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On December 26, 2018, a Brazilian electric utilities company entered into an administrative order to settle the SEC’s claims that the company violated the books and records and internal accounting controls provisions of the FCPA and agreed to pay a civil monetary penalty of $2.5 million.
The company, which is majority-owned by the Brazilian government, is alleged to have – through former officers of its nuclear power generation subsidiary – rigged bids and paid bribes through private construction companies in relation to construction of a nuclear power plant in Brazil. This matter was first announced publicly in October 2016 when the company hired outside counsel to conduct an internal investigation into related conduct.
In entering into this administrative order, the SEC consider the company’s cooperation efforts, including sharing facts discovered in its internal investigation and producing and translating related documents, as well as its efforts towards remediation, including discipline of involved employees, enhancement of internal accounting controls and compliance functions, and adoption of new anti-corruption policies and procedures.
Previous coverage can be found here.
On December 26, 2018, an American communication technology company (the company) entered into an administrative order to settle claims by the SEC that the company violated the books and records and internal accounting controls provisions of the FCPA. The alleged conduct involved improper payments made through distributors and resellers its subsidiary in China (the subsidiary) to Chinese government officials from 2006 through 2014 in an effort to obtain business from public sector customers.
According to the administrative order, at the instruction of the Vice President of the subsidiary, sales personnel used a sales management system outside of the U.S.-based company-approved database to parallel-track sales to public sector customers in China. The scheme involved providing discounts to distributors and resellers that were used to cover the costs of payments to Chinese government officials. These discounts were not passed on to the end customer, and the purpose of those discounts was not tracked in the company-approved database. The subsidiary's sales personnel were also instructed by the VP to use non-company email addresses when discussing and arranging these deals.
Pursuant to the administrative order, the company will pay to the SEC approximately $10.7 million in disgorgement, $1.8 million in prejudgment interest, and a $3.8 million civil monetary penalty.
On the same day, DOJ released a December 20, 2018 declination letter settling its investigation of the same conduct. Pursuant to the declination letter, the company agreed to disgorge approximately $10.15 million to the U.S. Treasury Department and $10.15 to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service Consumer Fraud Fund.
In settling these matters, both the SEC and DOJ cited the company’s identification of the misconduct, thorough internal investigation conducted by outside counsel, prompt voluntary disclosure, full cooperation, and remediation efforts. The company’s lauded cooperative efforts included making certain employees available for interviews, as well as producing all requested documents and translating large volumes of those documents from Mandarin to English. The remedial efforts cited included termination of eight employees and discipline of eighteen others, termination or reorganization of certain channel partner relationships, enhancement of third party oversight, and improvements to anticorruption and related trainings provided to China-based employees (certain materials of which had previously not been translated into Mandarin, the first language of many of the subsidiary employees).
On December 19, a UK Court found former power company Global Sales Director guilty of conspiracy to corrupt in connection with his role in bribing Lithuanian officials to win lucrative power station contracts for the French power and transportation company. He will be sentenced on December 21.
The conviction follows the guilty pleas of the company and two other individuals in the UK in connection with the company’s Lithuanian bribery scheme. According to the SFO, the companies paid Lithuanian politicians more than €5 million (~$6.3 million in today’s USD) in bribes to secure the contracts, valued at €240 million (~$304 million in today’s USD). The SFO also has charged the company and former executives for alleged corruption spanning Hungary, India, Poland, and Tunisia.
In late 2014, the company and various subsidiaries agreed to pay a then-record $772 million fine in connection with FCPA violations spanning numerous countries. For prior FCPA Scorecard coverage of the company, please see here.
On December 17 and 19, press reports indicate Malaysian prosecutors filed criminal charges against a New York-based financial institution and numerous individuals, including former executives of the financial institution, in connection with their alleged roles in a multi-billion bribery and money laundering scheme involving Malaysia sovereign wealth fund.
Malaysian prosecutors charged the financial institution with making false and misleading statements when raising money for the fund. Among individuals, a former participating managing director of the financial institution, and a former managing director, also were charged. These charges follow the U.S. government’s investigation and charges related to the same scheme.
As detailed in prior FCPA Scorecard coverage, the former participating managing director pleaded guilty in November to Conspiracy to Violate the FCPA and Conspiracy to Commit Money Laundering and agreed to forfeit $43.7 million. The DOJ charged the former managing director with similar offenses and, according to press reports, is fighting extradition to the United States.
According to press reports, in response to the filing of the criminal charges in Malaysia, the financial institution stated: “Under the Malaysian legal process, the firm was not afforded an opportunity to be heard prior to the filing of these charges against certain financial institution entities, which we intend to vigorously contest. These charges do not affect our ability to conduct our current business globally.”
The DOJ has not charged or reached a resolution with the financial institution, which previously announced that it was cooperating with the DOJ’s and all regulators’ investigations. The announcement of the Malaysian charges suggests that the U.S. DOJ and Malaysian prosecutors may not be coordinating efforts.
Buckley Sandler Special Alert: DOJ announces new policy on pursuing individuals in corporate resolutions
U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said at a conference this morning that the U.S. Department of Justice has revised its guidelines relating to corporate resolutions with the DOJ, particularly as those guidelines relate to charging culpable individuals. The revised guidelines modify the 2015 Yates Memo, and affirmatively obligate companies seeking leniency from the DOJ to investigate and furnish information about culpable employees and agents substantially involved in wrongdoing.
Corporations now will receive cooperation credit in criminal resolutions only if all employees substantially involved in the alleged wrongdoing are identified to the government. And in civil resolutions, corporations will receive cooperation credit only if the corporation reveals the involvement of senior management and board members in the alleged wrongdoing. The new policy highlights the DOJ’s ongoing focus on criminal and civil enforcement actions against individuals and emphasizes the importance of giving serious consideration to obtaining individual counsel very early in the process of an investigation.
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Click here to read the full special alert.
If you have questions about the DOJ’s new policy or other related issues, please visit our White Collar practice page or contact one of Buckley Sandler’s 15 partners in that practice.
On November 15, the SEC released its 2018 Annual Report to Congress on its Whistleblower Program, as required under § 924(d) of the Dodd-Frank Act and § 21(F)(g)(5) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. The Report, which covers October 1, 2017 through September 30, 2018, indicates that the SEC received 202 FCPA-related whistleblower tips during the reporting year. Those 202 FCPA tips account for only 3.82 percent of the tips received in that period. While the overall number of whistleblower tips has steadily risen over the past 4 years, the number of FCPA tips has remained fairly steady. In 2015, there were 186 (4.74 percent of the tips received); in 2016 there were 238 (5.64 percent of the tips received); and in 2017 there were 210 (4.68 percent of the tips received). This relative consistency contrasts with the number of offering fraud tips, which jumped from 758 in 2017 to 1,054 in 2018.
In addition to providing statistics and background on the whistleblower program, the Report discusses rule amendments proposed earlier this year. In particular, the Report reviews proposed amendments to SEC Rule 21F-2 (Whistleblower Status and Retaliation Protection) that are intended to bring the rules in line with the Digital Realty Trust v. Somers decision. The proposed amendments would include instituting a uniform definition of whistleblower that requires the individual to have submitted the information “in writing” to the SEC.
On November 14, 2018, a three judge panel for the United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit heard oral arguments for a life science research and diagnostics company hoping to overturn a February 2017 jury verdict ordering the company to pay its former General Counsel and Secretary $11 million in punitive and compensatory damages. The former employee’s complaint alleged that the company had fired him for being an FCPA whistleblower. As detailed in a previous FCPA Scorecard post, the company paid $55 million in November 2014 to settle DOJ and SEC allegations that the company violated the FCPA in Russia, Thailand, and Vietnam. The former employee’s report to the Audit Committee had involved separate allegations that the company violated the FCPA in China, allegations that did not result in additional penalties against the company.
The company appealed the former employee's award on the grounds that the jury was erroneously instructed that the SEC’s rules or regulations forbid bribery of a foreign official; that the company’s alleged FCPA violations were the result of the former employee’s lack of due diligence; that the trial court wrongly excluded certain impeachment testimony and evidence related to the timing of his pursuit and hiring of a whistleblower attorney; and that he did not qualify as a “whistleblower” under Dodd-Frank in light of his reporting only internally and not to the SEC (pursuant to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in another case). During the argument, one member of the circuit panel reportedly expressed doubt concerning the company’s jury instruction argument, and another told counsel for the company, “I don’t see how this can be reversed on the theory you’re offering.”
The DOJ unsealed two indictments and a guilty plea related to the sprawling Malaysian development fund fraud on November 1 in the Eastern District of New York. A Malaysian financier and a former banker were charged with conspiring to launder billions of dollars embezzled from the investment development fund, and conspiracy to violate the anti-bribery provisions of the FCPA. The former banker was also charged with conspiring to violate the FCPA by circumventing the internal accounting controls of a U.S. financial institution, which underwrote $6 billion in bonds issued by the fund. He was a managing director at the bank. Another former banker at the same financial institution, pleaded guilty to the same charges. He has been ordered to forfeit $43.7 million.
These three and others allegedly conspired to bribe Malaysian and Abu Dhabi officials to obtain business for the financial institution, including the fund's bond deals. They also allegedly conspired to launder the proceeds through purchasing luxury New York real estate, artwork, and financing major Hollywood films, such as The Wolf of Wall Street.
For prior coverage of the fund's scheme, please see here.
On October 30, the DOJ charged a dual U.S.-Haitian citizen with conspiracy to violate the FCPA, commit money laundering, and violate the Travel Act, as well as substantive Travel Act violations. The individual is a licensed attorney and the CEO of a Haitian development and reconstruction company. The indictment is part of an ongoing case against a retired U.S. Army colonel who was indicted in 2017 related to an alleged plan to solicit bribes from potential investors for infrastructure projects in Haiti. (For prior coverage of the charges against the colonel, please see here.) According to the indictment, at a meeting in 2015, the citizen and retired colonel met with undercover FBI agents posing as potential investors in the development project, and allegedly asked the agents to invest $84 million in the project. The colonel told them that 5 percent of that total would be paid to Haitian officials to secure approval for the project. The colonel allegedly planned to disguise the funds through a non-profit he controlled. The FBI then wired money to the non-profit.
On October 3, 2018, Steven Peiken, Co-Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement, offered remarks at a white collar crime conference in New York City, discussing a range of issues related to FCPA compliance and enforcement. For example, likely responding to increasing criticism about the relatively few enforcement cases that have been brought by the SEC in recent years, Peiken addressed questions regarding the Enforcement Division’s effectiveness and efficiency metrics, noting that the Division is moving away from quantitative measurements of success to more qualitative metrics, such as whether retail investors are adequately protected and whether the agency is “keeping pace with technological change.”
In addition, Peiken addressed the impact of the Supreme Court’s decision in Kokesh v. SEC, which held that disgorgement awards are punitive in nature and subject to a five year statute of limitations under 28 U.S.C. § 2462. Peiken stated: “The impact of Kokesh has been felt across our enforcement program. A few months ago, we calculated that Kokesh led us to forego seeking approximately $800 million in potential disgorgement in filed and settled cases. That number continues to rise.”
Peikin concluded his remarks by noting that the Enforcement Division cannot continue to rely upon quantitative metrics to determine success, such as the size of awards and penalties. Instead, the Division must adopt “a nuanced and qualitative evaluation of our overall impact on achieving our investor and market integrity protection mission.” These remarks suggest that the rate of new actions and investigations filed by SEC’s Enforcement Division may not keep pace with recent years, and that the Division may instead be relying on impact cases or those that satisfy the more qualitative metrics Peikin described, when measuring success going forward.
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- Brandy A. Hood to discuss "Keeping your head above water in flood insurance compliance" at the Mortgage Bankers Association National Mortgage Servicing Conference & Expo
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- Moorari K. Shah to provide "Regulatory update – California and beyond" at the National Equipment Finance Association Summit
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Lessons learned from ABLV and other major cases involving inadequate compliance oversight" at the ACAMS International AML & Financial Crime Conference
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