FCPA Compliance and Ethics Blog

November 12, 2014

John Doar and the Bio-Rad FCPA Enforcement Action – Part II

John DoarJohn Doar died yesterday. He was perhaps most famously known for his role as the House Judiciary Committee Chief Counsel during the investigation of and impeachment proceedings against then President Nixon. However, it was his role in the civil rights movement in the South that in large part inspired me to become a lawyer. He rode with the Freedom Riders in Alabama; walked with James Meredith so that he could register to attend the University of Mississippi, then stayed in the same dorm room with Meredith while the campus rioted; prosecuted the KKK in Mississippi after the murder of three civil rights workers in 1964; and marched for voting rights with Dr. King in Selma. My favorite John Doar story was retold in his obituary in the New York Times (NYT), where he stopped a riot in its tracks with the following ““My name is John Doar — D-O-A-R,” he shouted to the crowd. “I’m from the Justice Department, and anybody here knows what I stand for is right.” That qualified as a full-length speech from the laconic Mr. Doar. At his continued urging, the crowd slowly melted away.”” In my book, he is right up there with Atticus Finch.

In an earlier post, I reviewed the Bio-Rad Laboratories, Inc. (Bio-Rad) Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) enforcement action from the perspective of the Non-Prosecution Agreement (NPA) the company was able to secure with the Department of Justice (DOJ). Today I want to review the bribery schemes that the company used to either internally fund the bribes or attempt to evade internal detection. Both the NPA and the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) Order Instituting Cease-and-Desist Proceedings (Order). The compliance practitioner can use these bribery schemes not only for FCPA training but also to see if any such schemes or their indicia may be present in your company.

Initially I need to discuss the corporate structure. It was apparently quite decentralized. According to the Order, “Bio-Rad’s international sales organization (“ISO”) oversees the company’s international sales operations; this includes all locations outside the United States and Canada. In 2009, the ISO consisted of four sub-divisions: (1) Western Europe; (2) Asia Pacific; (3) Japan; and (4) Emerging Markets. Each sub-division had a general manager, reporting to the vice-president of ISO. The Asia Pacific sub-division included Vietnam and Thailand. The Emerging Markets sub-division included Russia and other eastern European countries. Some countries within the sub-divisions had a country manager who reported to the ISO sub-division general manager.” Emerging markets is clearly a high-risk area for pharmaceutical companies. If your business development or sales organization has such a designation, I would suggest that you check and see if there are sufficient protections in place to at least raise any red flags, which might need further investigation.

However, it was more than the management structure of the business operations that was decentralized, the compliance function was similarly structured. The NPA stated, “BIO-RAD also decentralized its compliance program such that its international offices were responsible for ensuring adequate compliance with its business ethics policy and code of conduct.” This decentralization so defanged the company’s compliance program that it could not perform even the most basic functions of a compliance organization; no due diligence on third parties, indeed no management of third parties at all from the compliance perspective; no risk assessments were performed and, finally, the most damning was that the compliance function could not even ensure compliance with the company’s own business ethics policy.

The Russia Scheme

However the company used third party representatives to facilitate the bribery scheme. In addition to the lack of due diligence or usual steps that a compliance practitioner might put in place to manage third parties under the FCPA there were several other items of note which constitute lessons learned by the compliance practitioner. First and foremost was the commission rate paid to these third parties, that being between 15%-30%. This alone may well have been enough to demonstrate “a conscious disregard for the high probability that the Russian Agents were passing along at least a portion of their commissions to Russian government officials to obtain profitable public contracts for the sale of medical diagnostic equipment.” Further, the payments made to these agents were sent to countries outside Russia, where neither the alleged services were delivered nor where the agents were legally domiciled. Moreover, not only did these agents have no offices in Russia, they had no employees in Russia either.

Apparently there were contracts in place with these agents. The services these agents were specified to deliver included, “acquiring new business, creating and disseminating promotional materials to prospective customers, distributing and installing products and related equipment, and training customers.” But it really is hard to deliver services if you have no employees. Apparently there were times these agents did deliver something identified as “distribution services” for the commission rates between 15%-30%. However the estimated value of these services for the company was between 2%-2.5% of the total sales.

Another area of obvious concern should have been the pre-payment of commissions to these agents. Any time you pre-pay before a service is delivered (other than a retainer into a lawyer’s trust account) you can potentially run into trouble. But Bio-Rad took it a step further by making pre-payments before contracts with the ultimate buyer were negotiated. Any ideas where those pre-paid commissions might have gone? Another area was the amount of the commissions. They were just less than $200,000, which happened to be the authority level of the head of Bio-Rad’s Emerging Markets business unit. So there was no oversight or second set of eyes on these pre-payments because it was within the manager’s authority level. Finally, these pre-payments were actually forbidden under the contracts but they were made anyway.

The Vietnam Scheme 

The Vietnam Country Manager had contracting authority up to $100,000 and sales commissions up to $20,000. From 2005-2009 Bio-Rad apparently paid bribes directly to health care workers so they would purchase the company’s products. When it was pointed out to the Country Manager this was illegal, he simply moved to a distributor “at a deep discount, which the distributor would then resell to government customers at full price, and pass through a portion of it as bribes…Between 2005 and the end of 2009, the Vietnam office made improper payments of $2.2 million to agents or distributors, which was funneled to Vietnamese government officials. These bribes, recorded as “commissions,” “advertising fees,” and “training fees,” generated gross sales revenues of $23.7 million to Bio-Rad Singapore.” 

The Thailand Scheme

In Thailand, it was an almost mundane bribery scheme involved compared to Russia and Vietnam. Bio-Rad acquired an interest in a Thai Joint Venture (JV) through an acquisition where it performed “very little due diligence” on the JV. Bio-Rad acquired a minority interest in the JV and it did not communicate directly with the JV’s distributors but only through the majority owners of the JV. The bribery scheme was funded through “an inflated 13% commission, of which it retained 4%, and paid 9% to Thai government officials in exchange for profitable business contracts.” The due diligence was so poor that Bio-Rad did not know that the prime third party sales representative for the JV were the same majority owners of the JV.

Tomorrow, I will discuss some of the internal controls that a company might employ to help prevent such a compliance failure as occurred at Bio-Rad.

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, 2014

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