FCPA Compliance and Ethics Blog

December 31, 2013

Individual FCPA Enforcement Actions in 2013

As 2013 draws to a close, I am reminded about Mike Volkov’s spring prediction that “It is clear that FCPA enforcement for 2013 will go down as the year of criminal prosecutions of individuals.” He was right when he said it and it is still correct. This year had the largest number of individual Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) enforcement actions since 2010, the year of the Gun Sting case. Here are the highlights of FCPA related enforcement actions against individuals in 2013.

A.     BizJet Executives

The lineup of those three BizJet executives and one employee involved in these enforcement actions is as follows:

  1. Bernd Kowalewski – President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO);
  2. Peter DuBois – Vice President of Sales and Marketing;
  3. Neal Uhl – Vice President of Finance; and
  4. Jald Jensen – Regional Sales Manager

Defendants DuBois and Uhl pled guilty in January, 2012 and had their pleas unsealed on April 5, 2013. Defendants Kowalewski and Jensen were charged by Criminal Indictment, also in January, 2012, but are still at large today. The Department of Justice (DOJ) Press Release stated that “The two remaining defendants are believed to remain abroad.” The bribes were characterized as “commission payments” and “referral fees” on the company’s books and records. Payments were made from both international and company bank accounts here in the US. In other words, this was as clear a case of a pattern and practice of bribery, authorized by the highest levels of the company, paid through US banks and attempts to hide all of the above by mis-characterizing them in the company’s books and records.

B.     Alstom Executives

In April, two individuals from a company, later identified as Alstom Power, Inc., were charged or had their charges made public in April. According to a DOJ Press Release dated April 16, 2013, “Frederic Pierucci, 45, a current company executive [of Alstom] who previously held the position of vice president of global sales for the Connecticut-based U.S. subsidiary, was charged in an indictment unsealed yesterday in the District of Connecticut with conspiring to violate the FCPA and to launder money, as well as substantive charges of violating the FCPA and money laundering.” Pierucci was arrested. Additionally, former Alstom executive “David Rothschild, 67, of Massachusetts, a former vice president of sales for the Connecticut-based U.S. subsidiary, pleaded guilty on Nov. 2, 2012, to a criminal information charging one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA.”

In May, a third Alstom executive was charged when William Pomponi, a former vice president of sales for Alstom’s US subsidiary, was indicted for conspiring to violate the FCPA and to launder money, as well as substantive FCPA and money laundering offenses. In August, a fourth executive, Lawrence Hoskins, who was the Asia Region Vice President for the company, was also charged. In the prior charging documents, Hoskins was generically referred to as “Executive A.”

All four were charged around the same set of facts, that being the payment of bribes to officials in Indonesia, including a member of Indonesian Parliament and high-ranking members of Perusahaan Listrik Negara (PLN), the state-owned and state-controlled electricity company, in exchange for assistance in securing a contract for the company to provide power-related services for the citizens of Indonesia, known as the Tarahan project. The charges allege that, in order to conceal the bribes, the defendants retained two consultants purportedly to provide legitimate consulting services on behalf of the power company and its subsidiaries in connection with the Tarahan project.

C.     Frederic Cilins

At the 2013 Dow Jones Compliance Symposium in Washington, D.C., a FBI official warned the attendees that the Shot Show debacle would not deter law enforcement from using proactive investigations techniques. It was a stark warning because it was realized in less than thirty days. This was dramatically demonstrated with the arrest of Frederic Cilins, in April.

An article in the Financial Times (FT), entitled “FBI sting says that ‘agent’ sought to have mining contracts destroyed”, reported that “Frederic Cilins held the last of a series of meetings with the widow of an African dictator to discuss what she was going to do with some sensitive documents.” What were these ‘sensitive documents’? The FT reported that it had seen “some of the documents” and “According to one copy of a contract seen by the FT” it appeared to agree to pay $4m to the wife of the then President of the country to help to secure rights to a mining concession in Guinea. Unfortunately for Cilins he “did not realise that the woman he was talking to was wearing a wire and that FBI agents were watching. As he left the meeting, the agents arrested him carrying envelopes filled with $20,000 in cash, the indictment says. That was a pittance compared with the $5m he was taped offering the dictator’s widow during what US authorities say was a two-month campaign to tamper with a witness and destroy records.”

Cilins has been charged with obstruction of justice and was remanded to Manhattan for trial. After bail was initially set at $15MM, Cilins requested that it be reduced. The trial judge, William H. Pauley III threw the $15MM bail out and set a trial date for March 2014.

D.    Uriel Sharef – Siemens

Uriel Sharef was a former officer and board member of Siemens. According to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Press Release announcing resolution of his matter, “The settlement resolves the Commission’s civil action against Sharef for his role in Siemens’ decade-long bribery scheme to retain a $1 billion government contract to produce national identity cards for Argentine citizens. The final judgment, to which Sharef consented, enjoins him from violating the anti-bribery and related internal controls provisions of the FCPA and orders him to pay a $275,000 civil penalty, the second highest penalty assessed against an individual in an FCPA case.”

The SEC Press Release further stated that “Sharef met with payment intermediaries in the United States and agreed to pay $27 million in bribes to Argentine officials. Sharef also enlisted subordinates to conceal the payments by circumventing Siemens’ internal accounting controls.”

E.     Paul Novak – Willbros

In April, the DOJ announced the sentencing of Paul G. Novak, a former consultant of Willbros International, Inc., a subsidiary of the Houston based Willbros Group, for his role in a conspiracy to pay more than $6 million in bribes to government officials of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and officials from a Nigerian political party. According to the DOJ Press Release announcing the sentencing, “Novak pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate the FCPA and one substantive count of violating the FCPA. Novak admitted that from approximately late-2003 to March 2005, he conspired with others to make a series of corrupt payments”. Novak was sentenced to serve 15 months in a federal prison.

The sentencing continues the long running saga of the company over efforts by Willbros, Novak, certain employees and others to make a series of corrupt payments to assist Willbros and its joint venture partner, a construction company based in Mannheim, Germany, in obtaining and retaining the Eastern Gas Gathering System (EGGS) Project, which was valued at approximately $387 million. The EGGS project was a natural gas pipeline system in the Niger Delta designed to relieve existing pipeline capacity constraints.

F.     Alain Riedo

In October, an indictment was unsealed in the Southern District of California deriving from the Maxwell Technologies, Inc. FCPA enforcement action. This indictment was brought through the Grand Jury against Alain Riedo, who was described as a Swiss citizen, General Manager of Maxwell Technologies SA, (the Swiss company – Maxwell SA) a wholly owned subsidiary of Maxwell Technologies, Inc. (the US parent – Maxwell). Riedo was later promoted to Senior Vice President and officer of the US parent.

The Riedo Indictment gave further detailed specifics about the bribery scheme. The Swiss company used a Chinese Agent (Agent 1) to market its products. The bribes were funded through an overbilling to the end user of 20% above the company’s actual cost. After the end-user paid the fraudulent amount, Agent 1 would then bill the Swiss company separately for the additional 20% and characterize the mark up as “extra amount”, “special arrangement” or “consulting” fee. Riedo would then either pay or request direct payment, from the US, of this extra 20% to Agent 1, who would then in turn distribute this money as bribes for the securing of the contracts.

G.    Direct Access Partners

In the first action against investment brokers, two brokers Tomas Alberto Clarke Bethancourt and Jose Alejandro Hurtado, affiliated with the New York brokerage firm Direct Access Partners, LLC (DAP) were charged in federal court with paying at least $5 million in bribes to María de los Ángeles González de Hernandez, an official at a state-owned Venezuelan bank, Banco de Desarrollo Económico y Social de Venezuela (BANDES) to win bond trading work. After receiving the bribes, she authorized fraudulent trades, which generated more than $66 million in revenue on trades in Venezuelan sovereign or state-sponsored bonds for DAP.

In June, Ernesto Lujan, the former head of the Miami office of DAP, was arrested for conspiracy to bribe an officer at a state-owned Venezuela bank in exchange for bond trading business. He was charged with substantive FCPA and Travel Act offenses and conspiracy counts. He was also charged with two money laundering-related counts.

In August all three pled guilty in New York federal court to conspiring to violate the FCPA, the Travel Act and to commit money laundering, as well as substantive counts of these offenses related to the scheme to bribe a foreign official employed at BANDES. Lujan, Hurtado and Clarke each also pled guilty to an additional charge of conspiring to violate the FCPA in connection with a similar scheme to bribe a foreign official employed by Banfoandes (the “Banfoandes Foreign Official”), another state economic development bank in Venezuela, and to conspiring to obstruct an examination by the SEC of the New York-based Broker-Dealer where all three defendants had worked, to conceal the true facts of the Broker-Dealer’s relationship with BANDES.

The DOJ also charged Hernandez with Travel Act conspiracy and substantive offenses, and two money laundering-related counts. In November, she pled guilty to taking $5 million in kickbacks from DAP in exchange for bond-trading business from her employer. She agreed to cooperate with prosecutors investigating a massive bribery and fraud scheme by a US broker.

A Happy, Joyous and Safe New Year to all…

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2013

December 30, 2013

New Book Available on Anti-Bribery Leadership

I am pleased to announce the release of a new book entitled, “Anti-Bribery Leadership” which I have authored with Jon Rydberg, the CEO of Orchid Advisors. In this book, Jon and I provide practical lessons pertaining to the FCPA, U.K. Bribery Act and broader Anti-Corruption / Anti-Bribery standards for Board Members, Chief Executive Officers, General Counsel and other corporate executives who seek to lower their enterprise risk profile by learning simple strategies from tested compliance veterans.

I am certain that you will find it useful to reinforce the our belief that compliance – both in general and as it pertains to the anti-corruption/anti-compliance – should be viewed, like quality and safety, as an equal business metric. Although compliance should not be designed to impede efficient business operations, it should be part of the decision-making process. In fact, best-in-class compliance programs are enablers of planned and measured risk-taking. This book is a handy guide on how to make such compliance programs work for you and your company.

You can order a hard bound copy through Amazon.com by clicking here or an eBook version for Kindle by clicking here.

More on the ADM FCPA Settlement

7K0A0223Last week, in a post entitled “Supermarket to the World – The ADM FCPA Enforcement Action”, I reviewed the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Compliant brought in connection with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) investigation of Archer-Daniels-Midland Company (ADM). There was also a criminal Plea Agreement entered into by the ADM subsidiary, Alfred C. Toepfer International (Ukraine) Ltd. (the Ukraine subsidiary) with the Department of Justice (DOJ), who was the defendant in this criminal action. In addition to the SEC Complaint, ADM entered into a Non-Prosecution Agreement (NPA) with the DOJ. This post will review some of the requirements found in the NPA and other information found in the Plea Agreement which the company entered into to resolve the FCPA investigation.

I.                   The Fine

As set out in the Plea Agreement, the base fine which the defendant was looking at receiving was $45MM based upon the US Sentencing Guidelines. The culpability score had a -5 based upon some or all of the following factors: “The organization, prior to imminent threat of disclosure or government investigation and within a reasonably prompt time after becoming aware of the offense, reported the offense to appropriate governmental authorities, fully cooperated in the investigation, and clearly demonstrated recognition and affirmative acceptance of responsibility for its criminal conduct.” Based upon the culpability score the fine range was listed from a low of $27.3MM to a high of $54.6MM. However the company paid only a fine of $17.7MM, which was noted to be approximately a 33% reduction from the low end of the fine range, with an additional reduction of “of $1,338,387 commensurate with the fine imposed by German authorities on Alfred C. Toepfer International G.m.b.H”; ADM’s German subsidiary which pled guilty and was involved in the bribery scheme. Additional factors in the reduction of the fine were “(a) the Defendant’s timely, voluntary, and thorough disclosure of the conduct; (b) the Defendant’s extensive cooperation with the Department; and (c) the Defendant’s early, extensive, and unsolicited remedial efforts already undertaken and those still to be undertaken.”

II.                The NPA

ADM entered into a three year NPA regarding the resolution of this matter. In a letter to ADM confirming the NPA, the DOJ stated that it was entering into the agreement with the ADM because of its conduct in self-disclosing the FCPA violations and the company’s conduct thereafter. The letter set out the following: “(a) the Company’s timely, voluntary, and thorough disclosure of the conduct; (b) the Company’s extensive cooperation with the Department, including conducting a world-wide risk assessment and corresponding global internal investigation, expanding the scope of the investigation where necessary to ensure the review was effective and thorough, making numerous presentations to the Department on the status and findings of the internal investigation, voluntarily making current and former employees available for interviews, voluntarily producing documents to the Department, and compiling relevant documents by category for the Department; (c) the Company’s early and extensive remedial efforts already undertaken at its own volition, and the agreement to undertake further enhancements to its compliance program as described in Attachment B (Corporate Compliance Program); and (d) the Company’s agreement to provide annual, written reports to the Department on its progress and experience in monitoring and enhancing its compliance policies.”

III.             Best in Class Compliance Program

Under Attachment B of the NPA, the company agreed to maintain a best practices compliance program which it had created during the pendency of the investigation. ADM agreed to maintain this compliance program at least during the length of the NPA. It included the following components.

  1. High level commitment from company officials and senior management to do business in compliance with the FCPA.
  2. A substantive written anti-corruption compliance code of conduct.
  3. Written policies and procedures to implement this code of conduct.
  4. A robust system of internal controls, including accounting and financial controls.
  5. Risk assessments and risk reviews of its ongoing business.
  6. No less than annual assessments of its overall compliance program.
  7. Appropriate oversight and responsibility of a Chief Compliance Officer.
  8. Effective training for all employees and relevant third parties.
  9. An effective compliance function which can provide guidance to company employees.
  10. A robust internal reporting system.
  11. Effective investigations of any reported compliance issue.
  12. Appropriate incentives for employees to do business ethically and in compliance.
  13. Enforced discipline for any employee who violates the company’s compliance program.
  14. Suitable due diligence and management of third parties and business partners.
  15. A correct level of pre-acquisition due diligence for any merger or acquisition candidate, including a risk assessment and reporting to the DOJ if the company uncovers and FCPA-violative conduct during this pre-acquisition phase.
  16. As soon as practicable, ADM will integrate any newly acquired entity into its compliance regime, including training of all relevant new employees, a FCPA forensic audit and reporting of any ongoing violations.
  17. Ongoing monitoring, testing and auditing of the company’s compliance function, taking into account any “relevant developments in the field and the evolving international and industry standards.”

IV.              Ongoing Reporting

Under the NPA, ADM was not required to sustain an external corporate monitor. However the company did agree that it would report to the DOJ on no less than an annual basis during the pendency of the NPA, specified as “an initial review and submit an initial report, and (2) conduct and prepare at least two (2) follow-up reviews and reports.” Further, the company is required to “submit to the Department a written report setting forth a complete description of its remediation efforts to date, its proposals reasonably designed to improve the Company’s internal controls, policies, and procedures for ensuring compliance with the FCPA and other applicable anti -corruption laws, and the proposed scope of the subsequent reviews.”

V.                 Facilitation Payments

I engaged with a colleague on whether the payments made by the ADM subsidiaries were simply facilitation payments because they were made to simply speed up the tax refund process. Whatever the payments were, they were not in any way, shape or form, facilitation payments. Initially, it should be noted that the FCPA says that the anti-bribery provisions “shall not apply to any facilitating or expediting payment to a foreign official, political party, or party official the purpose of which is to expedite or to secure the performance of a routine governmental action . . .” The statute itself provided a list of examples of facilitation payments in the definition of routine governmental actions. It included the following:

  • Obtaining permits, licenses, or other official documents;
  • Processing governmental papers such as visas and work orders;
  • Providing police protection, mail services, scheduling inspections;
  • Providing utilities, cargo handling; or
  • Actions of a similar nature.

In addition to this language, the payments must be properly recorded on a company’s books and records; not disguised as payments for insurance premiums or other false entries that the ADM subsidiaries used in connection with the Ukraine tax authorities. When does a facilitation payment become a bribe? There is no clear monetary line of demarcation. The test seems to turn on the amount of money involved, to whom it is paid and the frequency of the payments. In the ADM matter, there were payments of approximately $22MM to receive tax refunds of $33MM. Whatever you might call the payments made by the ADM subsidiaries, they were certainly not facilitation payments.

The ADM FCPA settlement is extremely useful for the compliance practitioner for several reasons. The first is that it sets out some sophisticated mechanisms which are used to fund bribes. In addition to bribery schemes I discussed in the post entitled “Supermarket to the World – The ADM FCPA Enforcement Action” the NPA discussed another bribery scheme used ADM in Venezuela. All of the bribery schemes that the company’s subsidiaries engaged in were discussed or uncovered by the corporate office at some time before it began an official internal investigation. This once again shows the claim of the ‘rogue employee(s)’ is not something that stands up in criminal FCPA enforcement actions.

Equally important is that ADM received clear and very substantive credit for the actions that it took after it began its internal investigation. It self-disclosed, it cooperated extensively, it remediated thoroughly to put together a best practices compliance program. Lest anyone think these actions are for naught, or that the DOJ does not take such actions into account, note the 33% reduction in fine that ADM received, the NPA it received for the corporate parent and the lack of an external corporate monitor. These are clear signs from the DOJ as to the types of conduct and actions that it not only approves of but will be taken into account in the calculation of any fines and penalties. In other words, self-disclose, extensively cooperate, and remediate if your company finds itself in this situation.

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2013

December 23, 2013

Supermarket to the World – The ADM FCPA Enforcement Action

Last week, it was announced by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that it had settled an enforcement action with Archer-Daniels-Midland Company (ADM). The DOJ resolved a criminal action when, according to the DOJ Press Release, a subsidiary of ADM pled guilty and agreed to pay more than $17 million in criminal fines to resolve charges that it paid bribes through vendors to Ukrainian government officials to obtain value-added tax (VAT) refunds, in violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). In a parallel civil FCPA action settled with the SEC and the SEC Press Release noted that “The payments were then concealed by improperly recording the transactions in accounting records as insurance premiums and other purported business expenses. ADM had insufficient anti-bribery compliance controls and made approximately $33 million in illegal profits as a result of the bribery by its subsidiaries.” In addition to the DOJ fine of $17.8MM, ADM agreed to pay “disgorgement of $33,342,012 plus prejudgment interest of $3,125,354.”

At this point, the Non-Prosecution Agreement (NPA), Plea Agreement between the company and the DOJ and the Criminal Information is not available. However the SEC Civil Complaint is available, as are Press Releases from both the DOJ and SEC. In today’s blog I will review the underlying facts as set out in the SEC Civil Complaint. In a subsequent blog post, I will review the NPA, Plea Agreement and Criminal Information.

The underlying facts centered on ADM’s ongoing issues related to the receipt of VAT refunds in Ukraine. The company had many years of slow and no response to its application for refunds where goods purchased in Ukraine were then exported. From 2002 to 2010, the company’s Ukrainian subsidiary rolled up VAT receivables of up to $46MM. The company employed three different bribery schemes to help them get this money that they were owed out of the country. ADM’s two entities which were directly involved in the bribery scheme were Alfred C. Toepfer, International GmbH (“the German subsidiary”) and its affiliate, Alfred C. Toepfer International (Ukraine) Ltd. (“the Ukrainian subsidiary”).

Charitable Donation Scheme

According to the SEC Complaint, “an ADM executive in the tax department sent an e- mail to the head of an international tax organization and stated, “One of our affiliates operates in the Ukraine. In order to recover 100% of their input VAT they have to pay 30% of the amount to local charities.” While recognizing that this requirement was not illegal and that there were avenues for appeal and assistance with this issue through the US government and trade groups, the SEC Complaint noted that “Given ADM’s insufficient anti-bribery compliance policies and procedures at the time, it did not prevent or detect the improper payments made by” the German subsidiary or the Ukrainian subsidiary.

Use of Third Parties

A second bribery scheme entailed the German and Ukrainian subsidiaries making “payments to a stevedoring company in the port of Odessa (the “Shipping Company”) so that it could pass on nearly all of those payments to Ukrainian officials in order to obtain VAT refunds on behalf of ACTI Ukraine.” The Shipping Company would present inflated invoices to the German subsidiary and this inflated amount “represented a sum that was available for the Shipping Company to pass to Ukraine government officials.” Further, when the German subsidiary would receive an invoice from the Shipping Company, “it withheld payment of a portion of the amount in the invoice, and then upon receiving the relevant VAT refund, ACTI Hamburg released the funds to the Shipping Company.”

Mischaracterization of Write-offs

In yet another bribery scheme, the German subsidiary reported to the US parent that it would negotiate with the Ukrainian government over the amount of the VAT refund and if there was a negotiated settlement it would be less than the full refund due the company. The German subsidiary would then write-off 18% of the total amount of any VAT refund due to it from the Ukrainian government. However when the VAT refund was actually made it would be at 100% of the total due. As the German subsidiary would have taken a write off of 18% of this total, the corresponding amount of money would be funneled to “third-party vendors so that nearly all of those monies could be provided to Ukrainian government officials.”

Fake Insurance Premiums

In an inventive bribery scheme, the Ukrainian subsidiary General Manager “organized a scheme through which ACTI Ukraine used a Ukrainian insurance company (the “Insurance Company”) to funnel improper payments to Ukrainian government officials. ACTI Ukraine arranged for the Insurance Company to falsely bill it for crop insurance, which the Insurance Company never intended to honor, adjusting the premiums to be roughly 20% of the VAT refund.” This bribery scheme succeeded in the face of email reports from the Ukrainian subsidiary to the German subsidiary that said “The contracts completed here, either sporadically or ad hoc, include no kind of insurance protection, but serve the purpose only of generating a commission for the VAT repayment in this manner. Regardless of the wording of the contract, the content is completely different. That means that in case of conflict, claims could not be made successfully.”

Discussion

The problems that ADM subsidiaries faced in the VAT refund issue is one faced by many companies in many countries. Governments usually have little incentive to timely or otherwise process tax refunds, especially in the amounts which ADM was seeking. From the SEC Compliant it does appear there is not any issue that ADM was seeking or did obtain VAT refunds that it was not entitled to receive, only that the Ukrainian tax authorities were sitting on these refunds. In other words, it may be construed that ADM was involved in a situation where it was paying bribes for something it was otherwise entitled to receive but as noted in the SEC Civil Complaint it that the company received VAT refunds “earlier than they otherwise would have.”

While I might disagree that by speeding up the process, the company obtained some unfair business advantage, I do believe that the payments can in any way be considered legal or otherwise in compliance with the FCPA. Simply considering the amounts of money involved and the false accounting entries are enough to show a FCPA violation. In many ways, I found the most interesting sentence in the SEC Civil Complaint to be the following, “ADM violated Section 13(b)(2)(B) of the Exchange Act by failing to maintain an adequate system of internal controls to detect and prevent the illicit payments.” The SEC Complaint expanded on this when it stated, “ADM failed to implement sufficient anti-bribery compliance policies and procedures, including oversight of third-party vendor transactions, to prevent these payments” at the German and Ukrainian subsidiaries. The message from the SEC Civil Complaint is that your compliance program must have both a prevent and detect component and if it does not, you are susceptible to a books and records violation, with a fine and profit disgorgement assessment.

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2013

December 11, 2013

Keep Your Hand on the Control

#14748 Hand on the Throttle by Karl-Heinz Morawietz 2011-01-27Yesterday Nelson Mandela’s casket was driven to the state capital where he will lay in state until his funeral on Sunday 15th December. Dignitaries from all over the world will attend. Mandela was praised for his non-violent approach to ending apartheid in South Africa and his leadership in the peaceful transition of power. But he was also recognized as incorruptible. So today we honor that aspect of his career.

I am continually amazed at the seemingly disparate current events which provide tangible lessons for the compliance practitioner. In an article in the New York Times (NYT), entitled “Hearings on San Francisco Crash Set to Explore Broader Problems”, reporter Matthew L. Wald wrote about the upcoming National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) hearings on the deadly plane crash last July at San Francisco International Airport. Investigators quickly were able to determine the immediate cause of the crash; that being the pilots failure to monitor their airspeed. However these hearings will go further and try to determine more basic reasons which led to the pilots to make the decisions which caused or contributed to the disaster.

The first was an over-reliance on technology. Crews for the airline involved, Asiana, are “accustomed to programming the autopilot to land their planes” rather than manually taking over during the landing procedure. The first problem was compounded and became disaster when a second problem apparently arose which was that the pilots had “evidently limited ability to manage the ubiquitous automated systems in the cockpit.” So they flew expecting the auto-pilot to land the plane but did not realize or appreciate that the auto-throttle portion of the system was in the off position. The article was clear that, even with these reasons, the problems which led to the crash were “more broad than bad pilots.”

The reliance on technology or big data has become an issue in the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) or other anti-corruption laws such as the UK Bribery Act. The Department of Justice (DOJ) has brought up the tool of transaction monitoring as a best practice at least since the Morgan Stanley Declination. But, just as these tools are important to the compliance practitioner, it is important to keep in mind that one of the remedies certain US based airlines have come up with will make it harder for crews to overlook problems like low airspeed, even when a plane’s auto-pilot is turned on during a descent. The solution is elegant for its simplicity, certain airlines mandated that “a pilot keep a hand on the throttle, to sense its position, during descent.” Simple, elegant and cost effective I would add.

For the compliance professional this also means a compliance program is more than simply about numbers and systems. As Paul McNutly and Stephen Martin say in their five essential elements of an effective compliance program, it is important to not only understand but ascertain if your employees are staying with the compliance program. Even after all the important ethical messages from management have been communicated to the appropriate audiences and key standards and controls are in place, there should still be a question of whether the company’s employees are adhering to the compliance program. Two of the seven compliance elements in the Federal Sentencing Guidelines call for companies to monitor, audit, and respond quickly to allegations of misconduct. These three highlighted activities are key components enforcement officials look for when determining whether companies maintain adequate oversight of their compliance programs.

The next area that the NTSB hearings will look at is training and procedures. One thing that US pilots are trained on and given a wide berth to do is to “speak up if they sense a problem, even if the pilot at the controls has seniority, and to listen to subordinates.” Recognizing that part of the issue here is cultural, because South Korean crews “have had trouble with those procedures”,  the clear message here is training. For the compliance practitioner, the message is also clear, again it is training, training and training. Whether you call it a ‘Speak Up, Speak Out’ or ‘Raise Your Hand’ culture, such a system must be put in place to allow an employee who senses a problem to get that information to people who can take a more focused look at the problem.

But, more than training, the company has to commit to more than having a system. The company must commit to listening. One of the biggest changes in the airlines cockpits is that more senior pilots are instructed listen to junior pilots. The same must be true in a company. The company has to listen to employee concerns. This requirement to listen has been made even stronger with the Dodd-Frank Whistleblower provisions. But the clear message for the compliance practitioner is that speaking up and listening are a two-way exercise.

Just as in every catastrophic accident, in almost every circumstance regarding a compliance issue which becomes a FCPA violation, there is at some point a situation where an employee did not report a situation or event up to an appropriate level for additional review. This failure to escalate led to the issue not reaching the right people in the company for review/action/resolution and the issue later became more difficult and more expensive to deal with in the company. This means that a company needs to have a culture in place to not only allow elevation but to actively encourage elevation. Additionally, both a structure and process for that structure must exist. Lastly, while a whistleblower process or hotlines are necessary these should not be viewed as the only systems which allow an employee to escalate a concern. In the cockpit it means a junior pilot can speak directly to a more senior pilot.

One of the things that I have learned practicing compliance is that process is very important. But the investigation into the Asiana crash shows that keeping your hand on the throttle to understand the pulse of things is a very good technique to maintain.

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Please join myself and Eddie Cogan, CEO of Catelas as we discuss Risk-Based 3rd Party Vetting, Screening and Monitoring Strategies for High Risk Jurisdictions Thursday, December 12. For information and registration click here.

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2013

December 10, 2013

Expanding Your Compliance Decision-Making Tool Kit

7K0A0223There can be a variety of reasons why bad decisions get made in the corporate world. Last week I wrote about psychopaths in the C-Suite and Boardroom. Today I want to look at some less flamboyant, more mundane ways that a company might get into compliance hot water through poor decision making. In an article in the November issue of the Harvard Business Review, entitled “Deciding How to Decide”, authors Hugh Courtney, Dan Lovallo and Carmina Clarke reviewed how senior decision makers in a company might go about strategic decision making. One of the areas that they explored was how systemic roadblocks might get in the way of making a valid decision.

I found their discussion very interesting from the compliance perspective. The FCPA Guidance emphasized the need for companies to have a robust pre-acquisition due diligence process, in addition to a vigorous post-acquisition integration. The FCPA Guidance stated, “In the context of the FCPA, mergers and acquisitions present both risks and opportunities. A company that does not perform adequate FCPA due diligence prior to a merger or acquisition may face both legal and business risks. Perhaps most commonly, inadequate due diligence can allow a course of bribery to continue—with all the attendant harms to a business’s profitability and reputation, as well as potential civil and criminal liability.” But what are some of the biases which might prevent a company from making a good strategic decision even with adequate pre-acquisition due diligence. The authors set out five which I will explore in more detail.

When You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

Under this bias, the authors believe that the decision maker’s ability to make accurate decisions is in large part based on “being able to accurately determine the level of ambiguity and uncertainty they face.” Unfortunately, just as compliance programs have to deal with humans and human fallibilities, strategic decision makers are subject to both “cognitive limitations and behavioral biases.” The authors note that “executives don’t know what they don’t know, but are happy to assume that they do.” It is this overconfidence in the ability to forecast uncertain outcomes that will lead to unwarranted confirmation of incorrect hypotheses.

Cognitive Bias Creep

Here the authors note that every corporation has biases and these biases can creep into any significant strategic decision. The key is that they manage these biases going forward so that they do not prevent an accurate decision from even having the chance of being made. The authors believe that this can be helped “if, when a strategic decision is being considered, managers choose their decision-making approach in a systematic, transparent, public manner during their judgments which can be evaluated by peers.” This concept is well established in any best practices compliance program through an oversight committee or other similar structure proving review of the compliance function. It is through these techniques that key players “are less likely to assume that their decisions are straightforward or even intuitive.” The authors conclude this section by stating that, “This is especially important when a relatively new or unique strategic investment is under consideration.”

Organizational Process Gets In the Way

I try to be a process guy and to be process oriented. I tend to believe that if you have a robust process in place, it can help you to greatly reduce, ameliorate or manage your compliance risks. The authors believe this as well but feel there are times when the organizational process of a company can get in the way of making a strategic decision. Fortunately many of the techniques to overcome this problem are relatively straight-forward. Although not phrased in this manner, one is the concept of segregation of duties (SODs). In other words, do not have the people who will benefit from a favorable analysis be the only group or discipline within the company to review a decision or even its underlying facts. The authors answer is to have some “commonsense protocols” which allow for an independent eye on things.

Reliance on a Single Tool

One of the areas that the authors maintain throughout their article is the criticism by decision makers on a single analytical tool. They believe that most corporate decision makers rely solely on “conventional capital-budgeting techniques.” They argue that it is most often more useful for decision makers to supplement this basic tool. They articulate that decision makers use other sources of insight. They are particularly critical of only looked to so-called ‘expert opinions’ and suggest that a company seek a wider group of opinions, even within the employee base of their own company. Another technique is to seek out persons in different disciplines simply because they will bring a different underlying analysis and perspective. The authors end this section by stating, “A robust analysis of analogous situations forces decision makers to look at their particular situation more objectively and tends to uncover any wishful thinking built into their return expectations.”

The Option to Delay

The final bias the authors address is the option that is often overlooked – the option to wait or as the authors put it “Deciding when to decide is often as important as deciding how to decide.” If you have ever been on a large project evaluating a merger or acquisition target or other business opportunity, you know that things can take on a momentum of their own. The authors call this “learning-based, iterative experimentation.” This is not a situation of sometimes the best deals are the ones you do not sign on to but deciding to use other tools or techniques to evaluate the timing of your decision making process. This can not only keep you from doing deals that may not make any sense but allow for a more well-rounded decision making process.

The clear message of the authors’ piece is that you should use a wider variety of tools available to you. The FCPA Guidance gives you some of the things that the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) think are important. In addition to the use of transaction, third party and relationship monitoring, I would suggest that you add some or all of the following tools to your toolkit.

  • Review high risk geographical areas where your company and the target do business. If there is overlap, seek out your own sales and operational people and ask them what compliance issues are prevalent in those areas. If there are compliance issues that your company faces, then the target probably faces them as well.
  • Obtain from the target a detailed list of sales going back 3-5 years, broken out by country. If you can obtain a further breakdown by product or services get that as well. You do not need to investigate de minimis sales amounts but focus your Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) due diligence inquiry on high sales volumes in high risk countries.
  • If the target uses a sales model of third parties, obtain a complete list, including joint ventures (JVs). It should be broken out by country and the amount of commission paid. Review all underlying due diligence on these foreign business representatives, their contracts and how they were managed after the contract was executed. But your focus should be on large commissions in high risk countries.
  • You will need to speak to the target company personnel who are responsible for its compliance program to garner a full understanding of how they view their compliance program.
  • You will need to review the travel and entertainment records of the target’s top sales personnel in high risk countries. You should retain a forensic auditing firm to assist you with this effort. Use the resources of your own company personnel to find out what is reasonable for travel and entertainment in the same high risk countries which your company does business.
  • While always an issue fraught with numerous considerations, there may be others in the mergers and acquisition (M&A) context, such as any statutory obligations to disclose violations of any anti-bribery or anti-corruption laws in the jurisdiction(s) in question; what effect will disclosure have on the target’s value or the purchase price that your company is willing to offer.
  • While you are performing the FCPA due diligence, you should also review issues for anti-money laundering (AML) and export control issues.

The moral of this story to use a wide variety of tools and resources when evaluating a strategic decision; whether it is compliance based or business based. Do not get caught in myopic thinking or analysis.

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Please join myself and Eddie Cogan, CEO of Catelas as we discuss Risk-Based 3rd Party Vetting, Screening and Monitoring Strategies for High Risk Jurisdictions Thursday, December 12. For information and registration click here.

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2013

December 8, 2013

And The Hits Just Keep on Coming for the ‘Sons and Daughters’ Hiring Program

About the best thing that you can say for the Houston Texans is that they did not lose on Sunday. Of course they did not play on Sunday, pathetically losing Week 14’s game last Thursday. For their season’s effort, the head coach was fired the next day. At least in the National Football League (NFL) there is accountability.

On the other hand, the hits just keep on coming for JP Morgan Chase. On the front page of Sunday’s New York Times (NYT), in an article entitled “Bank Tracked Business Linked to China Hiring”, reporters Ben Protess and Jessica Silver-Greenburg reviewed yet more potentially damning evidence in the Bank’s Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) investigation. They were able to view documents which had been recently disclosed by JP Morgan Chase to the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in connection with the bank’s ongoing internal investigation into its ‘Sons and Daughters’ hiring program which apparently targeted the children of communist party officials and high ranking officials of state owned enterprises for employment in order to obtain business from their parents. The reporters noted, “Until now, the indications of a connection between the hires and business deals have not been so explicit.”

Emails, Spreadsheets and Whistleblowers

The reporters studied both documents and emails which seemed to indicate that the bank thought hiring of these sons and daughters would and did contribute in bringing business to the bank. The documents included spreadsheets “that list the bank’s “track record” for converting hires into business deals”. Another set of documents discussed in the article were described as “historical deal conversion” spreadsheets. The article went on to detail that in one column there was a list of the job candidates and in another column “the bank recorded its track record for winning business from the companies tied to the candidates.” There were other spreadsheets which listed the hires of well-connected children and the revenue that the bank earned from deals involving with hires linked to those companies. These other documents included spreadsheets which discussed “about 30 employees with ties to state-owned companies or Communist Party officials, including the daughter of the deputy minister of propaganda, a relative of a Chinese financial regulator and the nephew of the executive chairman at Sinotruk, which is part of a state-owned trucking enterprise.”

There were also emails cited in the article which seemed to indicate that depth and pervasiveness of the ‘sons and daughters’ hiring program. One email discussed “the “existing and potential business opportunities,” a senior JPMorgan executive in Hong Kong emphasized that the father of a job candidate was the chairman of the China Everbright Group, a state-controlled financial conglomerate. The executive also extolled the broader benefits of the hiring program, telling colleagues in another email: “You all know I have always been a big believer of the Sons and Daughters program — it almost has a linear relationship” with winning assignments to advise Chinese companies.”

In addition to these emails and documents discussed in the NYT article, the reporters also interviewed current and former bank employees. Apparently at least two whistleblowers came forward to identify the hiring scheme, “with one filing a complaint in April 2011 with the Hong Kong stock exchange and another coming forward to American authorities this year.” It has not been clear when JP Morgan Chase began its internal investigation or what was the genesis of the investigation.

The Tang Xiaoning Hiring

The article went into specifics with one of the hiring’s, that of “Tang Xiaoning, a onetime Goldman and Citigroup employee whose father is the chairman of the China Everbright Group, appeared to encapsulate the spirit of the “Sons and Daughters” program for state-owned clients. The father, approached a JPMorgan executive in Hong Kong in March 2010 about a position for his son, records and interviews show. The executive, who led JPMorgan’s China investment banking unit, welcomed the request and urged his colleagues in an email a day later to discuss “how we can leverage more on this account going forward.” But in an internal compliance form, the executive played down the significance of hiring Mr. Tang, documents show, saying there was “no expected benefit.”

Tang Xiaoning was subsequently hired on a one-year employment agreement. Thereafter his father, Tang Shuangning, who had done little if any business with the bank prior to the hiring of his son. But thereafter, “a China Everbright subsidiary hired the bank to advise on a $300 million private offering of shares, according to interviews. And in 2011, after Mr. Tang worked at JPMorgan for several months, China Everbright’s banking subsidiary hired JPMorgan as one of several financial advisers on its decision to become a public company, a deal that was delayed amid turmoil on the world’s markets.” In 2012, after two successive one-year extensions of his employment agreement, “China Everbright International, a subsidiary focused on alternative energy businesses, hired JPMorgan to advise on a $162 million sale of shares, according to Standard & Poor’s Capital IQ, a research service.” When the issue of a third one-year employment agreement it was clear what bank officials in China thought of the situation. The NYT article quoted an email which read, ““Given where we are on China Everbright, I think we may need another contract for Xiaoning,” the executive wrote.”

The article notes that the origins of the ‘Sons and Daughters’ hiring program was to comply with the FCPA. The reporters noted, “According to documents and interviews with current and former employees, JPMorgan created the “Sons and Daughters” program in 2006 with the expectation that the hires would receive heightened scrutiny. But by 2009, the “Sons and Daughters” program was putting the job candidates on the fast track to employment. The documents show that applicants from prominent Chinese families faced less stringent hiring standards — and fewer job interviews — than the average junior-level hire.” Moreover, there has apparently been no direct evidence of knowledge by the program at the corporate headquarters in New York.

Ongoing Monitoring is Critical

So for the compliance professional what are some of the lessons that can be drawn from this matter? First and foremost is that there needs to be ongoing monitoring to determine whether employees are staying within the compliance program. Even after all the important ethical messages from management have been communicated to the appropriate audiences and key standards and controls are in place, there should still be a question of whether the company’s employees are adhering to the compliance program. Two of the seven compliance elements in the Federal Sentencing Guidelines call for companies to monitor, audit, and respond quickly to allegations of misconduct. These three highlighted activities are key components enforcement officials look for when determining whether companies maintain adequate oversight of their compliance programs.

Your company should establish a regular monitoring system to spot issues and address them. Effective monitoring means applying a consistent set of protocols, checks, and controls tailored to your company’s risks to detect and remediate compliance problems on an ongoing basis. To address this, your compliance team should be checking in routinely with local Finance departments in your foreign offices to ask if they’ve noticed recent accounting irregularities. Regional directors should be required to keep tabs on potential improper activity in the countries in which they manage. Additionally, the global compliance committee should meet or communicate as often as every month to discuss issues as they arise. These ongoing efforts demonstrate that your company is serious about compliance.

This means that you may want to walk down the hall and talk to your company’s Human Resources (HR) Department to see if there is anything around hiring of the children or family members of government officials. You might also do some transaction monitoring to see if there are new clients, customers or projects which popped up suddenly as new business for the company. Or take it a step further to see if there were contracts or business retained because of any hiring.

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2013

December 4, 2013

The Weatherford FCPA Settlement, Part III

Yesterday, I reviewed the conduct which Weatherford International Limited (Weatherford) engaged in over a period from 2002-2011 in connection with its Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) investigation, noted the deficiencies in its compliance program and its internal controls and even how the company intentionally impeded the investigations of both the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Today, I want to look at how the company changed course in mid-stream during the investigation, brought in a top-notch and well respected lawyer as its Chief Compliance Officer (CCO), created a best-in-class compliance program; all of which saved the company millions of dollars in potential fines and penalties.

  1. I.                    DOJ Fine Calculation

To resolve the criminal aspects of this case, Weatherford agreed to pay an $87.2 million criminal penalty as part of a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA) with the DOJ. There was also another $65.6 million paid to the SEC. However the figure paid to the DOJ was at the very bottom range of a potential criminal penalty. The range listed in the DPA was from $87.2 to $174.3 million. In coming up with this range under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, it is significant for the actions that Weatherford did not receive credit for during the pendency of the investigation. The company did not receive a credit for self-reporting. The company only received a -2 for its cooperation because prior to 2008 the company engaged in activities to impede the regulators’ investigation.

So the fine range could have been more favorable to the company. But the key is that Weatherford received the low end of the range. How did they do this?

A.     New Sheriff in Town

One of the key things Weatherford did was bring in Billy Jacobson as its CCO and give him a seat at the table of the company’s Executive Board. He was a Federal Prosecutor in the Fraud Section, Criminal Division, US Department of Justice. He also served as an Assistant Chief for FCPA Enforcement Department so we can assume he understood the FCPA and how prosecutors think through issues. (Jacobson also worked as a State Prosecutor in New York City, with my former This Week in FCPA co-host Howard Sklar, so shout out to Howard.) Jacobson was not hired directly from the DOJ but after he had left the DOJ and had gone into private practice. There is nothing that shows credibility like bringing in a respected subject matter expert and giving that person the tools and resources to turn things around.

But more than simply bringing in a new sheriff, Weatherford turned this talk into action by substantially increasing its cooperation with the government, thoroughly investigating all issues, turning over the results to the DOJ and SEC and providing literally millions of pages of documents to the regulators. The company also cleaned house by terminating officers and employees who were responsible for the illegal conduct.

B.     Increase in Compliance Function

In addition to establishing Jacobson in the high level CCO position, the company significantly increased the size of its compliance department by hiring 38 compliance professionals and conducted 30 anti-corruption compliance reviews in the countries in which Weatherford operates. This included the hiring of outside consultants to assess and review the company’s compliance program and beefing up due diligence on all third parties, including those in the sales and supply chain, joint venture (JV) partners and merger or acquisition (M&A) candidates. The company also agreed to continue to enhance its internal controls and books and records to prevent and/or detect future suspect conduct.

If you have ever heard any of the current Weatherford compliance professionals speak at FCPA conferences, you can appreciate that they are first rate; that they know their stuff and the company supports their efforts on an ongoing basis.

C.     Best in Class Compliance Program

During the pendency of the investigation, Weatherford moved to create a best practices compliance program. They appear to have done so and agreed in the DPA to continue to maintain such a compliance program. Under Schedule C to the DPA, it set out the compliance program which the company had implemented and continued to keep in place, at least during the length of the DPA. It included the following components.

  1. High level commitment from company officials and senior management to do business in compliance with the FCPA.
  2. A substantive written anti-corruption compliance code of conduct.
  3. Written policies and procedures to implement this code of conduct.
  4. A robust system of internal controls, including accounting and financial controls.
  5. Risk assessments and risk reviews of its ongoing business.
  6. No less than annual assessments of its overall compliance program.
  7. Appropriate oversight and responsibility of a Chief Compliance Officer.
  8. Effective training for all employees and relevant third parties.
  9. An effective compliance function which can provide guidance to company employees.
  10. A robust internal reporting system.
  11. Effective investigations of any reported compliance issue.
  12. Appropriate incentives for employees to do business ethically and in compliance.
  13. Enforced discipline for any employee who violates the company’s compliance program.
  14. Suitable due diligence and management of third parties and business partners.
  15. A correct level of pre-acquisition due diligence for any merger or acquisition candidate, including a risk assessment and reporting to the DOJ if the company uncovers and FCPA-violative conduct during this pre-acquisition phase.
  16. As soon as practicable, Weatherford will integrate any newly acquired entity into its compliance regime, including training of all relevant new employees, a FCPA forensic audit and reporting of any ongoing violations.
  17. Ongoing monitoring, testing and auditing of the company’s compliance function, taking into account any “relevant developments in the field and the evolving international and industry standards.”

D.    Monitor

Weatherford also agreed to an external monitor. However, the term of the monitor is not the entire length of the three-year DPA; the term of the monitor is only 18 months. The monitor’s primary function is to assess the company’s compliance with the terms of the DPA and report the results to the DOJ at least twice during the terms of the monitorship. After this 18 month term the DOJ will allow the company to self-report to the regulators. It should be noted that the term of the external monitor can be extended by the DOJ.

II.                Conclusion

It certainly has been a long, strange journey for Weatherford. I should note that I have not discussed at all the Oil-For-Food aspect of this settlement, which was an additional $100MM penalty to the company. However, with regard to the FCPA aspects of the matter, there are some very solid and telling lessons to be drawn from this case. First and foremost is that cooperation is always the key. But more than simply cooperating in the investigation is that a company should take a pro-active approach to putting a best-in-class compliance program in place during, rather than after the investigation concludes. Also, a company cannot simply ‘talk-the-talk’ but must come through and do the work to gain the credit. The bribery schemes that the company had engaged in and the systemic failures of its compliance program and internal controls, should serve as a good set of examples for the compliance practitioner to use in assessing a compliance program.

The settlement also sends a clear message from both the DOJ and SEC on not only what type of conduct will be rewarded under the US Sentencing Guidelines, but what they expect as a compliance program. One does not have read tea leaves or attempt to divine what might be an appropriate commitment to compliance to see what the regulators expect these day.

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2013

December 3, 2013

The Weatherford FCPA Settlement, Part II

Yesterday, I reviewed the Weatherford International Limited (Weatherford) Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) settlement. Today I will take a more focused look at the bribery schemes involved and the failure of the company to bring internal controls up to standard or even follow its own compliance program. Weatherford’s compliance program was a joke but worse was its conduct, which many in the company knew was illegal and reported internally but the company did not stop the conduct. The company also, early on in the investigation, actively impeded regulators access to personnel and documents. However, and this is one of the key messages from the Weatherford FCPA enforcement action, the company truly ‘turned it around’. Tomorrow we will explore how the company made this dramatic turnaround.

The bribery schemes had four basic scenarios and, for those of you keeping score at home, I have summarized them below.

I.                   Corrupt Conduct

Weatherford Bribery Box Score

Country Bribery Scheme Government or SOE Official Involved Amount of Bribe Paid
Angola Payments through 3rd parties Sonagol Drilling Manager $250K
Angola JV Partners Government Ministers, wives and other relatives $810K
Congo Payments thru 3rd parties SOE officials $500K
Middle East Countries Unauthorized distributor discounts SOE officials $11.8MM
Algeria Improper travel and entertainment SOE officials $35K
Albania Misappropriation of company funds Tax Auditors $41K

Angola

In Angola two separate bribery schemes were used. The first involved payment of a $250,000 bribe to the Sonagol Drilling Manager. To funnel the bribe the company retained a Swiss agent who paid the money. This Swiss agent billed Weatherford for non-existent and fraudulent services. He would retain a percentage of the total he billed as a commission and would pass the remainder to the Sonagol Drilling Manager. The bribery of the Drilling Manager also included a week long, all-expenses paid trip to Italy and Portugal, where only one of the days was business related.

The company continued this further creativity when it set up a joint venture (JV) which had two local JV partners, JV Partner A and JV Partner B. Partner A consisted of Sonagol government officials, their wives and other relatives and held a 45% stake in the overall JV. JV Partner B’s principals included the relative of an Angolan Minister, the relative’s spouse, and another Angolan official. It held 10% of the overall JV interest. Neither of these JV Partners contributed capital, expertise or labor to the JV. In addition to the straight quid pro quo of awarding Weatherford 100% of the Angolan well screens market, these JV Partners had contracts which were awarded to Weatherford competitors, revoked after the initial award and then awarded them to Weatherford.

Congo

In the Congo, Weatherford made over $500,000 in commercial bribe payments through the same Swiss Agent they had utilized in the initial Angolan bribery scheme to employees of a commercial customer, a wholly-owned subsidiary of an Italian energy company, between March 2002 and December 2008. The Swiss Agent’s role in the scheme included submitting false invoices and sending payments to individuals as directed by Weatherford Services Limited (WSL) employees and others. WSL employees created and sent false work orders to the Swiss Agent. The Swiss Agent, WSL employees and others knew the services would not be performed and that the work orders were a pretext to funnel money to the Swiss Agent. The Swiss Agent forwarded the money, less a commission, once again based on fraudulent invoices for non-existent services.

The Middle East

In certain un-named Middle Eastern countries between the years of 2005 and 2011 another Weatherford subsidiary employed another bribery scheme to funnel payments to officials of state owned National Oil Company (NOC). This bribery scheme entailed the awarding of improper “volume discounts” to a company that served as an agent, distributor and reseller which supplied Weatherford products to a state-owned and controlled NOC, believing that those discounts were being used to create a slush fund with which to make bribe payments to decision makers at the NOC.

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Complaint noted that as early as 2001, officials at the un-named national oil company directed Weatherford to sell goods to the company through a particular distributor. Prior to entering into the contract with the distributor, Weatherford did not conduct any due diligence on the distributor, despite: (a) the fact that the distributor would be furnishing Weatherford goods directly to an instrumentality of a foreign government; (b) the fact that a foreign official had specifically directed the company to contract with that particular distributor; and (c) the fact that Weatherford executives knew that a member of the country’s royal family had an ownership interest in the distributor. In late 2001, the company entered into a representation agreement with the distributor to sell its Completion and Production Systems products to the NOC.

Thereafter, the distributor created a slush fund by providing the distributor with unauthorized volume and pricing discounts, in addition to the agent’s 5% commission. Company employees intended that the slush fund would be used to pay officials at the un-named NOC. The “volume discounts” to the distributor were typically between 5-l0% of the contact price. The discounts allowed the distributor to accumulate funds which were used to pay bribes to the NOC officials.

Algeria

Weatherford also provided improper travel and entertainment to officials of the Algerian NOC, Sonatrach, which did not have any legitimate business purpose. The SEC Complaint detailed the following improper travel and entertainment provided to Sonatrach officials:

  • June 2006 trip by two Sonatrach officials to the FIFA World Cup soccer tournament in Hanover, Germany;
  • July 2006 honeymoon trip of the daughter of a Sonatrach official; and
  • October 2005 trip by a Sonatrach employee and his family to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, for religious reasons that were improperly booked as a donation.

In addition, on at least two other occasions, Weatherford provided Sonatrach officials with cash sums while they were visiting Houston. For example, in May 2007, Weatherford paid for four Sonatrach officials, including a tender committee official, to attend a conference in Houston. Further, the company provided an approximate $24,000 cash advance for the trip where there was no evidence of any legitimate business purpose or promotional expenses.

Albania

In Albania, Weatherford had a tax evaluation problem. To deal with this issue the general manager and financial manager of the company’s Italian subsidiary misappropriated over $200,000 of company funds, to fund a bribery scheme involving Albanian tax auditors. The general manager, financial manager and the Albania country manager made $41,000 in payments to Albanian tax auditors who questioned details of the company’s accounts and demanded payment to close out the audit or speed up the certification process in 2001, 2002 and 2004.

The general manager and financial manager misappropriated the funds by taking advantage of Weatherford’s inadequate system of internal accounting controls. They misreported cash advances, diverted payments on previously paid invoices, misappropriated government rebate checks and received reimbursement of expenses that did not relate to business activities. A memo drafted by the general manager and financial manager in the months after their co-worker confronted them discussed the misappropriated funds and indicated that funds were paid to tax auditors in Albania and others for the benefit of Weatherford. This was the bribery scheme which was reported to the company and the internal whistle-blower employee was terminated.

II.                Program Deficiencies Lack of Cooperation

The DPA laid out in equally stark terms the complete and utter disregard, non-existence of and/or complete failure of any systemic compliance program, prior to 2008. These deficiencies included:

  • Failure to establish internal accounting controls to prevent bribery and corruption;
  • Failure to perform due diligence on any prospective third parties, including who they were, ultimate beneficial ownership and business justifications;
  • Failure to perform due diligence or in any meaningful manage joint venture partners;
  • Failure to have any meaningful internal controls for gifts, travel and entertainment;
  • No effective internal reporting system for FCPA violations or issues; and
  • (Most amazingly) No Chief Compliance Officer or even compliance professionals in a multi-billion dollar, multi-national company in the energy industry.

In addition to all of the above, Weatherford engaged in active conduct to impede the investigations of both the SEC and DOJ. In one instance, the company told investigators that a key witness was dead when he was not only still alive and well but working for Weatherford. In other instances, the company, emails were deleted by employees prior to the imaging of their computers. It was also noted that Weatherford failed to secure important computers and documents and allowed potentially complicit employees to collect documents subpoenaed by the staff.

Tomorrow, the Weatherford compliance comeback.

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2013

December 2, 2013

The Weatherford FCPA Settlement, Part I

Last week Weatherford International Limited (Weatherford) concluded one of the longest running open Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) investigations when it agreed to the ninth largest FCPA fine of all-time and one of its subsidiaries, Weatherford Services Limited (WSL), agreed to plead guilty to violating the anti-bribery provisions of the FCPA. The total amount of fines and penalties for the FCPA violations was $152.6 million. The company was also hit with another $100 million in fines and penalties for trade sanctions bringing its total amount paid to $252.6 million.

The bribery schemes that Weatherford used were varied but stunning in their brazen nature. Further, early on in the investigation, the company thumbed its nose at the Department of Justice (DOJ) by refusing to cooperate in any meaningful way and actually destroying documents and computer hard drives rather than turn over relevant documents. There were also examples of internal company whistleblowers, who were either ignored or, worse, terminated when they internally reported illegal conduct which violated the FCPA. Lastly, the company did not self-disclose their conduct so things started out badly, badly, did I say badly, for the company. But in spite of how things began, Weatherford was able to make a turnaround and substantially improve its position by reversing this initial nose-thumbing at US regulators. Over the next three blog posts I will explore the bribery schemes involved, how the company’s new-found attitude led to lower fines that might otherwise have been expected and what the lessons are for the compliance practitioner going forward.

DOJ Criminal Information and Deferred Prosecution Agreement

To resolve the criminal aspects of this case, Weatherford agreed to pay an $87.2 million criminal penalty as part of a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA) with the DOJ.

In the Information filed as a part of the resolution reveals that company employees established and operated a joint venture (JV) in Africa with two local entities controlled by foreign officials and their relatives from 2004 through at least 2008. These foreign officials selected the entities with which WSL would partner and the company knew that the members of the local entities included foreign officials’ relatives and associates. The sole purpose of those local entities was to serve as conduits through which WSL pay bribes to the foreign officials controlling them as neither of the JV partners contributed capital, expertise or labor to the JV. In exchange for the illegal payments they received, through the JV, lucrative contracts, gave WSL inside information about competitors’ pricing, and took contracts away from WSL’s competitors and awarded them to the JV.

The Information also noted that Weatherford knowingly failed to establish an effective system of internal accounting controls designed to detect and prevent corruption, including FCPA violations. The company failed to implement these internal controls despite operating in an industry with a substantial corruption risk profile and despite growing its global footprint in large part by purchasing existing companies, often themselves in countries with high corruption risks.   As a result, a permissive and uncontrolled environment existed within which employees of certain Weatherford’s wholly owned subsidiaries in Africa and the Middle East were able to engage in corrupt conduct over the course of many years, including the bribery of foreign officials.

In yet another scheme detailed in the Information, a Weatherford employee in the Middle East, gave improper “volume discounts” to a distributor who supplied company products to a government-owned National  Oil Company (NOC), believing that those discounts were being used to create a slush fund with which to make bribe payments to decision-makers at the NOC. Between 2005 and 2011, Weatherford Oil Tools Middle East Limited (WOTME) paid approximately $15 million in “volume discounts” to the distributor.

In its Press Release the DOJ also spoke to the nefarious conduct of the company. Acting Assistant Attorney General Raman was quoted as saying “This case demonstrates how loose controls and an anemic compliance environment can foster foreign bribery and fraud by a company’s subsidiaries around the globe. Although Weatherford’s extensive remediation and its efforts to improve its compliance functions are positive signs, the corrupt conduct of Weatherford International’s subsidiaries allowed it to earn millions of dollars in illicit profits, for which it is now paying a significant price.” He also said that “Effective internal accounting controls are not only good policy, they are required by law for publicly traded companies – and for good reason.” The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) chimed in when Assistant Director in Charge Parlave said that “The FBI is committed to investigating corrupt backroom deals that influence contract procurement and threaten our global commerce.”

SEC Compliant

In its civil Complaint, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) alleged that Weatherford and its subsidiaries falsified its books and records to conceal not only these illicit payments, but also commercial transactions with Cuba, Iran, Syria, and Sudan that violated US sanctions and export control laws. Further, the company failed to establish an effective system of internal accounting controls to monitor risks of improper payments and prevent or detect misconduct. The company obtained more than $59.3 million in profits from business obtained through improper payments, and more than $30 million in profits from its improper sales to sanctioned countries. This conduct lasted from 2002 up until 2011 and included the lack of internal controls plus the affirmative falsification of its books and records to facilitate the bribe payments. The payment of disgorgement, prejudgment interest, and civil penalties to the SEC was in the amount of $65,612,360.34.

As you would expect, the SEC focused on the company’s books and records violations. Andrew Ceresney, co-director of the SEC’s Enforcement Division, was quoted in the SEC’s Press Release that “The nonexistence of internal controls at Weatherford fostered an environment where employees across the globe engaged in bribery and failed to maintain accurate books and records,” said  “They used code names like ‘Dubai across the water’ to conceal references to Iran in internal correspondence, placed key transaction documents in mislabeled binders, and created whatever bogus accounting and inventory records were necessary to hide illegal transactions.” Kara Brockmeyer, Chief of the SEC Enforcement Division’s FCPA Unit, said, “Whether the money went to tax auditors in Albania or officials at the state-owned oil company in Angola, bribes and improper payments were an accustomed way for Weatherford to conduct business. While the profits may have seemed bountiful at the time, the costs far outweigh the benefits in the end as coordinated law enforcement efforts have unraveled the widespread schemes and heavily sanctioned the misconduct.”

All of the settlement documents are chocked full of information about bribery schemes Weatherford engaged in for many years. For the compliance practitioner, they provide a list that can be used a check and balance to see if your company may be engaging in any of these practices. Additionally, both the DOJ and SEC listed out the internal controls and books and records failures of the company. Tomorrow, I will review the specific bribery scheme and failures of the Weatherford compliance program.

For a copy of the DOJ Information, click here.

For a copy of the DOJ Deferred Prosecution Agreement, click here.

For a copy of the SEC Civil Compliant, click here.

For a copy of the Plea Agreement, click here.

For a copy of the DOJ Press Release, click here.

For a copy of the SEC Press Release, click here.

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2013

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