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On September 11, a Miami-based financial advisor pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering in connection with his role in making corrupt payments to officials of Ecuador’s state-owned and state-controlled energy company, Empresa Pública de Hidrocarburos del Ecuador (PetroEcuador). He is scheduled to be sentenced on Nov. 14 in the Southern District of Florida.
Larrea is the fourth individual, including two former officials of PetroEcuador, to plead guilty in this case, which concerns efforts by an oil services contractor to make payments to PetroEcuador officials in an effort to retain existing contracts and win new business with PetroEcuador. Frank Roberto Chatburn Ripalda (Chatburn), who was charged in the same indictment as Larrea, has pleaded not guilty and is currently set to go to trial on October 15. Unlike Larrea, Chatburn’s charges include one count of conspiring to violate the FCPA and one count of violating the FCPA.
Real estate broker and nephew of former UN Secretary-General sentenced for trying to bribe a foreign official
On September 6, U.S. District Judge Edgardo Ramos of the Southern District of New York reportedly sentenced real estate broker Joo Hyuan Bahn, also known as Dennis Bahn, to six months in prison for trying to pay $2.5 million in bribes to a Qatari official in connection with a sale of a high rise building complex in Vietnam. The New York Times reported that Judge Ramos stated that he believed Bahn deserved a lenient sentence. Law360 reported that Judge Ramos cited, among other factors, the consequences of a longer sentence on Bahn’s immigration status. The sentence was ultimately far below what the government had requested.
As FCPA Scorecard previously reported, Bahn pleaded guilty in January 2018 to one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA and one count of violating the FCPA. Mr. Bahn is the nephew of former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Additionally, on September 6, the SEC announced that Bahn had agreed to pay $225,000 in disgorgement to settle civil FCPA violations arising from his conduct. The SEC’s order concluded that Bahn violated the anti-bribery and books and records provisions of the FCPA.
See previous FCPA Scorecard coverage here.
Julia Vivi Wang, a Chinese-born naturalized U.S. citizen, reportedly pleaded guilty this week to violations of the FCPA related to a scheme to bribe the UN General Assembly’s former president John Ashe. Wang is a former executive of a media group that focused on promoting UN development goals, but she was accused of paying the bribe to secure diplomatic postings. She pleaded guilty this week in the SDNY to three counts, including violating and conspiring to violate the FCPA, as well as income tax fraud.
The charges relate to Wang’s payment of $500,000 to Ashe in April 2013 in exchange for receiving a diplomatic posting within the government of Antigua, where Ashe previously served as a UN representative. Wang is just the most recent in a line of other individuals who have faced FCPA repercussions for bribes paid to Ashe (who died in 2016), including Ng Lap Seng, who was found guilty of paying Ashe and another individual bribes worth at least $1 million, and Shiwei (Sheri) Yan who also pleaded guilty to paying Ashe bribes in excess of $800,000. As part of her plea, Wang admitted that she had failed to report approximately $2 million in income to the IRS.
This guilty plea illustrates how prosecutors are able to unwind even complex bribery schemes by methodically targeting individual participants. The criminal charges against Wang were likely bolstered by the string of preceding bribery cases involving similar payments to Ashe that likewise resulted in a guilty pleas and verdicts.
Patrick Ho, a former Hong Kong official, reportedly entered a not guilty plea and was denied bail in federal district court in New York related to a number of FCPA, conspiracy, and money laundering counts. Ho was charged in late 2017, along with his co-defendant Cheikh Gadio, the former Foreign Minister of Senegal, with offering $2 million in bribes to the President of Chad. Ho is also alleged to have paid a half-million dollar bribe to the foreign affairs minister of Uganda. The DOJ alleges that Ho sought to direct bribe money through an NGO that he ran, which is funded by a Chinese-based oil and gas company.
On December 22, 2017, Singapore-based shipyard operator and shipping vessel repair company Keppel Offshore & Marine Ltd. (KOM), and its wholly owned U.S. subsidiary, agreed to pay a combined total penalty of $422 million to resolve foreign bribery charges by the DOJ. Authorities in the United States, Brazil, and Singapore alleged that the companies engaged in a decade-long scheme to pay tens of millions of dollars in bribes to officials in Brazil, including those of state-owned oil company Petrobras. As part of the resolution, KOM entered into a deferred prosecution agreement while its U.S. subsidiary, KOM USA, pleaded guilty, as did a former senior member of KOM’s legal department. The settlement is one of the largest FCPA enforcement penalties and also represents DOJ’s first coordinated FCPA resolution with Singapore. The settlement represents a 25 percent reduction off the bottom of the applicable U.S. Sentencing Guidelines fine range due to substantial cooperation by the companies with the investigation and the taking of remedial measures, including disciplining employees and implementing an enhanced compliance system.
On October 25, Judge Chen of the U.S. District Court for the E.D.N.Y. sentenced Hector Trujillo, the former general secretary of Guatemala’s soccer federation and a former judge, to eight months in prison and ordered restitution of $415,000 and forfeiture of $175,000. His sentence comes after a guilty plea to wire fraud and conspiracy in June 2017. Mr. Trujillo was arrested in 2015 as part of the U.S. government’s investigation into FIFA corruption. Trujillo’s sentencing marks the first individual sentenced among a group of more than 40 individuals who have been indicted or pleaded guilty since 2015.
This sentencing comes as part of the U.S. government’s ongoing investigation into corruption in international soccer which has been ongoing. Previous FCPA Scorecard coverage of the FIFA investigation can be found here.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein Issues Remarks on Individual Accountability for Corporate Wrongdoing
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein recently issued remarks highlighting the importance of the DOJ’s consistency in enforcing policies “hold[ing] individuals accountable for corporate wrongdoing.” In particular, Deputy AG Rosenstein stated that the agency should focus on improving the recent track record of bringing criminal proceedings against company employees and commented that “consistency promotes fairness and enhances respect for the rule of law.” His remarks also touched on the Yates Memo and the FCPA Pilot Program, noting the appropriateness of focusing on individual officer or director liability.
The comments are yet another in the steady drumbeat of calls, both internal and external to the DOJ, for DOJ enforcement strategy to hold individual corporate employees accountable for FCPA violations, although how much that strategy is being implemented remains to be seen. A recent review of DOJ corporate FCPA enforcement actions notes that the last 20 such actions have lacked related criminal charges against company employees, and going back to 2008, approximately 80% of DOJ corporate FCPA enforcement actions have lacked related criminal charges against company employees. As Deputy AG Rosenstein’s comments concluded: “When we are serious about wanting people to follow rules, it does no good merely to post them. We need to make clear our intent to enforce the rules, with sufficient vigor that people fear the consequences of violating them.”
Following a $55 million civil and criminal FCPA settlement by Bio-Rad, a life science research and diagnostics company, in November 2014, the company’s former General Counsel and Secretary, Sanford Wadler, filed a civil complaint against Bio-Rad and executive officers and board members alleging that he was fired for blowing the whistle on FCPA issues. In February 2017 a jury awarded Wadler a total of $11 million in punitive and compensatory damages (including double back-pay under Dodd-Frank).
Bio-Rad recently appealed that verdict to the Ninth Circuit on the grounds that the trial court should have directed the verdict in favor of Bio-Rad because, it argues, the alleged FCPA violations were the result of Wadler’s lack of due diligence, because Wadler did not first consult the company’s compliance officers and FCPA lawyers before reporting, and because his allegations were discredited by trial witnesses. Bio-Rad also claims that the trial court wrongly excluded certain impeachment testimony, and that Wadley did not qualify as a “whistleblower” under Dodd-Frank in light of his internal reporting.
On September 14, Braskem SA, a Brazilian petrochemical company, agreed to pay its U.S. investors $10 million for concealing its role in a corruption scandal involving Petrobras. The settlement resolves a 2015 lawsuit brought by U.S. investors against Braskem, which alleged the company had misled investors into believing its operations were legitimate. The settlement follows the December 2016 guilty plea by the company and its affiliated construction firm Odebrecht SA to violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Together, the companies agreed to pay $3.5 billion in a combined global settlement with U.S., Brazilian, and Swiss authorities.
On August 29, the Wall Street Journal reported that a California-based ride sharing company is facing scrutiny from the DOJ, which has taken preliminary steps to investigate potential FCPA violations at the company. The company has expanded into more than 70 countries. A company spokesman confirmed the DOJ’s inquiry. The Wall Street Journal report stated that it was unclear whether DOJ would open a formal investigation.
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