internal controls sufficient to prevent and detect FCPA violations. Under that agreement, the company must periodically report on its compliance efforts, and continue implementing enhanced compliance programs and internal controls. The SEC’s parallel civil enforcement action resolved charges that the parent firm’s lack of sufficient anti-bribery compliance controls, which contributed to FCPA violations by foreign subsidiaries that generated over $33 million in illegal profits. The U.S. parent corporation consented to entry of a judgment that requires the company to disgorge the illegal profits plus $3 million in interest. The judgment also permanently enjoins the parent company from violating the relevant parts of the Exchange Act and requires compliance reporting for a three-year period.
On December 10, the DOJ announced that a German engineering and services company agreed to resolve charges that it violated the FCPA by bribing government officials of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to obtain and retain contracts related to the Eastern Gas Gathering System (EGGS) project. The settlement is the most recent of several related to that project, and the charges are based on activities that occurred over a three-year period beginning a decade ago. In a criminal information filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, the DOJ charged that the company, as part of a joint venture, conspired to make corrupt payments totaling more than $6 million to Nigerian government officials to assist in obtaining and retaining contracts. Through the joint venture the companies submitted inflated bids to cover the cost of paying bribes to Nigerian officials. The company entered into a deferred prosecution agreement, in which it admitted to the alleged conduct, agreed to pay a $32 million penalty, and consented to enhance its internal controls and retain an independent corporate compliance monitor for at least 18 months.
On November 26, the DOJ announced that Weatherford International—a multinational oil services company—and certain of its subsidiaries agreed to pay approximately $250 million in fines and penalties to resolve FCPA, sanctions, and export control violations. The DOJ alleged in a criminal information that the company knowingly failed to establish an effective system of internal accounting controls designed to detect and prevent corruption, including FCPA violations. The alleged compliance failures allowed employees of certain of the company’s subsidiaries in Africa and the Middle East to engage in prohibited conduct over the course of many years, including both bribery of foreign officials and fraudulent misuse of the United Nations’ Oil for Food Program. The company entered into a deferred prosecution agreement, pursuant to which it must pay an approximately $87 million penalty, retain an independent corporate compliance monitor for at least 18 months, and continue to implement an enhanced FCPA compliance program and internal controls. Read more…
On October 22, the DOJ and the SEC announced parallel criminal and civil actions against a U.S. company for allegedly violating the FCPA by paying bribes and falsifying documents in connection with selling ATMs to bank customers in China, Indonesia, and Russia. The federal authorities allege that from 2005 to 2010 the company provided approximately $1.8 million of value to employees of its bank customers in China and Indonesia, including state-owned banks, in the form of payments, gifts, and non-business travel. The company allegedly attempted to disguise the benefits by routing the payments through third parties designated by the banks and by recording leisure trips for bank employees as “training” expenses. The government also alleges that from 2005 to 2009, the company entered into false contracts with a distributor in Russia for services that the distributor was not performing. Instead, the distributor allegedly used the approximately $1.2 million in payments to bribe employees of privately-owned Russian banks to secure ATM-related contracts for the company. The company entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the DOJ, agreeing to pay a $25.2 million penalty, and it consented to a final judgment in the SEC action, pursuant to which it will disgorge approximately $22.97 million, inclusive of prejudgment interest. The company agreed to implement numerous specific changes to its internal controls and compliance systems and to retain a compliance monitor for at least 18 months. The government acknowledged the company’s voluntary disclosure, cooperation, and extensive internal investigation.
On October 24, the SEC released a cease-and-desist order that resolves FCPA allegations against a Michigan-based medical technology company. The SEC alleged that the company’s subsidiaries in five different countries—Argentina, Greece, Mexico, Poland, and Romania—bribed doctors, health care professionals, and other government officials to obtain or retain business. The alleged activities involved approximately $2.2 million in direct payments, travel and conference expenses, and donations to a university associated with a foreign official made over a four-and-a-half year period. The SEC investigation found that the payments were incorrectly described as legitimate expenses in the company’s books and records and were described as, among other things, charitable donations, consulting and service contracts, travel expenses, commissions, and legal expenses. Without admitting the allegations, the company agreed to disgorge approximately $7.5 million in profits obtained through the alleged activities, and to pay a $3.5 million civil penalty plus an additional $2.3 million in pre-judgment interest.
On October 15, the DOJ filed an indictment against a Swiss national and former executive at Maxwell Technologies—a U.S.-based energy storage and power-delivery company—for alleged violations of the FCPA. The DOJ claims that over a more than six-year period the former executive engaged in a conspiracy to make and conceal payments to Chinese government officials in order to obtain and retain business, prestige, and increased compensation for his company. This individual action follows a 2011 action by the DOJ and the SEC against the company based on the same allegations and which the company agreed to resolve for $13.65 million.
On June 12, the DOJ and the SEC announced additional charges in a previously announced case against employees of a U.S. broker-dealer related to an alleged “massive international bribery scheme.” The DOJ unsealed criminal charges against a third employee of the broker-dealer who allegedly arranged bribe payments to a Venezuela state economic development bank official in exchange for financial trading business for the broker-dealer. The SEC, whose routine compliance examination detected the allegedly illegal conduct, announced parallel civil charges.
On May 29, the DOJ and the SEC announced that a French oil and gas company will pay nearly $400 million to resolve allegations that the company made illegal payments through third parties to an Iranian official in exchange for oil and gas concessions. The penalty is the third largest FCPA penalty ever obtained by federal authorities. The company entered a deferred prosecution agreement to resolve one count each of (i) conspiracy to violate the anti-bribery provisions of the FCPA, (ii) violating the internal controls provision of the FCPA, and (iii) violating the books and records provision of the FCPA, as detailed in a criminal information filed in the Eastern District of Virginia. Pursuant to the DPA, the firm will pay a $245.2 million penalty, cooperate with the DOJ and foreign law enforcement to retain an independent corporate compliance monitor for a period of three years, and continue to implement an enhanced compliance program and internal controls designed to prevent and detect FCPA violations. A separate SEC Order resolves parallel civil charges and requires, among other things, that the company to disgorge $153 million in illicit profits.
On May 7, the DOJ charged two employees of a U.S. broker-dealer and a senior official in Venezuela’s state economic development bank for their alleged roles in what the DOJ describes as a “massive international bribery scheme.” According to an unsealed criminal complaint, the DOJ accuses the broker-dealer employees and the foreign official of violating the FCPA by conspiring to pay $5 million in bribes to the foreign official in exchange for her directing the economic development bank’s trading business to the broker-dealer, which yielded millions of dollars more in mark-ups and mark-downs for the broker-dealer. The government alleges that commissions paid on the directed trades were split with the foreign official through monthly kickbacks and that some of the trades executed for the bank had no discernible business purpose. The government also claims that the kickbacks often were paid using intermediary corporations and offshore accounts, which will be pursued through a separate civil forfeiture action. On the same day, the SEC announced a parallel civil action against the two broker-dealer employees and two other individuals who allegedly participated in and profited from the scheme. The investigations stemmed from a routine periodic SEC examination of the broker-dealer. The DOJ warned others in the financial services industry, particularly brokers, about engaging in similar activities, and the SEC’s handling of this case suggests its examiners are focused on conduct that potentially violates the FCPA.